Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

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Despite the supposed War on Christmas that some folks say liberals like me are promoting, I wanted to take a moment to wish folks a Merry Christmas. For those who don’t celebrate the holiday, Happy December 25!!

When I was in elementary school, I distinctly remember one of my classmates who happened to be Hindu saying that she loved Christmas. Being a fifth grader who didn’t realize I might be crossing a line, I gave her a quizzical look and asked what she meant since she didn’t celebrate the holiday. She responded by saying she appreciated how people seemed to be in a festive mood and believed it was a great time to be around loved ones.

The adult me realizes folks might be going through trying times during the holidays and others might not be able to be with family for various reasons, but I think the sentiment my schoolmate expressed still stands. I know I’m extremely grateful for the time I get to spend with my family and the well wishes I’ve received from friends today — especially considering I’m still recovering from a major health scare earlier this month.

On a purely superficial level, I also must admit that the baseball fan in me gets a kick out of seeing all the posts online from people showing off the Red Sox gear and memorabilia they’ve received. Of course, it helps that there’s a whole bunch of new stuff to acquire this year since Boston won the World Series!!

With that in mind, I hope everyone enjoys the day and takes a moment to celebrate the positive things in their life.

Could Clay Buchholz Be A Bullpen Solution for Red Sox?

Clay BuchholzThe primary need the Red Sox have to address this offseason is obviously the hole in the bullpen left after Joe Kelly signed with the Dodgers. They’ve been rumored to be in the mix for big name relievers like David Robertson, but going after one of the pitchers not on the national radar could be a potential option. While it’d come with some extra risk, going after Clay Buchholz might be the solution for the Red Sox.

His season unfortunately ended in the middle of September after he was diagnosed with a flexor strain in his forearm, but Buchholz had a bounce back season in 2018 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He threw for a 2.01 ERA and 1.032 WHIP while striking out 81 over 98.1 innings. Not only were his stats improved, but Richard Morin of the Arizona Republic wrote an article saying the 34 year old was a lot more consistent and appeared to be stronger mentally.

With that being said, Buchholz has definitely struggled with inconsistency over the years. Back in June of 2016, for instance, Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald wrote that “so far out of relief, Buchholz has been good, solid, and disappointing, all within in his first two appearances.” These comments came right after he had given up four runs to the Orioles during a 3.1 inning out.

But it’s not like he was consistently bad. He hadn’t given up any runs during the first two innings of the aforementioned appearance and had blanked the Blue Jays during an inning long outing a few days before. The right hander simply seemed to implode after Dustin Pedroia made an error on what should have been a routine double play ball.

That ability to implode after what should have been a relatively minor setback is what people remember about Buchholz’s time with Boston. Even after a successful season with Arizona, people have claimed he “can’t pitch for large markets” like Boston or “handle the pressure of a heavy sports town.” This might be the truth, but it might be worth taking a risk on him since he’s not one of the big names being heavily targeted and could therefore be signed for less money.

The strong and consistent comeback season should make the Red Sox strongly consider bringing Buchholz back to Boston. Since the righty seemed to prove himself last year, the main source of concern shouldn’t be his consistency but his history of injury. As mentioned before, his season ended early last year due to a partial flexor tare in his right forearm and he also missed most of 2017 after needing surgery to address a similar injury.

Perhaps the other thing worth noting is that Buchholz spent most of last year as a starter and that might have played a role in why he was more consistent. He does have a fair amount of experience working out of the bullpen, however, and could be a good contender for a long relief spot.

In the end, pursuing Buchholz could also play into Boston’s overall strategy. Some of the higher ups in the Red Sox organization have expressed an interest in not making any big moves until everybody knows where Craig Kimbrel will be spending 2019 (and potentially beyond). Unlike some of the big names being discussed this offseason, the former Red Sox might still be available after that potentially late point in the offseason. So while it might not be the most obvious path to take, bringing in Buchholz might be the right move for Boston.

Red Sox Still in the Mix for David Robertson

As most of Red Sox Nation is waiting for Boston to sure up their bullpen for next year, people like Mark Feinsand are reporting “the Red Sox are still in the mix for free-agent reliever David Robertson.” Jason Veritek’s wife, Catherine, even sent out a tweet suggesting the right handed reliever is coming to Boston and the Red Sox vs. Yankees rivalry will have a little extra spice to it next year.

This can only be interpreted as positive news as Boston’s been showing a strong interest in him since early on in the offseason, but they’ll have to make a big push soon if they want to sign him. If they sit back and wait to see what Craig Kimbrel does like some executives have been saying they might, they could easily see Robertson go elsewhere.

