Thursday, February 26

Lester Is Changing Things Up

It was great to see (and by see, I mean read about) Jonny Lester on the mound for the Sox today. He threw two solid innings against the Pirates (I know, it's hard not to look good against the always "rebuilding" Pirate teams), but it's got me thinking about Lester's ultimate ceiling. As a big young lefty, he has a natural advantage, but just how good can he become as he continues to mature? Are we talking Derek Lowe or real ace material here?

The 25 year-old spent the off season adding a few pounds of muscle in an intense fitness routine and also increased his confidence in a very important pitch for any hurler; a change up. Lester relies manly on a mid 90's fastball and his cutter as his out pitches, but developing a change up has been at the top of his to do list since last season ended. When asked about the development of his change up, Lester responded:“It’s going. it’s still a work in progress. Like I said, I threw some today and we’re just trying to pick counts and situations where it’s hopefully not going to hurt us to get some work in and get some feel and some reaction from hitters on it. that’s what Spring Training is for. You use it as a building block for the season but you also take your weaknesses and you try to focus on them and that’s one that this spring we’re really trying to focus on.”

Having command of a change up could be what puts Lester alongside a handful of the best pitchers in the game right now. It adds another dimension to his make up, one that hitters will have to respect while at the plate. Keeping hitters off-balance and uncomfortable in the box is something Pedro did better than anyone in his prime (especially when behind in the count). Discomfort in the batters box translates into greater confidence on the mound....and while I'm not ready to put Lester up there with Pedey, if he's able to garner command of an effective change up, it would go a long way in helping to establish him as the best lefty in the game for years to come (yes, I see you CC...how could I possibly miss you).

How can you not love, cheer, and wish the best for Jon Lester?....I mean the guy tooled on cancer for christ's sake. Anyways, just thinking about how much potential this pitching staff has, I can't help but wish to fast forward to April 6th at Fenway against the Rays....but I guess all good things come in due time....

Lars Anderson: Coming to a Left Field Near You?

Currently, Lars Anderson only has a first baseman's glove, but that could all change soon. Rumors are flying around the organization that Boston's number one prospect could be moving to the outfield in order to increase future position flexibility.

According to Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen “Right now he’s a first baseman. We feel like he’s going to be good at that position,” ........“But if he’s the best guy available (in the minors) and his only way onto the team is to play left field, even to stand in left field, I have a hard time thinking we’re not going to run him out there for a few games to see what he looks like.”
Anderson has never played anything but first base in the pros, but admits to occasionally manning the outfield in high school (along with pitching at times). He is still learning the nuances of the first base position, but some believe the organization will experiment with him in the outfield once he reaches Pawtucket (which in all likelihood will be this year). There remains a lot to be hammered out on the big league club before finding a place for Lars, as Jason Bay and others will have upcoming contract negotiations, perhaps this is the Red Sox merely being proactive.

Personally, I understand many players are shifted around once they reach Triple A, in part to align their skills with the big league club's positional needs, but I don't think tossing Anderson in left is the best idea here. Let's be honest, everyone is extremely excited to see this kid come up to the bigs, he's one of the most hyped prospects within the Red Sox system in sometime, and certainly the best power-hitting option to come up through the minor league ranks in years.....but forcing a young kid into a new position may prove damaging. If this was Pittsburgh; with no media spotlight and an easy left field to handle, that would be one thing, but running a 21 year old out to play left field at Fenway, an extremely difficult position to play, and under the extreme pressure that is baseball in Boston, that's a totally different world. So much of young player's success is contributed to overall confidence and comfort levels, why challenge that at this point?

For now, I'm perfectly fine with Lars continuing to build on his skills and test his talent against upper minor league players. The 6'4", sweet-swinging lefty has been performing well thus far, and could provide a much needed, long term power solution for the Red Sox lineup....let's keep running with that and see where it takes us over the next year or two, and as Tito says "things will fall into place".

Wednesday, February 25

Sox Open With Win Against BC Eagles

As far as the Sox beating the Eagles 7-1 today in the Spring Training opener, the outcome really doesn't matter at all. What does matter is that baseball is back, hopefully a sign that all this snow will melt and grass will begin to grow again.

