Tagged: Hot Stove

Papelbon booed in Gotham

Jonathan Papelbon was booed in New York City. This wouldn’t seem surprising at Yankee Stadium, but at a New York Baseball Writers dinner last weekend? I posted the Boston Globe article below about Papelbon since it is so thorough and interesting. I think Nick Cafardo is right – on the surface, Yankees fans act like the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is not heated, but in their hearts they know different.

Regarding Papelbon’s conditioning, it is encouraging to see he is undergoing a shoulder strengthening program. I think Papelbon will quickly become an all-star caliber starting pitcher. Read the article below and let me know your thoughts:

For any role, he’s on call

Papelbon prepared to start or relieve

As host of the New York Baseball Writers dinner last Sunday at the New York Hilton, Newark Star-Ledger columnist Dan Graziano was pointing out celebrities in the crowd when one introduction struck a chord.

"From the Boston Red Sox . . . Jonathan Papelbon."

The crowd of 1,100 booed in unison.

"I was shocked," Papelbon said. "I just sat there. I never got up out of my seat. No lie, the whole convention center was booing me. This was a black-tie event, and I was like . . . wow!"

Papelbon, one of the most polite young players in baseball, stayed until the end of the award ceremonies and then sneaked off into the Gotham night, escaping further hostility.

It was a sure sign that Papelbon is a Yankee villain.

"I think it was an acknowledgment about how good he is," said Orioles vice president Jim Duquette, who sat next to Papelbon. "He actually had a smile on his face. He knew what it meant. The funny thing is afterward all the people who booed him were trying to get his autograph."

For all the talk that the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is one-sided, this was proof that Yankees fans hate the Red Sox just as much as Red Sox fans hate the Yankees. Why not hate the guy who was the closest rival Mariano Rivera has had in years, the kid who came out of nowhere to save 35 games in dominating fashion?

The next morning before the sun had crept through the city skyline, Papelbon was filming the first national commercial of his professional career. He was at a closed-off city block of Manhattan by 6 a.m., standing with American League Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander, AL MVP Justin Morneau, AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, World Series MVP Dave Eckstein, and Jose Reyes — waiting for instruction for a New Era commercial produced by Spike Lee on behalf of Major League Baseball.

Jonathan Papelbon, one of three children of John and Sheila Papelbon, had finally gone showbiz.

"It was really a lot of fun," Papelbon said. "We were there until about 1 p.m. They closed off the streets and it was amazing to watch it. Spike Lee was all business. For him, time was money, and he got us through it in what was a pretty funny skit. I got to kid around with Spike and we were going back and forth about Boston. I invited him up there, but I don’t think he likes Boston too much."

If he’s hit the big time, Papelbon is embracing it. The people closest to him, such as younger brother Jeremy, a Chicago Cubs farmhand, said he is "a lot harder to get in touch with, but he’s still the same grounded person, laid-back, nice to everybody. That’s Jonathan. I don’t think that’s ever gonna change."

Papelbon bought his twin brothers Jeremy and Joshua, a reliever in the Red Sox system, a condo in Jacksonville, Fla., where Jonathan lives part of the year with his wife, Ashley, when they’re not in Mississippi.

Papelbon acknowledges that people recognize him more. It’s hard for him to walk through the mall without being stopped or asked to sign an autograph or pose for a picture. He can’t walk into a restaurant and eat undisturbed.

The price of fame.

"I’m fine with all of it," Papelbon said. "I’ve made more appearances, but I’m just trying to go out there and be myself and have some fun with it. Going to hospitals and stuff like that has been great to do. Endorsements like Reebok, the commercials. All fun. I envisioned there’d be a situation where you need to take advantage of things when we have a chance to experience them because it doesn’t last forever. So I’m trying to do that now. I try to be a people person as much as I can. I’m not playing only for myself, but I’m playing for a city and fans who watch me."

