Pavano the Yankees opening day starter? Are you kidding me?

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

Pardon me while I snicker. Excuse me as that light snickering envelops into a bellowing laugh. Joe Torre announced that Carl Pavano could be the Yankees opening day starter. With Chien-Ming Wang on the disabled list with a balky hamstring, Andy Pettitte recovering from back spasms and Torre’s preference to keep Mike Mussina in the No. 2 spot, apparently Pavano will get the call. It’s only against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, you say? Well, the Devil Rays feature a productive lineup, and left-hander Scott Kazmir (who is unkind to AL East foes) will likely start on the mound. On paper, it’s not a promising season opener for the Yankees. Too bad.

Red Sox season preview to air on Up On The Monster Radio

If you want to share your opinion on the state of the Sox in 2007, be sure to listen to Up On The Monster Radio this Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. Yours truly will be a guest on the Red Sox season preview show along with Jonathan Singer of Sox Prospects, Jeff Moon of Fenway Fanatics and a yet to be determined host from Up On The Monster. This is an Internet radio show, and the URL is http://www.blogtalkradio.com/hostpage.aspx?show_id=16236. You can call the show at 718-664-6916. For more information, visit http://www.uponthemonster.com and click on the UOTM Radio section in the top left column.

Damon says what?

Last week, Johnny Damon told the New York Post that the Yankees are the team to beat. Of course, this is the same Johnny Damon who confidently proclaimed that no matter how aggressively the Yankees pursue him, he will never wear pinstripes, and then the next season debuted in center field wearing those same pinstripes. So it is evident you cannot seriously consider what Damon has to say.

After the Tigers dismissed the Yankees from the ALDS last October, Damon told the media that the best team doesn’t always win. That is not applicable in 2007 – the part about the Yankees being the best team. Has Damon reviewed the roster lately? Chien-Ming Wang on the disabled list. An injury-prone Andy Pettitte experiencing back spasms. Kei Igawa, who is best suited as a middle reliever, starting at the No. 4 spot. And Carl Pavano, the guy who was supposedly their No. 5 starter is now being considered for opening day. Pitching wins championships, Johnny boy, and your team is weak in that department. Good luck with that!

Let the talk about Helton and Clemens begin

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

Now that Jonathan Papelbon has answered the most prominent question of the spring (Who will close for the Sox?), let the banter begin about Todd Helton and Roger Clemens.

It was Rockies owner Charlie Monfort who approached the Red Sox about a Helton deal, then pulled back when Theo Epstein would not send two top prospects along with Mike Lowell and Julian Tavarez. With Papelbon slated to close this season – and prized prospect Bryce Cox primed for duty in 2008, either as a set-up man or a closer, depending on if the Sox move Papelbon to the rotation – would the Sox consider dealing Hansen and Delcarmen along with Lowell and Tavarez to get Helton?

It’s an interesting debate. Helton appears to be healthy again, and he would fit nicely at Fenway Park. The Sox could move Youkilis to third. Boston’s minor league system is ripe with promising relief pitching prospects. And Helton’s salary would not hamstring the payroll, especially since the contracts of Lowell ($9 million a year), Clement ($8 million a year, I believe) and Schilling ($13 million a year) will expire at the end of this season. Do you think Helton is worth surrendering Lowell, Tavarez and two prospects, or would you only make the deal for Lowell, Tavarez and Hansen or Delcarmen (which is my preference, but I’m not sure if the Rockies would be receptive)?

Perhaps Epstein would hesitate to include Tavarez since he is the No. 5 starter until Jon Lester is ready. Of course, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Boston has depth in the starting rotation. Today, Kason Gabbard and Devern Hansack could make the starting rotations of many MLB teams. They are ready to occupy a back of the rotation spot with Boston, if needed. Kyle Snyder is an option as well, but I think he is best suited for a middle relief role.

Regarding Clemens, though I am not convinced that he would help the Red Sox, I’m sure that Papelbon’s move to the bullpen increases the chances of the Rocket signing with Boston. The Yankees have a greater need. Their rotation is shaky, and now Pettitte is recovering from back spasms and Chien-Ming Wang experienced discomfort in his hamstring today. The Yankees could give Jeff Karstens and/or Darrell Rasner a chance, and they might even summon Phil Hughes and/or Humberto Sanchez from Triple-A at some point, but I think that signing Clemens is a priority for Brian Cashman.

