Boston Red Sox: 22 Biggest Question Marks Heading into Spring Training
The tumult of the September collapse; the chicken and beer fiasco; the departure of both the GM and the field manager; the loss of Jonathan Papelbon; the controversial hiring of Bobby Valentine—this has certainly been an offseason to remember.
And it hasn't even ended yet for new GM Ben Cherington and his team. There is still speculation that the Red Sox may make a last-minute deal for a proven, veteran starter. Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson are still available, and Gavin Floyd could be had in a trade.
However, other than re-signing David Ortiz (which is a great move, in my opinion), many of the questions that were unanswered at the end of the 2011season are still not answered.
In some cases, that is not necessarily bad. I, for one, totally agree with Cherington's approach of avoiding the highest-priced free agents this year. I agree with his tactic of waiting for the feeding frenzy to die down, then picking up some very serviceable parts to supplement a very good team (which many forget was the best team in MLB for a good part of last summer).
The biggest question mark still revolves around the question the media wants to ask, and the players want to avoid: "What happened last September, and how do we know it won't happen again?"
For weeks in the fall, there was a steady flow of rumor, innuendo and criticism in New England media (especially sports-talk radio).
I wrote at the time,
Not until that is done will the Red Sox actually be able to move on to resolve team (and eventually on-field) issues. This issue is so big it totally overwhelms all the others. This is still a PR disaster, and without being effectively blunted or refuted, it will fester for months like a dead critter under your porch.
I also added that the team must address this problem before players report to Florida. If not, the launch of spring training will become a media circus, with the focus being on the end of 2011 instead of the beginning of 2012.
That's not the environment you want to have going into a new season.
For a while there, things seemed to die down a bit.
Maybe it was just a case of media exhaustion, and also the fact that the well of juicy tidbits seemed to dry up. And of course the Patriots run to the Super Bowl kept the spotlight off the Red Sox for a while…
Now, reporters are getting their first crack at most of the players since the 2011 collapse. And the sticky questions about the end of last season are being asked again—because they were never answered the first time around.
As Saul Wisnia so effectively put it, "If you listened to sports radio over the past couple weeks, it was easy to pick up: Fans are angry and want a change. Enough 'Sweet Caroline' and waxing poetic about 2004 and '07; it's time for these underachievers to get serious."
But it is human nature to fret, so to give you nail-biters out there a scorecard, I'm providing this list of 22 questions which still need to be answered.
1. Will Bobby Valentine Win Over the Clubhouse?
Unlike Terry Francona, Bobby Valentine shoots from the hip, and has no qualms about letting everyone know exactly how he feels.
At the time of the hiring, former Red Sox pitcher Dick Drago was concerned that Valentine’s reputation for criticizing players could make it more difficult for him to accomplish what he needs to in that clubhouse.
"Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella and others were tough managers, but you didn't see them ripping their ballplayers in public the way Valentine has," Drago told me. "Whether it's deserved or not, Valentine has a reputation for being publicly critical of his players. If that does not change, he will not succeed in Boston."
As George Vecsey wrote in the New York Times recently, “Bobby V…was never shy about critiquing his own players.”
We're going to guess that Red Sox ownership hired Valentine because (a) he's a relatively "big name"; and (b) because he has a reputation as a hard-ass who can come in and grab an allegedly dysfunctional clubhouse by the throat and turn it in a new direction.
Tim Britton of the Providence Journal hit the nail on the head when he wrote that the more important aspect of managing in the 21st century is "how one handles his clubhouse—a talent that is subtler, more difficult to gauge and, as we discovered at the end of this Red Sox season, not necessarily consistent over time."
Subtle? Bobby Valentine? Hmm. That could be a problem.
Ian Browne of MLB.com writes, "Valentine is bright, inquisitive and assertive. His global interests go well beyond baseball, which he analyzes with aplomb. He is part Tony La Russa, part Howard Baker, the former senator and U.S. ambassador to Japan. He doesn't suffer fools well."
I readily admit it—I was one of those who questioned the hiring Bobby Valentine, believing it was an application of lipstick to a pig.
I thought one of the reasons he was hired was so that his high-profile, volatile personality and relative accessibility would distract the media during the hot stove winter. I also thought he would make highly visible statements to reinforce his standing as the “new sheriff in town”.
