Tag Archives: NEW RED SOX

DANIEL NAVA’S SUCCESS STORY

The Red Sox yesterday reached agreement with Daniel Nava, signing him to a one year contract for $1.85 million. Nava was eligible for arbitration but accepted the Sox one year offer.

This leaves the Sox with eight potential outfielders and some of these are obviously not going to be around when the season starts. Nava may end up traded before the season starts but he also may be around when the outfield jam is worked out as he also has the ability to fill in at first base when needed. Of course, Alan Craig can also do that but he will have to prove he can still hit in order to stay around Boston himself

Nava’s rise to the big leagues has been called a Cinderella Story, but,to me, it’s more a lesson in the value of hard work and determination. After graduating from St. Francis High School in Mountain View, California, he tried out for the baseball team at Santa Clara University as a walk on and, at 5’8”, 135 pounds, failed to make the team. He spent the next two years as equipment manager for the team and worked at his baseball skills whenever he could.

After his Sophomore year at Santa Clara, he transferred to the College of San Mateo, a California Junior College, and made the baseball team. In his one year at San Mateo, he was named a Junior College All American and was given a baseball scholarship to return to Santa Clara for his Senior Year. At Santa Clara that year, he hit .395 and was named to the first team All West Coast Conference team.

After graduating Santa Clara, he was undrafted by Major League Baseball and played independent league ball for the Chico Outlaws of the Independent Golden Baseball League. In January of 2008, the Red Sox purchased rights to him from the Chicos for a reported one dollar and sent him to Lancaster in Class A where he hit .341. In 2009 and 2010, he progressed rapidly through the Sox Minor League system from Salem, where he hit .339 before being promoted to AA Portland where he hit .364 and was sent to AAA Pawtucket and split 2010 between there and the Red Sox.

He made his debut with the Sox against the Phillies on June 12, 2010. In his first at bat for the Sox, against Joe Blanton, he hit the first pitch for a grand slam home run, becoming only the second player in baseball history to do so on the first major league pitch he saw. He played 60 games with the Sox that year, hitting .242, but never hit another homer all season.

In 2011, he spent the whole year at Pawtucket, playing 121 games and hitting just .268 with 10 homers and 48 RBI’s. He was placed on waivers by the Sox but no one claimed him and he was returned to Pawtucket.

In 2012, after not being invited to Spring Training, he spent most of the year with the Sox after he was called up to fill in when both Crawford and Ellsbury were out and played in 88 games, hitting only .243 with 6 homers and 33 RBI’s.

At the start of the 2013 season, with the additions to the team of outfielders Victorino, Johnny Gomes and Mike Carp and the sensational performance of Jackie Bradley, Jr., in spring training, and Ellsbury coming back, it looked like Nava was headed back to Pawtucket as odd man out in the outfield.

Bradley, Jr., did not play up to the Sox expectations and ended up back at Pawtucket. Both Ellsbury and Victorino were unavailable for short periods and Nava filled in wherever needed. He consistently hit at around .300, and ended the season with a .303 average with 12 homers and 66 RBI’s in 134 games. He played in both left and right field and filled in at first base for 19 games and was an important part of the drive to the World Series title.

Last year, after hitting just .161 in April and spending 24 games at Pawtucket, he came back and ended the season with a very respectable .270 batting average in 113 games again playing both corner outfield positions and filling in at first 11 games.

Obviously, there are players who find their niche when given a chance to play regularly in the big leagues after less than impressive starts and Nava appears to be one of them. Mark O’Brien, who was Nava’s coach at Santa Clara and who has coached 32 players who made it to the Major Leagues said that Nava is ‘…the best baseball player I’ve ever coached in my life.’

At an initial cost of just $1. and a current salary of $1.85. million, this switch hitting, hard working 31, soon to be 32 year old, who is now 5’11’ and 200 pounds, has been a real bargain and asset to this team. He may not be an all star but certainly has earned the money that the Sox have paid him and has the tools to be a real plus for this year’s version of the Red Sox.

Whether he makes the team in spring training or not, Daniel Nava has proven he has the ability to play regularly in the major leagues and, if he is available for trade, I am sure that there are teams that will be happy to have him on their roster and would be willing to give up some talent to get him.