As for the game, Josh Becket pitched 2 perfect innings striking out 2 Eagles, both looking. Sadly Beckett did not hit anyone or threaten the life of any BC players, probably best, a suspension is not the way to start the season for your ace.

Most importantly, Beckett was throwing strikes, 15 of his 22 pitchers were in the zone. Granted the hitting talent isn't that of the Yankees or (don't call them Devil) Rays' line up, but throwing strikes in a live game is what mattered today.

Speaking with the press after Beckett said, "It was nice to get a little adrenaline. Obviously, we've been facing hitters for six days now, and I just think sometimes on those back fields that's the only thing lacking. Obviously, you've got a hitter standing in there, a few elements that you don't generally deal with, batting cages and nets in front of you and stuff like that. But it was nice to have the adrenaline. Even though it was a college team, you still have that adrenaline."

Indeed, Josh Beckett loves adrenaline; saying it and pitching off it.

Clay Buchholz pitched one perfect inning, throwing 6 pitches for strikes. Rocco Baldelli whiffed twice in his first at bats in a Sox uniform and Chris Carter had a 3 run double that broke things open.

The Sox have never lost to BC, a perfect 19-0. Imagine the riots on the BC campus if they ever did beat the Sox, I can imagine the sea of yellow super fan t-shirts running down Chestnut Hill (I don't even know why I make fun of them, probably because it's easy).

Overall not much else to say about the game. I read 48 year old BP pitcher Ino Guerrero got an at bat, not going to comment on that.

Tonight the Sox open up Grapefruit League action against the Minnesota Twins. As always the teams will battle for the Mayors Cup this Spring Training, I believe the Red Sox have won the last two years, although I hesitate to say that because there was no parade or champagne to confirm it.

Let the Games Begin

The Red Sox kick off their Spring Training schedule today with a double header. The Sox take on the Boston College Eagles at 1:05pm and open Grapefruit League play tonight against the Twins, first pitch is at 7:05.

Josh Beckett will start against BC, no word on if the super fans will be out in full force, I suspect not since they only get up for games against Duke and UNC. Tim Wakefield will start tonight against the Twins. Don't expect the starters to go more the two innings.

The line ups are as follows:

Vs BC

1. Julio Lugo, SS
2. Rocco Baldelli, LF
3. David Ortiz, DH
4. J.D. Drew, RF
5. Chris Carter, 1B
6. George Kottaras, C
7. Jonathan Van Every, CF
8. Nick Green, 2B
9. Angel Chavez, 3B

Vs the Twins

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. Kevin Youkilis, 1B
4. Jason Bay, LF
5. Brad Wilkerson, RF
6. Jed Lowrie, SS
7. Jeff Bailey, DH
8. Josh Bard, C
9. Gil Velazquez, 3B

Of course these games mean nothing at all, it's a step up from batting practice but the main goal is to get back in the swing of a live game. Personally I hope Beckett strikes out all 6 BC kids he faces then drills the guy in the on deck circle in the thigh, then dragging his thumb across his throat tells the kid he's lucky Tito is pulling him from the game.

Things have been a little slow down in Fort Myers, a few fireworks wouldn't kill anyone.

We'll have updates later today from the BC game, be sure to check back.

Monday, February 23

161 Million for this???


Remember last year, when Red Sox Nation was freaking out over a pudgy Josh Beckett? Well by that standard, Yankee fans should be burning down entire apartment buildings in the Bronx after looking at this picture of their 161 million dollar "ace" down in spring training.

You know how really fat guys with huge beer guts often take pictures with women who are 9 months pregnant in a contest to see who has the bigger stomach? (if you don't, then maybe I'm just weird, because I've seen it way too many times) ...well in this case, the Yankee "savior" would demolish the competition, even that chick who had 8 babies but no money to pay for them. But seriously, what happened here? Did he go on an eating rampage after signing the most lucrative deal for a pitcher in MLB history? What happened to putting on the pinstripes and becoming a different person? It doesn't look like CC took the off season as serious as many of our beloved Red Sox did (see Lugo, Dusty, Ortiz, Beckett, Lester, Tek, Jacoby and more).

Sure Yankee fans brush off the injury concerns, or the fact that he'll be pitching in a much better AL East division, or his post season struggles.....but how do you brush off the fact that he's 700 lbs?

A lot can change over the next month or two, and perhaps this is just a picture showing CC's "bad side", either way, I'm personally pretty happy that the Red Sox are not holding a 161 million dollar bag on this guy.

Pitching and More Pitching


Down in Fort Myers the topic of conversation today was pitching. Terry Francona spoke with the media for a few minutes this morning and Jonathan Papelbon, Brad Penny, and others threw live batting practice.

In Penny's words, "I felt great. Today, for me, answered a lot of questions, mentally and physically. I didn't know what to expect the first time going out there to face hitters, but everything felt great."

Penny is line to be the team's 5th starter when the season begins; Buchholz projects to start the year down on the farm in Pawtucket and Smotlz is being held out on the DL until June whether he likes it or not. Although he only threw BP today it's encouraging that he was pain free and felt good, clearing this first hurdle is a good first step. Penny added that he's 100% healthy.

Papelbon is also on a throwing regiment that will ease him into the season. When the dog days of August and September arrive Pap's health and durability is always a concern, as it if for all pitchers. Last year in the playoffs Pap said his arm was tired, definitely the affects from a long season and playoff run.

Francona and pitching coach John Farrell are acclaimed for their ability to work with the pitching staff and not run a reliever out there 5 days a week risking injury, looking at you Joe Torre.

Fracona added "With Paps, being a long spring, I don't know that we need to speed him up that much," said Francona. "With Penny, it's a little slower progression. I think the destination is the same, but we're getting there a little different"

Other pitchers throwing BP today were new comer Ramon Ramirez and Hideki Okajima. Papelbon will pitch in a spring training game March 3rd and Penny to start March 5th, however that time table could change.



A few other observations:

From photos I've seen Julio Lugo does look like he's put on a few pounds of muscle.

Mike Lowell is taking live batting practice, a good sign if he's to be ready for opening day.

Thanks to boston.com for the photo above.

Saturday, February 21

Frozen Idiot


This week yet another multi-billion dollar scam was revealed when the SEC announced its investigation of Robert Allen Stanford, a former Texas businessman who built an off-shore banking empire in the Caribbean.  As yet, it's unclear what precisely was the nature of Stanford's scheme, but it does seem that some $8b is missing.  And just like in the Madoff scandal, some surprising names are caught up in the melee.  

More precisely, it looks like a decent chunk of the Yankees outfield currently has their assets frozen.  Johnny Damon and Xavier Nady both appear to have had money with brokers who invested in Stanford's offshore financial institutions.  Meaning that after the SEC's action this week, both have their assets frozen.

"I can't pay bills right now," Damon told Fox Sports.  "That started on Tuesday.  I had to pay a trainer for working out during the offseason.  I told him, 'Just hold on for a little bit and hopefully all this stuff gets resolved.'"

Apparently Nady's credit card accounts are frozen.  "I'm trying to get an apartment right now in New York," he said.  "I can't put a credit card down to hold it."  (Nady says he did not have money with Stanford, but it's unclear whether he means his brokers didn't have money with Stanford or whether he believes this is merely an error somewhere in his credit line.)  

Both players are represented by Scott Boras, whose personal management company is helping the players figure out how and when their assets will be unfrozen.

Yes we like to see the Yankees squirm, and for some reason it's sort of funny to think of Johnny Damon telling his trainer that the check is "in the mail," but this situation still sucks.  There's a couple degrees of separation between Damon, Nady, and the nefarious banking, so it's tough to see much blame on their part.  So despite the headline, I'll extend some sympathy.

Another wrinkle to the story that's not Yankees related but it kind of awesome in a low-life Thomas Crowne way---Stanford himself is on the lamb.  The SEC's civil case was filed Tuesday, and off he went.  I like to think that he launched a catamaran into the Gulf Stream and is a long way from Tuesday right now.  That, and hopefully the guy gets caught.  He's no Steve McQueen or Pierce Brosnan.

Friday, February 20

Handicapping the Bullpen - or, Is Delcarmen Delusional?



