Posted on: June 11, 2010 1:04 pm
In the words of Nationals' radio play-by-play broadcaster Charlie Slowes following the remarkable debut by Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday in Washington D.C., "There's a new mayor in town, and the campaign took one night."
It is permissible to let our imaginations run wild with a player like Strasburg, and not just because everyone else is doing it. However, the fact remains that it is very unlikely that there is a player in baseball right now with the potential to hit 60 home runs, which has long been the most alluring statistical figure in baseball. But the last two A.L. home run champions (37 for Miguel Cabrera in 2008, 39 for Carlos Pena and Mark Teixeira in 2009) have only totaled 76 home runs, which would break the standing home run record by only 2!
As baseball fans, we have to look elsewhere from home runs for a national story. The past few years, the age of the young pitcher has been dominating the national scene. Tim Lincecum has two Cy Young awards by age 25, Zack Grienke took home the Cy Young at age 25 and posted a ridiculous ERA for the A.L., and N.L. teams this season can speak to the utter dominance by 26-year-old phenom Ubaldo Jimenez.
The strikeout has become the new home run. The last generation of great pitchers (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson) have now been replaced by a younger ensemble of hard-throwing hurlers. It is obvious to say that every team wants Stephen Strasburg, and not so that local diners can cash in on a wide variety of sandwiches called "The Strasburger." Every teams wants him for the national draw that he is getting, in addition to the seemingly limitless pitching talent.
So, the question is: Who would you be willing to part with for Stephen Strasburg?
The Boston Red Sox have 25 players on their active roster, and a total of 34 players have donned a uniform so far this season. They have seven minor league affliates, which would put the total number of payers affliated with the Boston Red Sox at around 200.
There is only one player that I would not give up under any circumstances, even if the trade was 1 to 1, and that is Jon Lester. Lester has, believe it or not, the exact same potential that Strasburg does, except that Lester has already begun to follow through with success. Does this sound crazy?
The sport of professional baseball is over 150 years old. Using <a href="http://mlb.mlb.com/stats/historical/player_stats.jsp?c_id=mlb&baseballScope=mlb&teamPosCode=all&statType=Overview&sitSplit=&venueID=&timeFrame=3&timeSubFrame2=0&Submit=Submit" target="_blank">mlb.com's historical statistics page , they list approximately 17,200 hitters who have recorded an at-bat in the majors and about 8,350 pitchers who have recorded an out, with incomplete records dating back to 1871. Yes, there will be some duplicates, but we can very roughly estimate that somewhere around 20,000 people have played professional baseball. Of that number, who has the highest winning percentage with at least 100 starts?
If you guessed Stephen Strasburg, well you'd be wrong. If you guessed Jon Lester, you've earned a sticker for today. With a career record of 49-18, Lester's .731 winning percentage is higher than anybody with at least that many starts. Oh, and he also happens to be leading the A.L. in strikeouts.
Lester has everything that Strasburg has - the size, the pitching repertoire - without the same fanfare because he wasn't the number one overall pick. Lester also has done all of his work in the best division in baseball since he came up, so imagine what his numbers would have been like if Boston played in the N.L. West. Lester has not pitched his last no hitter, and he will win at least one Cy Young Award. At 26 and with the record he has already acquired, Lester is Boston's Strasburg.
As for the rest of the players in Boston, it would depend on what else was included in the deal, but the only other player I would not trade, unless it was 1 to 1 (which would never happen), would be Dustin Pedroia. Rookie of the Year, MVP, and a Gold Glove already, he has batting titles and several more GGs in his future.
The next closest player that I would have initial problems dealing away would be Kevin Youkilis. He plays two positions, is a very consistent .300+ hitter with one of, if not the best, eye in the game, he has the potential to hit 40 home runs and is the cleanup hitter on the team that has scored the most runs in the A.L. this year. But, and this is somewhat surprising, Youkilis is already 31, which means that he is in his prime right now. Nobody expects him to fall off anytime soon, but we said the same thing about David Ortiz, whose last impact year came when he was 31, and we all feel that at 34, he is exceptionally over the hill.
I was thinking that, with respect to the almost 200 players in the Sox farm system, there would be some that I would hold onto. I might have to hold onto Casey Kelly, but he is only in his first year being a full time pitcher, while around the same age as Strasburg.