CURE THE WINTER BLUES WITH BASEBALL

It’s hard to believe that it’s already January 3 and we are just two months from opening day in both the Cactus and Grapefruit Spring Training seasons. A little over a month from now, pitchers and catchers will report for the start of Spring Training workouts and the position players will be right behind them.

I, for one, have had enough of winter, even though, here in Maine, we have had mild weather so far, with only one snow fall, way back on Thanksgiving Day, and the second one beginning to fall as I write this.

Spring Training is what I wait all winter for. For any baseball fan, particularly the ones that live in my house, it seems like we have been without baseball forever. This is our year to go to Florida for our annual Spring Training pilgrimage. If you have read my weekly column in the Biddeford, ME, Journal Tribune over the past three years, you know that we alternate years between Florida and Arizona.

Both the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues are home to 15 teams for Spring Training and, beginning March 3, there are games every day and night right up until April 4, the day before the regular season begins. The season opens late this year, with Opening Night kicking off with a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs at night on Easter Sunday. The rest of the teams start the next day.

In addition to watching as many games as possible the last week or two of Spring Training, we plan to catch Opening Day of the regular season and the next two games at Tropicana Field with the Tampa Bay Rays hosting the Eastern Division Champion Baltimore Orioles. We will then start north and stop at Camden Yard to see the Sunday game between the Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays as we wend our way home.

Spring Training in Florida is always exciting, particularly since I am a Yankee fan and my wife is a Red Sox fan and they both train there. In addition to being loyal fans, however, we are both fans of baseball in general and I prefer Arizona to Florida for two very basic reasons.

Number one, the weather in Arizona in March is almost always sunny and warm as opposed to Florida where it can be cool and/or rainy at that time. Secondly, the training facilities in Arizona are all in the greater Phoenix area, within a short ride of each other. In Florida, on the other hand, some of the parks are an hour or two apart, making it sometimes difficult to see ball games in different arenas.

In Arizona, it is not unusual for us to see two games in one day. One year, for example, we saw the Angels play the Rangers in Tempe Diablo Stadium in the afternoon, drove up to trendy Scottsdale, where we had a nice dinner outdoors at an excellent restaurant and then walked over to see the Giants play the Athletics at Scottsdale Stadium. Last year, in the last seven days of Spring Training, we took in 11 games, a feat that would usually involve a lot of driving in Florida.

In our years when we travel to Arizona, we generally stay for the first series of the year if the Diamondbacks are home. Chase Field, where the Diamondbacks play their home games, is a modern, fan friendly, ballpark, complete with retractable roof, located in the heart of downtown, a stone’s throw from the interstate with plenty of parking and lots of nice places to have lunch or dinner before the game within walking distance of the park.

While at Spring Training, whether in Florida or Arizona, I send articles about the teams’ progress to the Journal Tribune every few days and, this year, will also be doing talks about and signings of my new book, ‘ From Beer To Beards ‘, about the 2011-2013 Red Sox, at libraries in Lee County where the Sox training facility, Jet Blue Park, is located.

If you’ve begun to get cabin fever like I have every year at this time, the best cure is to plan a visit to spring training. Even the planning process makes the winter seem shorter and there is nothing like leaving the cold north and finding yourself in warm sunshine at a baseball game in Arizona or Florida.

RED SOX LOOKING GOOD

As we near the end of the year 2014, during which the Red Sox finished a sad last in the American League with a record of 71-91, 25 games behind the front running Baltimore Orioles, I thought it would be a good time to look at the Red Sox immediate future. The 2013 version of the Red Sox, as I am sure you all know, had finished the regular season with a 97-65 record, led the Eastern Division by 5 ½ games over the Yankees and swept through the Playoffs and World Series to win their third World Championship of the century.

After blowing a seemingly insurmountable lead in 2011 and having an embarrassing fourth place finish in 2012, the Sox were on top of the baseball world at the end of 2013 and went into the 2014 season with high hopes. They came out the other end of 2014 looking like a train wreck.

They were so bad that, at the trading deadline, they did the unthinkable, they traded Jon Lester, their ace starter, and probably their most popular player with the fans, after David Ortiz, with another popular player Jonny Gomes, to the Oakland Athletics. If that wasn’t enough, they also unloaded John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront, leaving them with just Clay Buccholz from their original starting rotation. Granted, they did pick up Joe Kelly, an established starter, in the trade blitz. In exchange, they also got Yoenis Cespedes a power hitting outfielder with a rifle arm who, in less that three seasons at Oakland had hit .263 with 66 homers and 229 RBI’s and Allen Craig, an outfielder/first baseman who, after hitting .315 in 2013 at St. Louis was hitting .237 in 90 games and didn’t hit his weight the rest of the year with the Sox.

