David Ortiz – Samara Pearlstein

Sit down with a big cup of coffee, because have I a treat for you. I participated in a chat on Tuesday night and they have made the transcript available for Fire Brand to peruse. Enjoy…

Do you think that the Red Sox will be looking to add another bat sometime during the season?

Absolutely. The offense is the one point of true concern, especially with the relative unknown that is Papi, Lugo, Lowrie and Lowell… as Billy Beane one said, the first 2 months are figuring out what you need, the next 2 getting it, the final 2 playing with what you have. Once the Sox can identify where the trouble spots are, that is when they will make their move… also the economy will hit a lot of teams hard. MLB is projecting a 20% attendance drop (not for the Sox, though!) so a lot of owners will be telling GMs to cut payroll… and that means their higher-salaried players will be moving to new homes.

Since Ortiz is complaining of shoulder pain when he throws, do you think he will be healthy for the start of the Red Sox season?

The only time David Ortiz ever needs to throw is when he’s in the NL park in October for the World Series! His wrist “clicking” is gone and he feels 100 percent. Does that mean he will be back as the Papi of old? No, of course not… but shoulder pain while throwing is not a concern. The only thing I would be worried about is if it manifested itself to hurting when hitting, but the Sox’s medical staff is very intelligent and I am sure they are doing everything they can to prevent further injury. Long story short: Ortiz is as healthy as he can get. You can’t always play in full health, this is the Ortiz we are getting.

Do you think that Tek will be able to catch 110 games this year?

Be able to? Sure. He could catch all 162 if he wanted. The issue is: can he catch 110 games competently? I personally am predicting 110 games played as the max for Varitek, actually… that would mean he starts seven out of 10 games… that’s two turns through the rotation. He sits for Wakefield twice and then gets a day off for someone else every other turn through the rotation… and of course, he’ll sit day games after night games, as we saw happening last year with Kevin Cash.

Do you think that Wake and Lowell will make it through the entire season without going on the DL?

It’s tough to predict, but if I was a betting man, I would lay money on Wakefield hitting the Dl. He is hurt, and he will continue to be hurt until he retires. He is not having surgery to repair his labrum injury because that would knock him out for a full year. At his age and with the knuckleball, it’s not a (big) concern. Unfortunately, though, the issue is that Wakefield tires a lot more than he used to. Gone are the days of 200 innings. So yes, I’d say he’s definitely headed to the Dl, if only just to rest. As for Lowell… he could open the season on the DL. All it takes is one setback, and he’s not at full speed yet.

Varitek and Francona – Samara Pearlstein

Is Francona a good manager or is he lucky to be managing where he is or a combination of both?

I think Francona is a sensational manager. He out managed Mike Scioscia, Joe Torre and multiple other managers in the playoffs and in the regular season, he rightfully takes the tack of trying to stick with a player to let them work through their issues. If he gives up too quickly on a player, not only does he lose the potential contributions of that player but he loses the confidence and trust of the players. The marriage of “clubhouse manager” and “game manager” in Francona is sensational. Top 5 manager in the bigs.

Do you think that Ellsbury will be a complete ball player (hitter and fielder) or will he be one of those players that never quite puts it all together on the field?

I think it’s too early to write Ellsbury off… everyone was sending him marriage proposals after 2007. He had a tough year, it happens. Hot start, slow end. Happens to a lot of young players who can’t sustain the grind of the season. Ellsbury put on 10 pounds (players tend to lose 10 pounds over the course of the season) so he’ll be that much stronger to start and to end. He was exposed to an inside fastball and knows he has to correct that hole if he ever intends to be successful. It’s all about adjusting to the adjustments pitchers make to you. Some players can do it, some can’t. This season will be the key factor in determining how his career will go.

Do you feel that the Red Sox are the team to beat this year in the AL East?

