Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Random Thoughts (July 17, 2012)

The atmosphere at Fenway Park was unusually positive (well, for this year anyways) last night during the Red Sox 5-1 win over the White Sox.

Carl Crawford returned from his myriad of injuries (wrist, elbow, and groin) to go 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored in his season debut.  Adrian Gonzalez hit his first home run since June 24 and drove in 4 runs.  Aaron Cook pitched seven strong innings, only giving up one unearned run.  Old friend Kevin Youkilis made his return to Fenway, went 3-for-4, and heard a few of the old "Yoooooooouk" chants.

Of course the 2012 Red Sox can never just have a good night.  While rounding the bases on Gonzalez' three-run blast in the 8th inning, David Ortiz injured his right achilles tendon and had to leave the game.  It does not initially seem to be a serious injury but Ortiz is expected to miss at least a few games.  He will have an MRI today.

The win did leave the Red Sox just a game behind the Tigers for the last A.L. Wild Card playoff spot.  With Jacoby Ellsbury (who is 6-or-18 since coming back from his shoulder injury last Friday) and Crawford back already, Dustin Pedroia expected back on Thursday from his thumb injury, and hopefully a good prognosis on Ortiz, the Red Sox lineup should be at full force the rest of the way.  If that is the case, the team will need its pitching to come through - we're looking at you Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz - in order to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.


Larry Coon, for those of you who don't know, is the most trusted source of information on the NBA's collective bargaining agreement and salary cap for those of us who have no idea how the most complicated CBA in professional sports works.

Coon provides a breakdown for each team's salary cap situation on ESPN.com (Insider access required) this morning.

The Celtics have no more room under the cap but do retain both their mid-level exception (worth $5-million) and their bi-annual exception (worth $1.96-million).  They need to use that space to add a shooting guard and another big man.

Jason Terry, who has agreed to play for the Celtics next season but has not yet signed a contract, will end up taking the mid-level exception unless Danny Ainge can work out a sign-and-trade with the Mavericks, Terry's former team.  If Ainge makes a sign-and-trade work for Terry, he is expected to use the mid-level on free agent Courtney Lee.  Adding both Terry and Lee to their back court would be a huge help to the Celtics who were looking to add depth after last season and would give them one of the league's best guard rotations with Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley. 

If Ainge can't pull off the sign-and-trade for Terry, the team will be facing depth issues, especially early in the season as Bradley will probably be out until December with a shoulder injury.  Rondo is an established All-Star and Terry would replace Ray Allen but beyond that the C's would be forced to rely on unproven youngsters like E'Twaun Moore, Kris Joseph, and Dionte Christmas or re-sign veterans Keyon Dooling and Mickael Pietrus on the cheap.  That is not who Doc Rivers really wants to go to battle with every night against teams like the Heat, Nets, Knicks, and Bulls.

The best scenario is for the Celtics to do the sign-and-trade for Terry, sign Lee, and re-sign Dooling as veteran insurance at point guard while allowing Moore and Christmas to fight for whatever left over minutes are available and for Joseph to concentrate on developing into a backup at small forward.

As for another big man, the $1.96-million bi-annual exception could be used to bring back Greg Stiemsma if he doesn't get a bigger offer elsewhere or add a veteran looking to contend for a title.  Darko Milicic has been mentioned and with the Bobcats possibly looking to use their amnesty clause on DeSagana Diop, the Celtics could get a cheap veteran to add needed depth up front.  I would like to see Stiemsma return - he knows the system, is a good defender, and can knock down open jump shots - but it looks like he will sign with Minnesota for more money than the Celtics can offer. 

Let's look at two different scenarios for the Celtics.  The first one has Ainge getting the sign-and-trade for Terry accomplished, with the C's sending Dallas JaJuan Johnson, Moore, Pietrus, and a 2013 second round pick.  That would open up the mid-level exception for the team to add Lee and the bi-annual exception will go to Milicic.  I will also predict Dolling to re-sign for the veteran's minimum.  That would give the Celtics this roster (Bradley in italics because he will not start the season due to shoulder surgery):

5: Kevin Garnett, Darko Milicic, Fab Melo
4: Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger
3: Paul Pierce, Jeff Green, Kris Joseph
2: Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, Avery Bradley
1: Rajon Rondo, Keyon Dooling, Dionte Christmas

That is a deep and talented roster that would be in serious contention to win the East and capture the franchise's 18th NBA championship.

As for the second scenario, there will be no sign-and-trade for Terry so he will eat the mid-level exception, Milicic will still come for the bi-annual exception, and Ainge will sign both Dooling and Pietrus for veteran experience at guard.  With Moore still on the team, Christmas would probably not stick around.  That would give the Celtics this roster:

5: Kevin Garnett, Darko Milicic, Fab Melo

4: Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger, JaJuan Johnson
3: Paul Pierce, Jeff Green, Kris Joseph
2: Jason Terry, Avery Bradley, Mickael Pietrus, E'Twaun Moore
1: Rajon Rondo, Keyon Dooling

That is still a competitive team but it is probably too thin at shooting guard to seriously contend with the likes of the Heat to win the East.  Lee is not an All-NBA caliber guard but he is a proficient shooter and also has young legs, which will be a key factor when the Celtics are trying to defend Miami's combination of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, and Mario Chalmers or the Nets combination of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Gerald Wallace.


Also at ESPN.com today (Insider access required), baseball analyst Keith Law updates his database of the top 50 prospects in the minor leagues.

The Red Sox have two prospects on this list.  The first is 19-year-old shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who is currently ranked 29th by Law and the second is 22-year-old center fielder Jackie Bradley, who is ranked 43rd by Law.  Pitcher Matt Barnes, a 22-year-old righty, was listed as just missing the cut.

According to SoxProspects, Barnes, Bogaerts, and Bradley are the team's three top prospects as well with catcher Ryan Lavarnway and shortstop Jose Iglesias right behind them rounding out the top five.  The Red Sox have done a nice job of developing their farm system the last few years after promoting players like Pedroia, Ellsbury, and Will Middlebrooks to the major leagues and trading away Jed Lowrie and Josh Reddick.

With the Red Sox currently loaded with expensive contracts for Gonzalez, Crawford, Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and John Lackey, they will need young (and cheap) talent to come up from the minor leagues to keep the team in contention.  For example, if the team loses Ellsbury in free agency after 2013 than it would be beneficial to the team to be able to promote Bradley (if he is ready) than it would be to spend big money in free agency to replace Ellsbury.

The projects to add Bradley in center, Iglesias or Bogaerts at shortstop, Lavarnway at catcher, and Barnes as a starting pitcher in the next year or two.  With a lot of money tied up in aging veterans, they will hopefully provide a much needed boost for the Red Sox.


Enjoy Jon Lester tonight. 

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