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Tag:Atlanta Braves
Posted on: July 31, 2009 5:11 pm
 

Recapping the Sox' Deadline Deals

The Boston Red Sox were one of the busier teams leading into today’s 4pm trading deadline.

The major deal was the Sox acquiring Cleveland Indians All-Star catcher Victor Martinez, and the minor deal was swapping first basemen to get Casey Kotchman from the Atlanta Braves.

Martinez is the biggest offensive pickup of the 2009 trading deadline. Martinez had a injury plagued 2008 season that lead to mediocre numbers, but he has picked it up again in 2009 and reestablished himself as one of the best offensive catchers in the game.

A switch-hitter, he gives the Sox excellent versatility in the line-up and on the field. While not official, it is expected that he will play predominantly at catcher and designated hitter. He is a better left-handed hitter, and that will allow the Sox to rotate Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek in the line-up against lefties.

The Sox gave up RHP Justin Masterson, who had been splitting the year in the bullpen and rotation, and minor league pitchers Nick Hadagone and Bryan Price.

Masterson was a solid cog of the Red Sox team, but often found himself as the odd man out. The Indians will probably utilize him as a starter, which is where most scouts see him headed, but the Sox were never in the position to give him a chance to develop in that respect.

Hadagone was the biggest chip the Sox gave up. A left-hander in class-A Greenville, Hadagone underwent Timmy John surgery and recently returned from the disabled list and was very impressive. Price is a right-handed pitcher also in Greenville.

The other trade, while it possesses less excitement, was much more peculiar. The Sox obtained Kotchman, traded as the major component of the deal that brought Mark Teixeira to the Angels, for recently acquired Adam LaRoche.

It is odd not because LaRoche only spent a few days with the Sox, or that the Sox traded him because of the surplus of first basemen the Sox possess after getting Martinez. It is strange that the Sox would trade him, an everyday player, for another left-handed first basemen used to playing everyday.

Terry Francona is going to have to do an incredible job of juggling the line-up to make sure everyone gets enough at-bats to be happy. Kevin Youkilis has to play everyday, an one would expect that Martinez is also going to be in the line-up everyday.
 
This means that somehow Francona has to rotate them so that Varitek, Mike Lowell and David Ortiz get playing time. Lowell’s time figures to be cut the most, as Youkilis will likely play most of him games at third base for the rest of the season.

Given Martinez’s poorer numbers against lefties, and Lowell and Varitek’s success, they will be playing against left-handers. But while Varitek has been described as a walking ice-pack and Lowell is coming off of hip surgery, they can’t be thrilled at the prospect of their playing time being reduced.
Kotchman has likely drawn the shortest straw. His playing time will be significantly reduced as virtually every other player in this rotation can play multiple positions, where Kotchman is relegated to first only.

Back up catcher George Kotteras will return to triple-A Pawtucket. He is the personal catcher for knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield, who is on the disabled list. He won’t be activated for a few weeks, at which time the Sox will have to decide who should catch him.
   
To replace Masterson, the Sox have several immediate choices to pick from. Southpaw Javier Lopez was optioned down at the beginning of the season because of terrible struggles, but he has turned his season down in the minors. The Pawtucket Red Sox’ closer Fernando Cabrera is mowing down hitters with an ERA under two while being perfect in save chances. Lefty Hunter Jones and righty Michael Bowden have already pitched out of the bullpen this season for the Sox, and they also have Japanese prospect Junichi Tazawa.

Until Wakefield comes back from the DL, one of those triple-A relievers figures to replace the gap in the bullpen.

Heading into tonight’s game against Baltimore, the Sox are a significantly upgraded team both offensively and defensively. The only problem will be getting a group of good players fair playing time, which any manager will tell you is a good problem to have.

Posted on: May 22, 2009 11:18 am
 

Smoltz: Starter or Reliever?

John Smoltz is a baseball anomaly.

Everyone is well aware of the career that Smoltz had during his 20 seasons with the Atlanta Braves. He compiled 210 victories during his tenure in Atlanta while also racking up 154 saves. While these numbers are very impressive, and no one denies the inevitability of Smoltz’s induction into the Hall of Fame, there have been others who have made the switch from starter to reliever as their career ages.

