Tagged: Players

Don’t begrudge players like Drew

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.

J.D. Drew was heartily greeted with a chorus of boos when he was introduced in Philadelphia last night in a game that saw the Sox edge the Phillies, 6-5. That Philly fans showered a visiting player with catcalls is no surprise. These are the same fans that once booed Santa Claus at an Eagles game, after all. That they showed no love for Drew is no surprise either.

It was 10 years ago when Drew was the second overall pick of the MLB draft by the Phillies. He never signed. His agent, Scott Boras, took advantage of procedural errors the previous year that allowed Travis Lee and Matt White (both who have posted less-than-stellar big league numbers) to become free agents and sign for $10 million each. If Lee and White received $10 million, so should Drew, Boras argued. Drew returned to the draft in 1998, was chosen fifth overall by the St. Louis Cardinals and signed a month later. Philly has never forgiven him. Fueled by then Phillies starter Curt Schilling’s encouragement to vent their displeasure, spectators treated Drew to a New York City environment in the City of Brotherly Love when he made his first trip to Veterans Stadium that August. He tripled, singled, scored a run and knocked in another. Fans threw D batteries at Drew. He must have felt like a Red Sox outfielder at Yankee Stadium.

As a fan, I understand the displeasure felt by Philly fans about the Drew situation, though nothing ever warrants the hurling of objects onto the field. Obviously, Sox fans saw first-hand how money can sometimes override integrity when Johnny Damon signed with the Yankees, despite vocally expressing that he would never play for them a year before.

As a journalist, I can see why professional athletes sign with the highest bidder. I am senior editor of OverTime Magazine, a national business and lifestyle magazine for and about professional athletes. The magazine contains travel and lifestyle features that depict these athletes’ glamourous lives, but the publication also offers an array of articles to help these same athletes effectively manage their money, make wise financial and business decisions during their careers, and prepare for life beyond professional sports.

Remember, the span of a professional athlete’s career is not everlasting. Though there are exceptions – like Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Bernie Williams, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken as a sampling – the average big leaguer plays no more than five to seven seasons, and your career can end in an instant due to injury. There is a small window to make those millions, and there are very few jobs that allow you to earn seven or eight figures. This is why I support athletes who choose to leave college early, or forego it altogether, to play professional sports. The opportunity to earn a degree will be there long after the window to make the big leagues closes. And that small window also helps me understand why professional athletes leave one team for another if the dollars are there.

Actors, musicians and professional athletes make exhorbitant amounts of money. Like acting and singing, playing a professional sport requires God-given talent. Unlike acting and singing, there is a limited time period where you can showcase your skills as a professional athlete. The next time you cringe after reading an article about a marginal pitcher like Gil Meche signing five year, $55 milion deal or even a productive player like Drew inking a five year, $70 million contract, ask yourself this – would you take the same deal? Of course you would, and you would be thankful you did long after your playing days were over.

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Chill about Schill

Red Sox Nation will always remember the bloody sock. Curt Schilling was instrumental in Boston’s unprecedented post-season run in the 2004 ALCS and World Series. Even last season Schilling showed he is still one of the better starting pitchers in MLB with a 15-7 record and a 3.97 ERA. That was then, this is now.

This morning, Schilling announced on WEEI that he will file for free agency at the end of the season. Schilling met with Theo Epstein, who told him that the Sox will not offer a contract until after the 2007 season. Schilling is disappointed, and so are many Red Sox fans. I, for one, agree with Theo.

There are several reasons why the Sox should proceed cautiously with Schilling instead of offering him a contract extension in spring training. Among them are:

  • Schilling is 40. Not 30 or 35, but 40. It would be financially irresponsible to give Schilling a 1-year extension for $13 million today. What if he breaks down during the season? Do you want another Matt Clement situation where the Sox are stuck with a hefty salary and no production? Schilling has proven he is durable, and I think he will win 15-17 games this season, yet you never know what will happen when a pitcher is 40 and older.
  • Boston’s rotation is deep even without Schilling. I am confident that Josh Beckett will emerge as the ace this season. Jonathan Papelbon and Daisuke Matsuzaka will win 15-17 games. All three will likely be successful starters for the long term. Jon Lester, who showed a veteran’s poise as a rookie last year, should contribute this season, but chances are 2008 will be his breakout season. Top prospects Daniel Bard, Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden will likely be ready for the majors in 2008 or 2009. Though there is no guarantee that all three will become exceptional starters at the big league level, I’m willing to bet that at least one of them will.
  • There is an attractive free agent class among starting pitchers at the end of this season. Chris Carpenter, Bartolo Colon, Mark Buehrle, Carlos Zambrano, Jason Jennings, Jake Westbrook, and Freddy Garcia are among the top starters available. If the Sox choose not to resign Schilling, they will have his $13 million a year and the $9 million per season from Matt Clement’s contract (which expires at the end of this season) to make an attractive offer to one of the aforementioned free agents.
  • Schilling has relished his tenure in Boston. He wants to win enough games to enhance his Hall of Fame chances. And he insists that he does not want to pitch for the Yankees. If Schilling loves Boston as much as he says, then he will resign with the Sox during the off-season. Believe me, if Schilling wins 15-17 games and helps lead the Sox deep into the post-season, Henry and Epstein will make him a generous offer – one that Schilling will likely accept.

The bottom line is this: even if Schilling files for free agency, that does not mean he will not return to the Red Sox. If he has a productive season, and remains healthy, chances are he will be in Boston next season. If he is not resigned, it will not be devastating for the Sox. The starting rotation is solid, there are promising young prospects on the way, and the Sox are flush with cash to bring in a top free agent. So chill, Red Sox Nation. The Sox will be a legitimate World Series contender in 2007, and the long-term future looks very promising with the stocked farm system and an owner who is willing to spend money to sign free agent talent. There is no need to panic over whether Schilling will be with the Sox in 2008. He is with the Sox this season, which will be a special one for Red Sox Nation.

Luis Tiant belongs in the Hall of Fame

Julian Tavarez says that Manny Ramirez will not report to spring training until March 1 (because he is helping his mother recover from surgery) and Daisuke Matsuzaka’s every pitch continues to be chronicled by hundreds of writers and photographers. Just another typical opening week to a spring training in Red Sox Nation.

Speaking of Red Sox pitchers, Ian Browne wrote an interesting article about Luis Tiant on RedSox.com. For those of you teenage and twentysomething Red Sox fans, Tiant was the Red Sox ace in the 1970s and was one of baseball’s most beloved characters. He is one of the players on the Veterans Committee Hall of Fame ballot deserving of enshrinement. Same goes for Thurman Munson and Jim Kaat.

Tiant pitched for the Red Sox from 1971-1978 as part of a 19-year career. He even pitched for the Yankees in 1979 and 1980. His overall record was 229-172 with a 3.30 ERA. A four-time 20-game winner, he registered a 1.62 ERA in 1968 – the same year Bob Gibson dominated baseball with a 1.12 ERA. I most remember Tiant from the 1975 World Series when he won two games. I was 7 at the time, and it was the first World Series I ever watched.

Tiant’s numbers are comparable to two Hall of Famers – Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter. Bunning was 224-184 with a 3.27 ERA. Hunter was 224-166 with a 3.26. Remember, Bunning (with Detroit) and Hunter (with Oakland and the Yankees) played on consistent winners. Tiant did not always have that benefit. He spent the first six seasons with lowly Cleveland, and still won 75 games, including a 21-win season in 1968. One year later, his last with the Indians, he was 9-20, but he posted a respectable 3.71 ERA and surrendered 229 hits in 249 innings – numbers that demonstrate just how effective Tiant was and just how atrocious the Indians were.

Results will be announced on February 27. The Baseball Writers Association of America apparently slept when El Tiante passed through his years of eligibility without being elected. Ditto for Munson and Kaat. Let’s hope the Veterans Committee gets it right.

Help from the farm is on the way

Red Sox Nation has been immersed in a sea of green this off-season. As I’ve mentioned before, it was important for Henry to open his wallet since the Sox had holes to fill, and most of their top prospects were not ready. So I have no problem with the Sox spending the money for Dice-K, Lugo and the assortment of relievers. Whether the ink is ever applied to J.D. Drew’s contract, who knows? Still, the Sox look strong in every area, with the main question mark being the closer’s spot.