The exact opposite seems to have happened. Valentine has maintained a relatively low (but accessible) profile, and he has not made himself the center of attention. He seems to be saying and doing the right things, building good communication and rapport with most of his players for the coming season.
He quietly reached out to all his players, meeting many of them face-to-face and speaking with others on the phone. Clay Buchholz described one such meeting in Arizona last month; he, Jacoby Ellsbury, Darnell McDonald and Dustin Pedroia had dinner with Valentine, and Buchholz for one "came away impressed with his new manager."
Valentine has also bent over backwards not to criticize the two most likely confrontation candidates in his new clubhouse: Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford.
As an ESPN analyst, Valentine took both to task. While it took some time for Valentine and Crawford to connect (see next slide), they now seem to be on the same page.
He has also been impressed by what he's seen from Beckett and Jon Lester in the early days of camp.
"Attitude filters down," Valentine told Ian Browne of MLB.com. "When you see Josh Beckett and Jon Lester here [early], they are at the top of the pyramid here as far as the pitchers are concerned. They came early and they've been showing fantastic attitude."
2. Will Carl Crawford Return to His Pre-2011 Performance Level?
The one player who can have the greatest impact on Valentine's success or failure as a manager in 2012 is Carl Crawford. Even the best starting pitcher can only win every fifth day; a multi-tool star like Crawford can help a team win every day.
Yes, there has been a setback due to the surgery on his wrist, but if the wrist had anything to do with his poor 2011 performance, then the repair can only help long-term.
If Valentine can get Crawford's head on straight for spring training, the former Tampa star can end up being the new skipper's biggest ally in the clubhouse. If managed properly, Crawford can become a conduit to reaching the rest of the team.
Early in the winter, news reports indicated that Crawford had not responded to Valentine's initial outreach. Crawford may have been still smarting from Valentine's 2010 on-air criticism of Crawford's outfield play.
"Bobby Valentine is being dissed by one of his key players." wrote Ian Browne of MLB.com. "Carl Crawford…has ignored all of Valentine's attempts to contact him this offseason...and Valentine himself doesn't seem sure Crawford would talk to him even if he showed up on the left fielder's doorstep."
Art Martone of Comcast Sportsnet New England writes, "Crawford's not looking very good in all this; he appears petty and small, overreacting to the sort of thing a professional athlete is supposed to be able to handle. Valentine, after all, was just doing his job at the time."
At that time I wrote, "Whether Crawford is being unreasonable or not, Valentine must be relentless in mending that fence."
Apparently, he has been. When Crawford reported to camp, he told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, "It’s just stuff you have to say when you’re on TV so me and Bobby have no hard feelings. We share a common goal to help the Red Sox win."
Crawford added that he thought Valentine to be an "Upbeat guy. Real smart guy. Actually looking forward to learning as much as I can from him. "I’m looking for Bobby to have a real good impact on us.”
Unlike some other players whose long track records of injury and/or mediocrity can reasonably be expected to predict future performance, Crawford’s 2011 results were a stunner.
I’m not going to rehash here the oft-repeated litany of his underperformance. I think it’s more important to focus on the monster seasons he had in Tampa, because they are more likely to be repeated than 2011 will.
Former Red Sox pitcher Dick Drago and I were discussing Crawford’s unexpectedly bad year. Drago, who now lives in Tampa, said that Crawford in Boston did not look like the same player he was in Florida.
Drago believes the attitude in the clubhouse may have had more to do with Crawford’s difficulties than most people think. In Tampa, Crawford was one of the leaders on the team. Crawford had once confronted Pat Burrell about his lack of professionalism and poor attitude and threw Burrell up against a locker to make his point.
Crawford’s opinion was so well thought of that management got rid of Burrell shortly thereafter.
When he came to Boston, however, he was the new guy—an outsider in someone else’s clubhouse, and was apparently unable to affect the existing culture.
Mike Giardi of ComcastSportsNE did an excellent story about Crawford. He wrote, “Finally, late in the season but before the team entered its death spiral, Crawford had had enough. He launched into an impassioned speech, imploring teammates to get it together. It fell on deaf ears.”
