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Posts Tagged ‘Clay Buchholz’


Opening Day is nearly here. While the Red Sox open the season in Cleveland, I’ll be attending the D’Backs home opener. Hopefully I will see Zach Greinke pitch well, and that dominant offense from Spring Training (but it was only Spring Training). But let’s focus on the Red Sox.

The Promise:

This would be the young guys who are playing an increasing number of positions for this Red Sox team.

Xander Bogaerts is on the brink of being an All-Star. Last year his defense was much improved. As was his hitting. The only thing he lacks at this point is power. If he can start driving the ball a little more, they could have a superstar on their hands.

Mookie Betts has been shifted to right field to make way for JBJ. He was a very good center fielder last year, and hit very well the second half of the season. He has the arm for right field. This spring (caveat: it’s spring) he has displayed more power. Mookie is an all-star in the making and seems to have the charisma to make the leap to superstar.

Jackie Bradley Jr. showed some of the promise for about a month or so. That would be as a hitter. His defense is Gold Glove level. It was his offense that has kept him bouncing between Boston and Pawtucket. He hit well in Spring training, again (and again it is spring). We’ll see if this is the year he puts it all together for a season.

Travis Shaw is our late addition to this group. He wasn’t expected to be named the starter at third base. In part because he played first base. He probably hoped to be the back up at first and third. Hanley has stayed healthy, so far. But the Panda is like Po and seemingly expanding in girth every time you see him. That is great if you are an animated Panda. Not if you are the third baseman of the Red Sox and need to play defense. It was Shaw’s hitting this spring, and Pablo’s lack thereof that has Travis starting the season in the field at the hot corner. He put things together late last season during a call-up. He opened some eyes by flashing more power than expected. Will he maintain or become the next Will Middlebrooks? Only time will tell, as Asia sang.

Blake Swihart will start as the primary catcher. He was rushed to Boston due to injuries to Vazquez and Hannigan. He struggled offensively at first, but improved as the season wore on. While he is improving as a catcher, the main draw is his hitting.

Christian Vazquez starts the season on the DL as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. He is the emerging as a great defensive catcher. We’ll see if his throwing returns. It was very hard to steal on Christian. He is also great at framing pitches and calls such a good game that he’s the guy pitchers want calling the game. If he can hit .260 …. he’ll have a long career. But will it be with the Red Sox? Can they keep both Christian and Blake? Will Blake move to another position (I’d say first, but Sam Travis is due in the next year or so)? Perhaps Blake will be moved to get pitching. There are many questions for this position, but these are good questions not bad questions.

Eduardo Rodriguez begins the year on the DL after tweaking his knee during a drill in spring training. He did well last year, when he wasn’t tipping pitches. He supposedly made the necessary changes. He looks very promising. But so did Felix Doubront. Everyone is high on him, and he wants to learn about pitching from Price. Hopefully we will be ready to pitch soon.

I’m not sure if Brock Holt fits here, but I’m not sure where to put him. He is their super-utility player who has suddenly become their starting left fielder against righties. He experienced a down turn at the end of last season. Was it fatigue? Had pitchers figured him out? Time will tell. This may have a ripple effect should anyone in the infield gets hurt. Perhaps they will move him to the infield and play the 4th outfielder.

Shaw and Holt are the beneficiaries of Dumbrowski’s decree that Farrell play the best players, not necessarily the highest paid players. Apparently Farrell didn’t believe him. Dumbrowski is dealing with a bunch of players that Cherington signed. The ghosts of the Cherington era haunt Fenway. Dumbrowski will try to exorcise some, but may have to wait some out.

The Foundation

Dustin Pedroia is bouncing back from yet another injury. His defensive ratings dropped last year, but his power came back. He still makes amazing plays and is fun to watch. The question is how many games he’ll play.

This is the David Ortiz farewell tour. Spring Training is sort of superfluous to him. He’ll probably hit over 30 HR and drive in about 100 RBI, if healthy. It will be sad to see him, and his production. For now, he continues to anchor the heart of the line up.

