Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Never Ending Outfield Part 1

Theo Epstein is losing his mind. That’s right, I said it. I never thought it could happen but I am beginning to lose faith in the Boy Wonder.

The reason: the cast of thousands that would appear to be the Red Sox outfield this year.

As far as I can tell (and this includes players not signed but not claimed by other teams) the Sox have the following players at or around the Major League level:

Jacoby Ellsbury
Mike Cameron
Jeremy Hermida
J.D Drew
Rocco Baldelli
Joey Gathright
Brian Anderson
Josh Reddick

This is before we get to the looming spectre of Jason Bay which has, well prior to the admittedly GREAT signing of John Lackey, dominated coverage of the Sox at the Winter Meetings.

Jason Bay needs to wake up and smell what he and his agent are shovelling. All this talk of mammoth contracts elsewhere is simply wishful thinking for one simple reason: Jason Bay is not THAT good.

Sure the guy raked last year and has put up extremely respectable power and RBI totals throughout his career, but Bay is asking for the sort of money elite players get, the sort of player who could fit into any lineup anywhere money. Bay is not that player. He had the luxury of being the star player in Pittsburgh and was able to cut his teeth and develop as a big leaguer without any of the pressure that comes from playing for a team that actually expects to win. In Boston Bay’s mediocre average, pull-happy swing is flattered HUGELY by the Green Monster. Essentially Bay (who I’d never thought was a big money-grabbing type of player) wants Matt Holliday money, and if that’s the case then why on earth are the Sox not just biting the financial bullet and spending that sort of money on getting Matt Holliday, the superior player.

I also cannot for the life of me work out why the Sox have signed Mike Cameron. Why on earth would we want to pick up another mediocre bat/good defence CF and then platoon him in LF with Hermida (assuming of course, that Bay doesn’t re-sign)? Added to that is the fact that Cameron is known to have violated MLB's substance policy. That’s not innuendo or hearsay, that guy was suspended for it. After the fiasco with David Ortiz last year and the fall-out from Manny’s very high-profile suspension, you would have thought that last thing the Red Sox would want to do is associate themselves with another guy tainted with the steroid, or in Cameron's case, stimulant brush. I certainly hope that getting this guy is part of some higher Epstein plan to lure Adrian Gonzalez to Fenway as I cannot see myself ever rooting for Cameron in a Red Sox jersey. He is a journeyman outfielder at best and the disruption finding somewhere to put him in the OF in 2010 is more trouble that he is worth.

J.D Drew is like the weather, there is simply no point in either praising or complaining about it, it will just do what its going to do regardless. Drew will play 150 or so games, hit .270 16-20HR 65-75RBI, get paid extremely well for doing so, blah blah blah.

Not much to say about Reddick and Anderson either. If Anderson resigns he is a AAAA type guy and won’t be missed much. Reddick has potential but stunk up Fenway Park as a surprise call up last year and belongs back in AA/AAA for another year.

The only remaining point of contention concerns our 4th outfielder. Certainly at this point it would seem that Hermida is going to take this role, presumably alongside Cameron if Bay returns. I’ve no problem with Hermida, always liked the guy when he was coming up with the Marlins and if he can show some of the promise he once had he can’t help to make the team better and could be productive at DH occasionally.

Unfortunately this appears to leave my favourite Red Sox player, Rocco Baldelli, without a job come April. While I know that it doesn’t make any baseball sense to keep a guy on the big league roster who is incapable of playing back to back games, I will be sorry to see Rocco leave and certainly hope that he gets a shot at staying in the big leagues somewhere else. After all this is a guy who, I believe, we would be talking about as the equivalent of Jason Bay and Matt Holliday had he not fallen ill. What’s more Baldelli is a New England guy and everyone I talked to in Boston this October loves the guy.

Still, dollars and cents abide.

Friday, 4 December 2009

The Best of the Rest

I hate to say it but maybe Albert Pujols isn’t the most valuable player in the National League after all.

