Friday, January 30, 2009

Varitek signs

According to reports, Jason Varitek has agreed to a one-year deal with both team and player options for a second year. The team won't announce the deal until Varitek completes a physical, which isn't going to happen today. Either way, though, the long saga appears to be over.

So, too, it appears, is the team's work for this winter. Here's the way the 25-man roster appears to shape up right now:

Catcher (2): Jason Varitek, Josh Bard.
Infield (6): Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie, Mike Lowell, Julio Lugo, David Ortiz.
Outfield (5): J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Bay, Rocco Baldelli, Mark Kotsay.
Starting pitchers (5): Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, Brad Penny.
Bullpen (7): Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, Justin Masterson, Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, Takashi Saito.

John Smoltz, Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden each will be in the mix before the season gets too far along; so too will Wes Littleton and maybe even Junichi Tazawa. Catcher George Kottaras is out of options; his situation in spring training will be one to monitor closely. Other than that, though, this team is ready to open the season.

What do you think? Is that a roster that can win a World Series?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Trading Clay Buchholz

Clay Buchholz is an elite pitching prospect. There's no question about that. He throws five pitches. His curveball is his best pitch and can be unhittable; just ask the Baltimore Orioles. He ran into trouble in his big-league stint this season -- he went 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA -- but he had a 1.80 ERA at Double-A Portland and a 2.47 ERA at Triple-A Pawtucket. He remains someone the Red Sox view as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher for years to come.

The Red Sox will not trade him for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, at this point. The Red Sox will not trade him for Miguel Montero. The Red Sox might not even trade him for Russell Martin, though there's no indication such a deal has been discussed at all.

But is that the smart move to make?

The Red Sox, after all, have extraordinary pitching depth in their organization right now. Josh Beckett is 28. Daisuke Matsuzaka is 28. Jon Lester just turned 25. Behind these three remains a smorgasbord of talented starting pitchers: Michael Bowden, Nick Hagadone, Casey Kelly, Stolmy Pimintel.

Some will pan out. Some won't. That's the nature of prospects. For every Lester, you get a Brian Rose. For every Josh Beckett, you get a Mark Prior.

What will Buchholz be?

Truth is, we don't know.

And that's why it's fascinating that the Red Sox are so reluctant to trade him -- but won't close the door on it, either.

Minor-league pitchers with Buchholz's stuff are like lottery tickets. If you win, you win big -- just ask the Phillies, who won a World Series on the left arm of former prospect Cole Hamels. If you lose, you're left with pretty much nothing.

Should Jason Varitek decline Boston's offer of a one-year contract with or without an option, however, the Red Sox would be without a major-league-ready catcher. Going into the season with Josh Bard and a handful of unproven non-prospects isn't really an option for a team with World Series aspirations. Trading for a catcher -- be he Saltalamacchia or Taylor Teagarden of Texas, Montero of Arizona or someone else entirely -- would be the only option.

That trade could have already happened; the Red Sox could have avoided the entire Varitek soap opera. But Theo Epstein just won't trade Buchholz.

The lottery ticket might be worth too much for him to give up. He also might worry that no catcher on the market is a can't-miss All-Star, the type of player for whom it would be acceptable to trade someone who might just be the next Cole Hamels.

Every pitcher is different, of course, but we do have a little bit of recent history to examine. For the sake of an arbitrary cutoff, we'll use any pitcher ever ranked in the top 20 of any Baseball America list from 2000-06. (The more recent prospect lists include pitchers who haven't necessarily had a chance to play out their potential.)

For context: Buchholz was ranked No. 51 among big-league prospects by Baseball America in 2007; he was ranked No. 4 on the same list in 2008.

(Catchers on the list in parentheses, just for fun. Clearly, top prospects at catcher are very, very difficult to find.)

6. Francisco Liriano, Twins
7. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
8. Justin Verlander, Tigers
10. Matt Cain, Giants
(18. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Braves)
Synopsis: Liriano tore up the American League in 2006 before undergoing Tommy John surgery; he was 6-4 with a 3.91 ERA upon his return in 2008. Billingsley and Verlander now are the aces of their respective pitching staffs. Cain would be if not for Tim Lincecum, though he's 15-30 with a 3.71 ERA in his last two seasons.
(How many of the above would you give up for a highly ranked catcher like Saltalamacchia? Let's say: 1 of 4. You wouldn't trade Liriano, Billingsley or Verlander unless you absolutely knew you were getting someone like Joe Mauer. You certainly wouldn't trade them for Miguel Montero.)

(1. Joe Mauer, Twins)
2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
7. Scott Kazmir, Devil Rays
13. Cain
16. Adam Miller, Indians
19. Billingsley
Synopsis: Hernandez and Kazmir are aces. Miller, however, has scuffled at Triple-A Buffalo; he had a 4.82 ERA in 2007 and made just six starts in 2008 thanks to injury. Said's Keith Law in his Top 100 released this month: "Miller has had injury trouble before, missing time in 2003, 2005 and late 2007 because of arm trouble, and it's unlikely that he'll bounce back in 2009 and handle a starter's workload."
(For a catcher: 1 of 4 -- we're not going to count Cain twice.)

(1. Mauer)
4. Edwin Jackson, Dodgers
8. Greg Miller, Dodgers
12. Kazmir
13. Adam Loewen, Orioles
14. Zack Grienke, Royals
17. Cole Hamels, Phillies
18. Dustin McGowan, Blue Jays
Synopsis: Jackson eventually was traded to Tampa Bay, where he won 14 games this season as the Rays' No. 5 starter. Miller now is a full-time reliever who had a 7.71 ERA in 48 appearances at Triple-A Las Vegas last season. Loewen flamed out as a pitcher and is trying the Rick Ankiel path of reinventing himself as a hitter. Grienke and Hamels both are aces. McGowan started last season hot but had a 5.24 ERA in his last 12 starts.
(For a catcher: 4 of 6.)

(4. Mauer)
5. Jesse Foppert, Giants
9. Gavin Floyd, Phillies
11. Kazmir
(16. Victor Martinez, Indians)
18. Adam Wainwright, Braves
20. Jeremy Bonderman, Tigers
Synopsis: Foppert was traded to Seattle in 2005 and released in 2006; he had a 7.62 ERA in Triple-A last season. Floyd finally had his breakout season last season, going 17-8 (with a 3.84 ERA, so let's not get carried away) with the White Sox. Wainwright won a World Series as a reliever with the Cardinals and turned himself into a serviceable starting pitcher after that. Bonderman lost 19 games as a 20-year-old and a better pitcher than that -- but not that much better.
(For a catcher: Floyd still has a high ceiling, so we'll say 3 of 4.)

1. Josh Beckett, Marlins
2. Mark Prior, Cubs
6. Juan Cruz, Cubs
(7. Mauer)
14. Ryan Anderson, Mariners
16. Dennis Tankersley, Padres
17. Nick Neugebauer, Brewers
19. Jerome Williams, Giants
Synopsis: We all know about Beckett. We all know about Prior. Cruz now is one of the Diamondbacks' top relief pitchers. Ryan Anderson never made it to the big leagues; he might be baseball's biggest bust in the last decade. You've never heard of the other three.
(For a catcher: 6 of 7.)

3. Beckett
4. Jon Rauch, White Sox
5. Ben Sheets, Brewers
7. CC Sabathia, Indians
8. Anderson
13. Roy Oswalt, Astros
15. Chin-Hui Tsao, Rockies
17. Cruz
19. Williams
20. Bobby Bradley, Pirates
Synopsis: Rauch has had his ups and downs; he has a 3.83 ERA in his career, including a bipolar 2008 season in which he had a 2.95 ERA for Washington and then a 6.56 ERA after a trade to Arizona. Tsao was let go first by the Rockies and later by the Dodgers. Bradley had a 13.14 ERA at Triple-A in 2005 and hasn't played since.
(For a catcher: 3 of 6.)

1. Rick Ankiel, Cardinals
9. Anderson
10. John Patterson, Diamondbacks
12. Mark Mulder, Athletics
14. Kip Wells, White Sox
15. Matt Riley, Orioles
19. Beckett
20. A.J. Burnett, Marlins
Synopsis: We all know about Ankiel. Patterson had a decent full season with Washington in 2005 (9-7, 3.13 ERA) but hasn't done much since. Mulder went to back-to-back All-Star Games before injuries set him back. Wells has a career 4.67 ERA and might be the epitome of mediocrity. Riley now is a Triple-A relief pitcher. Burnett got lots of money from the Yankees.
(For a catcher: You'd take what Mulder did before he got injured. Burnett still is a great pitcher. We'll say 3 of 6.)

Where does that leave us?

According to an entirely unscientific survey of, well, myself, we've discovered that 21 of the 37 top pitching prospects of the last decade have underachieved to the point that you'd be happy to trade them for an above-average catcher like Saltalamacchia. Then again, that means 16 of the 37 have turned into, well, Kazmir, Hamels, Sabathia and Beckett.

That means a 57 percent chance you haven't lost anything. That means a 43 percent chance you get burned really, really badly. Knowing what the Red Sox have in their rotation and what they have coming behind Buchholz, would you do it?

(If you ask me -- and, hey, you clicked on my blog, right? -- I'd do it.)

Varitek story revisited

There's been quite a bit of backlash over this story in today's Union Leader, a variation of an entry posted earlier this week in this blog. Among the points of constructive criticism:

Ok, let me see if I understand your logic here Mr. MacPherson. Varitek turns down an opportunity to earn $12m for ONE year and now will have to settle for a salary of $8-10m over TWO Years.

And you consider that a win?

Oh that's right, what Tek wants most of all is to play for two more years. If so, he should have taken the $12m this year and then offered up his services in 2010 to any team willing to pay him the Major League minimum. I'm not sure even Scott Boras would attempt to make the case that earning $4m LESS is a win for Varitek.
- CJ Mosca, Hudson

And another one:
CJ has this one correct. Tek is guranteed just 1 year of playing, 2009 and $8 mil. (Even then, he is just guranteed the money, not playing time.) There is no guarnatee that the Red Sox will play him in 2010 even if Tek exercises his player option. They pay him $3 mil. and they can say goodbye.
- B Chaiken, Boston, MA

Here's the big difference, CJ -- if you offer your services up to any major league team for the major-league minimum, what are the odds you're going to play 120 games? Whether it makes sense or not, salaries do factor into playing-time decisions. A team is far more likely to give extra playing time to a catcher they're paying $3 million or $5 million than a catcher they're paying the major-league minimum, particularly if he's on his way out the door.

