December 3, 2009

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LONGSHOTS: Is hot stove turning into hot seat for Theo?
by Dave Long

Baseball’s hot stove season is under way, and to me it’s the most interesting part of the entire baseball calendar year. Just love seeing how the pieces come together. And with what’s been going on with Theo and the Red Sox, this looks to be the most interesting one in quite a while.

At this moment they have no proven shortstop, no left fielder, no clear (take your pick) clean-up or fifth hitter and the right fielder who’s never had even a 70-RBI season in Boston just had surgery on his balky left shoulder. There are also injury questions and rumors flying about Mike Lowell; the “Was it just a bad start or a sign of things to come?” question about the DH is fair. Ditto for Dice-K after a lost year. So there are a number of pressing issues to be addressed before pitchers and catchers report.

On the good side, after getting Victor Martinez they’re set at catcher, second base, center field and depending where Kevin Youkilis winds up first or third. Plus one through three in the rotation is solid as is most of the bullpen. So with that as background, here’s a synopsis of the question marks faced by Theo and my thoughts on each.

Issue #1: While most won’t agree, the biggest issue is what’s the long term with Jonathan Papelbon? Most say he had a “sub par” year and his ERA was still below 2.00 so he’s pretty good. Was it an off year or have hitters figured out how to deal with him? If it’s the latter, his value probably will never be higher. If it’s the former, then are they planning to sign when he gets to free agency — which will be expensive? If they’re thinking he’ll be gone at some point, do it now. Make Daniel Bard the closer and live with the growing pains as it would make Pap the biggest chip they have to deal and create options that don’t exist at the moment.

Actually This is #1: Before I decide on Papelbon, I want to know if Bard can start. He was a starter in college before switching after struggling in the low minors. So the question is was it because he’s better being a short guy, or because he just took a little longer to adjust? While you do need good pitching in the seventh and eighth, with that fastball and fluid delivery he has the highest ceiling among the young pitchers. So he might be a dynamic starter to team with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz in what could be a young trio in the making to rival what the Braves had in the early ’90s as Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery developed. Plus since they don’t have much service time, they’ll be inexpensive, which lets Theo invest the big bucks needed to keep Pap. 

Rumor Mill: Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez and Blue Jays hurler Roy Halladay keep coming up. Both are great fits, but I suspect they can only get one because the trading partners want inexpensive, major-league-ready kids and there are only so many of them to go around. If it’s one or the other, even though I don’t like dealing with a GM (Jed Hoyer) who knows my farm system as well as I do, I go for the hitter because...

The Rotation: In Josh Beckett, Lester and Buchholz they’ve got three solid starters. Dice-K should bounce back to between 13 and 16 wins and Tim Wakefield mans the fifth spot until his annual breakdown. So they’re solid. Buchholz may be a leap of faith, but I’m back to thinking he could be better than Lester. He showed real poise in both his solid playoff start and while giving up just two runs in an out-for-blood Yankee Stadium during the August slide. And in six September starts he gave up one run or less four times in going 4-1 with a 2.87 ERA. He may still have some growing pains, but I think he’s figured it out. 

Untouchable Except in Extreme Cases: Anyone is available if a godfather deal comes along, but it would have to be REALLY good to give up Bard, Jacoby Ellsbury, Pedroia, Lester (because he’s lefty) or Youk.

Free Agency: They can go after John Lackey to let them use Buchholz in a big deal. While that makes sense, I’m not a big Lackey fan. And I’ve got the same feeling about Buc as I did about Lester and Ellsbury in the proposed Johan Santana deal. 

Shortstop: Sorry, Marco Scutaro doesn’t do it for me. Theo is to shortstops what Larry Brown is to point guards — never satisfied and probably unsure of exactly what he wants. Is it offense — hence Julio Lugo and Edgar Renteria? But Nomar was an offensive star and he went for the better defensively Orlando Cabrera. To me defense is the priority and offense the luxury, especially with Dustin Pedroia at second base. So after the entire infield picture turned around when he arrived, letting Alex Gonzalez walk AGAIN is pretty maddening. Especially with Jed Lowry around to cover his durability issues. And how is the Scutaro option an upgrade? He’s older, not the defender Gonzalez is and his “career -12 homers, 282 average – year” is what Gonzalez’s Boston numbers project to over a full season. Right now they’re worse here, unless something happens in a big deal.