Valentine is the one person who can most affect the clubhouse culture going forward. If he does, chances are the Red Sox will get their superstar back.
Crawford also told Cafardo, that he was “definitely excited" to show fans the Carl Crawford that Red Sox Nation had hoped to see last season. "Like I said, I put a lot of pressure on myself last year. I just need to stay relaxed and stay focused."
Crawford also acknowledged that the seven-year, $142 million contract may have had more of an impact than he thought. "You never know until you sit back and think about it. It probably had its effect on me. You want to show you’re worth the money. The pressure builds up on playing in Boston. This year I have to find ways to get over that and play my game.”
If he does, that will be better than any off-season acquisition the Red Sox could have made for 2012.
3. Can Clay Buchholz Regain His 2010 Form?
First, a disclaimer. I happen to be a Clay Buchholz fan. I was in the stands on September 1, 2007 when he no-hit the Orioles as a rookie; it was the only Red Sox game I went to that year.
Can Buchholz make it through an entire season without injury? If he can stay healthy and pitch 200 innings for the first time, a lot of questions about the Red Sox starters go away.
While Beckett and Lester lead the staff, Buchholz is the key to the rest of the rotation. Some believe he has the best pure stuff on the entire staff. When he first came up there were questions about his ability to perform in the pressure cooker that is Fenway Park. "That is no longer an issue," writes Scott Cordischi, GoLocalProv Sports Editor. "Health is the key for Clay."
In 2010 he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA. But he missed most of the season in 2011 with a back strain, later diagnosed as a stress fracture. He was shut down in June after 14 starts.
After the red Sox were eliminated from the playoffs, Clay Buchholz still had work to do, according to Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe. "Buchholz was assigned to the Instructional League in Florida to determine whether the stress fracture in his back had properly healed. Instead of going home, he had to start three games against minor league prospects on windswept practice fields."
Although he was not excited about this requirement, he recently told Abraham, "“It was definitely a good thing for me to know that going into the offseason, I wasn’t injured anymore and was able to throw without any pain.’’
He has since pursued a strenuous offseason training regimen. “I haven’t had a problem,’’ Buchholz said. “As of right now, I feel good.’’
Early reports from Fort Myers are positive. Bobby Valentine told Ian Browne of mlb.com, "First impressions of Clay Buchholz have been very impressive impressions," Valentine said. "When he stood on the mound and propelled the ball forward, every time he's done it has been outstanding. His health and the training room reports are excellent. He has a great look in his eye."
4. Will Daniel Bard Be Effective as a Starter?
If Bard can succeed in the rotation, the Red Sox may have dodged a depth-of-rotation bullet.
To say nothing of saving a bundle on the free agent market.
The Red Sox and Bard avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year contract. MLB.com's Ian Browne says (on Twitter) that they settled at $1.6 million plus. Even with that bump from the $505,000 he earned in 2011, the Red Sox are not going to be able to find many starters with Bard’s stuff available at that price.
"What you've allowed yourself to do is . . . acquire a high-upside starter in Daniel Bard for nothing," said ex-Red Sox infielder Lou Merloni on Comcast SportsNet New England.
I've been beating the "Bard as a starter"drum since the season ended.
Point one: It's a lot harder to develop (or find) good starting pitchers than it is to find relievers.
Point two: I doubt Daniel Bard has the makeup to be a closer.
After all, he was 2-9 for the year, and his eighth-inning appearances (56 of them) are not as overpowering as many think. Yes, he had that lights-out midsummer stretch, and for the year, batters hit only .205 against him.
However, Bard allowed 22 runners to score, in addition to giving up 25 runs of his own, with a very average eighth-inning ERA of 4.38.
His disastrous September (ERA of 10.64 with nine walks in 11 innings pitched) adds to the concern.
What many forget is that the Red Sox drafted Bard as a starter, and he made 44 starts (with admittedly terrible results) in 2007.
Bard himself has said that starting wasn't the problem; he just was not pitching well that year, and the results would have been the same no matter what inning he pitched. At the start of the 2011 season, he expressed an interest in returning to a starting role. He reiterated that request this year, and the Red Sox have taken him up on it.