Now that we've finally had some live BP (meaning that this is only wildly premature, as opposed to astonishingly premature), it's time to start speculating how the 2009 bullpen is going to sort out. At least we're not the only ones ready to make bold predictions. As posted earlier, Manny Delcarmen says he wants to set up Pap this year. Possibly we were just getting those quotes live via satellite and there was a, say, 365-day delay on it, and Delcarmen was only saying what everyone in February 2008 expected to hear. Or maybe he knows something we don't. Either way, I've got my hunches.


Obviously Pap is set. But beyond that we've got some fresh faces, some developing stories, and some mainstays.


First there are the lefties. The Sox will likely carry only the two of them in the pen this year, so their places are secure. Lopez is a tough guy to summarize. I can't get rid of this nebulous feeling that he can't be trusted, but then every time I look at his numbers over the last couple years, I'm begrudgingly impressed. Okajima has had his battles, and has likely lost his spot in the 8th inning for good, but showed in stretches that he can still be a major contributor.


Takashi Saito is a smart and gregarious veteran (see earlier discussin of possible sitcom starring Saito, Brad Penny, and either a kid or a trouble-making dog) who's going to fit right in to the bullpen's rhythm section. Although he's coming off some injuries in 2008, since arriving in the States three years ago, Saito has been one of the most reliable bullpen arms in the game. In 180 career appearances (189.2 IP), Saito has 81 saves, a 1.95 ERA, 245 strikeouts. and has walked only 52 batters. Even at 39, even coming off an injury, those are impressive numbers.


The other big offseason addition, Ramon Ramirez, also looks to be battling for the setup role. Ramirez has put up some decent numbers on some difficult teams, and had a solid 2008. He can get some velocity on the ball, he doesn't walk too many, doesn't give up many home runs, and has generally kept his ERA low. Still, despite his track record, Ramirez is still seen as a potential guy, with something to prove.


And there's Delcarmen. He's got all the tools for a setup guy or even a closer, but just can't seem to make the breakthrough. Despite his reputation as a flamethrower, in his big league career he's never averaged more than a strikeout per inning. While he's had flashes of brilliance, he's struggled with control. But, he's worked hard, he's well liked by fans and teammates, and he certainly has potential. This could well be his year.


And Masterson. A set up man? Long relief? A starter. The talent is absolutely there, but where it will be deployed is a big question mark this season, and will likely play a big role in the Sox's fortunes.


So, for the wildly premature speculation: Saito becomes the go-to guy in the 8th inning early on in the season. Delcarmen starts out situational where the Sox need a strikeout, continues not to thrive in that role, and eventually settles into 7th innings when a lefty isn't imperative. Ramirez steadily develops during the season, comes to split time in the 8th with Saito, a mini-controversy erupts, both players are thrown off course, stagger, and Ramirez eventually takes the spot. Masterson goes long relief and is groomed for a starting role, which eventually becomes necessary, since everytime we think we have too many starters, we get massive injury attrition. Tazawa gets the call up and...okay, now we're getting into astonishingly premature territory, so we'll end it there.


Pap in the 9th. Saito in the 8th, overtaken by Ramirez. Delcarmen adrift, developing. Take it to the bank.

Thursday, February 19

It's just Pedroia being Pedroia....


Since games have yet to begin, and the highlight of many early spring training days is pitchers covering first base, we here at ITM figured we'd pass along some great Dustin Pedroia quotes/stories form today....because let's face it, it's much more entertaining than saying Ramon Ramirez looks good taking grounders off the mound....


Today all started with Pedroia winning the "golden paddle" for best ping pong player....seriously, is there anything this guy can't win?...(ok besides a dunk competition, I can hear you saying that from here) As you can imagine, Pedey was not quiet about winning the championship over Jed Lowrie, he was sure to let everyone, including Comcast Sports, know he "is the greatest".


From there, the media got more Pedroia instant classics.....this from WEEI coverage...

"Second baseman Dustin Pedrioa was his normal wise-cracking self during a morning session with reporters, noting that one looked like Dr. Drew from Loveline and telling David Ortiz he was dressed like Waldo in a striped shirt."


Where does he come up with this stuff? Loveline? I sometimes wonder if Ortiz thinks about how he could literally step on Dusty and put an end to all the yapping....but somehow Papi continues to shake his head and strut away laughing at the little man.


The day ended with Tito's media session to give an update on the team. Again, not an eventual day on the field, but Francona did share this story about Dusty....

