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 31, 2009 5:11 pm
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.
Tags: Adam LaRoche, Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Bryan Price, Casey Kotchman, Cleveland Indians, David Ortiz, Fernando Cabrera, George Kotteras, Greenville, Hunter Jones, Jason Varitek, Javier Lopez, Junichi Tazawa, Justin Masterson, Kevin Youkilis, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Mark Teixeira, Michael Bowden, Mike Lowell, Nick Hadagone, Pawtucket Red Sox, Terry Francona, Tim Wakefield, Victor Martinez
Posted on: June 24, 2009 8:33 pm
Ever since July 31, 2004, the Boston Red Sox have had issues with at least one position on their roster.
Yes, it was on that Saturday afternoon when it was announced that the Sox had traded the face of the organization, Nomar Garciaparra. Since Garciaparra left, the Sox have been hard pressed to find a replacement.
This season, the prospects for a dependable shortstop seemed best as the Sox had two legitimate players contending for the job in spring training. Julio Lugo was the veteran, entering his third season with the Sox, while Jed Lowrie was, like Garciaparra, a homegrown product and had only a half season under his belt.
Lugo is considered a more offensive-minded shortstop, although that may be due more to his downright terrible defense than anything else, as his offensive numbers are hardly remarkable. Lowrie is a much more solid defender, having made no errors in 45 games at shortstop last season (compared to Lugo’s 16 in only 81 games), but has not proven that he is anything more than an average hitter.
Although Lowrie played well as a rookie, it would be hard to bench Lugo given the kind of contract (4 years/$36 million) he was given. But then Lugo injured himself during a very impressive spring training, and was forced to the disabled list to open the season. To many, this was an excellent excuse to bypass Lugo’s lucrative contract and give the job to Lowrie.
Fans were optimistic about Lowrie, and with good reason. Fans were hoping he would be the next in the long and impressive list of homegrown talent over the recent years. However, he struggled mightily to open the season, recording only one hit in 18 at-bats. After this abysmal start, it was discovered that he was playing injured, and he underwent surgery to fix a wrist injury that has been bothering him for sometime.
The Sox now had to turn to their third-string option at shortstop, and they were lucky to have Nick Green, who has been somewhat of a journeyman in his first few seasons in the majors. Green also had a very good spring training, despite not playing at all in the majors in 2008.
Now almost three months into the season, Green has so far weathered the “shortstop curse” left behind by Garciaparra. In fact, his play has impressed manager Terry Francona to the point that although Lugo has rejoined the club for sometime, Green has taken over the everyday shortstop duties.
Through 53 games played, Green is sporting a very respectable .292 batting average, to go along with four home runs and 26 RBIs while spending most of his time in the ninth spot in the lineup. However, shortstop is not his natural position, and he struggled some early in the year defensively, but his defense has picked up of late.
But Lowrie is now at triple-A Pawtucket rehabbing from the wrist injury and figures to rejoin the team by the All-Star break just a few weeks away. While Green, Lowrie and Lugo have all played several positions at times throughout their career, it is unlikely that all three will remain on the roster. The remaining bench players (George Kotteras, Mark Kotsay and Rocco Baldelli) are not going to be moved anywhere, which means that one of the three shortstop options will not be with the big league club in a few weeks.
The Sox will try (and likely tried last year) to move Lugo at the trading deadline, but will be hard pressed to find a new home for him given his poor play and ridiculously over-priced contract.
Green has exceeded expectations, not just for himself but he has given the Sox better play from the shortstop position than they had likely expected regardless of which of the three they put out. The team would much rather have Lowrie and Green, but likely one of them will have to go. However, with his continued lack of play, Lugo may land on the disabled list with some kind of mystery injury ala Daisuke Matsuzaka and his strained shoulder.
The Sox will try very hard to keep both Lowrie and Green on the team. What do you think they should do?
Posted on: May 26, 2009 6:42 pm
In a big day for Red Sox news, the biggest story is that David Ortiz has finally been dropped in the lineup. Terry Francona released his lineup for tonight’s game against the Minnesota Twins, and it has J.D. Drew in the third spot, with Ortiz taking Drew’s position in the six hole. Ortiz has not been anywhere but the three position in the batting order since May 2005, when he and Manny Ramirez were sometimes swapped as clean-up hitters.