As far as Boston is concerned, Tampa Bay is the team to beat, and they want to thrash the Yankees after their big off-season, too. I don’t think you can pick out one team to beat out of the Big Three (and the Orioles and Jays are no slouch either). That said… I look at the Yankees’ roster and while I am impressed by what they brought in, I’m not seeing it. They let a lot of people go (Mussina, Abreu, etc.) and while they did bring in better players, the uptick in production won’t quite be enough. Also, as evidenced already by their awful 3B options while A-rod is out, they have zero depth. That will bite them. Hard. The Sox? They don’t have great depth in the middle infield, but everywhere else, especially pitching (most important), they are great. The Red Sox’s pitching depth is so impressive and scary… They have 20 pitchers who have to fit into 12 spots. That’s going to be what saves them in the end and gets them into the playoffs.

Jon Lester is set to sign a 5yr/$30m contract extension with a $13M option in 2014 upon passing his physical; considering the state of the economy, do you think it was wise for him to accept it? Or do you think he could have received more by waiting to be a FA?

Jon Lester has received the largest contract extension given to a pitcher with two years service time (doubled the previous leader) so even in this economy, he made out like a bandit. Could he have received more by waiting to be a free agent and going year by year? Of Course. That’s no question. But could he also have gotten the $30 million if, say, he gets injured… or regresses? No. Joe Mays got an extension in 2002 after two impressive years with the Twins… he fell apart due to injuries, and he is definitely thanking his stars he signed that contract instead of risking it. Because that’s what this is: this is Lester managing his risk and willing to sign at a discount to guarantee himself that money. If it’s a choice between a known $30 or an unknown $0 – $60 scale, for someone in Lester’s shoes in such a volatile position… the choice is obvious.

Bay – Samara Pearlstein

Will the Sox sign Jason Bay to a contract extension before April 1?

I think that while both sides are dialoguing, neither side is in any particular hurry. Bay will join Matt Holliday as the two biggest bats in free agency so would be in line for a huge payday. On the Sox’s end, they may prefer to see if Bay will continue his ways or repeat his 2007 levels. Not only that, but the Sox may want to retain flexibility in case a deal falls in their lap in July for a star player that they’d start in the outfield in 2010… or if Lars Anderson/josh Reddick is ready (unlikely, but still) to take over the Green Monster in 2010. A contract extension is very real… but they’re in no hurry.

What do you believe is in Casey Kelly’s future? Will he end up as a SS or as a pitcher?

Casey Kelly really, really wants to start every day at shortstop, but the Red Sox want him to pitch (because getting a high-flight pitcher is the hardest thing to do in baseball). So Kelly is going to pitch 100 innings and then play the rest of the season at short… how it all plays out is dependent on where he performs better. My guess is that he ends up as a position player, only because the numbers dictate it: Pitchers get injured and get cut all the time. It’s rare that happens for a position player. We’ll see what he does this year.

With an abundance of home grown players and a mix of solid minor leaguers, some with ML experience (e.g., Nick Green, Brad Wilkerson), do you think that the Red Sox will continue to stockpile players in the farm system or use the farm to significantly improve the 25 man roster? What is your long term view of how that talent will be used? They remain conservative and develop players allowing the lesser players to leave via minor league Fa or do you see some type of blockbuster trade where a team trades a player like Peavy or Braun for 4 to 6 minor leaguers? Or a combination of a Major leaguer and multiple minor leaguers?

The farm system is serving two purposes, and two purposes only: To give them the players they need to fill spots internally and to give them trade bait. Green/Wilkerson isn’t that relevant to the discussion because they’re simply building depth as protection for injuries (and we’ve already seen that in Mark Kotsay). I don’t think you could call the Red Sox conservative… their goal is to develop players and to turn those players into commodities… whether by having them produce in the majors for them or have them go elsewhere to get someone they want. If Ryan Braun became available today and the Brewers wanted Clay Buchholz, Lars Anderson, Josh Reddick and Yamaico Navarro, you’d be fitting Braun for a Red Sox uniform right now.

