Monthly Archives: January 2010

South Australia Walk Away With A Win

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Before the semi-finals of the Claxton Shield between South Australia and New South Wales began, the two teams had split their head-to-head matchups with three wins apiece. Four of the six games were decided by three runs or less. The trend continued in the playoffs, as game 1 of the semi-finals featured a pitching duel between Tim Cox and Paul Mildren for seven innings before the NSW Patriots squeaked across a single run that proved to be the game winner. I recapped game 1, which you can read by clicking here. Game 2 had another pitching duel between , for the first four innings anyway, and included a bases-loaded walk that proved to be the difference maker. You can read the full recap of the game by clicking here.

Much like the first game, game 2 featured a number of players with some minor league experience. For example, the starter for New South Wales, Wayne Lundgren, began his professional baseball career with the Boston Red Sox. He played among future every day MLB players like Manny Delcarmen and Jonathan Papelbon as a member of their minor league teams between 2001-2003 teams. He bounced around St. Louis and Cincinnati’s organizations for several seasons before last being seen playing with the Brockton Rox in 2008. Another player is the closer for South Australia, Hayden Beard, who closed out the game 2 win. He was last seen in the minor leagues as a member of the rookie ball St. Lucie Mets.

The semi-finals have so far included some players who last played in college, like South Australia’s Scott Gladstone who led the University of Tennessee-Martin with a .420 average. There are also players in the tournament who are currently on the rise. New South Wales’ roster includes Mitch Dening, a prospect within the Red Sox organization, who had two hits in game 2.

With the semi-finals between South Australia and New South Wales coming to a head tomorrow, it will be interesting to see which players rise to the occasion and push their team to the championship series where they will face the Victoria Aces. Game 3 takes place on Sunday at 3:30AM Eastern Standard Time, which is 7PM in Adelaide, Australia. You can catch live coverage via South Australia’s live feed(click here).

Claxton Shield: New South Wales Rises Above South Australia

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

As I posted earlier this week, the Claxton Shield tournament championship semi-finals kicked off today in Adelaide, Australia.


Despite living in an era of HD TV, multiple camera angles and even replay, a single camera via an online web feed was the only way viewers outside of Australia were able to watch the beginning of the Claxton Shield semi-finals. The 3:30AM EST start for most games may also be to blame for a general lack of interest from baseball fans in the United States. Though the Claxton Shield is flying under the radar, there is great baseball being played down under.


The South Australian baseball team hosted the New South Wales Patriots at Norwood Oval for game 1 of a 3 game set to determine who will go on to face the Victoria Aces in the championship finals. As the teams faced off with identical 14-10 season records, it’s not a surprise that game 1 featured a pitching duel. For the South Australians, Pittsburgh Pirates minor leaguer Paul Mildren took to the mound opposite former Boston Red Sox minor leaguer Tim Cox for New South Wales. The two lefties battled for much of the game, neither allowing a run going into the 7th inning. The Patriots got to Mildren in the 7th when Tim Auty knocked in Pat Maat with an RBI double.


Like Cox and Mildren, Auty and Maat are also players who have put time in with Major League Baseball affiliates. In fact, many players that comprise the teams of the Claxton Shield have at some point played with major league organizations. In game 1 alone, there were at least 8 MLB teams represented by players who played(or currently play) for a team within their organization. The hottest hitter of the tournament, Michael Collins, received an invite to the San Diego Padres Spring Training camp.


The 7th inning RBI by Tim Auty proved to be the only run of the entire game. The only real threat by the South Australians came in the bottom of the 8th with David Washington on first and Jeremy Cresswell at the plate. Cresswell hit a double into shallow center, and Washington slipped rounding second base on his way to third. Washington is known for his speed, and potentially could have made the turn for home if he hadn’t slipped. They were unable to build on having two men in scoring position, as Tim Cox shut out the home team for 8 innings before giving way to Lee Ingram to close out the 9th inning and give the Patriots a 1-0 victory.


The two teams face off again tomorrow morning(or night, if you’re in Australia), with the first pitch around 3:30AM. The South Australian baseball team website is providing the online stream for fans. You can find that stream by clicking here.

Claxton Shield: Baseball Down Under

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

With the Super Bowl and the Caribbean World Series more than a week away, it’s easy to believe that there is currently a lull in championship competition for sports fans to watch. This couldn’t be further from the truth. On Friday, the first round of the Claxton Shield will get underway when the South Australia baseball club faces off against the New South Wales Patriots. The winner of the three game playoff will go on to face the first place finisher, the Victoria Aces. Each of these teams have players on their rosters that have worn the uniforms of minor league teams throughout the MLB and independent minor league systems.

The Claxton Shield is a long running baseball tournament in Australia featuring many young talented ballplayers that have played in minor league parks throughout the United States. While the format and the teams of the Claxton Shield have changed since the tourney started in 1934, the level of competition has remained strong throughout the years. The exception of this being during a ten year hiatus when the Claxton Shield was awarded to the winner of the Australian Baseball League from 1989-1999.

This years tournament was its longest, with 5 teams playing 24 games over 10 rounds. The top three teams meet in the playoffs, with the top team having a bye in the first round. There are plans for expansion to 6 teams next season, thus eliminating the bye week. The development and success of the Claxton Shield will be vital in reestablishing a baseball league in Australia.

The 5 teams that make up the Claxton Shield include many players who have had various success within the minor league system of Major League Baseball. One of the leading hitters in the tournament is Mike Collins, a longtime minor leaguer in the Anaheim Angels and San Diego Padres systems. In each of the last two Claxton Shield tournaments, Collins has dominated with his bat. Similarly, one of the leading pitchers in the tournament spent a few years toiling in the Boston Red Sox minor league system. Though he ‘retired’ from the Boston Red Sox Class A affiliate Lancaster JetHawks in 2007, Tim Cox led this years tournament with 46 strikeouts while sporting a 2.38 ERA. A quick glance at the rosters of all participating teams reveals a long list of players with similar career trajectories of Mike Collins and Tim Cox. With the expected expansion of the tournament and MLB’s involvement, more future prospects may end up playing ball Down Under.

You can attend the championship tournament for just $20 for admission to all three games of the opening round. If you’re not already in Australia, the cost to attend the tourney might rise exponentially due to the airfare! The Claxton Shield championship will not be available on US television, but you can find the results and box scores for all the action on the Claxton Shield website. Click Here for the link.

Due to the time differences between the United States and Australia, it’s worth noting that Game 1 of the semi-finals between South Australia and New South Wales scheduled for 6:35PM on Friday, January 29th in Adelaide, Australia. That means the game takes place 3:00 AM, Eastern Standard Time! Similarly, Game 1 of the finals between the winner of the SA/NSW series will face the Victoria Aces on February 5th at 7:05 PM in Melbourne, Australia or at 3:05 AM, Eastern Standard Time.

A Look At The Upcoming Red Sox Season

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com as three separate articles

With about a month remaining before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, it seems like a good time to take inventory of the off-season moves made by the Boston Red Sox and how the rest of the lineup shapes up for the upcoming season. Chances are there will be no additional moves that drastically change the current depth chart for the 2010 roster. In the first of several posts about the Red Sox depth in 2010, I am going to discuss the starting rotation.

The biggest pickup by the Red Sox during the hot stove season was the signing of John Lackey to a 5 year deal right before Christmas, which I wrote about here at Baseball Digest a few days after the deal. Throughout baseball and the media, the deal is considered an upgrade to the Red Sox rotation. With John Lackey, the rotation will look something like this:

Jon Lester

Josh Beckett

John Lackey

Daisuke Matsuzaka

Clay Buchholz/Tim Wakefield

The 2010 rotation looks fantastic on paper, but it does come with a few questions.

The biggest question may involve the status of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Recently the Sporting News reported that Dice K hid an injury sustained during the 2009 World Baseball Classic from the Red Sox and attempted to heal from the injury without missing his turn in the rotation. In hindsight, this proved to be a bad decision on Dice K’s part, as he stumbled to a 4-6 record with an ERA heading towards 6.00 in 12 starts while missing much of the season. Dice K has indicated that he is fully prepared for the 2010 season, but it’s worth noting the Boston Globe interview with pitching coach John Farrell, which summarizes the Matsuzaka situation well. In short, the unknown injury was not the first time the pitcher and the coaching staff were not on the same page. The hope is Dice K is fully healthy and 2010 will show he has returned to form.

While Dice K struggled in 2009, the Red Sox reached the postseason for the third straight season on the backs of their double-barreled aces. Jon Lester continued to show his potential as the new ace of the staff while Josh Beckett regained the form that he showed before his subpar 2008 campaign. Together they combined for 32 victories in 64 starts, spanning over 400 innings with ERAs under 4.00. If the pair can come close to duplicating their 2009 seasons, the Red Sox will undoubtedly be well positioned to make a serious push towards the 2010 postseason.

After Lester and Beckett, the rotation had more questions than answers in 2009. Tim Wakefield and Clay Buchholz combined to go 18-9 in 37 starts, and Wakefield earned his first trip to the All-Star game. However, Wakefield made just 4 starts after the All-Star break and unfortunately his injury contributed to an already large hole that began with the Dice K injury. An attempt to gradually increase Buchholz’s season workload meant that Brad Penny, John Smoltz, Justin Masterson, Paul Byrd and Junichi Tazawa went 14-21 in 48 starts in place of Dice K and Wakefield.

What does John Lackey mean for the 2010 season? Lackey provides an opportunity to limit the number of starts by pitchers like Penny, Smoltz, Byrd and others. Lackey provides depth by allowing flexibility with the use of Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield, while avoiding early overexposure to developing players like Junichi Tazawa. The question of who will fill the fifth spot of the rotation will likely sort itself out in the spring, as Wakefield returns from off-season back surgery and Clay Buchholz comes into camp with the chance to win the final spot. The John Lackey signing means the Red Sox have a solid 1-2-3 punch to match up with just about any rotation in baseball, something they severely lacked(no pun intented) in the 2009 ALDS against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

One aspect of the Red Sox roster that may see a few adjustments before opening day is the bullpen. It might be worth revisiting the bullpen once Spring Training is underway before analysing it fully. However, it’s worth noting that even with a bullpen anchored by closer Jonathan Papelbon, there were questions raised about Manny Delcarmen’s ability to remain a reliable option during the late stretch of the season. That said, the emergence of Daniel Bard gives some hope that the ‘pen will be able to bridge the gap from the starters to Papelbon.

Despite the challenges they face in the AL East, It’s a little difficult for a Red Sox fan to be anything but downright giddy when considering the 2010 Red Sox pitching staff.

Where is Mike Lowell going?

It seems like the questions that filled the air the most during this winter involved the 2007 World Series MVP. The same player that does not currently have a position to call his own on the Red Sox roster. The same player involved in a botched trade to the Texas Rangers, and the same player who probably watched a bit of the Red Sox press conference introducing their new everyday third baseman.

Despite this, we haven’t heard much publicly from the soon-to-be former Red Sox third baseman. While there is an obvious chance that Mike Lowell ends up remaining with the team, the reality is he will probably be traded during spring training(or before) along with a bag of cash for a proverbial bag of baseballs. That’s usually what happens when an injury risk player with a big contract needs to be moved.

It appears the Red Sox have been preparing for life after Mike Lowell since the beginning of the off-season when news swirled about that Casey Kotchman could become the Red Sox first baseman, with Kevin Youkilis moving to third. This became a moot point when Kotchman was traded to Seattle and Adrian Beltre was signed to take over the hot corner. What remains is the uncomfortable time remaining for Mike Lowell with the Red Sox before he’s traded.

Around Thanksgiving, former two-time Red Sox shortstop Alex Gonzalez signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, leaving the Red Sox with a new void to fill. A few days after Gonzalez departed for Canadian pastures, All-Star second baseman Dustin Pedroia petitioned for his own move to the shortstop position for the betterment of the team. The front office dismissed the noton, and signed Marco Scutaro to a two year deal. The move puts the onus on Jed Lowrie to prove his ability to stay healthy and become a legitimate option at shortstop for the team. If Lowrie displays in spring training that he has fully recovered from his wrist injury, Scutaro could become a super utility player who fills in at several positions. Scutaro has played most of the infield positions, and might serve as a great backup option for Pedroia at second base. Truth be told, the Red Sox currently do not have a viable backup for Pedroia.

The trade of Kotchman impacts the backup option for first base, though it is expected that Victor Martinez will see time at first base. While there might be a concern that Martinez could end up with a heavy workload between catching and playing first base, it’s worth mentioning that he has played in over 140 games in 4 of the last 5 seasons. David Ortiz may see time at first base as well, though he has only started a handful of games at first in recent years. Jason Varitek assuming the role as backup catcher may open the door for a number of double-switches in 2010 that include first base and designated hitter.

As we head into the beginning of spring and the team starts putting together lineups, it will be a lot easier then to determine exactly how all of these moves will shape the lineup on any given day during the regular season. The infield may have more questions than any other area of the roster, and most of them won’t have answers until the team begins playing. Such as whether David Ortiz’s prolonged 2009 slump is something we’ll see in 2010, or if Adrian Beltre will rediscover his offensive stride despite an injury riddled 2009 season.

The most important answers are here though. We have a solid idea as to who will be playing which position, something not every team in MLB can claim.

In 2009 Jason Bay turned in a career year at the plate for the Red Sox, helping fans to easily forget the mammoth offensive shoes of Manny Ramirez that he was filling when acquired from the Pirates during the 2008 season. Bay’s offense was a key component to As a result of his superb season, Bay entertained offers from several teams when he became a free agent. Early on in the free agency period, the Red Sox made it clear that there would be a limit as to how far they were willing to go to sign the All-Star left fielder. Instead of waiting for the hot stove to heat up on Jason Bay, the Sox made a move and signed Mike Cameron to a two year deal. I wrote about Cameron signing a few hours after the team signed John Lackey.

During the press conference introducing Mike Cameron, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein indicated that no changes to the outfield lineup would be made before discussions with all players were had. About a week later, the Red Sox announced that Jacoby Ellsbury will move to left field to make room for Cameron in center. The move makes a lot of sense, because Cameron is considered defensively superior to Ellsbury, and ranked third in all of MLB for defense by FanGraphs for center fielders.

In 2009, Rocco Baldelli filled in as the backup outfielder for 62 games but struggled to stay healthy enough to be a solid option. Prospect Josh Reddick provided defense off the bench during the stretch run in August and September, but his poor offensive numbers indicate he will need more time at the minor league level before he will be considered a major league option. Also at just 22 years old, Reddick’s future is likely as a full time player.

With the signing of Adrian Beltre, the Red Sox determined their projected 2010 infield(sans the Mike Lowell situation) and Casey Kotchman became expendable. Kotchman was acquired at the July deadline and could have been slotted at first base if the Red Sox traded Lowell and inserted Youkilis at third. Lowell’s thumb injury put the kibosh on that. Instead, the Red Sox traded Kotchman to the Seattle Mariners for veteran utility player Bill Hall. Though Bill Hall is coming off the worst season of his career, he slugged 14 homers in a season as recently as the 2008 season. In 2009, Hall spent time in left field, right field, and third base with the Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers. His versatility will provide the Red Sox with the ability to rest J.D. Drew as necessary, and shift Ellsbury to center when Mike Cameron needs a breather. Hall’s defense is much better in right field and he may see most of his time there since J.D. Drew has not played in more than 140 games per season since joining the Red Sox. It’s worth noting that Fenway Park’s small left field will be a welcome sight for Hall. He will likely see time at third base and in pinch hitting spots throughout the season.

The acquisition of Bill Hall raises more concerns for the one piece of the outfield puzzle that has not been addressed, which is Jeremy Hermida. Hermida was the first pickup for Theo Epstein during the off-season, and his status since then has evolved quite a bit. He could just as easily slide into the 4th outfielder position, and likely be a better offensive option than Bill Hall. The guess here is the battle of the utility players will be the highlight of the Red Sox spring training.

Perhaps left out of the discussion because of the free agency of Jason Bay is the consistency that J.D. Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury provided in 2009. In Drew’s case, this included slugging more home runs(24) than in any of the previous 5 seasons. En route to a great followup to his rookie season, Ellsbury broke the 35 year old team record for most stolen bases by a Red Sox player, previously held by Tommy Harper. Moving Ellsbury to left field may also lessen the wear and tear that he may otherwise encounter by playing center field every day.

Though there is a question about the offense of Mike Cameron in 2010, he has maintained a remarkable level of consistency. In each of the last four seasons, he has slugged at least 20 home runs and hit over 30 doubles in three of the last four seasons.

As the 2010 baseball season approaches, the Red Sox outfield shapes up to be a trifecta of outstanding defensive ability and an offense with both speed and power.

The Hinske Effect Moves To Atlanta

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

ESPN reported last night that free agent utility player Eric Hinske signed with the Atlanta Braves. The move gives the Braves a lot of flexibility as Hinske will provide backup to Troy Glaus at first and Chipper Jones at third. In addition to that, Hinske can fill in at the corner outfield spots when needed. More importantly though, signing Eric Hinske gives the Atlanta Braves a shot at reaching the postseason and the World Series.

Wait, what? That’s right. The Eric Hinske Effect moves to Atlanta.

The Eric Hinske Effect used to be known as the Kenny Lofton Effect, and may be similar to the Orlando Cabrera Effect or perhaps a baseball fan from the 1980’s and early 1990’s called it the Lonnie Smith Effect. In short, the effect of these players on their teams generally means they reach the playoffs. In the cases of Lonnie Smith and Eric Hinske, this means their team makes it to the World Series. In the cases of Hinske, Cabrera and Lofton it means their team makes the postseason every season, even if the player moves on to another team.

Kenny Lofton reached the postseason in four straight seasons with different teams, and between 1995 and 2007 missed just two postseasons! Orlando Cabrera has reached the postseason with three different teams in the last three seasons, and overall has reached the postseason in five of the last six seasons since his 2004 trade to the Boston Red Sox. Lonnie Smith is slightly different than the other players, as he spent a few seasons with each of the teams he played on.

Hinske first reached the World Series with the Red Sox in 2007, and then moved on to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 during their Worst To First run for a world title. He started the 2009 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates before the Yankees acquired him in June as they bolstered their bench while in search of a 27th World Championship title. He has the opportunity to do what only Lonnie Smith has done before him, in the style of which Kenny Lofton and Orlando Cabrera would be envious:

Reach the World Series in four straight seasons with four different teams and win it all with at least three of them.

Obviously Eric Hinske is not really going to be the sole reason the Atlanta Braves find a way back to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1999. He may even end up being traded to a contender by the July deadine. However, his versatility and previous postseason experience will certainly be useful on a team like the Atlanta Braves in 2010.

Adrian Beltre Takes Over At The Hot Corner

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

According to ESPN.com and RedSox.com, the Boston Red Sox have signed free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre to a one year deal worth an estimated $9 million dollars with a $5 million dollar option for the 2011 season contingent on passing a physical. The deal comes off the heels of the botched trade that would have sent incumbent third baseman Mike Lowell to the Texas Rangers for catching prospect Max Ramirez.. Soon after the trade failed with Texas, Mike Lowell underwent surgery to repair a thumb injury that held up the trade.