Early April rotation set

With his closer in place, Terry Francona announced the rotation as it will begin the season. Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka will pitch in Kansas City followed by Tim Wakefield, Julian Tavarez and Schilling in Texas. Beckett is slated to start the Sox home opener against Seattle on April 10.

The numbers game

After such a dismal performance from the starting rotation and bullpen last season, it’s encouraging to see positive numbers in spring training. The Sox rank fourth among AL teams with a 3.63 ERA in March, including a 2.59 ERA (23 earned runs in 80 innings) in the last nine games. The bullpen? It has allowed just seven runs in the last 31.2 innings for a 1.99 ERA. Curt Schilling (2.20), Dice-K (2.84), Kason Gabbard (2.70) and Julian Tavarez (3.55) are leading the way in the rotation while Javier Lopez and J.C. Romero (1.17), Bryan Corey (1.64), Hideki Okajima (2.08), Jonathan Papelbon (2.31) Kyle Snyder (2.89), Devern Hansack (3.18) and Joel Pineiro (3.38) are throwing the ball well in relief. 

Papelbon as closer, Tavarez/Lester as No. 5 starter, make Sox a better team

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

Jonathan Papelbon is back in the closer’s seat and Julian Tavarez will be the No. 5 starter, at least until Jon Lester is ready. This is a brilliant move by Theo Epstein and Terry Francona. Would you rather have Papelbon start and Tavarez close, or Papelbon close and Tavarez or Lester start? The answer to that question is obvious. Joe Torre himself said that he was "delighted" that Papelbon was starting and not closing. Boston answered its’ most prominent question with the decision.

The bottom line? With Papelbon as the closer, and the depth Boston has in its rotation, the Sox will have a starting five and a bullpen that is superior to the Yankees. Tavarez, Lester, Gabbard and even Hansack are better options than Kei Igawa and Carl Pavano, whose days as an effective starter have long passed. Believe me, if the Yankees had Lester and Gabbard, they would be No. 4 and No.5 rather than Igawa and Pavano. Even Tavarez would make the Yankees rotation as it currently stands. Beyond Mariano Rivera and Scott Proctor, the Yankees bullpen is mediocre. Give me J.C. Romero, Hideki Okajima, Brendan Donnelly and Kyle Snyder over any set-up man in the Yankees bullpen than Proctor. A healthy Mike Timlin will make a positive difference as well, as long as he waits until he is truly healthy to return.

Will ‘Tek regain his hitting stroke?

In an injury-plagued 2006 season, Jason Varitek hit just .238, including a .213 mark in 61 at-bats after returning early from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. This spring, he has just two hits in 25 at-bats for an .080 average. In an article written by Gordon Edes in today’s Boston Globe, Varitek says he is concerned. That, in itself, is reason for concern.

At any level of baseball, confidence is an important element of hitting success. If you walk to the plate burdened about what will happen, chances are you will fail. A player at his best in the big leagues gets a hit just three out of every 10 times. Varitek doesn’t have the luxury of solely focusing on perfecting his swing. He is helping Dice-K adjust to the bigs and learning several new pitchers in the bullpen.

The captain turns 35 in April. Like every big league catcher in his mid-30s, Varitek isn’t as spry as he once was. Still, he is a valuable part of this team with his leadership and game-calling abilities alone. Yet the Sox do need more production than last year’s .238 average. It’s crucial that Doug Mirabelli hits much better than .193 as well since he will see more at-bats to give Varitek days off beyond Wakefield starts. Varitek has more left in the tank. A multi-hit opening day at Kansas City would certainly help his confidence.

Papelbon will close, ESPN indicates

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

The Sox brass had a meeting of the minds before yesterday’s game. The reason for the meeting was not disclosed; however, the likely topic was the question of who will close for this team. The Sox continue to explore trades, but the asking price is still too high for Theo Epstein’s liking.

