Tagged: Kevin Youkilis

The Ultimate Breakdown of the Red Sox Offseason

Hello dear readers, it has been a while, and I would just like to apologize for my lack of a presence (this always seems to happen). I’ve had exams, and I’ve been focusing nearly all of my energy on resurrecting my physics grade. So since my last entry, a lot has happened. I’m not here to catch you up, because you can read about the signing on your own. I’m here to analyze what these moves mean. 

The end of the 2009 Red Sox season was disappointing to say
the least. Of course, the feat of simply making the playoffs is something to be
proud of, considering there are 22 other teams who don’t. But when the offense
becomes anemic in the first round of the playoffs, and your closer blows the
lead that would have stopped you from getting swept, it’s disappointing. I
think that there were a lot of lessons that the Red Sox learned over the course
of the 2009 season, and there is certainly a lot to improve upon.

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I
think that the Red Sox learned that signing proven National League veterans
coming off injuries isn’t too promising. It is clear that the American League
is significantly more powerful than the National League (just look at the
All-Star games for the past decade). I understand what Theo Epstein was
thinking last season with the low-risk, high reward mentality, but the fact of
the matter is that it is nearly impossible to make the transition from the
National League to the American League. Brad Penny and John Smoltz struggled
constantly in every single one of their starts, and it was disappointing. It
was even more frustrating that as soon as they returned to the National League,
they pitched wonderfully. This is not something that could have been
controlled, but I think that the Red Sox learned their lesson. So what did they
do to solve this problem? They went out and signed the best free agent pitcher
on the market, John Lackey.

Just
take a look at the rotation that the Red Sox have now. I don’t know what the
order will be yet, but we have Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Clay
Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Tim Wakefield: six quality starters. I think
that the signing of John Lackey cleared a lot of things up for the Red Sox this
offseason. First of all, this gives the Red Sox a lot more flexibility when it
comes to trades. At the beginning of the offseason, the Red Sox were at least
thinking about pursuing the power-hitting first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. At the
beginning of the offseason though, trading Buchholz and a couple of prospects
was not really an option for the Red Sox; with the acquisition of John Lackey,
it is. I’ll get to the whole Adrian Gonzalez thing in a little bit though.

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The
Red Sox certainly allocated the majority of their money towards the acquisition
of Lackey. A five-year, $87.5 million contract doesn’t leave much room for what
would be considered another major acquisition in Jason Bay. I thought that the
four-year $60 million deal that was offered to Bay was quite reasonable. I
don’t think that he is worth more than that, and I’m glad that the Red Sox
aren’t simply throwing money at him. I suppose that he has a reasonable amount
of flexibility though considering he is one of only two premier left-fielder
free agents on the market. Understanding this, the Red Sox went out and signed
a quality outfielder in Mike Cameron. Believe me, I know that he is no Jason
Bay, but it’s not like he is bad. He could possibly split time with Jeremy
Hermida (remember that acquisition way back when at the beginning of the
offseason?), and I see this signing as a temporary quick fix.

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The
Red Sox have three solid outfield prospects coming up in the next few years.
Some of you may remember Josh Reddick from either Spring Training, or some of
the appearances he made in the Majors this year. There is also Ryan
Westmoreland and Ryan Kalish. These three guys are the reason that the Red Sox
were hesitant to throw money and years at Jason Bay. Keep your eye out for
these guys during Spring Training and the minors next season; they’re going to
be big.

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The
infield seemed pretty solidified with the acquisition of Marco Scutaro a few
weeks ago, but everything was almost shifted around when the Red Sox were
looking to trade third baseman Mike Lowell to the Texas Rangers for catcher Max
Ramirez. I know that Mike Lowell is getting old, and I know that the number of
games he has been able to play has been limited due to nagging injuries. But he
still competes. He is still on the highlight reels, he still makes those
amazing grabs at third base, and the man hit .290. To be completely honest, I
think that the Red Sox use him as a scapegoat sometimes. They blame some of
their failures on Mike Lowell’s injuries. It was hard for me to be completely
objective about this Mike Lowell trade since he has been one of my favorite
players growing up. I think he represents everything about baseball that is
good, and that is important during these days in which baseball is constantly
plagued with scandals. I am glad that the trade didn’t go through because I
didn’t like the thought of paying $9 million for a guy that doesn’t even play
for us anymore.

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The
fact that Mike Lowell did not get traded shifts a few things around as well.
Had he gotten traded, the Red Sox had a few options. They could have gone after
free agent Adrian Beltre, a third baseman from the Seattle Mariners. His asking
price is a bit high, so the $3 million the Red Sox would have saved from Mike
Lowell’s contract would not have done much to help, especially with the recent
signing of John Lackey. The Sox also could have moved Kevin Youkilis across the
diamond and had Casey Kotchman, a nearly impeccable defensive first baseman,
playing full time at first. Now that Mike Lowell is staying, the question is
where he will play. I still think he is a perfect capable third baseman, so I
don’t think that the Red Sox should have him experiment with playing first
base, a position he has never played in his 12-year career. Perhaps he could
serve as an intermittent designated hitter, but I think that he is most
effective when he is contributing on the field. I know there is reason to be
skeptical of Mike Lowell’s defense, especially since he needs thumb surgery. I
think the best course of action is to see how Mike Lowell looks during Spring
Training, and go from there. If the Red Sox are still interested in trading
him, they can try again next year.

