Champions on Display MLB

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mike Lowell To Texas Back On? Let's Hope So.

I write that headline with nothing but the most noble of intentions. I come not to bury Mike Lowell, but to praise him. So I truly hope that this trade is back on.

Mike Lowell has been the consummate professional during his tenure in Boston. The "throw-in" to the Josh Beckett trade, he won the 2007 World Series MVP. His defense and bat have been solid. He has been a great clubhouse presence.

And now Mike Lowell has to go.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Stop Messing With Joba

The Yankees made it official Thursday, naming Phil Hughes as the fifth starter -- a move that has been expected for several days.

Unfortunately, the brass just won't give up the ghost about Joba Chamberlain being a starter.

Shortly after the decision was announced, Brian Cashman told Newsday:

“He’s a starter in the bullpen. He can do both. He’s a starter who was just beaten out in the competition. That’s what we honestly believe, but we only had one spot.
"If someone wrote a story 'Joba is a failed starter’ -- that’s just not true. Bottom line, he’s a major-league starting pitcher.”

For the good of the team, for the good of Hughes and for the good of Joba, it's time to give up the dream. Move Joba to the bullpen and leave him there. Declare him a reliever and end this circus.

Associated Press
Hughes has come a long way this spring, developing a changeup to give him four quality pitches. But that doesn't mean he's going to go out and suddenly blossom into a dominant pitcher. He's still young and he's going to have ups and downs. And unless the Yankees do something, when Hughes runs into a rough patch, there will be calls for Joba to replace him in the rotation.

That's the last thing Hughes and the Yankees need.

Hughes needs to go out there every fifth day confident that a bad start or two or even three is not going to cost him his spot in the rotation. He shouldn't be looking over his shoulder.

Further, the Yankees need to give Hughes a legitimate opportunity to prove himself. The only way to do that is to let him start in the majors, experience growing pains and learn what it takes to be successful in the majors. Developing quality starters doesn't happen overnight and very few come up from the minors and have long, sustained success immediately. It can take two or three years.

And Joba also needs his future with the team defined. Does Joba have the talent and ability to be a dependable major league starter? Yes, but the Yankees have not handled his development in the most efficient -- or sane -- manner. And clearly bouncing between the different mentalities between starting and relieving has not been an easy adjustment for the 24-year-old righty.

Associated Press

Another team -- one that doesn't have the expectation the Yankees have -- might have been more successful making Joba a starter, but it's not going to happen in the Bronx. Not now.

If Andy Pettitte, as expected, does retire after this season, the free agent class this coming offseason appears as if it will so strong, that it's hard to believe Joba will even get another shot at the rotation next spring. Think the Yankees will pass up on the likes of Cliff Lee, Jeremy Bonderman or Josh Beckett if they hit the open market?

Joba -- unless Yankees do something crazy like send him Triple-A -- is going to be in the bullpen this season. Leave him there. Stop this madness.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pedroia X-Rays Are Negative, Sox Fans Walk Back From Ledge

Well, it was never really that serious, but we are all breathing a heavy sigh of relief that Dustin Pedroia dodged the proverbial bullet.

X-rays taken today on Dustin Pedroia's left wrist came back clean. He will take batting practice tomorrow and likely play on Friday.

God forbid anything ever happens to him. That would make Boston's shortstop problems look positively quaint.

If you held a gun to my head to make me tell you which single player meant the most to the Red Sox, I'd take a second to choose between Youk and Pedroia. But I think I have to go with Dustin. Not only is he an excellent fielder, but he supplies a decent amount of power from a historically lighter-hitting position. He also gets on base and, more importantly, scores a ton of runs. Who leads the AL in runs scored the last two years? Pedroia, with 118 in 2008 and 115 in 2009. This doesn't discount Youk's contributions at all. I just think Pedroia's skills at his particular position are at more of a premium.

And outside of the game on the field, he is a locker-room presence that by all accounts keeps everyone loose. God knows he couldn't shut up to save his life and that works well for the team dynamic.

Pedroia will be taking batting practice on Thursday. And that will be the sweetest sight thus far for Boston fans in 2010.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

No One To Blame But Joba

There was one issue for the New York Yankees headed to Tampa, Fla., for spring training: Who would be the No. 5 starter?

Yes, Joe Girardi has had to deal with whether to start Curtis Granderson in center or left and how reconstruct the lineup after the departures of Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera and additions of Granderson and Nick Johnson in the offseason. But those were relatively minor issues. The Yankees' lineup is still formidable and the defense is improved no matter how Girardi puts it all together.

With CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez solidifying the first four spots in the rotation, the Yankees and Girardi had one big question to figure out: Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes?

Yes, Alfredo Aceves, Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre were included in the "competition," but did anyone believe they were legitimate candidates? I certainly didn't, and I would be shocked if one of them ended up in the rotation, despite their strong springs.

This was about Joba vs. Hughes ... and Joba seemed to be the guy with the leg up entering the training camp.

