Yeah, thats right. We may have missed some things while spending this week talking about how much Tebow sucks. But, as we close in on a month left to go until spring (yes, it will be spring on February 12. You can’t have spring training without it being spring), there are a few pieces to pick up.
The Sox added two more pieces to the puzzle that is the 2009 team. Rocco Baldelli is the fourth outfielder that I have hoped the Sox would pick up since he showed what he can still do at the end of the season with the Rays. He hit .263 with 4 home runs, 5 doubles and 13 RBI in just 80 at bats last season, after coming back from a mitochondrial disorder which caused him to fatigue easily and lose his legs. Those numbers translated over 400 at bats equal a pretty damn good season, and the mitochondrial disorder has been rediagnosed as Channelopathy, which is apparently much more treatable (I have no idea what any of this means. Perhaps Dr. Douchetits can explain?). He will also be a welcome departure from the recent slate of noodle armed Red Sox outfielders (he has a cannon). Won’t we miss the days of runners walking into third while Johnny “throws like Mary” Damon watches with the ball in his hand in center field? I guess not. The fact that he has reclaimed the number five (my favorite number) from the imagined greatness of Nomar, allowing plenty of people to pull their old home jerseys out of the closet, and is a local kid who grew up in a family of Red Sox fans just puts icing on the cake of a very good signing.
The addition of John Smoltz, who may not be available to pitch until late May or early June, is a good signing in that he provides the depth to the pitching rotation, much like Bartolo Colon did last year. He is coming off of shoulder surgery, and is 41 years old, but also happens to be the only man in Major League Baseball history who has 150 saves and 200 wins. He is a battle tested, playoff hardened success who is 15-4 with a 2.65 ERA in the postseason. This signing is good because should he come back strong he will provide a less blowhardly (I invented that word) version of Curt Schilling’s presence in the clubhouse and on the mound during the playoffs, and also allow the Sox to be more flexible with their young starters like Masterson, Bowden and Buccholz. I like it, supposing he does make the comeback as scheduled.
With these aquisitions, and the earlier signings of Bard and Penny, the Sox seem to be building up quietly to being a very good team this spring. The question marks, such as Lowell’s hip, Ortiz’ wrist, and Beckett’s, well, Beckett, are too many to ignore, but we’ve got to keep reminding ourselves that this is still the professional core of a team that won the freaking World Series two years ago, and was two runs short of an AL pennant last year. Yeah, the Old Left Fielder is gone, but we still have excellent pitching, a third season in the States will yield a more comfortable Matsuzaka, and the American League Most Valuable Player is still hitting in the two spot and playing second base (Dusty Pete will be gracing the cover of MLB 2009 and this is a good thing. Unlike the Madden curse, when Ortiz was on the cover in 2006, he had his best statistical season, with 54 HR, 137 RBi and 1 stolen base. Pedroia will do fine). I also want to pay a little respect to Youkilis, who came in third in the MVP voting, is a guy who can put up 30/100/.300 and plays gold glove first base. If he continues to improve on pace with how he has done in his three full Major League seasons, he will become the power hitter that can back up Big Papi in the lineup. The possible return of Mark Kotsay as a backup first baseman/fifth outfielder is just one more reason to be optimistic about the depth of this team, as he is a guy who could be playing everyday somewhere else if the circumstances were different.
But there are question marks every where, New York, Tampa Bay and Boston. Will almost half a billion dollars get the Yanks back into the World Series fold? Will the Ray’s young starting pitching and questionable bullpen be able to repeat the season that they had last year? Will CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira be able to thrive in the pressure filled environment of New York when they have never had this kind of expectations on them in the past? Will Josh Bard punch A-Rod in the face just to prove that he is the right guy for the job? Peter Gammons (the man) helped to process some of these issues last week when he spoke to WEEI (Thanks to Extra Bases for the transcript).
His thoughts on the Teixeira situation: “He wanted to go to the Yankees, his wife doesn’t like Boston — apparently she doesn’t like the stores on Newbury Street or something — and in the end that’s the way it goes…. As you probably remember, there was a lot of testiness between Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira when they played in Texas together . . . and I don’t think Alex really cares about communicating with other players, we know [that] from Derek Jeter. Also, we haven’t really seen Teixeira in a situation where the expectations are really that high, and he’s going to have to deal with them in New York. It will be very interesting to see how it goes with the Yankees.”
(A Big F@#$ you to Leigh Teixeira for that one. Now Boston doesn’t like you either.)