Had Varitek taken arbitration and then decided he could live with a minimum-salary deal in 2010, isn't there a good chance he would have found himself in a Kevin Cash-type situation -- be it with the Red Sox or elsewhere? If he makes $5 million -- or even $3 million -- with the Red Sox next season, he's going to play at least three days a week no matter who the other catcher on the roster is. The Red Sox aren't going to cut him loose if he exercises his player option; eating money like that is something they've rarely been willing to do, particularly with someone of Varitek's experience and stature. That's the job security we're talking about here.

Brian, are you on Boras' payroll, or are you just bucking for a job with Team Boras. Your argument is inane. Boras started the winter insisting that Varitek was deserving of Posada money (the NYY catcher signed a four-year, $52 million contract last winter)... then he insisted that 'Tek should receive at least three years at $10-$12 million... then he declined arbitration and, in so doing, said the former Sox captain deserved to be paid at least what he received last year for two seasons. Now, at the end of the rainbow, Boras finds an emplty kettle instead of a pot'o'gold. His arrogance HURT his client. Yet folks like you want to dare suggest that this was somehow a 'win'. Two years at $8-$10 million (total) instead of one year at $10-$12; if you ask me -- and CJ and TT and BC -- those numbers add up to a BIG loss, not a win. You must have flunked math in grammar school!
-, Loudon, NH

1. What's "grammar school"?
2. Yes, Boras and Varitek wanted a contract along the lines of Posada, but that clearly was never going to happen. That became obvious very, very quickly. We're talking here about priorities. What was more important to Varitek, an extra year or an extra $4 million on top of the $60 million he's already earned in his career?

Brian, Lad,
I fail to see your logic. V-TEK would have made 10-11 mill for one year. Now he gets 8-10 for two years.
- JakefromWorc, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266

Fans all the time complain that players always are in it for the money, for the maximum dollar, and that they don't care about anything else. What we're suggesting here is that Varitek might not be worried about every last dollar -- since, again, he's banked $60 million already -- and might instead be worried about ensuring himself some regular playing time for two more years rather than one more year. Is that really so inane? Isn't that what fans have been dying to see for years?

I don't know why all you journo's keep saying he would have had a contract for $10-12 million from arbitration. where did you get that? You better read up on the arbitration process. both sides submit a salary figure, and the panel selects that high or low figure, whichever is deemed more fair, in comparison to other players of similar service time and ability. (Please don't argue that Posada was the similar player !!) The Red Sox certainly didn't have to offer $10 million for a 37 year old .220 hitting catcher, and Boras certainly wouldn't have put in $10 mil. If the Red Sox had submitted $5 million and Boras submitted $13 million, which would have been chosen as more fair for the 2008 Jason Varitek?
- Totally Awsum, Outer Banks

The next time you hear about a player who received a pay cut through arbitration, let me know. Here's what the arbitration process takes into consideration:
(1) the player’s contribution to the club in terms of performance and leadership;
(2) the club’s record and its attendance;
(3) any and all of the player’s “special accomplishments,” including All-Star game appearances, awards won, and postseason performance;
(4) the salaries of comparable players in the player’s service-time class and, for players with less than five years of service, the class one year ahead of him.

Nowhere in there is anything about forecasted performance based on age-related decline. You don't think Varitek would have walked away with at least $10 million -- his salary of a season ago -- and maybe $12 million?

MacPherson, it is time to turn in your pen since you clearly are clueless. This was not at all about playing two years, it was about playing two years at $10+ million per year, and Tek and Boras lost.
Had he taken arbitration and the money this year, he certainly would have been welcomed back next year at a lower salary, even if he had to take a much lower salary. The only way that would not happen is if he were simply not good enough to play any more, and we had some young prospect that beat him out for the job. In either case, the money would not have been why he would not play.
- Kevin C, Nashua

I didn't use a pen, actually. It always messes up my computer screen.

If you believe he would have been welcomed back next season, more power to you. But the scenario you outline sounds awfully reasonable, and how likely will the Red Sox be to bring back Varitek again, at 37 years old, unless they already have money committed to him?

Tek would have already accepted the current offer if your theory was true. I think he lets the deadline pass. Here's why:
He has two things in his favor:
1. After June 1 he is truly "free", meaning no compensatory draft pick; and,
2. If the Sox' "Catcher by Committee" fails during Spring Training, his value, and his price, go up.
Imagine the public outcry if the pitching looks bad --"We need Tek"! Look at it from his perspective, there's no rush to meet the Sox' artificial deadline, he can wait it out. Odds are some team will need him.
-Chip from CT, Wilton, CT

Chip makes an interesting point. Varitek easily could let the deadline pass and wait until after the June draft passes, making him a truly unrestricted free agent. At that point, he certainly could jump on board with a team like the Marlins for a prorated salary for the rest of the season -- or, if the Red Sox are panicking about their catching situation, he could indeed get a more favorable offer from the Olde Towne Team at that point.

That's a gamble, of course, just like taking arbitration would have been a gamble. The Red Sox could do just fine with Josh Bard -- or they could go ahead and trade Clay Buchholz for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and be set at catcher for the next decade. And the only teams that would be interested in Varitek in June or July would be contending teams, which cuts down the market -- and if they have any doubts at all about the ability of a 36-year-old catcher to stay sharp during a nine-month offseason, they easily could stay away.

But it's certainly an interesting strategy. Roger Clemens did it, after all. Why couldn't Varitek?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why couldn't Varitek bounce back?

You might think Jason Varitek is done. He hit .220 last season. He struck out 122 times. He grounded into as many double plays (13) as he hit home runs. His slugging percentage (.359) was 150 points lower than it was during his best season.

On top of that, he plays a position where even stars generally don't age well. Johnny Bench retired at age 35. Mickey Cochrane retired at age 34. Javy Lopez went rapidly downhill at age 35 and didn't play again after that. Ivan Rodriguez is having a hard time finding a job at age 37.

But those who do stick around don't necessarily see their statistics slide steadily downhill once they get to 35 years old. Many, in fact, do see an upsurge for a year or two before fading again.

(career): .263 batting average/.346 on-base percentage/.439 slugging percentage
(age 35): .255/.367/.421
(age 36): .220/.313/.359

Mike Piazza
(career): .308/.377/.545
(age 35): .266/.362/.444
(age 36): .251/.326/.452
(age 37): .283/.342/.501
(age 38): .275/.313/.414 (in 309 at-bats)

Carlton Fisk
(career): .269/.341/.457
(age 35): .281/.355/.518
(age 36): .231/.289/.468
(age 37): .238/.320/.488
(age 38): .221/.263/.337
(age 39): .256/.321/.460
(age 40): .277/.377/.542
(age 41): .293/.356/.475
(age 42): .285/.378/.451

Elston Howard
(career): .274/.322/.427
(age 35): .313/.371/.455
(age 36): .233/.278/.345
(age 37): .256/.317/.356
(age 38): .178/.233/.244

For Fisk, it took a little longer -- and a few more years of scuffling. For Piazza and Howard, though, a year or two of relatively dismal production did give way to an upswing at the plate. It wasn't much; it wasn't the All-Star production to which their teams had been accustomed.

But there still was something there. Varitek isn't going to hit .290 with 25 home runs next season -- but he doesn't have to hit .220 again, either. There is precedent for a 36- or 37-year-old catcher finding his old stroke one more time and doing more home-run hitting than double-play grounding.

What could have been: The Patriots' 2006 draft

EDIT, May 23: This post has been linked on some message boards, so it's worth revisiting and pointing out that the idea was never to say, "How could the Patriots not draft Greg Jennings and Leon Washington and Elvis Dumervil and Marques Colston? What morons!" The idea was to point out that if the Patriots hit on just one or two more of their picks in the 2006 draft, they could have radically changed the complexion of their franchise -- particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The examples of Jennings and Washington and everyone else is just a means of pointing out that there was talent out there. Yes, every team missed some of that talent -- and more than once -- but it was there.

So far, Gostkowski is the only Patriots pick out of this draft that has panned out in any kind of significant way. (If you want to count Thomas, go ahead, but you're setting the bar awfully low.) That was the point. You can't repeatedly whiff the way the Patriots repeatedly whiffed in 2006. You can't take a year off when it comes to the draft. When you do that, you end up placing your hopes and dreams in the hands of Deltha O'Neal.

Bill Belichick's Patriots come off as a great drafting team. In part, it's because they're so eager to trade picks -- sometimes to stockpile for future years, and sometimes to move up three spots to get just the guy he wants. In part, it's because they drafted Tom Brady in the sixth round. In part, it's because so many of their first-round picks -- Jerod Mayo, Brandon Meriweather, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Daniel Graham, Richard Seymour -- have turned into solid NFL players, if not Pro Bowl-caliber players. If you avoid big-time busts in the first round, after all, you normally do OK as a franchise. No one hits a home run with every fourth-round pick he makes.

But a closer look at the last few years reveals that the Patriots have not, in fact, had much success in the draft. In fact, one of the reasons the team found itself so shorthanded last season was because so few of its draftees have panned out. Last season's draft appears to have included a few hits -- Jerod Mayo is a rising star, of course, but Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite appear to be keepers in the secondary, too. The team still has high hopes for wide receiver/kick returner Matthew Slater even though he let a kickoff bounce off his face this season.

The year before that, the Patriots drafted defensive back Brandon Meriweather in the first round but got almost nothing out of the next six rounds. That's thanks in part to trades for Wes Welker and Randy Moss, trades that almost delivered a 19-0 season. But it's also thanks in part to drafting players like defensive linemen Kareem Brown (inactive for 11 games and released) and offensive tackle Clint Oldenburg (placed on the practice squad and released two weeks later) in the fourth and fifth rounds and just one player (Mike Richardson) in six tries in the sixth and seventh rounds who even remains on the roster.