"Last year, I introduced [Ken] Macha to [Pedroia] and Macha was just making conversation with him and said, 'Hey, you remind me of Chad Curtis,'" Francona said."Macha meant it like a real compliment, but Pedey was like, 'Are you [expletive] me?' Maybe he's right? It went from just trying to introduce him to I had to hold Pedey back... Good to not introduce him to anybody."

Good for Pedroia, what kind of ROY/MVP would want to be compared to a no-named .264 career hitter. Gotta expect that kind of response from Dusty at this point. Surprised Pedroia didn't take a swing at the old man.

Wednesday, February 18

Gammons Sounds Off on A-Rod

Ok listen, I hate hearing about the A-roid story at this point more than anyone. The rest of the ITM staff and I actually agreed that we would not touch the topic unless absolutely necessary. While I'm not yet sure if this reaches that level, something inside is forcing me to share it. This video has yet to really make all the rounds, so I figured it was worth posting.

Here is Peter Gammons on NESN earlier today giving some background info on his A-rod interview, which includes tossing the liar/cheat right under the bus. Good for Gammons for letting it fly on the topic....


video

Because it's the A-rod topic I almost want to turn the commenting feature off on this post, but feel free to let it rip with your thoughts and opinions.

Go Sox.

Tuesday, February 17

Where Have You Gone, Rico Petrocelli? The Shortstop Debate.


While the Sox camp is once again playing straight man to the zanies down at Steinbrenner field, we do have one bit of drama---Shortstop. Although many Sox fans would argue that there's very little competition here---it's Lowrie's position to lose---statements coming out of the coaching staff and Lugo's own spitfire suggest otherwise. So let's have a look and make some projections.

While Lugo has no doubt been an expensive disappointment, it hasn't been all bad. Back in 2007, Lugo had a nice respectable second half, hitting .280 with a .728 OPS after the All-Star break. Lugo's also been a fairly solid Fenway hitter, averaging over over .300 in a small 2008 sample and .286 over the span of 2007 at home.

The complaints, however, are fairly persuasive. Lugo's fielding has been in free fall since he got to the Sox. committing 19 errors at short in 2007, followed by 16 errors in just 81 games in 2008. The range wasn't there, and you couldn't help but hold your breath on double plays. So that's the downside. That, and, you know, the majority of his offensive production.

Lowrie, on the other hand, did not commit an error in his 2008 tenure at short. He didn't make a lot of spectacular plays, but he did prove a reliable DP partner for DP. And according to the Sox, they're all about defense in 2009 (whether this particular spin is a reflection of a beefed-up rotation or low expectations on the lineup is a subject for another post).

Unfortunately, Lowrie left something to be desired at the plate, hitting .258 in 260 at bats. But, he did show some promise in the clutch, hitting .297 with RISP and .333 with the bases juiced. (Lugo, on the other hand, shows dramatically better numbers when there's nobody on base in front of him.) There's also the matter of Lowrie's switch-hitting, which not only diversifies the Sox lineup, but also might offer even more hope, as switch-hitters historically have a steeper learning-curve upon getting called up to the majors. That means we might expect him to make some high-yield adjustments early on this season.

So there are the numbers, and here's the prediction: Julio Lugo in an upset.

Call it a hunch. Call it a shot in the dark. Call it blind speculation, but I think this is the year that Julio Lugo steps up and takes the shortstop job. It's not just the extra 10 lbs. of muscle he showed up to camp toting. (And while I haven't seen the pictures, let's hope it's not in his forearms, 'cause the man already looks like he works on a dock pulling rope all day.) Muscle never seems to mean all that much, especially on a wild-swinging oversized bat-using shortstop. It's also not the Dominican bravado when he tells the press that the bench simply isn't an option, though I admit I like it.

It's maybe just my old Sox-fan contrarian belief system. I just don't know whether I can really root wholeheartedly for the whole efficient-grow-from-within-by-smart-player-investment-and-asset-nurturing thing. It's all just too reasonable. I need to believe in the guy who has given you every reason not to. I don't want to talk about 10 year plans for corporate growth. I want to talk about how This Is The Year despite every indication to the contrary. So you, Julio Lugo, you are my man. You're my link to the old days. I know they're not good for me. I'm happier now. But I just can't help it.

