Posted on: March 25, 2008 4:50 pm

Sox Japan Schedule Makes You Scratch Your Head

As everyone on both sides of the Pacific Ocean knows, the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland Athletics are playing a two game series in the middle Major League Baseball's most recent escapade into the other parts of the world who are baseball-crazy. Commissioner Bud Selig as well as the owners of all 32 teams are licking their lips at the prospect of sending the most dominant team of the decade overseas to strut their stuff for the people of Japan, who they view as no more than a collective, burgeoning representatives of an economy where the sky's the limit.

Because baseball does not have a salary cap, we rarely hear about the "business" end of things the way we do about other sports, particularly the NFL, where teams can, and do, cut players who are not proving their worth. But this entire week, we have seen in great clarity, the business side of baseball, where as long as fans are buying jerseys and hot dogs, the number of wins rarely matters except in appearance only. It so happens that, for most baseball markets, the number of wins over the short term directly correlates to the number of foam fingers and plastic helmets that faceless fans shell out immensely too much money for.

The fact is that, and I am not crying about my favorite team being taken advantage of, but these two teams are going to need a long time to recover from the traveling. The Red Sox's ultimate road trip is going to cover three, yes three, countries! The players seem all for the trip, but ask them off-camera and see how many of them, besides Hideki Okajima and Dice-K, about how much they want to travel more than 10,000 miles in two weeks. And even though the coaches got the extra money, what is $50,000 to Manny Ramirez and J.D. Drew. As Manny said to the $10,000 that he earned from being player of the game of the first game, "That will be gas money." The players are being forced to go along with something that is going to do nothing but line the pockets of the already wealthy owners who control the best teams, while the small-market teams have nothing to offer, and will get nothing to gain.
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.

Posted on: January 23, 2008 8:51 pm

Hall of Fame: Who's in and Who's Out

The Hall of Fame selections recently got me thinking about which major league baseball players currently playing will ultimately get the votes for Cooperstown. So, here we go:

This list will only include players who are over the age of 30 and have been discussed will be placed into one of the following categories:
(Note: These categories are meant for a player’s first time on the ballot.)
1. Lock – these players have to only finish their careers with some hint of what they started with and, barring great injuries or scandals, can begin writing their speeches for Cooperstown.
2. On the bubble – these players have to show a little more over their remaining years to get the nod, or get lucky with “weaker” players on the ballot.
3. Need work – these players will have to show improvement and sustained production to have a legitimate chance to make the cut.
4. No chance – these players are thrown around in the discussion simply out of respect to what it takes to be a productive, above-average player in the majors over a sustained career.

Boston Red Sox:
Lock - Manny Ramirez. One of the best hitters of all time, Manny has now compiled nine straight seasons with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, stats that you have to look back to Foxx and Gerhig to compare with.
On the bubble – Curt Schilling. Some will be surprised to see him here, but he has nothing left in his career that will help his cause. His 200 wins will be tough to overlook compared to those closer to 300, but he is 14th on the all-time strikeout list and has an incredible postseason résumé. Plus he’s friendly with the media.
Needs work – David Ortiz. He will finish with quite a few home runs and a respectable batting average and his postseason efforts speak for themselves, but he was a late bloomer. But, he’s the most beloved man in baseball.

New York Yankees:
Lock – Mariano Rivera. Best reliever of all-time.
Derek Jeter. I hate to say it, but he is a lock, even though I know he is simply a good singles hitter. He’ll finish with 3,000 hits, but little more.
Alex Rodriguez. Will have the homerun and RBI career records by the time he retires.
Roger Clemens. Top 3 greatest pitcher of all time.
Needs Work – Mike Mussina. Moose has racked up the victories in his career, 260, but has little more to show, including no postseason record to speak for.
No Chance – Andy Petitte. Good numbers for a lefty but that will only get you into the starting 5, not the hall.

Baltimore Orioles:
Needs Work – Miguel Tejeda. Big run producer, plays everyday, but has been tainted with steroid accusations and will not put up good enough numbers while in Baltimore.

