Random musings

Hunter Golden ponders life, Lackey, losers, and luscious Japanese pitchers.

John LackeySo this past week was a busy week for me – one that featured a new baby and a new hurricane. Certainly, these are the kinds of events that make you ponder life and love and how lucky we are to have both. With so much down time that’s not really downtime, it gives you the opportunity to think about and consider things never quite considered. Or things you had considered in the past but never cared to write about. Or, it’s just simply that my brain was a bit over cluttered this week and I needed to clear out the proverbial gutters.

Regardless, here’s some random Red Sox-related thoughts I’ve had over the course of the week in hopes of clearing the mind and provoking discussion. I hope you like your ham served cold.

On one year deals for starting pitchers

I know the emerging trend in baseball is to sign down-on-their-luck/soft-tossing pitchers to affordable 1-year deals in hopes of producing value, but I don’t know if it’s a reliable strategy for the Red Sox.

The whole point of a pillow contract is so that a player can take the opportunity to improve their stock in one season in hopes of gaining a long-term deal the the next, either with the team that signed them or another potential suitor. Fans seem married to this idea after the Adrian Beltre signingand as well they should be. Beltre had a fantastic year with the Red Sox before siging a 6-year $90 million deal with the Texas Rangers during the 2011 offseason. The Red Sox got one great year out of Beltre and Beltre flipped his success into a huge pay day. Everyone wins.

The problem with the Beltre deal as an example is that – simply put – he’s not a pitcher. While Fenway would be an attractive landing pad for a hitter, I don’t think the same can be said for pitchers. If the point of a pillow contract is to make your statistics look good, then is Fenway Park – OR – the AL East the place you want to be? Forget JUST Fenway, what about all the other stadiums you’ll spend the majority of your time playing in like Yankee Stadium, Rogers Centre and Camden Yards? If the idea is to make yourself look good then wouldn’t you want to go elsewhere?

And to be sure – it’s not just that Fenway is a hitter’s park. If the White Sox or Rangers approached a Dan Haren-type and said ‘hey, come play for us’, wouldn’t they rather go there? In Texas you have to deal with Arlington, but you’ve also got Seattle, Los Angeles and Oakland to look forward to. Soon, Houston will also be a destination. In the Central, there’s Detroit and Minnesota. The problem with Fenway is the package of parks that comes with it, not just the park itself.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the CONCEPT of a 1-year deal for a slightly-fallen-from-grace starter, but I just don’t see anyone who’d be excited to come here. Guys like Aaron Cook – pitchers who are absolutely desperate to get another look no matter what – would seem like the more realistic options in that scenario. After experiencing only marginal success going down the totally blown-out pitcher route this year, I don’t think the Red Sox are eager to turn back to that strategy. Having the money and the freedom to get something better almost assures it.

As such, I feel like the Red Sox improve the rotation by either dumping multiple years on a starter, adding one via trade or merely seeing what one of their prospects can bring to the table. A one-year deal is ideal and if they can swing it – god bless them. I just don’t know if it’s as easy or realistic as people are making it out to be.

The Red Sox should make a very serious play for Shoehi Otani

I love Shoehi Ohtani. His raw stuff is obviously apparent, featuring a fastball that touches 100mph and sits comfortably in the 95-98mph range. He’s got an 84 mph slider, solid splitter and a get-me-over 77mph changeup – all with movement. While his stuff is far better than his command, it’s hard to find many 18-year olds that profile with his build, stuff and potential upside. The chance to bag him as a prospect now is even more intriguing.

He’s got a great, physical frame at 6’4, 190lbs and features great arm speed. While there’s always a degree of risk that comes along with singing a player that far away from the majors at the kind of money he’ll be commanding, arms like Otani’s don’t come along often.

Some scouts have suggested he’d be a comparable to a late first-rounder from this year’s draft. I’d probably peg him higher. Japanese pitchers usually don’t have as advanced control as most US players at that age but most US players don’t have that kind of stuff or frame either. There’s still a little room to grow and lots of control to learn, so he’d be a worthwhile investment. While some Red Sox fans might groan about Daisuke Matsuzaka, let’s remember that he came to the states with some deeply engrained bad habits and a lot of mileage on his arm. Getting Otani at 18, gives the Red Sox the opportunity to mold him into the pitcher they want him to be.

The Red Sox also might want to keep an eye on another budding star overseas as well. While Otani might be the hot Japanese name right now, many scouts seem to like fellow 18 year old RHP Shintaro Fujinami better. Like Otani, Fujinami was taken in last week’s NPB draft but has opted instead to begin his career in Japan. There’s been much made of the ‘Gentleman’s agreement’ between MLB and the NPB, so Otani negotiations will have to be treated with care and the posting system will definitely come into play once Fujinami goes on the block. The Red Sox could find themselves saving a lot of money by passing on Fujinami and dealing with the hoops to land Otani. Given the advantage the Red Sox will have in signing overseas talent thanks to the new CBA, they should press hard for the Japanese youngster.