The Red Sox are obviously focusing on pitching and defense,
especially the latter considering the Red Sox were ranked second to last as far
as defense goes. I find it interesting that they look to trade Lowell because
of his supposed lack of defensive range, even though his worst defensive year
with the Sox was 2007, when injuries were not a concern. I really think that
everyone needs to have more faith in him.

I think that the Red Sox have been really smart this
offseason in not offering huge contracts to players because we have so many
guys in the farm system, and that system is something that we have absolutely
no reason to doubt. Think about it: we signed Scutaro for two years, Cameron
for two years, and Wakefield for two years. In two years, guys like Jose
Iglesias, the outfield prospects I have mentioned, and Casey Kelly will be
ready.

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Back
to Adrian Gonzalez. This trade is certainly something we should consider, but I
don’t think we should consider it this winter. Let’s let this defensive
makeover play out, and if we need an offensive-pick-me-up, fine, let’s trade
for Adrian Gonzalez at the trade deadline next year. He could be what Victor
Martinez was this year. The only down side to this is that we would have to
give up a lot for talent like his, and Jed Hoyer, the new GM for the Padres
isn’t going to give him up for nothing. After all, he did work with Theo
Epstein for a while. What would the Red Sox have to give up? Clay Buchholz has
been in rumors forever, and more recently, so has the star center fielder,
Jacoby Ellsbury. Much as I may not like trading Buchholz after everything that
he has done, and all of the potential that he clearly possesses, the Red Sox
have the flexibility to sign him. The thing that concerns me more is Jacoby
Ellsbury. I thought that Epstein has made it clear that Ellsbury was our center
fielder of the future. 2009 was a big year for Ellsbury because he developed
into a prototypical leadoff man, and continued to be a fabulous defensive
center fielder. Not to mention stealing home against the New York Yankees. This
is why I think the Red Sox need to wait on trading for Gonzalez: we don’t want
to over or underestimate our potential. 

The Sizzling Stove

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When
the last pitch is thrown, and the last out is secured, most people believe that
baseball season is over. They sit in the darkness of their living rooms and
watch the rapturous celebration on the field, even if it isn’t their own team because they are savoring the last moments of the season. Normally I enjoy watching
teams getting their turn to celebrate, but this was obviously not the case this
year. I refused to watch the Yankees take their 27th championship. I
knew it was over as soon as Mariano Rivera was brought in. He is, without a doubt,
the greatest closer of all time, and I have no problem admitting that even as a
Red Sox fan. I try my best to be an objective and respectful baseball fan, but
I just couldn’t bear watching the Yankees celebrate because I just don’t do
self-torture.

Anyway,
I feel like most baseball fans turn off the television, sit there for a second,
and think to themselves: ‘Now what?’ We sink into the baseball fan’s proverbial lent. It may be a bit different than the traditional lent since we don’t willingly give up baseball, but it’s a sacrifice nonetheless. They might pick up another hobby, and let
baseball slowly slip into the back of their minds; we need something to distract something from the offseason blues. If not, we make sink into depression considering the lack of baseball becomes as dormant as the
winter, yet the interest always blooms just when the flowers start to, and
baseball season returns.

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That’s
not me. As soon as the postseason ended, another season began: the Hot Stove
season. Winter may be imminent, but baseball is certainly still the predominant
presence in my life. My hobbies? This blog, and incessantly refreshing every
Hot Stove source I can find. The leaves don’t fall off of my tree of baseball,
it is kept warm by my Hot Stove: the rumors that swirl around teams and
players, the drama that Scott Boras causes… I’m almost as anxious as I am
during the regular season.

There
certainly are some premier free agents out there this Hot Stove season (what is
this ‘offseason’ people keep speaking of?), but what keeps me up late at night
isn’t only my English homework, it’s how the Red Sox fit into this complicated
puzzle. There is a multitude of things that the Red Sox could do to improve
upon, even though they had a commendable 2009 season. I am briefly going to speculate
on each aspect of the team (starting pitching, relief, offense, defense) and
speculate on what we can improve upon, if any, and what to look for in the
future.

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Starting Pitching: At
the beginning of the 2009 season, the starting pitching rotation was considered
one of the Red Sox’s strongest assets, if not the strongest one. However,
Dice-K’s lack of proper preparation, the failure of Penny and Smoltz to pitch
effectively in the American League, Wakefield’s back woes, and Beckett’s
relative inconsistency combined to make a strong starting rotation on paper struggle throughout the course of the season. So what is there to improve
upon? We don’t need to be concerned about Jon Lester considering he was
phenomenal from May-September and we inked him to a six-year deal last season.
Josh Beckett, on the other hand, is not as secure: he is going into the final
year of his contract with the Red Sox. Beckett has had a nice tenure with the
Red Sox thus far, despite an ERA being near 4.00. His consistency seems to
fluctuate each year, but the fact remains: he is a very dominant pitcher. I
have heard rumors that the Red Sox are seeking a contract extension with him,
and I think that would be a wise move.