Three years ago, though, they had a real shot to add some quality depth to an already talented team -- and all they got out of it was a backup tight end (David Thomas) and a kicker (Stephen Gostkowski). Here's what could have been:

Round 1, No. 21 overall: Laurence Maroney, running back. In part thanks to injuries, Maroney appears to be a bust. He rushed for 745 yards as a rookie and 835 yards in his second season, but injuries ruined his third season and appear to have landed him permanently in Belichick's doghouse.

What could have been: DeAngelo Williams (Carolina) came off the board at No. 27; Joseph Addai (Indianapolis) came off the board at No. 30. Williams rushed for 1,515 yards and 18 touchdowns last season; Addai rushed for 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons -- and even made the Pro Bowl last season -- before injuries caught up with him this season.

Round 2, No. 52 overall: Chad Jackson, wide receiver. The Patriots actually traded a third-round pick and a second-round pick to Green Bay to go get Jackson, who turned out to be an even worse bust than Maroney. The Patriots cut him after two lackluster seasons; he appeared in two games and caught one pass for the Denver Broncos this season.

What could have been: Had they still gone through with the trade, the best fit might have been defensive back Cedric Griffin, has three interceptions and eight forced fumbles since going No. 48 overall to the Minnesota Vikings. Griffin would have been a nice fit for a team that would see Artrell Hawkins and Chad Scott make 12 and nine starts, respectively, in its defensive backfield. And had they stayed put at No. 52, they could have taken the player the Packers picked in that spot -- wide receiver Greg Jennings, who caught 80 passes for 1,292 yards and nine touchdowns last season.

Round 3, No. 75 overall: Traded to Green Bay in the aforementioned deal for Jackson.

What could have been: The Packers drafted offensive lineman Jason Spitz, who can play center or either guard position (though not at an especially high level). The Patriots, however, might have been more interested in linebacker Clint Ingram, who went at No. 80 overall to Jacksonville and finished last season with 38 tackles, including two sacks.

Round 3, No. 86 overall: David Thomas, tight end. Thomas certainly has been a useful player, both as a run-blocker and a pass-catcher. His most memorable moment of last season, unfortunately, might have been a late-hit penalty that cost the Patriots a chance at a critical field goal at Indianapolis.

What could have been: Linebacker Freddie Keiaho went No. 94 overall to the Colts; he had 78 tackles and a fumble recovery last season. It's tough to gripe too much about the selection of Thomas, though, given how much money it would have taken to retain Daniel Graham.

Round 4, No. 106 overall: Garrett Mills, fullback. Mills spent most of his rookie season on injured reserve and was released just before his second season began.

What could have been: Defensive back and kick returner Will Blackmon went 115th overall to the Green Bay Packers. Blackmon, a Boston College product, had two punt-return touchdowns last season as well as two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries on defense. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who had 60 tackles and two fumble recoveries this season, went 116th overall to the Tennessee Titans. And multipurpose weapon Leon Washington, a first-team All-Pro this season after amassing 2,337 total yards, went 117th overall to the Jets.

Round 4, No. 118 overall: Stephen Gostkowski, kicker. Gostkowski set a team record for field goals in a season and earned his first Pro Bowl nod this year. On the other hand, some would argue that kickers are a dime a dozen and normally can be found in the last two rounds of the draft or on the unemployment line.

What could have been: Wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who went 119th overall to the Denver Broncos, has at least 1,200 receiving yards in each of the last two seasons. And if you believe the Patriots have plenty of weapons on defense, defensive end Elvis Dumervil (126th overall) had 12 1/2 sacks for the Broncos in 2007 and defensive end Ray Edwards (127th overall) has five sacks in each of the last two seasons for the Vikings.

Round 5, No. 136 overall: Ryan O'Callaghan, offensive tackle. O'Callaghan spent the entire season on injured reserve; he appeared in 15 games in 2007 and 11 games in 2006.

What could have been: Baltimore safety Dawan Landry (146th overall) also missed most of last season thanks to injury, but he had five interceptions and three sacks as a rookie in 2006.

Round 6, Nos. 191, 205 and 206 overall: Jeremy Mincey, linebacker; Dan Stevenson, guard; Le Kevin Smith, defensive lineman. Smith was a useful backup on the defensive line last season, but Mincey and Stevenson both were released before their rookie seasons even began.

What could have been: Any one of those picks could have been Colts defensive back Antoine Bethea (207th overall), who went to the Pro Bowl a year ago after intercepting four passes and breaking up eight more. Tennessee defensive back Cortland Finnegan (215th overall) will make his first trip to the Pro Bowl this season thanks to his five interceptions and 17 pass break-ups.

Round 7, No. 229 overall: Willie Andrews, defensive back. Andrews was released in July after two seasons in which he had 24 tackles, mostly on special teams.

What could have been: Two seasons' worth of adequate special-teams play is about all you can really expect from a seventh-round pick. Then again, wide receiver Marques Colston lasted until the Saints called his name at No. 252 overall -- and he had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Compensation system hurts competitive balance in baseball

The fiasco that is the Jason Varitek situation has brought new scrutiny on baseball's free-agent compensation system. The players' association, realizing that draft-pick compensation hurts the market value of free agents, might have no choice but to get involved and try to rework the system.

Going back five years, I tried to measure the positive and negative benefit of the draft-pick compensation system on each team. In theory, after all, compensation should hurt the top-end teams that are signing big-ticket free agents and help the teams that are losing those free agents. That, in turn, should help the teams that are losing their best players to get back on their feet quickly -- and keep the teams that already are successful from loading up with the best available players (through free agency and the draft) year after year after year.

To make it a little simple, I awarded points for each shift in draft pick: First-round picks are worth five points -- a team gets five points for a draft pick award to it and loses five points for a draft pick awarded to another team. Supplemental first-round picks are worth three points. Second-round picks are worth two points. Everything else is worth one point.

Teams benefiting most from compensation (2004-08)
* San Diego, 32 points
* Minnesota, 32 points
* St. Louis, 27 points
* Boston, 24 points
* Oakland, 21 points
* Florida, 21 points
* Washington, 18 points
* Texas, 17 points
* Los Angeles Dodgers, 16 points
* Toronto, 15 points
* Kansas City, 13 points
* Atlanta, 13 points
* Arizona, 11 points
* New York Yankees, 10 points

Teams hurt the most by compensation (2004-08)
* Los Angeles Angels, -14 points
* Seattle, -7 points
* Houston, -5 points
* Chicago Cubs, -4 points
* Baltimore, -2 points

Teams seeing little to no effect
* Pittsburgh, 0 points
* Tampa Bay, 0 points
* Detroit, 1 point
* New York Mets, 4 points
* San Francisco, 4 points
* Cincinnati, 5 points
* Colorado, 5 points
* Chicago White Sox, 6 points
* Milwaukee, 6 points
* Philadelphia, 7 points

Some observations:

* The point of the system is to make sure teams like the Red Sox and Yankees, who are in on almost every major free agent, have to give up something in return for their ability to outbid other teams. Instead, the two most free-spending teams in baseball -- as well as the Cardinals, Dodgers and Braves, who all had payrolls north of $99 million last season (and who all have had legitimate championship aspirations in the last five years) -- are seeing a net benefit from their activities in free agency as it relates to draft-pick compensation. That seems like exactly the opposite of what the system is trying to accomplish.

* Baltimore hasn't had a good team in the last decade and had just the 21st-highest payroll in the game last season. On top of that, the Orioles lost Miguel Tejada to free agency in the time period we're examining -- and they're still seeing a net loss when it comes to draft-pick compensation and free agency.

The draft-pick compensation system is designed to promote competitive balance in a sport in which payrolls can be dramatically different. In some cases, it's working -- the Padres, Twins, Athletics and Marlins all are teams with sub-$75 million payrolls who have received at least some benefit from the free agents they've lost in the last five years.

But when the Red Sox and Yankees see more of a benefit than the Reds and the Rockies, there seems to be a problem. Among those problems:

* Big-market teams can take the risk that comes with offering arbitration when small-market teams can't -- and that means the small-market teams don't get compensation.

Jason Varitek is in a bind because the Red Sox offered him arbitration and thus are entitled to the first-round draft pick of any team that signs him. Varitek, no matter how little money he demands, has almost no choice but to go back to the Red Sox.

Adam Dunn hasn't signed a contract yet, either -- but his options are wide open. The Arizona Diamondbacks declined to offer the slugger arbitration despite that they'd traded two young players for him and would have received two draft picks had he declined the offer and signed elsewhere. The Diamondbacks, a team that has laid off employees this offseason, couldn't take the risk that Dunn would be awarded anything in the ballpark of last season's $13 million salary.

The Red Sox didn't mind taking the risk that Varitek would accept arbitration and thus earn somewhere between $10 million and $12 million -- indications are, in fact, that they were surprised when he declined the offer.

That's because the Red Sox can afford to risk overpaying a player for the payoff of a draft pick or two. The Diamondbacks, a team with a payroll less than half of that of the Red Sox last season, couldn't take that risk. If Dunn had been awarded $13 million by an arbitrator -- and odds are he would have been awarded more than that -- he would have been pulling in almost 20 percent of the Diamondbacks' payroll by himself.

Because of that, the Red Sox will retain Varitek's services this offseason and the Diamondbacks will lose Dunn with no compensation whatsoever. That's not competitive balance.

Here's another one: The San Francisco Giants signed closer Armando Benitez, catcher Mike Matheny and shortstop Omar Vizquel before the 2005 season. One wouldn't necessarily characterize that as some kind of incredible free-agent haul, but, still, those three signings cost the Giants their first-, second- and third-round picks in one of the more top-heavy drafts in recent memory.

The result? The Giants didn't pick until 131 selections already had been made. Fourth-round pick Ben Copeland hit .341 in 85 at-bats at Triple-A last season, but that's a small sample size -- he hit .275, .280 and .261 and showed little power in two seasons of Single-A and one season of Double-A before that. Nick Pereira, the Giants' 10th-round pick, had a 5.70 ERA in Triple-A last season. That's it. That's their entire draft.