To those who suggested that Boston should have pursued C.J. Wilson, I remind you that Wilson was a reliever for five years before transitioning to a starting role in 2010.
The Rangers signed Joe Nathan so they could convert their closer, Neftali Feliz, into the starting rotation—so there are two recent precedents for you.
One of the perceptions of Bard is that he is a one- (or at most two-) pitch pitcher. That's not true. If you go back to Bard's scouting report at redsoxprospects.com, it says:
Bard also mixes in an 80-82 mph slider with some nice bite. His slider really keeps hitters off balance. It can also dip down to about 76-78 mph with more slurve action. He also has a few other pitches in his arsenal that aren't used very often, including a high-80s cutter, a low-90s two-seamer, and a circle change.
One guy who should know is fully supportive of Bard's move to the rotation. “I’m excited to see what he can do,” Papelbon said to Providence Journal reporter Brian MacPherson. “I think Daniel has a phenomenal career ahead of him, and, in my opinion, there’s no reason why he can’t start. I think Daniel can do whatever he wants to do. He’s that good. He’s matured into a phenomenal pitcher and is only going to get better, and I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
Let's face it, a top-four rotation of Beckett-Lester-Buchholz-Bard would not be bad.
The low-risk, high-reward potential seems to fit right in to GM Ben Cherington's plan.
5. Can Aaron Cook Become an Impact Starter Again?
The first of the new-to-Boston arms, and in my opinion the most likely one to succeed, is former Colorado Rockies ace right-hander Aaron Cook. The Red Sox signed him to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Should he make the big league roster, Cook stands to earn a prorated $1.5 million, according to WEEI.com. Cook will be given the chance to join a gaggle of other low-risk signees in competing for the fourth or fifth starter role.
Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine told Ian Browne of mlb.com that the training staff is considering putting Aaron Cook, who is competing for a rotation spot, on a more conservative program then the other pitchers. "Aaron Cook has had shoulder issues in the past where, when he's come back, he's come back too soon and he's done a step forward and two back," Valentine said. "We're trying to prevent that from happening again. We're trying to get him so he can cruise on through. He's not hurt. He's just trying to learn from the past."
According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, new Red Sox pitching coach Bob McClure knows Cook. McClure was a minor league pitching coach for Colorado for six years (1999 to 2005). Cook was theRockies’ second-round draft pick in 1997, and made the major league team in 2002. He spent parts of 10 seasons with the Rockies, and he is the only Colorado hurler to have pitched more than 1,000 innings. Cook also holds the team record for victories with 72.
During that span, he posted an ERA of 4.53 in some 1,300 innings. From 2006 through 2009, he averaged 187 innings per season and recorded a 4.11 ERA.
Boston fans may recall that Cook was the losing pitcher in the decisive Game 4 of the 2007 World Series. Cook allowed just one run through the first six innings, but World Series MVP Mike Lowell hit a two-run home run off him in the seventh, and Boston went on to win, 4-3.
Cook signed a $30 million deal covering the 2009-2011 seasons, but injuries plagued him for the duration of that contract. He lost a month in 2009 with a strained right shoulder, and the following year he suffered a broken leg when he was hit by a line drive off the bat of the Reds' Joey Votto.
In 2011, he battled shoulder issues again early in the season and later broke a bone in his fingertip when he slammed it in a door. His 97 innings in 2011 were his fewest since 2005, and it was no surprise when the Rockies chose not to pick up an $11 million team option for 2012, making him a free agent.
Cook had comparatively brutal numbers in 2010 and 2011, which undoubtedly made many teams leery of signing him. He posted a 5.08 ERA and a 1.19 strikeout to walk ratio in 2010, walking 52 batters in 127.2 innings. He followed that up with a 6.03 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP in 2011, walking 37 and only striking out 48 batters in 97 innings.
So, why should Red Sox fans be optimistic about Cook's chances?
First of all, he has one of the best sinkers in the game, and has produced a career ground-ball rate of 57.4 percent—one of the highest in MLB over the past ten years. The average MLB pitcher induces grounders about 44 percent of the time.
That would certainly be useful at Fenway Park. Remember Derek Lowe, another ground ball pitcher who excelled in Boston?