Left Field: Jason Bay probably is gone despite being offered $60 million over four years. That makes the priority Matt Holliday, who’s represented by — you guessed it — Scott (don’t) Boras, who’ll have Theo over a barrel. While his numbers are impressive, are they inflated by mile-high Denver? And how will he do here after struggling in Oakland? While Bay did come from Pittsburgh himself, I prefer him because you know what you’re getting and with Holliday there are questions.

The 4th or 5th Hitter: This assumes David Ortiz continues to trek down, rather than put up the numbers he did after June 1. Even if it’s the latter, he still didn’t look quick against the good pitchers, and that’s what you see in the playoffs. So for the right deal I’d move Papi. If he stays, I mix in Lowell at DH against lefties. 

The Pipe Dream: Reportedly Theo wants to get Hanley Ramirez back, which I’m all for. He takes care of  two issues: he plays short (at least for now) and will hit in the middle of the order. But what would the cost be? I’d back up the truck for him, but could this be helped along by the need for economic relief brought on by the downturn? Probably not going to happen, but it would get Theo out of the shortstop doghouse if it did.

He’s got his work cut out for him, so this should be interesting.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.


11/26/2009 Thanks and turkeys are the usual holiday fare this time of year

11/19/2009 Belichick's fourth-down cal lconfounds Patriot Nation
11/12/2009 the mid-year report for the NFL
11/05/2009 Ducks on the pond as Oregon drowns USC title hopes
10/29/2009 Run for the title looks in store for Celtics
10/22/2009 Mt. Rushmore of Patriots moments
10/15/2009 Changes I'd like to see happen
10/8/2009 Predictable ending to 2009 baseball prediction game
10/1/2009 Bay watch on for Sox MVP
9/24/2009 Pitch count police trigger another dreamlike episode
9/17/2009 The mailbags open for business
9/10/2009 Pats now see more clearly what needs to be done for '09
9/3/2009 On the shrink's couch in a near francoma
8/27/2009 Random thoughts and big refrigerator magnets
8/20/2009 Sixty-one years later and Ruth's still in the conversation8/13/2009 Empire strikes back during annual visit
8/6/2009 Ortiz and Manny's steroid story tests fans as well
7/30/2009 Trading places not as simple as "I'll take the old guy"7/23/2009 Mailbag delivers some interesting questions and answers
7/16/2009 Random thoughts for a lazy summer day
7/9/2009 Season's second half is when it'll get interesting for the Sox
7/2/2009 Declaring independence of how others play the game
6/25/2009 Finding the right plan is as easy as A, B, C with Celtics
6/18/2009 A great experience came in the Knick of time
6/11/2009 Ripping key to Rodney's broadcast success?
6/4/2009 The Mt. Rushmores of the red Sox-Yankees rivalry
5/28/2009 First-place Sox are making the grade
5/21/2009 NBA rivalries have no rival in other team sports
5/14/2009 Lying from baseball's Pinocchio prompts questions
5/7/2009 Celtics bull their way into round two — finally!
4/30/2009 Tanked from the headlines, the Fenway series yanks it back
4/23/2009 Draft winds blow NFL teams to make interesting decisions
4/16/2009 Spring cleaning of a cluttered sports mind
4/9/2009 Red Sox Nation springs back to life
4/2/2009 Climbing sports Mt. Rushmore
3/26/2009 Mount Rushmore offerings and other spring thoughts
3/19/2009 B-Ball, Coach B and Baseball in the mailbag today
3/12/2009 Great talent a rush but not all it's cracked up to be
3/5/2009 In Bill we still trust?
2/26/2009 A mountain over this molehill
2/19/2009 Steroids muscle in on game's strength
2/12/2009 Bonner bombs away on Cs in garden party homecoming
2/5/2009 Nation's angst ends as V-Tek says what the heck and rejoins flock
1/29/2009 Super Bowl Sunday brings to mind past and present
1/22/2009 The elusive quality of greatness is the topic of the day
1/15/2009 Spring cleaning of the sports mind a little early
1/8/2009 Will hall have Rice on the menu come July
1/1/2009 Predictions and wants for the year ahead
12/25/2008 A look in the rear view mirror at 2008