Despite dispatches from Yankee territory suggesting the Red Sox didn’t think Robertson wanted to come to Boston, most pundits agree the interest is mutual but there are several teams remain in the mix. It shouldn’t be surprising other clubs are interest because the Phillies have shown interest in bringing him to town and the Yankees might bring him back as they could use some help filling in their bullpen for next year. With at least three teams in the mix, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Robertson is simply trying to ensure he gets the best deal possible.

The major hang up for the 33 year old is that he’s looking for a three year contract, but most teams are only willing to give him two (reports suggest the Red Sox fall into this category). Based on a successful 2018 season where he ended up with a 1.03 WHIP and 3.23 ERA while striking out 91 and giving up 30 runs (25 of them earned) over the course of 69.2 innings, however, three years isn’t too much to ask if teams can get him to commit to a reasonable salary (he made $13 million in 2018 and has averaged $11.5 million per season since 2015).

It’s worth noting that a cursory scan of his stats from last year appear to be better than those put up by Joe Kelly, who the Dodgers signed to a three year deal with an option for a fourth earlier this month. Kelly is guaranteed $25 million over those three years and could receive upwards of $33 million if he hits all the incentives included, so Robertson’s demands are reasonable and should definitely be considered by the Red Sox.

As all these discussions are taking place, Boston’s geographic location might come into play. Robertson currently makes his offseason home with his family in Rhode Island and is rumored to want to sign with a team located close by. Rhode Island obviously isn’t far away from Boston and, for what it’s worth, is even home to the Red Sox’s triple-A affiliate. This could prove to be an advantage if it becomes clear nobody’s willing to sign him to more than two years.

With all that being said, the major factor still seems to be whether or not Boston will move forward with a big signing before they know what Craig Kimbrel will do.

Baseball Writer Bill Ballou Doesn’t Think Mariano Rivera Belongs in the Hall of Fame

mariano-riveraAs a Red Sox fan, I can understand the desire to dislike every single Yankees player. It’s why I got a kick out of Robert Bradford writing a story for WEEI about how Manny Machado going to New York would be good for Boston as it’d give folks someone to hate on the Yankees’ roster. But even this Boston fan knows claiming Mariano Rivera doesn’t belong in Cooperstown is simply ridiculous.

Rivera is arguably the best reliever in Major League history and will likely receive almost unanimous support while making his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot. He’s received the vote of everyone who’s already cast their 2019 ballot, but I have to say almost because Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram has created quite a stir in the baseball community by announcing he doesn’t think the Sandman should be enshrined in the Hall.

While trying to justify his position, Ballou makes all sorts of claims that have been largely mocked by other, more well known and respected, baseball writers. First, he claims that “closers are naked emperors” and that the save “is the lowest-hanging fruit on the game’s statistical tree.” In other words, he thinks closers have huge egos but aren’t really anything special and the save is overrated.

In what was probably the most direct attack on Rivera, Ballou claimed the Sandman’s stats were overly inflated because he primarily only pitched one inning and came in with nobody on base. The scribe suggested that if he was really a great pitcher, the Yankees would have brought him in when the bases were loaded and no outs in the seventh inning. Or had him being a starter — a move that Ballou suggested mockingly because he thought batters would “figure out [his] weaknesses.”

As part of his reasoning behind why closers and the save are supposedly overrated, Ballou points to Craig Kimbrel’s performance during last year’s playoffs. I can see where he’s going with this since Kimbrel didn’t have his best stuff in the postseason and still went a perfect six for six in save opportunities, but that doesn’t diminish the role of the closer. Boston’s closer was still able to get out of jams and make sure the Red Sox won.

If you need an example of how a closer who can’t get out of jams is a big negative, just look at the devastating impact Drew Storen’s epic collapse in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS had on Washington’s playoff dreams. Storen’s a solid reliever and was one of my favorite players when he was with the Nationals, but he simply couldn’t fully step it up when the pressure was on. It’s a shame, but illustrates how you need someone who’s clutch and can be counted on in the pressure filled ninth inning — especially in the postseason.

Perhaps trying to gain some support among Boston fans and realizing that simply bashing Kimbrel won’t convince many people, Ballou went on to use some quotes from former Red Sox manager Terry Francona in a desperate attempt to backup his argument. During the 2017 Boston Baseball writers annual dinner, Francona apparently said he thought teams might change how they use relievers if the rules around the save changed. The skipper additionally said he doesn’t “blame guys for wanting to close games” due to “the way salaries are structured.” All that might be true, but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that Rivera was one of the best (if not the best) pitchers in baseball.