David Price is the new ace, and should be for some time. He’s also the mentor for the young pitchers like Eduardo Rodriguez. This is the guy Dombrowski wanted, and got. I’m glad the Red Sox don’t have to face him anymore.

Craig Kimbrel is the new closer. He has played long enough to not be part of the promise for the future. He should help stabilize the bull pen after it was used, abused and misused last year. The first problem was starters getting knocked out early and often. Due to injuries and failures they went through more options at closer than I can count or remember. With the re-vamped bull pen they could shorten games. This took a hit with Carson Smith’s injury.

The Problems & Question Marks

There are just too many of these.

Hanley Ramirez is untested as a first baseman. So far it has been far better than left field was. His hitting is also a big question mark. He was once a great hitter. He hit well in April, and then hit a wall. The shoulder injury hampered his swing the rest of the year.  We are very uncertain if he will be productive this year.

Pablo Sandoval has potentially eaten himself out of a starting job. I’m not sure what the Red Sox should do. He may have an eating disorder as some have theorized. That would necessitate treatment, but he’d need to want it. If he loses some weight, and Shaw struggles, he may find his way back onto the field. Or he may be traded if the Padres want to take a chance on him. One of the pictures I saw from Spring Training was Pablo fielding ground balls. In this shorts pocket was what appeared to be a cell phone. A large one. I’m not doing fielding drills with my phone. This indicates to me that some priorities are out of whack.

Rusney Castillo was a big risk by Cherington and company. He hasn’t panned out, yet. He has struggled with the fastball. He may go back to the minors since he lost his spot to Brock Holt. He needs at bats to develop his offense. Now we watch, and wait.

Clay Buchholz is an enigma. When he’s having a difficult season, you want him to get hurt. When he’s having a fantastic season, he inevitably gets hurt. He’s like a yo-yo alternating good and horrible seasons. He started well last year before the injury bug bit him, yet again.

Rick Porcello has had a frustrating stint with the Red Sox. Dumbrowski dealt him away from Detroit, and is stuck with him again. I wonder if he groaned. Rick had a strong finish to his season. So far the early season Porcello who gave up home runs has been pitching. But it is Spring Training and guys are working on pitches rather than pitching to win. We’ll see which Porcello shows up.

Joe Kelly is another enigma. How many can one team have on it’s pitching staff??? He dominated at the end of the season with a new approach to pitching. If THAT guy shows up, things look good for him, and therefore the Red Sox.

Koji Uehara is getting older. He is no longer the closer after struggling some. Junichi Tazawa struggled due to overuse last season. Has he recovered ,or is he damaged goods? Big question.

 

This could be a very good season, or a very bad one. While there is much promise, there are also some big question marks and concerns. It really could go either way. This is a season in which they may be more prone to injury than normally. Now we just watch and wait.

 

 

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He’s a wheeler-dealer man.

After two last place finished, John Henry realized that his philosophy may be slightly problematic. But you don’t want to just spend money for the sake of spending it (see Big Panda and Hanley Ramirez). You want a guy who has a proven track record of delivering. All season long, not just in the World Series (Panda).

Dombrowski is looking to be a shrewd dude. He saw that trading for an ace would be a costly proposition. He stated he would most likely get one in free agency, and he pulled off what I thought couldn’t be done: David Price. While Price hasn’t dominated the post-season like he has the regular season he has pitched some good games and been done in by bad luck. He is what Clay Buchholz is not: durable and consistent. He’s also an alpha dog who leads by example, and words.

The presence of the opt out clause after year 3 is actually a selling point for me. As is keeping the 12th draft pick (and our best prospects). We might not get stuck with a phantom of David Price in years 6 & 7. Then again … who knows.

But this we do know: for the foreseeable future the Red Sox have their ace and their closer. And that is pretty stinking important. In 2016 they will still have Big Papi to prove power, and a lefty bat in a righty dominant line up.

It isn’t about winning the offseason, but the real season. This helps them greatly, but as we saw in 2011, guarantees NOTHING.

Having 6 major league starters, they needed to trade one (or more). Speculation was rampant. Without the pressure of being the ace, Porcello made the proper adjustments and finished very strong. The same thing with Joe Kelly. I’d hate to trade them and see them flourish elsewhere.