Lester is a dominant pitcher already, and he would be the one player from this Red Sox team that I would not give up for Stephen Strasburg. <!-- EndFragment-->
Tags: Boston Red Sox, Carlos Pena, Casey Kelly, Charlie Slowes, Cy Young, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Greg Maddux, Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Teixeira, Miguel Cabrera, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Stephen Strasburg, Tim Lincecum, Tom Glavine, Ubaldo Jimenez, Washington Nationals, Zack Grienke
Posted on: December 14, 2009 7:04 pm
Edited on: December 14, 2009 7:06 pm
Tags: A.J. Burnett, Aroldis Chapman, Boston Red Sox, Clay Buchholz, Cliff Lee, Curtis Granderson, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, GM Meetings, Jason Bay, Johan Santana, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Matt Holliday, Mike Lowell, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Roy Halladay, Scott Boras, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Theo Epstein, Tim Wakefield, Toronto Blue Jays
Posted on: November 25, 2009 6:54 pm
The holiday season may be coming early for Red Sox Nation.
Or maybe, I should be saying: the Halladay season is coming early. The reports came out Tuesday from the New York Daily News that the Boston Red Sox were in strong pursuit of Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay. The Daliy News stated that the Sox were "in a full court press" to get a deal done by the start of the winter meetings of baseball's general managers, which is set to begin on December 7th.
ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes reported similar news today, but also stated that if trade talks started heating up between the Sox and Blue Jays, then they should expect other suitors to be close on the Sox's heels.
Typically teams pull off deals including players of Halladay's stature during the regular season, as GM's begin to loose sleep on the prospect of loosing their franchise player to free agency without any compensation. Once July rolls around, that's when the phone calls usually start being picked up.
But Halladay's situation is different. First of all, the Blue Jays fired their GM a few months ago. J.P. Ricciardi set the price tag extremely high for one of the game's best picture when last year's deadline came around and stuck to his guns and refused to back down. Naturally, given Halladay's eligibility for free agency following the 2010 season, teams were unwilling to unload the farm system for roughly 45 starts.
New Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has a different mindset and different options. He could take a few seasons to revamp the team under a new outlook and new management. It should be clear to him, however, that it is extremely unlikly that Halladay will re-sign with the Blue Jays at any point. Any amount of money that Anthopoulos can offer will easily be matched or topped by the Red Sox and New York Yankees with a much better prospect of postseasons appearences.
It is likely that, given the fact that Halladay now has only one season before free agency, Anthopoulos will be seeking less than what Ricciardi was looking for. If the Red Sox are the favorites in the sweepstakes right now, they should figure on being asked to trade Clay Buchholz and another top tier prospect. This is still a step price, but it is far from what Ricciardi was asking for, which was Buchholz, Daniel Bard, and two top tier prospects, one pitching and the other being an offensive player.
But, the Red Sox also are benefitting from the Yankees having won a World Series and already having two top tier starters. Of course, the Yankees will throw themselves in the mix to drive up the price for the Sox, but they will not be making a legitimate strong move for Halladay. Their minor league depth is not as strong as the Sox, and they would not give up what the Sox are going to without being in a position to re-sign him. That would add another $20 million plus to an already staggering payroll.
The Sox are of course no mean spenders, but their payroll was less than usual last year compared to teams such as the Detriot Tigers and New York Mets, both of whom missed out on the playoffs. Adding Halladay would give the Sox the best rotation in the A.L. East, and perhaps in all of baseball, behind Halladay, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester leading the way.
The Sox should put themselves in a position that the Mets did a few seasons ago with Johan Santana. Get your man but only if the long term contract is all but guaranteed. Knowing Theo Epstein, he will not part with long term projects like Buchholz unless he gets him man exactly how he wants him - no where near free agency.
Posted on: August 5, 2009 12:40 pm
The moves that the Boston Red Sox made at last Friday’s trading deadline gives them flexibility to choose from an array of line-ups each night. As they are preparing for a four-game showdown with the New York Yankees this weekend, the playoff run is very clearly upon them.
Victor Martinez is listed on the Red Sox roster as a catcher, although he played at only five more games behind the plate than at first for the Cleveland Indians before being traded. Pitchers often have difficulty adjusting to a new battery-mate after a trade, but a catcher has to learn an entire pitching staff’s strengths and weaknesses, a daunting task this late in the season.
That said, it is clear that the Sox’ best offensive line-up has Martinez at catcher, Kevin Youkilis at first base and Mike Lowell at third. In two of his three games with the Sox, however, Martinez has started at first, with Youkilis moving over to third, Jason Varitek doing the catching and Lowell playing left bench.
Varitek is the premier signal-caller in baseball. I say that without reserve, but not in reference to his hitting ability, or defensive signals, and certainly not his throwing arm. But rather that Varitek handles an entire pitching staff better than any other catcher in baseball, and calls a game with similar success.
