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Ten free agents the Red Sox have to look at

While the amount of roster turnover that will occur before the 2012 season remains to be seen, the simple fact of the matter is that the Red Sox will need to make changes. And let’s forget the Albert Pujols or C.J. Wilson talk. With contracts expiring on several members of the team, Boston would do well to do more than just kick the tires on these 10 players who enter the offseason as free agents.

Carlos Beltran, outfield
The Red Sox are probably going to shy away from a big-name signing this offseason, but with a big gap in right field, the Red Sox could make an effort to sign him. After two bad seasons with the Mets in 2009 and 2010, he rebounded with a very strong 2011. He played primarily in right field and played well at the position. With J.D. Drew’s contract coming off the books, the Red Sox would be able to swallow the large contract he would command.

Johnny Damon, outfield
Yep, I said it. The Red Sox need strong veteran leadership and while he’s not outspoken, you can’t say that Damon doesn’t lead by example. At 37 years old, he can’t be relied on as an everyday player in the field, but he most likely could be had for reasonable dollars while serving as a part-time left fielder and DH. Clearly his best days are behind him, but with Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia at the top of the line up, he would not be expected to offer the offensive spark he did his first time around. Especially if the team doesn’t have to trot him out there and stretch him out in the field too much, he could be a valuable presence to have around young outfielders like Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish. His .307 career batting average at Fenway Park doesn’t hurt either.

Mark Buerhle, starting pitcher
Buerhle is as his name would suggest – a hard-nosed, go-out-there-and-get-it-done kind of pitcher. Given the reports on the subpar attitude and cliquishness of the Red Sox pitching staff in 2011, it’s that kind of player that could help change the culture. Buerhle isn’t a guy who will strike out 15 batters, but he has never thrown fewer than 200 innings and had won at least 10 games in every season since 2001. He is considered one of the most consistent major league pitchers in the game right now and would most likely command somewhere around $16 million per year, so somewhere some payroll would most likely have to be shifted.

Joel Zumaya, relief pitcher
Zumaya is a guy who has been riddled with injuries over his short major league career, but with the amount of talent the right-handed fireballer has, it may be worth taking a flier on him if the dollars were right, and they certainly should be after he missed the entire 2011 season. When healthy, he features a fastball that lives in the 97-99 MPH range and his late and close statistics suggest a guy who can help solidify the back end of a bullpen. Major league hitters have a .218 batting average against him. If the price is right, why not?

Darren Oliver, relief pitcher
At 41 years old, Oliver may decide to quit while he’s ahead and hang ’em up, but the veteran journeyman has become one of the premier left-handed specialists in the game. The Red Sox have been lacking in quality left-handed relief for a few years now and a guy like Oliver, if used properly and not stretched too far, could have real value facing one or two batters in key spots. After floating from team to team and between starting and relieving for most of his career, Oliver has settled into the role and has had a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the last four seasons. Last year, left-handed batters hit just .227 with a .318 slugging percentage against him.

Michael Cuddyer, outfield
Cuddyer has been coveted by the Red Sox in the past and he always seems to be a name that pops up around the trade deadline. Now there’s an opening in the outfield. While his 32 home runs a couple of years ago was an aberration, but he’s still a productive player who will come at a reasonable price tag in comparison to other players the Red Sox have signed recently. He has experience playing all over the field and versatility is valued in the organization.

Bill Hall, utility
Hall and the Giants have a mutual option, but if the decision is made to move on, Hall could once again be a useful member of a winning team. Hall isn’t much of a regular, but it’s hard to forget that in 2010 he hit 18 home runs in limited duty for the Red Sox. The super utility man had a miserable 2011 as the starting second baseman for Houston before being released, which should keep his price tag low, so he’d be worth a flier.

Ryan Doumit, catcher
If Jason Varitek retires, the Red Sox will need a viable option at backup catcher. Ryan Lavarnway figures to be more of a DH than a true catcher and Boston’s other minor league prospects are still a ways away from being ready for the bigs. The Pirates have an option on Doumit, but the $7.25 million price tag is likely too rich for their taste. Doumit has had injury issues, but in a backup role similar to the workload Jason Varitek had last year, he could do well. In 77 games in 2011, he batted .301 with an .830 OPS while playing exclusively at catcher. He also has experience in the outfield, as the Pirates experimented with him there in an effort to keep him healthy.

