Andy Vanasse

Just in case you were wondering how things would be different with John Farrell at the helm, we have this: the first cuts of Spring Training include Drake Britton. Britton’s demotion is not much of a surprise in and of itself. He was a 100:1 shot to make the big league club at best. However, being one of the first cuts on a list of relative no-names and also rans might be considered a slight.

But now there’s news of Britton getting arrested for DUI over the weekend… and then sent to the minor league camp the same weekend. Bryce Brentz was a surprise non-invitee to the major league camp given the hot stove chatter that he was a dark horse candidate as the fourth or fifth outfielder. But Brentz misfired during the offseason, literally and figuratively, and he was given a clear and direct message about what the Red Sox think about him playing with guns.  Alfredo Aceves tested Farrell in the first week of camp, lobbing batting practice pitches rather than working on his arsenal, and he was met with both instant correction from Juan Nieves as well as a “discussion” with Farrell after his session.

This seems to be a pattern and a good one at that.

Farrell is direct about his expectations and deals with issues decisively. Rather than hang his players out to dry in the court of public opinion, he uses reasonable measures to communicate when expectations and conduct have fallen short. It remains to be seen how this style translates to game results but it seems reasonable to assume that the players will respond well to being like adults with both clear expectations and clear rewards/punishments guiding their conduct.

It’s not likely to change the organization’s 2013 season but the Red Sox have made their first official move of the offseason. The Sox claimed reliever Sandy Rosario off waivers. Rosario, 27, has been working in the Marlins farm system since 2004. His big league record is not much to look at (10G, 7.2IP, 13ER, 22H, 3BB) but he has a good strikeout rate in the minors (403K in 391IP). Rosario posted a nice AAA line this season and could be maturing into a decent middle reliever as he approaches “baseball prime.”

To make room for Rosario on the 40-man roster, the Red Sox DFA Che-Hsuan Lin. This comes as no real surprise; the Sox had numerous opportunities to give Lin playing time this season and bypassed him at almost every turn. Lin is a gifted defender but his bat never developed to the point that he could be justified in an AL lineup. Lin could catch on quickly as a fourth outfielder with a National League club if he does not return to the organization.

With the firing of Bobby Valentine, Red Sox fans have gotten what they wanted (at least what they wanted short of Larry Lucchino moving on).  The answer seemed so obvious to everyone… except it wasn’t the answer, it was just the first domino in a long line to fall this off season.

So now what?

The presumptive choice to manage the Red Sox next season is John Farrell.  The only sports lust that could be greater than the current front office’s desire for Farrell was Brandon Lloyd’s longing to line up alongside Tom Brady.  Farrell, however, is anything but an obvious choice.  Blue Jay fans will tell you that he did fairly well with a young team full of prospects.  Consider:

  • Omar Vizquel criticized Farrell for not being forceful in addressing on field play (to which Farrell hinted that Vizquel was not around when it took place).  It might just be a disagreement of perspectives but it’s also quite possible that Farrell simply does not have the eye for field play that he does for pitching.
  • Yunnel Escobar.  Need we really say more about the perception that Farrell will be tough with respect to discipline?
  • Rickey Romero.  Two years ago he was an emerging front line pitcher that had baseball people drooling.  This year he was giving John Lackey a confidence boost.

Truth be told Farrell did not turn a young, talented group of youngsters into a well run machine capable of winning 90+ games.  They regressed each season he managed.  Before you get that “yeah, but we’re the Red Sox” feeling in your gut, think about what the 2013 Red Sox will look like.  First base is currently open and third base is likely to be filled by Will Middlebrooks who has roughly a third of a season of experience.  Although Mike Aviles handled shortstop adequately it’s possible that the Sox will choose to shop him and go with Jose Iglesias at short and Ivan DeJesus handling the utility role.  Ryan Kalish appears to be a favorite for at least one outfield spot.  Ryan Lavarnway appears to be slotted for a catching spot.  That’s a lot of youngsters with less than two full seasons… and more than what Farrell had in Toronto.  Why is the front office seemingly so convinced that Farrell will have more success in Boston?  Why will he turn out to be one of the very few former pitchers who fail as a manager?