More importantly, his deteriorating stats may not be a good prediction of his future performance.
There is pretty good evidence showing that pitching in Colorado produces more wear and tear on hurlers due to the altitude. Marc Normandin wrote an excellent analysis of that phenomenon for SBNation.com when he covered the Ubaldo Jiminez trade last year.
Normandin quoted former Baseball Prospectus writer Rany Jazayerli: "…one thing the Rockies have figured out--a finding backed up by medical science--in their decade in the mountains: as a result of the thin air, the body recovers from physical exertion slower than it does at sea level."
In 2004, when the Rockies briefly moved to a four-man rotation, Jazayerli wrote:
Mike Hampton threw eight shutout innings in his first start at Coors Field after signing with the Rockies, throwing only 98 pitches. The next day, he said, "I felt like I had been hit by a truck when I got up." The difficulty in recovering from each start was so debilitating that, before he was traded to the Braves, Hampton was planning to outfit his bedroom in Colorado with a pressure chamber so that his muscles might heal faster between starts.
Although Cook pitched more than 200 innings in 2006 and 2008, no Rockies pitcher has thrown three 200-plus inning seasons in a row in the history of the franchise.
The point is, getting Cook out of Colorado could be the best thing for his health. If he stays healthy, he could be a pleasant surprise to the Red Sox—at very little financial risk.
6. Will the Real Josh Beckett Please Stand Up?
Beckett has been the lightning rod for much of the criticism leveled at the Red Sox pitching staff for the September collapse, and he has done little to change that so far this year with his relatively unapologetic response to the media and fans.
While he has acknowledged "mistakes", he made it clear that he thought the crime was the fact that the problems were publicly aired—not that they existed in the first place.
His point is, "Just win, baby," and all the negatives will go away.
At the end of the 2011 season there were a few knee-jerk suggestions that, as part of their housecleaning, the Red Sox needed to part ways with Josh, the alleged “ringleader” of the clubhouse morals offenders.
You don't jettison a season-long 2.89 ERA because of a few beers and some fried chicken. As many people pointed out during the offseason, Babe Ruth fueled up with whiskey, cigars and loose women. The Red Sox traded Ruth; how did that work out?
You do not trade a pitcher of Beckett’s caliber unless you can get a future or current No. 1 or 2 in return. At best, it’s a lateral move—so the team probably gains nothing in the long run.
Beckett was one of only 11 pitchers last year who won at least 13 games with an ERA of under 2.90.
Beckett has shown he can pitch, and pitch well, in this market. He is signed through 2014, and is due to be paid $15.75 million for each of the next three years. That’s reasonable money for a top-of-the-rotation horse.
He started 30 games and threw 193.0 innings, both above his career average. His 2.89 ERA was the best of his career and is almost a full point below his career average of 3.89.
His opponents batting average and WHIP were both career bests at .211 and 1.03 respectively. Beckett had a 13-7 record and if it weren’t for a lack of run support in many of his starts, he could have made a push for 20 wins.
He has a point: the fans will support him again so long as he goes out on the mound and dominates to start next season. People have short memories, and good performance will erase a lot of angst.
The guess here is that he feels he has something more to prove, and that he will let his pitching do his talking.
7. Will Daisuke Come Back and Be Effective After the All-Star Break?
Daisuke Matsuzaka underwent Tommy John surgery in June. He began playing catch at the beginning of October, and his recovery seems to be on schedule. Boston manager Bobby Valentine told Ian Browne of MLB.com, " "His arm feels good. He thinks his mechanics are away off. He's healthy and he's on that recovery pace that all rehab guys are on. He's on a very good pace."
Despite this rosy assessment, it is unlikely that he will pitch in Spring Training.
Browne added that Daisuke wouldn't reveal the target date trainers have set for him, but he did say that it's probably sooner than Red Sox Nation expects.
New manager Bobby Valentine managed against Matsuzaka numerous times in Japan, and his experience with Japanese pitchers might well rejuvenate Daisuke's game.
Ian Browne of MLB.com reports that the two spoke with each other during the offseason; Valentine in Japanese, and Matsuzaka in English. Valentine said,
When I saw him on TV, he was nothing like the pitcher I saw when he was being one of the best pitchers in Japan. I'm going to try to get him to pitch the way he understands he can be successful, and not the way either guys on the TV, on the radio, guys in the clubhouse or even maybe some guys on the coaching staff might envision him to be.