Will Jonathan Papelbon return? A report from Erin Andrews moments ago during the ESPN telecast of the Sox and Phillies indicates that Papelbon will be announced as the closer in a press conference after today’s game. The Sox could insert Kason Gabbard in the No. 5 spot until Jon Lester is ready, and move Tim Wakefield to No. 4. Or, if Lester is ready, they can move him to No. 4 and keep Wakefield at No. 5. Either way, the Sox have a deep rotation. Julian Tavarez, Devern Hansack and Kyle Snyder would be spot starter options, if needed.

Returning Papelbon to the closer’s role would seemingly defeat the purpose of moving him to the rotation for health reasons. Papelbon, though, says that he can start or close without strain on his shoulder because of the intensive off-season conditioning program he underwent. This will likely be a one-year stint, with Papelbon moving to the rotation in 2008 when Bryce Cox is ready to take the reigns of closer.

Red Sox season preview to air on Up On The Monster Radio

If you want to share your opinion on the state of the Sox in 2007, be sure to listen to Up On The Monster Radio this Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. Yours truly will be a guest on the Red Sox season preview show along with Jonathan Singer of Sox Prospects, Jeff Moon of Fenway Fanatics and a yet to be determined host from Up On The Monster. This is an Internet radio show, and the URL is http://www.blogtalkradio.com/hostpage.aspx?show_id=16236. You can call the show at 718-664-6916.

Timlin on the shelf

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

What I projected a few days ago became reality when the Red Sox announced that Mike Timlin will open the season on the disabled list. He will be eligible to return to the active roster for the Sox home opener against Seattle on April 10. The Boston Herald reports that Julian Tavarez will probably be the Sox closer for the first six games.

It is best to exercise caution with Timlin, who can be a valuable part of the Sox bullpen. I would rather him fully regain his health and miss time in April than have him return too early and battle injuries all season. Timlin’s absence will not impact the middle relief. This likely means that Kyle Snyder will make the opening day roster, joining Tavarez, Joel Pineiro, Brendan Donnelly, Hideki Okajima and J.C. Romero. The final spot – at least for the first six games – will be filled by Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen, Devern Hansack, Bryan Corey or Javier Lopez. I prefer Hansack or Corey. In fact, I believe Hansack would be an effective closer. Your thoughts?

From ****’s Bells to Wham!

San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman enters the game to a spectacle. ACDC’s "****’s Bells" thunders from the loudspeakers and fans erupt into a frenzy. If Joel Pineiro claims the Sox closer’s role, the scene and mood will be much different. Pineiro’s weight room music mix includes an assortment of ballads from groups like Air Supply and Wham! Can you imagine the bullpen gate opening and Pineiro sprinting to the mound with "All Out Of Love" or "Wake Me Up (Before You Go Go)" playing? Sounds very intimidating.

Gabbard optioned to Pawtucket

There is no doubt that Kason Gabbard is talented enough to fill a No. 5 spot in most MLB rotations. The Yankees, for one, would benefit from his presence. Fortunately, he is in the Red Sox organization. Though Gabbard posted a 1-1 record and a 2.70 ERA in four spring training starts, he was sent to Pawtucket yesterday. Boston has one of the best rotations in baseball with Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield. Jon Lester, one of the top young left-handed starters in the AL, will contribute this season. If an injury befalls one of the starting five, Gabbard will step forward as well. It’s reassuring to know that the Sox will not need to trot guys like Jason Johnson and Kevin Jarvis to the mound this year. The depth is there in the rotation and in the bullpen.

Super Joe to Pawtucket?

Joe McEwing was also told that he would begin the season at Pawtucket, but that he would remain with the Sox through the end of the month, including the final two exhibition games against the Philadelphia Phillies. Super Joe could opt for free agency, but he told the media that he will likely report to Pawtucket. What’s not to like about a scrappy player like McEwing? He offers peace of mind in case Dustin Pedroia struggles. McEwing would be on the big league roster if not for Alex Cora, who is another valuable utility player.

Bryce Cox, closer of the future?

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

If Bryce Cox has his way, Craig Hansen will serve as the Sox main set-up man of the future. Cox dominated the low-level minors last season after a remarkable finish to his college career at Rice. With the upside of Hansen, Cox, Manny Delcarmen and Edgar Martinez, Boston’s bullpen could feature an array of homegrown arms as soon as 2008. Here’s a Bryce Cox 101 article that appeared in today’s Boston Herald: http://redsox.bostonherald.com/redSox/view.bg?articleid=189623.