You have already touched on this question somewhat Evan.. but: In 2008, the Red Sox led or placed well in MLB with many team stats, e.g., run differential. Injuries and a challenging schedule could have resulted in a team implosion. The fact that they did so well despite injuries and a schedule that was the most challenging in MLB history strongly suggests that team depth prevented a 2008 collapse. In view of much improved team pitching, depth, defense and health, does that not make them the odds on favorite to win the AL East?

Sure, the Red Sox had a great year last year and who knows, if Clay Buchholz hadn’t had the issues they had, could have finished first. I don’t think you can argue against a season that saw them go to a ALCS Game 7. They took that team and they added pitchers such as John Smoltz and Takashi Saito (who, after this season, will be considered the two most significant acquisitions the Sox made) while being able to get Lowell and Ortiz (relatively) healthy. Taking a team that finished one game out of the World Series, improving them while seeing the Tampa Bay Rays improve with Pat Burrell but basically just hope that their team has no regression… I hate to say the Sox are the favorite to win the East because all three teams are so good that it’s going to come down to luck, plain and simple. Luck with injuries, luck with playing the hot hand. But throwing that out the window, the Sox in my opinion are the strongest team on paper.

A-Rod – Samara Pearlstein

You touched on this question also many sports scribes are predicting the Yankees to be the Al East winner. Some of us believe that to a large extent the Yankee signings merely replaced lost players. Some of us believe that team age, significant absence of Slappy A-roid, Posada and Rivera coming off surgery, a suspect bull pen, and lack of team depth, make the Yankees at best a 3rd place team. What say you?

I don’t see it. A-Rod is out through mid-May with the same injury that clearly made Lowell a lesser player than he is. CC Sabathia is a great pitcher, but he can only hope he matches Mike Mussina’s production last year. I will say, however, that a full year of Chien-Ming Wang and A.J. Burnett (if he can stay healthy!) will go a long way. Long enough? Nady stumbled after the trade, Swisher is a liability, their center field is one giant question mark, they have one of the worst defensive teams in the game, and who knows if Jorge Posada can come back. So yes, I do feel they will finish third. Heck, if everything goes right for them, I still don’t see them finishing in first.

Projecting the inevitable injuries for any team is an inexact science at best. Having said that, the laws of probability suggest that the Red Sox should not be beset with injuries to critical players as they were in 2008. They also seem positioned to deal better with injuries in 2009 as good or better than any team in MLB. Do you agree? Why or why not?

I disagree because 1) the laws of probability say a player who has been injured before will likely get injured again, 2) Ortiz and Lowell are still not in top shape, 3) Jon Lester’s 237 innings are a prime example of the Verducci Effect, 4) They were among the best medical teams in 2008, just like 2009, and look what happened in 2008.

From the cryptic feedback given to sports scribes, it seems as if, despite denials to the contrary by Francona, that Lugo will be the starting Ss. Some of us feel that the team will be a better team if Lugo is the starting SS and Lowrie backs up SS, 2B, and 3B. What is your take on this?

Ooh, I’m glad this was asked… Jed Lowrie will receive a ton of playing time at short, let’s get that out of the way first. But the thing is, he’ll also be the primary backup for second and third base. Francona is able to be cryptic about it because even if they privately anoint Lowrie the starter at short, he’ll be filling in so much at second and third that they can either claim Lugo is the starter and they’re just bringing him along slowly as to not aggravate the hamstring or that they’re doing a platoon. At the end of the year, that’s what it’s going to come down to. Both Lowrie and Lugo will receive 350-400 at-bats. Also… don’t be surprised to see that offensive playmaker that the Sox acquire in midseason be a shortstop.

Several players are doing quite well in spring training such as Carter. What are your thoughts on someone other than Wilkerson being the 5th outfielder until Kotsay returns?

I am a big fan of Jeff Bailey and Chris Carter will eventually have a career in the bigs… but Wilkerson is going to get the spot. Why? Defense. He can play it, while Bailey is an average first baseman and below average outfielder, while Carter is a very poor defender at any position. The Sox want to have defense as their priority with J.d. Drew and Rocco Baldelli on the roster, both offensive players. They need a defender to “pinch-field” in case of injury or late innings. Also, Wilkerson is a known commodity, he’s had a career in the majors. If Drew/Rocco was to get hurt, then maybe Bailey or Carter vaults ahead of Wilkerson. But for the role they need, Wilkerson is the guy.