With the acquisition of Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro and now Adrian Beltre, the Red Sox are making big changes to strengthen the team defensively. Despite the news that Mike Lowell will require a few months to recover from thumb surgery, it’s impossible to ignore the reality that Adrian Beltre’s bat arguably weakens the Red Sox offense. Aside from coming off his worst season in recent years, Beltre’s shown a slight decline in OPS+ and SLG% in each of the last three seasons. In the articles by ESPN and MLB.com, it’s reported that the Red Sox hope Beltre’s numbers will improve with his home games at Fenway Park rather than spacious Safeco Field. This may be the case, but in 2009 Mike Lowell outperformed Adrian Beltre in nearly every offensive category. If 2008 and 2009 are any indication(and truth be told, maybe they are not indicative of his future!), Mike Lowell has shown consistent offensive output despite balky hips.

The other concern that the Adrian Beltre deal raises in the financial committment that makes the third base situation similar to the shortstop situation in recent years. The actual financial decisions by the Red Sox don’t raise a concern. A team can spend money as they wish. The concern is when financial decisions end up playing a role later on with regard to whether or not the team will have flexibility at the midseason trade deadline to pick up a necessary player for the stretch run. The Red Sox have gone down this road before. They were obligated to Julio Lugo’s contract in addition to the contract of Alex Gonzalez in 2009. Before Lugo, it was Edgar Renteria’s contract in 2005 that the Red Sox sent part of the remaining salary to the Braves to upgrade the team.

As it looks now, the Red Sox may be on the hook for somewhere between $10-22 million dollars at the third base position, the combination of both Adrian Beltre’s and Mike Lowell’s 2010 contracts. They will likely end up paying somewhere in the middle. It may be worth mentioning that Mets’ second baseman Luis Castillo is due $12 million over the next two seasons. As the articles by ESPN and MLB also indicate, the Red Sox are in negotiations that would send Lowell to the Mets for Castillo. While the deal may benefit the Mets with Lowell shifting to first base, it looks like a player/salary dump by the Red Sox, with the possibility of saving some cash on Lowell’s 2010 contract.

Since it is early January, this may also simply be the next move in several additional moves that take place even before Pitchers & Catchers report in mid-February. One thing is for certain. Like their New York division rivals, the Red Sox appear to be putting defense as the priority heading into the new year.

Randy Johnson To Announce Retirement

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

MLB.com is reporting that 300 game winner Randy Johnson will announce his retirement from baseball later tonight.

The tall lefty won 5 Cy Young Awards during his 22 year career along with winning 303 games and lost just 166 with 6 different teams. In addition to being named to 10 all star teams, Johnson was named co-MVP of the 2001 World Series with Curt Schilling as a member of the World Champion Arizona Diamondbacks. The no-doubt first ballot Hall of Famer also won the Pitcher’s Triple Crown in 2002 with the lowest ERA, most victories and most strikeouts in all of Major League Baseball.

Only Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan has more career strikeouts than Randy Johnson, and nobody in the history of baseball has a better strikeout-per-9-innings ratio. The ‘Big Unit’ also retires as the active leader in complete games at 100, as well as the active leader in career shutouts. Known to be a bit wild(especially in his early years), he retires as the active leader in hit batsmen with 190. Boston’s Tim Wakefield assumes the new title as active leader in that category with 173.

Some unfortunate claims to fame for the Big Unit include pushing a cameraman while with the New York Yankees and killing a bird in flight during a Spring Training game in 2001.

Randy Johnson pitched a perfect game on May 18th, 2004 and became just the 17th player to throw a no-hitter in both leagues. On June 4th, 2009, he earned his 300th win against the Washington Nationals. Almost 24 years ago to the date, the Nationals had drafted him when they were known as the Montreal Expos in 1985.

Since Hall of Famer Jim Rice’s enshrinement in Cooperstown, the term ‘feared’ has become commonplace among discussing retired players. When Randy Johnson is thrown into the mix, it’s clear that he was among the most feared. When sluggers beg out of lineups against the ‘Big Unit’ because facing the 6’10 lefty might ruin their rhythym, that’s the definition of fear. While baseball fans will miss watching Randy Johnson dominate the diamond, ballplayers throughout baseball are quietly rejoicing!