Wells has Type 2 diabetes

San Diego Padres pitcher David Wells has Type 2 diabetes, a disease that is controllable with lifestyle changes.

“Obviously, this is a concern,” the 43-year-old former Yankees and Red Sox pitcher told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “But it’s beatable. And I’m going to beat it. It’s going to take some lifestyle changes. And I’m already making them.

“From the time I found out, I made changes. No more starches and sugar. No more rice, pasta, potatoes and white bread. No more fast food. I’ve cut out alcohol.

“I can still have a glass of wine now and then,” said Wells. “I can still run with the guys. But I’ve got to watch what I’m doing. I’m not drinking.

“This is a major lifestyle change. I don’t want this going to Type 1 diabetes. I want to be around for a while. If you don’t take care of this, it can lead to some scary stuff . . . like losing limbs. If anyone has this, it’s a red flag, period.

“But if I follow the rules I’ve been given, there’s no problem.”

Wells is known for his carousing and drinking, which especially gained widespread attention when he said he had a hangover when he pitched a no-hitter with the Yankees. Boomer is definitely a source of entertainment with his actions and his quotes, but Type 2 diabetes is no laughing matter. Here’s hoping he is able to control the disease and live a healthy life long after his playing days are over.

Hittin’ the airwaves

Vince and I will be hittin’ the airwaves to talk Sox and Yankees, and to promote Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com). Vince has already appeared on one talk show in Connecticut. I have been invited to serve as a guest panelist for the Red Sox 2007 season preview on Dave Devlin’s Blog Talk Radio show this Sunday. Vince and I will appear on the Tim Kuda Show and The Hits Keep Comin’ – both of which are baseball talk shows that are broadcast on Internet radio. In addition, Vince and I will debut Sox and Pinstripes Radio on Blog Talk Radio sometime in April. Listeners are welcome to call in, and we will have guests each show. We will let you know our guest appearance schedules as well as the debut date and time for Sox and Pinstripes Radio, which will likely air live either weekly or every other week. 

Tucker in minor league camp

Michael Tucker, who has played 12 big league seasons for seven teams and lives near Fort Myers, is working out at the Sox minor league camp and could sign a minor league deal. Though the Sox have a plethora of outfield options in the high-level minors – including Jacoby Ellsbury, Brandon Moss and David Murphy – it couldn’t hurt to have the insurance of a seasoned veteran. The 35-year-old Tucker had a short stint with the New York Mets last season (hitting .196 in 35 games and 56 at-bats). A career .256 hitter, his best offensive year was with Atlanta in 1997, when he hit .283 with 14 home runs and 56 RBI in 499 at-bats.

The bats will spring to life

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

Curt Schilling’s change-up is deceptive, Tim Wakefield’s curveball is sharp and the Sox bullpen looks promising – at least every role leading to the closer. Enough talk about the Sox pitching situation, at least for a day.

How ’bout those silent Sox bats? I can tell by reading some of your posts that the pulse of Red Sox Nation is racing in exasperation about the batting averages of Julio Lugo (.243), David Ortiz (.176), Mike Lowell (.200), Manny Ramirez (.231), Jason Varitek (.105), Coco Crisp (.179) and Dustin Pedroia (.219). Even Wily Mo Pena is struggling (.233). Of the Sox regulars, only J.D. Drew (.409) and Kevin Youkilis (.353) are swinging the bat with authority.

Is this cause for concern? Not one bit. Remember, this is spring training. Players get a few at-bats here and a few at-bats there. They are not in a regular groove. Once the season starts, the Sox will score plenty of runs. Pedroia is a question mark, of course, since he is a rookie. Boston is not a comfortable place for a first-year player to enter the lineup. Pedroia has thrived every step of the way – from college baseball through the minors. Give him a chance. He might start slowly, but he will produce.

About the Sox bench, what do you think about Joe McEwing? The guy has been a valuable role player before – in St. Louis (where he also started) and with the Mets. He’s hitting .333 this spring, and he is a versatile player who can fill the same infield spots as Alex Cora. I think Cora is a valuable player as well. He accepts his role, he can play small ball (lay down bunts), and he is defensively sound. McEwing has the same traits. Hopefully, McEwing would accept a role with Pawtucket so he is available if the Sox need him.