November 2009

The Sizzling Stove

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When
the last pitch is thrown, and the last out is secured, most people believe that
baseball season is over. They sit in the darkness of their living rooms and
watch the rapturous celebration on the field, even if it isn’t their own team because they are savoring the last moments of the season. Normally I enjoy watching
teams getting their turn to celebrate, but this was obviously not the case this
year. I refused to watch the Yankees take their 27th championship. I
knew it was over as soon as Mariano Rivera was brought in. He is, without a doubt,
the greatest closer of all time, and I have no problem admitting that even as a
Red Sox fan. I try my best to be an objective and respectful baseball fan, but
I just couldn’t bear watching the Yankees celebrate because I just don’t do
self-torture.

Anyway,
I feel like most baseball fans turn off the television, sit there for a second,
and think to themselves: ‘Now what?’ We sink into the baseball fan’s proverbial lent. It may be a bit different than the traditional lent since we don’t willingly give up baseball, but it’s a sacrifice nonetheless. They might pick up another hobby, and let
baseball slowly slip into the back of their minds; we need something to distract something from the offseason blues. If not, we make sink into depression considering the lack of baseball becomes as dormant as the
winter, yet the interest always blooms just when the flowers start to, and
baseball season returns.

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That’s
not me. As soon as the postseason ended, another season began: the Hot Stove
season. Winter may be imminent, but baseball is certainly still the predominant
presence in my life. My hobbies? This blog, and incessantly refreshing every
Hot Stove source I can find. The leaves don’t fall off of my tree of baseball,
it is kept warm by my Hot Stove: the rumors that swirl around teams and
players, the drama that Scott Boras causes… I’m almost as anxious as I am
during the regular season.

There
certainly are some premier free agents out there this Hot Stove season (what is
this ‘offseason’ people keep speaking of?), but what keeps me up late at night
isn’t only my English homework, it’s how the Red Sox fit into this complicated
puzzle. There is a multitude of things that the Red Sox could do to improve
upon, even though they had a commendable 2009 season. I am briefly going to speculate
on each aspect of the team (starting pitching, relief, offense, defense) and
speculate on what we can improve upon, if any, and what to look for in the
future.

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Starting Pitching: At
the beginning of the 2009 season, the starting pitching rotation was considered
one of the Red Sox’s strongest assets, if not the strongest one. However,
Dice-K’s lack of proper preparation, the failure of Penny and Smoltz to pitch
effectively in the American League, Wakefield’s back woes, and Beckett’s
relative inconsistency combined to make a strong starting rotation on paper struggle throughout the course of the season. So what is there to improve
upon? We don’t need to be concerned about Jon Lester considering he was
phenomenal from May-September and we inked him to a six-year deal last season.
Josh Beckett, on the other hand, is not as secure: he is going into the final
year of his contract with the Red Sox. Beckett has had a nice tenure with the
Red Sox thus far, despite an ERA being near 4.00. His consistency seems to
fluctuate each year, but the fact remains: he is a very dominant pitcher. I
have heard rumors that the Red Sox are seeking a contract extension with him,
and I think that would be a wise move.

I
know that Dice-K had a sub-par, at best, 2009 season, but I think the Red Sox
Organization was very wise in the way they handled it. They paid big bucks for
this Japanese phenom, and I think their systematic approach this year was very
profitable. His 2009 season was short, not very cost-effective, but just
imagine how good he could be for the next two years. If his last few starts
were indicative in any way of how he may perform, then I think that there is a
lot to look forward to.

 Tim
Wakefield’s 2009 season was cut short due to persistent back woes. Nevertheless, the
first half of his season was so good that he was elected to his first All-Star
game. His surgery was quite successful, so I think that the Red Sox were very
wise to sign him to a two-year deal. Wakefield is a very durable guy, and his
knuckleball can be devastating (against every team except the Yankees, it
seems). Last but certainly not least, we have the absolutely fabulous, and much
improved, Clay Buchholz. Again, the Red Sox’s systematic approach with him was
seemingly flawless, and he had a much smoother transition into the Majors this
year. I am very proud to have called him my project, and he will be receiving
an award when they graduate (yes, I am implementing a graduating ceremony).