Francisco Rodriguez, relief pitcher
Rodriguez isn’t the pitcher he was a few years ago, but at 30 years old, he is still very effective. While he most likely will look for an opportunity to close, he was absolutely lights out as a set up man for Milwaukee down the stretch and may be swayed by the chance to play for another playoff contender. With the Red Sox bullpen needing serious work, having a guy like Rodriguez that you can rely on along with Daniel Bard in the late innings the way Bobby Jenks was supposed to in 2011. Or if the Red Sox decide to try Bard as a starter as it is being rumored, he could fill that set up role.

Jonathan Papelbon, relief pitcher
Papelbon had arguably his best season as a Red Sox in 2011, save the tail end when nothing went the team’s way. Especially with Bard’s struggles down the stretch, it seems even more imperative that the Red Sox keep a known commodity in the ninth inning role. Papelbon will demand top dollar, but in a market for closers filled with a lot of question marks outside of Rodriguez and Heath Bell, the Red Sox would do well to hold on to what they have.

What to do with John Lackey?

Let’s assume for a minute that Theo Epstein remains the general manager of the Boston Red Sox. What would you want him to do to fix the mess that is the team’s clubhouse at this point? Some say simply a new manager to lead this group is needed, but I see a much bigger need to get some new blood in the organization.

Where should Epstein start? That’s debatable, but I think it has to begin with one of the most difficult tasks, which would be to trade John Lackey.

Lackey has proven to be a huge bust for the Red Sox. Even if he wasn’t signed for big bucks over long years, no one could say he’s been even close to a decent pitcher for this staff. He got a gift 12 wins this year, mostly due to the fact that most of the season the team was tearing the cover off the ball. At 32 years of age, he’s no spring chicken, but he still could hold some value to clubs, specifically National League teams, who are looking for some rotation help. While some spots would require the Red Sox to eat a significant amount of his salary – which they’ve been known to do – there are some places that may be willing to trade one large contract that hasn’t worked out for another.

Here’s a look at some possible suitors fitting that description.

New York Mets and Jason Bay (Two years, plus vesting option remaining on a four-year, $66 million contract)
Bay has been hurt for a significant amount of time since signing a huge contract after the 2009 season saw him traded to the Red Sox. He’s also had a lot of his power sapped by playing in the canyon that is more commonly known as Citi Field.
The Mets need pitching help, as they were forced to rely on the likes of Dillon Gee, Mike Pelfrey and R.A. Dickey this past season. A pitcher like Lackey who has always given up his fair share of hits is much better suited for a park like Citi Field and most of the time pitchers have an easier time getting away with average stuff in the National League than the American League East.
As for what the Red Sox would be getting, it would be a gamble, but Bay did post a .915 OPS in 200 games with Boston not all that long ago and would not be relied on as the centerpiece of the team’s offense. His arrival would also mean a move for Carl Crawford away from the Green Monster, which he played horribly.

New York Mets and Johan Santana ($24 million in 2012, $25 million in 2013, $25 million team option that becomes vesting if Cy Young and innings pitched criteria are met with a $5.5 million buyout)
Santana’s problems have been the exact opposite of Lackey’s – still has the stuff, but can’t stay on the field. Santana didn’t pitch at all in 2011, making him a huge gamble for the Red Sox if they were to go this route. However, at the same time, Lackey is a big gamble for New York. After being a horse for most of his career, Santana may be breaking down and if the New York medical staff isn’t sold, this could seem like a worthwhile maneuver that could allow the team to spend the extra money elsewhere or just take the savings. Lackey could work in New York for the reasons stated above, while Santana could be a steal if he could return to form. However, his potential for a bounceback season makes this an unlikely match.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Vernon Wells (Three years remaining at $21 millon per year)
Wells was a total bust for the Angels and one of the reasons their general manager resigned last week and it’s very possible that the new general manager will want to distance himself as much as possible from the mistakes of the previous front office.
Lackey is a known commodity, which could work for the Red Sox or against them in terms of trading him back to the West Coast. Still, Lackey was always a solid competitor for the Angels and playing an unbalanced schedule against teams like Oakland and Seattle in huge ballparks could only benefit him.
His numbers as a visitor at Fenway Park have been fairly pedestrian over his career, but he’s a Yankeed killer with a career slash line of .302/.354/.517 against New York. He’s also lost a step in the outfield, so a move to left field would allow the Red Sox to move Crawford away from the wall while limiting Wells’ defensive shortcomings.