Defensively, a catcher-first-third combination of Martinez-Youkilis-Lowell is roughly par with an assemblage of Varitek-Martinez-Youkilis. Varitek is no longer a Gold Glove catcher, and Lowell’s mobility and range is significantly reduced due to his off-season hip surgery.
Offensively, there is no debate that Martinez sports better numbers that Varitek. Martinez is an elite hitter at the position of catcher, and has hit in third in the Sox line-up.
The problem is that with Varitek tabbed as the team’s number one catcher, and any team wants their best starting line-up on the field in the playoffs, Varitek gets the starts during a playoff series. But that forces Youkilis over to third, which keeps Lowell out of the line-up.
Sox fans need no reminder that Lowell was the 2007 World Series MVP. But with his stint on the disabled list and constant talk of his off-season hip surgery, it may come as a bit of a surprise that Lowell is fourth on the team in batting average with an even .300. He has 11 home runs and 53 RBIs in 80 games this season.
That is a pretty solid bat to sit, especially for someone who has shown a lot of success in the playoffs (He racked up 15 RBI during the ’07 playoffs). Varitek, meanwhile, is headed toward another season batting average in the .220s.
Manager Terry Francona thus far has done a great job in managing the Sox’ line-up so that he rotates players in and out so that players with nagging injuries, like Varitek and Lowell, get the rest they need. In the playoffs, Lowell’s bat has to be in the line-up in place of Varitek at least half the time.
The implication that has for the Sox now is that Martinez needs to start catching the Sox front line starters, particularly Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. Beckett and Lester would undoubtedly go 1-2 in a playoff series. To avoid having Lowell’s bat on the bench for two games in a row, Martinez needs to be familiar enough to handle them in a playoff series.
Many teams that have productive hitting catchers, like the Indians (before the trade) and the Yankees, often use their regular catchers at another position. That sometimes leaves the team vulnerable because it becomes more difficult to pinch hit or run for that player.
If the Sox open a playoff series with Martinez as their everyday catcher, and Varitek on the bench, it gives them their best shot at winning the series. I do not underestimate Varitek’s value to the pitching staff, but for a very experienced staff like the Red Sox, Beckett and Lester can be relied on to handle their start.
What Beckett and Lester cannot do, and nor can Varitek apparently, is hit their weight. The Sox traded for a productive hitter because they were struggling offensively. Varitek and pitching coach John Farrell can micromanage their starters from the dugout and not loose much from their pitching staff.
Lastly, I do not mean to keep Varitek out of the line-up completely. When Varitek does start, it gives the Sox two excellent pinch hitters in Lowell and Casey Kotchman. But the Sox are disadvantaging their team to have Varitek catch consecutive games at the expense of a much better offensive player like Martinez or Lowell.
Posted on: July 24, 2009 12:04 pm
Roy Halladay is on the trading block, and there are only about 29 teams who would be interested in his service.
If the Red Sox swung a deal for arguably the best pitcher in baseball, they would be able to march out Halladay, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester in a playoff series, which is enough to make any opposing manager wish they weren’t in the playoffs.
The problem with trading for the best pitcher in baseball is that it will come at no easy price. The Red Sox and GM Theo Epstein are reluctant to part with prized pieces of the minor league system, and none more so than Clay Buchholz.
Buchholz has been nothing short of remarkable in the minor leagues this season, compiling a 7-2 record with a 2.06 ERA. He was the leading vote getter among all minor league players for the Triple-A All-Star game and was tabbed to start before getting called up to the big leagues.
The Sox have spent a great deal of time and effort on Buchholz, priming him for what hopes to be a long and productive major league career. Naturally, they do not want another team, especially a fellow A.L. East team, to reap the benefits of the work that they put in for him.
Ignoring the fact that Buchholz will never be Roy Halladay and the Sox should go offer him up for Halladay, it is possible to put together a deal without Buchholz. It will still be painful, as several key contributors would have to be a part of the trade.
If I am Theo Epstein, and I am told that if I trade Buchholz then I will be fired and hung out by my entrails over Gate A on Yawkee Way for all of Red Sox Nation to throw overpriced sausage and pepper sandwiches at me, then I can manufacture a New Deal.
The Jays want at least one starter in return. If it is not Buchholz, then the next best piece in the Sox farm system is Michael Bowden. Can we make a trade and avoid both top prospects all together? Let’s try.