I
know that Dice-K had a sub-par, at best, 2009 season, but I think the Red Sox
Organization was very wise in the way they handled it. They paid big bucks for
this Japanese phenom, and I think their systematic approach this year was very
profitable. His 2009 season was short, not very cost-effective, but just
imagine how good he could be for the next two years. If his last few starts
were indicative in any way of how he may perform, then I think that there is a
lot to look forward to.

 Tim
Wakefield’s 2009 season was cut short due to persistent back woes. Nevertheless, the
first half of his season was so good that he was elected to his first All-Star
game. His surgery was quite successful, so I think that the Red Sox were very
wise to sign him to a two-year deal. Wakefield is a very durable guy, and his
knuckleball can be devastating (against every team except the Yankees, it
seems). Last but certainly not least, we have the absolutely fabulous, and much
improved, Clay Buchholz. Again, the Red Sox’s systematic approach with him was
seemingly flawless, and he had a much smoother transition into the Majors this
year. I am very proud to have called him my project, and he will be receiving
an award when they graduate (yes, I am implementing a graduating ceremony).

 That
right there is a pretty strong starting five without even changing anything.
2009 was a tough season for some of those guys, but I have faith that they can
bounce back. There is a lot that we can do externally. John Lackey is up for
grabs, perhaps we can pry King Felix from Seattle’s hands (a girl can dream,
right?), and Roy Halladay is in trade talks, as usual. The thing with trades is
that normally they include prospects, and I am very possessive of the
prospects. I think that if the Red Sox could sign John Lackey for a reasonable
price, that they should do it. I know, “DUH!” Every team would love John Lackey
because he would solidify any starting rotation. I am just concerned that if we were to sign Lackey, we may not be able to keep Beckett. 

There
have also been some serious rumors regarding Roy Halladay. If I had to choose
between Halladay and Felix Hernandez, I’d probably go with the latter because
he is a bit younger, but I wouldn’t complain about having Halladay! He’d
probably be even better to have than Lackey. Unfortunately, Halladay will not
come cheap. I’ve heard rumors regarding Clay Buchholz and Casey Kelly being
dangled. Much as I love these two guys, I do think this would be a mutually
beneficial trade. I may have dreams about what Clay can do in the future, but
having “Doc” in our rotation would be perfectly fine by me. The thing that
concerns me more is the status of Casey Kelly. Obviously, he is a huge key to
our future considering the fact that he could be a big shortstop or pitcher.
This would be the blockbuster trade of the offseason if this were to happen,
and as hard as it is to part with our hopes and dreams for the future, I think
Roy Halladay is a worthy investment.

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Relief:

I think that Boston’s bullpen was probably their strongest
asset during the 2009 season, for the most part. However, at times it was
simply atrocious; specifically, Manny Delcarmen’s meltdown during the second
half of the season. It was great to see projects like Daniel Bard come through,
I was so proud of him in so many ways. I knew he was something special the
moment I saw him in Spring Training. I was also very impressed with Ramon
Ramirez for the entire season, and overall, I wasn’t all that impressed with
Takashi Saito (despite his low ERA). And even though our last memory of
Jonathan Papelbon is of him destroying our lead, he still had a fabulous season
overall. Plus, every closer was terrible during the postseason (except for
Mariano Rivera). Picking up Billy Wagner ended up being an excellent move, and
it seems as though he would be willing to accept a lesser role as a set-up man
through arbitration. I would be glad to have him back. Like Wagner, Jose
Valverde is a Type-A free agent who posted the best ERA of his career with the
Astros this past season. He would certainly be worth looking at, but he is not
a necessary asset considering we have a lot of talent in the minors.

 I hope you guys
remember our September call-ups too. I really liked the way Fernando Cabrera
and Dustin Richardson looked. Cabrera is a free agent right now, and I think it
would be wise if the Red Sox signed him. Michael Bowden also did some relief
pitching, but I think he is more effective as a starter (he prefers it too). If
the Red Sox cannot work anything out with Halladay, Lackey or Hernandez, than
Bowden can certainly compete for a spot this upcoming spring. If you want my
advice (being the amateur scout that I am), I suggest keeping an eye out for
Cabrera, Richardson, and Bowden.

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Around the Diamond:

I was a bit surprised this 2009 season at how the offense
would go into collective slumps at really inconvenient times. Take the end of
July for example, before the brilliant acquisition of Victor Martinez (whose
option the Red Sox picked up, if you didn’t know), the Red Sox offense was
pretty much dead. The Red Sox may have the best right side of the diamond in
baseball with Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia: two gold glovers and silver
sluggers, MVP caliber men, the Red Sox could not possibly ask for more (I will
talk about Adrian Gonzalez when I get to third base).

The left side of the diamond? Not so much. As usual, perhaps
the biggest question the Red Sox face this offseason is the shortstop position.
Nick Green, my project, was a pleasant surprise. He is a great hitter and a
solid defender for the most part. I sincerely hope that the Red Sox re-sign him
in the offseason. Jed Lowrie, my first project ever, was plagued with injuries
again, but hopefully he can exercise his full potential in 2010. However,
because he is so unreliable at this point, the Red Sox need a shortstop that
they can count on. Alex Gonzalez is no longer an option because he signed with
the Toronto Blue Jays last night. Gonzalez is a great guy, probably one of the
best defensive shortstops in the game, but his offense is sub-par at best.
There are two other shortstops I’m interested in, and one that I will love
forever. I think that the Red Sox should look into acquiring either Marco
Scutaro or Orlando Cabrera (the one that I still love is Nomar Garciaparra, but
I do not see him coming back). I have been saying to acquire Marco Scutaro
since the middle of this season. I think that he would be great insurance, and
I certainly wouldn’t mind swapping shortstops with the Blue Jays.

