Friday, July 28, 2017

Price Takes Coward's Way Out

David Price had an elbow injury that prevented him from starting the year with the Red Sox. Supposedly, the injury has resurfaced, prompting the Red Sox to place him on the disabled list this morning.  Price was scheduled to start the first game of the team's home stand tonight.

This does not pass the smell test for me.  Price, who was likely to be under fire tonight from the Fenway crowd after it was reported that he harassed team broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley on a team flight in June, seems to be using the elbow as an excuse to avoid the Boston fans.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Random Thoughts (July 27, 2017)

161 days after the Patriots executed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history over the Falcons, a win that cemented the legacies of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady as the best ever, the Patriots officially open training camp today in Foxboro.

Belichick loaded up this off-season.  He traded for receiver Brandin Cooks and defensive end Kony Ealy and signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore and running backs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead. They retained cornerback Malcolm Butler despite rumors he was so unhappy with his contract that he wanted to be traded.  They also added veteran linebacker David Harris when the Jets decided to cut him recently.

Both locally and nationally there is a lot of chatter that the Patriots are better than their 2007 team that was undefeated up until their stunning loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.  USA Today already predicted an undefeated season for the Patriots and they will not be the last media outlet to do so.

The talk from within the Patriots facility is obviously down playing those predictions.  Matthew Slater called the undefeated talk "disrespectful" and the players that have spoken to the media have said that their focus is on improving one day at a time.  Belichick's first evil glare at the media this summer is expected to be a reply to the first questions relating to 19-0 speculation.

While keeping the team focused on day-to-day improvement and taking the season one game at a time is likely to be the biggest challenge for Belichick and the other coaches, here are three other areas of concern for training camp and the 2017 season:

1. How will Belichick split reps at quarterback between Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jacoby Brisset?

Brady is still the man but with Garoppolo not used as trade bait, the expectation is that he is the presumed heir at quarterback and with his rookie contract up at the end of this season he could be in line to take over a year from now.  Watching how many reps Garoppolo is able to get this summer will aid the speculation about his future and Brady's.

Garoppolo and Brisset were both pressed into duty in 2016 so having them prepared for action in 2017, especially considering they are backing up a 40-year-old quarterback, will likely be a priority.

2. How will the defense get to opposing quarterbacks?

While the defense looks great on paper, one area of concern is the pass rush.

Facing the likes of Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Derek Carr, Philip Rivers, and Drew Brees, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is going to have to find a way to manufacture pressure.

Trey Flowers looked like a budding superstar in the second half of last season and in the Super Bowl but he alone will not be enough to pressure the passer.  Rob Ninkovich is getting close to the end of his career - and could possibly be a surprise cut in August due to the depth on the team's roster - and can't be expected to post double-digit sack totals.

Ealy will hopefully help out in this area.  If Geneo Grissom finally lives up to his status as a third round pick it would also be helpful.  Rookies Derek Rivers Deatrich Wise will also have a chance to earn minutes if they can get to the quarterback.

3. Can Dwayne Allen replace Martellus Bennett as Rob Gronkowski's backup?

The Gronk is on the short list when the topic of "who is the best tight end in NFL history?" is discussed but due to his long list of health issues, there's no guarantee that #87 will be on the field come January and February.

Last year, Bennett filled in (despite playing with a cracked bone in his ankle) and played an important role on the way to winning his first Super Bowl.  Bennett then cashed in during free agency and signed a lucrative deal to join the Packers.

Allen was then brought in from Indianapolis to become the top backup to Gronkowski.  If Gronk stays healthy all year and Allen can play a complimentary role than this is not an serious concern. The issue will be if Gronkowski sustains another serious injury and the team has to rely on Allen to produce.  He's a fine player but he's not on Gronk or Bennett's level and the Patriots offense relies heavily on the tight end position.

***

The Red Sox decision to call up top prospect Rafael Devers and trade for Eduardo Nunez offers them improved roster flexibility as well as (hopefully) more production at the plate.

Devers, even at age 20, can be expected to offer more production than any of the other third baseman the Red Sox have employed in 2017.  A left handed slugger, Devers should be able to add much needed pop to the bottom of John Farrell's lineup.  He should stay in Boston as long as he does not seem completely overwhelmed.

Nunez can also help out at third base and has the added benefit of being able to play both shortstop and second base.  With Xander Bogaerts struggling at the plate after getting hit on the hand with a pitch before the All-Star Game and Dustin Pedroia dealing with a sore knee, Nunez' flexibility in the field should allow Farrell to give Bogaerts and Pedroia days off as well as to make sure Devers doesn't have to play every day.

The roster victim of these moves will likely be Devin Marrero.  Marrero filled in admirably when Pablo Sandoval's last chance ended as a failure and when Brock Holt was out with vertigo. However, Marrero is not a good enough player to play an every day role on a playoff team.