Strong-arm tactics

A season of change is looming for the young righthander. Papelbon probably could have been a dominant closer for the next 10 years, but he’s willing to risk that comfort zone to become a starting pitcher. He will begin his new role next week in Fort Myers, Fla .

The change was brought on by the fact that he suffered a subluxation of his right shoulder Sept. 1, ending his season prematurely. The Red Sox medical staff, as well as his personal physician and one provided by agents Scott and Sam Levinson, concurred it might be easier on his arm if he started every fifth day rather than endure the rigors of getting up and down in the bullpen and pitching frequently on short notice.

What’s not true is that Papelbon is prohibited from returning to his closer role.

Papelbon was told that by pitching every fifth day he’ll be able to continue to strengthen his shoulder through a preventative program designed by Sox physician Thomas Gill.

As a reliever it would be more difficult for Papelbon to stay on a strength program because he’d be pitching much more frequently. But the Sox have put him on the same in-season program they gave Josh Beckett, who was able to work 200 innings for the first time in his career last season.

The day after Papelbon starts he’ll recuperate with light exercise and running. The next day he will do some strength work with weights, and on the third and fourth days he will throw on the side, leading up to his start on the fifth day.

This routine should keep the shoulder strong, though the doctors have said a subluxation could occur again. But if the shoulder and surrounding areas are strengthened, the chances of a repeat aren’t as great and the recovery would be quicker.

While closing has brought him notoriety, starting has always been his dream. Papelbon has always wanted to emulate his hero, Roger Clemens.

Yet many fans and baseball people wonder why the Red Sox would opt for such a drastic move with lights-out closers in such demand. The Red Sox say they will hold a competition for the role, which could go to recent free agent signee Joel Pineiro, a player they hope will make a successful conversion from starter to closer.

Papelbon is rooting for someone to step up.

"I think one of those guys will take the job," he said confidently. "There’s a lot of talent out there. It’s a tough job. It’s a pressure job, but it can be a lot of fun when you’re going good. I had a blast. It’s one of those things where it’s the ninth inning, the hitter has already had two or three at-bats and he’s in a rhythm, and you’ve got to get him out. It’s not easy."

Success wasn’t a surprise

Papelbon knows starting isn’t a 100 percent certainty. He may stretch it out in spring training, but by May he may be working out of the bullpen if Pineiro and others can’t get the job done. If that were to happen he’d be strictly managed, perhaps held to only one inning, and he’d only be up once before he came in. The Sox would also have to avoid too many back-to-back outings.

The other concern is building up his arm strength to the point that he can be the workhorse starter the Sox envision. His highest inning total was 148 in 2005 between Portland, Pawtucket, and Boston.

Former Sox pitching coach Dave Wallace, now Houston’s pitching coach, thinks Papelbon will make the transition because "it’s not uncharted waters for him. He’s been a starter and gone to the closing role. I think with any pitcher in that situation it’s a matter of building up 30 starts and hopefully 200 innings. But he’s a very determined kid who loves to pitch, so I think he’s going to be able to do it."

Joshua Papelbon doesn’t think it will be a problem.

"He’s so big and strong," Joshua said. "I know he can do it. His shoulder is unbelievably strong. I was up in Boston last week and I went through his routine. He’s doing all of that weight work to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder and I tried to do it and my shoulder was aching. Jonathan can do those exercises like it’s nothing."

Red Sox fans will miss the Wild Thing coming out of the bullpen with enough adrenaline flowing for 25 guys. The fist pumping and enthusiasm he showed on the mound will have to be curtailed. But Papelbon thinks while you can take the starter out of the closer, you might not be able to take the closer out of the starter.

"Those four days in between are for preparation," he said. "On that fifth day, I’m going to go out there and pitch with my heart as well as with my head. On that fifth day I’m going to lay everything I have on a line. Instead of doing it every other day or every day, I’ll have that same intensity out there every fifth day. That’s just the way I am and it’s the way I pitch."