How far away from the 25 man roster is Lars Anderson? And a tougher one.. what about Tazawa?

Lars Anderson will debut in the major leagues in September. If he tears the ball off the cover earlier in the season, he has a shot at supplanting Jeff Bailey and Chris Carter as minor league options at 1B, but I doubt it. So the answer is that Lars’ first major league at-bat comes in September. But that’s 40-man roster, you asked for 25. In 2010, he’ll be the new Lou Merloni with multiple trips up I-95. In 2011, he will be starting… whether that’s at 1B, Lf or DH, I don’t know. (hope it doesn’t happen, but he may never make the 25-man roster… if the right deal comes along, he will be traded.) Tazawa… I’m going to go out on a limb and say he does not debut this year. He has the stuff to do so, but the Sox will want to fully evaluate him and limit his innings. So I see him breaking in in 2010.

A healthy outfield of Bay, Ellsbury, Drew, Baldelli and Kotsay could very well be the strongest and deepest in MLB. Do you agree and do you think any team in the AL compares favorably with the Sox outfield?

They’re certainly up there, but as for strongest and deepest… in the American League, I could see the Cleveland Indians (Francisco, Sizemore, Choo) and the Rays (Crawford, Upton, Joyce/kapler) having a say in that discussion. So let’s put them at a Top 3 outfield. If you bring Rocco and Kotsay into the discussion, sure, hard to say they aren’t the best group of outfielders in the Al. They have it all: Speed, power, average, defense, plate discipline. By the way, so do the Rays. Those are the top outfields in the league.

Varitek – Samara Pearlstein

It has been reported that Varitek has finally responded to hitting Coach Magadan and has agreed to make changes that were suggested two years ago. What would you view as acceptable improvement for Varitek that would result in the Red Sox picking up his 2010 option?

Acceptable improvement? If Varitek is willing to become a backup in 2010, all he has to do is repeat his 2008 numbers. That said, it’s kind of hard to get worse than what he was last year… a lot of people don’t see him with a .240 average, but I do. His power is gone and will never return, but I do think given the right adjustments (and it sounds as if he’s listening to Magadan) he can hit .240. If he can do that, he has a chance to start in 2010… unless the Sox get Joe Mauer!

Do you think the Red Sox will make a trade for another catcher or stay with Bard? What do you think of Ianetta from the Rockies? Do you think as some of us do that Saltamachhia and Teagarden are overrated? What would be a balanced trade for one of them? Do you think the Red Sox could afford to trade away Buchholz, Bowden or Bard?

In order: The Sox will stay with Bard for the 2009 season. He was tremendously unlucky in 2008 for the Padres, and the real Josh Bard is the one that succeeded for them in 2006 and 2007. Past the 2009 season? As a backup, sure. As the starter, probably not. I really like Chris Ianetta, but he’s their future at catcher, so that’s out. I think that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the real deal. He can hit, and his defensive issues can be fixed (varitek wasn’t that great a defender when he was younger). I do think Teagarden is a bit overrated, but he’s such a good defender that it’s okay to sacrifice some defense. I think the Red Sox could afford to trade Bard away easily. You don’t hang onto your relievers for dear life unless they’re consistently spectactular like Mariano Rivera or Jonathan Papelbon… Clay Buchholz could go, but his ceiling is obscene while Michael Bowden has a lesser ceiling… of the two, the Sox would probably elect to trade Bowden, but I can’t see them trading all three of them. D. Bard and one of the starters? Sure.

It appears that George Kottaras is not having a good spring training. In view of the fact that he is out of options, What are your thoughts about him being DFA’d or traded even if for a PTBNL?

A poll of six spring training scouts recently said that George Kottaras would clear waivers, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in Pawtucket splitting time with Dusty Brown. Of course, if a team comes to Boston and says “look, we want Kottaras and are claiming him but want to trade a PTBNL to ensure no one beats our claim,” then yes, he would be moved. Be nice to have him for depth, I think he could be a late bloomer, but it is what it is.

