Posted on: February 6, 2008 8:46 pm

No Love For Wily Mo

No Love for Wily Mo

Pawtucket Red Sox RHP Clay Buchholz is getting the call-up to start the second game of a day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It was unclear whether he would get the nod for his major league debut or if Julian Tavarez would make another spot start. Buchholz's call-up comes at the expense of troubled outfielder Wily Mo Pena.

Pena is in his second year as a member of the Red Sox, acquired in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds for RHP Bronson Arroyo. When the fan favorite Arroyo jumped to a good start last year, the grumblings about Pena began, and while Arroyo is currently boasting a 5-13 record for the Reds this year, the angst has yet to subside.

Pena batted .301 and slugged .489 in 276 at-bats last year, just under half of a full season. His power numbers would have been around 30 doubles, 25 home runs and 90 RBIs if Pena had started 150 games. These numbers would have elevated him into much greater esteem for many Bostonians who couldn't fathom the give-up-a-good-arm-for-a-backup-out
fielder trade. (Bear in mind that Kevin Youkilis, beloved by all of Boston, batted .279, slugged .458 and hit 12 home runs and 63 RBIs in 147 games last year. Yes, Youkilis has been irreplaceable this season, but he has been an everyday player for two seasons now.)

I have been a believer in Pena from the day he arrived. General Manager Theo Epstein and Manager Terry Francona were plainly clearing out the "Cowboy-Up" image when they traded Arroyo, having also gotten rid of players like Kevin Millar and Johnny Damon. I had seen the tremendous raw power that he had and then the good all-around hitter he showed he could be last year.

Pena's playing time benefited from injuries to both Coco Crisp and Trot Nixon and the absence of Manny Ramirez last September. It is no surprise that the Red Sox are in first place this year with all three of their outfielders are playing everyday and third place last year.

At the beginning of the year, the Red Sox had no second baseman. Francona insisted that he was absolutely fine using Alex Cora, and considering his production thus far it seems he was right. However, Dustin Pedroia was given the job. When I say "given," I mean that literally. Francona told him he was the starter and he needed to go out and learn how to play second base. As it turns out, he is a fantastic learner as he boasts the third highest fielding percentage among A.L. second baseman and the sixth highest batting average in the league.

The Red Sox did not, however, have that option for Pena. Manny is finishing his career in Boston, and Crisp is a Gold Glove caliber fielder and his hitting is coming around. And, in what seems like more and more of the worst acquisition this season, J.D. Drew's five year, $70 million contract is going to take a while before the Red Sox move him, and move him they will. But, they couldn't, as they should have, given Pena the starting job in right field. I will agree that his fielding leaves much to be desired, but he is not becoming a better fielder on the bench.

Epstein does a great job of recognizing pitching talent. All of his pitching moves, acquiring Curt Schilling, Eric Gagne, Daisuke Matsuzka, Hideki Okajima, getting rid of Arroyo, Pedro Martinez, David Wells, and protecting Jon Lester, Buchholz and Justin Masterson have all panned out well. And we all know pitching wins championships (tell that to the San Diego Padres). However, as good as Epstein judges pitching, it seems he has a blind spot for offense.

You could make an All-Star team made up of just ex-Red Sox shortstops. Hanley Ramirez, last year's N.L. rookie of the year winner, is leading the league with a .341 BA. Orlando Cabrera is batting .308 and playing flawless defense. Freddy Sanchez, a Pawtucket product, led the N.L. last year with a .344 batting average. And, for good measure, Edgar Renteria is smoking N.L. pitching with a .336 BA and has returned to his Gold Glove form. And those are just the shortstops!

So while all of this and more is happening, we have Julio Lugo, whose near .400 BA since the all-star break has raised his average to a still embarrassing .236. Throw in Drew, Doug Mirabelli and Eric Hinske and the Red Sox will have the record for most times grounding out to second base in no time!

Epstein has a chance to do the right thing now which is ignore the fans. When the fans booed Josh Bard off of the field when he couldn't catch a knuckleball, he needed to trade Tim Wakefield, not bring back Mirabelli. Wakefield is having a good year, but there is no way you would trade to have Wakefield just so Mirabelli can have someone to catch. It should have worked the other way too.

Epstein knows the talent that Pena has, otherwise he would have got someone else for Arroyo. Believe me, Pena is a .290 to .300 hitter and he will hit 40 home runs within the next two full seasons. It's not about hitting curveballs or shagging fly balls in right field, it's about Epstein using his gift of a great baseball mind and realizing that Red Sox fans need to bite their tongues about Pena. Whether or not they will admit it, Red Sox fans would rather watch Pena struggle in a pinch-hitting and spot-starting role now than watch him hit 40 home runs two years from now with a team that needs outfielders (i.e. Yankees).