San Francisco Giants and Barry Zito ($18 millon in 2012 and $20 million in 2013, plus an $18 million option in 2014 with a $7 million buy-out)
This is probably one of the worst fits because the Giants need hitters more than they do pitching and Zito has been worse than Lackey, plus he’s injury-prone. If the Red Sox were to go this route, they most likely would end up with the record for highest salary for a left-handed specialist. Even then, he’s not a good option, as he posted better numbers against right-handed batters than lefties last season.
There’s not much reason to explore this one at all, but it at least had to be mentioned in a conversation regarding bad contracts.

Chicago White Sox and Jake Peavy ($17 million in 2012, $22 million team option with $4 million buyout in 2013)
This most likely won’t happen simply because Peavy’s at the end of his contract and the White Sox would probably just as soon eat $4 million, rather than take on Lackey’s salary and years in the hopes he can turn his career around on the South Side of Chicago. Also, if Terry Francona ends up in Chicago, odds are stacked even higher against this.
Still, Chicago may be ready to move on from Peavy, who just can’t seem to stay healthy for them. He hasn’t appeared in more than 19 games in either of his last two seasons with the team and just hasn’t panned out for a team that was a bigger mess than the Red Sox last season and could be looking to make some extreme changes.
Peavy still has good stuff, but with all the questions surrounding his health, it would be more likely the Red Sox looked into the next name on this list.

Chicago White Sox and Adam Dunn ($14 million in 2012, $15 million in 2013 and 2014)
This clearly would only happen if the Red Sox elected not to re-sign David Ortiz and given his productivity this year, that would only happen if the front office decided that he was more of the problem in the clubhouse than he was the solution.
Dunn has always been a big strikeout guy (182 in a 162 game average), but he also has big-time clout and has a career .374 OBP, which Mr. Epstein would covet and it’s hard to believe at age 31 he’s completely washed up. After all, just a year ago he hit 38 homers and drove in over 100 runs for the hapless Washington Nationals.
However, it would be a hard sell to make for the White Sox, despite Dunn’s struggles this year. It’s hard to make a case that Lackey would prove to be a strong addition unless the team loses Mark Buerhle and is looking for a veteran starter to help solidify the rotation. If there’s one thing going for Lackey, it’s that he’s durable, something that couldn’t be said for a lot of White Sox pitchers this year.

Chicago Cubs and Alfonso Soriano (Three years remaining at $18 million per year)
Soriano has always been the anti-Moneyball player and is clearly in decline. He’s a poor outfielder and has lost a great deal of the speed that made him a good tool offensively. He does still have some pop in his bat, however, and he has solid career numbers at Fenway and against the AL East.
The Cubs are in desperate need of pitching, as Ryan Dempster is a free agent and Carlos Zambrano can’t be counted on and, most likely, the Cubs will be looking to unload him, leaving the team with Randy Wells as their top starter, followed by Casey Coleman.

Houston Astros and Carlos Lee (Final year of contact, owed $18.5 Million)
This one is a stretch because Lee is on the back end of his deal and the Astros most likely would not be willing to take on more years of a massive contract unless the Red Sox were willing to eat some of the salary. That said, Houston had by far the worst pitching staff in the league and may see Lackey is a reclamation project that, if successful, could anchor a staff. Brett Myers was very shaky this year and the team’s most consistent starter, Wandy Rodriguez, is not expected to be back after the Astros tried shopping him at this year’s trade deadline. The Astros were also fooled into believing J.A. Happ was a quality pitcher.
Lee is another man on the back nine who still has enough pop that he could fill at least a part-time DH role for the Red Sox and adds an option as a right-handed bat, something the team struggled without at times. Lee crushed left-handed pitching last season at an OPS clip of 1.028 and he has a .921 OPS at Fenway Park. Should Ortiz leave, a Ryan Lavarnway/Lee platoon at DH would give the Red Sox some roster flexibility as Lee can also play first base or a corner outfield position, provided it’s for a limited amount of time, and Lavarnway, while not projecting as a full-time major league catcher, offers an option behind the plate.

Character more than anything was what the Red Sox lacked

Remember folks, mothers always know best.

“I don’t know why, but I just don’t like him. It’s something about the way he carries himself that makes me wonder if he can play here.”

Those were the words from my mother after hearing the Red Sox had inked Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million contract last offseason. Her concerns weren’t about Crawford’s bat or his fielding or his ability to steal bases. It was all about the character he could bring to the Red Sox clubhouse.

Now, the September-long collapse that has left the Red Sox on their couches nursing their bruised egos as they watch the playoffs on television can’t be blamed solely on Crawford. But after listening to Terry Francona speak to the media on Thursday afternoon, it was clear that something in that clubhouse was very wrong.