I am a huge Mike Lowell fan. I have grown up loving him and
I think that he is the prototypical baseball guy. I thought that he was pretty
solid offensively, but defensively, his range was deterred a bit due to his
surgery. I would be completely fine with keeping Mike Lowell, but this is an
area that we can improve in. The name Adrian Gonzalez has been tossed around,
the gold glover first baseman of the Padres. First of all, I don’t think that
the new Padres GM (and former Red Sox assistant GM), Jed Hoyer, would be too
keen on giving a guy like him up. Secondly, this situation is quite similar to
the Mark Teixeira one last year. If Adrian Gonzalez was acquired, Kevin Youkilis
would move across the diamond, which would certainly make Mike Lowell
attractive trade bait, but could he also serve as a DH? I will address that
point in a bit. There have also been rumors regarding Mariners third baseman,
Adrian Beltre, who is coming off of a down season. I would prefer the Adrian
Gonzalez scenario, but Adrian Beltre would not be a bad acquisition.

I’ll expand on what I said before about the designated
hitter situation. Much as I love David Ortiz for what he did for us in 2004,
and all of the walk-off home runs that he has hit, his last two seasons have
been pretty bad. He improved after a poor start in 2008, but his 2009 numbers
were even worse. I know he was near 30 home runs and 100 RBI, but I do weight a
lot in batting average, and he didn’t even bat .240. Believe me, I love David
Ortiz, but from an objective standpoint, I think the Red Sox should look at
other options (within the organization that is). If the Adrian Gonzalez
situation were to happen, Mike Lowell would obviously be the odd-man out, but I
wouldn’t have him sitting on the bench. His defense may not be as good, but his
offensive numbers are actually great! I don’t think anyone can complain about a
.290 batting average. If I am not mistaken, David Ortiz is going into the last
year of his contract, and I don’t think that we can move him around. I guess we
just have to hope that he comes around (for the second year in a row). If the
Red Sox do end up acquiring someone like Adrian Gonzalez or Adrian Beltre, I
don’t think that it would be a feasible option to keep Mike Lowell on the
bench. I have heard a rumor that the Red Sox have been dangling Lowell for
Oakland’s Justin Duscherer, but I don’t feel comfortable giving up an asset as
valuable as Lowell before the Red Sox have a reliable replacement (and by
replacement, I mean improvement).

As for the up-and-coming, continue to keep your eye out for
power-hitter and first baseman Lars Anderson (didn’t have the best 2009, but I
have faith for his 2010). Also, look out for Jose Iglesias and Casey Kelly,
more hope for our shortstop position. The Red Sox have also secured their
backstops for next season when they picked up Victor Martinez’s option for
2010, and Jason Varitek picked up his player option. Picking up Martinez’s
option was an obvious move, but I am glad to see that Varitek is coming back.
He will be great to have during Spring Training, and he is invaluable towards
our pitching staff.

Outfield

Save the most important for last, right? Jacoby Ellsbury’s
spot in center field is perfectly secure for next season, but I would love to
secure him for even longer. In my opinion, I think that he is the best center
fielder in the league. His numbers in 2009 were fabulous, and his fielding was
nearly impeccable. I know a lot of people tend to hate on JD Drew, but I really
enjoy having him on the team. Sure he slumps sometimes, but he is a fabulous
right fielder, and he can be great at the plate. Plus, as soon as his contract
is up, we have some fine up-and-comers, but I’ll get to that later.

The most important void that the Red Sox need to fill this
offseason is left field, and our left fielder is one of the most coveted men on
the market along with Matt Holliday. Obviously, either one of them would be a
great pickup, but I, like many Red Sox fans as well as the organization, would
prefer Bay. Even though Matt Holliday has a higher batting average, I really
like what Bay has brought to the organization. He is such a nice guy, great
with autographs, and he has really thrived in Boston. I don’t blame him for
wanting to explore other options; it would not be fair to him if the Red Sox
tried to prevent him from doing that. In the same sense, I think the Red Sox
should explore their options as well (and by options, I mean Matt Holliday).

There are three big prospects that you should keep your eyes
on: Ryan Westmoreland, Ryan Kalish, and Josh Reddick. I was really proud of
Reddick for his time up in Boston, and I know that there will be more
opportunities for him to do so. There are a lot of complicated situations
created for the Red Sox this offseason, but I am quite confident that the front
office will do everything in its power to create the best Red Sox team
possible.

Before I go, I would like to offer my sincerest
congratulations to Zack Greinke, Tim Lincecum, Joe Mauer, and Albert Pujols.
Relatively obvious choices for the recipients, but they all had spectacular
seasons. It is quite admirable to me that Greinke overcame a depression
disorder, and I hope that other players can overcome this disorder as well
(Khalil Greene, Dontrelle Willis, etc.). I hope to hold a sort of graduation
ceremony over here for the projects that have completed their program. 