In a related story, the Giants just spent $8 million on Randy Johnson, $18.5 million on Edgar Renteria, $8 million on Jeremy Affeldt and $2.75 million on Bobby Howry -- and still reportedly are tinkering with the idea of signing Manny Ramirez. All that to improve a team that hasn't won 80 games since 2004.

The Giants have a big payroll. They recovered. They might even contend in the weak National League West this season. But there are plenty of teams in baseball who wouldn't recover if they lost an entire draft -- and thus can't afford to jump in on free agents they'd otherwise try to fit into their payroll.

* The system diminishes the value of a second-round pick.

The Rays and Pirates each received zero points in this study because they've sat out big-ticket free agency almost entirely. They haven't signed any Type A or Type B free agents; they haven't lost any for which they've received compensation, either. (The Pirates have a habit of declining to offer arbitration to their pending free agents -- in 2005, they opted not to take that risk with Jose Mesa and Brian Meadows. Both would have netted Type B compensation, but both would have cost upwards of $1.5 or $2 million in an arbitration hearing.)

But, in one big way, it's still had a negative effect. With every supplemental draft pick that's awarded, the value of second-round picks diminishes.

The Rays drafted fourth and the Pirates drafted 11th in the 2004 draft, for example. Thanks to the compensation round -- a round in which extra picks were awarded to, among others, the Yankees (twice), Dodgers and White Sox -- the Rays saw their second-round pick slip from No. 34 to No. 45; the Pirates saw their second-round pick slip from No. 41 to No. 52. Among the casualties? Fireballing closer Huston Street went No. 40 overall; left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez, now one of the A's top prospects, went No. 38 overall to the White Sox.

A year later, the same thing happened. The Rays had the eighth overall pick; the Pirates had the 11th overall pick. Thanks to the supplemental round -- a round in which the defending World Series champion Red Sox made three selections -- the Rays saw their second-round pick slide from No. 38 to No. 56 and the Pirates saw their second-round pick slide from No. 41 to No. 59. Among the players who still would have been on the board had those two teams kept their original picks: Luke Hochevar, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Michael Bowden and Garrett Olson.

First-round picks, obviously, are important. But when you don't get to make your second pick until 55 or 60 other players are off the board, your first-round pick almost becomes a make-or-break proposition.

* The system doesn't always deliver compensation that's even close to fair.

Some notable free-agent defections in recent years -- and the pitiful compensation that went along with them:

2005: Because the Mets drafted inside the top 15 and also signed Pedro Martinez that same offseason, the Astros got a supplemental pick (No. 38 overall) and a third-round pick for losing Carlos Beltran.

2006: Because the Blue Jays drafted inside the top 15 and also signed B.J. Ryan that same offseason, the Florida Marlins got a supplemental pick (No. 36 overall) and a third-round pick for losing A.J. Burnett.

2009: Because the Yankees also signed Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia, the Blue Jays will get just a third-round pick for losing Burnett. Maybe that's fitting, in a way, but it still goes against what the system is trying to do.

Meanwhile, in 2007: Because the Rangers won just enough games to stay out of the top 15 and didn't sign any other free agents, the Blue Jays got the 16th overall pick and a supplemental pick (No. 45 overall) for signing Frank Catalanotto.

* The league's top teams have the most success in the draft, anyway.

To make those extra draft picks pay off, of course, teams have to select the right players. And a look back at a couple of recent drafts shows that the teams with the best resources tend to make the best selections.

Take 2005, the draft in which the Marlins accumulated 17 of their 21 points from the above exercise thanks mostly to two extra first-round picks and two supplemental-round picks. Contrast that with the defending champion Red Sox, who had two extra first-round picks (but lost their own for signing Edgar Renteria) and three supplemental-round picks.

The haul for the two teams from the first and supplemental rounds:
Florida: Chris Volstad, Aaron Thompson, Jacob Marceaux, Ryan Tucker, Sean West.
Volstad is projected to be part of the Marlins' starting rotation this season; he was 6-4 with a 2.88 ERA in 15 appearances (14 starts) last season. Thompson has stagnated at the lower levels of the minor leagues; he was 2-5 with a 5.62 ERA after a promotion to Double-A last season. Marceaux has a 5.19 career ERA in the minor leagues, though things started to turn around once the Marlins made him a reliever at Double-A. Tucker was 5-3 with a 1.58 ERA last season, though the Marlins haven't yet decided if he's a starter or a reliever. West had a 2.41 ERA as a starting pitcher in Single-A last season.

Boston: Jacoby Ellsbury, Craig Hansen, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Michael Bowden.
Readers of this blog know all about these five: Ellsbury and Lowrie will start at center field and shortstop, respectively, for the Red Sox on Opening Day. Buchholz and Bowden are so highly thought of by the organization that the Red Sox won't trade them even for one of the best young catchers in baseball. They might both be in the rotation already if not for stars like Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Hansen was a key piece in the trade to get Jason Bay. All five have reached the major leagues; only Bowden doesn't have extensive experience there.

The Red Sox spend quite a bit on their big-league payroll, but they devote a lot of resources to amateur scouting and player evaluation, too. Drafts are full of busts, and no team is immune -- but teams like the Red Sox seem to find gems in the supplemental round and second round than teams that can't spend as much as they do.

Oh, and then there's the Lars Anderson Principle. Teams with vast resources like the Red Sox can afford to draft high school stars with strong college commitments in the late rounds and throw close to $1 million at them to get them to sign. Anderson, had he gone to Cal, would have been a candidate to be taken in the top half of next year's draft. Instead, he signed out of the 18th round for $825,000 in 2006 and has become one of the top prospects in baseball.

The Red Sox can do that. Most teams can't.

* Here's one last piece of twisted logic for you: When a top team loses a free agent and signs another, it not only adds a supplemental first-round pick, it also often moves up in the first round. Take the Yankees, who make the playoffs almost every year and thus tend to be assigned a draft position in the lower third of the first round. When the Yankees "lose" a Type A free agent -- usually a player they don't particularly care to sign anyway -- and bring on board a Type A replacement, they move up in the draft.

2004: Signed Paul Quantrill and lost Andy Pettitte; moved up from No. 28 to No. 23 in the first round. Signed Tom Gordon and lost David Wells; moved up from No. 69 to No. 42 in the second round.

2005: Signed Carl Pavano and lost Jon Lieber; moved up from No. 29 to No. 17 in the first round. Signed Jaret Wright and lost Orlando Hernandez; moved up from No. 77 to No. 63 in the second round.

2006: Signed Johnny Damon and lost Tom Gordon; moved up from No. 28 to No. 21 in the first round.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Maybe Varitek wasn't as dumb as they're saying

Jason Varitek has taken a pounding this week; he's being raked over the coals for admitting that he didn't know a team would have to forfeit a first-round draft pick to obtain his services. Because that rule has almost eliminated any demand for his services -- teams wouldn't sign him to a contract for $20 and a free catcher's mitt if they still had to give up that draft pick -- Varitek's decision to forgo salary arbitration looks categorically stupid.

Critics of Varitek's decision, however, have the benefit of hindsight -- something Varitek didn't have when he originally made his decision.

Had Varitek accepted arbitration, he would have been locked into a one-year contract, albeit a one-year contract in the range of $10 million a year. For a fading catcher who will turn 37 years old in the first week of the 2009 season, a one-year deal might have been the last contract he ever signed. If he could have found a team to give him two years or, even better, two years with a vesting option, he would have had job security for an extra season or two. That, for someone like Varitek, is worth far more than money. The different between $5 million and $10 million is insignificant when you've already made $50 million in your career. The chance to have a contract and, thus, a job that's almost guaranteed -- that's worth far more.

Varitek is being criticized for failing to understand the system, for failing to understand that the forfeiture of a first-round draft pick is enough to scare teams away from him. The prevailing wisdom now is that Varitek -- and agent Scott Boras -- should have seen this coming.

But how could they?

Draft picks have gained value in recent years as more and more teams have embraced the strategies outlined in the book "Moneyball." Some teams have collected pending free agents like casino chips, waiting to cash them in for draft picks after the season. Other teams have opted not to trade their own pending free agents at the July deadline, feeling that the reward of two draft picks was worth more than any package of minor leaguers other teams could put together.

But the idea of forfeiting draft picks has never had as much of an impact as they've had with Varitek.

Skeptical? Look at the Type A free agents -- players for whom teams have forfeited first-round draft picks -- that have signed contracts in recent years:

* Tom Glavine
* Torii Hunter
(Aaron Rowand, Francisco Cordero and Scott Linebrink also were Type A free agents, but as the Giants, Reds and White Sox were picking inside the top 15, their first-round picks were protected. Those teams surrendered second-round picks instead.)

* Frank Catalanotto
* Carlos Lee
* Julio Lugo
* Jason Schmidt
* Gary Matthews Jr.
* Moises Alou
(Alfonso Soriano, Danys Baez, Rich Aurelia, Jeff Suppan, David Dellucci, Justin Speier, Woody Williams, Barry Zito, Roberto Hernandez, Dave Roberts and Chad Bradford all likewise were Type A free agents, but thanks either to the top 15 rule or the fact that each team can only surrender one first-round pick and thus ensuing free-agent signees cost them a second- or third-round pick, they didn't cost their teams a first-round pick.)

* Billy Wagner
* Tom Gordon
* Esteban Loaiza (a Type B free agent)
* Paul Byrd (a Type B free agent)
* Jeff Weaver
* Johnny Damon
(Rafael Furcal, Ramon Hernandez, Matt Morris, Bob Howry, B.J. Ryan, Kyle Farnsworth, Scott Eyre, Tim Worrell and Bill Mueller were Type A free agents who turned out not to cost their team a first-round pick and instead a second- or third-round pick.)

Look at some of those names. Tom Glavine was about to turn 42 years old when he signed his contract. Tom Gordon had just turned 38 and would see his ERA jump by nearly a run after signed his. Frank Catalanotto was, well, Frank Catalanatto.

If Catalanotto -- who was nontendered by the Rangers four years earlier -- could get a contract as a Type A free agent, why couldn't Varitek? How could Varitek have guessed that the market for talented baseball players would go so far south that not one of 30 big-league teams would give up a first-round pick -- keeping in mind that first-round picks turn out to be busts in the ballpark of half the time -- for his services?