There’s also one more reason to consider other candidates than roll the dice with John Farrell: compensation.  No team could be more required to pay compensation to free a manager from the final year of his contract than the Red Sox.  It has been suggested that the compensation could be along the lines of Drake Britton and Keury De La Cruz, a pitcher and outfielder respectively from the Red Sox top 20 prospects.  It doesn’t matter what the compensation would be; John Farrell is not going to be the equivalent of a an ace on their pitching staff, adding 20+ wins to an embarrassing 2012 campaign.  The organization as a whole is better served holding and developing its prospects than using them to bait a hook for a manager.

So who else is there?  Here are a few more names we hope the Red Sox consider.  If any of them stand a chance of equalling the success of John Farrell the Red Sox should think long and hard about sending compensation for the object of their affection.

Tim Bogar
An easy candidate given that he spent the 2012 campaign with the Sox, Bogar recently interviewed for the Astros opening and has been considered as an upcoming managerial candidate the past two years.  That Valentine considered him to be the one who undermined his tenure in Boston should be a plus in the mind of many Sox fans.

DeMarlo Hale
The Orioles third base coach was well regarded while serving alongside Terry Francona in Boston.  Hale has frequently come up in managerial discussions.  Like Bogar, he would already have an internal sense of what it’s like to manage in the fishbowl at Fenway.  Seeing the color barrier finally break in the manager’s office would not be the worst thing that the image-conscious front office could do.

Brad Mills
So you think it was rough watching the Pawtucket Red Sox play in MLB during the month of September?  Try managing a team that started the season looking like that roster and still tried to sell off pieces.  That’s what Brad Mills has done for the last two years as skipper of the Astros.  Without a single hitter topping 110 OPS+ or a single pitcher with double-digit wins it’s no wonder that the Astros put up back-to-back mid-50s wins seasons.  Mills managed to keep the boys together despite no real hope of success and is still well regarded in baseball circles.  Unlike Hale and Bogar, Mills’ history with the organization is not tainted by the 9/11 collapse. Mills is considered a strong candidate to serve as the Indians’ bench coach under recently-hired Terry Francona so the Sox should not drag their feet.

Sandy Alomar, Jr.
Speaking of Terry Francona, his hiring in Cleveland over the weekend makes interim manager and one-time Blue Jays managerial candidate Sandy Alomar, Jr. available.  Alomar has made the usual progression through the coaching ranks but has not held a manager’s position at any level in any organization for any length of time (6 games as interim doesn’t really count) so his selection would not be without risk.  He would seem to have a similar leadership style to Terry Francona which could free the youngsters on the roster to go out and play while he absorbs some of the heat from the media and fan base.

Dave Martinez
A forceful presence, Martinez has served as bench coach to Joe Maddon for the past four years.  That kind of  tutelage has landed Martinez several managerial interviews. He is also perceived to be a strong disciplinarian yet young enough to relate to the many prospects likely to fill out the roster.  Having served alongside Maddon as a talented group of prospects transformed into a perennial playoff contender would serve him well as the Red Sox seem poised for a similar journey.

Tim Wallach
Another highly respected outsider, Wallach has managed at the minor league level and was part of the surprising turnaround that left the Dodgers a few games shy of the playoffs this season after the Frank McCourt disaster.  The 1979 Golden Spikes award winner was the 2009 PCL manager of the year after leading his club to a franchise record in wins and his MLB tenure at 3B could lead to some interesting teaching for the youngsters on the left side of the Sox infield.

Ryne Sandberg
Speaking of PCL managers of the year, Sandberg received the honor after leading the Cubs AAA affiliate to an 82-62 record.  Sandberg began his managerial career by taking his first club (Cubs A-level affiliate) to the championship game and he was promoted two seasons in a row with success at each level.  Sandberg returned to the Phillies organization (yes, they drafted and developed him) after being passed over for the big league club’s manager’s position and led the AAA Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs to the International League title in 2011.  The effort earned him Baseball America’s minor league manager of the year award.  He currently serves as third base coach and infield instructor… again a nice combination for an organization brimming with infield prospects.