Toronto Blue Jays:
No Chance – Tory Glaus. His name hasn’t really been mentioned, but he was the best qualified on a poor team.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays:
May have some in the future, but not now when some of them aren’t old enough to have a driver’s license.

Cleveland Indians:
See Devil Rays

Detroit Tigers.
Lock – Ivan Rodriguez. Second best catcher after Bench and his arm still gives basestealers nightmares.
Needs Work – Kenny Rogers. See Petitte.
No Chance – Gary Sheffield. Please, forgetting he is a racist, a cheater, and a ticking time bomb, 500 home runs won’t cut it anymore.

Minnesota Twins:
No Chance – Torii Hunter. His glove is good, but not good enough to put him in the Hall.

Chicago White Sox
On the Bubble – Jim Thome. He’ll have the 500 homers and a great OBP, but too many strikeouts and nothing in postseason. Less in production than Frank Thomas.

Kansas City Royals:
They stink like the Devil Rays, but they don’t have promising futures.

Los Angeles Angels:
Lock – Vladmir Guerro. At 31, lifetime .325 BA and 352 home runs? Yeah, I’d say he makes the cut.

Texas Rangers:
Needs Work – Sammy Sosa. I know you were all waiting for this one, but a .273 lifetime hitter, a steroid-aided number of homeruns and an astronomical amount of strikeouts make it tough to add Sammy. He needs work on his image, not his numbers.
Eric Gagne. Again still young, but if he can add more to his 177 saves and not add much to his 3.20 ERA, he’s got a shot.
Kevin Millwood. Surprised? Complied 130 wins and more than 1,500 strikeouts and hasn’t been with a good team since he emerged as an ace. Highly underated and well liked.
No Chance – Kenny Lofton. As .299 singles hitter, he is less productive than Jeter despite 600 plus stolen bases.

Oakland Athletics:
Lock – Mike Piazza. He can still hit, .309 lifetime BA is very respectable and included in his 421 home runs are the most ever by a catcher, which he played very well defensively. Well respected and any team’s leader.

Seattle Mariners:
Lock – Ichiro. Best contact hitter ever in baseball, would have broken Rose’s hits and Henderson’s stolen base records if he started his career here.

New York Mets:
Lock – Tom Glavine. Unlike 500 homers, 300 wins is an automatic bid for the Hall. Best lefty since Warren Spahn.
Billy Wagner. 347 saves and a lifetime 2.33 ERA he easily makes the cut, and he’s got some years left.
Pedro Martinez. Often compared to Koufax, but his numbers are better. 206-92 is the best active percentage, and you have to go back before Koufax to find one better. Throw in 3,000 strikeouts and a career active best 2.81 ERA and Pedro is one of the best ever.
Needs Work – Moises Alou. Life time .301 BA and had some big RBI years, but it’ll be tough, even with an easy class.
No Chance – Carlos Delgado. Still a feared hitter, but he won’t reach 500 big ones and just barely has a .280 lifetime BA.

Atlanta Braves:
On the Bubble – Chipper Jones. One of the best switch-hitters of all time, but he’ll need a few more years like the one he is having now.
John Smoltz. I know many would have him as a lock, but remember who is voting him in. A lifetime record of 203-142 may sound impressive, but he had a lot of .500 years, although 3.26 career ERA is impressive, as is the fact he’s the only man with 200 wins and 150 saves.
Needs Work – Andruw Jones. He’ll finish with close to 600 home runs, but a .260 batting average and a mess of K’s make him an extremely unlikely choice.
Tim Hudson. Still young, but an impressive lifetime record and a decent ERA, but he needs to continue to produce.
No Chance – Julio Franco. We love him because he’s 57 and still chugging, but no where near the production.

Philadelphia Phillies:
See Devil Rays

Washington Nationals
See Indians, Rays, Phillies

Florida Marlins:
Do I sense I trend?

Chicago Cubs:
Needs Work – Alfonso Soriano. He’ll been in the 400-400 club when he retires, and maybe the 500-500. Decent BA, but he definitely needs to sustain his production and have more years like last year’s 40-40.