Certainly all the boxes are ticked when it comes to Pujols being MVP-worthy. The guy rakes, his OBP is consistently high, his glove is amongst the best in the league at 1B and you know that year in, year out Albert is going to hit around .330. But is this enough to make the NL award the foregone conclusion it seems to have been for a while now?

I’m not going to make any case whatsoever for Prince Fielder, the guy is just Pujols-lite in my opinion. If you stack up Fielder’s 46HR, 141 RBI .299/.412/.602 offensive line from 2009 against Pujol’s 47HR, 135RBI .327/.443/.658 you find that RBI totals aside Albert is by far the superior offensive player (even with his turgid September hitting slump). What’s more Albert is a gold glove calibre defensive first baseman. While I’ve slated the gold glove voting in previous posts and still maintain that a player’s ‘star-quality’ unduly impacts the likelihood of them taking home the trophy, it should be clear to anyone watching the Cardinals or the Brewers on a regular basis that Albert is vastly superior to Fielder defensively. Fielder will be lucky to last more than a few more seasons playing defensively every day whereas Albert is the calibre of player who one could easily see playing out the rest of his likely-to-be hall of fame career at the position.

OK, that’s Fielder dispensed with.

Now comes Hanley Ramirez, who, as far as I’m concerned IS the 2009 NL MVP.

Just thinking of how good Ramirez is fills me with chagrin regarding the fact that this guy was never given the opportunity to suit up at Fenway Park. Yes, I know, we got Lowell and Beckett out of that deal, and likely would not have won in 2007 had it not been for the trade. But nevertheless, with Mike Lowell becoming the 10 million dollar white elephant in the room for all of the Sox’ off-season plans and Josh Beckett never quite being the perennial Cy Young candidate he should be, one can’t help but wonder ‘what if’ when it comes to the Ramirez deal.

Ramirez has had a phenomenal season. 24 HR, 106 RBI .342/.410/.543. Those are elite numbers. As the Marlin’s website tellingly states, Ramirez was “second to one” in the MVP voting this year.

The trouble is, the MVP award is not about crowning the best player in the division. If that were the case Dustin Pedroia would not have had a prayer in 2008. It is about choosing that player which was most valuable to his team. That the Cardinals still limped into the playoffs despite Albert not going deep once in September must surely tell us something about his value to that team. While Pujols is the face of the organisation and a vital, invaluable part of that team, it is not like the Cardinals were devoid of talent without him. Holliday, Carpenter, Wainwright, even guys like Skip Schmacher and Ryan Ludwick all made up the pieces of the puzzle for the Cards in ’09. It was not simply the Albert Pujols show.

Not so the Marlins. While the team benefitted from the emergence of Chris Coghlan and got another year of all-or-nothing production from the soon-to-depart Dan Uggla they were a very different team from the Marlin’s sides of 2006 and 2007. Gone is Miggy Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez is now, to once again pilfer the infamous Reggie Jackson quote: the straw that stirs the drink. Simply put, (Josh Johnson’s pitching aside) Hanley is everything to the Fish.

The Marlins were a contender for much of 2009. Without Ramirez the story would have been far different and would have seen them rival Pittsburgh and DC for the most hopeless franchise in baseball.

All that and what’s more is that Hanley is a short stop. A short stop! The very heart of the infield. In the thick of everything, all year long. Surely one could make a convincing argument that having an elite offensive player at a position generally reversed for mediocre hitting, fleet-footed players is inherently more valuable that having a slightly more productive player at first base, a position renowned (along with LF) for housing hulking, defensively sub-standard players of the Adam Dunn/Ryan Howard variety.

I for one expect Hanley to win this award comfortably in 2010. Hopefully then this guy will finally get what he deserves; the opportunity to play for a team that cares one iota about winning, can actually draw an attendance that isn’t a league-wide joke and give him the treatment an MVP calibre player deserves.

Love that dirty water, Boston, you’re my home.