WWBSD?
What would the BloodySox do? Well, there’s admittedly a sense that John Farrell seems inevitable despite his so-so record and the acquisition cost.  Notwithstanding, the overwhelming consensus pick here is Ryne Sandberg.  His stellar career that included stops around the infield should help the Sox budding young stars manning similar positions in 2013.  Likewise, his stellar offensive record as a second baseman and dirt-dog attitude should connect him well with the heart-and-soul leaders of the team like Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.  Perhaps most impressive is his managerial record that includes three teams playing in championship series in six minor league seasons.  He’s proven, more than any other candidate out there, that he can focus talent into a productive, winning machine.  Why look for anything less?

Even in a lost season it’s gratifying to beat the Yankees.  It’s even better when that win costs the Bronx Bombers their sole possession of first place in the American League East.  With any luck the Sox can build on that euphoria because they’ll need it next year.

The 2013 season opens on the road in Yankee Stadium.

If that three-game set does not go well the Red Sox will not need to wait long to make up for a poor series.  They open at home a week later and will see the hapless Houston Astros, newcomers to the AL in 2013, before the first month of baseball is out.

Should the current schedule hold, the Sox will play 17 of their first 27 games and 18 of their final 30 games in the friendly confines of Fenway Park.  Unfortunately that also means that May, June, July, and August are packed with long road trips.  Among those road trips will be a West Coast swing to see the Golden Gate bridge (@San Francisco 8/19-21) and to check on members of The Trade (@LA Dodgers, 8/23-25).  Perhaps the timing of the six game stretch out West is not by accident; the middle game of the three-game set is the anniversary of The Trade itself.

The Sox will round out their NL West interleague games with home series against the the Rockies (6/25-26), Padres (7/2-4), and Diamondbacks (8/2-4), as well as a road series against the Rockies the last week of the season.  They also have a home-and-home rivalry series with the Phillies May 27-30, with the first two games at Fenway and the last two in Philadelphia.

The full schedule is available at mlb.com.

Of course with the season after his retirement marked more by chaos than playoffs there would be speculation that long time captain Jason Varitek could return to manage the Red Sox.  The rumors are out there with many in the Sox fan base either not liking Bobby Valentine from the outset or turning on him during the season.

The idea that Varitek could return to manage the current Sox roster is silly.  Even after a trade that may register a 7.8 on the Richter scale he is simply too close to too many players on the team.  Separating friend from employee would be difficult and unfair.  More importantly Varitek needs managerial experience.

Varitek could get that experience in Greenville.

Flying under the radar of Red Sox news in recent days was a visit by Varitek to Fluor Field at West End to watch the Greenville Drive take on rival Asheville (NC) Tourists.  Varitek took in the game from the owners’ box.  It’s almost 1,000 miles between Fluor Field and Fenway Park, certainly a long way to drive just to see a single-A ball game.

Adding substance to the speculation was Cherrington’s company while watching the game: Ben Cherrington.

At season’s end when the Red Sox announce their annual organizational reshuffling, don’t be surprised when a seat in the Drive’s ownership box is given to Varitek.

Bartolo Colon’s major league career was on a roll. From 1998 through 2005 he won 135 games, leading the league in 2005 with a 21-8 record and 3.49ERA. Then it all came to a crashing halt. The man who averaged 17 wins per season for eight years managed a total of 17 wins over the next few seasons, including an erratic stint with the Red Sox in 2008.  He disappeared from the MLB map entirely in 2010 before re-emerging as a reliable starter for the Yankees last year (8-10, 4.00ERA).  His fifty game suspension for Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED) may explain his resurgence.

Just a week earlier, of course, Melky Cabrera was also suspended for 50 games for taking PED.  Cabrera was enjoying the best season of his career hitting .346/.390/.516 and earning his first All Star nod.  The career .752 OPS hitter was leading the league in hits at the time of his suspension (and still is).  His success may have first been attributed to reaching “baseball prime” (ages 28-32) at the same time as enjoying his first shot at free agency this offseason but now we see a different story.