St. Louis Cardinals:
No Chance – Jim Edmonds. His production has significantly tapered and is no longer a 40 homer guy. Only way Edmonds name will be in the Hall is the videos of greatest catches.

Milwakee Brewers:
None now, but I can't wait to see what an infield of Braun, Fielder, Weeks, and Hardy will be able to do in a few years.

Pittsburg Pirates:
It may be a while before a Pirate makes it to the Hall.

Cincinnati Reds:
Lock: Ken Griffey. This is one of the easiest. The best five-tool player since Willie Mays, and the most talented person to play the game.

Houston Astros:
Lock: Craig Biggio. He racked up his 3,000th hit and even though his numbers aren't overwhelming, he still has 288 home runs to go with 414 stolen bases. Plus he has the major league record for the most times hit by pitch with 285. Ouch.
Needs Work: Lance Berkman. At 31, he has 241 home runs and a smooth .300 BA. He needs a couple more solid seasons now that he's in his prime, but he is a great switch hitter.
Needs Work: Carlos Lee. Some people think he is a late bloomer, but he's similar to Berkman. He has put up 30+ home runs consistenly for a while now and has a respectable .287 BA, but like Berkman, he needs to put up some big numbers in his prime, and increase his contact hitting.

San Diego Padres:
Lock: Trevor Hoffman. All-time leader in saves at 510 and he is not done yet. He'll finish with close to 600, and will be the only pitcher in the Hall of Fame who has never started a game.
Greg Maddux. Mad-dog is one of the easiest on this list. With all of the commotion about Clemens, Maddux has compiled an astounding 340-211 career record, his 3.10 ERA is the second best among active pitchers, and his 3,237 strikeouts puts him 11th on the all-time list.
Needs Work: David Wells. He'll need a lot of help from the people on the ballot with him, but his 235 wins is seventh all-time for lefties, and 2,181 to 710 strikeout-to-walk ratio is as good as it gets.

Arizona Diamondbacks:
Lock: Randy Johnson. He needs 16 wins to reach 300 and has be jockeying with Clemens for the second spot on the all-time strikeout list. He's the only one who has rivaled Nolan Ryan when he racked up 364, 347, 372, 334 strikeouts in the '99-'02 seasons.

Colorado Rockies:
Lock: Todd Helton. Even though he plays at mile high Denver, his lifetime BA of .331 and .584 slugging percentage are sickening. He'll finish with 3,300 hits, 400+ home runs and is a perenial Gold-Glover at first base.

Los Angeles Dodgers:
On the Bubble: Nomar Garciaparra. Some people may have thought that Nomar had fallen of the face of the baseball world, but he still has a .316 lifetime BA. Don't expect the balloters to forget Nomar's great years in Boston when it looked like he was the next Ted Williams.
Needs Work: Luis Gonzalez. He is a long way off since his 57 home run season in '01, and even though his number are respectable, .284-342-1374, its not enough.
Jeff Kent. Kent has been a baseball malcontent long before he was with the Giants and his career never really peaked the way it should have. Above-average numbers for a few seasons won't get this headcase into the Hall.
No Chance: Jason Schmidt. A good ERA and 1750 strikeouts, but a lifetime 128-94 record show the string of poor teams he has been on.

San Francisco Giants:
Lock: Barry Bonds. Yes, I did save the best for last. Bonds, hate him or hate him, is still a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The only player ever with 500 home runs and 500 stolen bases is also first all-time in walks and holds a phenomenal .444 OBP (third all-time) to go along with a .607 SLG (fifth all-time), and, if he ever retires, will be first in home runs and runs scored, not to mention the single season home run record, a lifetime BA of .298 and eight Gold Gloves. Steroids or not, baseball is a number's game, and the numbers say he's in.
On the Bubble: Omar Vizquel. With just a .275 BA and a long career to speak for, it remains to be seen whether his glove will make him the second player put in the Hall on the first go-round for defense.

Players not yet 30:

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