Ballou tried to use comments made by a few other players, executives, and analysts to further argue that closers are important, but none of them were convincing and they failed to show why Rivera shouldn’t be on his way to Cooperstown. In fact, it simply made him look like a cranky old man who longed for the days when starters pitched a bunch of complete games and players he deemed irrelevant didn’t receive attention.

What makes you really throw up your hands in disgust is that after making such an effort to diminish the impact an extremely classy and talented man had on the game of baseball, Ballou ended his article by saying he wasn’t going to cast his ballot at all because he didn’t want to “deny Rivera a chance to be the first unanimous Hall of Famer.” In other words, he wanted to bash the guy but apparently didn’t have the courage to officially be on record supporting his claims. It’s an utter shame Ballou covers the Red Sox for a newspaper in Massachusetts and therefore might taint Boston fans with his severely misguided sentiments.

Manny Machado Wanted to Play for Red Sox or Yankees

Although Manny Machado said he won’t announce who he’s signing with until after the new year, there’s still a lot of chatter about where he’ll end up. The latest development comes as Fancred’s Jon Heyman reported a few days ago that a baseball executive claims the superstar wants to return to the AL East — preferably to the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees.

“I think he ends up in New York,” one rival exec says. “He wanted to be with the Yankees or Red Sox. We’ve known that for a while. And it’s not going to be Boston.”

This isn’t completely out of the blue as the Red Sox were reportedly in discussions with the Baltimore Orioles last offseason about a trade that would bring Machado to Boston. The discussions could have taken place in part because Boston’s Dave Dombrowski and Dan Duquette (who was Baltimore’s GM at the time) have a relationship that dates back to their time with the Montreal Expos three decades ago, but even that relationship didn’t allow them to amount to anything in the long run.

With that being said, it’s fairly obvious that Machado can scratch Boston off his list of potential destinations. Not only have the Red Sox shown little interest in him this offseason and weren’t among the three finalists he met with, but he’s had some public spats with Boston’s players and fans.

He got a lot of heat, for instance, for sliding hard into Dustin Pedroia at second base during a game down in Baltimore back in April of 2017. Pedroia brushed it off and said “it’s baseball, man” in a postgame interview, but folks like manager John Farrell had a much stronger reaction to the move. The situation didn’t get any better when he went off on the Red Sox the next month during a postgame interview with a media scrum that had to be bleeped several times when it aired on TV and the radio.

Machado further added to the feud when he spiked first baseman Steve Pearce during the bottom of the ninth in game four of the 2018 World Series (this was one of the few times he decided to be “Johnny Hustle” and run down the first baseline). He claimed it was unintentional and that he’s “almost best friends” with Pearce, but the move definitely stirred up a lot of emotion among both fans and players.

On the other side of things, the Yankees appear to be a real possibility for Machado. They had a 90 minute meeting with him on Wednesday (and reportedly took his family out to dinner that night), can afford to pay the huge contract he’ll demand, and have consistently been among the teams wanting to sign him. On top of that, Machado grew up a Yankees fan and managing partner Hal Steinbrenner was quick to say questions about his attitude could be easily be settled with a simple conversation during the interview process.

A lot of pundits were already saying Machado was leaning towards going to New York and this new tidbit of information seems to lend credibility to those claims. As Robert Bradford of WEEI recently pointed out, him going to New York would have the benefit of giving Red Sox fans someone to hate on the Yankees. So with all that in mind, smart money is on him joining the Evil Empire and Red Sox fans should be perfectly content with it.

Red Sox Avoid Arbitration With Heath Hembree

With so much attention being given to who the Red Sox might pursue for late inning help in their bullpen, it appears as though they’re quietly making some moves to ensure they have some depth among their relief corps. The latest example of this came as the organization avoided arbitration with Heath Hembree today by signing him to a one year deal worth $1.3 million.

While Hembree’s unlikely to ever be a All-Star caliber pitcher, he did appear in 67 games last year while pitching to a 4.20 ERA while striking out 76 batters over the course of 60 innings and having a 1.33 WHIP. Having said that, folks were originally optimistic about Hembree’s chances of being an impact pitcher during 2018 but he never really emerged as a late inning powerhouse and usually appeared in the sixth or seventh inning where he was tasked with maintaining a multi-run lead.

The 29 year old (he’ll turn 30 in January) didn’t even originally make it onto the postseason roster. It was only after knuckleballer Steven Wright suffered a knee injury that Hembree was activated for Boston’s playoff run. Nevertheless, he did pitch 4.2 innings in four games during the 2018 postseason and didn’t give up any hits or runs (though he walked five batters) while striking out three.

