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Thursday, February 23, 2006

  WBC = Way Bad Call

It's a great idea, assembling top ball players from around the world and having having them face one another in a tournament. A World Cup of baseball, if you will. North Americans will have a chance to see players we don't get to watch (Japanese and Cubans, for example). Latin Americans and Asians will be able to watch some of the world's biggest stars, including those who have made it in the major leagues. It's the right time, too, with baseball being bumped from the Olympic lineup after 2008 (thanks to those damned Europeans). And unlike the travesty that Olympic men's ice hockey has become, a true "world series" has a chance to bring together professionals and amateurs.

It's such a great idea, this World Baseball Classic, that you just knew Major League Baseball would find a way to screw it up. This is, after all, the same group that has managed to screw up even the venerable All-Star game. A competent operation would shorten the season by two weeks, break in mid-summmer (perhaps after the All-Star game), and play the tournament while the players are in top form. But we aren't talking about competence, so instead we have the World Baseball Classic happening during spring training.

What are the disadvantages of playing the tournament in March? Let me count the ways:

  1. Players, most of whom haven't played since the end of September, will be expending maximum effort before they have warmed up and fine-tuned. Expect injuries.
  2. If those injuries extend into the regular season, teams will be at a disadvantage and fans will have to wait even longer to watch a complete and healthy team.
  3. New additions to major league rosters will miss the traditional opportunity to get to know their new teammates.
  4. Managers will lose the opportunity to observe players and formulate pitching rotations and batting lineups.
  5. Fans who plan spring training vacations months in advance may never see their favorite players.

Compare that to the advantages:

  1. Owners won't lose money because of a shortened season.

And that, boys and girls, is why the World Baseball Classic is taking place during spring training.

I am not happy that the following players will be absent from training camp while I'm in Fort Myers:

Actually, I am not that broken up about the absence of Cora and Stern. But it would have been nice to check out our new shortstop (Gonzalez), our iron man reliever (Timlin), our all-star captain (Varitek), the only lefty in our bullpen (DiNardo), and our best non-cry-baby slugger (Ortiz).

The cry-baby slugger, incidentally, will not participate in the WBC.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 1

Amen, sister!

"and our best non-cry-baby slugger (Ortiz)."

Sad, but true. I think if I was making the trip down, I'd truly miss Papi the most.

Monday, February 20, 2006

  Curt Gowdy, 1919-2006

Curt GowdyThe Red Sox have a long tradition of outstanding play-by-play announcers. The man who was arguably the best ever, Curt Gowdy, died today of leukemia at the age of 86.

Gowdy was honored in 1984 by the Hall of Fame with the Ford C. Frick Award for outstanding broadcasting. By virtue of his induction into Cooperstown, he was also an automatic inductee into the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

I am too young to remember Gowdy's time with the Red Sox, which ended a year after I was born. But I remember him as a national baseball announcer in my early years as a fan. He had the perfect broadcaster's voice and the Red Sox were lucky to have had him.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Monday, February 06, 2006

  Spring Is Closer than You Think, Especially If You're Going to Florida

Generally at about this time of the year, I begin to exhibit signs of winter psychosis, a mental condition I have identified that is characterized by not only extreme reaction to cold temperatues, bone-cutting winds, and excessive snowfall, but also paranoia that Old Man Winter is out to get me once and for all. The only thing that gets me through this seasonal disorder is the knowledge of my impending pilgrimage south to participate in the rites and rituals of the Holy Month of Spring Training.

I am indeed going to Fort Myers again this year, as I have for the last three years. But my usual winter psychosis is conspicuously absent this year. Sure, we've had plenty of snow—45.8 inches to date this winter in Worcester, Massachusetts, compared to the normal 35.7 inches at this point in the season (according to Weather Underground)— but what has differentiated this winter from those of the past few years is that in between snow storms, we have had warmer than normal temperatures and an unusual amount of rain. That 45.8 inches wasn't all on the ground at one time; it fell three inches here, 10 inches there, and for the most part it melted or was washed away before the next storm. Most importantly, there have been no two-week cold snaps during which 20 degrees feels downright toasty.

It feels strange, this mild winter stuff, especially considering that today is the 28th anniversary of the infamous Blizzard of '78 which killed dozens, stranded thousands, wreaked havoc on coastal communities, and touched off a week-long state of emergency in a state where a 12-inch snowfall means you get up an hour early so you can shovel the driveway and get to work on time.

None of this means that I'm not chomping at the bit for some pre-season baseball. My plane reservations are made, game tickets secured, car rented (thanks, Lynn), accommodations arranged (thanks, Brenda and Susan), and gatherings with friends scheduled. Every morning when I get to work, I tear off another number from the "Kelly Goes to Spring Training" Countdown calendar (this morning it's at 31). As of last Friday, the current 10-day forecase for Fort Myers is tacked up beside the countdown, courtesy of The Weather Channel, the nice people who make the weather magnet posted on this page. Almost as much as the baseball, I'm looking forward to a taste of summer, my first crack at a sun tan, a swim or two in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

But more moderate weather conditions this winter seem to have staved off my annual psychosis, at least until now. February 2006 could yet turn out to be what we New Englanders are accustomed to or worse; this morning's unexpected snow flurries outside my office window reminded me of that. In another 31 days, I won't care.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 1

3 days until pitchers & catchers report to Sping Training. I cannot wait. Football Season makes me yearn for Baseball.