***

The Kyrie Irving trade rumors have caught my attention.

Danny Ainge has the assets necessary to trade for the 25-year-old All-Star.  The question is, if Cleveland was willing to deal him to an Eastern Conference rival, is he worth adding?

To me, this all comes down to Isaiah Thomas' health.  It was reported yesterday that Thomas' hip injury that knocked him out of the Eastern Conference Finals will not require surgery.

If Thomas is expected to be at full strength, Ainge should not deal for Irving and should instead hold on to his assets for another trade down the road.

If Thomas' hip is not going to allow him to return to full strength or if there is a legitimate concern that it will be a long term issue - Thomas will be a free agent next summer and is going to command a maximum-level contract - then this is a trade worth making for the Celtics.

Irving is an exceptional scorer with a championship pedigree.  If the Celtics do not trust the health of Thomas' hip moving forward and the Cavaliers are willing to do business with Boston, adding Irving is the right move.

***

While I have a financial interest in the Red Sox making the playoffs - please, stop by The Baseball Tavern if you're in the Fenway neighborhood - I am starting to root against this team.

The story about David Price bullying Dennis Eckersley on a team flight - an incident that was applauded by several of his teammates, including Dustin Pedroia - is outrageous and the fact that Farrell, Dave Dombrowski, or any of the ownership has not publicly ripped into Price and the supporting players is disgusting.

I'd hate to see the great seasons of Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel be wasted but the actions of Price and some of his teammates and the lack of action by management would be justly rewarded with a collapse on par with that of 2011 and missing out on the playoffs.

***

Enjoy Belichick's press conference today.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How Will Red Sox Respond To Yankees Trade For Todd Frazier & David Robertson?

Over the weekend, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that a trade of Todd Frazier from the White Sox to the Red Sox was inevitable.  Boston needed a third baseman with power and Chicago was looking to add more prospects to fuel their rebuilding process.  It looked to be the proverbial "win-win" type of trade.

Rosenthal was correct that Frazier would be traded.  He was just wrong about where he was going.

Last night the Yankees shipped three prospects and relief pitcher Tyler Clippard to the White Sox in exchange for Frazier and relief pitchers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle.  In one deal, the Yankees not only added to their lineup and improved their bullpen but they also prevented the Red Sox from addressing their issues at both third base and the bullpen.

The Yankees, 3.5-games behind the Red Sox in the A.L. East and currently the second Wild Card team in the A.L., have fired the first shot in the 2017 baseball arms race.  They believe they are good enough to win a championship - even though they need to add at least one more starting pitcher to be a legitimate title team - and they've made a move that corresponds with that belief.

Now the attention turns to Dave Dombrowski.  Since taking over the Red Sox baseball operations in August 2015, "Trader Dave" has utilized the deep farm system he inherited from Ben Cherington in deals that brought Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz, and Chris Sale to Boston.  He's never been shy to trade the future for the present and it looks like he'll have to dig back in to the remaining talent pool to improve this year's team in order to allow it to contend for a championship.

One third baseman to keep tabs on is Mike Moustakas of the Royals.  Kansas City seems to be falling out of contention quickly and with Moustakas set to become a free agent this winter, the Royals may look to deal him for prospects.

Moustakas is a left handed hitting slugger that would add much needed pop to the Red Sox lineup. His 2017 triple slash is currently .267/.299/.546 and he has 25 home runs and 55 RBI.  He also has postseason experience, helping the Royals win consecutive A.L. Pennants in 2014 and 2015 and the 2015 World Series.

Philadelphia's Pat Neshak, Detroit's Justin Wilson, and Chicago's Anthony Swarzak are all candidates to be acquired to improve the Red Sox bullpen.

Whoever they go after, expect Dombrowski to act quickly.  He needs to improve the roster quickly with the Rays and Yankees coming on strong in the East.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Red Sox Lineup Needs Fixing

For decades, the Red Sox have been a team built around offense.  Playing in tiny Fenway Park, they have traditionally been a team that scores a ton of runs and, when they have the pitching to match the offense, they've been in contention to compete for the World Series.

This year it looks like they have the pitching.  Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Drew Pomeranz provide manager John Farrell with as good as a rotation as there is in baseball and while the bullpen could use some reinforcements, Craig Kimbrel gives them a championship caliber closer.

The issue has been the offense.  The Red Sox were expected to struggle a little at the plate after the retirement of David Ortiz but overall this is a lineup that has not performed up to expectations.

Overall, they've been a front running offense.  In their 52 wins, the Red Sox have batted .308, posted an on-base percentage of .38 3 and slugging percentage of .490, and have scored 348 runs.  In their 42 losses those triple slash numbers drop to .205/.273/.304 with only 95 runs scored.