In addition to only putting up middle of the road stats, Hembree isn’t exactly a fan favorite online. One person recently took to twitter, for instance, to sarcastically say he can’t wait for him to have “a 5 ERA while we lose Ottavino to the Yankees and he wins the Cy Young and Miller joins the Phillies or something and pitches to a 1.80 ERA.” Ranch Wilder even added that he’s willing “to leave [his] family in order to never see Heath Hembree throw another pitch in a Red Sox uniform.”

A lot of this frustration comes from people being upset that the Red Sox haven’t been more active in the search for a big name reliever on the free agent market. There are some reports saying they’ll wait to see what Craig Kimbrel ends up doing before making a serious move, which is very risky since most pundits agree Kimbrel could be a last minute signing wherever he ends up. Waiting that long could cause Boston to be stuck with a bunch of midlevel relievers like Hembree and few better options to bring to town.

It’s also worth noting that Hembree is out of options, which means the Red Sox won’t be able to send him to Pawtucket without him going through waivers. And while he’s not a superstar, there’d likely be some other teams who try to pick him up off the waiver wire. That could play a role in how executives manage their roster if someone becomes available as time progresses.

All in all, this isn’t a bad move as going through the arbitration process could have ended up costing the Red Sox a fair amount of money and he isn’t a horrible mid-inning reliever. But they certainly cannot use keeping Hembree in Boston as an excuse not to active pursue other relievers.

Red Sox to Build 5,000 Seat Theater Right Near Fenway

While one of the best parts of going to games at Fenway Park is soaking in the history that’s associated with the stadium, the Red Sox are always looking for ways to improve it without damaging the historic atmosphere Fenway’s acquired. Even when they added seats at the top of the Green Monster, for instance, they kept the ladder folks used when home run balls had to be retrieved after getting stuck in the netting that was previously there. With that in mind, it’s very interesting that the Red Sox announced plans to build a “5,000 person capacity performing arts center” located on Lansdowne Street behind the bleachers.

The announcement came in the form of a letter to the Boston Planning and Development Agency discussing projects the Fenway Sports Group will be working on this offseason, including what will be known as the Fenway Theater. The Fenway Sports Group claims the theater will be used for “wide variety of entertainment and civic events on a year-round basis” (a move that will obviously help bring money in for the team’s ownership even during baseball’s offseason).

In addition to the theater, the projects being worked on this offseason “would include a new area connected to the back of the ballpark’s bleachers that will feature concession stands, restrooms and other elements designed to enhance the fan experience in the bleachers.” This addition will make life a little easier for folks sitting in the bleachers who previously had to walk a relatively long way to get to the bathroom or concession stands before having to deal with waiting in line (I know, I know, #FirstWorldProblems).

As it stands now, the new development will replace some parking garages and a few other structures in the area. While it’s not exactly clear how this will impact the view fans have, it hopefully won’t impact the view you get of downtown Boston from the top of the bleachers — a view that makes being far away from the action a little easier to deal with (I know, I know, #FirstWorldProblems again).

Red Sox Attend Troy Tulowitzki’s Workout

PlayerHeadshotThe obvious focus of the Boston Red Sox this offseason should be finding folks to fill their bullpen, but that hasn’t stopped them from showing interest in some infielders. They were one of several teams who watched Troy Tulowitzki workout after he was cut by the Blue Jays last Tuesday and Pete Abraham reports the organization has “legitimate interest” in bringing him to Boston.

As Abraham points out, the question becomes where Tulowitzki would fit in with the team. Would he play shortstop or would he fill in at second base on days Pedroia needs a rest? Since the Red Sox would only owe him the league minimum since the Blue Jays will be paying off the $38 million remaining on his contract, it could be an interesting gamble to use him as a backup second baseman/utility player.

Having him start at shortstop, however, would be extremely risky. Not only would it likely mean trading Xander Bogaerts, but he’s been so injury prone that he missed all of 2018 and only played in 66 games during the 2017 season. He also saw limited playing time due to injuries in both 2012 and 2014. Combine this with the worries about how Dustin Pedroia will stand up for the entire 2019 campaign and the two veterans don’t exactly scream physical reliability despite their talents (and I say this as someone who loves Pedroia). This really wouldn’t be the ideal situation for the middle infield while the Red Sox try to defend their World Series championship.

That being said, Tulowitzki’s a good player when he’s healthy. He’s made the All-Star team five times over the course of his career and received two gold gloves. The last real standout season came in 2015 when he made the All-Star team and ended up with a .287/.337/.440 slashline while driving in 70 runs and hitting 17 home runs. But he also had relatively low 33% walk/strikeout ratio that season (you want this to be much higher) and he put up middle of the road numbers during 2016.

