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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

As Bogaerts matures, could there still be room for Drew?

Drew shined defensively in the postseason.

The Red Sox finally made David Ortiz a Happy Papi with a contact extension that all but assures the greatest clutch hitter in team history will finish his career as a Red Sox. Now, with Opening Day almost upon us, the Sox have the opportunity to make another move that could help one of their rising stars reach his potential.

Bringing back Stephen Drew.

Sure, Xander Bogaerts may be the best thing since Big Yaz Bread, or at least appeared to be when he took over at third base for a slumping Will Middlebrooks in last year's playoffs, but he's still technically a rookie with just 18 games of regular season experience. He showed tremendous poise and patience in becoming the youngest player (at 21) to ever start a postseason contest for the Red Sox, but he also made an error in Game 4 of the World Series with a rushed throw to first base and hit just .238 with one extra-base hit in six games against the Cardinals. 

This spring training, with the eyes of the baseball world looking on, he's batting .227 with 1 homer after a fairly large sample size of 44 at-bats. He does have 3 triples, but he also has 10 strikeouts.
He may be the future, but we're not there yet.

In other words, he may still be a great prospect, but he's not yet an every-day great player.

He's also about to start his first season as a big-league regular, at one of the game's most demanding positions: shortstop. He's shown excellent hands and range at every level, but he's never played more than 134 games in a campaign (last year, when he played 60 at Portland, 56 at Pawtucket, and 18 in Boston). Suiting up in the majors every day is a grind, as he'll soon discover.

Middlebrooks, after some talk of a move to first base, is back at third, apparently for the duration. Bogaerts is slated to be the everyday shortstop, with Jonathan Herrera the likely back-up option. Herrera has 375 games of MLB experience under his belt, but has never been a regular or played in an intense atmosphere like Boston.

Stephen Drew, of course, has done both.
Drew is a Dirt Dog who rebounded well in 2013.

Last year Drew recovered from an awful start at the plate to produce an excellent slash line of .291/.367/.497 in August and September combined as Boston pushed toward the postseason. His overall power totals of 29 doubles, 8 triples, 13 homers, and 67 RBI placed him among the upper tier of American League shortstops offensively, even though he was limited to 124 games by a hamstring injury in mid-season.

Drew's fielding was also very solid. He ranked third among AL shortstops in range factor, second in fielding percentage, and during the playoffs was particularly flashy with the glove -- playing so well defensively that John Farrell kept him in the lineup despite a .111 postseason batting average.

Farrell figured eventually the veteran would come through with the stick, and his patience paid off. Drew led off the fourth inning of Game 6 of the World Series with a home run -- igniting a three-run inning that broke open the clincher for Boston.
In Game 6 versus St. Louis, Drew came through.

His ego boosted by all these positives -- and a money-hungry agent in Scott Boras -- Drew chose as a free agent to turn down Boston's one-year, $14.1 million qualifying contract offer. Surely he figured better deals from other teams would come, but despite persistent rumors of suitors he's still without a home. 

The Sox are gambling on Bogaerts, but since Drew can't seem to find anybody else willing to meet his price, perhaps it's time Ben Cherington finds out if Boras might just take a lower offer. (One reason other teams are hesitant to sign Drew is that they would have to forfeit a draft pick to the Red Sox as compensation.)

Bogaerts may be the future, but Drew has been there and done that -- and would be an excellent insurance policy if the rookie were to struggle early or later on. He may even have a few tips to give the kid after more than 900 games at shortstop. At this point he likely would not mind a backup role as a chance to stay in the majors.
Drew apparently would love to be back.

Would Drew want to come back? He told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe that he would,  saying that "The chemistry Pedey [second baseman Dustin Pedroia] and I had was tremendous. But it's a business. It would be great to go back there. The owners, management, maybe that's something they want to do different. That's all I can think of."

Cherington and Co. want Bogaerts at short, and they want him there every day. But it's a long season.

Look at it this way: What if the Red Sox had handed left field to Jackie Bradley Jr. last year, and didn't have Shane Victorino to step in when Bradley faltered?

There might not have been a chance for Bogaerts -- or Drew -- to shine in the postseason.
     Mar

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Pedro, Yaz highlight Red Sox "Grade A" lineup vs.Marlins

Pedro looks to tame the Marlins Tuesday.

After getting heat from Florida Marlins fans and management for fielding a lineup last Thursday at Roger Dean Stadium that included just one likely regular season starter, the Red Sox are making sure there are no complaints for those Florida rooters who make the trip to Jet Blue Park for Tuesday's split-squad rematch.