Over the weekend Cabrera’s story took a well publicized but bizarre twist.  It has been revealed that Cabrera or someone associated with him had a fake website built with the intention of providing Cabrera an “I did not know what I was buying” alibi.  The almost comical revelation lent credence to those who care to cry “cheaters gonna cheat.”

If only it were that simple.

Marcos Breton of the Sacramento Bee appeared on ESPN’s Outside the Lines earlier this week to discuss the issue.  Breton has been writing about Latin Americans in Major League Baseball for a long time and that unique perspective led to his presence on the OTL segment on Cabrera’s suspension.  Breton offered an explanation for Cabrera and others like him who fall into this temptation.

You see, Cabrera and Colon are linked by more than the fact that they received a 50-game ban from MLB for using PED in the past week.  They also share a common roots in the Dominican Republic.

This is the tip of the explanation that Breton offers.  (Note: this is not an excuse for cheating but an explanation of how it came about.)  In its simplest form the explanation is that there is an entire community linked to those Dominican players who make it to MLB and who will rise and fall based on their success.  The pressure for these men to succeed is far beyond anything we experience in our American culture.

The Dominican Republic comprises the larger half of the Caribbean island next to Puerto Rico.  The overwhelming majority of the nearly eleven million people of the D.R. live in squalor.  Outside the most prosperous cities a typical family lives in a home constructed from palm trees with a corrugated roof.  The families are large and often an extended family (parents, grandparents, cousins) all occupy one of these “homes”.  Unfortunately, many Dominicans are unemployed except for seasonal agricultural work.

Dominicans also lack citizenship and its benefits.  No school.  No public system of support.  Few chances to advance beyond the palm branch walls.  Making matters worse, what little infrastructure once existed in the Dominican Republic was disrupted in the devastating earthquake with its epicenter in Haiti.  Remember that I mentioned that the Dominican Republic is the larger half of the island next to Puerto Rico?  Well, the Dominican is the other half.  It’s difficult to paint a picture of how challenging the circumstances are for the combined peoples of these island nations.

The Dominican Republic was dominated by Spain for the majority of the last four hundred years.  Under Spanish dominion a caste-like system developed that graded people primarily by the color of their skin.  The prosperous cities, as a result, are largely populated by the lighter-skinned former rulers of the island.  Now think for a minute: where do you imagine that the Dominican men playing major league baseball fit into their nation’s culture prior to signing that contract?

Over time a system developed in the Dominican Republic that fed talented youngsters to MLB scouts.  “Talent agents” watched for athletic young men and lured them from their families with promises of MLB fortunes.  Families often encouraged the boys along the way hoping for a better situation for all.  Unfortunately the “agents” do little for the boys except try to sell them to MLB scouts and if the “product” ends up damaged then it’s tossed aside.

From a consumer standpoint the system has worked well.  Of roughly 800 players in MLB almost one in 8 hails from the tiny island nation.

From a human perspective, it’s little more than a new Trail of Tears.  Boys lose what little chance they have to learn a trade in hopes of a big pay day.  When the blank check bypasses them there is nothing to which they can return.

Perhaps with that as a background you might get a hint at why there is so much pressure to succeed on players like Cabrera, Colon, and Sammy Sosa before them.  Watching great stars like Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz return home to build hospitals and schools for the areas in which they live is not simply a humanitarian effort, it’s an expression of the hopes of the islanders for a better future.

I learned most of this when I had the privilege to help Children of the Nations (COTNI) with their website. COTNI has a presence in several third world countries including the Dominican Republic. In the Dominican they have established <a href=”http://www.cotni.org/pages/i-love-baseball”>a program called “I Love Baseball”</a> that not only helps train aspiring young athletes but also provides them food and education.  Their goal is to help change the culture by offering the children a balanced hope and a future.

Why can we hope that Colon and Cabrera can change a culture like this?  Because now you know.  Whether it’s COTNI or another organization, find a place that you can support the people who become athletes and occasionally find their way onto the roster of your favorite baseball team.