Is there any reason to be bullish on John Lackey?

While it’s true Lackey’s name has become somewhat of a punch line around these parts, I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all to suggest that he might be a pleasant surprise next season. I think it’s entirely possible he could be pretty decent, even.

While I don’t have a definitive answer, I’d say there would be any number of optimistic reasons one could could cite. Pitchers are beasts born largely out of routine, and with so much disruption going on in Lackey’s life on an off the field over the past few years, one would think the conditions have lined up for a little success. Also worth considering:

• This will be the first year in a long, long time Lackey won’t be pitching injured
• His divorce – regardless of people’s feelings about it – is over
• Expectations are low – even the slightest success could rally some support which could lead to a confidence boost.
• His first season in Fenway didn’t live up to the hype, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it was made out to be. In fact, it was a pretty unlucky year altogether.

That last point- to me- is even stickier. While Lackey’s first half in 2010 was certifiably bad, his second half was pretty good. His ERA dipped almost an entire point, he had 20 more strikeouts in 11 fewer IP and his walks dropped off significantly. He didn’t get much in the way of defensive help either, which might give us some room for some optimism here.

While Lackey is kind of known for poor starts, if Red Sox fans are patient with his 1st half, they might get a nice surprise in the second half. Last year was a wash with him pitching injured, so it’s really hard to infer anything from his results.

I think there’s reason to give Lackey a chance.

Enough already about the Kevin Youkilis return to Boston stuff.

The Chicago White Sox declined Kevin Youkilis’ $13 million option today, sparking some speculation he could potentially be a target for the Boston Red Sox for the 2013 season.

I’ll be blunt: That’d be a terrible idea.

Youkilis has always been – first and foremost – a fastball hitter. His ability to produce by hitting the FB has declined significantly over the past four seasons as evidenced by his wFB.

2009: 35.5
2010: 28.8
2011: 14.2
2012: 8.9

He rode an exceedingly low .269 BABIP last year, which suggests that the stuff he IS catching up to, he’s making weak contact and hitting a lot of lazy ground balls. He’s always been a player who scouts predicted would have a pretty precipitous drop-off given the intensity level and wristy-ness of his swing, but even this likely exceeds their expectations.

His power has also dwindled, posting a steadily declining ISO each of the past three seasons. Throw in a spiked K%, declining average, declining OBP, exceedingly poor base running and it’s safe to assume he’s a player who is clearly on the decline.

For Youk’s sake, his lefty/righty splits would suggest there’s still some gas in his MLB career tank, but only as a platoon option at 1B with at bats against RHP.

That’s not even getting into his nagging injury history – of which has prevented him from seeing 140 games in a season since 2008. People can argue the injury issues hurting his performance and while there’s certainly some truth to that, there’s no indicator that it’s going to magically cure itself anytime soon.

Given the steady injury history and the crystal clear statstical evidence that shows he’s in obvious, rapid decline, Youklis should be avoided altogether. It’s time to move on.

Whose managerial tenure was worse? Bobby Valentine in Boston or Ozzie Guillen in Miami?

Just an interesting conversation that came up on Twitter last night. On one hand, you have a Latino praising Fidel Castro, openly fighting with players and leading a newly minted team head first into the toilet.

On the other hand, you have Bobby Valentine displaying subtle symptoms of early-onset dementia, cloak and daggering his players to the media and taking a corvette of a team and driving it hood-first into a tree.

Ozzie may have had a few more friends, but Bobby had more enemies in a situation where it might have more appropriate to be a jerk. One helped ruin a new stadium opening and the other ruined an old stadium’s 100th year anniversary.

Seriously, this is a push and I’m mostly an awful waffle. Make this decision so I don’t have to.

Categories: Adrian Beltre Bobby Valentine Boston Red Sox Kevin Youkilis Ozzie Guillen Shintaro Fujinami Shohei Otani

A world-class baseball nerd, baseball fan, and baseball man, Hunter Golden agreed to terms with Fire Brand of the American League in September of 2012 in exchange for an oversized baby bottle, football helmet filled with cottage cheese and naked pictures of Bea Arthur. In January of 2013, he was named Editor. He likes run-on sentences, enjoys over-using hyphens, and smelling books. When it comes to serious stuff, Hunter is a professional writer (no, really), father of two, Husband of one and whose natural habitat is Western Massachusetts and agreeable parts of Connecticut. Follow him at @hunterGbaseball on Twitter or shoot him an email at [email protected]

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