In the near future, the Sox will have to spend less money on free agents since their well-stocked farm system will start producing players. We’re starting to see it this year with Dustin Pedroia – and a more mature Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen – and perhaps David Murphy. Of course, Jon Lester is poised to return from cancer, and he already gave us a glimpse of what to expect with his encouraging performance last season. Next year, it will likely be Jacoby Ellsbury, Bryce Cox and Edgar Martinez. Catcher George Kottaras, third baseman Chad Spann, outfielders Brandon Moss and Jason Place, and pitchers like Daniel Bard, Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden and Justin Masterson are on the way as well. And I’m not even including guys like Kason Gabbard and Devern Hansack, not top-tier prospects but guys who can contribute long term as spot starters and middle relievers.

It’s a great time to be a Red Sox fan. In two years, the Sox pitching staff could include:

Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester (LH) and Clay Buchholz (LH) and Daniel Bard as starters, with Michael Bowden and Kristofer Johnson in the mix. I understand that I listed six starters, but you can never have enough pitching.

Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima (LH), Bryce Cox, Edgar Martinez and Justin Masterson as relievers. Gabbard and Hansack are candidates for the bullpen, too.

Of course, there will be trades and free agent signings, and perhaps guys like Brendan Donnelly and Joel Pineiro will remain with the Sox in a few years, but my point is that the Sox will be able to build the core of their rotation and the core of their bullpen from within, which will build stability and also save money so the Sox can sign top-tier free agents to fill holes not occupied by homegrown players.

At the end of 2007, Curt Schilling will retire, and Matt Clement’s contract will be off the payroll. That represents $22 million a season. The figure will be $31 million if the Sox do not resign Mike Lowell, which I hope they do if he has another strong season. Much has been said about the Red Sox raising their payroll this off-season. If you are concentrating on that, then you’re not looking at the big picture. In the next few seasons, the payroll will likely drop since veterans will be replaced by prospects. True, the Sox will fill some holes with veterans through free agent signings and trades. Still, a productive farm system allows you to build from within, necessitates fewer free agent signings and gives you the tools to acquire highly desired players via trade.

That said, here is an interesting article on Buchholz that appeared in today’s Boston Herald:

Buchholz on fast track
By Maureen Mullen
Saturday, January 20, 2007 – Updated: 03:10 AM EST

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Despite having just 39 professional games under his belt, the accolades are beginning to roll in for Clay Buchholz.

    The 22-year-old lefty was named the Red Sox [team stats] minor league pitcher of the year for 2006 and recently was ranked by Baseball America as the organization’s No. 2 prospect as well as its pitcher with the best curveball.

    Buchholz, who wrapped up two weeks of the team’s rookie development program with yesterday’s preseason media day with the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox, knows he still has a lot of work ahead of him.

    “I just want to go into spring training ready,” said Buchholz, who compiled a record of 11-4, with a 2.42 ERA between Single-A Greenville and Wilmington. Buchholz led all Sox minor leaguers with 140 strikeouts, an average of 10.6 per nine innings, while holding opponents to a .208 average.

    “This rookie development program that we just came through was a really good deal,” Buchholz added. “We got a couple of guys in there and if we weren’t in shape, we’re in shape now because they really did a number on us, all the running and stuff. But, I feel like I’m going into camp stronger than I was last year and that was my goal.”

    Buchholz, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound Texan drafted with the team’s third pick in 2005 out of Angelina Junior College in Lufkin, Texas, possesses a mid-90s fastball backed by a sharp 12-to-6 curveball, slider and changeup.

    The Sox would like to see him throw that fastball for first-pitch strikes more consistently.

    “At this stage it’s still all about development for this guy,” said Mike Hazen, the Red Sox director of player development. “It’s about continuing to really smooth out the delivery, and that’s one thing we keep hammering on. The other thing is fastball command, which is going to be a by-product of smoothing out that delivery. So that’s sort of the big fundamental thing that we’re challenging him with. Not only that, but from a mental approach, developing that mental approach.