As an ESPN commentator, Valentine said Matsuzaka was relying too much on his fastball and cutter instead of pitching the way he had been so successful in Japan. "I saw him pitch in Japan, and he had a very good changeup," said Valentine.
Valentine told Daisuke that he should be used to the ball by now, which means he should be able to employ his full repertoire of pitches when he returns.
He could be back by the middle of 2012, and if he can overcome his frustrating inconsistency (brilliant one start, shaky for the next two) he could be an internal solution to the problem of starting pitching depth.
Granted, in the “What have you done for me lately?” category, Matsuzaka falls short. Over the past three seasons, he has compiled a 16-15 record with a 5.03 ERA. In 2011, he posted a 3-3 record and a 5.30 ERA before his surgery.
However, let’s not forget his 2008 season, when he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. While there’s no way to tell if he can ever regain that form, the Red Sox have invested so much in him already that it’s silly not to try to find out.
Despite his frustrating tendency to nibble, thus elevating his pitch count, he has averaged almost six innings per start during his Red Sox career, with an above-league-average ERA.
He is entering the final season of his six year, $52 million contract. His salary is already on the books, and he’ll get it whether he returns to the Red Sox rotation, so it makes sense to hang on to him.
Wouldn’t you have preferred to see Dice-K pitching every fifth day down the stretch this past year, instead of the likes of Weiland or even Bedard?
His salary is already on the books, and he’ll get it whether or not he returns to the Red Sox rotation, so it makes sense to try to get the most out of him.
At the same time, I'm pretty sure that he would like to save face by coming back and proving his detractors wrong.
8. Will Any of the "Low-Risk, High Reward" Starting Pitcher Signings Bear Fruit?
Over the past several weeks, GM Ben Cherington added to the gaggle of arms competing for roster spots by signing a number of pitchers who were not with the Red Sox organization last year to minor league free agent contracts with invitations to spring training. In addition to Aaron Cooke, these starting pitchers include Carlos Silva, Vicente Padilla, Justin Germano and Ross Ohlendorf.
Carlos Silva is the highest-profile member of this group. He has pitched in 316 major-league games. He is also the most controversial; many (me included) question whether or not he can change his reputation of being an out-of-condition malcontent. The bad Carlos Silva has a reputation for a poor attitude and work ethic and is a shadow of the good Carlos Silva performance-wise.
One of the reasons the Red Sox are giving him a chance is because he throws strikes. His rate of walks per nine innings (1.725) is the lowest among all active pitchers who have thrown at least 750 innings in their career. In fact, in the last 30 years (thanks, FanGraphs), only five pitchers have hurled as many innings as Silva with a better BB/9 rate: Bob Tewksbury, Dennis Eckersley, Brad Radke, Bret Saberhagen and Rick Reed.
In 2005, while pitching for the Twins, he walked only nine batters in 188.1 innings, setting the modern era MLB record for fewest walks allowed per nine innings (0.43). That same year, he led the majors in double-play balls induced with 34. On May 20, 2005, Silva threw only 74 pitches in a nine-inning complete game, which was the lowest number since 1957.
After the 2007 season (13-14 with a 4.19 ERA in 33 starts), the star-crossed Bill Bavasi made on of the biggest mistakes of his tenure as Seattle GM when he signed Silva to a four-year, $48 million contract.
Signing Silva is a risky move for the Red Sox, not just because of the injury issues (he's also a heavy 280 pounds), but because of his reputation of being a clubhouse problem. Just what the Bosox need…
Silva will earn up to $1 million if he makes the big league club. According to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, Silva has an opt-out in his contract that would allow him to walk away if he is not on the big league roster by mid-April.
Vicente Padilla, 34, is another injury waiting to happen, but he can get people out. He had several reasonably successful seasons with the Phillies and Rangers, but has pitched only 251 innings over the last three years. Last year, he only made nine appearances for the Dodgers with a 4.15 ERA before he was shut down due to injury. He has undergone two surgeries recently, one to fix a nerve problem in his elbow and the second to repair a disc problem in his neck.
Padilla is an experienced starter as well who has had an average career in his 13 seasons in the Big Leagues. At age 34 with a lot of miles on that right arm of his, who knows what to expect from the veteran? Word is that the Sox view him more as a bullpen option than anything else.
However, he was reportedly throwing 95 in Nicaragua this offseason, and the Red Sox thought he might be worth a look.
There is no question Justin Germano can be a good pitcher when he is focused: on July 26 of last year, he pitched a perfect game for the Columbus Clippers, Cleveland's Triple-A farm team. He struck out seven Syracuse Chiefs in facing the minimum of 27 batters.
However, he has been maddeningly inconsistent in major league stints accumulated over parts of six seasons with the Padres, Reds and Indians. He owns a 5.02 ERA in 253 career big league innings. His best season was 2007 with the Padres: He finished that year 7-10 with a 4.46 ERA and 78 strikeouts.
One reason for his past inconsistency is the fact that he has been shuffled back and forth between starting and relieving. Columbus Clippers broadcaster Scott Leo wrote, "Germano has always seen himself as a starter, it fits him better because of the routine involved between outings."
His low ground ball rate gives him an edge; perhaps the chance to compete for the fifth starter slot for the Red Sox will settle him down enough to produce.
Despite Ross Ohlendorf's 2010 numbers that looked pretty bad on the surface (1-11 record), he won a $2.025 million arbitration case before the 2011 season. He argued that he was the best pitcher in the Pirates' rotation in 2009, having posted an 11-10 record with 3.92 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. And despite the horrific 1-11 record in 2010, he incurred all those losses with a respectable ERA of 4.07. Over his last 10 starts before he hurt his shoulder, he was lights out: 2.35 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP, numbers better than No. 1 starter on many other teams.
Early reports out of Fort Myers indicate that Ohlendorf is still not ready to pitch, although his problem appears to be a back strain, unrelated to the shoulder issues which plagued him in the past.
Also in the starter mix (although decided longshots) are former top San Diego Padres prospect Will Inman and former Mets starter John Maine, although Maine did not get an invitation to major league camp.
9. Will Boston Get Any Starting Help from Pitchers Within the Organization?
I'm not going to address up-and-coming youngsters such as Alex Wilson here, although some believe he may find his way to Fenway before the season ends.
While Alfredo Aceves has started 9 games in his career (5 for the Yankees and 4 with Boston), he is clearly a far superior pitcher as a reliever. As a starter, his ERA is 4.18; relieving, it is 2.62. His strikeout-to-walk ratio as a starter is almost even, while as a reliever he punches out almost three times as many as he walks.
Like Bard, developing command of multiple pitches will be the key for Aceves if he hopes to make the successful transition from reliever to full time starter. Also like Bard, don’t rule out a return to the bullpen should circumstances require such a move.
At the start of 2011, 25-year-old Venezuelan native Felix Doubront was considered to have the best chance of any Red Sox minor-league pitcher to make the major-league roster.
Unfortunately, he showed up to Spring Training out of shape, tweaked his elbow and then strained his groin in Pawtucket. This injury may be related to nagging hamstring problems he has had dating back to 2010.
Signed as an international free agent in 2004, Doubront has been in Boston’s system since 2005. The Red Sox drafted him as a starter; in fact, his first three major-league appearances in 2010 were starts.
He has not developed as hoped. Even though he has shown an ability (in an admittedly small sample size of 25 innings) to strike out major league hitters, he has also been wild, walking almost as many as he has fanned.
When he loses command, he tends to groove pitches, leaving too many high in the strike zone, making him a very hittable pitcher at this point in his development.
The best thing for Doubront would be to work as a starter in Triple-A, but he is out of minor league options. That means he will have to start the season in the Red Sox bullpen, which is not necessarily where they want him.
That makes him eminently tradeable, and quite frankly I expected that he would have been dealt during the offseason as part of a package for a more established pitcher or a right-handed bat.
Junichi Tazawa (see slide 15) made three appearances in Boston (three innings) after a September call-up, giving up two runs.
The big question is how to use him going forward. Some consider him as the only potential starter at the top of the minor league system. The relief work in 2011 could have been a way to limit his innings while he regained his arm strength, or it could be an organizational decision that he be converted to a reliever.