The 27-time World Champions (I'm going to love tying that all season -- if for no reason other than to annoy Dave) spent the last two years babying Chamberlain, adhering strict to pitch counts, setting innings limits. It was all done to protected the prize, fire-balling righthander while carefully building his arm strength.

All of it was done to get to this point. This was supposed to be Joba's year to prove the Yankees' scouts right. All the limits, the Joba Rules were out the window. Joba was free.

All along in the Great Joba Debate, I've said we need to wait and see what Chamberlain is. Yes, we knew he could be a great reliever, but that didn't preclude him from also being a great starter. Joba needed to be developed and then he needed to go out and get the job done.

This was the spring Joba was supposed to show us what he's got.

Instead, he hasn't shown us much of anything.

Chamberlain has thrown the ball better of late, but by all accounts, Hughes has been better, taking control in the battle for the fifth spot, according to the Daily News' Mark Feinsand.

Hughes has spent the spring working on his changeup, giving him four major-league caliber pitches. And while Hughes did serve up three homers in Monday's outing, both he and Girardi were pleased with the way he was throwing.

Girardi is nearing the point when he's going to have to make decision, possibly as early as Thursday. For now, the manager is not ruling anything out, including sending both Hughes and Joba to the bullpen or even sending one to the minors.

But if Girardi does not go with Joba, then Joba will have only himself to blame. Given the opportunity to prove that he deserves to be in the rotation, Joba has thrown to a 16.20 ERA -- bloated even by spring training standards to say the least. He has failed to seize the prize before him. There are no more excuses.

It's looking likely that Joba's future is destined for the bullpen. It's time to end the debate.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Joe Mauer Gets His Deal...And It's A Good Thing

Sure, fans in the Bronx and Boston sighed in disappointment as Joe Mauer reupped with the Twins. That is to be expected when the best catcher in the game is taken off the market.

All-Star catcher Joe Mauer and Minnesota completed an eight-year, $184 million deal, a contract which will inevitably be hailed within baseball as an example that teams like the Twins do have a chance to keep their homegrown talent.

The deal, which includes a full no-trade clause, ranks in scope with only Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, $275 million contract and Derek Jeter's 10-year, $189 million contract.

It comes with a full no-trade clause and means Mauer will stay in Minnesota for what is likely the rest of his career.


Look, I will be the first to admit that I would have loved to see Mauer in a Boston outfit. But the simple truth is that a deal like this is good for the game. MLB needs great players in middle-tier and small-tier franchises to stay with those franchises. The specter of teams like Pittsburgh, Minnesota and others becoming nothing more than feeder clubs for the MLB elite should frighten us all.

Of course, that means that those teams have to pony up the cash. And Minnesota made a very, very good offer to keep Mauer. If only teams like Pittsburgh and Florida would do the same thing, instead of pocketing their excess cash. Because now Twins fans have every expectation to believe that their team is serious about competing and winning, and will reward them accordingly. Fans of a team like Pittsburgh will spend 2010 watching Andrew McCutchen and counting the years down until the Bucs cut him loose or trade him away. How do you think that will translate into attendance?

Besides, I really want to see Luis Exposito get a shot at catching for the Sox in a year or two. He has a chance to be quite good and I am looking forward to seeing him play in Portland this year.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Westmoreland's Surgery Successful / Doubront Continues To Impress

Good news from Arizona.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Ryan Westmoreland, the Red Sox’ 19-year-old outfield prospect, underwent successful surgery yesterday in Phoenix to remove a cavernous malformation in his brain. According to a release by the team, Westmoreland remains in the intensive care unit after the five-hour procedure, but “has come through the surgery well.’’

“Due to the complexity of this surgery, Ryan will face a difficult period initially before beginning his recovery,’’ the release read.

It is to be expected that there will be extensive recovery time following brain surgery, but everything sounds positive so far. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery


We hear a lot about some of Boston's pitching prospects. Casey Kelly, Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden get a lot of press. But there is another young pitcher who is turning some heads in Florida right now.

Felix Doubront was drafted by the Sox in 2004 out of Venezuela. He's a lefty that doesn't really scale the ball in there (he only hits the low 90s on his fastball) but has excellent control and a delivery that disguises his pitches quite well. He throws a great change that breaks to the left and most importantly, he has a great demeanor on the mound.

I had a chance to see him last year when he played in Portland. He went 8-6 with a 3.35 ERA and close to a 2-1 K/BB ratio. He's only 22 years old and looks to me like he could be a back-end starter/long-term reliever for the Sox in a year or so. That's dependent on how he does in the Bucket this year.

Doubront threw three scoreless innings and allowed just one hit against the Rays in Boston's 7-0 loss to Tampa last night. That makes four innings over two games with no runs allowed and two hits. And Doubront wasn't pitching to scrubs; he faced off against guys like Jason Bartlett, Longoria and Carlos Pena. He basically carved up Tampa's starting lineup.