Today the odd man out was Wade Miley, the Garden Gnome. I call him that because of a give-away they had while he was a member of the D’Backs. He is an innings eater whose ERA has been climbing every year (to be fair, last year was his first in the AL). He is durable but he is a 4 or 5.

They shipped him and a relief pitcher, who in his brief stint in the big last year had an ERA over 6, to the Mariners for 2 pitchers. The first, Roenis Elis, is a righty (Miley is a lefty) who can fill that important role of long relief and spot starter. Those are valuable guys. Especially if Buchholz, or I should say when, gets hurt. Or if one of the other guys struggles. Most likely the first guy out of AAA in case of a DL stint will be Henry Owens or Brian Johnson.

The other pitcher, Carson Smith, helps shore up the bullpen as another guy who strikes people out. Maybe, just maybe, Dombrowski has figured out how to build a bullpen (or had help in Wren and Hazen). He’s also under Red Sox control until 2020, the anti-Chapman.

The line up is nearly set, barring a trade (rumors have the Indians considering the Panda). Brock Holt is your uber-utility infielder and Chris Young as the 4th outfielder who can hit the lefties that JBJ may still struggle against.

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The Red Sox have only made one move so far this off season. That would be the trade for Padres and Braves closer Craig Kimbrell. He is exactly what they needed in the bull pen. He came “cheaper” than Chapman, in terms of players going in the other direction, and will belong to the Red Sox for more than one season (Chapman will be free agent after the 2016 season). He was pricey in that they lost 4 lower level prospects with tons of upside. Potential is not always realized, however. There have been plenty of prospects that don’t pan out like everyone hoped. This is not the dealing away of Jeff Bagwell for a rental who doesn’t even get you into the playoffs. But he didn’t cost them their best and most electrifying prospects: Moncada, Devers, and Benintendi. Or the guys read;y to make the jump to the big leagues: Owens, and Johnson.

The Kimbrell trade gives you an elite closer who throws high 90’s heat. The coveted power arm at the back end of the bullpen. This takes the pressure off of Koji, who has struggled with injuries the last 2 seasons and is 40 years old. Koji doesn’t need to close, and can provide protection as well as a dependable guy to pitch in the 8th. This creates bullpen depth they sorely lacked last year. Tazawa is pushed to the 7th.

This also means that Joe Kelly remains in the rotation. He showed great improvement after returning from the DL. If he can be THAT guy, the rotation will be much better and save the bullpen unlike last year. The lousy starts by Kelly and Porcello, and occasionally Miley, devastated the bullpen.

The main question is who will the Red Sox sign to be the ace. Finishing in last the previous 2 seasons sent a strong message to John Henry about the need for an ace ASAP. E Rod may be an ace one day. Maybe. Or he could be the 2nd coming of Felix Doubrant whom we thought would be the 2nd coming of Jon Lester by finally figuring a few things out so he could go deep in game. Nope. Felix was not in the majors last I knew. He just got worse.

Clay has ace caliber stuff, but can’t stay healthy. I pity the fool who relies on Buchholz Available aces tend to be older, unless you want to pay the king’s ransom for them. It worked for Pedro. But most young guys like Grey are not available, or their teams are greedy. A few are untouchable, only a few. But guys like Owens and Johnson and Shaw won’t get a trade done. Besides Shaw may end up playing first in 2017, and will back up the increasingly fragile Hanley Ramirez as he takes over first base (crossing fingers).

Dombrowski indicates that they will most likely get that #1 starter in free agency. This leaves us to consider Price, Cueto, Greinke and Jordan Zimmerman. These are the guys, and even Zimmerman is borderline as the #3 pitcher on the Nationals. He also had a lousy free agent year. Health, pressure, lack of confidence? I’m not sure I want to spend ace money on Zimmerman. Or give him ace responsibilities. With Porcello at $20 million they could quickly have an over-priced and under-performing rotation.

As Owens and Johnson develop and prove they can perform in the big leagues, they can force the Red Sox to trade Miley (he’s on a good contract and is probably the most tradable of Porcello, Kelly and Miley).