Tito spoke of concerns, closed door meetings and moments when players should have gotten behind each other and just plain didn’t. The “Idiots” are long forgotten these days at the Back Bay Fens. These are the big-ticket, no heart Red Sox.

While blame falls on the players for failing to execute on the field, a large portion of the responsibility rests solely on the shoulders of Theo Epstein and more of it has to do with the fact that unlike 2004 and 2007 when he put together World Series champions, he stopped believing that character was all that important.

The evidence: J.D. Drew, who surprised fans at the end of the season by showing up at all. John Lackey, who seems to be more worried about yelling at a teammate for not making a catch on a deep drive than analyzing why the ball was pounded in the first place. Julio Lugo, whom some said just cared too much really cared more about people liking him than putting in the extra work on the field. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was more concerned with blaming Red Sox coaches for his pitching than himself.

The character guys on the Boston Red Sox are dwindling. The days of “25 players, 25 cabs” seems to be returning. One could say the last one who exhibited true character and was the ultimate teammate was Mike Lowell, a player whom Epstein didn’t even acquire and, quite frankly, didn’t want.

The team has some deep-rooted issues that even the players’ manager like Terry Francona wasn’t able to overcome in the end. Thursday’s presser was maybe the most downtrodden and emotionally spent Francona has ever been and it wasn’t simply because they lost a game Wednesday night. While he’s constantly said he didn’t want to talk about his contract during the season and he wanted to focus on winning, he also never said he wanted to stay in Boston. If he is let go, it’s probable he will take his walking papers with a smile and a spring in his step.

Epstein, on top of failing to measure the importance of character, has also been unable to accurately measure major league talent. He remains a very gifted baseball executive in terms of producing quality prospects. Some of those prospects he’s kept, some he’s leveraged for talent in trades. Beyond that, he’s made some tremendous in-season deals, including the one that sent Nomar Garciaparra out of town for Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera. While most of the world was throwing up their hands in disgust and disbelief, Theo saw a need and saw value where others did not. That all seems so long ago now, doesn’t it.

It was.

And in the meantime, Theo Epstein, especially on the free agent market, has not done well in evaluating talent and value and I would imagine Red Sox ownership is getting a little tired of paying high-priced players to play for other teams when Theo Epstein gets them out of town by promising the club that trades for them that the Sox will eat a large portion of the salary.

One could say that better scouting could have predicted that John Lackey would not fare well in the AL East in smaller ballparks with better lineups (His stuff never was all that good) and that Crawford’s defensive prowess is overrated and perhaps his swing is not built for Fenway or that Bobby Jenks was horribly out of shape and knee and back problems were bound to happen.
On a smaller, more specific level, at the trading deadline when the Red Sox were pretty sure they were in serious need of some pitching help, they got Erik Bedard. Also traded at the deadline was Doug Fister. Two pitchers from the same organization that if it has anything going for it, it’s depth at starting pitcher. The Red Sox took Bedard, who had already been on the disable list once this year, while the Tigers took Fister. According to reports, the Red Sox never showed any interest in the younger, more talented, healthier starter, who was had for essentially the same amount of minor league talent. Fister has a sub-3.00 ERA in Detroit and will pitch in the playoffs. Bedard never had a clean start, spent time on the bench with an injury and as a whole generally underwhelmed.
Epstein was also against the trade that brought Josh Beckett and Lowell to Boston, a move that he is often credited with, but actually happened during the time when he left the team after a sissy boy slapfest with Larry Lucchino.
Epstein’s 2011 Red Sox were also built upon the assumption that Lackey, Matsuzaka and Beckett would all be healthy and more effective than they were a year ago. Given the track records, there was reason for considerable doubt that all three could turn it around.

Injuries like the ones suffered by Clay Buchholz and Kevin Youkilis were perhaps unavoidable. But what was also glaring and obviously short-sighted on Epstein’s part was the lack of depth on the 25-man roster and organizationally. The team gave up some major-league ready talent in bringing in Adrian Gonzalez. That’s true. But even early on in the season, Yamaico Navaro and Drew Sutton were acting as the team’s backup infielders. The backup plan for injuries to the rotation was Andrew Miller, Tim Wakefield and Kyle Weiland. He had to trade for Mike Aviles, Bedard and Connor Jackson for “help.” Matt Albers somehow became a key cog in this mess.

As the ship approached the iceberg, Epstein kept turning the rudder the wrong way. While some say this wasn’t as bad as 2003 or other Red Sox collapses, it really was worse. While the shock value of Aaron Boone or Bucky Dent was greater, the inherent problems with this Red Sox team could be wounds that are much deeper and harder to fix and could have a profound effect on its future.