Yes, it is just spring training. Yes, it doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things. Still, Felix is proving he deserves a little more attention as we enter the 2010 season. And it sure wouldn't hurt to have another strong, young lefty in Fenway sometime soon.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Remembering Baseball Is Just A Game

It's easy to get caught up in the rivalry of the Red Sox and Yankees and forget that, at the end, baseball is not life and death. But then something happens to remind us of that fact. Unfortunately, this time it happens to be Ryan Westmoreland's serious medical condition.

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox players friendly with stricken prospect Ryan Westmoreland said the 19-year-old outfielder learned of his rare brain condition after experiencing a series of headaches and other symptoms while working out at the minor league camp last month.

The team announced Saturday night that Westmoreland has a “cavernous malformation’’ of weak blood vessels in his brain and would have surgery tomorrow in Phoenix.

What makes it worse for Westmoreland is that the malformation is apparently located on or near his brain stem. That not only complicates the surgery, but enhances the possibility of lasting neurological issues.

So we are faced with the situation that a talented, gifted teenager (he is only 19) faces a life-altering surgery. It also reminds us that baseball is, at the end of the day, a game. And we need to be reminded of that.

We all have read a story about someone being attacked (or worse) because they wore a Sox cap here or a Yankees t-shirt there. If you wear the visiting colors to Fenway or the Bronx, you're lucky to get away with having your ears burned off by the profanities slung in your direction. All that seems a wee bit ridiculous when presented with a story like this. It shouldn't take a teenager, or a child, being seriously ill to remind us about where the Sox/Yankee rivalry should reside in our lives. Or about what really matters.

Prayers and best wishes to Ryan Westmoreland and his family.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Nomah Retires

If there are two more frustrating words in sports than "unrealized potential" when talking about a player, they don't immediately come to mind. To see rare ability somehow fall short in achieving its full flower can drive a fan .. .a coach ... a team to exasperation. Even when some of it is out of the player's control.

When Nomar Garciaparra broke in with the Red Sox full-time in 1997, he won the Rookie of the Year award in a walk, finished eighth in the MVP voting and made the All-Star team. He hit .306 with an .875 OPS while cracking 30 homers and ringing up 98 RBI. He was a vacuum cleaner at short, making impossible plays seem simple. With Derek Jeter and Miguel Tejada, Garciaparra helped to redefine the shortstop position in the late 90s.

Through the 2000 season, Nomar just improved each year. The fanbase embraced him, worshiped him and yes, loved him. In 2000 he hit .372, the best single-season average for the Sox since 1957 when Williams hit .388.* He put up a 1.033 OPS and continued to make remarkable plays in the field. He won consecutive batting titles in 1999 and 2000, the first right-handed batter to do so since Joe DiMaggio. He was an icon, a legend in the making. People talked about him getting into the Hall of Fame when he retired and no one thought that talk was premature.

The first dent in the armor came in 2001 when he came to spring training with a serious wrist injury. The season was essentially lost. When he came back in 2002, he could still stroke the ball (24 homers and 120 RBI). But his on-base percentage plummeted relative to 2001 (.434 to .352) and his defense began to slip. His decline continued in 2003, albeit at a much slower pace. But now the talk of being a legend, a Hall of Fame lock, of having his number really didn't hear that anymore.

And then came the 2003 off-season, when Theo Epstein looked into trading for A-Rod and moving Nomar to the White Sox. The details of that aren't for this post, except to say that Nomar was less than pleased with that decision. And his disenchantment became abundantly apparent during the first half of the 2004 season. What many saw as the point where Nomar's time in Boston ran out was the three-game set in New York at the end of June. In the last game, Derek Jeter dove into the stands in the top of the 12th inning to make an amazing catch and propel the Yanks to a three-game sweep. Meanwhile, Nomar sat on the Boston bench, asking out of the game to nurse a tendon injury.

We know what happened from there. Nomar was part of a massive trade that brought Boston it's first title in forever. Nomar went to the Cubs, played decently there in his limited playing time as injuries continued to plague him. In 2006 he signed a three-year deal with the Dodgers and was good his first two years, averaging roughly 120 games per season and making the All-Star game in 2006. But then injuries hounded him again in 2008. In 2009 he signed a one-year deal with the A's. And now today, Nomar signs a one-day contract with the Sox as he announces his retirement.

He retires as one of the best shortstops in Boston's history, but also as a player who should have been...more. Granted, injuries played a major role in limiting Nomar. But he also got a little tired of Boston in his last couple of seasons and I think that also impacted his playing. I don't think he'd ever admit it, but the trade action in 2003 affected him mentally and that affected his playing through the rest of his career. In the end, he was a good player that could have been a great player, someone with Hall of Fame talent that got derailed on that ride to Cooperstown.

But he is still, still, one of the most beloved players to ever wear a Boston uniform. And he always will be. I consider myself lucky to have seen Nomar play numerous times at Fenway Park. And he is still a huge part of Boston's history. He is fourth in team history with a .323 career average, fifth in slugging (.553), sixth in OPS (.923) and ninth in doubles (279).

Thanks for the memories, Nomar. And good luck to you.


* It's still the best single-season average since 1957. No one has come close to it.