So, we are down to Price, Cueto and Greinke. The first 2 were traded during the season, so they were not eligible for qualifying offers. This means that only Greinke will cost them a draft pick. A 12th pick, kind of draft pick.

This is a high price. However, it may be worth paying. Greinke has dealt with his social anxiety issues. He is a thinking man’s pitcher. He is big on advanced analytics, and got Bannister, now a Red Sox employee, into them while they both pitched for Kansas City. The connection with Bannister may be important. Not being a a power pitcher may mean that Zach is able to dominate longer, much lack Maddox. He may be the best value over the life of the his contract. He has pitched in the AL, obviously, though it has been awhile. He has seemed to resolve his post season issues.

All the “experts” and GMs believe that the Red Sox will sign Price. Earlier they all though he’d head to the Cubs to be reunited with Maddon rather than pursue a reunion with Dombrowski. I’m sure he could play with Ortiz for a season, but I’m not sure he wants to play for Red Sox fans who have been a bit hard on him. While his post season record is pretty lousy, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t pitched well. His WHIP is slightly higher, which doesn’t quite explain the significantly higher ERA. Oh, the joys of a smaller sample size and the vagaries of post season play. He has pitched most of his career in the AL East when it was one of the best divisions in baseball. He can pitch in the division.

Price is more of a power pitcher, which means that unless he’s Nolan Ryan, he will not live up to the last years of what looks to be a huge contract. He is likely to be the guy John Henry fears or feared.

Cueto has that Luis Tiant odd delivery thing going for him. What he doesn’t seem to have going for him is a bum elbow. There are some serious questions about that elbow. He does seem to be a good leader, talking pitching with other starters on the bench during games. He’s the alpha dog type you want. He may be cheaper due to the question about the elbow. You could try the John Lackey maneuver with him- add a year at league minimum if he has surgery on that arm.

I am glad I’m not Dumbrowski, and I don’t have to make that choice, and live with the consequences.

Update: Zimmerman signed with the Tigers for about $22 million a year for 5 years.

The D’Backs are pushing hard for Cueto.

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2014 didn’t go well for the Red Sox. After going from last to first, and the World Series where they beat the Cardinals, they returned to last place.  There were a number of issues. Lester and Lackey were solid, but the rest of the rotation pretty much stunk. Buchholz was still trying to fix the bad mechanics he picked up when he was hurt in the latter part of 2013. Eventually they gave up on Jake Peavy’s streak of futility and Doubrant’s inability to do just about anything.

Their attempts to replace Ellsbury failed. Sizemore couldn’t maintain his hot spring, and Jackie Bradley Jr. couldn’t hit- period. With Victorino on the DL much of the year this resulted in a horribly under-producing outfield for the first half of the season. Relying on Jonny Gomes full-time isn’t a good idea.

Their infield plan of Bogaerts and Middlebrooks just didn’t work as Xander pressed after the Red Sox brought Stephen Drew back when Middlebrooks got hurt- again. Napoli was never the same after an injury, and A.J. was a cancer behind the plate.

The rebuild started mid-season as they traded or cut every starter but Buchholz and traded Gomes away. They took a chance on Allen Craig’s track record, hoping 2014 was an injury-induce aberration. They signed Rusney Castillo for the future. Out of desperation they put Mookie Betts in the outfield where he flourished on his third call up.

In the off season they got the Panda for third, making the perpetually injured Will Middlebrooks unnecessary. They also picked up Hanley Ramirez to play outfield and added Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson to Clay and Joe Kelly to replace the under-performing Webster, De La Rosa and Ranaudo.

So … they entered Spring Training with a glut of outfielders: Betts, Ramirez, Castillo, Nava, Craig, Bradley and the surgically-repaired Victorino. They also didn’t have a clear cut ace, and a suspect bullpen.

They left Spring Training with projected starting catcher Christian Vazquez in need of Tommy John surgery, their closer Koji Uehara and Joe Kelly on the DL. The excess in the outfield has Castillo and Bradley in AAA at least until there is an injury to either Victorino or Ramirez, or a trade of either Craig or Victorino. Did you get all that?