On the recommendation of Boston owner John Henry, who Saturday joked that the Marlins should "apologize for their regular season lineup," Red Sox manager John Farrell has what he calls a "Grade A" starting nine awaiting Florida fans and management 

Wade Boggs will be batting leadoff and playing third base, followed by Dustin Pedroia at second base and David Ortiz at designated hitter. Carl Yastrzemski will bat cleanup and guard the Green Monster in left, with Nomar Garciaparra at shortstop and Mo Vaughn at first. The bottom three in the order will include Carlton Fisk at catcher, Dwight Evans in right, and Johnny Damon in center. 

The starting pitcher? Who else but Pedro Martinez?

"This should be good enough for the Marlins management and fans," says Farrell. "Yaz has lost a step or two, and Carlton is having some problems with his knees, but we think they should be ready."
Yaz: Spry enough at 74.

Asked if he has any reserves available if needed, Farrell says that Dave Roberts has been studying the windups and pick-off moves of the entire Florida staff and will be loosening up for a pinch-running appearance in a close game. Fred Lynn and Jim Rice have also been taking extra batting practice in anticipation of seeing action.

After Pedro, Luis Tiant and Dennis Eckersley are expected to pitch in the game. Boo Ferriss also wanted to get some innings in, but the 92-year-old hurler could not get a plane out of Mississippi in time to make it to Florida by Tuesday morning.

"It's too bad," Ferriss said by phone Monday. "I think I could handle that Marlins lineup pretty good."

Saturday, March 1, 2014

No Mo Fooling Around: Oritz Deserves Two-Year Extention

For what he's done, Ortiz has earned two years.

After several weeks of trying to figure out why so many people are adverse to giving a contract extension to David Ortiz, merely the best big-game player in Red Sox history, I think I've finally put my finger on one of the key reasons -- one that might be locked deep in the subconscious of many naysayers.

Mo Vaughn.
Mo was once the man for Boston.

Before Pedro and Papi and Petey and Red Sox Nation and the sellout steak, Vaughn was the best and most popular everyday player on the Boston team -- a guy who, like Ortiz, loomed large at the plate, in the clubhouse, and everywhere else he went including the Jimmy Fund ClinicThen Mo chose to take his talents elsewhere as a free agent, and within a couple years injuries and too many trips to the postgame buffet did him in. 

Sure, Red Sox fans hated to see Mo go, but based on the final numbers they probably thought it wasn't such a bad move. Personally, I think that like Bruce Hurst a decade before, Vaughn's heart was never quite in the game after he left the intense atmosphere of Boston for come-late-leave-early Southern California. Fleeing town earned Mo plenty of cash but also may have cost him a shot at Cooperstown. (Before you laugh off this claim, consider his OPS of .936 through his Red Sox years. He's in pretty good company there, with a figure not too far below Willie Mays among the career leaders.)
Mo moped a lot in Anaheim.

Ortiz has a body type much like Vaughn, so it's natural to assume he's going to lose his bat speed and skills quickly as well. But Papi is already seven years older than Mo when he went to Anaheim, and that's just according to his "official" age (in reality, he might be one or two years older). Even taking his recent injuries into account, there is no sign of a Vaughn-like decline.

In fact, based on last year's World Series, Ortiz looks nearly as good as ever.

Now let's suppose that he does start to slip this year, and the second season of a multi-year deal winds up being largely a bust. If there was ever a player who deserved a bit of a golden parachute and victory tour, isn't it this guy? I know it's not my money, but seriously, hasn't this guy earned the street cred of the 1983 broken-down but beloved version of Carl Yastrzemski if it comes to that?
Broken down, still beloved.

Let's look at it another way. If Carl Crawford is worth a seven-year deal worth $142 million from Boston after winning his first Silver Slugger award, isn't Dave Ortiz worth two seasons at $30 million after earning his sixth -- along with the World Series MVP?

Back in 2004, Ortiz did something that neither Ted or Yaz or Pudge or Rocket or Mo could do in Boston -- he led his team to a World Series title. This alone would have been enough to earn him "never pay for a meal again" status in New England, but then he went and did it again. And again.

Three championships in a decade. Sure, Ortiz didn't do it all himself -- but he was a huge cog in the wheel, perhaps the hugest. Larry Bird won three titles for Boston as well, but if he had asked for a two-year pact, even during the Lying Down When Not Playing Era when his back had the durability of cardboard, would anybody have protested?
Down but never out.


Unless they wanted to be yelled off the air on WEEI or booted out of the old Garden, the answer is a resounding NO. Larry Legend was worth whatever he wanted for what he meant to the team.

Isn't Ortiz?

I say lay off Papi's back and give him the extra year he's seeking. And if he manages to keep playing at a high level through 2016, give him one or two more if he so desires.

The thought of Ortiz coming to town in Yankee pinstripes or any other uniform is far more sickening than when Damon or Clemens or Boggs did the same. Really, there is no comparison. All of them were great players, but Ortiz took the Sox where nobody since Babe Ruth did before: all the way.
Three is worth two.

For that, he deserves at least two more years -- and fans deserve at least that long to cheer him.