Looking back, Papelbon said his success wasn’t a surprise, but in fact was what he expected.

"I always envisioned being able to do that," he said. "Obviously, it came to a halt with the arm injury, but ever since I was a little kid I envisioned being able to do great things out there. So, accomplishing those things is something I always thought I could accomplish. I’ve always set my goals very, very high. I don’t necessarily reach them — in fact, I missed my goal a little bit."

Not wanting to reveal what that goal was, Papelbon said he wouldn’t have changed a thing about his approach.

"The hardest thing for any major league baseball player is to go out there day in and day out and give a top performance," Papelbon said. "You don’t feel great every day, but you have to put that aside and give it your best so you don’t let your teammates, the fans, and yourself down. I wouldn’t have changed any of it. I get to pitch every day I play the game that I love. I would never complain about anything like that. Who knows, if something was different it would have changed the course of things, so I’m glad with the way everything went down."

Breaking out good stuff

While it’s always been Papelbon’s goal to be a starter, he doesn’t believe every pitcher shares that dream.

"There are a lot of pitchers I know whose goal it is to be a closer. Or to be a middle reliever," he said. "For me, my entire makeup is to be a starting pitcher. That’s what I know. Since I’ve been in the Red Sox organization, I’ve been a starter until last year."

If he had to return to the bullpen?

"No, man, I wouldn’t be disappointed. I’m just going to take it one day at a time. If the situation comes up and it’s good for the team, I’ll do it."

Besides expanding innings, Papelbon will have to expand his repertoire. He stuck mostly to his fastball and split as a closer, but now he’s ready to break out his curveball, his slider, and a two-seam fastball.

"I’ve thrown a couple of [bullpen sessions] and I was throwing a lot of two-seam fastballs," said Papelbon. "It felt so good to throw that pitch again. I remember the last time I threw it was one of my last starts in spring training, when I pitched six innings against the Yankees and I threw it pretty well. I have a curveball, you know, that I can maybe throw once in a while and get guys to offer. I’m happy with my split. It’s just a matter of going out there and gaining the confidence against major league hitters."

What’s most important to Papelbon is to be as good a starter as he was a reliever. He wants to be a workhorse who can save the bullpen. "I’m the type of guy who wants to push himself every time I’m out there," he said. "I want to see and test my body to see what it can take."

While he has yet to master rotaries and he loathes Boston drivers, he loves the experience of Boston, the banged-out ballpark, and the ovation he’d receive when he would run out of the bullpen.

As a result of his accomplishments, he’s rubbing elbows with Spike Lee and is now a certified villain in New York.

And now he’s putting himself in a vulnerable position: switching jobs at the height of his success.

"Pitching is pitching," he said with a shrug.

And while his celebrity grows, Papelbon insisted, "I enjoy my life the way it is. My life isn’t going to change."


The Celtics are not the Sox

Another night, another loss for the Boston Celtics. This one, a record-setting loss. Yesterday’s 100-89 setback to the Los Angeles Clippers was the 14th consecutive defeat for the Celtics, the most in franchise history, which leads me to my point. The Celtics are certainly not the Red Sox.

Do you think Terry Francona and Theo Epstein would keep their jobs with a couple less-than-mediocre seasons followed by a year when they were 12-34 and mired in a 14-game losing streak? Not a chance. The Celtics, though, seemingly expect mediocrity at best. It is hard to fathom that the most historic franchise in the NBA, and one of the best as late as the early 1990s, has fallen so hard.

Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers have each had their chance, and they have not met their expectations. It’s beyond time to dismiss both. Sure, there is a silver lining that awaits. The Celtics do have promising young players like Delonte West, Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes and Rajon Rondo. If Paul Pierce remains next season, chances are he will play alongside Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. Wally Szczerbiak has trade value, and the Celtics will have more cap room in the off season to sign a free agent. Still, this team is so bad that it is a non-factor in Boston. Who would have thought 15 years ago that the Patriots would be more popular in Boston than the Celtics?