On the free agent market this winter and Scott Boras’ evil control: “This is one of the worst winters I can ever remember. What happened this winter is that, as the internet has expanded to become the media power, the flow of information is quickly controlled by agents. A lot of general managers and those of us in the business kid about a couple of sites referred to as ScottBoras.com, and Scott will float things out there and throw it out there and people will report it, you know, ‘The Brewers are jumping in on Derek Lowe.’ They’re not jumping in on Derek Lowe. I mean, please. ‘The Red Sox are really hot for Derek Lowe at $16 [million] . . . ‘ No, they’re not. But Scott floats this stuff out, and he’s able to get people to report it.”
On whether Varitek will return to Boston: “Well, if he calls and says, ‘I’ll sign at $2 million,’ they might do it. If someone would just sign Varitek, the Red Sox would say, ‘Thank you, we’ll take the draft choices.’ Now, I’m not sure anybody is going to sign him. One player said to me, ‘Well, the Marlins might sign Varitek for $5 million.’ No, they won’t . . . they Marlins aren’t giving up a first-round draft pick for Jason Varitek. Can’t happen. I don’t know what’s going to happen . . . I still think the Red Sox will trade for a catcher, whether it’s now or the 15th of March, and I don’t know what’s going to happen with Jason. It’s too bad. How Scott Boras looked him in the eye and said, ‘By the way, I turned down $10 million [in arbitration],’ is beyond me.”
How he thinks the AL East will turn out: “They actually asked me to do this last night on “SportsCenter.” I took Tampa third, and I really like Tampa. Buster Olney disagreed — he thinks Tampa is the team to beat with all of their young pitching . . . I don’t see their bullpen coming close to doing what they did last year. I picked the Red Sox second, just because we don’t know about the health of David Ortiz and Mike Lowell, and I think Josh Beckett will be fine. You never know about J.D. Drew’s health. And the Yankees, with the innings that [CC] Sabathia and [Chien-Ming] Wang can give them and all the offense they should have, they clearly have to be the favorites.”
Now, I don’t know if I agree with the great one on the last point. The pressure is going to balloon Sabathia until he looks more like Cartman on Weight Gain 4000, A-Rod and Teixeira will get into a purse fight at the mound and Wang broke down last season and is as big a question mark as anyone on the Sox. He does, however, give some interesting insight into the Varitek situation, and how Boras is seen by teams, his clients and the media.
Gammons also had this happy thought to share about the Red Sox pitching staff in his chat yesterday on EB:
“I think it could be the best. Obviously Josh Beckett has to be healthy and I think they really improved the setup crew in front of Papelbon with the addition of Ramirez, and Masterson and Okajima. Obviously they should have three really good starters, the alternatives with Wake, Smoltz, Penny, Buchholz, and Bowden could be potentially the deepest staff in the league. I love the Smoltz signing. Both John Farrell and Ben Cherington went to Atlanta to watch him throw and were very impressed. And Smoltz is one of those rare players who thrives on pressure and crowds. What’s interesting about Penny, is that if he had gone out on the market last winter, he would have gotten an A.J. Burnett contract b/c he was coming off finishing third in Cy Young race. He did break down the last three months, but Burnett has broken down 2-3 times himself. Over the last three years, Burnett and Penny have each won 38 games, and Burnett has only averaged 10 more innings a season. One of the reasons Penny wanted Boston was b/c of the way that Terry Francona and John Farrell handle pitchers, so there’s a good chance he can turn out to be a major contributor.”
As I was writing this the Sox announced that they have signed Takashi Saito to a one year deal so hold down the seventh and eighth innings along with Delcarmen, Masterson, Okajima, Ramirez and Masterson (yeah, our bullpen is awesome). It’s a good deal for a guy who was the Dodgers closer for three years, and can definitely do the job in the late innings for the Sox, and of course, gives them more flexibility with the pitching staff.
Also Jason Giambi has signed a contract to take his mustache, gold thong and steroid carrying trainer back to the Oakland A’s, where he made his name, before going to New York for $115 Million and seven Ringless years. Hey, at least he will fit in at many Bay Area events with the mustache and thong.
Tonight is the annual Hot Stove Cool Music Concert at the Paradise Rock Club. I was fortunate enough to be at the summer version of this concert a few years ago (where SMC and I bought a Jon Lester autographed cap) and it was amazing (even though SMC’s girlfriend has been threatening to leave him for John Legend ever since). I highly recommend getting to one of these shows in the future to see Theo, Gammons and all manner of local rockers display their wares. If you have tickets, enjoy tonight’s show.
From the ” I’m sorry and I take it all back” Department: I here by publicly recant all i said in my predictions for 2009. The Celtics clearly did not get the memo that it was a joke and a reverse cheer. I now know that they will go on another monumental winning streak, and there will be another June parade in Boston where SMC, ABA and I can get high fives for smoking cigars on a crowded city street. Thanks.