Tag: Boston

Ted Williams ‘Would Have Loved’ David Ortiz Hitting Home Run No. 521

The greatest hitter who ever lived” gave Claudia Williams a batting clinic that spanned two decades.

The only surviving child of Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams has emerged as a caretaker of his magnificent and complicated legacy. She, better than anyone else, can speculate with credibility on what her dad would think of Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz matching Williams’ career record of 521 home runs. 

Ortiz hit the milestone home run Friday night at Fenway Park during an 8-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners

“I see a lot of things in David Ortiz that I know my dad would have just loved,” Williams told Bleacher Report the day after she participated in a ceremony that retired Wade Boggs’ No. 26 in Boston. “Congratulations to him. I think it’s awesome.”

Being a child of Ted Williams, Claudia Williams wrote in Ted Williams, My Father: A Memoir, presented a tidal wave of challenges. They were the result of her parents’ divorce, Williams’ drive for perfection in everything and everyone, a volcanic temper and intense, profanity-filled outbursts at those closest to him.  It also gave her unmatched insight into Williams’ personality, character and, eventually, unfettered access to his brilliance when it came to hitting baseballs and catching fish. 

“People don’t realize it, but the daughter of Ted Williams watches swings. He’s got a great game. He’s got a great swing,” Claudia Williams, 44, told B/R when asked about Ortiz. “My own father taught me the importance of getting ahead of your hands and swinging up. He takes a nice, wide stance. My dad would describe him as being ‘stronger than an ox.’

He’s got arms on him like Goliath. He’s got a little bit of an upswing. And I like the way he cocks his hips and he puts that power through his midcore. He’s a power hitter through and through. We see that every time he hits a home run. They don’t just go over the wall, they go way over the wall. Beautiful swing. Beautiful depth. Great strength.”

Ortiz also tied Hall of Famers Frank Thomas and Willie McCovey with home run No. 521. When he spoke one-on-one to B/R prior to hitting his 500th home run in St. Petersburg, Florida, last September, Ortiz deferentially brushed off any comparisons to Williams as “crazy talk,” noting Williams’ military service in two wars that would cost him 727 games over five seasons. 

“Historically, you know how great Mr. Ted Williams was. It’s wonderful talking about the greatest hitters of the game and your name being mentioned with them,” Ortiz added after Friday’s game. 

After his milestone 500th home run, he spoke of Williams and others in the 500-home run club as players whom he could only watch “in cartoons” as a child. “The whole world knows it’s not easy to get,” he added.

Claudia Williams concurs. “If you hit over 500 home runs, you’re doing something right,” she said. “There’s a ton of arguments out there. This is happening this season, it didn’t happen then. It’s not like [it] was then. The pitchers are this or that. I don’t care what people say.”

In 2003, Ortiz and Ramirez tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug during a pilot testing program. In 2009, the New York Times reported the results, which were supposed to be anonymous. Ortiz continues to deny knowingly using any banned substances.

He told Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe in March 2015 it would be “unfair” if anyone denied him a Hall of Fame vote because of the 2003 positive. “I was using what everybody was using at the time,” he added. When asked about the PED results by B/R in 2015, Ortiz deferred by saying, “I only want to focus on the positive.”


The Kid vs. Big Papi

The “Ortiz vs. Williams” debate, for as much as it does exist, is mainly drawn upon generational guidelines. For those who were either old enough to see Williams play (he retired in 1960 and died at age 83 in 2002) or grew up in a household where he was idolized (this author included), his place as the first among equals on the Red Sox Mt. Rushmore is unquestioned. For many who grew up in a post-2004 world, they saw Ortiz pile up World Series rings before ever hearing of Williams’ baseball, fishing and military exploits.

Among those in Williams’ corner: Red Sox Hall of Fame outfielder Carl Yastrzemski. He replaced Williams in left field in 1961. When asked who was better, Williams or Ortiz, Yaz was brief. “It’s got to be Ted, he told Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy in May. “I mean, he was the greatest hitter who ever lived. And he missed all those years serving his country in two wars.

Yaz is joined on the Williams side of the ledger by Gordon Edes, the Red Sox historian who covered the team over 18 seasons for the Boston Globe and ESPN.

“Baseball lends itself to comparing stars from different eras much better than, say, basketball, where no one would dare suggest George Mikan could play with LeBron James. Baseball differs in that we can fairly debate the relative merits of [Babe] Ruth, [Hank] Aaron and [Barry] Bonds, say, while of course noting the differences in the environments in which they played,” Edes told B/R via email.

“It’s reasonable to discuss Ortiz relative to Ted Williams, and the fact they played different positions hardly matters, given that the comparison revolves exclusively on their hitting,” Edes continued. The ‘debate,’ such as it is, is a short one: ‘Mr. Williams,’ as Ortiz calls him, dwarfs anyone else who ever played for the Red Sox as a hitter. Ted is the all-time franchise leader in the alphabet soup of BA, OBP, SGP and OPS, as well as the team’s all-time leader in home runs.”

In addition to being the last hitter to bat over .400 (.406 in 1941), Williams produced the two highest season batting averages in Red Sox history. Among the other categories in which he dominates, as Edes noted, he posted the top nine seasons in OBP in Red Sox history, five of the top seasons in SGP and eight of the top 10 seasons in walks. 

“The chasm between Ted and runner-up is large, but Ortiz has certainly thrust himself into a favored spot relative to Carl Yastrzemski and Wade Boggs, with Jim Rice and maybe Manny [Ramirez] another rung below,” Edes wrote.

On the day he turned 40 last November, Ortiz announced he would retire after the 2016 season. Ortiz reported to Red Sox camp this spring considerably leaner than he was in 2015. Whatever he did in the offseason has worked. Thus far, he’s making a bid for league MVP. In his first 59 games this season, Ortiz slammed 17 home runs. drove in 59 runs, and led the American League with 29 doubles, a .423 on-base percentage, .715 slugging percentage and a stat-nerd-baffling 1.138 OPS.

Ortiz remains on pace for arguably the greatest offensive season in big-league history for any ballplayer over 40. 

Williams won the 1957 AL batting title at age 39, hitting .388 with 38 home runs, 87 RBI and a haughty 1.257 OPS. A year later, he became the oldest player ever to win a batting crown at 40 with a .328 average and 1.042 OPS. Williams slashed .316/.451./645 with 27 HRs in his final season of 1960 at age 42.

A lifelong Red Sox fan, Dave McCarthy, 63, was a New Hampshire State Police officer for more than 25 years and worked details for top state politicians and visiting past presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. That job eventually led to a relationship with Williams and a longtime spot as Williams’ personal security man. McCarthy is now the executive director of the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame, housed inside Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

“Bush Senior almost fell down the stairs in a rush to meet him in New Hampshire,” McCarthy told B/R. The two had met during flight training school when they were both in the Navy in World War II. “Of all the presidents and people I’ve met, none of them had the effect on people as Ted Williams did. It’s as if baseball makes everyone an eight-year-old kid. Even Matt Damon couldn’t believe it when I introduced him to Ted.

“Ted would have loved to see David tie and break his 521 mark. He would be brief and praise him,” McCarthy added. “Ted would always defend the new players. When it appeared that Nomar [Garciaparra] was going to [be] the patriarch of Boston, he loved the kid.”

Williams campaigned for Bush in New Hampshire during the 1988 GOP primary campaign, drawing huge crowds and helping the then-vice president capture a pivotal state victory.


‘Boston’s Mr. October’

Ortiz, who took an infamous selfie with President Obama at the White House in 2014, has cast a similar spell over Boston thanks mainly to his postseason fireworks and Broadway-like October timing. His postseason slash line of .409/.553/.962 is buttressed by 17 home runs and 60 RBI in 295 at-bats. In 2013, Ortiz captured World Series MVP honors with a .688 average and a Thor-like .760/1.188/1.948 slash line.

His postseason home runs are the stuff of schoolchild legend across New England.

There was his walk-off, 10th-inning blast off Jarrod Washburn that capped Boston’s three-game sweep of the Anaheim Angels in the 2004 American League Division Series.

There was Big Papi’s Game 4, 12th-inning big fly against the New York Yankees in 2004 that provided a rocket boost for Boston’s historic comeback in the American League Championship Series. 

And, of course, there was that grand slam against the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS that not only tied the game 5-5, but also sent Torii Hunter sprawling over the wall and turned Boston bullpen cop Steve Horgan into a local celebrity.

For Ted Williams, there were no postseason heroics. He hit .200 in his lone World Series appearance in 1946. He was nursing a bruised elbow suffered in a pre-World Series tuneup game. In those seven games against St. Louis, he went 5-for-25 with five strikeouts, one RBI and no home runs. “And I did poorly, and I don’t know why today,” he told the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.