Lugo for SS.

Tuesday Wrap Up from Fort Myers


There wasn't a lot of action down in Fort Myers today for the Red Sox, position players underwent physicals and then participated in conditioning tests in the afternoon. A few of the Sox spoke to the media today, including Mike Lowell, Jon Lester, Terry Francona and Jason Bay.

Lowell said, "I feel very excited to be here. I'm kind of tired of being in the therapy room, doing all that stuff. I want to be out on the baseball field. But I'm good, I've been hitting for about three weeks, I've throwing for a while. I'm not worried about anything from that standpoint."

Lowell has progressed very well since having surgery on his hip back in October, and says with the right plan he could be playing in spring training games before the season starts. Doctors haven't cleared him to do any running, with the exception of light jogging, so busting down to first base to beat out a double play is the last hurdle.

Jon Lester, who has been in camp since February 9th, is full of optimism for the 2009 season, both for himself and the Red Sox. A main concern about Lester is his durability after throwing a career high 239 innings last season. "I'm not worried about it. As a starting pitcher, you kinda have to expect that. You want the innings, the workload. I'm not going to treat it any different. I'm just gong to go pitch and hopefully get back up those numbers again this year."

I don't think Francona and pitching coach John Farrell treat Lester with kid gloves, he proved last season he is a horse, but I think there will be a conscious effort in each start to watch his pitch count closely and pull him from the game to let the bullpen close out the last few innings. As a competitor it's not really in any athlete to want to come out of a game, but Lester is one of the aces of the pitching staff, no sense in blowing his arm out in July.

Red Sox Manager Terry Francona also spent a few minutes with reporters touching on defense as well as the short stop position. Francona said the short stop situation will "sort itself out"; translation - the job hasn't been given to Jed Lowrie just yet. As I've stated, if Lugo can show he can play better defense then he did a year ago he has a shot to win back the starting gig at short, however not too many people are in his corner.

It's undeniable that defense is going to win the Red Sox a number of games this year, much like the Rays last year. The have Gold Glover's in Youk and Pedroia and on the right side of the infield, and former winners Lowell and Tek at third and catching. The outfield is quick and all have average to great arms, say what you want about JD, and I've said a good amount, but he's got a cannon from right field.

Francona's thoughts on the Sox D, "We have the makings of a very good defensive team and it's something that's maybe more important to us now than maybe it was a few years ago. Again if you score, however many runs you score, if you hold the other team down, I mean as long as we win, that's what we're shooting for, but there's different ways to do it. There's a cumulative effect on pitching staff, when you're catching the ball and it ends up where it's supposed to."

Jason Bay commented on the Sox lineup for 2009, "I think that there's four or five guys who can hit third or fourth in any other lineup, then there's a situation where you try to jam guys in there." There is where I am differing from a lot of other Sox fans, sure Manny isn't in the line up this year, but you have 4 guys after Ortiz who are all capable of 30 home runs and 100 RBI. I know health is going to factor into it and they won't all get 100 RBI, but between Youk, bay, Lowell, and Drew (although I'm not confident in Drew just because he hasn't done it here yet) I like to think those guys are going to drive in 300 runs between them. We shall see.

Also in case you missed Arod held a press conference about his steroid use, he's still claiming he was stupid and naive....

Monday, February 16

Ortiz: I'm back.


David Ortiz addressed the media at length earlier today. He fielded questions on his health, that guy from Washington Heights, and steroids. Here is a quick recap of the 25 minute media session...

On his health:
Ortiz insists that he is at 100 percent and ready to get back to the home-run-hitting monster of old this season. He took a full 2 months off from hitting over the off season and concentrated on getting in better physical condition. He has yet to hear the popping noise in his wrist since giving it the time off to properly heal. He openly noted his displeasure with those who consider him old at 33 and on the decline. "I heard people saying, he’s getting old or whatever. Dude, I just turned 33. I never seen a player be called old at 33". - Good point Papi, but you're going to really produce to prove some of those people wrong.