After having a decent series from May 19-21 against the Toronto Blue Jays, picking up three hits including his first home run of the season, he then went 0-for the series against the New York Mets. He was benched yesterday while the Sox faced a tough left-hander in Francisco Liriano. His batting average recently dipped below the Mendoza line and now stands at .195.
Dropping Ortiz down to the six hole seems like a big move, but it is more to maintain the continuity of the rest of the lineup. This way Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay remain largely unaffected, or at least, will not have to move in the lineup. They will benefit from Drew’s higher on-base percentage and better speed.
In other news, Clay Buchholz, pitching for triple-A Pawtucket, took a perfect game into the ninth inning of the PawSox game yesterday against the Louisville Bats. A leadoff single broke up the bid, but Buchholz retired the rest of the hitters in the ninth on his way to a one-hitter. He is now 3-0 with a 1.60 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 48 innings pitched for Pawtucket.
Buchholz has been absolutely dominating in the minors this season, and yet he could not seem to get a roster spot in Boston. However, this last performance may have done it. In news related to Buchholz’s performances, the Boston Globe reports that Brad Penny is on the trading block.
The team would be looking to move Penny for two reasons. Firstly, the Sox need to make room for Buchholz. There is no reason for him to stay in the minors. Secondly, the Sox will use Penny as an opportunity to bring in some kind of bat off of the bench. The players whose names that have been thrown around, such as the Washington Nationals’ Nick Johnson, will be too expensive for only a deal involving Penny.
But, the Sox could hope to pick up a player in the same way that they got Mark Kotsay last year, but this player will likely be able to contribute more off of the bench. But, the Sox will be bearing in mind that by the All-Star break, the Sox bench will likely be Kotsay, Rocco Baldelli, Nick Green, Julio Lugo and George Kotteras. That bench is pretty solid and fills the need offensively, so Penny may be exchanged for something else.
Tags: Boston Red Sox, Brad Penny, Clay Buchholz, David Ortiz, Francisco Liriano, George Kotteras, J.D. Drew, Jason Bay, Julio Lugo, Kevin Youkilis, Louisville Bats, Manny Ramirez, Mark Kotsay, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, Nick Green, Nick Johnson, Pawtucket Red Sox, Rocco Baldelli, Terry Francona, Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals
Posted on: May 16, 2009 2:28 pm
Everyone is well aware of the season long struggles of Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, whose numbers, .208-0-15, would be cause for grumblings even for a player such as Jason Varitek, who also struggled heavily last season.
Manager Terry Francona benched Ortiz for Friday's series opener versus the Seattle Mariners, and said that Ortiz could sit for more than just the one game. The benching follows Thursday's afternoon extra inning affair against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in which Ortiz went 0-7 which three strikeouts while tying Trot Nixon for the franchise record with 12 runners left on base.
For the Sox game against the Mariners, J.D. Drew was moved upinto the number three spot in place of Ortiz. Francona always try to alternate batters in his lineup, left-right-left-right, as much as possible, and with the lefty Drew, Francona was able to keep his alternating batting order.
Last season, when Ortiz was on the disabled list for a wrist injury, Drew filled in predominantly in the number three hole. Everyone remembers the scorching month of June that Drew put up, with the line of stats: .337/.462/.848 for a 1.310 OPS, 12 home runs, 21 extra base hits, 21 base on balls and 27 RBIs.
All of those numbers came from hitting in the number three hole, and when Ortiz returned, Drew went back into his customary role in the bottom half of the lineup, and had what we have come to know as typical J.D. Drew Red Sox numbers: a high on-base percentage, few extra base hits, and untimely hits.
In the number three hole for the first time this season last night, Drew went 3-5 with a double, run scored and an RBI.
It may seem as though this is looking into too small a sample, but this is not just a coincidence.
The Red Sox line-up is in rough shape these days anyway, because of injuries to Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia. In the place of Ortiz last night, Rocco Baldelli got the start as the designated hitter and batted fifth. If we sub Ortiz back in that lineup, and put Youkilis in (due back from the disabled list in about a week) we'll get:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury
6. Jason Bay
7. Mike Lowell
8. Jason Varitek
9. Julio Lugo
Per Francona's alternating hitters rule, the line-up in that respect remains unchanged, with the only two hitters from the same side of the plate in a row is Bay and Lowell.