He took a risk, sure. But to claim that turning down arbitration in seach a two-year deal was colossally stupid is an unfair exercise in 20-20 hindsight. There's no way anyone could have known that teams suddenly would prize one draft pick more than they would value the experience Varitek would bring to a clubhouse and a pitching staff.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Who can't the Patriots pass up?'s Don Banks posted today the first of his many NFL mock drafts; he has the Patriots drafting Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith at No. 23 in the first round. Banks projects that several of the players discussed in this space yesterday will be off the board by the time the Patriots draft -- including USC linebacker Brian Cushing (No. 14 to New Orleans), Ohio State running back Beanie Wells (No. 16 to San Diego), Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis (No. 17 to the New York Jets) and Vanderbilt cornerback D.J. Moore (No. 22 to Minnesota).

(This, obviously, is all hypothetical. But teams preparing for drafts have to plan for every contingency, and Banks' projection certainly is a plausible contingency.)

With those players coming off the board, however, a few appealing targets remain. Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten, lasted until No. 25; Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno lasted until No. 28 and Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin lasted until No. 30.

It'd be nice to see the Patriots load up on talented players in their secondary, but corners Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley are returning and could be factors as second-year defensive players. And with so much talent still left on the board, it would be surprising to see the Patriots reach for someone like Smith.

Among the options left on the board:

* Laurinaitis is an inside linebacker in the Zach Thomas mold; he would play alongside Jerod Mayo and give the Patriots as hard-hitting a tandem of linebackers as any team in the NFL. He wouldn't, unfortunately, fill the Patriots' more pressing need -- a pass-rushing linebacker to learn from and eventually replace Mike Vrabel. The other downside: The last time the Patriots drafted a highly touted linebacker from Ohio State, it was Andy Katzenmoyer -- and he turned out, thanks mostly to injuries, to be a spectacular bust.

But Laurinaitis has no injury history; he played in all 12 games as a freshman and has been one of the nation's best defensive players since he was a sophomore. Had he gone pro a year ago, in fact, he might have been in the mix to be drafted by the Patriots in the top half of the first round. Instead, he went back to school and finished his senior season with a team-best 130 tackles, including four sacks, and two interceptions and a forced fumble.

Despite Banks' projection, Laurinaitis might not last until No. 23. If he does -- and even Mel Kiper has him lasting until No. 29 -- the Patriots might have a hard time time passing up the chance to pair him with Mayo for the next decade.

* One position where the Patriots don't appear to have a pressing need is at wide receiver, where Randy Moss and Wes Welker return. They also have a bad recent history with highly touted receivers from Florida -- Chad Jackson was probably the team's biggest disappointment out of the draft since, well, Katzenmoyer.

But Harvin is a spectacular dual-threat talent who could make the same impact as Miami's Ted Ginn Jr.; he averaged 9.4 yards per rush and 16.1 yards per reception this season. While Moss is still around, Harvin could step in as the Patriots' third receiver and make a big impact right off the bat. When the 32-year-old Moss departs, Harvin could grow into one of the team's featured playmakers. If he slips to No. 23 -- Kiper has him being snatched up by the Jets at No. 17 -- even though there isn't a pressing need at that position, it'd be difficult for the Patriots to let him keep slipping.

* The best center on the board is named Alex Mack. That might be a secret world worth exploring.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Patriots' draft needs

With Bill Belichick at the Senior Bowl this week, it's time to start thinking about where the Patriots will need to upgrade this season. Cuts and releases will add depth to the free agent pool after the Super Bowl, but an aging team like the Patriots still needs to find a few impact players through the draft every single year.

The Patriots won't start with a top 10 pick like they did last season, but there still figures to be impact talent available at No. 23 -- as well as in the second round, where they'll have the San Diego Chargers' pick as well as their own.

Here are some of the areas they'll look to address:

1. Linebacker
The selection of Jerod Mayo last April so far looks to be a brilliant one; the linebacker out of Tennessee led the Patriots with 128 tackles and won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. For a rookie playing in the Belichick system, he was a remarkable success.

But the Patriots still have a big-time need at linebacker. Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel are getting older; Rosevelt Colvin and Junior Seau likely aren't going to be back. The Patriots need someone out of the Vrabel/Colvin mold at outside linebacker to complement Mayo on the inside.

Possible first-round targets: Brian Cushing (USC), Clint Sintim (Virginia).
Cushing missed half a season in 2007 with a shoulder injury and three games in 2005 with a sprained ankle; his injury-prone history might be a concern. But he plays fast and with good awareness; he can cover receivers and tight ends as well as rush the quarterback. He had 10.5 tackles for a loss and six pass break-ups last season. Sintim isn't as strong in coverage but probably is a better pass-rusher -- he had 11 sacks and five quarterback hurries in his senior season.

2. Cornerback
The Patriots' secondary needs work, but not as much work as one might think. Terrence Wheatley looked like an impact player in the making when he injured his wrist and was lost for the season; he should be back and ready to go next season. Jonathan Wilhite, too, played his way into the starting lineup by the end of the season and will be a factor again next season.

But the Patriots can't afford to rely on players like Deltha O'Neal again. With that in mind, they'll be looking at cover corners in the first two rounds of the draft.

Possible first-round targets: Vontae Davis (Illinois), D.J. Moore (Vanderbilt).
Davis is the brother of 49ers tight end Vernon Davis and a spectacular athlete; he's an impressive cover corner (two interceptions and eight pass breakups last season) and also is more than comfortable blitzing off the edge (seven tackles for a loss). He was a first-team All-Big Ten player at corner last season. Moore earned first-team All-SEC honors last season, and his versatility ought to make him appealing to the Patriots -- he returns kicks and even can play wide receiver. He had six interceptions and seven pass break-ups this season and led the Commodores in all-purpose yards (926, or 71.2 per game: 76 rushing, 143 receiving, 244 punt return, 407 kickoff return, 56 interception return).

3. Running back
The fiasco that has been Laurence Maroney might sour the Patriots on taking a running back in the first round. On top of that, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk make up a more than adequate tandem at running back for a team built around its passing game. Then again, so many teams had success with running backs in the first round last season that the Patriots might not be able to resist.

Possible first-round targets: Chris Wells (Ohio State), LeSean McCoy (Pitt).
Beanie Wells was a Heisman candidate at the start of the season before an injury in the season opener sidelined him for three games and eliminated him from the hunt. He's been spectacularly productive when healthy -- he rushed for 1,197 yards last season despite missing three games, and he rushed for 1,609 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior. He might, however, be too much of a risk for a team burned by Maroney only three years ago. McCoy is a speedy, shifty back who rushed for 1,488 yards and 21 touchdowns last season, and he has shown the durability to carry an offense on his shoulders.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Papelbon wants to get paid

Jonathan Papelbon has made it clear he's not going to settle for a Kevin Youkilis-type discount in his contract dealings with the Red Sox. He knows he left quite a bit of money on the table when he made the decision to be a closer; he wants to make up as much of that money as possible in his year-to-year arbitration hearings and, later, contract negotiations.

As Papelbon told's Rob Bradford two springs ago,I’m here to get my fair share of money. My main priority is to stay healthy and be able to make money, not to go out and try and hurry up and win a championship this year (at the risk of injury). ... I’ve got a lot of money to be made in this game, whether it’s with Boston or not. My goal is to make sure I’m ready to play every day and to make money, and you can’t make money if you’re sitting on the bench."

Pedroia and Youkilis likely lost a little bit of leverage with their professed desire to play only in Boston. Papelbon might love the atmosphere at Fenway Park just as much, but he's not giving away that leverage. He has a number in mind -- a number that's well north of the $6.25 million for which he reportedly will play next season -- and he's going to go after that number. He knows the best closers make less money than even some mediocre starting pitchers, and he's out to break through that glass ceiling.

He's got a shot, too. Check out these numbers for active closers through their first three seasons (or approximately 200 appearances) as a full-time closer:

Papelbon (202 games -- 2005-present)
* 1.84 ERA
* 0.930 WHIP
* 270 strikeouts, 53 walks
* 113 saves
* Will earn $6.25 million in 2009

Jenks (222 games -- 2005-present)
* 3.09 ERA
* 1.154 WHIP
* 224 strikeouts, 76 walks
* 117 saves
* Will earn $5.6 million in 2009

Joe Nathan (206 games -- 2004-06)
* 1.96 ERA
* 0.916 WHIP
* 278 strikeouts, 61 walks
* 113 saves
* Earned $5.25 million in 2007

Mariano Rivera (186 games -- 1997-99)
* 1.87 ERA
* 1.04 WHIP
* 156 strikeouts, 55 walks
* 124 saves
* Earned $7.25 million in 2000

Francisco Rodriguez (199 games -- 2005-07)
* 2.51 ERA
* 1.16 WHIP
* 279 strikeouts, 94 walks
* 142 saves
* Earned $10 million in 2008

Papelbon -- who didn't accumulate service time as a setup man the way Rivera and Rodriguez did -- is right there statistically with any closer in baseball. The Red Sox seem to have dodged something of a bullet with today's agreement, but they might be on the hook for Rivera-type money in the not-too-distant future if they want to hang onto their closer. Rivera made around $9 million in 2001 and 2002, his fifth and sixth seasons as the Yankees' full-time closer, and has made at least $10 million in every season since.

Papelbon isn't dumb. He knows he's just as important to the Red Sox as Rivera is to the Yankees; he knows he's put up very comparable numbers thus far. He also knows he's been playing at a discounted price for the past three seasons. That discount is going to disappear very quickly -- and rightfully so.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Edgar Martinez: Wade Boggs with power

One last Baseball Hall of Fame note as we start to look toward next year, with a nod to ESPN's Rob Neyer and Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone, who both are taking a look at the 2010 candidacy of designated hitter Edgar Martinez.

Warning: This is a little self-indulgent -- I was eight years old and going to games at the Kingdome when Martinez won his first batting title; I was nine years old when Martinez blew out his knee right before the next season and all but ended his career as a position player. When I went to All-Star FanFest in 1996, I did a broadcast of Martinez's two-run double to beat the Yankees in the 1995 American League Division Series. Edgar will always have a special place in my heart.