There have been some hits and some good times with Epstein, but there have also been a ton of misses and perhaps at this point the good outweighs the bad and it’s time to say goodbye.

Beltran sexy, but not what Sox need right now

There has been a lot of that kind of talk going around.

You know the kind. The kind of talk that involves the Red Sox going after any superstar perceived to be anywhere close to the trading block as the trade deadline approaches. The star of this year’s show? Carlos Beltran.

Beltran is very much on the market for the Mets and there have been several reports linking the Red Sox to him. Some of them are probably true. No doubt, Theo Epstein wouldn’t be doing his job as the team’s General Manager if he didn’t at least kick the tires.

It’s also true that the Red Sox have been looking for more production from the outfield – Crawford has disappointed and been hurt and J.D. Drew appears to already be enjoying retirement – and have been concerned about getting another right-handed bat in the lineup. Beltran is a switch-hitting outfielder, serving both of those needs for the Sox.

But the fact of the matter is as good a hitter Beltran is, a bat is not the team’s primary concern at this point.

Red Sox fans received some good news this week when reports out of the front office said that the team expects Clay Buchholz back and that the back issues that have kept him out will not require him to miss much more significant time. But if anyone thinks that pitching is not a concern for this team, they are sorely mistaken.

The Red Sox entered the season with a pitching staff that, in an ideal world, would have been better than almost anybody’s in baseball, and certainly in the American League. Confidence in Buchholz and Jon Lester was high. Questions surrounded John Lackey and Josh Beckett, but few anticipated the horrendous seasons they endured in 2010 to repeat themselves. Daisuke Matsuzaka, while frustrating, would still be better than the fifth starter on almost any other team.

Indeed, Lester has lived up to expectations and Beckett has drastically surpassed them. However, as a team, the Red Sox’ ERA is 3.91, good for eighth in the American League. Outside of Lester and Beckett, the rotation has been held together with bubble gum and scotch tape. Lackey sports an ERA of 6.70. Matsuzaka is out for the year. Buchholz, while very good when healthy, hasn’t pitched since June 16. Suddenly the likes of Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller and Kyle Weiland have become necessities in the rotation.

With that said, if Buchholz returns and can stay healthy, in a short series, he, Beckett and Lester are a formidable trio that can be counted on in a short series.

In the bullpen, the Red Sox face questions. Jonathan Papelbon has been solid. His setup man Daniel Bard has been superb. However, there have been struggles beyond that. Bobby Jenks, who was expected to be a key cog for this team, has been injured and ineffective. Alfredo Aceves and Matt Albers have filled their roles well, but Aceves especially has shown signs of inconsistency. The Red Sox had appeared to have found something in former starter Rich Hill, but Tommy John surgery ended his year. Franklin Morales has been used sparingly since being acquired from the Colorado Rockies.

Clearly, pitching is a much more pressing need for the Red Sox than another bat, especially in the bullpen. Should anything happen to Papelbon or Bard, the question won’t be whether the team can close out games in the ninth, but how they will be able to get to the ninth.

In terms of bullpen help, the biggest names are most likely out of reach. Francisco Rodriguez was already traded by the Mets to the Brewers. Heath Bell is probably untouchable to the Red Sox because of the number and quality of prospects the San Diego Padres would want in return. Mike Adams has reportedly been told by San Diego that he won’t be relocating at all. It is more likely the team could take a chance on Matt Capps, should the Twins decide they are out of contention, Grant Balfour, who has had a great season for Oakland in a middle relief role, but has not fared so well when given save opportunities, or Craig Breslow, the former Red Sox farm hand who had bounced around the past couple of years before finding a niche as a left-handed specialist for the A’s.

Staring pitching talent on the trade market appears to be thin, and while the Red Sox have been linked to the Cubs’ Matt Garza in rumors, its doubtful the Red Sox will want to pay what the Cubs would be looking for in prospects. The Red Sox most likely will give Wandy Rodriguez a look, but the same principle may apply.  With such a shallow market, expect a cheaper option. Derek Lowe could be intriguing and cheaper, given the depth of Atlanta’s pitching staff and while they might not want to trade within the division, Jeremy Guthrie is a solid pitcher whose pitiful record is more the result of the team that backs him up in Baltimore than his performance on the mound.

Giving Jacoby his due

Early on in his career, I was a Jacoby Ellsbury hater. I admit it.