Post Trade Deadline Analyses

I think that I have realized something about myself during the summers, and perhaps you all have too: I don’t have too much time to blog during summer vacation. I am fortunate enough to do a lot during the summers, and whether I’m at camp, or on a family vacation, I don’t have good quality time to compose a thoughtful blog, so I apologize for that. 

I wish I had been a more active blogger during the trade deadline, and the days following it, but I was in Maine, removed from electronics and mlb.tv and just appreciating nature. However, there was a radio that was available, and every night we would sit in the living room and listen to the Red Sox. It was such a different perspective for me, because I have always been provided with the luxury of watching baseball on TV, on a computer, or my favorite location: in person. I really loved listening to it on the radio, it was a different way of seeing… or maybe hearing baseball. 
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So the trade deadline came and went, and if you remember my last entry (which was quite a while ago), I thought that it would be best if the Red Sox had just quietly backed out of the trade deadline, and make do with what they have. Retrospectively, the trades that were made, most importantly the Victor Martinez one, was quite necessary. I had said that shortstop and catcher were our weakest positions, and we have vastly improved that situation (mainly the catcher one). 
The problem for me was that I was very hesitant to give away any of our star prospects, but all-star catchers like Victor Martinez don’t come cheap. In order to improve a weaker aspect of the team, we had to take from probably our strongest aspect of the team: the bullpen. It was hard to part with Justin Masterson because I saw so much potential in him, but I think that in order for a team to be good, they need to be proportional. 
The Red Sox had a stellar, almost impeccable bullpen, but the offense was slumping and not scoring runs. A bullpen cannot be effective if it does not have runs to protect. Thus, the Red Sox were disproportional in that sense. Without Justin Masterson, our bullpen is without a doubt weakened. Masterson was a guy that could go many innings when our starters didn’t do their jobs; he could thrive in the starting rotation as well. Is our bullpen still legitimate? Absolutely. Is our starting rotation still legitimate? Absolutely. Is our offense improved? Yes, and that is exactly what we needed. 
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That expression: “We hardly knew ya” can seriously apply to the Adam LaRoche situation, but I am satisfied with the solid defensive abilities of Casey Kotchman. It seems that the Red Sox have an abundance of first basemen now considering that Victor Martinez is a man of may occupations and can play first base. This makes Terry Francona’s job as a manager a bit more difficult, and the lineup is not as predictable as it used to be. It means that some players’ playing time will be less, and not everyone may be happy with that. Guys like Kevin Youkilis pout when they have the day off, and he’d rather play left field than sit on the bench. As a baseball fan, I think you have to love that mentality that a player wants to help his team every single day, even if you don’t like Kevin Youkilis’ personality. 
I think that one of the biggest questions the Red Sox face will come when Tim Wakefield returns from the disabled list. I have not fully educated myself on Victor Martinez’s capabilities, but I am wondering if he is educated in the art of catching a knuckleball. I am not a very big George Kottaras fan because for me, his only use is the fact that he can catch Tim Wakefield (and not that well), and his offensive abilities are mediocre at best. If Victor Martinez can catch a knuckleball, then I think George Kottaras is no longer needed. 
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I like the acquisition of Alex Gonzalez as a defensive shortstop since Jed Lowrie is on the disabled list. It’s funny how there have been a turn of events since the start of the season: the Red Sox went from having three shortstops to one. It’s nice to see Gonzalez back in a Red Sox uniform since he was a wonderful defensive shortstop in 2006. A question that will come soon is: What will be the next move when Jed Lowrie returns? 
Going back to the pitching situation, I found out that John Smoltz was designated for assignment while I was on my trip. I have a lot of respect for John Smoltz, and what he has done over the course of his career. It is unfortunate that he didn’t do what the Red Sox hoped he would. I think that the acquisition during the offseason was a very wise one. It was very similar to what the Red Sox hoped Curt Schilling would have done in 2008. Unfortunately, neither of them worked out, but the incentives for signing them were obvious. 
I haven’t forgotten about Dice-K either, and the comments that he issued about the Red Sox pitching procedures. I don’t think that he was right, but I’m going to go for a little empathy here. He was phenomenal when he was in Japan, and he was very good his first two years with the Red Sox. There is obviously some gray areas when it comes to training. Dice-K has his way, and the Red Sox have their way. Dice-K should have trained better for the 2009 season, the World Baseball Classic was not the way to go because technically, that is the true World Series, and it has a playoff atmosphere. Dice-K didn’t have the more lax spring training that others went through. He went from the 2008 playoffs to pre-season 2009 playoffs. I think that he has to accept responsibility for that, and conform (for now) to what the Red Sox want him to do. 
By the way, while I was on my trip I was lucky enough to have some baseball experiences. I have some analyses on the Portland Sea Dogs to share with you, and some great pictures from the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Taking a Leave of Absence.

Hello friends, I just wanted to take the time to let you know that I will be unable to blog productively for three weeks. Normally it takes me a good two hours to write a good one, and I’ll barely have time. 