On that guy from Washington Heights:
Papi openly states that the Red Sox lineup is not as powerful without Manny and could use another hitter. He stressed the pitching strength of the AL East as reasoning to pursue another bat and expects to see many 2-1 or 3-2 ballgames. That said, he quickly went on to mention that the current line up has "a lot of good hitters" and is capable of doing damage. When asked about seeing good pitches to hit, I thought he had a great response: "I'm gonna take everything day to day. If I don't see pitches to hit I won't swing . . . If I can help my team walking . . . I've been walking my whole life. I just want to be healthy like I am right now. If I'm healthy, I know I can do some damage."

On A-Roid sticking himself with needles
Ortiz still considers A-rod the best player in the game, pointing to his continued massive production throughout his entire career. He expects that "80 or 90 percent of the game is clean" now as a result of testing. However, his most interesting point was in regards to potential penalties for testing positive: “You do what you’ve got to do. Bang them for the whole year."


Check out the video below for a clip of the actual interview (thanks to boston.com for the vid)


video

Morning Round Up


All Red Sox players are expected to be in training camp today, reports are that Mike Lowell and Mark Kotsay have not been seen yet. Lowell of course is coming off hip surgery and Kotsay (my boy) had back surgery not to long ago and according to Francona is expected to be in camp tomorrow.

Julio Lugo has arrived in great shape if the media is to be believed. Lugo and Jed Lowrie will battle each other for the starting short stop job this season. Lugo has another 2 years left on his contract and said that he will wait until the end of spring training before he decides if he's going to ask for a trade or not. Thanks Lugo, we all appreciate you waiting to decided if you'd like to request a trade, Theo's phone hasn't stopped ringing for a short stop for 2 years at $18 million with the range of 3 legged dog.

In all seriousness, I do hope Lugo rebounds this season, at least defensively. If you look back at the Sox World Series teams in 2004 and 2007 they have great role players coming off the bench. If Lugo doesn't rebound he'll be impossible to trade, there's no market for a short stop who bats .250 and is due $18 million more, the Sox would be eating a healthy chunk of that contract. Did someone say Rent-a-Wreck? (Edgar Renteria)

If Lugo can come off the bench and provide what Alex Cora did I guess we won't be able to complain. Of course he'll be doing if for about $16 million more, I still can't believe Theo signed this guy.

Takashi Saito was given number 24, Man-Rams old number. Personally I believe that Ramon Ramirez should have be given number 24, it would save Sox fans the money and pain of having to buy a new Rex Sox jersey this season. If they give Ramirez number 24 I'm pretty sure Ramirez would have the most jerseys at a ball game for a relief pitcher who's not a closer in the history of baseball, sadly we'll never know.

Tony Mazz is reporting that despite the fact Jason Varitek couldn't hit a beach ball from the left side of the plate he still plans to switch hit this season. "Oh my goodness. Hell no", was Tek's response when asked he was going to give up switch hitting; coincidentally that's the same thing I yelled every time Tek came to the plate in the late innings with runners in scoring position.

Tek then referenced his home run in game 6 of the ALCS of James Shields, "It’s too much of an asset." Last year Tek batted .284 from the right side of the plate and .201 from the left, perhaps he means he's an asset in regard to keeping the flow of the game going, nothing like an automatic out.

There must be a reason why he feels the need to switch hit... I don't even have a joke here.

David Ortiz is scheduled to talk to the media today, we'll have that interview later this afternoon.

Sunday, February 15

Ortiz, Dusty, and Jacoby report early

It's day two for pitchers and catchers, but more everyday players continue to slowly flood into Ft. Myers early for spring training. Today, David Ortiz, Dusty, and Jacoby Ellsbury reported to camp early and worked out.

While ITM is not yet down in Ft. Myers in person, after analyzing a few different videos out there, it certainly appears Ortiz has slimmed down. Reportedly, he lost two inches off his waistline and added five pounds of muscle in the off season. Ortiz took healthy swings in the cage and showed no signs of caution from his wrist injury last season. Physical health and weight is important for Ortiz as his batting stance puts a significant amount of pressure on his legs and knees, so hearing he is in better shape this spring training is a positive sign for the future.

Also arriving today was Jacoby Ellsbury. Many point to him as the catalyst and perhaps most important element of the Red Sox offense. After winning the starting position last year in center field but eventually splitting time with Coco Crisp, he has the position all to himself in 2009. No pressure Jacoby, but we need a big year out of you. ITM has yet to hear any official reports, but Ellsbury appears to have put on some additional muscle in the off season as well.