If Pena is traded or released this summer before he gets chance to play everyday with the Red Sox, it will be a shame that someone with his talent and ability who wants to be here has to give up his roster spot so we can hold on to Lugo, Hinske, Mirabelli and Drew, to name a few.

Posted on: February 5, 2008 11:03 pm

What's A Pitcher's Worth

Yankee's RHP Roger Clemens was the focus of sports talk radio and television shows for the early part of the season as he tantalized teams with his uncertainty as to where he would pitch this year. After he committed to the Yankees, the buzz continued as he made his highly publicized rehab/faux spring training starts (the only time I have ever seen a single-A minor league game televised live on ESPN), working his way back to Hall-of-Fame form.

Clemens, as I wrote in a column below, is a first ballot Hall-of-Famer and of the three best right-handed pitchers of all time. His win and strikeout totals are a tribute to his historic career and perseverance and downright unfathomable talent. The Yankees' reflected that in their one-year $22,000,022 contract, prorated to around $28 million.

It would have come to the surprise of everyone in sports if Clemens had won all 15 of his starts, struck out 15 batters for every nine innings he throws and single-handedly catapults the Yankees into a pennant winning team. At 45, his 5-5 record and roughly 6.5 strikeouts per nine IP is a much more accurate representation for what was expected of Clemens. The $22 million that the Yankees forked over was more because of their desperate need for anyone who could start than Clemens actual ability at this stage in his career.

Clemens filled a void by signing with the Yankees and also led in-part an emotional resurgence to jump-start the team. The Red Sox, White Sox and Astros were never really involved in this manhunt because they had no holes to fill with 22 million bucks.

If Clemens finishes this season better than he started, he will end up with around eight wins, at most 10. At eight wins, the Yankees would be paying $2.75 million per Clemen's victory. At this point, most people would use an expression like: "I don't care if it's Cy Young on the mound, nobody is worth $2.75 million per win!" Clemens has a career to rival Cy Young's, but if Young earned that much money per win over his career, he would have pulled in a cool $1,405,250,000. Even George Steinbrenner would have to think twice before inking that contract.

There have been several deals made with pitchers within the previous calendar year that questions the value of starting pitchers: Clemens, Carlos Zambrano with the Cubs, Daisuke Matsuzka with the Red Sox, Barry Zito with the Giants, and Gil Meche with the Royals, to name a few. Dice-K has pitched brilliantly, earning his $10 million a year. Zambrano's five year, $91 million contract was just signed and remains to be seen whether or not it will pan out well. Zito's seven year, $126 million contract and Meche's five year, $55 million pact have turned out horribly: Zito is 9-11 with the worst ERA of his career and Meche is 7-11.

A pitcher's worth is based, in part, by the needs of each team. LHP Johan Santana, who recently pitched two-hit ball over eight scoreless innings while racking up 17 strikeouts (yes,17!), is easily the best pitcher soon to be on the free agent market. (He has yet to resign with the Twins and he is not shy about expressing his belief that he dislikes the Twins' executives' hands-off policy when it comes to adding big name players to a team with such young talent.) Santana is also arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now.

If Zambrano, Zito, and Meche can command multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts, then Santana is set for a huge pay-off. If he signs with a team like the Yankees (who will go after him as hard as they have for anyone), Red Sox, Angels or Mets, look for something along the lines of five years, $110-115 million, about $22 million per year. Somehow, Johan Santana in his prime and Roger Clemens of 45 years don't seem to equal the same player.

Alex Rodriguez will make $27 million this season, making him the highest paid player of all time. While it is a sickening amount of money, remember that Clemens is making $1.5 million per start. Rodriguez is earning just under $40,000 every time he steps into the batter's box. And, if his season averages continue, he will finish with 182 hits, sending a cool $150,000 into his pocket every time he times he gets a hit. However, between Clemens and Rodriguez, I think we know who has been more valuable to the Yankees this season, what with all of his A-BOMBS!!

Baseball salaries entered ridiculous before A-Rod inked his deal with Texas. The first change that will be made following commissioner Bud Selig's regime will be implementing a salary cap and a minimum spending amount. It is no wonder why the NFL continues to lead in popularity among Americans. Every team, every year, has a chance to contend. Ask the New Orleans Saints and the New York Jets: there are no Tampa Bay Deadly Rays, Kansas City Write-Offs, or San Fransisco Giant Mistakes; teams that are dead in the water and out of any post-season discussion before spring training even starts. Baseball will adopt an NFL-esque shared revenue contract which will allow teams like the Pittsburgh Problems to spend money and acquire good players. While every team wants Santana, and wanted Clemens, only a handful (literally five) will be able to bid.

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