    “When he gets to (the Triple-A) level and beyond, it’s not just stuffing everybody anymore, the fact that he throws 95, has good breaking balls and a good changeup. It’s going to be about location. It’s going to be about fastball command. It’s going to be about being able to execute that stuff in tough situations, all the things that are going to be required to win in Boston.

    “These are the things he’s going to get exposed to this year,” Hazen added. “That’s sort of the next step in his progression, his development.”

Who’s on fifth?

Still no word on whether J.D. Drew will be in Boston, or if Theo Epstein is having buyer’s remorse. Whether Drew is signed or not, chances are the Red Sox will keep five outfielders, not including Eric Hinske, who can play the outfield but will likely serve as the backup corner infielder.

Wily Mo Pena will be the fourth outfielder. There will be competition for the fifth spot. The Sox have signed veterans Kerry Robinson and Alex Ochoa to minor league contracts and have invited them to spring training. Apparently, David Murphy has gained 10 pounds of muscle and looks very promising as an extra outfielder this season. I prefer the latter. Murphy can play all three outfield positions and is defensively sound. If he shows he can swing the bat in spring training, he has a good chance to make the team. Hopefully, if the Drew deal is not finalized, the Sox resign Trot. With Pena, Trot and Murphy, I’m sure someone will produce in right field.

Other notes:

  • Scouts say they were impressed with Edgar Martinez in winter ball. He could claim a spot in the Sox bullpen, though it would be nice if he could close in Pawtucket to get more seasoning. Perhaps Bryce Cox will close in Portland. Scouts also liked Sox first base prospect Luis Antonio Jimenez. Information on all Sox prospects is available at www.soxprospects.com.
  • I read where El Guapo, Rich Garces, saved 11 games in winter ball. Is a return to Boston in his future? Doubtful, but you never know.
  • As I mentioned before, I am a lifelong Steelers fan in professional football. That said, my unbiased opinion for today’s game has the Patriots defeating the Chargers. Indianapolis looks tough. I know that Baltimore’s offense is not electric, but if the Colts play just good enough on defense, they should be in the Super Bowl.
  • I know that Kyle Snyder was not a free agent, but I’m glad the Sox signed him to a one-year deal and avoided arbitration. Snyder has value as a long reliever. I imagine he will start the season in Pawtucket with the present bullpen depth. I would think that Mike Timlin, Brendan Donnelly and Hideki Okajima have definite spots in the bullpen. Joel Pineiro, Julian Tavarez, J.C. Romero, Runelvys Hernandez, Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen, Edgar Martinez and Devern Hansack are part of the mix as well. Snyder, Lenny DiNardo, Bryan Corey, Craig Breslow and Javier Lopez will compete. I imagine the Sox will resist the temptation to rush Bryce Cox. He would be best served by opening the season in Portland, hopefully as a closer.
  • If I had to project an opening day roster as of today, it would be:

Starters – Schilling, Beckett, Dice-K, Papelbon and Wakefield (with Lester as a potential fifth starter at some point during the season)

Relievers – Timlin, Donnelly, Okajima, Hansen, Delcarmen, Pineiro

Catchers – Varitek and Mirabelli (George Kottaras will likely start at Pawtucket)

Infielders – Youkilis, Pedroia, Lugo, Lowell, Hinske, Cora

DH – Ortiz

Outfielders – Ramirez, Crisp, Drew (or Nixon), Pena, Murphy

Since Hinske can play the corner outfield spots as well, the Sox could keep Murphy in the minors and have Pena as the extra outfielder. That is, if they want an extra arm in the bullpen. Of course, since I’ve read where the Sox would like to occasionally use Pena at first, and Cora can play third, Hinske could be traded in spring training. The bottom line is that the Sox have quality depth in the bullpen and the rotation, which they lacked in 2006. Kudos to Theo Epstein and John Henry for that.