What this all means is Boston was probably right to go watch Tulowitzki’s workout, but they absolutely should not be considering him for a starting gig at short. Nonetheless, having him as a utility player that they only have to pay the league minimum is relatively low risk and worth considering — especially since they carried three catchers who took up bench space last year and are rumored to be on the trading block. The big question would be whether or not Tulowitzki actually wants to come into a situation where he’s clearly going to be the backup.

Remembering A League of Their Own’s Director, Penny Marshall

8400640Any list of the top baseball related movies usually includes A League of Their Own somewhere in the top ten. Between classic lines like “there’s no crying in baseball” and it’s ability to draw attention to the contributions women have brought to the sport, it’s a lighthearted movie that I always stop to watch for at least a few minutes when it’s on TV. Unfortunately, the movie’s director, Penny Marshall, passed away a few days ago due to complications with diabetes.

For those of you who don’t know, A League of Their Own starred Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell, Maddona, and some other big names and traced the beginnings of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. The real life league was started in 1943 because so many Major League Baseball stars were away fighting in World War II and MLB owners like Philip Wrigley were looking for a way to keep money coming into their coffers. The movie mainly follows the Rockford Peaches as they end up making it to the World Series, but losing in seven games.

The movie was well received, both commercially and by critics. The $13.2 million it grossed on its opening weekend placed it second at the box office behind Batman Returns and it actually ended up first on its second weekend. It would eventually go on to gross $130 million world wide.

A quick internet search easily brings up people talking about how the movie taught them about feminism and showed that women can do anything — even that activity’s traditionally considered part of “a man’s world.” Some even specifically said it inspired them to take up the sport of baseball. Others pointed out that the movie proved a woman led cast could produce a financially successful movie.

As someone with a degree in history who’s also a huge baseball fan, I think A League of Their Own also has other benefits as it draws attention to an often overlooked period of baseball history. We often hear about how players like Red Sox legend Ted Williams interrupted their baseball careers to serve in the military during WWII and the Korean War, but not nearly enough attention is given to the women portrayed in the film. A League of Their Own helped to make more people aware of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.

In the days since Marshall’s death, there have been a lot of people paying tributes to her role in the movie’s production (including several of the stars). Madonna, who played center fielder Mae Mordabito, took to Instagram to post a picture of her with Marshall and say “So Lucky to have known you and worked with you Penny Marshall!! Your Talent was as BIG as your Heart and you were a Trailblazer For Women In Hollywood!”

Tom Hanks, who played manager Jimmy Dugan and delivered the famous “there’s no crying in baseball” line, tweeted out remarks saying “Goodbye, Penny. Man, did we laugh a lot! Wish we still could. Love you. Hanx.”

Major League Baseball also added to the tributes by putting out a tweet saying “we join the baseball community in mourning the passing of Penny Marshall.”

While it’s rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things, I want to add my voice to those celebrating Marshall’s life. She brought joy and laughter to many and her contributions to the entertainment world will be missed.

Red Sox Agree to Minor League Deal With Zach Putnam

With all the talk about the Red Sox’s need to address the bullpen, especially now that Joe Kelly’s gone and Craig Kimbrel might be on his way out, folks have been closely watching how the organization approaches the free agent market. While we haven’t seen them sign a big name yet, Boston did just make a step in towards providing some potential relief support by signing Zach Putnam to a minor league deal.

The plain and simple fact that it’s a minor league deal shows Putnam isn’t ready for prime time right now, but he does have a history that shows he might be able to make a difference in the big leagues after proving he’s recovered from injuries. He missed the 2018 season and most of 2017 after having Tommy John surgery, but had some success with the Chicago White Sox before that. From 2014 to 2017 he pitched 139.1 innings with a halfway decent ground ball rate of 47.6 and 149 strikeouts while giving up 46 runs (42 of which were earned), 108 hits (11 of which were homers), and 56 walks. Perhaps his best stat was that he kept batters to a 27.2 percent hard-hit rate, which is well below the league average.

Since the Red Sox had to pay a $12 million luxury tax for their 2018 salaries and are likely to do so again in 2019, it’s also worth noting that they’ll have control of Putnam until at least 2020 through arbitration. Putnam already has four years of big league service, so he’ll hit the five year mark if he spends a good chunk of time in Boston this year. But that could be delayed if he doesn’t find much success and therefore only spends a limited amount of time in the big leagues.