The latest reports circulating around the Big Apple now suggest that it was Kelly Shoppach, and not Adrian Gonzalez, who sent the text messages to the Red Sox brass complaining about manager Bobby Valentine.

It would not be a surprise to find out that Shoppach was the source of the text messages. Earlier in the season Shoppach complained loudly about his lack of playing time. At the time Jarrod Saltalamacchia was swinging a hot bat and had a couple of Ortiz moments with game winning or tying home runs. As the strikeouts began mounting for Salty (he now has more multi-strikeout games than games without a strikeout) Shoppach worked his way into the lineup more regularly and justified his complaints. Shoppach’s .798 OPS outpaced Salty by a fair bit and the pitching staff performed better with him behind the plate.

Like the rest of the Red Sox season, the story has more twists and turns. Some reports indicate that Shoppach used Gonzalez’ cell phone to send the messages which at least explains why Adrian drew the initial attention of gossip mongers. Shoppach, for his part, denies any involvement with the text messages.

And so it goes. Since the epic collapse of 9/11 the focus of the Red Sox has seemingly turned from the field to the clubhouse. Who is at fault? What was their motivation or why were they lacking it? Who was hoisting lagers and who ratted them out?

Here’s hoping that we return to baseball by the start of the 2013 season.

Anyone who has followed the career of Josh Beckett knows that he is reluctant to change. Pitching coaches and managers have come and gone and all ended up throwing up their hands and saying that the best way to deal with the big righthander is to let him do his thing. Apparently, Beckett is now reluctant to turn the pages of the calendar as well.
Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration but there is a very odd statistical anomaly in Beckett’s performance this year. Consider the following:

Date Opponent IP H R ER BB K HR
April 7 @ DET 4.2 7 7 7 1 3 5
May 10 CLE 2.1 7 7 7 2 2 2
June 6 BAL 8 5 2 2 0 5 0
July 6 NYY 5 8 6 6 2 5 0
Aug 8 TEX 5 8 8 8 2 2 3
Total 25 35 30 30 7 17 10

 

That trail of tears amounts to a line like this: ERA: 10.80, WHIP 1.680, K/9 6.12, HR/9 3.60

What do those starts have in common? Those are Beckett’s first starts of each month of the 2012 baseball season. It’s hard to believe that his ERA would be above 11.00 in first starts of the month were it not for a terrific outing against the Orioles on June 6.

What makes these starts even more curious is what happens during the rest of the month. Generally speaking Beckett looks like the kind of guy that you’d hand a $68M/4yr contract with ERA 3.46, WHIP 1.200, K/9 6.82, HR/9 0.203.  It’s a dramatic change for Beckett once he gets into the rest of the month. His ERA would be in the top 30 among qualifying pitchers, occupying a spot with C.J. Wilson and Gio Gonzalez. The same is true of his WHIP.

What does it mean? Probably nothing at all, just one of those odd curiosities along the 162 game marathon known as a season of major league baseball.

The again, if you’re still holding out hope for a one-game Wild Card playoff you better hope that someone else is lined up for their first start of October.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!’”
The Parable of the Prodigal Son

The quote above comes from the turning point in the life of the initial focal character in the parable of the Prodigal Son. He has finally hit rock bottom after a string of outrageous days and nights of extravagant spending have played out a third of his father’s estate and he’s found destitute and alone (unless you count living with pigs company). If you’re familiar with the story you may not realize that the word prodigal does not refer directly to the party lifestyle he entertained but the reckless spending he undertook to grab the golden ring.

With that in mind, it’s no too much of a stretch to say that the Red Sox have reached that same moment in their own prodigal story. The Red Sox have spent lavishly on free agents in an attempt to patch holes in their roster that the farm system was unable to shore up from within. They shifted tactics (Run production? Run prevention?), bought big names, and tried to find bargains. With all that they’ve produced a .500 team currently occupying last place in the AL East.

That’s why they should make no additional purchases between now and August 1st.

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