Simply put, we should be especially thankful for Epstein and John Henry, and the competitive team they put on the field year after year.

Other notes:

  • I read where Carl Pavano said he is healthy and ready to return to the Yankees rotation. Not sure if that is a promise or a threat. Welcome back, Carl, welcome back. I’m sure the Red Sox hitters, and every opposing team you will face, welcome you back, too.
  • J.D. Drew still has not been added to the 40-man roster. Since it is full, one player must be removed. I’m not sure what the guidelines are, but I wonder if the Sox can delete Matt Clement from the 40-man roster? If not, perhaps David Pauley or Lenny DiNardo. Any suggestions?

Lester’s arrival signals positive start to spring training

Spring training is off to an encouraging unofficial start. Jon Lester was among a group of Red Sox players who arrived in Ft. Myers yesterday. The 23-year-old left-hander weighs 208, seven pounds lighter than his goal weight. This is great news, especially considering that Lester just completed his chemotherapy treatments in mid-December.

Last season, Lester demonstrated the poise of a veteran, posting an impressive 7-2 record along with a 4.76 ERA. He has shown tremendous command in the minor leagues, but he was less economical with his pitches in the majors. With a season of experience at the big league level, Lester should advance deeper into games as long as he exhibits the command for which he is known.

With legitimate top of the rotation starters like Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka at the big league level, and top prospects such as Daniel Bard, Clay Buchholz, Kristofer Johnson and Michael Bowden in the minors, this is an exciting time in Red Sox Nation. Add a future bullpen of Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, Bryce Cox, Edgar Martinez and Justin Masterson, and the scintillation only grows.

As devoted Red Sox fans, we place most of our focus about the team’s future on the aforementioned top prospects who receive significant press. As we also know, some prospects excel at the big league level while others do not meet expectations. Then there are less heralded prospects who emerge. You can learn more about the Sox top 20 prospects, and these second-tier prospects, at http://www.soxprospects.com. Here are 10 second-tier prospects in the Boston system who have shown promise and could have a MLB career, either for the Sox or in another uniform:

  • Kason Gabbard – He could have a long MLB career as a back of the rotation starter and/or middle reliever.
  • Devern Hansack – Ditto.
  • Chris Smith – He has recovered nicely from Tommy John surgery and posted solid numbers at Portland and Pawtucket in 2006.
  • Jed Lowrie – The middle infielder was once one of the Sox top prospects, but his stock slipped after an injury-plagued 2006 season. Perhaps he will rebound in 2007.
  • Jeff Natale – Also a middle infielder, he was the Sox minor league offensive player of the year in 2006.
  • Josh Papelbon – I know he is a submariner, but teams need situational middle relievers. He was impressive in his first season in the Sox minor league system.
  • Luis Soto – The converted outfielder had a successful winter league season, and he is solid in the field, on the bases and at the plate.
  • Christian Lara – A defensively sound shortstop, he has little power but lots of speed and a knack for getting on base.
  • Kris Negron – Another middle infielder and leadoff man type who possesses a keen hitting eye and speed.
  • Aaron Bates – Lars Anderson is considered the Sox first baseman of the future, but Bates has a high ceiling as well. Played well in the New York-Penn League and the South Atlantic League in 2006.

The prospects remain

The silence is actually quite soothing. No more Todd Helton trade talks. It was strange, really. Most of Red Sox Nation was content with the roster as the first day of spring training neared, and then we were abruptly awakened from our winter slumber with news that Helton might be slugging at Fenway this season. We liked the thought of Helton’s bat in the lineup, but shuddered at the prospect of, well, dealing away some of our top prospects.

Simply put, Helton would have been a nice addition, but the Red Sox lineup is fine as it stands. Though I would have traded Mike Lowell and Julian Tavarez alone for Helton, I am glad that Lowell is still in Boston. If he has another productive season in 2007, I even favor resigning him to a new contract for 2008. He is the type of player that every team needs – a true professional who doesn’t complain or talk trash, plays even when he is banged up and leads by example. I think his power numbers will increase this season, and he is still one of the best defensive third basemen in MLB.

As for Tavarez, I am not convinced he will make the Red Sox opening day roster. Though he struggled in the bullpen last year, his exceptional performance in the rotation in September increased his value. Boston has depth in the rotation and in the bullpen, and it would not surprise me if Tavarez was traded in spring training.

Regarding the prospects, I breathed a sigh of relief when the Helton talks were ceased, and Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen remained with the Red Sox. I have read comments on other blogs that say Hansen and Delcarmen are failed prospects who will not live up to expectations – all because of what they did last season. What these writers fail to understand is that both pitchers should have been at Pawtucket for more development, yet they were summoned to Boston since the bullpen lacked depth and talent. So Hansen and Delcarmen were thrown into the fire, and their need for additional seasoning in Triple-A showed.

In 2007, with a year of MLB experience, Hansen and Delcarmen will be more effective. One or the other may even emerge as the closer. It is exciting to see the Red Sox reap the dividends of productive drafts. This is why I’m glad Dustin Pedroia is getting a chance, that Jonathan Papelbon is in the rotation and that guys like Edgar Martinez, Bryce Cox, Jacoby Ellsbury and Daniel Bard are not too far away from their MLB debuts. David Murphy is another prospect to watch. Apparently, he has gained 10 pounds of muscle after an intensive off-season conditioning program, and he impressed the Red Sox brass at the recent rookie development program. Murphy can play all three outfield positions. I prefer the Sox keep him, and not deal him to Florida, for insurance in case J.D. Drew lands on the DL. He can serve as the extra outfielder and perhaps platoon with Wily Mo Pena if Drew is injured.

Ideally, Drew will remain healthy, hit at least .290 and post 30 homers and 100 R.B.I. Only time will tell.


Schilling to pitch in 2008

This morning on Boston sports radio station WEEI, Curt Schilling said he will pitch in 2008, hopefully in Boston. His contract expires at the end of this season, and he is in discussions with the Red Sox on a contract extension.

This is good news for Red Sox Nation. Schilling is still one of the better starters in MLB, and he has shown little decline. He recovered nicely from the ankle surgery and posted solid numbers last season when he was 15-7 with a 3.97 ERA last season, striking out 183 and walking 28 in 204 innings. He is 207-138 with a 3.44 ERA in a 19-year major league career with stops in Baltimore, Houston, Philadelphia, Arizona and Boston.

Since the Sox have a plethora of young arms – including Jonathan Papelbon, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daniel Bard and Clay Buchholz – having a veteran presence like Schilling will be extremely beneficial. I think that John Henry and Theo Epstein should definitely sign Schilling through 2008.

When asked by WEEI host Gerry Callahan if he would consider pitching in New York, Schilling said, "It wouldn’t be in New York. No. I could not make that move." Schilling’s loyalty is admirable. Let’s hope he doesn’t reverse his word and pull a Johnny Damon.

Todd Helton Trade Talks Continue

Talks between the Rockies and Red Sox were expected to continue today, the Boston Globe reported. The Sox are willing to deal Mike Lowell and Julian Tavarez to Colorado. The Rockies are also interested in one or more prospects. Among their preferred players are Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen, Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard and Jon Lester.

I would consider this deal only if Colorado pays at least half of Helton’s remaining salary. I prefer keeping all of the top prospects, but if Theo feels this is a deal that should be made, the only prospect I would include is Delcarmen. I would say the others are untouchable. Of course, it is crucial that the Sox do their due diligence about Helton’s back problems. He will be 34 in August, and he has five years remaining on his contract. Will his back stand the test of time? That is definitely a risk; however, last season he was strickened with a stomach infection, which definitely sapped his strength and stamina, and contributed to his lack of power numbers. Whether he plays in Colorado or Boston this season, I believe he will record more home runs and R.B.I., and a higher batting average than .302. He would definitely be a productive addition to the lineup, but the Sox certainly should exhaustively weigh the cost and his health before deciding to make a deal.