Ellsbury, with his soft bat and blazing speed scared me because more than anything, he reminded me of Vince Coleman, who lit the world on fire, stealing more than 100 bases in his first three seasons. But by 29, Coleman wasn’t the same. Sure, some of that was due to his personal indiscretions, but I think more of it had to do with the fact he rarely drove the ball and hardly ever walked. Once his speed wasn’t quite what it once was, he started posting sub-.700 OPS numbers.

I saw a similar approach to hitting in Jacoby Ellsbury early on and it concerned me.

Consider me concerned no more. After coming into this season with 20 career homers, Ellsbury now has 15 on the season. Include his 26 doubles and two triples and you’ve got a player in the top 10 in the league in extra base hits. Ellsbury is keeping his weight back and driving the ball rather than thinking about getting out of the batters’ box quickly and it’s paying dividends.

With this added power, his stolen base totals may be lower, but he now is a much more versatile threat and that makes him very dangerous.

Man on Fire: Adrian Gonzalez

Will Monday night’s game prove to be a microcosm of the entire 2011 season for the Boston Red Sox? The team struggles through the early stages, only to keep their heads down, right the ship and in the final moments is saved by their newly acquired hero?

Perhaps that’s a bit romanticized, but one thing that’s not is the fact that Adrian Gonzalez is proving to be as good as, if not better than advertised. More than anything, the Red Sox obtained a player who instills confidence that something special is going to happen every time he comes to the plate. Possibly the reason why some have undervalued him throughout his career, besides wallowing in San Diego, is because he carries himself with quiet confidence and poise. There’s no pomp and fanfare. Just results.

For those who require a little more than feelings and appearance to be convinced that something special is happening in the three hole for the Sox, here is some knowledge, straight from the sport that provides statistics like none other. The Red Sox are now 10-5 since May 1. Over that span, Gonzalez has batted .349 with 12 extra-base hits (four doubles, eight home runs) for a slugging percentage of .794 on base percentage and 22 RBIs. He’s currently leading the majors with 37 RBIs. The power outage he suffered at the beginning of the season is ancient history.

As Carl Crawford appears to wilting in the Boston spotlight, Gonzalez appears to be opening up and charging himself up with it like Wall.E. All we have to do is sit back and enjoy watching an MVP season.

Something is Lackey-ing

Just as Gonzalez is raising fans’ hopes, John Lackey has them legitimately concerned.

“Everything went wrong that could go wrong. It’s pretty much the story of my year right now. Everything in my life sucks right now, to be honest with you,” Lackey was quoted as saying in the Boston Herald after getting lit up by Toronto on May 11. He has given up 17 runs in 10 2/3 innings in his last two outings and sports a 8.01 ERA for the season.

What is going on with the $82.5 million man? Probably more than we could ever know. We have no idea what’s going on in his personal life. Maybe his child is sick. Maybe his marriage is falling apart. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe everything’s fine and he’s just not performing. But regardless does that absolve him from criticism? If something is going wrong in your personal life, aren’t you told to leave it at home and don’t bring it into the office?

Because he’s a professional athlete, should we treat him differently? People want to say that he can’t be blamed for taking the money that was waved at him and we shouldn’t place expectations on him simply because of the contract. Any one of us would take that money we’re told.

I contest that there is an expectation that comes with a long-term, big money contract and you assume the responsibilities associated with that when you sign it. You know that there is a mantle of responsibility or at least you should. You would take praise for living up to your contract, such at the praise Gonzalez is getting, so take the criticism that comes with it, as well.

John Lackey has my sympathy if he’s going through something. But just like me, he shouldn’t be allowed to use it as an excuse if he doesn’t perform at the office.

Maza’s Tuesday Musings: Don’t let Yankees fans fool you. Missing out on Lee hurts.

(First of all, I’d like to apologize to all eight of my readers for not having this up yesterday. Apparently, I clicked save instead of publish.)

If one were to put on a blindfold and then be face to face with a Yankees fan today, they might think they were standing in front of a television set playing the parade scene from Animal House with Kevin Bacon insisting, “Remain calm! All is well!”

Most Yankees fans want you to believe it doesn’t bother them that the fact their division rival made two of the biggest acquisitions of the offseason, while the Yankees lost the player they had focused seemingly all their efforts on to a team that underbid them.

But make no mistake, being turned down by Lee does hurt the Yankees and leaves the team with a lot of holes remaining to be filled in the next few months.

A rotation with C.C. Sabathia, Lee and Phil Hughes as the top three starters is one that would be feared by a lot of ballclubs, especially if A.J. Burnett in the fourth slot could return even a little bit back to his earlier form. A rotation with Sabathia, Hughes and Burnett as its top three just doesn’t scare many people. Miss Sabathia in the rotation and life is a lot easier.