Critiquing the Hall of Fame voters

Am I the only one who is troubled by the fact that some Hall of Fame voters cast their ballot for Mark McGwire, yet ignored guys like Jim Rice, Goose Gossage and Andre Dawson? Also, am I the only one who is disgusted with baseball writers who turn in empty ballots as a protest?

Mark Newman, who heads MLBlogs and has a strong track record as a sportswriter for publications like The Sporting News, mentioned on his blog (http://www.mlblogs.mlblogs.com) that he not only voted for McGwire, but that he has no problem with writers who cast empty ballots. Newman is not the only one. I only mention his name since I read his blog. He is certainly entitled to his opinion, as are the writers who cast their empty ballots, and as am I.

First, let’s take a look at McGwire. He posted solid power numbers in his early years with Oakland, when he played with Jose Canseco, an admitted steroid abuser. It is hard to believe that McGwire did not partake of steroids while in Oakland. In St. Louis, he readily admitted to taking Andro, which was not illegal, yet did influence his strength. Can you honestly tell me that the steroids and Andro that McGwire took during his career did not impact his ability to crush homers?

True, steroids don’t give you the hand-and-eye coordination to hit. That is a natural talent that is enhanced by lots of practice. Yet steroids and other substances do give you the capabilities of adding tremendous strength that you would not have by solely working out.

I am not naive to think that McGwire is the lone steroid abuser, and I do not think that he alone should take the fall. I firmly believe that players like Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Jason Giambi should not be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. True, some Hall of Famers have unsavory reputations, but what they did had nothing to do with their on-field performance. Steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs alter bodies and give players the ability to produce numbers that they otherwise may not have had if they were clean. Simply put, their careers are marked by cheating. And what example do we set by rewarding guys like that with a Hall of Fame plaque?

It is a shame that honorable guys like Rice, Gossage, Dawson and even other like Bert Blyleven and Jim Kaat await entry into the Hall of Fame, while players who brought disgrace to themselves and the game like McGwire, Bonds and Palmeiro will likely make their way into Cooperstown.

Finally, about the writers who cast empty ballots – either as a protest against McGwire, or as a move to ensure that Gwynn or Ripken did not get unanimous approval – these writers obviously do not take their privilege seriously and should not be allowed to be a continued part of the Hall of Fame vote. Decisions like these leave deserving players like Rice, Gossage and Dawson out of the Hall of Fame, and do little to make a point about McGwire and other players of his kind. Just fill out a ballot without McGwire’s name. Vote for someone. Don’t tell me that there is noone eligible for enshrinement who is not worthy.

Congrats to Gwynn and Ripken

As every regular on this blog is aware, I am a lifelong Red Sox fan, though I was born and raised in Cincinnati Reds country. Though I live and breathe Red Sox baseball, I am very familiar with the National League, and I attended seemingly countless games in Cincinnati growing up. I had the chance to see Tony Gwynn play several times, and I applaud Hall of Fame voters for inducting him and Cal Ripken. I also applaud them for leaving out Mark McGwire.

By numbers alone, with the exception of home runs, McGwire’s numbers are not impressive. Of course, it is obvious that his home run total was influenced by enhancing his strength through artificial means. Yes, I know that Andro was not illegal when he ingested it, still McGwire is a stain on the game of baseball, and the last thing we should do in the steroids-scandal era is reward players like McGwire with Hall of Fame honors. I truly hope that McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds never see enshrinement in Cooperstown. And I hope that Bonds is greeted with loud boos when he is set to break Hank Aaron’s home run record. Aaron is the definition of true class while Bonds reflects what is wrong about certain baseball players today.

On the other hand, Jim Rice was once again slighted. He posted dominating numbers in the time he played and is deserving of Hall of Fame enshrinement. I imagine he will get in through the Veterans Committee, but his chances are slim for his two remaining years of eligibility through the Baseball Writers vote. Rice epitomized what baseball is all about during his tenure in the 1970s and 1980s. Every other player during his tenure with comparable numbers is in the Hall of Fame. It is a shame that Rice is not.

I also noticed where some voters included Albert Belle, Dante Bichette and Jose Canseco on their ballots. These writers – and those who included McGwire – should have their privilege rescinded since they obviously do not take the honor seriously.