Trade prospects to Colorado? Hel (ton) no!

I saw a disturbing report in the sports section of today’s Boston Globe. It mentioned that the Denver Post is reporting that the Red Sox and Rockies are talking about a deal that would bring first baseman Todd Helton to Boston for a couple prospects, and a major leaguer.

Apparently, the deal is contingent upon the Rockies eating a portion of Helton’s exhorbitant contract, and perhaps taking Matt Clement. Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen and Clay Buchholz are the names being tossed around in various reports I have read since initially seeing the Globe’s article. Kevin Youkilis or MIke Lowell could be part of the trade, too. One report said that, if the Sox acquire Helton – and Youkilis and Lowell are not included – that Lowell would likely be dealt for a reliever. After all, there is no room for Helton, Youkilis and Lowell, and Lowell is in the final year of his contract.

I am wholeheartedly against this deal. Helton has back problems, and his numbers have declined in recent years. He will be 34 in August, which is still in his prime years, but not encouraging because of his tendency to experience back injuries.

Personally, I like the Red Sox lineup as it stands:

1. Lugo, SS; 2. Youkilis, 1B; 3. Ortiz, DH; 4. Ramirez, LF; 5. Drew, RF; 6. Lowell, 3b; 7. Varitek, C; 8. Crisp, CF; 9. Pedroia, 2B

That, my friends, is a deep and talented lineup. Only Pedroia is a question mark, and I think he will develop into a productive rookie.

I understand that the Sox are high on Bryce Cox and Edgar Martinez, andthat might give them more flexibility to deal Hansen and/or Delcarmen. Not for Helton, though. Seven seasons ago, maybe, but not in 2007. Please, Theo, say it isn’t so.

Drew-vy, the BoSox have finally signed their right fielder; Schilling on Capitol Hill?

Finally. Seven weeks after Scott Boras announced that the Sox would sign J.D. Drew to a 5-year, $70 million deal, the contract will be acknowledged today. It is a complicated agreement. As Michael Silverman wrote in today’s Boston Herald, "Because the Red Sox are concerned that Drew’s surgically repaired right shoulder could pose a problem in the last three years of the deal, the club insisted on protecting its investment by having an out clause, or a voidable contract.

"For the first two years, the deal is standard, with all the money guaranteed. Beginning in the 2009 season, however, if Drew sustains a baseball-related injury to the shoulder that will require a disabled-list stint of more than 15 days and fewer than 40, then the Red Sox will have the right to void the last two years of the deal. If the DL stint occurs in the fourth year, the Sox can void the fifth year."

I’m no longer interested in talking about contract language. I’m just glad the deal is done. I think Drew will be an asset in the field and at the plate, and he will be a productive No. 5 hitter. Give the guy a chance.

On another note, I read in today’s Herald where Curt Schilling has received a groundswell of support in Boston for a 2008 Senate run against John Kerry. Now, I don’t want to delve deeply into politics on this blog – though I will say I supported Bill Clinton but not John Kerry – but I find this intriguing. It all started during a Boston radio talk show. A caller suggested that Schilling was the ideal candidate to face Kerry, and the support spiraled.

“I couldn’t rule it out because it’s not something I ever thought about in a serious capacity,” Schilling told the Herald. Then Schilling suggested, "While I am a registered voter, I have too many problems with the political scene, and I don’t think I’d fit into it."

Given his outspoken nature, I would think that Schilling would be entertaining as a politician – likely stirring controversy among Republicans and Democrats alike. Of course, Schilling has some unfinished business before retiring at the end of the season. That unfinished business is leading the Sox to another playoff appearance and hopefully a second World Series title in four years. Schilling is still among the AL’s top starters, and there is no reason to think that he won’t win 16-18 games in 2007.