And yes, Andy Pettitte may decide to return, but if the Yankees are resting their hopes on a 38-year-old who pitched – albeit well – in 21 games last year, they may be in for a rude awakening.

Now don’t get me wrong. The Yankees are still a very good baseball team and offensively, they’re still very, very dangerous. The Yankees had four players (Mark Teixiera, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher)  in the top 10 in home runs in the American League and three (Rodriguez, Teixiera and Cano) in the top 10 in RBI.

Their bullpen is still very strong with Mariano Rivera remaining the anchor. With a 3.47 ERA, they were one of the strongest units statistically in the American League. But the question still remains. How will the Yankees get to that bullpen with a lead?

The San Francisco Giants proved last season that pitching trumps power more often than not, especially in the short series. Can the Yankees recover from the failure to sign Lee and make something happen to improve that rotation? Only time will tell.

Maza’s Friday Musings: Seven years for a pitcher? GMs never learn…

The bidding for Cliff Lee is about to come to a close as the Rangers are expected to have their answer sometime today, according the the Rangers Web site. The reports coming in state that if anyone wants Lee, they’re going to have to make a seven-year commitment to him.

Now, let me preface my statements with this: Cliff Lee is a terrific pitcher who had one of the greatest postseasons I had ever seen, save one game. He’s the ideal model of the power pitcher and with 185 strikeouts and just 18 walks, there are few I have ever seen control the strike zone the way he does.

With all that said, doesn’t history prove that making long-term commitments to pitchers?

At age 26, Mike Hampton led the National League with 22 wins, while also posting a 2.90 ERA in 1999. The following year, he won 15 games and posted a 3.14 ERA. He was considered one of the best pitchers in the league at that time. Then he signed an eight-year, $121 million contract with the Rockies. After two seasons 5-plus ERAs, he was traded by Colorado. And let’s not forget he missed two consecutive seasons with injuries. His numbers since signing that deal? 56-52 with a 4.81 ERA.

Barry Zito had the AL Rookie of the Year and a Cy Young awards in his resume when he entered free agency in 2007 at the age of 28. He signed a seven-year, $126 million contract that offseason and since then, has underwhelmed the Giants with his abilities, going 40-57 with a 4.45 ERA.

Remember Denny Neagle? He was a former 20-game winner and a two-time all star when he hit free agency. Colorado (again) gave him the 31-year-old a five-year, $51 million contract, where he won just 19 games over three years with an ERA of over 5.50. He never finished out his contract because of injury and a little legal issue involving a prostitute.

Chan Ho Park had an very strong start to his career in the US  and was coming off two of his best seasons with back-to-back years of over 220 innings with ERAs of 3.27 and 3.50 and his first all star selection. At 28, he signed a five-year, $65 million contract. Over the life of that contract, he never posted an ERA under 5.00 and after making 25 starts in the first year, he made just 23 over the next two and never recovered.

Now you may tell me these guys aren’t of the same caliber as Lee and at this point in their careers, no, they’re not. But these were all considered top-flight pitchers and received compensation based on that. Certainly deals like C.C. Sabathia’s have come up roses, but the point is you never really know. Pitchers have two commodities – their arms and their heads. And if something happens to either of those, teams can be saddled with humongous headaches for years to come.

Maza’s Thursday Musings: Crawford’s great, but there’s more work to be done

Many of us woke up this morning to the news that Theo Epstein and the Boston Red Sox made the biggest splash at the winter meetings thus far with the signing of Carl Crawford to a 7-year, $142 million contract.

To say this was a major coup for the Red Sox would not be an overstatement. Maybe the most prized positional player on the free agent market, Crawford was being pursued by some of the league’s heavy hitters and ESPN Los Angeles reported that sources thought he was “almost certainly” going to be an Angel.

But the Red Sox swooped in with an astounding contract that will pay him on average annual salary of $20,285,714, putting him in the top 10 highest paid players, based on annual salary. The total contract is the 10th largest in history, according to the Associated Press.

Is that worth it for a guy like Crawford? The market dictates worth and seeing as Jayson Werth was handed a 7-year, $126 million contract, in terms of keeping contracts proportionate with ability, then yes, it was a “fair market value” deal.

So just how good is Carl Crawford? In 2010, he won a gold glove, a Silver Slugger award for being the best-hitting left fielder, led the league in triples and stole over 40 bases for the seventh time in the last eight years and has an OPS Plus of 134.