After the 2014 season, Lester was available on the Free Agent Market and Red Sox fans were hoping they would get him back. Having traded away their pitching staff, everyone knew that replacing it, hopefully with Lester and some other pitchers, had to be the Red Sox priority.

The first thing the Sox did was to acquire a third baseman, Pablo Sandoval, and a shortstop, Hanley Ramirez, who they almost immediately announced would be an outfielder even though he had never played a major league game in the outfield. Both were proven hitters, Sandoval had a .294 average in seven years and Ramirez an even

.300 in ten years. With David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Cespedes, Mike Napoli, Brock Holt and others, the Sox had put together an offense capable of putting runs on the board.

But, how about the pitching? The bidding for Jon Lester was the hot topic for weeks. While position players were bought and sold right and left, the big names among the starting pitchers were not moving. The Red Sox were apparently in the running for Lester right up until the last day when he announced he was signing with the Cubs.

It appeared that the Sox management team had anticipated that they would not get Lester back because, before the smoke had cleared from the Lester deal, they set about acquiring pitchers.

On December 11, they signed Free Agent right handed pitcher Justin Masterson, a former Red Sox player and traded Cespedes with Alex Wilson to the Tigers for right handed starter Rick Porcello. The next day, they traded Rubby DeLaRosa and Allen Webster to the Arizona Diamondbacks for left handed starter Wade Miley.

Masterson was 7-9 between Cleveland and St. Louis in 2014 after winning 14 and losing 10 with Cleveland in 2013. Miley was 8-12 in 2014 with a 4.34 ERA in 33 starts with the D’Backs while Porcello was 15-13 with a 3.43 ERA in 31 starts with the Tigers.

These acquisitions gave the Sox a potentially competitive staring rotation. Much has been said about them not having a true Ace, like Lester. People forget that the Orioles won the American League East last year without a real Ace. In my opinion, Rick Porcello, who pitched in the shadow of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and David Price at Detroit, has the ability to be that Ace. In addition, the Sox have two of the best young prospects in baseball in 22 year old Henry Owens, 17-5, between Portland and Pawtucket last year and 6”7”, 25 year old Anthony Ranaudo who performed well in 7 starts with the Sox last year.

Then, on December 20, they put what I feel is the last piece of the puzzle in place by acquiring veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan, a career .256 hitter, from the San Diego Padres. Christian Vasquez performed well behind the plate last year but the Sox needed another catcher, preferably a veteran, to work with Vasquez.

The infield, with Napoli at first, spelled by Daniel Nava or Craig, Pedroia at second, Xander Bogaerts at short and Sandoval at third and the outfield, made up of some combination of Ramirez, Rumsey Castillo, Craig, Holt, Shane Victorino, Nava or Jackie Bradley, with Vasquez and Hanigan behind the plate compares with most teams defensively.

The Red Sox may not win the pennant or the World Series next year but, with the hitting that they have and the more than adequate starting pitching they will definitely be competitive. Don’t count them out, or in, yet. It’s entirely possible that this could be another worst to first ride for Sox fans. Of course, it’s also entirely possible that it could be another lost year. My guess is that the Sox will be in the race in what I think will be a very interesting year.

SOX PITCHING SET WITH LESTER GONE?

Over the last few weeks we have watched the Major League Baseball Free Agent marketplace closely. The market for position players was quite active, particularly in Boston where Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, two of the most sought after Free Agents, eventually signed.

The drama in the market for starting pitchers seemed to go on and on. Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields were the most prominent and sought after of the starters, although there were and still are several lesser pitchers of value. The competition for Lester was like a soap opera with new suitors arriving it seemed like every day.

On November 22, Rob Bradford, of WEEI, said Lester would meet with two teams next week and had met with the Cubs in Chicago on Thursday. Four days later, the day after the Sox announced they had signed Pablo Sandoval, David Kaplan of CSN Chicago said the Cubs had offered Lester $135. million for six years. That same day, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, said the Giants would now turn their attention to Lester after losing Sandoval.