This line-up does several things. First, (and most obviously) it takes advantage of Drew's prowess in the number three hole and allows his RBI opportunities with Ellsbury (who is, by the way, batting .307 on the year while trailing only Carl Crawford for the major league lead in stolen bases) and Pedroia so often on base.
Second, Ortiz will still be thought of as somewhat of a threat to opposing pitchers, as evidenced by the 20 walks he has drawn. Bay will provide protection for him, so pitchers cannot simply throw around him. The rest of the line-up remains unchanged.
The only problem with this is that Francona is a player's manager. He has said that he has a great deal of loyalty to Ortiz and is not going to give up on him only six weeks into the season. But, if Ortiz continues to struggle and Drew continues to be hot in the three spot, the change must happen for the Sox to really get the most out of their offense.
Posted on: March 14, 2009 4:01 pm
Julio Lugo left Friday's exhibition game in the first inning with soreness in his right knee. Today, Lugo was sent back to get an MRI on that knee, but the Red Sox don't know the extent of the damage. The Boston Globe reported Lugo as saying that he was "worried" about his knee. Terry Francona did say that Jed Lowrie would get the bulk of the remaining opportunities at short-stop.
Lugo could be worried because he sees his job slipping away because if the only thing he could do was hit well during spring training to try to keep his job. Now that he is on the shelf, it is looking more and more like Lowrie will be the everyday short-stop, and that Lugo will be moved sometime during the season. It is unfortunate for the Red Sox that Lugo got hurt because Lowrie likely already had the job, and they were pleased with Lugo's impressive spring training performance thus far because that improves his trade value.
No matter what Lugo hit in spring training, which was .450 before the injury, the Sox would have still been responsible for paying some of Lugo's contract, and he is owed $18 million over the next two season, if they were able to trade him. But, the better Lugo does in his opportunites, the less the Sox would be left responsible for.
Lugo would have marginal value without his pricey contract. There are enough teams who would be interested in a short-stop if the Sox paid a big chunk of that $18 million. Lugo has only played short-stop with Boston, and a few emergency innings in the outfield, but in the season before he came to Boston, Lugo played 16 games at third base, 29 at second, and three more in the outfield. He can play other positions, and there are teams that could use someone like him (the Yankees are in the market for a third basemen I think?).
Unfortunatetly, the Red Sox will not move Lugo until the trading deadline, unless a major buyer becomes more immediately available. Lugo has been emphatic about foreshadowing his disappointment if the job is given to Lowrie. If Lugo's situation seems to becoming a problem, it will quickly spiral. Unlike when Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, and Pedro Martinez have raised issues about contracts and other things in recent years, they are all Hall-of-Fame caliber players and some people at least were able to stand up for them because of their on-field performance. But, virtually no one is in Lugo's corner from the team's, fans' or media's perspective. If Lugo starts to complain, and is still only hitting .220 and has as many errors as RBIs, it would quickly become a bad situation (dare I say, cancerous?).
The injury to Lugo buys the Sox some time and more excuses to play Lowrie, but may hurt their chances to move Lugo in a timely fashion.
Posted on: May 13, 2008 10:43 am
The Red Sox offense jumped out early but the starting pitching put them in a deficit they would not recover from as they lost three out of four to the Twins. Some thoughts on the game:
Clay Buchholz has a serious problem. He has been the classic “Jekyll and Hyde” example of a young pitcher who has no confidence pitching on the road. Buchholz’s numbers coming into the game were decent for a rookie starter in the A.L., but after tonight’s performance, there is a definite trend, and it is not a good one. While the rookie’s number are sparkling at home, 2-0 with a 1.04 ERA, his road numbers are ghastly, 0-3 with an 8.64 ERA. It is not unusual for a young starter, and all starters for that matter, to find better success at home, but rarely does any pitcher go from near perfect numbers at home to completely unreliable on the road. (And those road numbers include the eight inning, three hit performance in Tampa) Certainly, most players find it easier to perform at home (just ask the Celtics), but Buchholz needs to figure some thing out in his mechanics, because he looks like a completely different pitcher. It seemed like every change-up he threw tonight was above the belt, and since his change-up is his best pitch, he was in for trouble. He had to go to his fastball on more occasions, which was better tonight than in his last outing, but was still not something that he can put away opposing batters with like he can with his change-up. He did feature a good curveball, which he was forced to go to when the change was staying up. Buchholz has good enough secondary pitches, but since his fastball has been proven to be the weakest of his four pitches, he tends to throw the change-up in hitters counts. On most days, what makes him successful is his ability to throw those off-speed pitches for strikes when he gets behind hitters and that keeps them off-balance. But tonight, the Twins saw his change-up was off, and were able to lay off and simply go after his fastball. It will be interesting to see if he makes some adjustment the next time he starts on the road, because the Sox cannot afford this type of disaster every time he pitches away from Fenway.
In what seems like a somewhat unexpected move, Julian Tavarez was designated for assignment to make room for Sean Casey. The Sox made this move for a number of reasons. First, Tavarez has been struggling, but it was more likely do to the fact that he has not been used often. Terry Francona has shown before how he is uncomfortable to have a pitcher in the bullpen who is a “long”-reliever, and that he likely thinks that to have a pitcher who does not pitch well in one inning, back-to-back game type situations is somewhat of a waste. It is true that Tavarez does need at least two or three days to recover after pitching, no matter if he pitches one inning, or four. Simply, the Sox did not have a need for a long reliever. Secondly, the Sox are running out of players with options. Craig Hansen has some left, but the Sox felt like he deserved to be with the club and he had something to prove. Jed Lowrie was already sent down when Alex Cora was activated. Manny Delcarmen likely has a few, but the Sox seem intent on keeping him with the club. And lastly, the Sox have been involved with trade rumors for a few weeks regarding Tavarez, primarily with the Rockies. What has probably happened is that the Sox are close to a trade with some team, but the logistics have to still be worked out. By designating Tavarez, it gives the Sox ten days to trade him, or he can either accept an assignment to the minor leagues, or opt for free agency. The Sox are probably close to a trade, and Tavarez will probably be sent to another club within the next few days. Do not look for the Sox to get much in return, probably a player to be named later. Tavarez’s end in Boston comes as a disappointment to many, as he was one of the best personalities in the clubhouse. He was always willing to do whatever it took to win, and he was very valuable for the Sox last year, making 18 starts until returning to the bullpen when Jon Lester returned. At least Sox fans will have some great memories, like Tavarez petting Manny Ramirez’s head, or bowling a groundball to get a runner out at first base.
Look for this recap following tomorrow’s game as the Sox begin a brief two game series against the Orioles for the end of this ten game road trip. (To view all previous recaps, follow this link.)
Posted on: May 11, 2008 11:52 pm
As promised, here is the Red Sox first quarter report card for this season after 40 games.
Starting Pitching: A-
Relief Pitching: C
I am putting this report card on my blog, which I do with every recap, and you can access at the last link at the bottom of the recap. Feel free to respond to this report card here, or go to my blog.
Concerning tonight’s game, the Sox received their worst start of the year. Tim Wakefield did not make it out of the third inning. While he normally does well in indoor stadiums, he struggled mightly in the Metrodome. His knuckleballs were frequently left up in the zone, and the control of his fastball was off all night. Wakefield threw an astonishing amount of fastballs, or as Joe Morgan aptly called them “straightballs” because, at 74 MPH, they are hardly blistering. One of the home runs he gave up was on one such fastball that was nicely grooved, belt high. But, Wakefield looked like he was laboring from the first inning, and in this case, the knuckleball just did not flutter in the Sox favor.
Tags: Boston Red Sox, Brandon Moss, Bryan Corey, Clay Buchholz, Coco Crisp, Craig Hansen, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Aardsma, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Hideki Okajima, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek, Javier Lopez, Jed Lowrie, Joe Morgan, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, Julian Tavarez, Julio Lugo, Kevin Cash, Kevin Youkilis, Manny Delcarmen, Manny Ramirez, Metrodome, Mike Lowell, Mike Timlin, Sean Casey, Terry Francona, Tim Wakefield