Bottom line: it is unlikely that any of these pitchers will crack (or even contribute to) the starting rotation in 2012.
10. Who Will Replace Jonathan Papelbon?
The Red Sox should still not be in a hurry to come up with a final answer that question. The acquisition of both Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon gives the Red Sox multiple bullpen options that they did not have with Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon.
Papelbon was rarely used for multiple innings, unless it was an extra inning game. Bard seldom closed, and also seldom went more than one inning. They never reversed roles.
However, new manager Bobby Valentine will have options that Terry Francona did not have. Bailey has had success as a closer; so has Melancon. So has Bobby Jenks, for that matter. All can set up as well as close. All three can pitch multiple innings.
The 26-year-old Melancon racked up 20 saves in 25 chances for the struggling Astros in 2011. He ended up 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA in 71 appearances. He held opponents to a .234 batting average and struck out 66 batters while walking 26.
He saved more than 35% of his team's wins last year even though he did not become the closer until mid-May. The problem is, contending teams devalue saves made on behalf of a cellar-dwelling ballclub. They don't believe that such saves constitute pitching under pressure.
So, the big question is, "Can Melancon make the transition from the laid-back, sparsely attended, meaningless games played by the bottom feeders of the NL Central to the pressure-cooker known as Fenway Park during a pennant race?"
To be fair, Melancon did appear in 16 games for the Yankees before being traded to Houston in the Lance Berkman deal in 2010—so he is not totally unfamiliar with the AL East.
At the same time, a period of readjustment won't hurt, and having Bailey around makes that so much easier. With Bard moving to the rotation, Melancon can be expected to fill the set-up role that Bard excelled in last year.
11. Can Alfredo Aceves Keep Up the Pace?
Red Sox Nation loves this guy, and with good reason. He takes the ball. He produces, as a reliever and as a spot starter.
The 30-year old avoided arbitration with the club during the offseason by agreeing to a 1-year deal worth about $1.2 million, a good raise from his 2011 salary of $675,000—but he’s still very affordable.His versatility alone makes him well worth that investment.
At Ben Cherington’s October 25 press conference, he specifically pointed out the acquisition of Aceves as the model of the type of “buy low” deal the Red Sox would like to do for 2012.
In his four year career with the Red Sox and Yankees, Aceves has an incredible record of 24-3 with an ERA of 2.93. In late and close situations, in tie games or with a one run lead he is lights out–batters hit less than .200 against him. Also, Aceves can and does eat a lot of innings; he had seven games in which he came out of the bullpen for at least three innings and didn’t allow a run, and four more in which he allowed just one run.
The problem was that down the stretch he was the only one who was getting people out, and as a result he was overworked.
With Bailey and Melancon in the fold, and a gaggle of other relievers fighting for jobs, Aceves should feel more comfortable about his supporting cast for 2012. Manager Bobby Valentine will have the luxury to tinker a bit with this staff as it is shaping up; should Bard falter as a starter, he could also try Aceves in the rotation.
To me, however, Aceves’ role as a middle reliever is more valuable than keeping Bard as an eighth inning specialist. Alfredo's ability to pitch almost every day (within reason) is the best way to maximize his value.
Keeping him in the groove will go a long way toward an AL East championship.
12. Will Andrew Miller Finally Live Up to His Enormous Potential?
Miller, the sixth overall pick in the 2006 draft (Tigers) has frustrated every manager and pitching coach he has worked with since. Despite enormous potential, the hard-throwing left-hander has had problems with his mechanics and command at every level.
In six seasons, he has walked 215 batters, or about one of every eight he has faced.
The Red Sox acquired him as a reclamation project in December 2010. He was arbitration eligible after the 2011 season, and likely would have been non-tendered by Boston had he not agreed to a deal before the deadline before the deadline, according to Matthew Pouliot of HardballTalk.com. As it was, Miller took a 20 percent haircut (the max for an arbitration-eligible player) from the $1.3 million he made last season.
He went 6-3 with a 5.54 ERA in 17 appearances (12 starts) for the Red Sox in 2011, and the Red Sox apparently made it clear that they