“The biggest way Ortiz’s career impacted the Sox differently than Ted’s is the team’s success on the field,” explained Edes, who called Ortiz “Boston’s Mr. October.” Ortiz has a .455 career average and three home runs in his 14 World Series games. “His postseason play offers a powerful supporting argument to his claim that he belongs in Cooperstown,” Edes wrote.

Williams and the Red Sox rolled to the World Series with 104 wins as the American League champions in 1946 when baseball was back at its pre-war strength. Until 1969, the American and National Leagues each sent one team to the World Series. That was baseball’s entire postseason.

To see how Williams could have benefited from the playoff expansion that players like Ortiz enjoyed in the post-wild-card era, B/R examined the final American League standings during years in which Williams’ play was not impacted by military service.

Splitting the then eight-team American League geographically into Eastern and Western divisions and adding just one wild card in comparison to the two of 2016, Williams and the Red Sox would have reached the postseason nine more times in his career. Those seasons would have included 1948 and ’49.

The 96-win Red Sox lost 8-3 to the Cleveland Indians in a one-game playoff in 1948. In 1949, the Red Sox again won 96 games, and again fell one game short of the World Series—losing the pennant to the Yankees in the final weekend of the season.


Beat the Press

Ortiz and Williams have much in common.

Both Ortiz and Williams played in Minnesota before coming to Boston. Williams starred for the minor league Minneapolis Millers before joining the Red Sox as a rookie in 1939, while Ortiz was signed by the Red Sox in 2003 as a free agent after being released by the Minnesota Twins.

They share Hispanic heritage, Ortiz was born in the Dominican Republic, while Williams’ mother was Mexican-American. Both showered the right field bleachers in Fenway Park with home runs from the left side of the plate, they both committed a tremendous amount of their time and treasure to charitable endeavors for children and, at their core, they desired the love and adoration of the masses.

“Williams’ relationship with the fans and media experienced far more ups and downs than Ortiz, who generally has received favorable press,” Edes said. The harshest critiques of Ortiz have been centered around the lingering question of PED usage, early-season slumps (not an issue this year) and flare-ups about his contract situation that seemed to become an annual spring training ritual.

Ortiz’s smile and benevolence have become defining traits. “I just want to make everyone happy,” Ortiz told B/R before he hit No. 500 last September. “You’re not always going to make everyone happy. A lot of people who follow your career and are on the positive side, that’s all you’ve got to care about.”

Ted Williams, who was born in San Diego in 1918, battled with the press and negative fans throughout most of his career, taking much of the criticism on a personal level.

As Claudia Williams notes in her book:

He absolutely fell victim to the fickle love of the crowd and the criticism of the press. … Expectations were high, and in only his second year in the major leagues some fans and the press began to ride him for disappointing them—they wanted more—the start of what would be a career-long battle. Some players might have shrugged it off, but Dad was too driven, too intensely focused on being the best and wanting to impress. When he lashed out at sportswriters, he earned new nicknames like ‘Terrible Ted’ and the ‘Problem Child.’ Even when he hit a home run and the whole crowd cheered, he was still angry with them for criticizing him and refused to tip his cap as he rounded the bases. When he was rejected, it angered him, hurt his feelings, but it also made him even more determined to prove them wrong. … ‘The Kid’ emerged. The way he verbalized as an adult was a mix of playground expressions and childlike wonderment, beaten and aged with rough-guy sarcasm and dugout swearing. … It’s as if his life was played out on a big playground. Dad hated the press because they were his punishers, the bullies on his playground, and, as he would put it, ‘They were always trying to blow things out of proportion, stir things up, and rip you.’ The knights of the keyboard took control and manipulated a lot of Dad’s career just by choosing what they did or didn’t write about.

To wit, Ted Williams won the Triple Crown in 1942 and 1947 and failed to win the MVP award (as chosen by the writers) both times.

“No wonder Dad held a grudge against the press for his entire life,” Claudia Williams added.

The fans, too, felt his wrath. The “Splendid Spitter” expectorated toward the fans in Boston’s left field on Aug. 7, 1956. He had dropped a fly ball hit by Mickey Mantle in the 11th inning that led to two runs and was booed for his efforts. Williams was fined $5,000 (5 percent of his salary) but was unrepentant. “I’m not a bit sorry for what I did,” Williams said at the time. “I was right and I’d spit again at the same fans who booed me today. Some of them are the worst in the world. Nobody’s going to stop me from spitting.”

On the flip side, when encouraged by the crowd, Williams was at his best. He wowed the Boston crowd with his Old-Timers Day fielding performance in 1982 and would eventually tip his hat to the Fenway crowd on “Ted Williams Day” in 1991. By the time he made his storybook appearance at the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston, Williams had been fully embraced by the citizenry of Red Sox Nation as their Founding Father.

Claudia Williams discussed the change in her father’s demeanor toward the public in the later years of his life in her book, as well:

Even at death’s door during his last public appearance, Dad was able to acknowledge the crowd when they stood and applauded for him. He was always trying to make up for some shortcoming the press had written about or make up for a poor performance on the field. What I believe made Ted Williams great at home plate was his ability to take all his anger, all his hurt, and channel it with supreme discipline and control right into his wrists, the grip, the bat, the precise connection with the ball, blasting it exactly where he wanted it to go, shoving it right down the throats of sportswriters.

Both Claudia Williams and McCarthy said Williams spoke without any filters of what would be considered “political correctness” today. “My dad was brutally honest and sincere. That was the thing I admired the most about him. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind,” Claudia Williams told B/R.

It was that sense of speaking out against what he saw as injustice that led Williams to lobby for the inclusion of “great Negro ballplayers” like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige into Baseball’s Hall of Fame during his 1966 Cooperstown induction speech. 

McCarthy said Williams didn’t have the benefit of a PR coach or someone who might have counseled him to temper his remarks to avoid public backlash.

“Ted grew up in a tough life. He had a heart a mile long. He was a perfectionist working on his craft. He wore his heart on his sleeve. You had guys like ‘Colonel’ Dave Egan who would rip him. Ted would lash out and tell them what he thought. That led to a lot misunderstandings and a lot of slanted stories. Ted was an emotional kid. And the press loved it. It made for a great story. The press won every time,” McCarthy said.

“Ted just couldn’t understand. He poured his heart out to this guy and he rips him. It hurt him.”


The Right Stuff of Greatness

Williams and Yankees second baseman Jerry Coleman were among a handful of baseball players who served in both World War II and the Korean War.

McCarthy said that historic gap makes any comparison between Ortiz and Williams nearly impossible. “Two completely different eras. How do you compete with a generation that went to war? It’s tough. One of them was brought up in a really unique time in this country when there was a world war. He, along with so many others like Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller, lost prime years of their career when World War II started. That’s the stuff legends are made of country-wide, not just in sports.”

Williams enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve’s aviation program on May 22, 1942, after, Edes noted, he was given a draft exemption—3-A as the sole support of his mother. It was later changed to 1-A, but Williams appealed and had it reversed to 3-A. That stirred a public uproar. Williams spent his service time in World War II stateside training naval pilots, including the aforementioned George H.W. Bush.

Williams fiercely resisted being sent back into active duty with the Marines in Korea. His 39-0 record as a Marine Corps pilot remains the most durable mark in Boston sports history. He flew 39 ground-attack combat missions during the Korean War as a U.S. Marine Corps pilot in his F9F Grumman Panther. He and his squadron mates risked life, death and capture at the hands of the Chinese and/or North Koreans 39 times. He returned safely, if not always fully intact, all 39 times. Captain Williams’ plane crash-landed on his initial mission in 1953 after being hit by ground fire.

“Williams’ military service did not impact evaluations of him as a player, but of course enhanced his image as a larger-than-life figure, a Duke Wayne in flannels,” Edes wrote.

Ortiz enhanced his image as a larger-than-life figure with his succinct speech and “F-bomb” at Fenway Park on April 20, 2013. It was the first Red Sox home game following the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt that shut down the city and several surrounding suburbs.

“This is our f–king city. And nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong,” Ortiz said.

Claudia Williams said her father would have approved of what Ortiz did and would have offered similar sentiments toward those who had bombed Boston had he been given the same opportunity. “I’ll take the Fifth,” she said when asked if Ted Williams would have used the same language.

She does have one issue with Big Papi. “The only think I spank Ortiz on is him saying that Dad’s home run (a 502-foot blast at Fenway Park in 1946 now marked by a red seat 37 rows up in right-field bleachers) didn’t go as far as it did. I bet you anything my Dad did that.”

When asked about it in 2015 by the Boston Globe, Ortiz said with some laughter: “The red seat? Cough — bull — cough … I went up there and sat there one time. That’s far, brother.”

Ortiz’s torrid start has kept fans, players and media types asking if he will actually walk away after this season. But Ortiz told WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford on May 20 he is “100 percent sure” 2016 will be the final year of his career. 

When it came time for Williams to retire, McCarthy said Williams told him the decision was easy. “I asked him one night how difficult it was for him to take off the Red Sox uniform for the final time. His answer was simple. ‘I’ve had enough, I was ready to do something else. I’m glad I got out when I got out. It was enough.'”

By the way, Williams homered in his final at-bat.

One more challenge for Ortiz.   


Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist who covers baseball for Bleacher Report. He met Ted Williams when he was 14 and still has the autographed ball to prove it. He tweets at @BillSperos and @RealOBF

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David Price Right at Home with Boston Red Sox Thanks in Large Part to Big Papi

FORT MYERS, Fla. — David Price will be the third Opening Day starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in the past three seasons Tuesday in Cleveland.

Boston hopes Price will be the man for that job for the next seven years, and his biggest fan on the 2016 team may be one of his biggest former enemies, David Ortiz.

It turns out Ortiz also gave his blessing when the Red Sox asked him about pursuing the dominant lefty as a free agent. But the two new teammates once enjoyed a public and mutual professional scorn.

Their open acrimony surfaced during the 2013 American League Division Series. It intensified in May 2014, when Price plunked the Red Sox DH during their first matchup of the season.

Ortiz referred to their hostilities as “war” and called Price “a little b—h.” Price objected and said Ortiz “looks like he’s bigger than the game of baseball.”

That was then.

This is now.

Millions witnessed images of their bromantic clubhouse hug on Feb. 22, posted by the Red Sox on social media.

“With the hug, there was media everywhere. I mean, he wasn’t going to punch me or act mad,” said Price, who admitted he had been nervous about meeting Ortiz as a teammate.

But few outside of Price and Ortiz saw what truly made him feel like he was a friend and teammate of Ortiz, and by extension, a bona fide member of the Red Sox.

It was an unexpected but welcome text message.

“The biggest thing, and this is the first time I’ve said it, was probably a week or two after that hug. We had a day game. I’m home. It’s probably nine o’clock at night. David just sends me a text,” Price told Bleacher Report in an exclusive clubhouse interview.

“He’s asking me: ‘How are things going? Is there anything [I] can do to make it better?’ He wanted to know if there was anything he could do to make this process go more smoothly. That text he sent me that night, while he’s at home with the family. To do that, it was special.”

For Ortiz, the text message was a natural extension of him being the team’s in-house leader and a star in the final year of his career with dreams of one more World Series.

“There’s no way you can win by yourself. I can’t pitch. I have no clue about pitching,” Ortiz acknowledged with a laugh. “David is our ace. I want him to do well. I want him to feel comfortable.”

“I know how everything works around here. I wanted to make sure everything was going well with him at the time. And if there’s anything he would like to know, when it comes down to putting up with the media and the stuff around here, I wanted him to feel open to call me and ask me any type of questions. I’m wide open for it. I want him to be peaceful.”

As Big Papi knows all too well, finding that peace in a city like Boston is a different story.

“He’s a quiet guy. He’s not a guy who likes the attention much. Playing here, there’s no way you can stay away from it. So I wanted him to know that if he ever had any questions or problems, he could hit me up.”

Ortiz hasn’t been simply reacting to Price’s arrival with hugs and text messages during spring training; he was helping to facilitate his acquisition in the offseason.

“When you add someone like David to your starting rotation, you’re going to add a lot of W’s. The [Red Sox] organization let me know they were chasing him,” Ortiz said.

“They asked me, and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, oh yeah, we need him.’ You saw how bad we struggled with pitching last year. And you know that making a move to sign a guy like Price is not an easy move to make. There’s a lot of money involved. Once something like that happens, you already know that you’re going to have an ace.”

Ortiz reassured what was once a “war” in 2014 is now nothing more than a one-off moment of the past.

“That incident happened between me and David one time. But I did my homework. I asked around about David. Everybody loves him. We got to know each other. He’s a super nice guy. You see everything he does. You look at his Twitter account. There’s no way you can have any issues with that guy.”

With Ortiz’s support both in the clubhouse and at the plate, all the 6’5″ Price must do now is justify his $217 million contract—the largest ever given to a pitcher.

Price was MLB‘s premier free-agent pitcher this offseason, going 18-5 with an AL-best 2.45 ERA in 220.1 innings for Detroit and Toronto in 2015. In December, he signed with Boston through 2022, though the deal includes an opt-out clause after the 2018 season.

The citizenry of Red Sox Nation watched the so-called “five aces” of Boston’s 2015 rotation transform into a house of cards last summer. Boston’s mudslide in the standings was triggered in large part by a mysterious elbow injury to Clay Buchholz that ended his season on July 10.

No one on the Red Sox payroll questions Price’s role as the team’s “ace” this season.

“Everything has been as advertised,” manager John Farrell said of Price. “He’s shown his leadership qualities and personality in the clubhouse. [At times this spring], his command was almost midseason form, as well as he was following the glove around the strike zone.”

“His willingness to take some young left-handed starters under his wing—Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens particularly—to impart some of his experiences on them. David Price has been everything we have hoped for to date. David has been a very good presence in our clubhouse and a very good teammate.”

Dave Dombrowski, Boston’s president of baseball operations, acquired Price when he was the general manager in Detroit. Dombrowski knew the opportunity to bring him to Boston could not be missed, despite the historic price tag.

“He brings to your rotation and your club a big presence as the No. 1 guy. And he is legitimately that. No. 1 starters are not easy to find. He also brings the intangible aspects. The worth ethic. The leadership. He’s really the whole package. To have someone like that in the organization is a real plus.”

Price is also aware of any bullpen’s limitations, even with Boston’s addition of closer Craig Kimbrel and setup man Carson Smith (currently on the disabled list).

“I expect to go nine and get 27 outs every time I step on that mound,” he said. “I take a lot of pride to give those relievers that day off. I’d rather go eight and give up one run, than go six and give up none.”

One of Price’s former proteges, Toronto pitcher Marcus Stroman, said he’s “given about 30 million interviews” on Price this spring. But he is still quick to laud Price as both a huge role model and mentor.

“I try to take down how he went about his business on and off the field, and how he treated everyone. He’s a true leader. A true ace. I was just lucky to play with him as long as I did. He’s a friend that I’ll have forever.”

And Price is still dispensing advice to one-time Rays teammate Chris Archer.

Boston has seen many of its recent splurges in free agency backfire. Look no further than $90 million signing and current bench player Pablo Sandoval.

But Price is far more prepared for the best and worst of what Boston can offer, according to Dombrowski.

“If you’re going to invest those type of dollars, you want that player to bring everything to the table. I had the pleasure and fortune of being with him in Detroit. I thought he’d be able to handle the Boston spotlight. He can handle it. And he has no difficulty with the communications and intellectual aspect of it.”

So what is the difference between the David Price who closed out Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS against the Red Sox and the David Price now carrying the hopes of a beleaguered Boston fanbase?

After all, it’s been 14 whole months since the city’s last duck boat parade.

“I had two pitches then, a straight fastball and a slider. I didn’t have the fastball command that I needed. My velocity allowed me to get away with a few more mistakes. I threw a good amount of sliders that night. That was my best pitch coming out of college,” Price said.

“I probably threw two changeups in college [Vanderbilt], and maybe five before I got to the big leagues. I realized very quickly that it doesn’t matter how hard you throw at this level. You have to be able to locate and change speeds. I take pride in being able to make adjustments on the fly.”

Price began developing a changeup in 2009, and he picked up the one he uses today back in 2011 courtesy of then-teammate James Shields.

“It’s a feel pitch, but you have to have trust in it,” Price said. “You’ve got to throw it. You’ve got to take it to the game. I don’t care how good it is in the bullpen; you’re not going to have confidence in that pitch unless you go and throw it in a game.

“Where you get that first swing and miss, or that first ball off the end of the bat for a ground ball, that’s going to give you confidence to throw that first pitch in a big situation.”

Ortiz carries a .250 average with nine strikeouts and just two of his 503 career home runs in 54 plate appearances against Price. He cites Price’s “experience” as the biggest factor in his evolution as a pitcher.

“Here’s a guy with the same stuff. More experience. That’s dangerous,” Ortiz said. “Before, he would try to overpower [you]. Now, he uses his power when he wants. He can throw the ball wherever he wants.”

“You don’t need nothing else. You can be powerful and have three different pitches, but if you don’t throw the ball where you want it, that gets you in trouble. Now, he’s got both power and super-extraordinary control.”

Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia is fifth among active players with 58 at-bats (.276/.358/.431) against Price. None of those 58 were ever easy.

“Whenever you face him, you’ve got your hands full. He’s the kind of guy who will take the ball in a big game. He’s going to be extremely important to us.”

Price has pitched for three AL East champions and is 49-21 against division foes with a 3.15 ERA. He’s been even more effective in Fenway Park, going 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 11 career regular-season starts.

This familiarity with division and league opponents breeds both contempt and, eventually, respect. Big Papi may be the well-known feud, but this isn’t the first time Price has turned an enemy into a friend.

“I couldn’t stand Ian Kinsler. I told him that,” Price said. “Then I got to play with him [in Detroit]. Now, Ian’s in my top five of guys I’ve played with and enjoyed being around. Ian’s a really good dude.”

Ortiz has experienced the same change of heart many times before.

“When you haven’t played with someone, in between those two lines, they don’t have to look nice for me. They’re trying to get their job done. A lot of players judge other players on what they see without knowing the guy,” he said.

“I don’t like him for his body language, or whatever he does out there, but once I was in the room with him all the time, and I got to know the guy. I see the intensity in the guy. How he goes about his business. And then, boom, then you get to know the guy.”

Price also knows Boston and his contract will inevitably send a social media barrage his way, but he has scaled back on his interaction of late.

“One third of it’s going to be positive. One third of it will be negative and one third will be about fantasy baseball,” he said. “I don’t read a whole lot of tweets. I’ve gotten a lot more lately and a lot of the decisions I’ve made lately have gotten some people mad. But that’s part of it.”

Jared Carrabis, a Red Sox fan-turned-blogger for the past 10 years, was once an ardent “Twitter troll” of Price. Later, his digital courtship of Price earned Carrabis an infamous “bunk beds” mention during Price’s introductory press conference in Boston.

Carrabis’ reaction to Price coming to Boston was typical among diehard Red Sox fans.

“It felt like a concussion grenade went off when I saw the tweet. I remember my brain actually going numb and hearing that ringing sound in my ears that you get after leaving a concert. I think that was what it feels like to literally have your mind blown,” Carrabis said.

Price hopes to continue converting past haters by winning a World Series in Boston, or seven. He is resolute about ending his “winless as a starter in the postseason” drought this October. His regular season was delayed for a day by bad weather as Monday’s scheduled opener was postponed. 

“I know good things are going to come to me in October baseball. It just hasn’t happened…yet. I’ve thrown the ball well in some games. You’ve got to have some of those hard-hit balls at people. The balls you execute, and there’s weak contact, you’ve got to have that play made and not for that ball to fall into no-man’s land, or to be hit in just the right spot.”

“My time is coming. Is it frustrating? Absolutely. Winning in the playoffs is something I want to do. It’s something I’m capable of doing. Hopefully, this year, we can get going and start a streak on the right side.”

And Ortiz and the rest of Price’s new Red Sox teammates will be there to watch his back.


All quotes were obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report unless otherwise specified.

Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist who first covered the Red Sox in 1987. He Tweets at @RealOBF and @BillSperos.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Allen Craig, Former St. Louis Cardinal, Has No Clear Role for Boston Red Sox

The St. Louis Cardinals made their biggest roster move in 2014 when they sent Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to Boston in exchange for Corey Littrell and John Lackey. It was a move that fans questioned, both logically and emotionally.

Craig and Kelly were fan favorites in St. Louis. Kelly was loved for his antics, Craig simply for his ability. In 2012 and 2013, Craig was one of the most prolific run producers in St. Louis. Slowed by an injury sustained in late 2013, Craig simply did not regain his form in 2014.

His lack of production led to his trade to Boston. Shortly after arriving, he found his way back to the disabled list. By the time the season came to a close, Craig had only played in 29 games for Boston, posting a paltry .128 batting average and driving in two runs. 

The Red Sox went into the offseason looking to revamp their lackluster offense. They spent $183 million on free agents Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez will make the move to the outfield and assume the starting left field position. Sandoval will become the new third baseman, a position that manager John Farrell had reportedly told Craig to prepare to play.

Craig has spent time primarily in the outfield and at first base in the major leagues. He played a total of 198 games at third base between 2007 and 2008 in the minor leagues. He has also played a few games here and there at second base during his career. His versatility makes him a valuable commodity. 

If he is producing offensively, he is worth that much more. It seems the only thing keeping him from doing so is his health, a problem he insists is no longer a concern, according to Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald.

I can’t reiterate enough that I feel really good physically,” Craig said, via Lauber.

A healthy Craig is a good thing for a team that has a place for him to play. Boston doesn’t seem to be that place.

With Sandoval at third, Mike Napoli at first and Dustin Pedroia at second, the infield is well covered. The outfield—consisting of youngster Mookie Betts, veteran Shane Victorino and the aforementioned Ramirez—seems fairly well set as well. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Daniel Nava will be challenging for time in the crowded outfield as well.

Indeed, the Boston Red Sox have one of the game’s best hitters and nothing to do with him. It is a similar situation that led to his departure from St. Louis, as the Cardinals didn’t have a clear fit for Craig, either. 

The Red Sox may very well use spring training as an audition ground for Craig to show his health and ability to other teams that may have an interest. His back-loaded contract, which will pay him $5.5 million this year but escalate to $9 million and $11 million over 2016 and 2017, makes him an expensive bench option. 

Alternatively, the Red Sox could use Craig in a super-sub role this season, the final one on Napoli‘s contract. If he starts to hit the way he claims he can, he could take over at first if the Red Sox elect to not bring Napoli back. It’s a long shot, but it may be the best option over all.

Craig may very well be a productive hitter for the future of a franchise. A player with his abilities tends to find a home in a lineup pretty quickly.

It’s not often that a player who can have that level of impact follows a similar path that Craig will have to.


Transaction and salary in this article courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Bill Ivie is the founder of I-70 BaseballFollow him on Twitter to discuss baseball anytime.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Biggest Winners and Losers from Dodgers Offseason

There’s less than three months remaining until Opening Day, and the Los Angeles Dodgers look decidedly different than they did at the beginning of the offseason.

For starters, the front office was stripped down and replaced with a new regime headed by president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi.

The metrics-minded duo wasted little time revamping the roster, trading away several popular players in an effort to improve the team in less noticeable ways while saving money and replenishing the farm system.

Los Angeles also saw other players walk away, either for a lucrative deal elsewhere in free agency or simply because they were no longer wanted.

It has been one of the busiest winters for the Dodgers in recent years, and there’s still time for more moves to be made before the regular season begins. For now, though, here are the winners and losers from the first three months of the team’s offseason.

Begin Slideshow

3 Reasons the Boston Red Sox Can Be Big September Spoilers

The Boston Red Sox‘s hopes for a return to October baseball may be long dashed by now, but they can still throw their weight around when it comes to affecting the eventual outcome of the American League playoff picture.

Playing the role of a spoiler is not exactly a lofty goal for teams like the Red Sox, who always have high expectations. At this point, Boston’s priority should be the development of younger players on the roster as well as identifying the team’s most pressing needs for the 2015 MLB season. 

But Boston’s ability to finish strong in 2014 could prove vital in determining which AL east rival takes the division crown. The Red Sox’s play might also affect other teams’ chances around the majors.

Getting hot at the end of the year can be huge for any team regardless of the standings. Even if you are in the cellar—where the 56-71 Red Sox dwell—nobody wants to play you when you are riding a hot streak.

Boston can hope for this as the final month of the regular season draws near.

Let’s take a look at three specific reasons why the Red Sox can be big-time spoilers in the month of September. Many of Boston’s final matchups come against division rivals, so it will be interesting to see how the homestretch of the AL East plays out with the Red Sox being a significant factor. 


The Schedule

Nineteen of Boston’s final 26 games are against teams within the division. Only three of these are against the 62-65 Tampa Bay Rays—nine games out in the division and seven back in the Wild Card race—meaning the Red Sox’s matchups against the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and division-leading Baltimore Orioles are significant.

Baltimore has a stranglehold on the division—nine games up over both New York and Toronto, who are both tied for second place.

The Red Sox play the Orioles six times during September—three games at home and away, respectively. Baltimore is 7-6 against Boston this year.

It may be too much of a challenge to thwart the Orioles’ hold on the division alone, but if Baltimore enters any type of slump at the end of the season, these six games could be a factor.

But the Red Sox’s best chance of playing the spoiler role within the division will likely come down to how they fair against the Yankees and Blue Jays. Toronto plays three games at Fenway Park during the month of September and New York has six, with its final three of the season in Boston.

Facing a nine-game deficit in the division, both the Blue Jays and Yankees are likely vying for one of the two Wild Card spots in the American League. Boston is 5-8 and 3-10 this season against New York and Toronto, respectively.

Outside of the division, the Red Sox have the chance to upset the playoff hopes of the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates. Boston will play Kansas City four times and Pittsburgh thrice in the midst of a 10-game road trip.

The Red Sox lead the season series against the Royals 3-0. 


The Pitching

If the phrase “pitching wins championships” is true, then good pitching from a spoiler can also ruin a contender’s chances for a championship as well.

We know the complete overhaul Boston’s pitching staff underwent at the July 31 trade deadline. After the flurry of deals, the Red Sox’s rotation looks nothing like what it did on Opening Day.

Let’s not go so far as to say Boston’s rotation is elite. Far from it. 

But there are a number of reasons to be hopeful for the team’s current crop of arms in the waning days of the 2014 season.

Boston’s pitching staff has a 3.81 ERA over its past 12 games. The bullpen, such a strength last year, has posted a respectable 3.27 ERA this season.

The problem of late has been the offense. During that same 12-game span, Red Sox hitters are batting just .224, averaging 3.83 runs scored per game. Boston needs a little more offensive thump to improve that differential. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Back on the mound…

Let’s make a case study out of the Red Sox’s deadline acquisition of Joe Kelly. 

Kelly is 0-1 with a 5.29 ERA and 1.647 WHIP with Boston over three starts since the trade. Those numbers don’t look particularly inspiring, but it is a small sample size.

If we take away Kelly’s ugly August 17 loss to the Houston Astros, in which he allowed seven earned runs over 4.0 innings, Kelly’s team ERA falls to 2.08—clearly a much more favorable number.

Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe summarized Kelly’s impact over his first two games with Boston:

He’s now put together two very good starts since being traded from St. Louis along with Allen Craig for John Lackey, who has had one good outing and one bad outing for the Cardinals. Kelly is 26, while Lackey is 35. The Red Sox would rather have a pitcher throwing 94-96 miles per hour under their control until 2019 rather than deal with Lackey’s whining over a minimum salary contract and the fact that they would have to extend him to keep him happy.

Having Kelly under contract does provide some incentive. He’ll look to solidify his spot in the rotation for next year, and a positive showing down the stretch will undeniably help him with that.

Oh, and it may affect teams the Red Sox face as well.

Let’s bring our attention back to the rest of the rotation for a moment. 

Aside from Kelly, the Red Sox have Clay Buchholz, Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman and Allen Webster starting. All four of these starters have something to prove for next year.

For Buchholz, it is the chance to show that his 5.94 ERA this season was merely a fluke. He wants to remain a part of the Red Sox’s rotation in spite of trade rumors that have been circulating.

Buchholz still feels he can shine, per Tom Layman of The Boston Herald, and he will have just over a month to prove it.

The rest of the rotation has something to prove as well. It is impossible to guarantee spots for De La Rosa, Workman or Webster next season given the possibility of adding a free-agent starter during the offseason. Additionally, many of Boston’s fine young arms—like Henry Owens and Anthony Ranaudo—will be vying for consideration.

Cafardo writes:

The Red Sox currently have no starting pitcher 30 or older, though Clay Buchholz turns 30 Thursday. Buchholz and Kelly surely sit on the front end of that rotation at present as the Red Sox continue to look at their youngsters such as Anthony Ranaudo, Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, and Allen Webster with Henry Owens, Matt Barnes, and Brian Johnson still in the minors.

Motivation can be a valuable tool even for players on a spoiling team. There are roster spots up for grab in 2015 and that competition begins now.


Getting Healthy

Boston’s 2014 season has been one mired in injury and setbacks. This has unquestionably been a major factor in determining why the Red Sox have gone from World Series champions to last in the division.

We touched on the recent struggles of the Red Sox’s offense. A .224 team average over the past 12 games is pretty rough, but there are reasons why.

Injuries have again taken their toll on Boston’s offense. 

Designated hitter David Ortiz (soreness), first baseman Mike Napoli (back) and third baseman Will Middlebrooks (hamstring) have all recently missed time due to injury, per Chris Towers of CBS Sports. Allen Craig has spent most of his tenure with Boston on the disabled list, having landed there on August 1.

Deadline acquisition Yoenis Cespedes has also missed time due to a family issue.

Cespedes, Craig, Ortiz and Napoli provide much more thump to the Red Sox lineup. Unfortunately, this cast has seen relatively few chances to help the team since the deadline, so getting healthy will be paramount as the Red Sox’s offense looks to improve.

Let’s speculate that it does, however.

That combination, if healthy, should be able to increase Boston’s recent average of 3.83 runs scored per game. If the rotation can hold its own, this would imply the Red Sox would improve on their overall record provided the bullpen can maintain its relatively solid season thus far.

This matters when factoring in the upcoming matchups against contending teams like Baltimore, Kansas City, New York and Toronto.

The Red Sox don’t need to blow these teams out—though it would be helpful if they could—rather they simply need to gain the edge.

That edge will produce wins and potentially shake up the standings.



It all comes down to three factors: opportunity, good pitching and a healthy lineup—areas that have hindered the Red Sox for much of this season.

The opportunity to thwart opposing prospects for the postseason is there. We can thank the makers of the 2014 schedule for that.

Boston’s rotation has a lot to prove in the final month of the season. As mentioned, jobs are on the line. Additionally, fielding a fully healthy team may provide the necessary boost the offense needs down the stretch.

We can’t say that this will necessarily happen, but there are signs that it could.

At this point, those signs are all we can hope for.


All statistics are accurate as of August 21, 2014. Statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.  

Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Be sure to check out his entire archive on Red Sox news, insight and analysis.  

Follow @PeterMcShots on Twitter.


Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Stock Up, Stock Down for Boston Red Sox’s Top 10 Prospects for Week 19

Another week is in the books following the July 31 MLB trade deadline, and the Boston Red Sox have enjoyed a little more time to evaluate some of the young talent contained within the organization.

As the news of Boston’s recent blockbuster trades begins to settle down, we can shift our focus to the next possible cast of characters that may comprise a Red Sox roster in coming years.

There is a lot to be hopeful for. The Red Sox are stacked in terms of prospects, and many figure to be integral parts of Boston’s future.

In this slideshow, we take a detailed look at the Red Sox’s 10 best prospects—a list provided by SoxProspects.com. We shall evaluate how each prospect’s stock is rising, falling or staying put based on recent performances, accolades and other bits of relevant information.

Boston’s 2014 season may have been conceded, yet the future remains bright for this organization. Let’s dive a little deeper in assessing just how this franchise’s horizon looks.

Begin Slideshow

Breaking Down the 1 Trade Deadline Deal the Boston Red Sox Have to Make

The July 31 MLB trade deadline is less than two weeks away.

For the 43-52 Boston Red Sox, who are currently sitting in fourth place in the American League East—and 9.5 games back from the first-place Baltimore Orioles—the time has come for them to determine whether they’ll be on the buying or selling side of the trade fence come deadline day.

We could have a lengthy debate about which direction the Red Sox should go. 

A 9.5-game deficit within the division is daunting, even with over two months remaining in the season. But we have seen crazier things happen before, and bottom-dwelling teams can light up at the right moment.

Perhaps this is exactly what Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington is hoping for.

In a way, Boston hasn’t even decided about its future this season.

Manager John Farrell described this position further via Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe:

Time will tell. I’m not privy to every conversation Ben has. This is a busy time of year for the entire industry. So I’m sure there will be additional rumors continuing to grow, but until we know something concrete, our job is to maintain our focus on the field each and every day with the intent to win each and every night. … No one has given up anything. No one has conceded anything. But we also have been in the game long enough to know that over the next two weeks names are going to start getting bantered about.

This conundrum leaves Boston at the aforementioned crossroads.

What if there was a move, however, that would be beneficial to either direction? What if the Red Sox could execute a deal that would not hinder their chances of salvaging 2014, but would also serve as a bonus if Boston decides that its postseason prospects have waned?

There is such a deal—the kind that would make sense on either side of the fence.

In short, Boston needs to trade incumbent closer Koji Uehara.

Let’s get the numbers out of the way first. Uehara’s 2014 statistics aren’t indicative that his age is catching up with him.

Over the course of 42 games and 43.2 innings pitched, Uehara has posted a 1.65 ERA along with a 0.756 WHIP—and he’s 39 years old.

His strikeout-to-walk ratio is down slightly from last year—9.50 in comparison to 11.22—but all other signs point to Uehara being as effective as ever.

So why trade the most venerable member of the Red Sox bullpen?

First, there are contractual considerations—Uehara is set to become a free agent no matter how Boston’s season ends. Having signed a one-year contract for the 2013 season with an option for 2014 that vested last August, Boston will have to determine his future with the team sooner or later.

Given his age, it is hard to judge where Uehara sees himself a year from now, but the fact that he is still pitching effectively suggests that he will want to retain a prominent role next season.

The only real question is whether or not it will be with the Red Sox.

In 2014, their lineup of batters has gradually transformed from that of aging veterans toward a younger cast of characters, who should comprise the team for years to come.

Outfielder Mookie Betts and catcher Christian Vazquez are two examples of Boston’s young talent breaking into the big leagues.

Since the Red Sox also have a plethora of pitching prospects awaiting their eventual debuts, they should also consider applying this theory to the pitching staff in general.

Granted, finding an effective reliever to serve in Uehara’s stead would be tough. Few closers have equaled Uehara’s performance in his two seasons with the Red Sox.

There are those analysts—like ESPN’s David Schoenfield—that would argue the closer position is overrated. 

The point isn’t that a closer isn’t important; of course he is,” he writes. “The point is that a lot of guys can do that job—and that the job is extremely volatile.”

This isn’t to suggest that Uehara is overrated or that his contributions are no longer needed, but if one wants to strike a balance between a quick fix and a long-term solution, then dealing Uehara makes sense.

Contending teams are almost always looking for pitching help, and they become even more desperate as the trade deadline approaches. Adding serviceable relievers can often be the difference between success and failure in the playoffs.

And how many postseason games are decided in the later innings? This author has seen more than a few.

Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles (h/t Ben Shapiro of MassLive.com) pointed out a possible buyer in the relief-pitching market via Twitter, suggesting that the Los Angeles Dodgers might be pursuing added bullpen help—namely former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. 

But Papelbon has a year remaining on his four-year, $50 million contract—with an option for 2016. While the cash-laden Dodgers have little concern over the price tag, a considerably cheaper move for Uehara seems much easier to pull off. 

The trade package would also appear more amenable from both parties’ standpoints.

As only a matter of speculation, a possible trade-chip commodity is Dodgers’ outfield prospect Joc Pederson.

With a loaded outfield consisting of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig, Pederson’s chances of making the Dodgers’ big league roster appear distant.

In an article on ESPN.com back in November, Saxon pointed out this dilemma even after listing Pederson as the No. 2 prospect in the Dodgers’ farm system.

The Red Sox need outfield help—we know that all too well. Los Angeles has an overload of outfielders, and they want relief pitching, according to Saxon.

This sounds like a plausible trade opportunity. Of course, Boston could be enticed by a possible exchange for veteran outfielder Ethier, who is another rumored target, according to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe (h/t Marc Normandin of SB Nation).

But why not go after a younger player with incredible upside?

Ethier is 32 years old, and his numbers have fallen considerably from the All-Star caliber stats he posted in 2010 and 2011.

The Dodgers, however, aren’t the lone entity when it comes to a potential trade partner. Other teams certainly come to mind when discussing the acquisition of relief help.

The Detroit Tigers are another contender with bullpen needs; Chris Iott of MLive.com suggests the Tigers will be aggressive when it comes to upgrading this component.

We might as well add Uehara to that discussion as well.

Additionally, teams like the St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Angels are other teams that could possibly be in the same boat.

Any plausible transaction like this begs two questions—will it actually happen and, if so, who will take over the closer’s job in Boston?

Let’s address the second question first.

Lefty Andrew Miller would be the best option to fill the void, in this author’s opinion. He has been as serviceable a reliever as the Red Sox could have hoped for over the past two-plus seasons. Both righties and lefties are batting under .200 against him this year.

Miller is a pending free agent, and the Red Sox would like to keep him into 2015, per Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe. Miller’s current contract is worth a little over $1.9 million, making him a much cheaper commodity than Uehara.

Why not preview what an increased role would do for Miller’s future in Boston?

The bigger question, of course, is whether or not the Red Sox would actually execute this idea. One could make the argument either way.

Cafardo reasons that Boston would like to retain Uehara for just one more season, based on the fact that Uehara has shown no signs of slowing down. Cafardo also points out the obvious—Uehara’s age alone could thwart a potential transaction, and the Red Sox would not be likely to get much in return.

We also know too well that teams get desperate as the playoffs draw closer. Exchanging highly touted prospects for two-month rentals is nothing new.

Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston shares this perspective—he suggests the Red Sox should trade Uehara if they can get something of value in return.

Edes’ statement is essentially our conclusion.

Boston won’t trade Uehara for some mid-range prospect or major league platoon player. The deal would have to be lucrative enough to convince Cherington that it’s the right one to be had.

As we have stated numerous times, however, teams in need of bullpen help at the deadline can be too aggressive—sometimes even overpaying for the talent they want.

From the Red Sox’s perspective, dealing Uehara would not mean conceding the 2014 season: As mentioned, Boston has bullpen options. More importantly, any upside addition to Boston’s beleaguered outfield would be nothing short of a bonus.

In addition, the Red Sox could secure at least something for Uehara if they decide that retaining him for 2015 is no longer worthwhile.

This is more speculation, of course. Trades can be a tricky thing to evaluate. While it is nice to play fantasy GM and swap excess components for the best players out there, the reality is that both teams involved need to come to a mutual agreement.

The complex nature of such agreements is nearly impossible to ascertain, which is why so many trade rumors never materialize.

Still, the Red Sox would be wise to shop Uehara. Given the fragile nature of the closer role, combined with Uehara’s age and contract status, we can deduce that the six-year veteran is not a part of Boston’s long-term plans.

From that vantage point, why not try to get something in return?


All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com—and contractual information via Cot’s Baseball Contractsunless otherwise indicated.

Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report covering the Boston Red Sox. Be sure to check out his entire archive for Red Sox news, insight and analysis. Follow him on Twitter @PeterMcShots.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Final Predictions for Winner of Boston Red Sox’s Key Spring Position Battles

Spring training is coming to a close and position battles are to be won or lost.

With the 2014 MLB season nearly upon us, the Boston Red Sox find themselves in an enviable position of defending their third World Series title in the last 10 years.

A number of familiar faces will carry over from last season into this year. Expected to start are guys like Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Xander Bogaerts.

Yet after a trying offseason, there also remain a number of position battles and questions remaining to be answered.

In this article, we shall take a closer look at these remaining issues and offer up predictions based on current and relevant information.

Who will start for the Red Sox in center field in 2014? Will it be oft-injured offseason pickup Grady Sizemore, or will it be a prematurely debuted Jackie Bradley Jr.?

Which player will manager John Farrell insert into Boston’s leadoff spot in the lineup? Could it be the veteran Shane Victorino, or perhaps a combination of Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes?

These questions and more will be at the heart of this evaluation. After all, the Red Sox are defending a World Series title within one of the toughest divisions in baseball—the American League East.

To do this, they will have to put the best product out on the field, so lets examine how this will happen. 


The Starting Rotation

Out of all the question marks surrounding the Red Sox’s plans entering 2014, the starting rotation is probably the least up for debate.

Yet as far as pitching goes, it is perhaps the most important.

We should all know at this point that pitching wins championships. Look no further than last year as a prime example.

We should also bank upon Boston’s No. 1 ace Jon Lester to start off coach John Farrell’s five-man rotation this season. I doubt there would be any questions surrounding that.

It’s the remaining pitchers behind Lester that are up for debate, although Farrell’s intentions have been made available.

The Red Sox rotation plans, per Ricky Doyle of NESN.com, start with Lester, followed by John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy and Clay Buchholz.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the planned rotation is the slating of Buchholz as Boston’s No. 5 starter. But further evaluation gives some reason behind Farrell’s rationale.

When healthy, Buchholz has ace-like stuff, but Buchholz struggles to stay on the field. Over his seven-year career, Buchholz has appeared in 20 or more games only twice. Needless to say, injuries are always a concern with the talented righty.

Placing Buchholz at the back end of the rotation allows the Red Sox some flexibility if, and when, Buchholz succumbs to another injury in 2014. Buchholz‘s rotational replacements—most likely Brandon Workman or offseason pickup Chris Capuano—should take over the slot in the event of an injury.

At the back end of the rotation these pitchers would have much less pressure put upon them. Additionally, if Buchholz remains healthy, Farrell would have the option of skipping a Buchholz start on off days in order to give him added rest—an option that is much more feasible at the back end of the rotation.

Prediction: We are going to go with Farrell’s preseason rotation here. It should be Lester, Lackey, Doubront, Peavy and Buchholz, as stated.


Left Field

Perhaps this isn’t as much of a position battle as it is a determination of which player gets more playing time.

In left field, the Red Sox will once again look to platoon Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes, much like they did in 2013.

Nava has traditionally hit better against right-handed pitching, owning a career .292 batting average against righties.

On the other side, Gomes is much more effective against lefties, having posted a career .277 batting average facing left-handed pitching.

Mike Carp also figures to get some playing time as the Red Sox’s No. 5 outfielder.

Farrell summarized how well this platoon worked last year and stated his expectation about what may carry over in 2014, via Jason Mastrodonato of MLB.com last November:

I know you can make the argument that [Gomes] performed better against righties this year than in years past, but when you look at the combination of what he and Nava did in left field, I want to say it was about 110 RBIs, it was close to 30 home runs, it was over 50 doubles.  I think that combination was extremely productive.  Depending on what the entire roster looks like when we get to Spring Training, that will have a lot to do with the workload of every guy on this team.  The one thing that we are sure of is that Gomes did exactly what we hoped for him to do when he came here.

On paper, it would be easy to assume that Nava should see the majority of time in left given the fact that most pitchers are right-handed. But Nava‘s production fell off a bit towards the end of last year, which gave Gomes more playing time down the stretch.

Dan Shaughnessy and Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe discussed the possibility of this happening again.

It could be a situation where Farrell continues with what works best in righty-lefty matchups this season while giving consideration to which player is riding a hot streak.

But for the sake of the position battle at hand, we shall go with what worked for the majority of last season.

Prediction: Nava is the favorite to get the majority of starts in left field followed by Gomes and Carp, respectively.


Batting Leadoff

Losing Jacoby Ellsbury to the New York Yankees via free agency hurts this lineup in a number of ways.

No matter how one slices it, it is going to be hard to replicate Ellsbury‘s production at the top of the order. His on-base potential combined with his blazing speed was a catalyst to Boston’s dynamic offense last season, ranked second in the majors with 0.64 first-inning runs per game.

So who will the Red Sox tab to fill Ellsbury‘s stead in 2014?

An initial prediction should narrow down Boston’s choices to Victorino and Nava. The Gomes-Nava platoon obviously has some influence here, but it is unlikely Farrell tabs Gomes as a leadoff guy considering he has only 14 career leadoff plate appearances over his career.

Bradley is not far along enough in his development to be asked to assume the role, if he even earns the starting center field job.  

More on Bradley later.

If Sizemore winds up making the 25-man roster he would be a plausible option, but I figure Farrell would guard him closely and not want to put the pressure of batting leadoff upon him.

So it is down to Nava and Victorino at this point—something pointed out by Farrell at the winter meetings earlier this offseason (h/t Doyle of NESN.com):

A couple of guys quickly come to mind.  Obviously, it’s [Victorino] and it’s Nava.  Both guys hit in the leadoff spot sparingly this past year.  We’re not going to replace 50-something stolen bases by Jacoby, so I think the biggest thing is who’s our best on-base percentage guy, to keep that individual in front of [Dustin Pedroia], David [Ortiz] and [Mike Napoli].  Those are the two guys that quickly come to mind right now.

Starting with Nava first, let us evaluate his splits. He owns a career .252 batting average in the leadoff slot with a .343 on-base percentage—decent numbers, but not necessarily awe-inspiring.

Nava is also 3-for-31 in 35 game-opening plate appearances, per Doyle.

These numbers, combined with the fact that Victorino has far more experience leading off, lend credence to placing Victorino in that spot—a decision Doyle also argues against.

While Victorino does have substantially more at-bats in the leadoff position—1,010 plate appearances to be exact—his career .249 batting average and .317 on-base percentage are not exactly promising.

Even with these numbers, the position battle has to be leaning more toward Victorino given his experience and recent statistics in a Red Sox uniform. Andrew Martin of Yahoo! Sports points this out by writing:

[Victorino] also has the speed desired at the top of the order, with his 21 stolen bases in 2013 being the most of any player returning from last season.  If he does win the role, he will bring experience with him, though not a ton of success, as he has hit .249 with a .317 OBP in 216 games while hitting leadoff in the past.  As things stand, the versatile veteran is probably the best bet to lead off for the Red Sox but until the regular season arrives, nothing is set in stone.

It certainly is not the most desirable situation for Farrell and the Red Sox to be in, but Doyle and Martin’s predictions are probably the best possibility for Boston’s lineup.

Prediction: Victorino earns the nod as the Red Sox’s leadoff hitter.




Starting Center Fielder

This is perhaps the most closely watched position battle the Red Sox have had this spring training.

In an ideal world, Ellsbury would have been signed for one more season, which would have given Bradley another year to continue his maturation and development.

But Ellsbury is gone and the pressure is now on one of Boston’s top prospects to take over the role in Ellsbury‘s wake.

The only question is whether he can handle the job yet.

Bradley’s 2013 MLB debut was anything but spectacular. Hitting a mere .189 in 95 at-bats revealed the young talent is not quite ready for life at the major league level. Combine that with his .200 batting average thus far into spring training, and one has to wonder if those struggles will continue into the 2014 season.

All of that is provided Bradley even makes the team.

During the offseason, the Red Sox added veteran outfielder Sizemore.  Once a perennial All-Star, the 31-year-old Sizemore has suffered a slew of setbacks and injuries that have thwarted what was once a promising and stellar career.

Oh, and Sizemore has not played at the major league level since 2011.

In comparison to Bradley, however, Sizemore has put together an impressive spring—batting .360 in 25 spring training at-bats.

On paper, the determination of which player receives the starting center field job is easy. Upon further evaluation, things get a little more difficult.

For starters, we should assume the Red Sox will carry over only five outfielders in 2014 on their 25-man roster. With Carp, Gomes, Nava and Victorino taking up the remaining slots, it is almost impossible to assume that Boston keeps both Bradley and Sizemore on their major league roster.

The dilemma is this: Sizemore is putting up far better numbers and would be a cheap and viable replacement, similar in mold to Ellsbury. The only problem is that Sizemore carries a huge injury risk.

Bradley would ideally be the best option, coming up from the Red Sox’s farm system and being a young talent without an injury reputation, but he is showing significant problems adjusting to the pitching at the major league level.

If one wanted to make the argument in favor of Bradley winning the starting job, it could be the one offered up by Peter Kerasotis of The New York Times, which states that in spite of his troubles, Bradley is getting plenty of playing time.

This indicates that the Red Sox are far from convinced that Bradley needs another season in the minors, even if that is the eventual route the team takes.

Yet Farrell has hinted that he could see a scenario where Bradley starts off the season at Boston’s AAA affiliate, while Sizemore gets the nod on Opening Day, per Mike Petraglia of WEEI.com.

“Yeah, I could envision that.” Farrell said.  “But we’d also want to maybe get some exposure with somebody else out there, too, just to take the look while we have the opportunity in spring training.”

The numbers don’t lie, and the longer Bradley’s struggles at the plate continue, the more likely Sizemore earns the job, even with injury concerns.

Prediction: Not wanting to carry six outfielders on the roster, the Red Sox place Bradley in the minors at the start of the 2014 season and give the starting job to Sizemore.


Predictions, being what they are, can never be viewed as a clear-cut indication of what is going to happen. One has to consider all the various factors and intangibles associated with the happenings in a major league season.

Injuries can play a factor; slumps can have effects as well. There are plenty of other obstacles and unforeseen circumstances that have a role.

The Red Sox are no different when it comes to determining the best-possible situation for their remaining position battles and questions as Opening Day approaches.

They also want to ensure enough flexibility to account for some of the problems that may arise over the course of the season.

While all of this is yet to be determined, the final roster spots on the Red Sox’s roster are taking shape.  

All we have to do is wait until Opening Day to determine what pans out.


All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.


Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox.  Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.


Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Breaking Down the Boston Red Sox 2014 Offseason Thus Far

Saying the Boston Red Sox have had a quiet offseason thus far into 2014 is an understatement.

To be frank, the Red Sox have not exactly been active in targeting some of the high-profile free agents who have been available during the offseason.

We do know some of the significant moves Boston’s general manager Ben Cherington has made thus far—re-signing first baseman Mike Napoli, bringing in some bullpen help, signing veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski and adding outfielder Grady Sizemore.

But when compared to some other teams’ transactions this offseason—like those of the New York Yankees—the Red Sox’s offseason plans certainly cannot be described as splashy.

The lack of action may also indicate to some, like The Boston Globe writer Christopher L. Gasper, that the Red Sox are doing too little this offseason.

So what can we make of all this?

As Boston’s chief rival enjoys an offseason full of additions, the Red Sox have been far less aggressive.  Is this a cause for concern?  Perhaps, but it may also be an indication that Cherington is happy with the product Boston will put on the field in 2014.

The Subtractions

Goodbye Jacoby Ellsbury.  Goodbye Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  Goodbye (most likely) Stephen Drew.

In hindsight, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Ellsbury would sign elsewhere after the 2013 season.  Eventually commanding a seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees, Ellsbury‘s departure to the team’s chief rival looks much like the transaction that befell Johnny Damon years before.

More on that rivalry later.

That was money Boston had no interest in spending.  It also goes against almost everything that Cherington has practiced with this team over recent seasons—short-term, higher-priced contracts that do not inhibit the Red Sox’s abilities to make future moves.

The same could be said of former Red Sox catcher Saltalamacchia, who joined the Miami Marlins on a three-year, $21 million contract.

The last of those key free agents, Drew, has yet to find a new home.  Indications are that Drew will not return to Boston, as pointed out by CSN New England Red Sox Insider Sean McAdam.