While he’s never hit 20 home runs in a season, Crawford’s speed makes him a power hitter. His 62 extra base hits ranked 13th among qualified hitters and were more than Alex Rodriguez, Vladimir Guererro and Victor Martinez.

In terms of the division, Crawford helps in so many ways with a career batting average of over .300 against every division opponent, with the exception of Tampa Bay, of course. The signing also helps protect the Red Sox from Crawford, who hit .300 off Sox pitchers and had more stolen bases against Boston than any other team in his career.

With Crawford on board and Jacoby Ellsbury presumably healthy going into the season, the Red Sox have a very different look from last year when their fasted everyday player was probably J.D. Drew.

So now, what to do with the lineup? The Red Sox find themselves with a great deal of left handed bats on the team right now (Ellsbury, Crawford, Gonzalez, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew). So how do you keep a balanced lineup? This is my suggestion:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
2. Dustin Pedroia (R)
3. Carl Crawford (L)
4. Adrian Gonzalez (L)
5. Kevin Youkilis (R)
6. David Ortiz (L)
7. Marco Scutaro (R)
8. J.D. Drew (L)
9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)

The threat of having a lefty come in to face Crawford and Gonzalez in crucial situations is not has high, given the fact that Gonzalez actually hit lefties at a .337 clip last year, higher than his .278 against righties. The real concern is having a left handed bat protecting Ortiz. Therefore, while not as much of a threat with the bat, Scutaro provides better protection in that sense than J.D. Drew, who batted .208 against southpaws last year and actually has better career numbers out of the eight hole than the seventh spot.

Now with the offense bolstered, Epstein needs to change his focus to the pitching staff. The Red Sox posted one of the worst bullpen ERAs in the league at 4.24.  The bullpen needs a complete overhaul with quality arms, not reclamation projects that Epstein seems to like so much.

The offense is fine now. Time to focus on quality, as opposed to quantity in the bullpen. So here’s my list of potential arms the Red Sox should consider:

  • Type A free agent Scott Downs would cost the team draft picks, The Red Sox should also not be quite so hesitant this year to go out and get a recognizable guy like Downs, despite what it would cost in addition to money. Downs has posted ERAs of under 3.00 in three of the last four seasons (In 2009, he had a 3.09 ERA).
  • Pedro Feliciano (Type B) has been a tremendously underrated reliever for the Mets (3.09 ERA in ’07, 4.05 ERA in ’08 and3.03 in ’09, led the league in appearances all three seasons).
  • Jon Rauch (Type B) was a terrific fill-in guy for the Twins when they lost closer Joe Nathan for the season.
  • Matt Guerrier (Type A) is another underrated reliever from the Twins organization, who really has some great career numbers, including a 3.38 career ERA.
  • Brian Fuentes had a nice bounce back season last year, but don’t expect another sub-3.00 ERA. He has value as a left handed arm. He did make the fewest appearances of his career since 2004, though, so you have to wonder about the 35-year-old’s durability.
  • Kevin Gregg (3.51 ERA, 37 saves last season) is a solid option as a Type B free agent that won’t require any draft picks. Most likely he’s going to want to go somewhere with an opportunity to close, however.

Maza’s Monday Musings

What a wild weekend in sports. Wheeling and dealing, the bowl schedule being set and, of course, another big weekend in the NFL.

But first and foremost, outside of the Adrian Gonzalez trade (which I talked about in an earlier blog), the biggest move in baseball was Jayson Werth signing with the Nationals for a cool $126 million for seven years. Now, Werth is a fine ballplayer, but he is not worth anywhere near this kind of contract. There is a direct correlation between his increased production and the bandbox that the Phillies play in. And even with that, he’s only hit 30 homers once and he never drove in more than 100 runs as a regular player. What’s more, in his three seasons as a full-time starter for the Phillies, he batter .244 with runners in scoring position and last season, he didn’t even bat .200 in that situation. I don’t blame the Nationals for trying to make a splash to get some fans interested in this team, but this was not the move to make.

As you look at the bowl schedule this year, take the time to consider just how little being in a bowl means these days. If you think about it, there are 35 different bowl games. That’s 70 teams. So in reality, over 58 percent of all teams playing FBS football will play in a bowl game. So why is it considered an accomplishment to go .500 on the season and play an exhibition game?

With Indianapolis struggling, it’s looking more and more like the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to win the AFC South. That’s right. A team that has given up more points than it has scored could be hosting a first-round playoff game against a double-digit win wild card team.

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