But it was one point raised in the comments section of Neyer's blog that made this relevant in a Boston sports blog:
Edgar Martinez is Wade Boggs with power. Boggs: .328/.415/.443; Edgar: .312/.418/.515. Neither one could run much and although Boggs did play 3B, nobody confused him with Brooks Robinson. What Boggs had that Edgar doesn't is a management that had the brains to bring him up so that he could get 3,000 hits (and, BTW, he never would have made that without a lot of DHing late in his career). I still remember Bill James flatly predicting that Edgar would hit .300 with a .400 OBA if only Seattle would let him play. Boggs hit for a higher average; Edgar had almost three times as many HRs. Boggs got in on the first try. Edgar may take longer but I think he has a good case.

Boggs, clearly, has better counting numbers -- 3,010 career hits, for example. That's thanks in part to the 18 seasons he played; he started at age 24 and retired at 41. Martinez, on the other hand, didn't play more than 100 career games until he was 27 and missed two full seasons with knee injuries in 1993 and 1994.

But both players played 10 seasons in what you could call the prime of their careers -- Boggs from 1982-1991 and Martinez from 1990-1992 and 1995-2001. Boggs hit .259 in 1992 before finding rejuvenation with the Yankees; Martinez hit .277 in 2002 and played two more seasons before he retired. Let's use those bookends, then:

* Boggs (1982-1991)
Percentages: .345 batting average, .435 on-base, .471 slugging
Counting: 1,965 hits, 400 doubles, 78 home runs, 1,005 runs, 637 RBI

* Martinez (1990-92, 1995-2001)
Percentages: .326 batting average, .433 on-base, .545 slugging
Counting: 1,691 hits, 382 doubles, 229 home runs, 967 runs, 947 RBI

Yes, Wade Boggs played third base and Martinez did not -- at least, after he shredded his hamstring just before the start of the 1993 season. And maybe it's cherry-picking to leave out the seasons from 1993-1996 in which Boggs hit .300 four more times (and OBP'ed .400 twice).

But both were seen as among the top pure hitters of their times. And while Boggs hit for a higher average, Martinez matched him in terms of ability to get on base -- with the added bonus of his ability to hit the ball over the fence 25 times a year rather than eight times a year.

Boggs, of course, had those 3,000 hits -- and he hit .300 four times even after he left the Red Sox, including .342 in 366 at-bats with the Yankees in 1996. He probably was a Hall of Famer after he hit .332, his 10th straight .300-plus season, at age 33, but his 1,045 hits after that point sealed the deal.

Martinez, on the other hand, had a short shelf life, thanks in part to the unwillingness of the Mariners to recall him from Calgary for good until he was 27. But his career OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .933 ranks him 34th all-time -- just behind Willie Mays, Joe Jackson and Hack Wilson and just ahead of Hank Aaron. (Boggs, for what it's worth, ranks 133rd with a .858 OPS.)

No, Martinez didn't hit 400 home runs or get 3,000 hits -- the counting numbers we care so much about. No, Martinez didn't hit .300 as many times (10) as Boggs (14). But both had an on-base percentage of .400 the same number of times -- 11. And while Boggs had an OPS above 1.000 just once in his career, Martinez did so five times.

Wade Boggs with power, indeed.

You can make all kinds of arguments for keeping Martinez out of the Hall of Fame. But it's tough to argue that he wasn't one of the best hitters in baseball for a decade -- and that might be enough to get him into Cooperstown.

Cardinals weren't as bad as they looked at Gillette

Many football fans in New England -- including the region's best-known sportswriter -- are either angry or stunned or both that the Arizona Cardinals are in the Super Bowl. The memories of the Patriots' dismantling of an Arizona team that didn't appear even to show up at Gillette Stadium in December still are too fresh; the Cardinals looked more like an overmatched semipro team than a championship contender.

But were the Cardinals really that bad?

Let's look again at how the first quarter played out, knowing that Ken Whisenhunt's team had wrapped up a division title and could afford to do things like emphasize the run simply to practice execution:

* The Cardinals started their first drive deep in their own end; Tim Hightower ran twice between the tackles for a total of six yards. On third down and 4, Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel got through the line of scrimmage on a draw play and dropped Hightower for a four-yard loss. Three and out -- though one wonders if you would have seen Kurt Warner throw a slant to Larry Fitzgerald on third down if this had been a game the Cardinals needed to win.

* The Patriots started their first drive at Arizona's 33-yard line thanks to a 28-yard punt return from Wes Welker. It only took six runs and one five-yard pass to Kevin Faulk to get the ball into the end zone. 7-0, Patriots.

* The Cardinals started their second drive closer to midfield; Hightower again got the ball twice in a row and this time rushed for a total of eight yards. On his third carry, he rushed for nine yards and an apparent first down -- until a flag, an illegal-use-of-the-hands penalty, brought the play back. Facing third-and-12 -- a situation in which few NFL teams moved the ball with much consistency -- Warner threw incomplete. Three and out again.

* The Patriots started their second drive at their own 45-yard line thanks to another impressive return from Welker. Arizona stuffed Sammy Morris' first run for a loss of a yard, but Matt Cassel threw a short pass on the next play that Morris took for 42 yards. Five plays later, Loont Jordan rushed up the middle for his second touchdown. 14-0, Patriots.

* By now, the Patriots knew, whether due to the weather or the game plan, the Cardinals were going to force the run. Hightower got almost nothing on his first two runs of the drive, and Warner was swallowed up by Mike Wright and Richard Seymour for a third-down sack. Three and out again.

* The Patriots went three-and-out on their next drive -- and Chris Hanson's punt went out of bounds at the nine-yard line.

This was a Murphy's Law type of game for Arizona. It was snowing, first of all, which only made their run-no-matter-what game plan even more predictable. And when Hightower almost fumbled away a swing pass from Warner on his next drive, he almost completed the trifecta of bad breaks for Arizona -- bad penalties, bad field position and bad turnovers. The Cardinals even surrendered a big play on defense.

No, the Cardinals didn't play well in that game. But considering that they (a) had just clinched a division title and playoff berth and (b) had just about everything go wrong that could go wrong in the first quarter, is it so surprising the game got out of hand?

Besides, who's to say the work the Cardinals did on their run game against the Patriots didn't pay off on the game-winning drive on Sunday -- a drive on which they ran the ball nine times and threw the ball five times?

Friday, January 16, 2009

No need to panic over catching situation

No, nothing has happened yet. If the season started today, George Kottaras and (gulp) Josh Bard would be the Red Sox's top two catchers.

But the season doesn't start today. Pitchers and catchers don't report for almost a month.

And that's why it doesn't make any sense to keep worrying about who's going to catch the Olde Towne Team's deep pitching staff.

Jason Varitek isn't getting any offers. He just isn't. It's not fair to him; he's a victim of the collective bargaining agreement and whoever it was that labeled him a "Type A" free agent despite a season in which his swing took as long as an Alewife-to-Braintree "T" ride. Any team that signs him would have to relinquish a first-round draft pick, a far steeper price to pay than any salary upon which the two sides agree.

Any team, that is, except Boston.

Varitek has the right to wait as long as he can to see if any other team gets desperate -- or, for that matter, if the Red Sox get desperate. But there's no reason to get desperate. The season doesn't start today. The season doesn't start for almost a month and a half. Varitek could sit around through half of spring training to give teams one last chance to pony up enough money to pry him away from the Red Sox. He's presumably staying in shape and taking swings in the offseason; all he'd need to do is get to know the pitchers with which he'd be working.

And that would be almost a non-issue if he returned to the Red Sox. All he'd need to do would be to get to know Brad Penny and John Smoltz. A veteran like Varitek doesn't need six weeks of spring training.

Both sides are waiting to see if the other will blink. Trouble is, Varitek is the one with no leverage. Eventually, he'll have to blink. And that's why there's no reason to panic about not having an established catcher on the roster at this point of the offseason -- the Red Sox have their catcher right where they want him.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Greek God of Walks cashes in

So Kevin Youkilis is the latest Red Sox player to cash in with a contract extension to buy out a couple of years of free agency; reports are that he'll make $40 million or so over the next four years with a team option for $13 million at the end of the deal.

Some things to ponder:
* Youkilis, immortalized as the "Greek God of Walks" by Billy Beane, actually has seen his walk total decrease in each of the last three seasons -- from 91 to 77 to 62. In that time, though, his batting average has climbed -- from .279 to .288 to .312. His on-base percentage, therefore, has remained almost stable -- from .381 to .390 to, interestingly, .390 again.

Walks are great. But on-base percentage isn't just about walks; getting hits is at least as valuable as getting on base. And Youkilis' newfound aggressiveness -- combined with the plate discipline he's always had -- made for a huge surge in his power numbers this season. He hit a career-high 43 doubles (he had 42 in 2006 and 35 in 2007) and a career-high 29 home runs (he hit 13 in 2006 and 16 in 2007).

Not surprisingly, his slugging percentage has continued to climb -- from .429 to .453 to .569. That's a leap from Brian Roberts and Jose Lopez territory to Alex Rodriguez -- and, yes, Mark Teixeira -- territory.

Sometimes it pays to take a hack once in a while -- and it helps if pitchers know you're going to be selective.

* Red Sox fans have been eager to compare Youkilis to Teixeira, to tout The Goateed One as a more cost-effective equivalent to the Steinbrenners' newest toy. Youkilis, should he perform the way he did last season, certainly is capable of putting up comparable numbers to Teixeira. At $10 million per year over the next four years, he's something of a bargain. But let's not get carried away.

Teixeira has been one of baseball's preeminent power hitters for the last five years; he has hit at least 30 home runs and had a slugging percentage over .500 in each of the past five seasons.

Youkilis, on the other hand, still has never hit 30 home runs -- though 29 is nothing to sneeze at -- and only once has had a slugging percentage over .500.

Oh, and Youkilis is 13 months older than Teixeira.

* Here's another way to look at it: similarity scores.

Youkilis has three full seasons in the major leagues. After this past season, his first really great season, here's a sampling of the players whose numbers were most similar to his at age 29: Lyle Overbay, Moises Alou, John Kruk and Jeffrey Hammonds.

Teixeira, on the other hand, has the following players on his Age 28 list: Carlos Delgado, Kent Hrbeck, Fred McGriff, Jim Thome, Will Clark, Jeff Bagwell and Willie McCovey.

That's not to say that Youkilis can't catch up to Teixeira and start putting up .300/.400/.500 seasons on a regular basis. Kruk was something of a late bloomer; he hit 20 home runs with the Padres at age 26, but his best seasons came with the Phillies when he was 30, 31 and 32. Alou, likewise, didn't hit 30 home runs for the first time until he was 31 years old and did so three more times while he was in his 30s. (There's an elephant in the room with this, of course. But we'll let that slide for now.)

But there was a reason the Red Sox went after Teixeira so hard. Barring catastrophic injury, he's a sure thing. He's going to hit 30 home runs and slug .500 every year. Youkilis might do that, too -- or he might go right back to being the player many of us thought he'd be: A player who hits 15-20 home runs and gets on base at a .400 clip and hits line drive after line drive off the Green Monster.

No one knows which type of player he'll be. Even Youkilis doesn't know; the fact that he agreed to this contract tells you that. If he thought he was going to put up Teixeira-type numbers again next season, he'd have held out for something closer to Teixeira-type money.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nuggets from the Red Sox's prospect camp

What's that you're saying? Stop writing about the Hall of Fame? Start writing about, you know, things that involve players who haven't been retired for a decade?

Sure thing!

Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen met with reporters this morning as part of the team's Rookie Development Program workout at Boston College's Alumni Stadium. A dozen players are participating in the program, including top prospects Lars Anderson, Daniel Bard and Josh Reddick. We'll have more about the prospects in Friday's Union Leader. But among the nuggets from Hazen:

* The program isn't some sort of tryout camp; instead, it's a chance for players who have a shot to play for the Red Sox in the near future to get familiar with the city, the team and the coaching staff so it isn't all so overwhelming when they do get that call.

"We're eliminating some of the unknowns," Hazen said. "We're eliminating some of those things so they can focus on playing the game, coming up and performing. And we talk about other things programmatically from the mental side of the game to the physical stuff, meeting with the pitching coach and the hitting coach on our programs -- maybe they can learn something in a classroom-type setting that we don't get to do during the season. With the game schedule both in the minor leagues and the major leagues, we don't have that opportunity all the time. It's good to take a step back in a noncompetitive environment and be able to show them some of those things."

* Players aren't just meeting Red Sox brass. Cam Neely was one featured speaker this year.

"He was great," Hazen said. "For a guy that had so much success in Boston, you could tell, when he was speaking, the degree of focus he had when he was here and what drove him to be who he was. It wasn't just, 'Hey, I wanted to be a good NHL player and I wanted to show up every day.' (It was) 'I wanted to be the best player on the ice every day I went out and skated,' and that's a great message for some of these young guys to hear. It's not about getting here; it's about, if you really want to be good, getting up here and excelling. ...

"We think there are some transcendent things about being great, being a great athlete, whether it's hockey, basketball or football ... and then being great in this city. It's an important message."

* The name of Lars Anderson was so omnipresent during the Mark Teixeira discussions that it's hard to believe the first baseman has just 133 career at-bats above the Single-A level. But when you hit .317 and drive in 80 runs and earn Offensive Player of the Year honors in a loaded farm system, that'll happen.

"Over the last couple of years, he's really started to mature as a player, both physically and on the field," Hazen said. "He has a great bat; he's very, very disciplined, very mature. We started to see some of the results when he came to Portland last year; it started to snowball for him from a success standpoint. He's a tremendous person, he works hard, he's very focused.

"I think he's very aware of his situation here in this organization. That's not going to slow him down from taking those next steps in his development."

* There's no reason Anderson couldn't crack the big-league club as early as this season -- and that's why he was included in this year's Rookie Development Program.

"Go back over the last couple of years and look at what's been done with the guys that have been infused into the major league club -- (Jed) Lowrie and (Justin) Masterson last year, (Michael) Bowden making a start," Hazen said. "Once you get to the level of Double-A -- and we've talked to these guys about that -- you cannot be surprised by anything that happens. You have to be ready. If Theo (Epstein) and Tito (Francona), if there's a guy that they need to help win one of 162 games and you're the starting pitcher in Portland and the best one, they're going to call you up. He can't be surprised by anything, and he's aware of that."

* Daniel Bard is a relief pitcher, and he's not going to back to being a starter. He just had too much success last season as a reliever -- he had a 1.51 ERA in 46 games out of the bullpen last season -- for the team to try to turn him back into a starter -- he had a 7.08 ERA as a starter in 2007.

"What we try to do from an organizational standpoint is start as many arms as we can in the minor leagues," Hazen said. "It maximizes the number of innings they get to throw. They get to work through situations and jams. In the seventh and eighth innings, if you give up a home run, the game could be over, but if you give up a home run in the second inning, you can go pitch for four or five more innings. There's no limit on that. It's about getting on the mound and getting into a five-day routine. But at some point, you've got to flip the switch if we feel like somebody's going to become a reliever down the road, and for Daniel, it just happened a little quicker than for some other guys, and he really took off."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cluttering up the ballot

I exchanged emails yesterday and today with one Hall of Fame voter to get his thoughts on the ongoing exclusion of Mark McGwire. He made an interesting point: "Here's my fear as a voter -- that none of these guys will ever get elected, so they'll start cluttering up the ballot and prevent us from voting for other deserving candidates."

It's a fascinating idea; with an onslaught of Steroid Era candidates on the horizon, Hall of Fame ballots might become absolutely stuffed with candidates like McGwire who get enough votes to stay eligible but not enough to get them in the Hall of Fame. Some writers might keep right on voting for those players without clouds of suspicion around them (like Rickey Henderson) and not for those who have been implicated (like McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds).

If you fall into that group, it won't be too hard to fill out your ballot. You'll vote for Robby Alomar and Craig Biggio and Greg Maddux and wait until the Testing Era generation retires. But if you believe in voting for players as compared to their contemporaries -- and thus not punishing anyone for the Steroid Era because we have to assume just about everyone was taking something -- here's how your ballot might look over the next few years:

2010 (6): McGwire, Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines. Let's say that Alomar and Larkin get in; Martinez doesn't because his peak was too short.
2011 (6): McGwire, Blyleven, Martinez, Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro. Palmeiro definitely has the cloud of suspicion; Bagwell might not quite have the numbers. Let's say neither of them get in.
2012 (6): McGwire, Bagwell, Blyleven (15th year), Martinez, Palmeiro, Raines. If none got in the previous year, they won't this year.
2013 (10): McGwire, Bagwell, Martinez, Palmeiro, Raines, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa. Yikes. You don't even get a chance to evaluate the candidacy of someone like Curt Schilling because you don't have room on your ballot. Biggio and Piazza are the only two players on that list who are lead-pipe-lock Hall of Famers who don't have any steroid suspicion surrounding them. That means they'd be the only two to get in.
2014 (10): McGwire, Bagwell, Bonds, Clemens, Martinez, Schilling, Sosa, Palmeiro, Raines, Greg Maddux. Mike Mussina, in his first year of eligibility, gets bumped in favor of Schilling -- but he'll be in that group in 2015. And if any other veterans retire this offseason -- like Ken Griffey Jr., Pedro Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez or Omar Vizquel -- that list grows even longer. It's just crazy.

At a certain point, writers are going to have to wise up. The Steroid Era is part of baseball history; you can't just keep anyone who has ever been associated with performance-enhancing drugs out of Cooperstown. It was just too pervasive. If writers don't wise up, voting is going to turn into a jury verdict for steroid use rather than an opportunity to debate who's elite and who's not quite elite. And that's going to make Hall of Fame discussions a heck of a lot less fun.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Whither Mark McGwire?

Another year, another rejection for Mark McGwire by Hall of Fame voters.

No one can question his numbers: 583 career home runs, 1,414 RBI, 12 All-Star Games, a World Series ring, a Rookie of the Year award and the magnificent 1998 season in which he broke Roger Maris' record and capitivated the imagination of a community of fans still jaded by the 1994 strike.

If that's all that was on his resume, he'd already have made his induction speech.

Instead, though, he's drifting in the wrong direction. He received 118 votes, 22 percent of the total and 287 shy of the 405 he needed to earn a spot among baseball's elite. A year ago, he received 128 votes, 280 shy of the 408 that would have gotten him to Cooperstown. He's going backwards.

And that's not just a shame, it's something of a shock.

McGwire's disastrous appearance in front of Congress almost four years ago assured that his induction wouldn't come as easily as that of former teammate Rickey Henderson, who cruised into Cooperstown on Monday with almost 95 percent of the vote.

Over the last few years, though, the baseball world seems to have to come to grips with the Steroid Era. The Mitchell Report released a year ago included 89 names -- and writers almost unanimously agreed that it could have had dozens more names on it than it did. The report had such a small base of research -- mostly Kirk Radomski and Brian McNamee -- that it couldn't possibly have been a comprehensive list of the major leaguers who had used performance-enhancing drugs.

It seemed as though that realization would help McGwire. Yes, his appearance in front of Congress all but confirmed that some sort of performance-enhancer had aided his pursuit of Maris in 1998 and his career home-run total, eighth-best in baseball history. But if we now believe that a huge percentage of major leaguers in the 1980s and 1990s used steroids to inflate their numbers, we can look at McGwire in that context.

Jayson Stark might have articulated it best when he made public his Hall of Fame ballot a year ago:
The fact is, people have oversimplified this issue, to the point that, if you listen to the way most folks talk about it, you'd think there were only 10 players taking any kind of performance-enhancing drugs in the '90s.

But we know that, in truth, there were probably hundreds. So should I cast votes only against players who happened to get mentioned in Jose Canseco's
book, or who got subpoenaed by Congress? What about all the other players who I might suspect were doing something but whose names have never come up in this conversation?

Here's a name that has never come up in this conversation: Rickey Henderson. As we watch steroid testing take its toll on a generation of 30-something players who we'd thought would have more left in the tank than they do, a player like Henderson looks like a medical marvel. He played in at least 110 games in every season from 1988, when he was 29, until 2001, when he was 42. He played in at least 130 games in seven of those 14 years.

And here's one damning statistic: His home-run total dwindled from 29 in 1990, when he was 31 years old, all the way down to nine in 1996, when he was 37 but still played in 465 games with the San Diego Padres. He hit just eight the next season, a season split between the Padres and the then-Anaheim Angels.

In 1998, though, upon his return to the Oakland A's, he suddenly hit 14 -- at the age of 39. He hit 12 in 121 games played the next season with the Mets -- at the age of 40. At the same time, though he'd stolen double-digit bases between 1993 and 1997, he did so in back-to-back-to-back years at the ages of 39, 40 and 41.

No one here is accusing Rickey Henderson of anything. There's no evidence he did anything wrong. He didn't look like an idiot in front of Congress; he didn't appear on the Mitchell Report. There's just no shred of evidence against him, like there's no shred of evidence against hundreds of his contemporaries.

But that's the problem -- there's not enough evidence about anything that happened in that era. Henderson wasn't a home-run hitter by trade, so he didn't get called to testify in front of Congress. Henderson didn't play for the Mets during the 10 years in which Radomski was there, so there's a perfectly logical reason for him not to appear on the Mitchell Report. And the same applies to Jose Canseco and the book that started it all -- Canseco was traded to the Rangers in 1992, when Henderson still was 33 years old and hitting 20 home runs a season.

(You'll notice, by the way, that after Canseco left, Henderson's home-run totals dropped dramatically. Coincidence? Who knows?)

Again, no one here is accusing Henderson of anything. This is just an effort to argue that we can't dish out punishment -- in the form of the denial of entrance to Cooperstown -- based on the incredibly limited amount of evidence about the Steroid Era.

Mark McGwire still lingers in purgatory thanks to the circumstantial evidence of his testimony in front of Congress; not even 25 percent of Hall of Fame voters are checking the box next to his name. Meanwhile, Rickey Henderson is cruising into the Hall of Fame with almost 95 percent of the vote and will deliver one of the most eagerly anticipated acceptance speeches in history this summer.

Steroids tainted an entire generation of baseball players. If you want to keep them all out of the Hall of Fame, keep them all out. That's fine. That's probably why, in fact, Henderson wasn't a unanimous selection.

But the idea of voting for Rickey Henderson, whose numbers late in his career have to raise an eyebrow, and not voting for Mark McGwire, about whom nothing has ever been proven? It's selective justice. It's a travesty. And if it keeps up, it's going to turn Hall of Fame voting into a joke for the next quarter of a century.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Red Sox roster appears to be set

And that's it.

With the reports that Mark Kotsay is set to re-sign with the Red Sox as a fourth outfielder and backup first baseman, the team's 25-man roster appears to be set before the season even begins. All the Red Sox need now is a catcher -- be it a chastened Jason Varitek, who has found no interest on the free-agent market thanks to his status as a Type A free agent, or a young catcher like Miguel Montero or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, acquired by trade.

Other than that, though, everything is all set. Here's how it looks:

Catchers (2):
Josh Bard
Varitek/Montero/Saltalamacchia/George Kottaras

Infielders (6):
Kevin Youkilis
Dustin Pedroia
Jed Lowrie
Mike Lowell
Julio Lugo
David Ortiz

Outfielders (5):
J.D. Drew
Jacoby Ellsbury
Jason Bay
Rocco Baldelli
Mark Kotsay

Starting pitchers (5):
Josh Beckett
Jon Lester
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Tim Wakefield
Brad Penny
(John Smoltz, opening the season on the DL)

Relief pitchers (7):
Jonathan Papelbon
Hideki Okajima
Manny Delcarmen
Justin Masterson
Javier Lopez
Ramon Ramirez
David Aardsma

*At first, I counted this as six relief pitchers. I apparently need to repeat the first grade.

That's it. It's done.

The Red Sox entered the offseason needing only to strengthen their bullpen and to find a catcher to match the production of Varitek; now, either they'll bring back Varitek or be dealing from a position of strength in negotiations involving one of their young pitchers. And as far as the bullpen is concerned, Ramirez is an impressive young power arm and Masterson will get a chance to pitch a full season at Fenway rather than taking the I-95 shuttle back and forth to Pawtucket all season.

Look at that roster one more time. That roster won 95 games last season -- yes, Manny Ramirez was in the lineup for two-thirds of the season, but the Red Sox actually had a better winning percentage (.642) after Ramirez was traded than they did before he was traded (.560).

I don't know about you, but I'm just about ready for Opening Day.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Giving Baldelli No. 5 does a disservice to the memory of Nomar

That fast? Really?

Check out this photo. You don't need to look all that closely. There's Terry Francona, grinning from ear to ear, looking at Rocco Baldelli like he's some kind of prodigal son. There's Theo Epstein, standing straight, his shoulders back, looking as proud as can be of either his handiwork or his snazzy Under Armour shirt. And there's Baldelli, looking every bit like a ballplayer, wearing a light blue shirt and a Red Sox cap on his head.

In his hands is a white jersey. On the back of that jersey is No. 5.

If that doesn't make you double-take, it should. If that doesn't make you a little bit upset, it should.

Here's what Baldelli had to say:
It was brought to my attention that obviously this has always been a special number in this town and I recognize that as much as anybody. It was brought to my attention that there was a possibility that I was going to be able to wear it. It being the number that I have worn my whole career. I accept it and I think it’s great and I am very happy about it.

You can't blame Baldelli; it's the number he's worn his whole life, and it apparently was offered to him. Of course he was going to wear it.

But you can blame an organization normally so cognizant of its history for messing this one up. No. 5 belongs to Nomar. No. 5 belongs to a player who was the Moses of the Red Sox organization -- he didn't get to the Promised Land, but he did as much as anyone to get them to the doorstep. He reinvigorated the franchise. He won back-to-back batting titles and a Rookie of the Year award. He played in five All-Star Games. He bridged the gap between the Red Sox of Scott Fletcher -- the last player to wear No. 5 before him -- to the Red Sox we know and love today.

No, the franchise never will retire No. 5 the way we once thought they might. A career once on the same track as Ernie Banks and Yogi Berra and Chipper Jones suddenly became derailed by an Al Reyes fastball and, many have whispered, a more stringent testing program for performance-enhancing drugs. He's not going to the Hall of Fame the way we thought he might after his back-to-back batting titles; he's not going to the Hall of Fame the way contemperaries Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are.

But he's still Nomar. And he's still one of the most important players in the history of the franchise.

No. 5 has been worn by 32 players in Red Sox history, including slugger George Scott and utilityman extraordinaire Denny Doyle. Scott wore it for seven seasons; no one else has ever worn it for more than five. Nomar wore it for nine seasons -- from his rookie season of 1996 until his stunning departure at the trade deadline in 2004.

And to give it away -- particularly this quickly after his departure -- flies in the face of Red Sox tradition. Here's a look at a handful of numbers that haven't been retired but have been used sparingly:
* No. 14, Jim Rice: Never worn again. The team likely was holding out for Rice to be elected to the Hall of Fame, and we'll find out this week if that happens.
* No. 21, Roger Clemens: Never worn again despite the bridges Clemens burned once upon his departure for Toronto and again upon his decision to become a Yankee.
* No. 24, Dwight Evans: Not worn from 1990, the year Evans was released, until it was given to Kevin Mitchell in 1996. This number, of course, went to Manny Ramirez in 2001 and again won't be worn for a while, if ever again.
* No. 45, Pedro Martinez: Has not been worn again -- and in case you're wondering, until Pedro left, it had been worn by a player or a coach in every season but two since 1973.

The example with Evans might be best; the team held onto it for six years and through two managerial changes before giving it away. That's what they should have done with No. 5. Six years would have been about right, in fact; give the number the rest of the decade off and then start fresh with someone wearing No. 5 in 2010.

Nomar was an icon, the most beloved position player the Red Sox had since Carl Yastrzemski. No, it didn't end well in Boston, but that's no reason to forget everything he did to lift the Red Sox from a perennial joke to perennial powerhouse. Does Pedro sign long-term without Nomar on the team? Does Manny? Without Nomar, do the Red Sox beat Cleveland in 1999 without his five hits in 12 at-bats -- including the two home runs that scared Mike Hargrove into twice intentionally walking him in front of Troy O'Leary? Do they rally against the A's in 2003 without Nomar's double in the eighth inning of Game 4?

It's sad the way such a beloved figure has been shoved aside. Yes, he probably was using something to help him to his .314 career batting average and 226 career home runs. No, he's not going to the Hall of Fame. But he made watching baseball at Fenway Park fun again. And giving Rocco Baldelli No. 5 barely four years after Nomar's departure is just another sign that he's already being forgotten.

Woonsocket's own headed to Fenway, ESPN reports

Rhode Island native Rocco Baldelli appears close to a deal to become the fourth outfielder for the Red Sox, ESPN's Peter Gammons is reporting. Baldelli has just 217 at-bats in the last two seasons thanks to a well-publicized mitochondrial disorder. Before that, his career track mirrored that of players like Ellis Burks, Carlos Beltran and Vernon Wells through their first 400 games or so.

If he can stay healthy -- and that's a huge if -- Baldelli certainly could put up Shane Victorino-type numbers over a full season: A .290 batting average and .350 on-base percentage, a dozen or so home runs, 25 stolen bases.

With the Red Sox, at least this season, he's not going to get enough at-bats to do that. The Red Sox aren't going to overextend him; he'll be a right-handed bat off the bench to spell J.D. Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury, most likely. If one of the team's starting outfielders gets hurt, you probably won't see Baldelli become a full-time outfielder unless he's demonstrated that he's fully healthy and that his mitochondrial disorder is completely under control.

If someone gets hurt, you're likely to see someone like Jonathan Van Every called up -- or maybe another veteran signed, given that some older players without contracts might be willing to wait until April or May to see if spots open up. Right now, the Red Sox can't project Baldelli to be a possible everyday player. If he's a two- or three-day-a-week player, though, he could provide an awful lot of right-handed pop off the bench in a lefty-heavy lineup.