None of these were players Cherington was willing to sign to long-term deals.  As a result, they will move on.

So how can the Red Sox react?

First, one cannot overlook the in-house options Boston plans on utilizing in 2014. 

Chief among these is the emergence of infielder Xander Bogaerts, who is ranked as Boston’s No. 1 prospect, according to Baseball America.

Bogaerts, who hit .296 with a .893 OPS in the postseason last year, is the primary beneficiary of Drew’s pending departure. 

All signs point to Bogaerts being the real deal―perfectly capable of handling the reigns of being a starting shortstop.

This was described further by former Red Sox AAA manager Gary DiSarcina, who stated via Alex Speier of WEEI.com:

The one thing I really looked at with Xander was the ability to play the game in the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth innings defensively.  What I loved about him is he stayed calm in the field, he made the plays.  He’s a little unconventional—he’s a narrow-based infielder, he’s tall, he’s going to be a big kid, he’s still growing. He’s got a great arm, he’s got great hand-eye coordination.  I’m excited for Xander to have that resource around for all of spring training.  I think leave him out there until he plays himself off the position, and I see no indication of that.

There are few reasons to assume Boston will be worse off with Bogaerts moving forward.

Yet it is a little tougher to assume the same with the Red Sox’s future hopes in center field.  With Ellsbury gone, the job is Jackie Bradley Jr.’s to lose.

Ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the Red Sox organization by Baseball America, it is hard to assume Bradley will not play a vital role in Boston’s future for years to come.

Will that happen in 2014, however?

Early indications from Bradley’s limited 2013 campaign suggest that he may go through a period of adjustment at the big league level.  In 107 plate appearances last season, Bradley hit a mere .189 with a .617 OPS. 

Those numbers alone suggest Bradley has some tough days ahead of him.

What is promising, however, is that Bradley appears to have a very high ceiling—something that was pointed out by Jim Callis of MLB.com, via WEEI.com:

I think Jackie’s ceiling is pretty high.  I think he’s a potential Gold Glove center fielder.  I think he’s going to be a high on-base guy.  And I think he’s going to be a 10-15 home run guy.  I actually think, he’s not as fast as Jacoby Ellsbury, but I don’t think there’s really any question, I think he’s a better defender than Jacoby Ellsbury—and Jacoby’s pretty good.  I know this sounds crazy, and it’s not a lock, but I think he can be a better player than Jacoby Ellsbury in the long run.

It is clear that the Red Sox are staking their hopes on Bradley moving forward.  After all, what is the use of having top prospects if they are not utilized in a substantial role?

The only question is whether Bradley will be able to grasp the pressure of being a full-time center fielder in 2014.  There were some indications of struggle last year, and the possibility of him having more growing pains in 2014 is highly plausible.

Boston seems well aware of this and addressed the need for a veteran center fielder by signing Sizemore.  More on him shortly.

Also pertinent to the Red Sox’s plans for success in 2014 was the need for a backstop to replace Saltalamacchia behind the plate.


The Additions

With Salty gone, Cherington turned to Pierzynski to take over the starting job at catcher—signing him to a one-year, $8.25 million deal.

The deal makes sense in a variety of ways.  First, the Red Sox are indicating that top catching prospect Blake Swihart will not be ready for the majors in 2014.

Second, the one-year deal is typical of what Cherington likes to do—short contracts, even if the money spent, in terms of per-year average, is higher than long-term deals.  If Pierzynski works out (he owns a lifetime .283 batting average and .850 OPS), Boston will be the primary beneficiary.  If he does not work out, the one-year deal makes the transaction a little easier to swallow and gives Swihart another year to develop.

Lastly, any indication of Pierzynski’s clubhouse “issues” appear to be moot, as pointed out by Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes, via Ricky Doyle of NESN.com:

I’ve played against him a whole lot, and he’s a good dude.  He’s a champ.  His background’s well-documented.  I think he’s one of those guys, people talk about hating to play against him, but his teammates got his back all the time.  I think what’s kind of unique about how fast it happened is that this Red Sox clubhouse—Red Sox style of play—I think was stamped last year.  You can’t be a bad apple and come into this clubhouse.

It is hard to fathom Pierzynski’s negative reputation being a factor in 2014.

What should be a factor is the addition of two quality arms to Boston’s already venerable bullpen—Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica.

Badenhop owns a lifetime 3.98 ERA over six seasons but has been most effective the last two.  Opposing righties hit only .229 against him in 163 plate appearances last season.

Mujica is also a reliable commodity, having closed for the St. Louis Cardinals for a sizable portion of the 2013 season.

While bullpen arms rarely generate any significant buzz during an offseason, one cannot overlook the importance of having quality relievers.  After all, how many games can be won, or lost, in the late innings?

The addition of utility infielder Jonathan Herrera also gives Boston some added flexibility.

The last significant addition from Cherington came when he signed Sizemore to a one-year, $750,000 deal plus incentives. 

Earlier this month, I wrote a piece describing three things Boston needed to do this offseason.  One of them was finding an insurance policy for Bradley.

After signing Sizemore, the Red Sox appear to have accomplished this.

Yet Sizemore does not come without concerns.  Yes, there are those, like Nick Cafardo from The Boston Globe, who would argue that Sizemore was Ellsbury before Ellsbury was Ellsbury.

Still, one cannot overlook Sizemore’s injury problems.  He missed both 2012 and 2013 due to various ailments and is five seasons removed from his last full season without significant injury.

While he is a lifetime .269 hitter, questions surrounding his durability cannot be avoided.

But the Red Sox are likely not banking on him being the starting center fielder in 2014.  The only way for him to guarantee that role is if Bradley’s eventual struggles are far too compounded for Boston to overlook.

As such, look at Sizemore as an insurance policy and nothing more.


The Contrast

It is impossible to gauge the Red Sox’s offseason actions without taking a look at their chief rivals—the Yankees.

With New York having inked a plethora of star players, including Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann—along with landing Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka—one might easily speculate that the Yankees won the offseason battle of addition.

The Yankees are, once again, looking like the Yankees after spending plenty of cash and signing players to lengthy contracts.  They have the money and are using it.

Still, in the opinion of this author, New York’s starting rotation remains suspect after Tanaka—an unproven major league commodity—and CC Sabathia.

Pitching wins championships after all, and the Red Sox can boast plenty of that.

As far as the offense is concerned, the Red Sox look as though they are starting the phase of getting younger, which has been indicated by their apparent reliance upon young stars like Bogaerts and Bradley. 

Yes, they have brought in some older veterans, but these pieces should merely be viewed as supplementary and temporary.

While the Yankees appear to be reliant upon star-studded offense in 2014, the Red Sox will once again bank on Cherington‘s formula.  It paid off in 2013.


The Conclusion

Boston will still have plenty of questions moving forward into spring training and the 2014 regular season. 

Aside from talks of extending long-term contracts for players like Jon Lester—and more recently, those about David OrtizCherington‘s formula of short-term contracts appears to be paying off. 

There will be some drop-off in a number of areas, most notably from the Red Sox leadoff position.  Bradley and Bogaerts will likely go through some growing pains this season, and the production, so potent offensively last year, may be slightly hindered in 2014.

Still, it is impossible to overlook the fact that Boston has most of its chips in place for the upcoming season.  The starting rotation is set, and the bullpen has been reinforced.  Defensively, the Red Sox should remain solid. 

Say it again—pitching and defense win championships.

Boston’s offseason additions will not likely sell more jerseys or generate the same amount of hype that the Yankees have generated.

The moves were neither splashy, nor blockbuster.  They did not have to be.

It is a league where the biggest moves are not necessarily the best ones.  Cherington has proven that before and hopes to do so again.

All that remains is seeing how it all pans out.


All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.  Contractual information provided by Cot’s Baseball Contracts.


Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox.  Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Biggest Winners and Losers from Boston Red Sox’s Offseason

In the midst of a number of splashy moves made around the MLB, the Boston Red Sox have remained very quiet this offseason.

Following its 2013 World Series crown, Boston could have been in a dire situation heading into spring training 2014.  The team had its share of free agents, including Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Two have already departed, and another may do so soon.

The remaining free agent, Napoli, was one of the primary targets of the Red Sox this offseason. 

In the wake of these free-agent departures—and since we’re already this far into the offseason—Boston appears set to rely on its current roster with only a few minor additions from outside the organization.

Will that work?  Only time can tell.

While general manager Ben Cherington is likely happy with the team’s chances of defending its championship, the fact remains that the Red Sox will again be faced with a tough challenge as the rest of the division—and the American League for that matter—have made significant adjustments to overtake Boston’s reign.

In this article, let us take a look at the biggest winners and losers from the Red Sox’s offseason thus far.  Some guys got paid.  Others did not.  Boston is stronger in some areas while weaker in others.

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