On and on it went, with the Dodgers and Yankees being mentioned next in the bidding. The consensus appeared to be that Lester would sign first and then the unsuccessful teams would scramble for Scherzer, Shields and the rest.

Then it was rumored that Lester would make his decision before the Winter Meetings started on December 7. That date came and went and the rumor was that Lester would decide by December 8th or 9th and on the night of December 9, Jamal Collier, of Hot Stove, reported Lester had informed the Giants that he was choosing between the Cubs and Red Sox.

At that point, having had enough of the drama, I decided to take a closer look at the comparative records of the Big Three. Lester and Shields both made their major league debuts in 2006 and Scherzer in 2008. In his first five years in the majors, Lester won 61 and lost 25, a .690 percentage. In his first four years, Scherzer was 36 and 35 and Shields was 56-51 in his first five years, neither an exceptional won loss percentage. In his next four years, Lester was 40-33, a .567 percentage, while Scherzer was 55-15, a

.786 percentage, for his last three years, and, in his last four years, Shields was 58-39, a .598 percentage.

In post season play, Lester has a decided edge, with a 6-4 record and 2.57 ERA , compared to Scherzer, who has won 4 and lost 3 with a 3.73 ERA and Shields, whose nickname, Big Game James, does not agree with his 3-6 record with a 5.46 ERA. For their careers, Lester has won 116 and lost 67, a .634 percentage, while Scherzer is 91-50, a .645 percentage and Shields114-90, a .559 percentage.

On the surface, at almost age 31, Lester’s performance seems to have declined over the second half of his career although he has played with terrible teams in two of the last three years. On the other hand, Scherzer, playing with a playoff team the last three

years, has seen his record improve dramatically as he nears 31. Shields, at a slightly older 33, has also seen his record improve. All three have been in the World Series but only Lester has a ring having been with the Sox is 2007 and 2013.

Lester was 16-11, with a 2.52 ERA last year between Boston and Division Winner Oakland, Scherzer 18-5, and a 3.15 ERA, with Division Winner Detroit and Shields 14-8, and a 3.21 ERA with World Series loser Kansas City. All three are workhorses throwing between 219 and 227 innings last year.

How did the market make Lester the front runner while the others, both buyers and sellers, seemed to sit back and wait to see what would happen with him? Your guess is as good as mine. After looking at the numbers, I would have thought Scherzer would be up front but what do I know. Just another reason why baseball is so interesting.

As you all know by now, Lester decided to sign a six year, $155. million deal, with the Cubs. ( By the way, at 33 starts per year, that comes out to $782,828. per start. ) The Cubs had also reached agreement with Free Agent starting pitcher Jason Hammel who they had traded to Oakland last year with Jeff Samardjia. They also acquired Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero.

After losing Lester, Ben Cherrington and staff got to work in a hurry. On Thursday morning, Ken Rosenthal announced the Sox had reached agreement to trade Allen Webster and Rubby DeLaRosa to the Diamondbacks for Wade Miley, a left handed starter, who was 16-11 with a 3.33 ERA as a rookie in 2012 but slipped to 8-12 and 4.34 last year. A short time later, MLB.com reported that the Sox had traded Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Wilson to Detroit for Rick Porcello. Porcello, a 25 year old, right handed starter, was 15-13 with a 3.53 ERA and three shutouts with Detroit last year.

By early afternoon the same day, the word was out that the Sox had reached agreement with Free Agent Justin Masterson, a right handed starter who was previously with the Sox before spending time in Cleveland and St. Louis. He was 7-9 with a 5.88 ERA last year after being 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA the year before.

Masterson, Porcello and Miley are not Aces but Porcello is a solid third or maybe second starter and the addition of these three is a major rebuilding of this pitching staff. With Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly, they should have a solid five man rotation. The latest report today is that the Sox are still looking for another starter and might be willing to give up Kelly and others to get one.

Obviously, if they could trade Kelly, Middlebrooks and Bradley, or others for a front line starter it would be a good move. However, the Sox have Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens who could be ready to step into the rotation this year. They don’t need to build a surplus of starters which would reduce the number of relievers available as the season starts.

THE GHOST OF RAMIREZ PAST

THE GHOST OF RAMIREZ PAST

As we approach the Christmas Season, or whatever it is politically correct to call it this year, the Red Sox have been hard at work building their team with visions of another great turnaround, not Sugar Plums, dancing in their heads.

The first gift they gave their fans was Pablo Sandoval, almost a clone of David Ortiz. A smiling, gregarious, very popular infielder, with a big bat, who is expected to do great things both at the plate and in the field in the small confines of Fenway Park.

Then, just 13 years, 11 months and 6 days after signing Manny Ramirez as a Free Agent, they signed Hanley Ramirez as a Free Agent. Can Hanley Ramirez replicate the career that Manny Ramirez had in Boston after he came there from Cleveland in 2001?

Manny spent eight years with the Cleveland Indians after being drafted by them in the first round of the 1991 Draft, and hit .313 with 236 homers, 29 per year and 804 RBI’s, 100 per year, while there.

Hanley who, by the way, was originally signed by the Red Sox, made his debut with them but only batted twice before being traded to the Florida Marlins for Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota on November 24, 2005.

Hanley was with the Marlins for his first full seven years, batting .300 with 148 homers, 21 per year, and 482 RBI’s, 69 per year. He was traded from the Marlins to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 25, 2012, and in the next two and a half seasons hit .299 with 43 homers and 172 RBI’s. Not exactly the type of numbers Manny put up in Cleveland.

The year before he came to Boston, Manny hit .351 with 38 homers and 112 RBI’s, playing in only 118 games. Last year, before coming to Boston, Hanley played in just 128 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers and batted .283 with 13 homers and 71 RBI’s.

Manny spent eight years in Boston, from 2001–2007. During that time, he played on the first World Championship team the Red Sox had had in 86 years and then on another in 2007. He not only played on those two Championship teams, but, in 2004, when the Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals, he hit .412 and was named the Series MVP.

In his eight years in Beantown, he averaged .312, hit 274 home runs, 34 per year, and drove in 868 runs, 108 per year. He made the All Star Team four times with Cleveland and every year he played in Boston. He won the batting title in 2002 and the home run title with 43 in 2004. Hanley has made the All Star team three times, was Rookie of the Year in 2006 and won the batting title in 2009.

Manny Ramirez and Hanley Ramirez were both born in the Dominican Republic, Manny in 1972 and Hanley in 1983. Manny made his Major League debut on September 2, 1993, at the age of 21.1 years. At the age of 21.3 years, Hanley made his debut on September 20, 2005, with the Florida Marlins.

Manny came to the Red Sox as an outfielder and played the outfield his entire career at Boston. Hanley came to Boston as a shortstop, never having played the outfield but has already been designated the Red Sox left fielder. Does anyone recall what happened to Carl Crawford’s hitting when he was asked to play left field in Fenway where the left fielder plays almost right behind the shortstop and has the Green Monster right behind him?

Manny was an exceptionally talented hitter as is Hanley but Hanley has not put up the numbers that Manny put up and probably never will. Paying him a lot of money will not necessarily make him a better hitter. That’s the mistake the Sox made with Adrian Gonzalez they expected better performance for more money. ‘You get what you pay for’ does not always apply in baseball.

The year before the Sox gave Gonzalez a huge, long term contract, he had hit .298 with 31 homers and 101 RBI’s in San Diego. His first year in Boston, he hit .338 with 27 homers and 117 RBI’s. In his second year, before he was traded to Los Angeles, he was hitting .300 with 15 homers and 86 RBI’s. He actually hit .321 overall while with the Red Sox, but how many so called experts have you heard say that he did not live up to his expectations?

More money does not necessarily translate to better performance. Hanley Ramirez is not Manny Ramirez and may not even be as proficient a hitter as Adrian Gonzalez. When he comes to Boston, he will presumably be learning a new defensive position which may have a negative effect upon his hitting.

Never the less, Hanley Ramirez is an exceptional talent who will have a positive effect upon the Red Sox ability to score runs as Manny Ramirez did and as Pablo Sandoval will. If he stays healthy, Hanley, with David Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval, the Three Amigos, as they have been dubbed, could lead the Red Sox into contention this coming year.

Now all the Red Sox have to do is find the pitching to allow their more potent offense to win them a lot of games. They certainly have enough extra hitting talent to be able to trade for pitchers and have indicated that they are willing to spend beyond the luxury tax to get pitching.