Red Sox fans are well aware of one such pitcher. Dennis Eckersley spent six and a half seasons in the late 70s and early 80s as the Red Sox top-of-the-rotation starter, and recorded a 20-win season in 1978. He later returned to Boston in his final year in baseball in 1998 after spending the last decade establishing himself as one of the best closers in baseball. Eckersley finished with 197 victories and 309 saves, with career bests of 20 and 51, respectively. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.

But, through his work with the Red Sox television network NESN, Eckersley will speak to the uniqueness of John Smoltz. Why?

While Smoltz is not the only player to have great success in being both a starter and then a converted reliever, but he is the only player to have great success in making the conversion back to the starting rotation after spending time as a reliever.

From his rookie season in 1988 to 1999, Smoltz compiled very impressive numbers like a 157-113 record with a 3.35 ERA in 356 starts, and no appearances out of the bullpen. But after undergoing Tommy John surgery following the 1999 season, he missed the entire 2000 campaign, and returned in ’01 coming out of the bullpen. In 2002, his first full season as a closer, he recorded 55 saves, breaking the then National League record of 53. In slightly more than three seasons as a closer, Smoltz racked up 154 saves and a 2.65 ERA.

So far to this point, Smoltz’s career almost mirrors Eckersley. But following the ’04 season, the Braves need for pitcher fell more to the rotation than it did in the bullpen. So Smoltz returned as a starter, and in the following 2006 season, at the age of 39 no less, Smoltz lead the N.L. with 16 wins at 35 starts.

Shoulder injuries forced Smoltz to the disabled list last season and eventually to season-ending shoulder surgery. But in the three full seasons after his return from the bullpen, Smoltz put together a 44-24 record, for a .647 winning percentage, with a 3.22 ERA. Although a significantly smaller sample, the numbers after his return are better than his numbers during his original stint as a starter (.647 winning percentage to .581).

After the Sox signed the just-turned 42 year-old Smoltz to a one-year, $5.5 million contract, the discussion of what role he would play as a member of a new team for the first time in his career was somewhat mooted by the fact that he was still rehabbing from the surgery and he was not going to be ready for Opening Day.

Well, Smoltz took a big step to returning to the big leagues after tossing three scoreless innings for the Red Sox single-A affiliate in Greenville. Smoltz three 29 pitches, and reported that while he was throwing about 85%, he touched 92 MPH on the radar gun with his fastball. Smoltz’s target date during spring training was to return to the team in early June, and it certainly seems as though that was a good estimate.

Now that his return seems eminent, we have to wonder what role Smoltz will be contributing in this season. Certianly the bullpen, leading the A.L. in ERA, does not need help. They are already bolstered by prospect flame-thrower Daniel Bard, who replaces Javier Lopez. Also Justin Masterson returns to the pen now that Daisuke Matsuzaka is back from the disabled list tonight against the New York Mets.

So the place that most needs Smoltz’s help and experience is the starting rotation, as the Sox’s starters ERA is last in the majors. Tim Wakefield is the only starter among the opening day rotation that has pitched well, and some, like Brad Penny, have been very poor at times. But, the question then becomes, whom does he replace?

Penny is likely the first starter to be given the axe because he was a gamble, by the admission of the Red Sox front office. Wakefield is pitching well, so he will remain. As for the other three, Josh Beckett, John Lester and Matsuzaka, they are all tied to long-term contracts and supposed to be the Sox’s front of the rotation for many seasons.

So while Penny is a likely candidate to be replaced, it may be possible that if Beckett or Lester do not show signs of improvement, and Lester certainly showed some last night, then one of them might find themselves on the disabled list ala Matsuzaka. The Sox, and certain other teams like the Yankees, are getting a reputation for placing players on the disabled list with mystery injuries so that they are not embarrassed by sending them down to the minors to work things out. So, if things don’t improve for Beckett or Lester, they may come down with an “injury,” paving the way for Smoltz to contribute.

So, what do you all think, is Smoltz a starter or reliever in 2009? (If you are thinking about a “both” option, bear in mind that he is 42, and that arm is not a durable as that of the 23 year old Masterson, who can flip flop back and forth easily.)

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com