Wake – Samara Pearlstein

A lot of folks are strong advocates of Tim Wakefield calling it quits. In 2008 the Red Sox bull pen had 16 games where they ‘lost’ the game when a starting pitcher had the lead when he was pulled from the game. Of those 16, they lost 7 for Tim Wakefield alone when he left with the lead. Despite some DL time, Tim Wakefield’s record with good bull pen support could/should have been 14-7 instead of the 10-11 he ended with. Is continued retention of Tim Wakefield good for the Red Sox? Why or why not?

It’s good for the Red Sox because why would you want to get rid of a pitcher capable of giving you a 4.25-4.50 ERA year in and year out, who can come out of the bullpen as needed, add depth to the team and come at a very cost-affordable $4.5 million? With that perpetual team option, the Sox can afford to evaluate his performance every year. If he performs, he will come back. If not, he won’t. So the continued retention is definitely good because it means he’s doing his job.

Assuming that Brad Penny and John Smoltz will not be on the roster in 2010, do you think it more than likely that their replacements will be Buchholz and Bowden?

Yes, their replacements would most likely be Buchholz and Bowden. If one of them is moved, Masterson would be the other in-house option. Don’t discount free agency either. If John Lackey hits the market, the Sox will be right there in the bidding.

Speaking of Buchholz, he is having a solid spring training. Albeit that he will start at AAA, should he be called up early in the season, some fans believe he will stay on the 25 man roster. What say you?

Buchholz, no matter what (unless Penny gets injured, but even then they’d carry a reliever over Buchholz) is being sent to Triple-A. He has to perform in game situations first before the Sox give him another shot.

You have already touched on this topic but some folks (like me) feel Ellsbury is the real deal. Having spent 35 years on baseball fields, it is my contention that Jacoby Ellsbury has the smoothest swing of any hitter since Ted Williams. His bat control is far superior to most players with much more MLB experience. Assuming he makes needed adjustments to respond to how he is being pitched to, it is contended he will be the best leadoff hitter in MLB. What say you?

The best leadoff hitter in the game has to be Hanley Ramirez. If he moves to third as is the rumor, then yes, he would be the best leadoff hitter. [Postscript: That Grady Sizemore fella isn’t that bad, either.]

With the workload of the WBC, it is being suggested that the Red Sox will place Matsuzaka on the DL sometime in late summer to allow him to rest up and reduce his innings pitched. Do you agree?

Yes. The Red Sox are notorious for this.

With Beckett, Matsuzaka, Lester, Penny, Wakefield, and Smoltz, it is being suggested that we may see one or more of them on the DL list in 2009 to prevent being forced to DFA or trade a pitcher. What say you?

I have a feeling you’ll see all six on the DL at some point in the season, whether or not they’re truly hurt.

Some scribes and sports sites (like BP) are handicapping the Yankees to win 97 games with the Red Sox winning 96 and TB 95. Is that a cop out for having no idea which team will win the AL East? What is your prediction?

It’s a cop out. Prediction: Sox 94, Rays 92, Yankees 91.

We know the first three in the rotation are Lester, Beckett, and Dice-K. Who do you see starting the season as our #4 and #5? Where does Masterson fit in?

Assuming things progress as intended, it will be Wakefield 4, Penny 5. Continued setbacks by Penny will allow Masterson to take the spot. Otherwise, Masterson relieves.

Speaking of Hanley Ramírez…do you see any chance in the Sox trading for Hanley Ramírez at some point, and if so what would you give up for him?

No. They called the Marlins up earlier this offseason and were told Hanley was not movable. But since it’s fun to pretend, let’s see. I would give up Buchholz, D. Bard, Lowrie, Reddick, Hagadone.

Reddick – Sea Dogs

Who do you think is going to be the next player in the Sox farm system to break out?