12/18/2008 The Pats' playoff run and new Yankees contracts make big news
12/11/2008 Random thoughts and associations
12/4/2008 Pats should consider options when it comes to Cassel and Brady
11/27/2008 Putting the thanks in Thanksgiving
11/20/2008 News of the week has people talking
11/13/2008 Cassel's in the clouds compared to early expectations11/6/2008 Mail bag delivers some interesting questiont10/30/2008"Yankees Suck" - like mentality fuels political discontent10/23/2008 No ray of hope as season closes in Tampa Bay
10/16/2008 Going to the nines a thing of the past
10/9/2008 C-eeing some interesting stories unfold this week
10/2/2008 "How come?" is the main question of the day
9/25/2008 Observations on baseball in 2008
9/18/2008 If I were a QB, a DB, a stat geek or a soccer mom ...
9/11/2008 After disaster Brady's bunch won't pass on season
9/4/2008 Pats start off with high expectation and some concerns
8/28/2008 A race to the finish to take all month long
8/21/2008 National news items of interest for local folks
8/14/2008 A little of this and that from the good side of sports pile
8/7/2008 Manny happy returns from the Evil Empire
7/31/2008 Manny being Manny - the sequel Part XXXII
7/24/2008 Open the mail bag for some Red Sox questions
7/17/2008 Hall-worthy or not the latest question on Schilling
7/10/2008 Baseball season has actually started
7/03/2008 UL editorial in denial — stop the presses
6/26/2008 Boston turnaround makes NBA green with envy
6/19/2008 Letters from the NBA finals
6/12/2008 A Father's Day letter to dad
6/5/2008 Twenty-one and six are the lucky numbers for the Cs
5/29/2008 Sometimes a bat is just a bat
5/22/2008 Some questions for folks right up there in the front row
5/15/2008 Numbers don't add up to supposed Fenway
5/8/2008 Cavalier attitude nearly derails first meeting with LeBron
5/1/2008 I'm so old,I remember ...
4/24/2008 Sox Line-ups, Celtics and ESPN investigations are in the mail bag
4/17/2008 Show me the way to that All-Star Game
4/10/2008 For C'ing a great time ahead as playoffs arrive this spring
4/3/2008 Bill James and the stats for 2008 — Take Two
3/27/2008 Drowning in the NCAA office pool
3/20/2008 Whether forecast is right or not is the question
3/13/2008 Comment sparks wonder over just what I did
3/6/2008 New hires, new trades in pro sports
2/28/2008 Celtics issues far from black and white in the early days
2/21/2008 Congressional ineptitude muscles in on steroid hearings
2/14/2008 Basketball rounds into form under the cover of Pats football
2/7/2008 A giant win leaves Patriots fans feeling blue
1/31/2008 Foxboro lads earn pats on the back, and old Celtics mystique makes sense
1/24/2008 Mail bag asks about Rice, the hall and wild-eyed liberals
1/17/2008 Peyton manning the fort back home as Pats take on Chargers
1/10/2008 Grumpy old Dolphins are lost at sea on this one
1/3/2008 The primary concern is getting a clear picture
12/27/2007 The annual sports awards close out 2007
12/20/2007 Holiday gifts for the deserving and not so deserving
12/13/2007 Jets land in Foxboro as pat go number 14
12/06/2007 To include or not to include Ellsbury — that is the questione
11/29/2007 Yanked from the sports pages in the Big Apple
11/22/2007 Here's what I'm thankful for at Thanksgiving
11/15/2007 Waiting game leads to a series of random thoughts
11/8/2007 OK — it's week nine and I'm ready to talk
11/1/2007 Finally a little shut-eye for a sleep deprived nation
10/25/2007 A rocky mountain high for Red Sox Nation
10/18/2007 Time to go to the mailbag
10/112007 Who'd more popular, Patriots or Red Sox
10/4/2007 IA weekend chock full of nuts, chokes and great moments
9/27/2007 I hate to say I told you so...
9/20/2007 Media and fan bias shades the severity of sports crime
9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders
9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
7/12/2007 Masse still a honeymooner in local baseball culture
7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
5/24/2007 Down 2-0 M’s for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Hero’s death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat