Monthly Archives: November 2009

Happy Birthday, J.D. Drew!

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Before J.D. Drew arrived in Boston, he already carried a label of being a ballplayer who didn’t care that much about the game. He apparently only gave 75% of his effort, according to his former manager, Tony LaRussa. He was known as a fragile player who most likely won’t give you a full season in right field or at the plate.

When Drew took over right field in Boston in 2007 he replaced Trot Nixon, another fragile player but one who didn’t have any problem displaying that he was a hardnosed player. Trot Nixon was a dirt dog. Something J.D. Drew is not. His first season with Boston was one the his worst, offensively, of his career.

Things apparently can change when you come to Boston. Entering Game 6 of the 2007 ALCS against the Cleveland Indians, Drew looked to be continuing his decidely pedestrian season with just 5 hits in 16 at bats. With the Red Sox facing elimination, they quickly loaded the bases in first inning for J.D. Drew, who hadn’t homered with the bases loaded in 17 opportunities during the regular season. On a 3-1 pitch, Drew cleared the bases and put the Red Sox on top 4-0. J.D. Drew’s first inning grand slam became known as the $14 Million Dollar Home Run, a reference to his high salaried contract. In the third, Drew drove in his 5th and final run, as the Sox coasted to a 12-2 victory. Drew helped the rout continue in Game 7 when he knocked in a run and later scored during a 6 run 8th inning that put the final nail in the coffin for the 2007 Cleveland Indians. Drew kept up his torrid hitting in the World Series, knocking in two and scoring once in the 13-1 rout of the Rockies in Game 1.

In 2008, Drew’s numbers improved from 2007, although he played in just 109 regular season games. The owner of the $14 Million Dollar Home Run smacked another in Game 2 of the 2008 ALDS against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. After the Angels scored two late runs in the game, Drew came to the plate in the top of the ninth inning with Coco Crisp on second base, running for Big Papi who had doubled a batter before him. Entering this game, J.D. Drew had not hit a home run in the 9th inning all season and had knocked in just 1 run over 23 9th inning at bats. Like his home run in the 2007 ALCS, Drew crushed a home run to give the Red Sox a 7-5 lead and ultimately the victory.

Drew continued his postseason brilliance in the ALCS against the upstart Tampa Bay Rays. Facing elimination yet again in Game 5, the Red Sox entered the 8th inning trailing 7-4. A Jason Bay walk started off the inning, and Drew crushed a 2 run homer on his second pitch to bring the Red Sox within a run. A Mark Kotsay double and Coco Crisp single tied the game up entering the 9th inning. Red Sox reliever Justin Masterson kept the Rays off the board and the meat of the Red Sox lineup started off the bottom of the 9th inning. Despite this, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz went down quickly and Kevin Youkilis singled and took second on an errant throw. The Rays elected to put Jason Bay on first with J.D. Drew coming to the plate. Drew worked the count to 3-1 before hitting a line drive single to right, scoring Youklis and giving the Red Sox an 8-7 walk off victory.

Even with the 2009 postseason, it is possible to point to postseason heroics by J.D. Drew. Down two games to none, the Red Sox finally put on an offensive display against the Angels, holding a 3-0 lead after 3 innings in Game 3 of the ALDS. The Angels responded with a 4th inning home run by Kendry Morales. Entering the bottom of the 4th, Angels manager Mike Scioscia decided to stick with Scott Kazmir despite the fact he had given up 3 hits and a walk in the 3rd inning and a single in the 4th before facing Drew. J.D. Drew took advantage of a tiring Kazmir and hit a 2 run home run, putting the Sox on top 5-1 after 4 innings. Another $14 Million Dollar Home Run.

Though 2008 and 2009 did not bring World Series championships to Boston, J.D. Drew’s successes with the Red Sox are a big reason they made it to the postseason at all. For his series of postseason bombs and solid regular season contributions, Happy 34th Birthday, J.D. Drew!

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A Red Sox Happy Birthday Bash

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

During the offseason, I’ll randomly celebrate the birthday of Former/Current/Nearly But Never/Living/Dead Red Sox players from throughout franchise history. To kick things off this offseason, I’m going to celebrate several players that happen to share November 18th as a birthday.

What else can be said about David Ortiz that hasn’t already been said? He has already been annointed the Most Clutch Player in franchise history by the owners, and fans everywhere undoubtedly agree that without David Ortiz, there is no 2004 World Series Championship, and perhaps no 2007 World Series title either. Sometime next season Big Papi will likely hit his 275th(he’s 16 away) home run for the Red Sox and move into 5th place on the all-time franchise list for home runs. When Ortiz connects on that 275th home run, he will pass former teammate Manny Ramirez and only Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, Carl Yastzremski and Ted Williams will remain ahead of him. It’s appropriate company for a player who had such a vital role in changing history and propelling the Red Sox towards ending the championship drought. Happy 34th Birthday, David Ortiz!

Tom “Flash” Gordon arrived in Boston at a time during which the franchise was entering a period where we saw a changing of the guard. 1996 was the swan song season for the Red Sox careers of Roger Clemens and a year later, Mo Vaughn. It was also a season where some players made their first appearances at the major league level and would play pivotal roles later on. Tom Gordon was on the mound for Nomar Garciaparra’s second start of his career. Tom Gordon was also on the mound during Trot Nixon’s debut in Right Field, at a time when Troy O’Leary was the everyday player. A few years later O’Leary moved over to Left Field and Trot assumed his role as the everyday Right Fielder. Gordon also transitioned during his time in Boston. After a sub-par 1996 campaign, he made the switch to relief pitcher during the 1997 season. By the end up 1998, Gordon racked up 46 saves and his first trip to the All Star Game en route to winning the 1998 Rolaid’s Relief Award. Arm injuries led to his departure from Boston, but not before he helped guide the team to the 1998 and 1999 postseasons. He went on to pitch another decade with 6 different teams, and was last seen with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Happy 42nd Birthday, Tom Gordon!

Dante Bichette had hit over 250 home runs and batted a .300 career batting average with the Rockies before they shipped him off to the Reds. When he came to the Red Sox via trade during the 2000 season, he provided some pop to the lineup. He slugged 19 home runs over parts of the ’00-’01 seasons in Boston and hit for a .287 average, his production did not match that which he showcased while with the Colorado Rockies. His shining moment with the Red Sox was arguably his 3 run home run in the 8th inning of a game against the Seattle Mariners on August 16th. The homerun gave the Red Sox their second victory in 8 games, during the Joe Kerrigan era as manager during which the Red Sox went 17-26 in a free fall from contention. For his19 home runs in a Red Sox uniform, Happy 46th Birthday, Dante Bichette!

In 1996, Jamie Moyer had already already played for 4 teams by the age of 33 with a record of 71 wins and 76 losses. Darren Bragg, by comparison, was a 26 year old coming off a pair of seasons at the AAA level hitting well over .300, and showed promise in his two brief stints with the Mariners in 1995 and 1996. At the time, it probably looked like a no brainer to the Red Sox front office to deal a hot hand by sending a 7-1 Jamie Moyer to the Seattle Mariners for the potential rising star in Darren Bragg. It appeared to be a change that Jamie Moyer needed. He went on to win 145 games for the Mariners over the ensuing decade or so, and another 47 with the Philadelphia Phillies. Jamie Moyer celebrates his 47th birthday knowing he has a contract for the 2010 season, while Darren Bragg hasn’t played at the major league level in 5 full seasons. Darren Bragg was serviceable for his time in Boston, but it’s hard to ignore the possibilities, had Moyer stayed in Boston. Happy 47th Birthday, Jamie Moyer!

Happy Birthday to David Ortiz, Tom Gordon, Dante Bichette and Jamie Moyer!

Firing up the Red Sox Hot Stove

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Before the ticker tape fell on Broadway outside City Hall in New York City, the 2009-2010 Hot Stove Season had already begun. For Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and general managers everywhere, the race to the 2010 World Series began when the Phillies’ Shane Victorino grounded out to New York’s Robinson Cano to conclude the 2009 World Series, putting the Yankees back on top of baseball for the first time since 2000. It’s not even Thanksgiving, and the Red Sox have already made several moves that will greatly impact next season. To kick off the Red Sox Hot Stove at Baseball Digest, it’s time for a quick review of the moves so far, and some off the cuff analysis.

On November 5th, the Red Sox acquired Jeremy Hermida from the Florida Marlins in exchange for two minor league left handers, Hunter Jones and Jose Alvarez. On the surface, the acquisition seems to be a trade of talent that hasn’t quite met expectations. That is certainly the case with Hermida, the 11th overall pick in the 2002 First Year Player Draft. The 25 year old with 5 seasons under his belt has career numbers of .265 avg/.344 obp/.425 slg while playing both corner outfield positions. Following a promising 2007 season during which Hermida slugged 18 homers and 32 doubles in 123 games, he has struggled to duplicate that success since.

Exactly how Hermida fits into the Red Sox outfield remains to be seen, and may be directly impacted by the free agency of Jason Bay and how that shakes out. He has potential to fill the void left by Rocco Baldelli and Mark Kotsay, and should probably be considered an upgrade over both players as the fourth outfielder. Baldelli’s health continued to be an issue in 2009, and Mark Kotsay’s early struggles saw him shipped out by the end of July. A lefty hitter with home run potential that can play both corner outfield positions has a lot of value on the 2010 Red Sox, and Jeremy Hermida provides all of that.

On November 8th, the Red Sox created even more questions for their hot stove when they declined the $6 million 2010 option for Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez was acquired in mid-August to shore up the shortstop position defensively, and played above expectations offensively. His second tour with the Red Sox was successful, despite a poor performance in the ALDS versus the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Theo Epstein indicated that the Red Sox would be interested in bringing back Gonzalez at a lower salary, and noted the lack of confidence the team has in Jed Lowrie being considered for the everyday job at shortstop. The Red Sox are in nearly the same position they were in during the 2009 off-season, looking for a dependable shortstop. Alex Gonzalez is a great option to pair with Jed Lowrie in the event that Lowrie remains healthy and challenges A-Gon right away in Spring Training. Gonzalez will be 33 years old during the 2010 season and even if the Red Sox bring him back for another season, the belief(and hope) is that the Red Sox will look hard at finding a younger, more productive replacement for the future. The bigger question here is whether or not Jed Lowrie could be that replacement.

While the Red Sox remain in flux at the shortstop and 4th outfielder positions, they answered a few questions when the news came yesterday that they picked up Victor Martinez’s $7.1 million option for the 2010 season and signed Tim Wakefield to an incentive-laden 2 year contract which guarantees the 43 year old knuckeballer $3.5 million in 2010 and $1.5 million for 2011.

That the Red Sox picked up Martinez’s option came as no surprise, nor that they declined their $5 million team option for Jason Varitek for the 2010 season. In the article linked above, Theo Epstein confirms the team plan to go with Martinez as the everyday catcher. The team captain now has 4 days to pick up the $3 million players option to serve as the backup for the first time since the 1998 season. It may seem like a no-brainer for Varitek to pick up the guaranteed $3 million option and accept a backup role, however it’s worth noting that Varitek’s numbers slipped even further in limited duty after the Red Sox acquired Victor Martinez. Varitek had just 13 hits in 97 at bats from August through the end of the season, including just 5 extra base hits to go along with 33 strikeouts. He could seek an opportunity elsewhere to play everyday, especially if his struggles in a limited role are any indication that his production drops off significantly in that role. The guess here is Varitek will accept his new role, as it’s unlikely he will garner a substantially bigger contract elsewhere as a full time catcher. Even if he accepts, there is a very real possibility that Jason Varitek’s career in Boston has come to an end.

Regarding Tim Wakefield, the two year deal replaces the “rolling” one year $4 million contract extensions which had been in place since the 2005 season. The incentive-laden contract guarantees $5.1 million over the next two seasons, and Wakefield could double that if he meets the various benchmarks for starts and innings pitched. In the article, Wakefield indicated that retirement looms at the end of the two year deal, at which point he will be 45 years old. Wakefield is 11 wins away from 200 for his career, and 18 wins away from the all-time franchise wins record of 192 held by Cy Young and Roger Clemens. Back injuries have hampered Wakefield in recent years, but he since may contribute 10-15 wins and 150-180 innings as a 5th starter in each of the next two seasons, the deal makes it a great low cost option, with a lot of potential upside.

With all of the moves that have happened already, there is no doubt this winter will be just as busy as any we’ve seen before.

Baseball Lives To See Another Day

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

This is just the second World Series to be played in November and the first to reach 6 games since 2003 when the Florida Marlins finished with their series clinching victory over the New York Yankees. Even before Game 5 of the 2009 World Series, with the New York Yankees holding a commanding 3 games to 1 lead over the Philadelphia Phillies, this series had already lived up to the hype as being one of the most entertaining World Series in recent memory. Despite a 3-1 lead, this World Series has been full of ups and downs for both teams.

Until 2 late inning offensive outbursts by the Phillies during Game 1, it was a pitching duel between Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia gave up 2 runs on 4 hits over 7 innings to Lee’s 1 unearned run on 6 hits in his complete game victory over the Yankees. That night it was the Yankees bullpen that provided the Phillies with extra runs to seal the win.

Game 2 featured another pitching duel between the Phillies’ Pedro Martinez and Yankees’ A.J. Burnett. In this matchup, it was Burnett who shut down the offense and the Phillies bullpen(or, by decisions made, Charlie Manuel) that failed to keep the game within a run. Burnett was followed up with 2 shutout innings by postseason beast Mariano Rivera.

After two games that showcased dominating pitching for both teams, Game 3 was a more offensive contest that included a comeback win. Following a 90 minute rain delay, the Phillies forced Andy Pettitte to throw a lot of pitches and were able to pull together 3 runs early to go ahead 3-0 after 2 innings. Pettitte recovered and proceeded to mow down the Phillies lineup for 4 innings until a home run in the 6th by Jayson Werth. Meanwhile, Cole Hamels was handling the Yankee lineup until the wheels began to fall off in the 4th inning when he allowed a homerun. The wheels came completely off in the 5th inning when 4 more Yankee hits led to 3 more runs and the early exit by Cole Hamels. The Yankees chipped away at the Phillies bullpen en route to an 8-5 win. The Phillies managed two solo homers in the loss.

Game 4 was, for some, going to be a lopsided win by the New York Yankees. C.C. Sabathia on 3 days rest matched up against Joe Blanton with Phillies manager Charlie Manuel opting against starting the ace, Cliff Lee, on short rest. Blanton(and the defense!) allowed 2 quick runs and Sabathia allowed 1 in the first himself, but both settled down to pitch into 6th and 7th innings. Both bullpens showed their weakness in Game 4. Joba Chamberlain, playing in his second consecutive World Series game, served up a game-tying home run to Pedro Feliz. It not stay a tie game for long, as Phillies closer Brad Lidge had what can only be as a meltdown. After two quick outs, Lidge allowed a single to Johnny Damon. Damon quickly changes the entire scope of the inning with headsup baserunning that resulted in stealing second base and taking third when there was no Phillie covering the base due to the shift put on during Mark Teixeira’s at bat. With Damon on third, Lidge hits Mark Teixeira with a pitch, putting men on first and third with no one out. Alex Rodriguez quickly smokes a double that scores Damon and gives the Yankees the lead. Jorge Posada follows the lead and cranks a single and is tagged out at second base to end the inning, but not before Rodriguez and Teixeira score to give the Yankees a 7-4 lead. Mariano Rivera came on in the bottom of the 9th to close out another win for the Yankees.

Continuing with the team’s approach of using 3 starters in the World Series, the Yankees sent A.J. Burnett to the mound on 3 days rest to face a fully rested Cliff Lee and the Phillies in an potential elimination game. Charlie Manuel had received criticism for not starting his ace on three days rest in Game 4 and, for at least one night, he proved to have made the right decision. Burnett gave up 3 runs in the first and was unable to record an out in the 3rd inning, on his way to a line that included 6 earned runs on 4 hits and 4 walks. In the 7th, Phil Coke allowed 2 solo shots that made the score 8-2 entering the 8th. As both teams have shown with their pitching problems and lineup power, a 6 run lead is not safe in any ballpark. The Yankees chipped away to score 4 runs and came within 2 in the 9th inning before Ryan Madson shut the door for the save.

The questions remain for these two team as they prepare for an off-day before Game 6 on Wednesday night. Should Gaudin pitch, ever? Should Pedro Martinez start Game 6? What about J.A. Happ? Should Gardner start over Hairston, Jr.? Will Robinson Cano and Ryan Howard come out of their slumps? How will both managers decisions impact the outcome? We can’t possibly answer all of these questions. We can acknowledge one thing, however.

The baseball season continues further into November, staving off winter for at least another day.