The sexy answer is going to be Lars Anderson, but it’s also the obvious one (plus, he kind of already has broken out) so I’ll go with one no one talks about: Reddick. Great defender in right, can absolutely rake. Struggles with pitch recognition. If all breaks well, he’ll be Vladimir Guerrero reincarnate, replacing J.d. Drew in RF in the next few years.

Who do you see the Sox targeting in trade talks or as a FA after the season as a long-term solution at SS?

Had a feeling I would get that. J.J. Hardy.

Do you see the Sox re-kindling the talks for Miguel Montero midseason, and then grooming him to start in 2010? The D’backs seem like a team that could be one cheap, quality SP away from taking the NL West, and the Snyder extension almost makes Montero sure to be traded. If the Sox’s other Sps are healthy, Montero-for-Bowden in July?

The Diamondbacks would have done it, it’s the Sox that said no. So it’s on them… my guess is they want to protect their pitching depth while seeing how Montero plays out the first half. They could even do the deal after the year too.

[Question lost, but asked about influence of Bill James.]

Long answer: link. Short answer: A lot, James’ insights have shaped who the Sox have acquired.

[Question lost, but asked if Red Sox could acquire one of the three catchers in Kansas City.]

No. Olivo and Buck are both in the majors and both want to start. I guess we could get Buck to be a backup, but they aren’t really very good… sorry, KC fans. Pena… sure, as depth. But some other team will give more. Heard that KC will be dealing one of those three very soon. Doubt it’s to the Sox.

Pedro – Evan Brunell

[Question lost, but asked if there’s any chance the Sox could sign Pedro Martinez given his performance in the WBC.]

Nope, they have way too much pitching! Would be nice, but it’s not going to happen. It would have by now, and if there’s injury/attrition in the season, they’ll fill internally, not with one who won’t have pitched since the WBC.

What do you see as the Sox’s best catching solution, long term?

Joe Mauer! Kidding, I don’t think the Sox will get him, but it’s more realistic than people give it credit for. I think the Sox will just eventually break down and trade either Buchholz or Bowden… I really, really like Luis Expositio but I don’t think he can arrive in time.

[Could the Sox trade] for Ianetta?

Nope, the Rockies won’t trade their catcher of the future. They have no one else, and Yorvit Torrealba is not an acceptable answer.

Last season Ellsbury had to look over his shoulder with Crisp. Now that Crisp is wearing powder blue, do you see Ellsbury taking a step forward in his production?

If anything, I think it will be harder… he’ll have to self-motivate instead of being pushed. But there’s a lot to having peace of mind too. I don’t know what’s in Jacoby’s head, so I can’t say. Simple progression dictates that he gets better.

I like Exposito also, you have an opinion on Lin or Kalish? Behind Reddick of course.

Too early to truly evaluate these two, but I really like Kalish… his 2008 was poor because of a lingering injury. Lin is more raw but has good upside… Kalish has a better shot of reaching his potential, but Lin probably has more upside. PS: Lin, Reddick and Ellsbury in the same outfield? No one’s getting a hit out there.

Papelbon – Samara Pearlstein

Do you think the Sox will ultimately get Papelbon to agree to a long-term, or will they groom someone like Daniel Bard to be the future closer? Also, do you think Bard will get a cup of coffee later this season or stay in the minors to develop/gain confidence?

Bard has been so impressive in spring training I think they’re more willing to give him a shot in the majors if needed… but with what happened to Craig Hansen, they will tread with caution. I can see a September callup, if not just to absorb things. They’ll always groom someone to be a closer (btw: Ramon Ramirez would close before Bard got a shot.) but Papelbon is their main guy. They don’t mind going year to year with him because they don’t lose money if he gets hurt… and they won’t pay him what he thinks is his value to lock him up in pre-free agent years; that defeats the concept.

Which pitching prospect do you see taking the step forward?

Might be a cop-out answer, but I don’t think so because he’s on pretty much no one’s radar due to his Tommy John… Nick Hagadone. That kid looks sick. He’s being developed as a starter, but could be our shutdown lefty reliever for a decade.