Any trade for Halladay will include players who can make an immediate impact as well as future prospects. For players who can make an impact now would be: Justin Masterson, Daniel Bard and Jed Lowrie. For future prospects: Lars Anderson and Casey Kelly.
The Jays, understandably, want a starter in return. Scouts see Masterson as a starter who needs regular rest. The Sox use him in the bullpen based on their needs, but he has shown that he can be stretched out. Kelly also fills the need for a starter and has been very impressive in the minors.
Bard gives the Jays a shut-down guy out of the bullpen, and a potential future closer. Bard is the player that hurts the most to see go in this scenario, but the Sox bullpen was considered to be the best in baseball before Bard was called up.
Before Sox fans say that the bullpen takes a terrible hit, remember that Bard’s replacement in Pawtucket is Fernando Carbrera who is 17-for-17 in save opportunities with a 1.73 ERA, 40 strikeouts in 41 innings pitched and a .193 opponent batting average. The Sox also have Junichi Tazawa, who is a great young Japanese prospect.
Lowrie’s impact on the team since his call-up last year was more out of need rather than desire. He plays excellent defense, but is below average as a hitter. He was injured, and may simply be slumping this season, but Lowrie was never viewed by the organization as the shortstop of the future. The Jays reportedly want a shortstop/middle infielder who can play defense. Of course, Nick Green’s play has certainly been solid enough so that the Sox are not loosing much if Green is officially the everyday shortstop.
As for Anderson, there is not much room for him in Boston. Scouts tout him as an excellent hitter who uses all fields, but still learning defensively. In Boston, the Sox have their first baseman in Kevin Youkilis, although some have said that Youkilis will move back over to third when Mike Lowell’s ailing joints give out and Anderson would take over at first.
The Sox would love to have Anderson mature into an excellent hitter, but he is a piece that they see as possible trade bait. They will certainly not hesitate to trade him for a player like Halladay.
Masterson, Bard, Lowrie, Anderson and Kelly for Halladay. It gives the Jays exactly what they are looking for position-wise. Talent-wise, it does not have the same big names like Buchholz and Bowden, but the Jays get a great core of young players to compliment the ones they have. (They can also have Brad Penny if they want him, too).
Tell me what you think – is this plausible?
Tags: Boston Red Sox, Brad Penny, Casey Kelly, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Fernando Cabrera, Jed Lowrie, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Junichi Tazawa, Justin Masterson, Kevin Youkilis, Lars Anderson, Michael Bowden, Mike Lowell, Nick Green, Pawtucket Red Sox, Roy Halladay, Theo Epstein, Toronto Blue Jays
Posted on: June 22, 2009 2:52 pm
Daisuke Matsuzaka went on the disabled list Sunday with a mild strain in his pitching shoulder.
He should have gone on the DL with a mild (or major) brain-strain. Or maybe a strain in his $100 million contract. As in - the Red Sox are straining to cope with the fact that they have already forked over about $75 million for Matsuzaka and still owe him another $25 million.
Regardless of how Red Sox fans feel about him, Matsuzaka is one of the most interesting players in baseball. During the off-season prior to the 2007 season, Matsuzaka was very much alike the character portrayed in the "Dos Equis" as his reputation was expanding faster than the universe.
At 26, MVP of the World Baseball Classic, and the national hero of Japan, Matsuzaka really was the most interesting man in the world.
So the Sox ponied up $51 million for the rights to offer Matsuzaka a contract, and after a great deal of Theo Epstein and Co. finagling with uber-agent Scott Boras, not to mention massive amounts of (butt)-kissing to the Japanese media and public, and another $50 million later, the Sox got their man.
Although never obtaining completely smooth sailing, Matsuzaka enjoyed a great deal of success during his first two years in Boston. He finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2007 while winning 15 games and helping the Sox to their fourth World Series title in four years.
He followed that season up with a sparkling 18-3 record and a minuscule 2.90 ERA in 2008 which placed him fourth in the Cy Young balloting. Matsuzaka racked up more strikeouts (355) and a better winning percentage (.688) than any other starter during his first two seasons in the big leagues.
Everyone knew that a Matsuzaka start was never going to be as smooth or as dominant as a Josh Beckett start, one thing was apparent about Matsuzaka - he simply knew how to win games. Despite leading the league in walks, and only tossing five innings more than what is the minimum requirement to qualify for the ERA title, he lead the league in lowest opponent batting average and always got out of tough jams.
Unfortunately, the luck, or aura of Dice-K being Dice-K, finally wore out. If it were not for the Yankees Chien-Ming Wang, Matsuzaka would be the worst starter in the major leagues this season, with a 1-5 record and a 8.23 ERA.
So how has somebody who has, in his first two seasons, compiled a 33-15 record and a 3.72 ERA all of a sudden become the rest of the A.L.'s whipping boy?
While this article is not about the inevitable failure of import pitching, the answer to that question comes from major league coaches and catchers not being satisfied with having a Japanese pitcher throw Japanese starts in an American ballpark. They want Matsuzaka, who they feel has enough talent to be Beckett or Jon Lester, to start pitching like somebody who has been in the big leagues for 2+ seasons.
For anyone who has watched him pitch, particuarily this season, and compared those performances to the WBC, it is clear that Matsuzaka is scared of major league hitters. He is scared of giving up the big hit, or the home run, and for two seasons, his style was to pitch around hitters. After enduring this for two season, the Sox have made him start attacking hitters.
The only problem is, despite his success, Matsuzaka has no confindence in his pitches and the result is one meatball after another down the heart of the plate.
Matsuzaka does indeed have a strain, but it is north of his shoulder. The Sox are planning on keeping him from pitching in the big leagues for quite sometime, because even without him, they still have a logjam in the rotation. If he does not sort out the problems in his head, he may find himself pitching in a Japanese ballpark again.
Posted on: June 2, 2009 5:37 pm
The Boston Red Sox have the deepest rotation in baseball. If the top eight starters from each team were rolled out, the Sox's eight would be the best in baseball. The five that currently sit in the rotation, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Brad Penny, are all proven starters, and it is arguable that these five, though they have not performed that was thus far this season, are the best five in baseball, on paper at least.
It is the next three that propels the Sox to the top spot when it comes to having the deepest rotation in baseball. Justin Masterson has already filled in the rotation when Matsuzaka went on the disabled list, although he is probably the eighth best starter in the organization. John Smoltz completed his third rehab start, going five innings of one run ball with six strikeouts, and he cannot stay with class-A Greenville much longer. Clay Buchholz meanwhile is dominating the hitters at the triple-A level.
Fans across Red Sox Nation have speculated about the switch from a five-man to a six-man rotation. The Sox starters have disappointed thus far, although recent performances by Beckett, Lester and Penny have buoyed hopes for future success.
Most people then dismiss the idea of a six man rotation, saying that it would disrupt the order of the starters, particularly Beckett, who clearly would want the ball every five days. Beckett leads the A.L. in pitches per start and has the strength and stamina to be a workhorse and go deep into the rotation.
So, instead of a traditional six-man rotation, where each starter makes a start every six days, the Sox should implement a different kind, which we will call a “wheel rotation.”
With the wheel rotation, Beckett will make his scheduled starts every five games. He gets the usual amount of time off in between starts, including scheduled off-days. The other five starters then pitch in order around Beckett, but pitching every six games, instead of five. Here’s what I mean:
When the wheel rotation is implemented, the rotation would look like this:
Beckett – Game 1 (first game of the wheel rotation)
Lester – Game 2
Matsuzaka – Game 3
Wakefield – Game 4
Penny – Game 5
Beckett – Game 6
Smoltz – Game 7 (for discussion purposes; could be Masterson, or Buchholz, etc.)
Lester – Game 8
Matsuzaka – Game 9
Wakefield – Game 10
Beckett – Game 11
Penny – Game 12
Smoltz – Game 13
What happens with the above schedule is that Beckett remains on his usual amount of rest. He pitches once every five games. The five remaining starters pitch on an extra day of rest and have five games in between starts, rather than four.
Both Smoltz and Wakefield are over 40 years of age, and they would benefit from the extra day of rest. Wakefield has been slowed by injuries in recent years, and Smoltz is returning from shoulder surgery.
Matsuzaka benefits most from the extra day of rest, because teams in Japan also use a six-man rotation, and there is a day off every week. Lester is a younger, left-handed version of the type of pitcher that Beckett is, and he likely needs the rest least. But, his statistics nose dive terribly in the later innings of ballgames this year, and the extra day of rest could give him an extra boost.
This wheel rotation will fit nicely with the Red Sox structure of their pitching staff. If Beckett ever needs an extra day of rest, it will be easy to accommodate that. If Penny is traded or any other starter goes on the disabled list, it allows for one of the younger pitchers like Masterson or Buchholz to have more rest in between starts as they build up their arm strength for the rest of the season.
While a traditional six-man rotation has become almost taboo in baseball, this scenario gives the Sox a great way to utilize their talented arms and depth.
Posted on: May 22, 2009 11:18 am
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.)