The Case for a Blockbuster

by Sully on July 26, 2013

in Red Sox

Sometimes the market won’t allow it. A team can dangle the best possible package of assets for a pitcher, an outfielder, a shut-down reliever, and the sellers just aren’t there. It’s important to establish this because I don’t want the Red Sox to make a trade just for the sake of it. To the extent there is a deal to be had, though, I would like to advocate the club makes a major trade at the 2013 trade deadline, one that nets them in the neighborhood of 2-3 wins over the final two months of the season, and one that positions them significantly better for the postseason.

There are a number of reasons why. First and most obviously, Boston finds itself in a great position. It’s July 26th and the Red Sox have the American League’s best record. No matter how healthy you think the future is for this organization, something can always go wrong. There are no guarantees they will find themselves in such a promising position next year or the year after. So, the notion that they shouldn’t “mortgage the future” to make a run in 2013 glosses over the idea that perennial contention is difficult no matter how strong your farm system appears to be.

Happily, they don’t need to “mortgage the future” at all in order to net some really promising short-term help. Jose Iglesias, Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts, Deven Marrero and Garin Cecchini all project to be Major League regulars at SS or 3B. Even if Cecchini moves to the outfield ultimately, that’s four players for two slots. In the outfield, where the system is most thin, Jackie Bradley, Jr. should have a long career as a well above average center fielder, and Bryce Brentz has a shot at being a solid regular too. At catcher, Blake Swihart is popping up on top prospect lists and Christian Vazquez is known to professional scouts already as a “shutdown defender” behind the plate. Mookie Betts has had a breakout season, too.

As for pitchers, the Red Sox have six (maybe seven if you want to include Drake Britton) who figure to make good money in Major League Baseball. Henry Owens may be the most promising but he is also farthest away. Brandon Workman is already taking a big club rotation turn. Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa continue to develop in Pawtucket while Anthony Ranaudo has reestablished himself as a future number 3 this season in Portland. Matt Barnes, the team’s 2011 first rounder, is sporting off the charts peripherals. And remember, the Red Sox took Trey Ball, a tall lefthanded pitcher with the seventh overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft.

Even after factoring for expected attrition, the Red Sox have far more players in their Minor League system, players that project as Major League regulars, than could ever play for their big club. That is to say there is a subset of these prospects that has much more value on the trade market than they do in Boston’s farm system. And there’s no telling what sort of value they will have come next season. The Kansas City Royals had one of the most acclaimed farm systems ever a few years back, and what do they have to show for it? James Shields and too many Rany rants to count.

As good a position as the Red Sox find themselves in here on July 26th, if the goal is a World Series, it appears they may need reinforcements. Detroit will be a tough out in the playoffs, and the Cardinals and Braves both look phenomenal. And of course the biggest threat to the Red Sox comes in the form of the hard-charging Rays. Criticize the play-in game all you want but one fun byproduct of it is that it has reinstated prestige and significance to a division title. The Red Sox don’t want any part of a play-in game.

The Rays are getting healthy and their kids are developing. You don’t want to overreact to an incredible recent run by Tampa Bay, but this is a balanced and formidable team that isn’t going anywhere. For their part, the Red Sox may be tapering a bit. While Mike Napoli seems to be finding his groove again, it’s fair to question whether the formula Boston has used to establish their current position is one they can ride the rest of the way. Daniel Nava, Mike Carp and Jose Iglesias have been critical to the team’s success. You could forgive a skeptic for questioning how long that can keep up. Would it be all that surprising to see David Ortiz cool off? John Lackey? Felix Doubront? Is Clay Buchholz pitching again this season? What about all those bullpen injuries?

The Red Sox are still an excellent team. I just think they’re a clear top-7 team or so that has the Minor League firepower to become a clear top-3 one if they can consummate the sort of blockbuster that may or may not be out there. The purpose of this post was simply to advocate with a lot of conviction that the stars have aligned almost perfectly for the Red Sox to take their shot. They’re in contention, their farm system features both star power and depth, and they have relied on some unlikely Big League performances to reach this point. July 31st is next Wednesday so we don’t have too long to wait to see what happens.

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Game 6: Red Sox 13, Blue Jays 0

by Sully on April 8, 2013

in Red Sox

Five games in it appeared the Red Sox offense would function differently than past quality Red Sox offenses. This edition would walk, steal some bases, make a lot of contact and rely on a lot of singles, infield hits, and whatever else it took to push runs across the plate. It still may be that way. A good afternoon against a knuckleballer struggling to find it, and Dave Bush, does not all of a sudden mean this group will lead the league in slugging. But a six-home run explosion does get the wheels turning a bit.

Mike Napoli is a bigtime power hitter when healthy and getting regular at bats. Will Middlebrooks is still developing, and has a quick bat with plenty of pop. Daniel Nava in his platoon role can work counts and unload on pitches to hit. Jacoby Ellsbury showed he had a big bat two seasons ago, Shane Victorino has slugged .506 from the right side for his career and Jonny Gomes has always hit lefties hard, too. Dustin Pedroia has sneaky power and David Ortiz will be back before long. Few catchers slug the way Jarrod Saltalamacchia can. You see the point. It was obviously premature to draw conclusions about how the offense would have to function.

On the pitching side, Jon Lester cruised. Staked to a five-run lead before he even took the ball, it was a low-pressure environment to say the least, but let’s give him credit. He was efficient, controlled and touched 95 on the NESN gun a number of times on his way to six strikeouts, no walks, no runs and just five hits over seven innings. All-around encouraging stuff from Lester, Clayton Mortensen and the rest of the club on an afternoon where they won 13-0.

Well almost all-around encouraging. Jackie Bradley, Jr. has looked a bit lost over the last four games or so. His ability to draw walks combined with his defense likely make him an asset for the club regardless, but teams are attacking him on the inside part of the plate with a lot of success. In fairness to Bradley he has had some tough matchups, including C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and J.A. Happ from the left side, and R.A. Dickey the knuckleballer. Let’s see him at home, against Baltimore, and in front of a crowd that’s sure to give him a warm welcome. However he fares I think we can all agree the adulation from the likes of Peter Abraham and others in the Boston media was premature at best and likely overstated, too.

Today’s the home opener. Weather should be great, and Clay Buchholz faces Wei-Yin Chen, who was hit hard all Spring but pitched effectively in his first start of the season against the Rays.

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Game 5: Blue Jays 5, Red Sox 0

by Sully on April 7, 2013

in Red Sox

That was about as bad as a single game gets. Boston fell to Toronto 5-0 and lost their starting pitcher to what appeared to be serious injury. The offense completely no-showed against what we thought was a very hittable J.A. Happ, something that arguably even rises to the level of concerning when you consider how this personnel is supposed to fare against lefties. A righty-stacked 2-through-6 of Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli, Will Middlebrooks and Jonny Gomes managed a single hit and were on base all of three times. Jackie Bradley Jr. looked a bit overmatched, and it’s not hard to envision a scenario where he heads for Pawtucket when David Ortiz returns. As concerning as Boston’s output was, all credit to Happ. If Happ is anywhere between above average and as dominant as he was yesterday this season, the AL East might already be settled.

Of course the big story is John Lackey‘s biceps injury. It looked bad real-time but not as bad as some have suggested. His arm didn’t “pop” or come out of place or anything. It seemed to have gone numb as a result of the biceps tear or strain, but there’s reason to hope his elbow and shoulder were spared. Whatever the case, he is likely out a while.

The on-field impact of Lackey’s loss is hard to measure. How could you count on a whole lot from him given the performance in Boston to date combined with the fact that he missed the entire 2012 season? On the other hand, if he was going to pitch anywhere close to as well as he did yesterday before his injury, the loss is significant one. Steven Wright, Allen Webster, Franklin Morales and others are all capable of taking a rotation turn, though, and in Webster’s case he might have a chance to be a star.

The personal element of the Lackey injury is more deflating than its impact on the club. He was fit, people all around Major League Baseball had vouched for his character, he was committed to making things right here in Boston. Maybe the injury allows him to return once again before long but if not, I hope that fans remember the earnest effort Lackey made to rededicate himself. It doesn’t excuse his perceived lack of preparedness before this year but we all mess up, we all learn hard lessons and how we bounce back is the measure. Lackey bounced back. This biceps injury just sucks. No two ways about it.

Today it’s Jon Lester and R.A. Dickey.

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Game 4: Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 4

by Sully on April 6, 2013

in Red Sox

It took Boston 13 games in 2011 to win its third. Eight in 2012. This season it took four and after last night’s win against the American League East favorites, the Red Sox have guaranteed themselves a .500 road trip through the Bronx and Toronto to start the season. If that sounds insignificant, in any other year it probably would be fair to categorize it as such. But for this year’s Red Sox team, amid a climate of skepticism, it’s huge.

Mike Napoli hit his first home run in a Red Sox uniform, a welcome sight after looking alarmingly bad against Andy Pettitte Thursday night. That it came off Josh Johnson, a nasty and hard-tossing right-hander, made it all the more satisfying. Dustin Pedroia reached base three times, Will Middlebrooks homered and Jonny Gomes walked twice in his only two times at bat after coming on for Daniel Nava. Shane Victorino continues to hit from the left side of the plate. Boston triple-slashed .293/.396/.512 in front of 45,000+ facing a Cy Young candidate.

The pitching star was Koji Uehara, who came on in the sixth to protect a one-run lead with a man on second and nobody out. Uehara needed nine pitches to notch two strikeouts and a lazy fly ball to center field. Despite tossing just an inning Uehara led Boston, position players and pitchers, in WPA last night.

It was kind of a classic Felix Doubront start. Great peripherals, he struck out six and didn’t issue a walk, but he looked pretty hittable. That Blue Jays lineup is going to rake this year, though, and there’s no real shame in being dominated by a star like Jose Reyes, who doubled twice and homered. It was good to see Doubront attacking the strike zone, even if it meant too many hard-hit balls. His numbers looked worse than they might have otherwise because Farrell stuck with him too long, a decision I sensed was more a gesture of confidence in a young pitcher than a tactical one.

John Lackey and J.A. Happ at 1:07 today.

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Game 1: Boston 8, New York 2

April 2, 2013

“Today is how we can win a lot of ballgames.” -Jonny Gomes On their way to an 8-2 win in the Bronx yesterday the Red Sox notched 13 hits, but only a couple for extra bases. They managed eight walks but also stranded 13 baserunners. Jon Lester labored at times but finished the game with [...]

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An Exercise

February 12, 2013

You don’t have to look all that hard to find media commentary on how 2013, self-evidently, is a rebuilding year. Boston won 69 games last season and didn’t even try to attract any of the high-end free agents, after all. These articles are not necessarily negative. The Red Sox are just taking their medicine, the [...]

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Ben Cherington Thus Far

December 28, 2012

Ben Cherington inherited stewardship of a Red Sox roster that looked like the best in baseball just 27 games prior to his promotion. At that point, with little financial flexibility, he had a decision. Were those 27 games an aberration, or had something changed fundamentally for the Red Sox? Were those 27 games a leading [...]

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Really Quick on Joel Hanrahan

December 27, 2012

First, R.J. Anderson has the only strong analysis of the deal I have seen and Alex Speier, always well sourced, offers a nice take on why the Red Sox did the deal. In short, they think Hanrahan is elite. Nothing more, nothing less. And since they believe Hanrahan is elite, they were willing to part [...]

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The Search For an Explanation

August 7, 2012

Lately fans and media alike have been assigning blame for the Red Sox struggles this season. John Tomase thinks Bobby Valentine should be held accountable, Peter Abraham thinks it runs deeper throughout the organization. There are calls for John Henry’s ownership group to sell the team. It’s normal when things don’t go as planned to [...]

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Some Thoughts on Kevin Youkilis

June 25, 2012

Kevin Youkilis leaves the Red Sox as one of the very best hitters in franchise history. As former teammate Nick Punto so nicely put it yesterday, “Not too many Boston Red Sox players have two world championships and he was a heck of a player for this organization.” That pretty much sums it up. Youk [...]

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