Much is made about a $72 million dollar player being in AAA. Well, that is over 6 years so $12 million average, just over $10 million this year. Victorino is making $13 million. So the money is not the issue here. Particularly when we realize Betts played his way into center. Castillo is in the big leagues long term. Next year at the very latest, but most likely earlier particularly if Victorino struggles, gets hurt or traded. Victorino has lots of rust and injury echo to shake off. He is historically not very concerned about spring training. Let’s see if Shane can show up and play every night. Unfortunately the only guys with options were Castillo, Betts and Bradley.

They want to go from last to first again. It might happen, largely because of the offense. This could be a devastating offense. Off-season surgery may have enabled Pedroia to return to being the Destroya, and Napoli to stay awake by actually sleeping at night. Napoli has been killing the ball. Betts has been getting on base and while not as dangerous as the Tiger’s line up it should be a gigantic improvement over last year’s anemic offense.

The big question is the pitching. Clay is looking more like the early 2013 Clay, who dominated, than last year’s model. Porcello is looking good. Masterson seems to have regained his arm slot and has improved velocity. Miley isn’t expected to be a 2 or 3 like in Arizona. His job is to throw 200 innings with an ERA around 4. They just need Kelly to get back quickly

Fortunately they are in a division with a bunch of flawed teams. They have a chance to take the division. But there is also a good chance they won’t. This is like a return to the old Red Sox formula: all hitting and decent pitching. It may get them to the playoffs, but I don’t think it will get them a World Series. The good news for them is that Bogaerts, Betts, Castillo and the Panda will be around for awhile. Next winter they can get some of the elite pitchers who look to be heading into free agency. Or bring up some of their top pitching prospects. They have moved in the right direction, but probably not far enough (yet) to add another title.

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The 2014 season seemed promising for the defending World Series champion Red Sox. They returned almost all of their starting rotation. The missing member of the 6 primary starters from the previous season was its weakest link: Dempster. The bullpen was largely intact as well. The pitching seemed to be ready to go. The one mystery was how Buchholz would bounce back from the injuries that hampered him for the 2nd half of the season.

They had a number of new players in key positions. Two were highly touted rookies Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. Ellsbury would be missed in terms of offense but they hoped to make that up with Xander’s estimated production to be far greater the Stephen Drew’s. I was not wild about the signing of Pierzynski but his offense was expected to compensate to the loss of Saltalamacchia (he was go from .273 to a paltry .220 with the Marlins). The hope was for Middlebrooks to bounce back.

The plan was slightly altered when Grady Sizemore had an awesome camp and make the opening day roster. Looked great but then he failed to produce at the same pace. Or nearly any pace.

But I get slightly ahead of myself. All the breaks that went their way in 2013 didn’t in 2014. The new replay system seemed stacked against them in the first month as everyone tried to adjust. Lots of blown calls seemed to go against them. Some of these were game changers, or so it seemed.

Another thing that went right in 2013 is that a high number of players who played above their means. They had above average seasons, often career years. Saltalamacchia, Nava, Carp had career best seasons. Papi hit exceedingly well for his age. He hit for average and power. Napoli bounced back to have a good offensive season as did Victorino. Part of what went wrong was regression to mean for the players still on the roster, and not on the injured list.

The main problems initially were a lack of production from the outfield. Nava was pressing and in a big slump to start the season. Victorino was hurt and the combination of Sizemore and Bradley hit about .220. Middlebrooks continued to struggle. The offense was stagnant. Even Pedroia and Papi got off to a slow start. Seemed like the only guys who didn’t were Napoli and Xander.

Buccholz was just plain horrible. New reliever Mujica was too, and blew some games early. Peavy just couldn’t buy a break.

And then the real problems started. Napoli injured a finger and was never the same. Middlebrooks got hurt, again. This “forced” them to re-sign Drew and shift Xander to 3rd. For the first time in his career, shortly after the switch, Xander entered a big, ugly slump. Unknown to the rest of the world, Pedroia was still hurt and not productive at the plate though he still played stellar defense. But he was the only one. Okay, Bradley was playing fantastic defense. Xander struggled at third, and they couldn’t throw a base runner out.