Friday, February 03, 2006

  Better Late than Never: Your 2006 Boston Red Sox

The way I see it, if the Red Sox made me wait three months for replacements for Johnny Damon and Edgar Renteria, I have the right to wait a week or two to write about it.

The truth is that I picked a bad time to embark on an unplanned mini-sabbatical from blogging while I focused on completing the off-season on my simulated fantasy baseball team. Shortly after my last post here, the Sox traded for center fielder Coco Crisp and signed free agent shortstop Alex Gonzalez. It looked like the 2006 Red Sox were more or less complete. Now, with a mere 15 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, rumors are swirling about additional deals in the works.

Let's talk first about what we do know

Coco Crisp was acquired in a trade that also brought righty reliever David Riske and backup catcher Josh Bard from Cleveland to Boston in exchange for relief pitcher Guillermo Mota (who came from Florida in the Josh Beckett trade), third base prospect Andy Marte (who came from Atlanta in the Renteria trade), AAA catcher Kelly Shoppach (who appeared stuck in the minors after the Sox signed two possible backups to Jason Varitek), and either a player to be named or cash. At 26 years old and 2.8% of Damon's 2006 salary, the switch-hitting Crisp is a young and inexpensive replacement for the formerly bearded one. In each of his four major league seasons, he has topped the previous season's game played, at bats, batting average, runs, hits, homers, and walks. A career .287 hitter, he achieved .300 for the first time in 2005. His 2005 slugging percentage (.465) beat Damon's (.439). In the field, he has actually played more in left field )which gives the team some flexibility in case of a Manny Ramirez trade) and has a slighly better fielding percentage in left (.990) than in center (.986), with nine and five outfield assists, respectively. According to the STATS INC. pre-2005 scouting report on ESPN.com, expecting Crisp to become a leadoff hitter may not be a great idea:

Crisp is a switch-hitting, line-drive hitter who chokes up on the bat, sprays the ball around and likes to bunt. If Crisp walked more, he would be an ideal leadoff hitter. But patience is a problem. He likes to swing early in the count, hitting .380 (27-for-71) on the first pitch. The Indians felt they put too much pressure on Crisp in 2003 when they asked him to hit leadoff. Last year, he spent most of his time in the ninth spot.

David Riske is a 29-year-old right handed relief pitcher with a career ERA of 3.55 and an average of 75 innings pitched over the last three seasons. Last season were career bests for Riske in pitches thrown per plate appearance (3.6), pitches thrown per inning (14.1), and opponents' OPS (.631). Combine those numbers with a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.36:1 and a career walks/hits per inning pitched of 1.26 (those numbers in 2005 were 3.2:1 and 0.96 respectively) and we have someone who will help stabilize a bullpen that was somewhat of an adventure last season.

Josh Bard will likely compete with veterans John Flaherty and Ken Huckaby in spring training for the role of backup catcher to replace Doug Mirabelli. Bard is younger at 27 (28 by opening day) than either Flaherty (38) or Huckaby (35), but has a lower career batting average Flaherty. He and Flaherty are comparable in OBP and slugging percentage. The fielding percentages of the three are almost identical (.988 or .989 for each), but Bard has caught 37% of baserunners attempting to steal, as compared to Flaherty (30%) and Huckaby (34%). His spot on the major league roster may rest on his ability to adapt in training camp to Tim Wakefield's knuckleball.

Alex Gonzalez, the free agent shortstop previously with Florida who will turn 29 before the start of spring training, is a step down from his predecessor Renteria. A career .245 batter who hit .264 last year, he doesn't begin to match Renteria's ability to get on base, though he isn't too far off in slugging. He also strikes out more than the man he is replacing. Ironically, their career fielding percentages are identical at .968. The bottom line with this signing is that the team needed a starting shortstop after having given up on Renteria, trading away prospect Hanley Ramirez, and having no one else in the farm system who was anywhere near major league ready. Gonzalez also makes less than half of what Renteria was making, though when you add the $2.5 million a year we're sending to Atlanta every year, the real savings from swapping out Gonzalez for Renteria is only about 25%. It may very well be that at this state of the off-seaon (i.e. nearly the end), the Sox took what they could get.

As things stand now, this looks like our starting field:

That presumes that the team's most recent attempt to move Manny will be for naught, as the Los Angeles Times (free registration required) suggests.

The starting rotation appears to be shaping up as:

As for the bullpen, it's quite strong, with perhaps one other slot open if they decide to carry 13 pitchers:

For those keeping score at home, that's an all-righty pitching staff, excepting DiNardo. I'm betting against the return of David Wells, who at 43 years old in May will probably just retire if he doesn't get traded west.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  This May Be the End of the Major Moves

What follows is possibly the final off-season transaction update of the 2005-06 winter. And may I say that it has been a roller-coaster of a winter indeed.

1 The status of Ricky Bottalico, who was acquired by the Red Sox but never played, was unclear. ESPN.com and Yahoo! Sports listed him as a Red Sox, but Sportsline listed him as a Brewer and MLB's free agent tracker listed him as having been released by Milwaukee. Anyone with clarification can post a comment. In any event, reader Earl recently posted a link to a Baltimore Sun article nothing that Bottalico was invited by the Orioles to spring training.

There is also, finally, another trade to add:

There remain the possibilities of trades involving Manny Ramirez (less likely with each passing day, in my opinion) or David Wells (more likely than not), but we may have to wait until spring training to see whether or not they'll materialize.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

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