Lately, the offense has struggled mightily.  Over their last ten games - in which they've gone 3-7 while giving the Rays and Yankees hope in the A.L. East - they've batted .195 with a .275 on-base percentage and a .283 slugging percentage while scoring just 26 runs.

The solutions to the problem need to come from within while Dave Dombrowski evaluates the trade market.  There is simply too much talent for the offense to be stuck in neutral.

A shakeup to the lineup needs to be Farrell's first move.

I would move rookie Andrew Benintendi into the lead-off spot.  He has a .357 on-base percentage and has excellent speed.  On the days that he sits when facing a tough left-handed starter, Chris Young (.326 on-base percentage) would also hit lead-off so that the rest of the lineup would maintain their normal roles.

Dustin Pedroia, having another solid season to add to his Hall of Fame resume, would stay in the second spot and Xander Bogaerts would continue to hit third.  Mookie Betts would then drop from the lead-off spot into hitting cleanup.

In the fifth spot, Jackie Bradley Jr. would move up and ten be followed by Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland.  Rookie Sam Travis can also be used more to spell Moreland at first base and Young can get additional at bats as the designated hitter if Ramirez does not start producing more at the plate.

The last two spots are to be split by catchers Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez as well as third baseman Brock Holt and Devin Marrero.  Both Holt and Marrero can also spell Pedroia at second base to keep him fresh for September and October.

Other than reinforcing the bullpen, Dombrowski should be looking at adding more offensive production at third base.  Holt is a solid role player but he's coming off of a bout with vertigo, has played only nine games, and has a history of wearing down when he's over used.  Marrero - along with the recently demoted Tzu-Wei Lin - stabilized third base defensively following the total failure that was Pablo Sandoval but neither is suited at this point of their careers for an every day role and are better served as utility players.

The most obvious target at third base is Todd Frazier of the White Sox.  Frazier, a free agent at the end of the season, is not having his best season (.207/.328/.432) but his power numbers (16 home runs, 44 RBI, 15 doubles) would be a major upgrade over what Farrell currently has at his disposal and would, on paper, upgrade the bottom of the lineup.

With the White Sox in sell mode, Dombrowski could also look to add Chicago's closer David Robertson in a deal to serve as Kimbrel's primary set-up man who can also close games.  Adding an arm like Robertson would allow Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Robbie Ross, Fernando Abad, and Brandon Workman to work in less stressful situations in games.

The Red Sox lineup, if they added Frazier, could look something like this:

1. Andrew Benintendi, LF
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. Xander Bogaerts, SS
4. Mookie Betts, RF
5. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
6. Hanley Ramirez, DH
7. Mitch Moreland, 1B
8. Todd Frazier, 3B
9. Sandy Leon/Christian Vazquez, C

The bench would be Chris Young (OF), Brock Holt (IF/OF), Sam Travis (1B/DH), Devin Marrero (IF).

Adding a relief pitcher - if it's not Robertson, his White Sox teammates Tommy Kahnle and Anthony Swarzak as well as Philadephia's Pat Neshak and Detroit's Justin Wilson - would help as well.

Projecting Boston as a playoff team, Farrell would be able to utilize a starting rotation of Sale, Price, Porcello, and Rodriguez with Pomeranz going to the bullpen to join Kimbrel, Kelly, Barnes, Ross, Abad or Hembree, and whoever Dombrowski is able to trade for in the next couple of weeks.

That should be enough to beat out the Yankees and Rays for the A.L. East and it could be enough to top the Astros and Indians for the A.L. Pennant and the Dodgers for the World Series.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Give Jackie Bradley Jr. The Gold Glove

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On a night when David Price showed Red Sox Nation why Dave Dombrowski gave him a 7-year, $217-million contract before the 2016 season, Jackie Bradley Jr. made the catch of the year to rob Aaron Judge of a home run and preserve a win for the Red Sox over the Yankees.

The Red Sox win earned them a split of the four-game series with the Yankees which allowed them to maintain their 3.5-game lead over the Bronx Bombers in the A.L. East.  The Rays have now crept into second place, 3-games behind the Red Sox.

Price hurled eight shutout innings to raise his record to 5-2 and drop his ERA to 3.39.  It was a stellar performance when his team needed him to be at his best.  That has not been Price's strong suit in his 1.5-years in Boston but since missing the start of the season with an elbow injury, he has pitched very well and has given John Farrell a legitimate co-ace behind Chris Sale in the Red Sox rotation.

Farrell has to imagine Sale, Price, and Rick Porcello - who seems to be turning a corner after a poor start to the 2017 season - carrying his team to the A.L. East crown and a deep playoff run.

Of course, it's easy to imagine that type of production from your starters when they have Gold Glove defensive stars like Jackie Bradley Jr. taking the field every night.