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Entries in Ben Cherington (4)

Monday
Jan272014

Sizemore Unlikely to Beat Out Bradley Jr. for CF Job in Boston

By now, Grady Sizemore was supposed to be burnishing his Hall of Fame credentials. Sizemore had it all -- power, speed, strike-zone awareness, Grady's Ladies -- and was about as valuable during his age 22 to 25 seasons (24.6 Wins Above Replacement) as Frank Robinson, Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey Jr. But today, the Indians' erstwhile franchise center fielder is merely a 31-year-old scrapping for a roster spot with the Red Sox following seven surgical procedures that have prevented him from taking the field since September 22, 2011.

What do the defending World Series champions see in Sizemore, whom they signed to a one-year, $750,000 deal that could reach $6 million if he hits performance bonuses? Where could he contribute in 2014? Here are a couple ways that Boston could deploy Sizemore, assuming he makes it through spring training in one piece.

A Jackie Bradley Jr. alternative in center field

This seems to be the angle that's getting the most play in the media. Boston, looking to replace new Yankee Jacoby Ellsbury in center, might be reluctant to give an everyday job to Bradley Jr., given the 23-year-old's wretched showing in the majors last season (.189 AVG/.280 OBP/.337 SLG in 107 plate appearances). It's a sexy story ("broken down star beats out hot shot youngster"), but Sizemore likely won't be trotting out to the middle pasture come opening day.

For one thing, Bradley Jr. is still highly promising. The former South Carolina star has a career .297/.404/.471 line in the minors, blending superb plate patience with mid-range power. He's also a gazelle in center field, with MLB.com's Jim Callis dubbing Bradley the best defensive outfield prospect in the game. Sure, he was terrible in limited playing time in 2013, but it's hardly unprecedented for a top young player to flail initially and then go on to have a great career. Dustin Pedroia, for example, had an even worse showing at the plate than Bradley (.191/.258/.303 in 98 plate appearances back in 2006). When he got off to a .182/.308/.236 start in April of 2007, some were ready to cut bait. Sometimes, it takes prospects a few hundred ABs to get acclimated.

Bradley's main issue last year was contact, as he punched out in 29 percent of his plate appearances. He had a particularly difficult time squaring up high pitches (he swung and missed 27.1 percent of the time, compared to the 20.3 percent MLB average). But there's not much reason to think he'll whiff like Pedro Alvarez or Mark Reynolds moving forward -- Bradley struck out a modest 17.4 percent of the time on the farm. Chances are Bradley gets on base, drives pitches into the gaps and tracks down fly balls like a boss in 2014.

We also have no idea whether Sizemore is actually capable of playing center field at this point. Advanced defensive metrics like Ultimate Zone Rating considered him a plus fielder during his halcyon days in Cleveland (+4.3 runs saved compared to an average player per 150 games), but that was before Sizemore had microfracture surgery on both knees. Maybe he can still fly, or maybe he gimps around like Kirk Gibson in the '88 World Series. We won't know until he takes the field.

Jonny Gomes' platoon partner in left field

This scenario looks more plausible, though Daniel Nava is more deserving as a guy who thumps righties (.303/.401/.459 in 2012-13) and isn't coming off a two-year respite. Gomes obliterates left-handed pitching (.277/.387/.494 over the past three seasons) but gets shut down by righties (.205/.314/.382). He also plays defense like a guy who had microfracture surgery yesterday. Sizemore, meanwhile, still managed to inflict some damage versus right-handers while his body betrayed him (.254/.333/.450 from 2009-11). A Sizemore-Gomes platoon could be productive. Of course, a Nava-Gomes platoon is already productive.

Mike Carp also hits righties pretty well (.258/.333/.449 from 2011-13). He could be swapped, though I wouldn't bet on GM Ben Cherington showing that much faith in Sizemore's durability.

Sizemore's role in Boston is about what you'd expect for a guy who hasn't seen live pitching since beer-and-chicken-gate -- he doesn't really have one right now. He could contribute, and he has far more upside than your typical 30-something scrapheap sign. Still, nobody's counting on him to crack the opening day roster, much less usurp a top prospect like Bradley.

Monday
Sep232013

Chemistry Makes a Most Valuable Team

When there is discussion about AL MVP candidates, do you notice you don't hear any of the Red Sox being mentioned? Isn't it odd that the team that has the best record in baseball, does not have one of the players you might consider as the lower case most valuable player in the league?

In fact, if you ask 10 people who they thought is the most valuable Red Sox player, you'd get probably a half-dozen different responses.
But, consensus on the Sox MVP would be very difficult...because it's better to have a Most Valuable Team than a Most Valuable Player.

Perhaps that's why they are so good

As baseball moves away from outrageous seasons developed in a pharmaceutical lab, teams are seeing the value of chemistry coming from a psychologist's lab.

This is what motivated Ben Cherington as he cleansed this team of Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez and replaced them with the like of Jonny Gomes and David Ross. The difference is best exemplified as Boston moved from the detached J.D. Drew to the involvement and engagement of his brother, Stephen Drew.

The team contributes

There are only two teams that have 11 different players who drove home at least 35 runs this season.

While you're thinking of the other obvious choice, check out the Red Sox numbers:

The Boston Red Sox 35 RBI Guys
G AB H HR RBI
David Ortiz (BOS) 133 502 154 29 98
Mike Napoli (BOS) 136 487 125 23 90
Dustin Pedroia (BOS) 156 623 186 9 83
Stephen Drew (BOS) 120 424 106 13 64
Daniel Nava (BOS) 130 441 131 11 63
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (BOS) 117 410 109 13 59
Shane Victorino (BOS) 119 463 136 14 58
Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS) 131 566 169 8 52
Jonny Gomes (BOS) 113 302 72 12 50
Will Middlebrooks (BOS) 89 325 75 15 42
Mike Carp (BOS) 82 208 62 9 42

The other team shouldn't be a surprise

This offseason, there was another team that recreated itself with chemistry as the focal point.

Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti knew that the first thing he needed to do was hire Terry Francona as his manager. If there was anyone who could quickly change the culture of this ballclub, Tito was the guy.

“We would not be where we are without Tito,” Antonetti recently told Tyler Kepner in the NY Times. “The impact he’s made on our organization — not just the major league team — has been profound.”

Francona told Kepner, “I get a little careful when they say I’m changing the culture, or being responsible for that. I want to be a part of that, but it’s us doing it together. It’s a complete team effort, and that’s why it’s working.”

Antonetti began looking for the same type of players that Cherington was seeking: guys who could make a difference, not just on the field, but in the clubhouse as well.

One of the guys the Tribe added was 42-year old Jason Giambi, who was being considered for the Colorado Rockies managerial job that Walt Weiss ended up. Francona told Kepner that he had never met a person like Jason Giambi.

“His leadership, his presence, for me not to use that, I would be an idiot. I’ve leaned on him so much. He’s not making enough money, I tell him that all the time. He’s the best influence on players I’ve ever seen — ever, and I’ve been around some pretty good ones.”

Giambi, who will make a great manager sooner than later told Tyler,

“Every single guy — from the Latin players to the white guys to the black guys — I’m tight with everybody. I get to care about them with no ulterior motives. I just want to see them succeed. I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, and I want them to turn into the best players they can, because I truly believe that’s the gift you give back to this game.”

The Tribe 11

The Cleveland Indians 35 RBI Guys
G AB H HR RBI
Jason Kipnis (CLE) 143 541 150 17 80
Carlos Santana (CLE) 148 518 138 19 69
Michael Brantley (CLE) 145 529 148 9 68
Asdrubal Cabrera (CLE) 130 484 117 14 61
Nick Swisher (CLE) 139 524 130 20 59
Ryan Raburn (CLE) 80 225 62 16 53
Michael Bourn (CLE) 126 513 133 6 48
Mark Reynolds (CLE) 129 428 94 20 65
Mike Aviles (CLE) 118 339 87 9 44
Drew Stubbs (CLE) 141 421 97 9 42
Lonnie Chisenhall (CLE) 92 287 65 11 36

Two teams - both most valuable

“I think I believe in them more than our numbers,” Francona explained. “Like, our numbers may not add up, but that doesn’t mean we can’t add up. And I think that as long as we believe that, we’re going to have a chance.”

I'm with Terry.

Chemistry makes a Most Valuable Team.
Saturday
Jul202013

Peter Gammons: Sunday Red Sox Notes - Looking for pitching

Joel Hanrahan went down when the season was less than a month old, then when Andrew Miller was established as their best reliever, he went down in early July, and when they got back from the All-Star Break Andrew Bailey essentially was done for the season.

Clay Buchholz hasn’t pitched since he won and went to 8-0 on June 8.

Jon Lester has won twice since then.

And here’s the positive: since Bucholz last pitched, the Red Sox are 20-14, the third best record in the league after the Indians and Rays. Their lead has increased from 1.5 games over the Yankees to 2.5 games, now over the charging Rays, who come to Fenway Park for a four-game series beginning Monday, July 22, a series whose Tuesday starter might be Brandon Workman, but then again might not.

“That,” says John Farrell, “is to be determined.”

Ben Cherington’s nature is to take responsibility for everything that has happened with this bullpen, having traded for Bailey, Mark Melancon, Joel Hanrahan and Matt Thornton, and now even signed two figures out of the Red Sox past, Brandon Lyon and Jose Contreras, the man who inspired Larry Lucchino’s infamous “Evil Empire” comment.

“I’ve made my share of mistakes,” says Cherington, who shares the traits of Hall of Famer Pat Gillick, who was visible when things went bad, invisible when things went well.

When asked about Bailey, et al, Cherington never asks for a review of the Koji Uehara signing, which has produced their closer who has 19 strikeouts, one run and eight saves since June 26.

“We now will revisit our ideas,” he said Friday night as the Red Sox opened their series with the injury-riddled Yankees, a rivalry that even without the injuries pales in comparison to that of Boston-Tampa Bay.

“But, as we do, this is an opportunity to see how some of our young pitchers can deal with the situations.”

Workman was originally brought up to be a major piece in the bullpen, but had to start in Oakland and took a no-hitter into the eighth. Rubby De La Rosa may go into the pen. Drake Britton, a lefthander with a 96-97 MPH fastball, is up and in that role.

“Someone will step in,” says one Boston official.

The Sox are looking for starters and relievers on the market. 

They did not get in on Matt Garza, but have touched base on Bud Norris and others; right now the asking price on Norris is two prime prospects, a lot for someone who has never had a winning record.

They checked in on closers Steve Cishek of the Marlins and Glen Perkins of the Twins, and were told neither is available.

So now they run down other checklists.

Will the Royals move Luke Hochevar, great stuff and a big year out of the pen?

Will the Twins move Mike Pelfrey, who the Mets always thought could be a power reliever?

They have checked on Francisco Rodriguez, who rumors have him going to Detroit. They are waiting to see Jesse Crain off the DL.

“This was in many ways a year in which we were to find out who we are,” says Cherington. It is a team that has coped. It is a team with young pitching whose futures are TBD. It is a team with several prime talents close to the majors, specifically shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Garin Cecchini (a potential 70-75 extra base hit, high OBP presence in Fenway. It is a team Cherington wants to be faced by Dustin Pedroia, hence the ongoing talks about an extension.

Face reality: if Bucholz doesn’t come back for 10-12 starts, the Red Sox can make the playoffs if Lester turns around, with John Lackey, Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster and if Uehara holds up.

But they cannot go anywhere in the playoffs without Buchholz. That simple.

So while they look around for relievers and hope the Mariners, Angels, Rockies, Brewers, White Sox and Royals will talk and maybe consider starters like Norris, Ervin Santana, Bruce Chen and the like, they will work to the deadline.

“We looked at Michael Young, but with Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks, we have other alternatives on the left side of the infield,” says one Sox official. “I’d say all our focus will be on pitching, beginning with what we have within.”