This leave of absence is not because I failed a drug test. I actually had my yearly physical this past week, and I am all healthy. No Performance Enhancing Drugs over here. Manny and A-Rod, on the other hand, were not as lucky. 
The reason behind this leave of absence is due to a summer program that I have attended the past three years: The Great Books Summer Program. I will be out at Stanford University reading some of the greatest, most obscure literature that one can imagine. I have attended the program at both Stanford University and Amherst college, and it has been a significant part of my life ever since I attended. Even though it is only for a short time period, I consider the friends I have made there to be some of my best friends. 
This program has always served as a huge inspiration for me. The people who work there are all genuinely kind human beings who tell me that if I’m going to dream at all, I need to dream big. My counselor last year, Kyle LeBell (who is going to Israel this summer to become a rabbi) told me that “I should get lost so I can find myself”. 
When I’m out there in Stanford, it’s like I’m in my own little bubble– separated from the outside world for three, glorious weeks. I pretty much experience a catharsis that renders me overly skeptical and miserable upon my return. My home away from home: 
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I am actually separated from my baseball bubble whilst in this summer bubble. I do not have access to a computer for a good three hours to watch a baseball game. While my father is able to send me some updates, it still is not the same. 
That means I won’t be seeing Jacoby’s out-of-this-world catches. No Pedroia scampering around the infield and hitting balls that are anywhere over the plate. No ‘Papi’ chants after he hits a home run. No Youuuuuuukilis/Drew back-to-back hits. No Jason Bay clutch, clutch, CLUTH hitting. No Jason Varitek wisdom. No double-taking at Mike Lowell’s plays at third base. I won’t be able to laugh/curse Nick Green at the same time for his base running skills, and I won’t be able to cringe when Julio Lugo gets a ground ball. I will probably miss Jed Lowrie’s return, as well as Jerry Remy’s. I will miss Eck’s language, and I will miss John Smoltz’s start. I need to stop this list. 
I regret not being able to get up my Yankees vs Red Sox blog in time too. I’ll just give you some highlights. 
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I was able to go on a tour of Fenway Park thanks to some very kind people. I was on the field during batting practice, and I was ridiculously close to the Yankees as they started warming up. 
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Can you imagine the thoughts running through my mind as people like Johnny Damon and Alex Rodriguez were within arms reach? Jail time doesn’t look too good on a resume though. 
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I met a couple of reporters, I’m sure you know who they are. They were very kind. 
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I went back up to the Green Monster, the view was breathtaking, as usual (and by usual, I mean the second time) 
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I got a picture with the metaphorical Fisk pole, and a picture of the actual Fisk pole. 
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I was a kid in a candy store walking through the Red Sox Hall of Fame. I especially loved the ‘Greatest Moments’ section. 
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I also saw the view from right field, and the new section that was added (under the Cumberland Farms sign). 
The game itself was glorious, but the weather wasn’t as cooperative. Luckily, a rain delay never ensued. I was soaked to the bone, and so was all my stuff, but you guys know me during rain delays. 
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I played with some of the modes on my camera, and I took some pretty cool pictures. The people behind me actually asked if I was a reporter. I told them I was up and coming. 
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Seeing a game live is always a treat for me, to say the least. What was even more of a treat was Big Papi’s home run! Manny Delcarmen didn’t help our cause too much, and I feared I would be seeing a loss. But the offense came through, and treated me to a win. 
I wish you all a nice three and a half weeks, and you can keep up with me on Twitter. I figured out I can send texts, so I’ll let you all know what I’m doing. 

Shipping Up to Boston

The song that signals Jonathan Papelbon’s entrance into a game at Fenway Park can also be applied to what I did the other day. I did not fly up to Boston like I normally do. Nor did I literally “ship” up to Boston (though I thinkthat we all wish that we were ‘on a boat’). In fact, I drove up to Boston.

Anyone who is remotely familiar with a map of the continental United States can tell you that it is not a short drive. We trekked through some serious torrential downpours. I’m pretty sure that the storms came down form DC and Atlanta. I only say that because I know that those games were delayed Thursday night because of rain. We basically spent 28 straight hours in the car making stops for food, and rest stops to take a quick nap.

As far as the agenda goes for the week, I’m pretty excited. On Monday and Tuesday, I will be going down to Pawtuket to see some PawSox games. The thing is, I won’t just be getting there two hours early for autographs this time. I’ll be getting two hours early because Dan Hoard and Steve Hyder, a radio broadcaster and a beat writer for the PawSox, have agreed to let me interview them. I look forward to interviewing them about their careers as well as what they see as far as the future goes.

I think a lot of people disregard minor league baseball because it is seemingly insignificant and it is full of raw, not-yet-perfected talent.. Admittedly, I used to be that way too. But once you go to a few Spring Training games, and you see the kind of work these guys do, and the mentality that they approach the game with, you really being to appreciate that aspect of the game.

Plus, as you watch it, you have to realize that you might be looking at the next Josh Beckett, the next Jonathan Papelbon or the next Dustin Pedroia. Maybe it’s just because I’m the “future blog of the Red Sox” that I’m interested in the “future of the Red Sox” because I want to know who I’ll be writing about (hopefully), but I think that these guys are the real deal.

So even though the Sox cooled down a bit during the middle of May and towards the end, they are begining to turn it around thanks to Terry Francona’s brilliance when it comes to the everyday lineup. Plus the fact that the starting rotation is starting to come together.

Slowly but surely, Big Papi is starting to come out of his funk. I think that the most impressive part of this entire situation is the perpetual support that he is receiving from Red Sox fans. I know that there is a lot of “underground” criticism, which there should be, but every time he comes up to the plate, I hear cheers. Only in Boston. When Mark Teixeira got off to his terrible start in April, he was getting booed in New York.

It’s not like Boston is the paragon of mercy though. I hear vicious complaints about Julio Lugo everyday. So why aren’t fans becoming hostile towards Papi? Personally, I think it’s because we can never forget what he did for us in 2004. If it wasn’t for him, I honestly believe that we would not have broken the curse. His formidable bat, and his clutch hitting was such an essential part. We cannot just abandon our love for him after what he did for urs.

Anyway, I’m starting to like this lineup. It’s weird not seeing Ellsbury at the top because he seems like the prototypical leadoff guy: consistent bat, speed, run scorer. The problem was the lack of that at the bottom of the order, which was why we weren’t scoring runs. And while I’m generally a supporter of the Youkilis-Drew punch, I enjoy Bay hitting in the four hole.

I’ve talked about Bay being Mr. Dependable and the new Mr. Clutch-Hitter, but it’s not like he just came out of no where. His numbers were quite comparable during his Pittsburgh years, it’s just that Pittsburgh doesn’t get the kind of media attention that it deserves. I know that they just aren’t that good, and that they just traded away Nate McLouth, but they deserve attention. They’ve got that young, raw talent that I like. Maybe I’ll start calling it future talent.

I am also thrilled that Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are starting to have consistently solid outings. They both flirted with no-hitters quite recently (in fact, Lester was flirting with a perfect game). I’m done with flirting though, it’s time to court that perfect game! Lester’s ERA and record is not truly indicative of how his year has been, though. Like I’ve said, it’s just been that one annoying inning that has ruined the first part of his season.

Recently, Lester has been having the kind of outings that everyone said that he was going to have. I think our little talk really paid off: he is concentrating on making each and every pitch. And have you seen the number of strikeouts that he has been racking up? 12 K’s in 6 innings and then 11 in 7 I believe was the last one. And Josh Beckett has just been dominant his past few starts. It is all coming together now. All we have to do is get Dice-K away from these mediocre outings. I have no complaints about Wakefield– only praise for his durability. As for Brad Penny, what can I say? The guy has a winning record. I don’t like him very much because I think he only has decent outings, if that, and he just gets very lucky with the run support.

I think that covers what I haven’t been covering as often, and I am sorry for my lack of presence. I think you’ll like the next few entries though. My friend will be guest blogging and writing a “Top Ten Reasons Never to Watch or Go To a Baseball Game with Elizabeth’. I will also be blogging about the PawSox game and the Yankee vs Red Sox game I will be attending on Thursday night.

Quick Update

I know, it has been a while. I know I didn’t even provide my recounts/experiences watching the first Yankees vs Red Sox series of the year. The reason(s) behind all of this is that I am in the process of studying for my United States History exams. I just took the subject test earlier today, so I don’t feel too guilty about blowing off studying to write this. 

Red Sox vs Yankees. 
This series was pretty much the exhibition of how most series between these two are. Though the Red Sox did sweep the Yankees, each game was close, and provided an adrenaline rush of a different kind. 
My friend, Kathleen, came over for the first one. It was really nice to have our top three pitchers go out against the Yankees. Ortiz warned Joba not to throw at Youkilis’ head, because Joba seems to have something against Kevin Youkilis. He has thrown at his head four times. And though Chamberlain avoided Youkilis’ head, he did hit Jason Varitek, who may look similar to Youkilis because of the beard. 
Jason Bay is establishing himself as the clutch hitter of our lineup. To help Mariano Rivera blow his twelfth career save against the Red Sox, Jason Bay hit a home run that just hit the top of the monster to tie the game. 
Kathleen called Youkilis’ shot to win the game– yes, the walk-off shot that I was craving. The next game was even longer than the first, and it didn’t even go into extra innings. I’m pretty sure Joba told AJ Burnett to hit Kevin Youkilis, so that he would not have to get into any skirmishes with Big Papi. Anyway, Mike Lowell was the hero of that game. 
But the hero of the series? That, my friends, would be Jacoby Ellsbury. We all know that Andy Petite has a wicked pickoff move to first base, one of the best in the majors. But the left hander wasn’t really expecting Jacoby Ellsbury to steal home with the bases loaded and two outs, and neither was Jorge Posada. But he did, and Fenway went absolutely insane. 
It was the first time a Red Sox had done that in ten years, and it was all over the highlight reels for the next few days. 
The winning streak was broken up in Clevland, thanks to an error by Javier Lopez. Javier Lopez was the antagonist of the series against Clevland. First, an error in the second game of the series so that Mark DeRosa scored from second. I was threatening to pull him off of my fantasy team. And in the last game of the series? Javy did so poorly that the Red Sox had to pull a Nick Swisher. Jonathan Van Every, who what would become the game winning home run in the first game of the series, had to come in and pitch. I’m pretty sure that he is going to be a late addition to my projects. He didn’t really play much in spring training because he either had a sprained ankle, or surgery. 
I really am sorry for the lack of updates, and I promise that this one will be more coherent tomorrow. I’m going to the Red Sox vs Rays tonight (four hour drive, woohoo!), and I hope to see Rays Renegade there!
Lots of pictures next entry! 

Opening Week Thoughts

After Josh Beckett’s stellar performance on Opening Day, I was excited to see what the rest of the pitching staff was going to offer. I can’t say that I was thrilled with the three games that followed Josh Beckett’s, but I can say that I’m optimistic for the rest of the season. It is obvious that the Red Sox are still coming together as a whole, and transitioning from the Spring Training atmosphere to the regular season atmosphere. But as Kevin Youkilis pointed out, I’d rather be off to a slow start than have a bad finish. “There are bright things to come”. 

I was very excited for Wednesday’s game because I knew that it was going to be a pitcher’s duel. Those always keep me on the edge of my seat, even if they are a bit nerve racking. It seems to me that Lester and Kazmir serve the same purpose on their respective teams– dominant lefties. Then again, when I was in Tampa last year I did see Kazmir pitch nine straight balls. It was quite a game until around the fifth inning where the Rays exploded for four runs. I bet Carlos Pena’s home run was pretty “deflating” as Jon Lester called it. I’m trying to remember the situation, but maybe he could have put Pena on instead of pitching to him at a 3-1 count. Then there was that really weird play where Jason Bartlett had that suicide safety squeeze or whatever you call it. Poor Lester looked so lost, but at least these looks of confusion are happening at the beginning of the season rather than the middle. 
Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez looked good that game, and Takashi Saito did alright after giving up that home run on the second pitch. As soon as he gave up that home run, I thought back to that game in 2007 where Okajima gave up a home run on his very first pitch. Frustrating for sure, but then he was completely dominant the rest of the season. Perhaps there will be a similar pattern to Saito’s performance this year. The main thing that I noted about Lester though was that he wasn’t really hitting his spots. He would shake off Varitek a lot and after the first two innings, the command just wasn’t really there. If I was a pitcher on the Red Sox, I wouldn’t shake off Varitek too much. He definitely knows what he’s doing. 
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The final game of the series offered another great matchup between Matt Garza and Dice-K Matsuzaka. I swear, Matt Garza looks and acts like a snake. His tongue is always out! Whenever Dice-K pitches, I’m always a nervous wreck. This time, it wasn’t because he walked the bases loaded, he only walked three. His command wasn’t really present and he gave up three home runs.
My incessant hunger became overwhelming as I watched this game, and I needed something to munch on. Eventually, dry roasted peanuts and sunflower seeds became available. Pretty good baseball food. The more nervous I became, the more inclined I was to munch, but for the most part I was able to restrain myself… until Justin Masterson loaded up the bases in the top of the ninth. Luckily, Jacoby Ellsbury squelched my anxiety as he made a beautiful running catch.
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The next night, the Red Sox played the Angels… the first game the Angels would be playing after the tragedy. That game, I wasn’t as compulsively rooting for the Red Sox as I usually do. I was comfortable with watching a good baseball game, and I was comfortable with the fact that the Red Sox lost. There were much bigger things going on that night than winning and losing. I did rush home though, and I was the one driving so it was a lot easier to put the pedal to the metal and run those yellow lights that may have been transitioning into red. I made myself coffee because I tend to have trouble staying awake for the West Coast games, especially in a dark room. 
It must have been hard for Jered Weaver to pitch that night. I didn’t even realize until after the game that Nick Adenhart was supposed to move in with him that Friday. Weaver had 8 strikeouts in 6.2 innings, and as he walked off the mound, he pointed to the sky. That was beyond baseball. 
Brad Penny started the next game (yesterday’s) and even though his command wasn’t totally there, he still looked pretty healthy, which made me happy. I started watching this game in the third inning because I was at my grandparents house and I didn’t really expect the game to be on TV. If Brad Penny was feeling healthy, than that’s pretty good news because he will be great to have on the rotation if he is healthy. His velocity was up there, so for a guy coming off the worst season of his career, I would say that he did pretty well.
The offense finally woke up during this game. After the very first game where almost everyone got a hit, a few people fell off the radar. Kevin Youkilis was basically on fire until yesterday (still hitting .526 though) and Jacoby was just starting to wake up and get on base. Unfortunately, Pedroia and Big Papi haven’t been producing much. Big Papi is definitely due to say the least. Jason Bay came out of the gate swinging so that has made me pretty happy. Especially for a guy who generally has a pretty crappy April. I think that Mike Lowell is starting to wake up too. And where is Jed Lowrie?? He had a monster Spring, and here I am waiting for him to transition. I hope that he and Papi have big days today. 
Jonathan Palebon gave me a heart attack in the bottom of the ninth inning. First the home run to Torii Hunter, and then the bases are loaded. My grandparents are laughing at me as I bury my face in my hands and peek through them. Howard Kendrick hit something like seven foul balls in a row. Papelbon claimed to be “giggling” but I sure wasn’t– not with the bases loaded. My mother came over wondering what was going on since I had promised her that it was one more out five minutes ago. 
“Are you bad luck?” I asked somewhat accusingly as she came over. Last time she was near the vicinity, Papelbon had walked a guy, and we were not walking in the tying run. Luckily, she wasn’t bad luck, and Papelbon miraculously got out of it. I was able to breathe again. 
Last game of the Red Sox vs Angels series coming on in a little while. Can’t wait to watch Beckett pitch again, and I kind of want to see Chris Carter in this game.