The changes started to come fast and furious. They gave up on Sizemore and cut him (he was hitting .216 at the time and hit a slightly more respectable .243 for the Phillies). Pierzynki was cut (he hit .254 for the Sox and would go on to the Cards and hit .244 for them on the way to the playoffs). Peavy (1-9, 4.72) was traded to San Francisco where he was 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA helping the Giants make the playoffs. Amid tons of chatter about signing an extension, Lester was traded to the A’s who he helped make the playoffs. Lackey was sent to St. Louis whom he helped make the playoffs. Noticing a theme here? Let’s not forget trading Miller to division champion Baltimore.

One plus was that Christian Vasquez had the opportunity to show he can handle a staff and throw out runners. His production was not great, but he stopped the other teams that ran at will on Boston early in the season. Those runs saved amount to something important.

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2012 was a nightmare year for the Red Sox. They were mediocre until the Nick Punto Trade. After the trade that freed up all that money for the future, they were downright horrible.

2013 was in incredible surprise. I thought they would be good, but not World Series Champion good until about August. The hopes of Red Sox Nation were restored. The new model seemed to pay off: no long term contracts, overpay if you need to to do it.

Then came the off season. I will admit, I thought they would be better than they have been. But it seems that Ben over-played his hand. There was too much change. I saw recently that most World Series Champions experience about 20% roster change. The question is, what 20% should change. In 2004 they lost Pedro and Damon. Those were very big pieces to lose. In 2005 they were good but were quickly dumped from the playoffs from the eventual World Series Champion White Sox.

They seemed to learn the lesson. After the 2007 championship, they held on to Mike Lowell who was their primary free agent. It would be a mistake as his hips betrayed him. It nearly paid off as they got all the way to game 7 of the ALCS. All they needed was either a healthy Lowell or Beckett to return to the World Series.

After the victory in 2013 they had some difficult decisions to make as Ellsbury, Napoli, Drew and Saltalamacchia were free agents. All of them were key starters. They made reasonable attempts to retain Napoli and Drew. They made a feeble attempt to retain Ellsbury. Who knows, if they made a real offer during the exclusive negotiation period he might not have gone to the Yankees. I would not pay him what they paid him, but I certainly would have offered him more than they did. They decided to move on from Salty.

The reasons for both were the development of prospects at short (Bogaerts), center (Bradley) and catcher (Vazquez and Swihart). The result was that they had a new catcher to buy time for the prospects, an inexperienced left side of the infield in Middlebrooks and Bogaerts and an inexperienced centerfielder. They also took a gamble on a rebuilt Grady Sizemore who looked very promising in Spring Training but created a log jam in the outfield.

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The trade deadline has come and gone. It was not a very turbulent time for baseball. This was due to some level of uncertainty as to when the BioGenesis cases would come down. Mostly this was due to a greater level of parity in baseball and the expansion of the Wild Card. Too many teams are in contention for a playoff position. This means there were too few sellers and too many buyers. This drove up prices in many instances (see Garza for instance).

Just before the trade deadline, the Red Sox were struggling offensively. This was largely because they had 2 shortstops playing on the left side of the infield. Old school shortstops not particularly known for their bats. While Jose Iglesias won a Player of the Month award, he was now regressing to the mean via a horrific slump throughout July.  The bottom third of the Red Sox line up was quite unproductive.

The Red Sox had already addressed some of their bull pen issues by trading for the White Sox’ Matt Thornton. He has been a bit inconsistent, and this weekend experienced an oblique injury. His status is uncertain at this point. But the sense was that other bull pen issues could continued to be addressed internally as they largely had been as Hanrahan, Bailey, Miller, Morales etc. have struggled with injuries.

The big question was Clay Buchholz. When would he be ready to pitch again? The spot starters had generally done well, unlike the last 2 seasons. The Red Sox had more depth in their system this year with Workman, Webster, Aceves (who has now been buried and come up lame) etc. They actually got wins. But with at least a month to go before Buchholz returns, they needed more than spot starters. They needed a legitimate 2-3 starter to fend off the surging Rays. This despite the solid outings by Workman.

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