 That
right there is a pretty strong starting five without even changing anything.
2009 was a tough season for some of those guys, but I have faith that they can
bounce back. There is a lot that we can do externally. John Lackey is up for
grabs, perhaps we can pry King Felix from Seattle’s hands (a girl can dream,
right?), and Roy Halladay is in trade talks, as usual. The thing with trades is
that normally they include prospects, and I am very possessive of the
prospects. I think that if the Red Sox could sign John Lackey for a reasonable
price, that they should do it. I know, “DUH!” Every team would love John Lackey
because he would solidify any starting rotation. I am just concerned that if we were to sign Lackey, we may not be able to keep Beckett. 

There
have also been some serious rumors regarding Roy Halladay. If I had to choose
between Halladay and Felix Hernandez, I’d probably go with the latter because
he is a bit younger, but I wouldn’t complain about having Halladay! He’d
probably be even better to have than Lackey. Unfortunately, Halladay will not
come cheap. I’ve heard rumors regarding Clay Buchholz and Casey Kelly being
dangled. Much as I love these two guys, I do think this would be a mutually
beneficial trade. I may have dreams about what Clay can do in the future, but
having “Doc” in our rotation would be perfectly fine by me. The thing that
concerns me more is the status of Casey Kelly. Obviously, he is a huge key to
our future considering the fact that he could be a big shortstop or pitcher.
This would be the blockbuster trade of the offseason if this were to happen,
and as hard as it is to part with our hopes and dreams for the future, I think
Roy Halladay is a worthy investment.

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Relief:

I think that Boston’s bullpen was probably their strongest
asset during the 2009 season, for the most part. However, at times it was
simply atrocious; specifically, Manny Delcarmen’s meltdown during the second
half of the season. It was great to see projects like Daniel Bard come through,
I was so proud of him in so many ways. I knew he was something special the
moment I saw him in Spring Training. I was also very impressed with Ramon
Ramirez for the entire season, and overall, I wasn’t all that impressed with
Takashi Saito (despite his low ERA). And even though our last memory of
Jonathan Papelbon is of him destroying our lead, he still had a fabulous season
overall. Plus, every closer was terrible during the postseason (except for
Mariano Rivera). Picking up Billy Wagner ended up being an excellent move, and
it seems as though he would be willing to accept a lesser role as a set-up man
through arbitration. I would be glad to have him back. Like Wagner, Jose
Valverde is a Type-A free agent who posted the best ERA of his career with the
Astros this past season. He would certainly be worth looking at, but he is not
a necessary asset considering we have a lot of talent in the minors.

 I hope you guys
remember our September call-ups too. I really liked the way Fernando Cabrera
and Dustin Richardson looked. Cabrera is a free agent right now, and I think it
would be wise if the Red Sox signed him. Michael Bowden also did some relief
pitching, but I think he is more effective as a starter (he prefers it too). If
the Red Sox cannot work anything out with Halladay, Lackey or Hernandez, than
Bowden can certainly compete for a spot this upcoming spring. If you want my
advice (being the amateur scout that I am), I suggest keeping an eye out for
Cabrera, Richardson, and Bowden.

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Around the Diamond:

I was a bit surprised this 2009 season at how the offense
would go into collective slumps at really inconvenient times. Take the end of
July for example, before the brilliant acquisition of Victor Martinez (whose
option the Red Sox picked up, if you didn’t know), the Red Sox offense was
pretty much dead. The Red Sox may have the best right side of the diamond in
baseball with Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia: two gold glovers and silver
sluggers, MVP caliber men, the Red Sox could not possibly ask for more (I will
talk about Adrian Gonzalez when I get to third base).

The left side of the diamond? Not so much. As usual, perhaps
the biggest question the Red Sox face this offseason is the shortstop position.
Nick Green, my project, was a pleasant surprise. He is a great hitter and a
solid defender for the most part. I sincerely hope that the Red Sox re-sign him
in the offseason. Jed Lowrie, my first project ever, was plagued with injuries
again, but hopefully he can exercise his full potential in 2010. However,
because he is so unreliable at this point, the Red Sox need a shortstop that
they can count on. Alex Gonzalez is no longer an option because he signed with
the Toronto Blue Jays last night. Gonzalez is a great guy, probably one of the
best defensive shortstops in the game, but his offense is sub-par at best.
There are two other shortstops I’m interested in, and one that I will love
forever. I think that the Red Sox should look into acquiring either Marco
Scutaro or Orlando Cabrera (the one that I still love is Nomar Garciaparra, but
I do not see him coming back). I have been saying to acquire Marco Scutaro
since the middle of this season. I think that he would be great insurance, and
I certainly wouldn’t mind swapping shortstops with the Blue Jays.

I am a huge Mike Lowell fan. I have grown up loving him and
I think that he is the prototypical baseball guy. I thought that he was pretty
solid offensively, but defensively, his range was deterred a bit due to his
surgery. I would be completely fine with keeping Mike Lowell, but this is an
area that we can improve in. The name Adrian Gonzalez has been tossed around,
the gold glover first baseman of the Padres. First of all, I don’t think that
the new Padres GM (and former Red Sox assistant GM), Jed Hoyer, would be too
keen on giving a guy like him up. Secondly, this situation is quite similar to
the Mark Teixeira one last year. If Adrian Gonzalez was acquired, Kevin Youkilis
would move across the diamond, which would certainly make Mike Lowell
attractive trade bait, but could he also serve as a DH? I will address that
point in a bit. There have also been rumors regarding Mariners third baseman,
Adrian Beltre, who is coming off of a down season. I would prefer the Adrian
Gonzalez scenario, but Adrian Beltre would not be a bad acquisition.

I’ll expand on what I said before about the designated
hitter situation. Much as I love David Ortiz for what he did for us in 2004,
and all of the walk-off home runs that he has hit, his last two seasons have
been pretty bad. He improved after a poor start in 2008, but his 2009 numbers
were even worse. I know he was near 30 home runs and 100 RBI, but I do weight a
lot in batting average, and he didn’t even bat .240. Believe me, I love David
Ortiz, but from an objective standpoint, I think the Red Sox should look at
other options (within the organization that is). If the Adrian Gonzalez
situation were to happen, Mike Lowell would obviously be the odd-man out, but I
wouldn’t have him sitting on the bench. His defense may not be as good, but his
offensive numbers are actually great! I don’t think anyone can complain about a
.290 batting average. If I am not mistaken, David Ortiz is going into the last
year of his contract, and I don’t think that we can move him around. I guess we
just have to hope that he comes around (for the second year in a row). If the
Red Sox do end up acquiring someone like Adrian Gonzalez or Adrian Beltre, I
don’t think that it would be a feasible option to keep Mike Lowell on the
bench. I have heard a rumor that the Red Sox have been dangling Lowell for
Oakland’s Justin Duscherer, but I don’t feel comfortable giving up an asset as
valuable as Lowell before the Red Sox have a reliable replacement (and by
replacement, I mean improvement).

As for the up-and-coming, continue to keep your eye out for
power-hitter and first baseman Lars Anderson (didn’t have the best 2009, but I
have faith for his 2010). Also, look out for Jose Iglesias and Casey Kelly,
more hope for our shortstop position. The Red Sox have also secured their
backstops for next season when they picked up Victor Martinez’s option for
2010, and Jason Varitek picked up his player option. Picking up Martinez’s
option was an obvious move, but I am glad to see that Varitek is coming back.
He will be great to have during Spring Training, and he is invaluable towards
our pitching staff.

Outfield

Save the most important for last, right? Jacoby Ellsbury’s
spot in center field is perfectly secure for next season, but I would love to
secure him for even longer. In my opinion, I think that he is the best center
fielder in the league. His numbers in 2009 were fabulous, and his fielding was
nearly impeccable. I know a lot of people tend to hate on JD Drew, but I really
enjoy having him on the team. Sure he slumps sometimes, but he is a fabulous
right fielder, and he can be great at the plate. Plus, as soon as his contract
is up, we have some fine up-and-comers, but I’ll get to that later.

The most important void that the Red Sox need to fill this
offseason is left field, and our left fielder is one of the most coveted men on
the market along with Matt Holliday. Obviously, either one of them would be a
great pickup, but I, like many Red Sox fans as well as the organization, would
prefer Bay. Even though Matt Holliday has a higher batting average, I really
like what Bay has brought to the organization. He is such a nice guy, great
with autographs, and he has really thrived in Boston. I don’t blame him for
wanting to explore other options; it would not be fair to him if the Red Sox
tried to prevent him from doing that. In the same sense, I think the Red Sox
should explore their options as well (and by options, I mean Matt Holliday).

There are three big prospects that you should keep your eyes
on: Ryan Westmoreland, Ryan Kalish, and Josh Reddick. I was really proud of
Reddick for his time up in Boston, and I know that there will be more
opportunities for him to do so. There are a lot of complicated situations
created for the Red Sox this offseason, but I am quite confident that the front
office will do everything in its power to create the best Red Sox team
possible.

Before I go, I would like to offer my sincerest
congratulations to Zack Greinke, Tim Lincecum, Joe Mauer, and Albert Pujols.
Relatively obvious choices for the recipients, but they all had spectacular
seasons. It is quite admirable to me that Greinke overcame a depression
disorder, and I hope that other players can overcome this disorder as well
(Khalil Greene, Dontrelle Willis, etc.). I hope to hold a sort of graduation
ceremony over here for the projects that have completed their program. 

Why the “World” Series?

Before I start on this entry, I would just like to say thanks. Thank you all so much for coming over to my little corner of the internet and checking out what I have to say. When I first started this blog, I really did not expect anything to come of it. I didn’t expect to connect with a huge community of baseball nuts, and I especially didn’t expect this much feedback. I know I’ve been a very spotty blogger; there seems to be huge gaps between each entry. Junior year is slowly killing my soul, and for some reason I’ve decided to take naps everyday. I guess I just need to work on my time management. The point is: THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for reading. You all know where I want to go in my life, and I hope I can keep this blog forever, and I hope that one day, “future” will be removed from its title. 

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When
Ban Johnson and Albert Goodwill Spalding signed what some consider to be a
“peace treaty” in 1903, they established the notion of two “separate but equal
leagues”. This alliance inspired the first “World Series” between the Boston
Pilgrims of the American League, and the
Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League at Boston’s Huntington Avenue
Grounds. So much has happened since then. The Red Sox were the dynasty of the first quarter of the century, winning five titles between 1903-1918, not to mention the fact that they moved to Fenway Park in 1912. The Pirates haven’t won a World Series since 1971, but they have had their place in history as well.

            

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As
a baseball fan, it has always perplexed me as to why it was named the “World
Series” when it was merely a series between to American teams only 650 miles
from each other. Not to mention the fact that both teams were comprised of
white, American men. This series may have featured two of baseball’s best
players facing off against each other (Boston’s Cy Young and Pittsburgh’s Honus
Wagner), but there was really no reason for the series to be classified as a
World Series. However, this name has endured for more than one hundred years, so there has to be come justifications. I think there are two main aspects to
consider: the internal diversities that are intrinsic in baseball today, and
the implicit meanings of the word ‘world’. I’ll start with the former.

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Baseball
may have been an equating institution from a socio-economic point of view in 1903, but
it certainly was not the cultural melting pot that it is today. Neither players
nor spectators needed to be concerned with their economic background during the
game. Anyone could play–as long as he was white. Before leading the country in
the civil rights crusade, baseball was one of the most viciously racist
institutions in America. Contrary to popular (and seemingly unanimous) belief,
Jackie Robinson was not the first African-American to take the field. It was
Moses Fleetwood Walker, who played for the short-lived American Association’s Toledo
Blue Stockings until his expulsion from baseball in 1887 when Cap Anson refused
to play with an African American on the field. 

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It
is remarkable to see how far baseball has come. Despite its previous racist
tendencies, baseball was the leader and catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.
Jackie Robinson’s courage and bravery when he took the field in 1947 for the
Brooklyn Dodgers paved the way for not only African American players, but also
players from all over the world to write their pages in the eternal textbook of
baseball.

 

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What
would baseball be today without the legacies of Jackie Robinson stealing home
19 times, Willie Mays’ famous catch in the 1954 World Series, Bob Gibson’s 17
strikeouts in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series, the tragic story of Roy
Campanella’s paralysis, or Satchel Paige’s ability to devestate hitters at the
age of 60? Baseball’s history would certainly be less colorful without these
timeless stories.

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Had
baseball’s color barrier not been broken, we would also lack the spice that
Latin American players have brought upon baseball. No one will forget the
tragic legacy of Roberto Clemente, Pedro Martinez’s record setting 1999
season, or Luis Tiant’s crazy windup. No one will forget watching Mariano
Rivera, the greatest closer of all time, pitch, or “Manny being Manny” or David
Ortiz’s former knack for hitting walk-off home runs.

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 Despite
this internal cultural diversity, the World Baseball Classic is still more
qualified to be called the World Series than the World Series is! The World
Baseball Classic is what the World Series theoretically should be: a series in
which two different countries play against each other. So why do we insist on
calling this event the World Series? An interesting point to consider is who
makes up a significant portion of the rosters for each country in the World Baseball Classic: Major
League Baseball players. Many MLB players are asked by their home countries to
play in the Classic, which is quite an honor for them. In effect, Major League
Baseball represents many different countries, so perhaps it is justifiable to
call baseball’s most important series the World Series.

Take
the 2009 World Series for example, the Philadelphia Phillies roster included
Jimmy Rollins, Pedro Martinez, Raul Ibañez, Chan Ho Park, and Shane Victorino. The
Yankees World Series roster included Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Robinson
Cano, Hideki Matsui, and Joba Chamberlain. Baseball has truly evolved into a
World Series, but the remarkable thing is that despite their cultural
differences, each team comes together to form one, cohesive team with one,
collective goal: to win the World Series.

 Another
point to investigate is that perhaps Mr. Johnson and Mr. Spalding did not
intend the explicit meaning of the word ‘World’. When we think of the World, we
think of the Earth, and all the countries, which is why it may seem that the
World Baseball Classic is more qualified to be called a World Series. However,
as an adjective, ‘world’ can denote the most important or influential thing of
its class, or social interaction. The World Series is the most important series
in baseball, and it certainly promotes social interaction. Every game is sold
out, and everyone in attendance shares a collective love of the game. Perhaps
the most important role that the World Series serves is that it unites.

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 The
105th World Series was nothing short of these characteristics. The
matchup between Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia was enthralling. The matchup was more
than two aces pitted against each other; it was two former teammates, and two
Cy Young recipients fighting to the finish. Despite the historical stature of
game one, the most captivating moment for me was when Pedro Martinez took the
hill at the new Yankee Stadium. The second game of the series was the first
time he had taken the hill against the Yankees in a postseason game since he
did it in a Red Sox uniform in 2004. Martinez’s history against the Yankees is
one of the most fascinating in baseball’s rich history. Martinez’s 1999 season
is considered by many to be the best of all time, and he won back-to-back Cy
Young awards in 1999 and 2000. His mere presence provokes the Yankees and their
fans alike considering that Martinez has instigated some of the most famous
brawls in Red Sox vs. Yankees history. Yankee fans love to chant “Who’s Your
Daddy” while Martinez is on the mound, and he loves to hear it. Perhaps the
most remarkable matchup was the sixth game and final game when Pedro Martinez
and Andy Petite faced off. It was Martinez’s 40th career start against the
Yankees, and Petite’s 40th postseason start, and perhaps the final
starts of each of their careers. MLB Network did this beautiful montage before Game 6 of all of the famous Pedro moments, and it was so emotional for me. There is something about Pedro’s eloquence during his press conferences, and his smile as he walked off the field that continually give me chills. Watching him pitch is something that I will always cherish in my heart.

  Johnson
and Spalding were both visionary men, but it is hard to imagine that they would
have predicted that baseball would become as culturally diverse as it is. So
why did they choose to call it the World Series? Besides the fact that it is
baseball’s most important series, and its constant tendency to promote social
interaction and unite baseball fans everywhere, I think there is one more
thing. Baseball is a world in and of itself: it is survival of the fittest (or
perhaps the richest), the best team wins. There is a central governing body
that makes and maintains the rules, and there are umpires delegated to keep
order in the games. Each game is a battle, which is part of an intricate war to
win the World Series, and during the offseason, the teams are trading their
cultivated players in hopes of becoming stronger for next year’s war. I think
that it is perfectly justifiable to call the most important series in baseball
the World Series. It’s culturally diverse, it promotes social interaction, it
unites, and most importantly? It sure as hell means the world to me. 

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