As far as Pedroia goes....well....he's still money. His body fat is down to 10 percent, after being at 18 just three years ago. According to Dusty he has been eating well: “Just cutting out all the garbage....I like ice cream. I never eat ice cream anymore, it sucks.”

According to weei.com, as Pedroia went to the cages he told reporters.... “Time to go rake. I hope they have new nets up there because I’m going to wear them out.” Anyone else think he's like Jack Parkman from Major League Two, just much smaller?

So far, in the very early stages of spring training, it appears the Red Sox have worked hard over the off season to both get healthy and stronger. This could mean little once the season gets going, but it could also be a very important factor in sustaining long term health.

Check out the video below from Boston.com....showing a fit Ortiz (at first I thought he was limping, then I realized he's just really cool and that's how he walks), and of course Dusty bullying on Jacoby....



video

ITM should also note that Lugo, Drew, and Jed Lowrie have also reported early.

Saturday, February 14

Delcarmen: "I want to set up Pap"


The competitive juices are already flowing down in Ft. Myers. Last night, after work outs, Manny Delcarmen openly stated he wants the set up man job in front of Papelbon. Delcarmen certainly improved last year in the bullpen, showing flashes of brilliance at times, but he has yet to find the consistency most are looking for to fill the set up man job.


The late season emergence of Justin Masterson and off season acquisitions of Ramon Ramirez and Takashi Saito makes this some what of an interesting comment...but I like the competitive fire he is showcasing. Delcarmen spent the off season working on gaining consistency and command of his curve ball, an off-speed pitch that could prove pivotal to keep hitters from sitting on his 96 mph fastball.


Click on the link below to hear Delcarmen talk about the set up man job.....thanks to Mike Petraglia for the interview...





ITM Note: Jason Varitek is due to speak to the media soon down in Ft. Myers, we'll be sure to summarize once it's available.

Friday, February 13

Smoltz Speaks to the Media


I'm joining the lengthy list people who think John Smoltz will be the best signing of the off season. A few weeks back Theo was raving about Smoltz's arm and shoulder strength, saying it was maybe the strongest on the team; side note Smotlz is 41 years old.

Secondly, I think the Smoltz signing is very similar to Schilling in 2004; he's a veteran arm who's pitched big games in October and won them. Although Smoltz won't be joining the big club until June due to rehabbing his surgically repaired shoulder, I expect him to add a lot to an already formidable Sox rotation.

Last year before getting hurt Smotlz had a 2.57 ERA striking out 36 versus 8 walks in 28 innings pitched. That's not a large sample size, but it does tell me two things. One, his sinker was still sinking at the age of 40, and two he's still making his pitches. We've seen older veteran pitchers make due and pitch okay, I think Smoltz can win 10+ games when he finally makes his debut.

Today Smotlz spoke with the media and had this to offer:

On Jon Lester's performance last season, "I'm not blown away by too much, but I love watching playoff baseball if I'm not in it, and what these guys have done, especially Jon Lester. What he did last year, I sat there with my mouth open cause that time of year you're not supposed to be doing what he did. That's a tribute to his success and his ability to rise up."

Smoltz also touched on his disappointment with the Atlanta Braves and the way they handled his departure. "The reason I was disappointed was the reaction, or should I say the statements that they put out, which just weren't true. This could have been a peaceful departure, as in any other times in the past it would have been...I was very disappointed by the way they handled it. Not the fact that I'm not there, it's just the way they handled it. They had to do what they had to do, and certainly so did I. I'm presented with the greatest opportunity of a lifetime, if you ask me."

I'm certainly glad Smoltz is in Boston, however it would have been great to see him finish his career in an Atlanta Braves uniform. No doubt Smoltz will wear a Braves hat in Cooperstown one day, hopefully the Sox can get him 1 more World Series ring before he retires.

ITM news and notes:

The Captain made an appearance today in Fort Myers, that's right Tek was on the field. Word from Florida is Tek will talk to reporters tomorrow, that should be a circus.

Thursday, February 12

Ft. Myers Update:

Pitchers and catchers officially reported to spring training this morning in Ft. Myers, however many players have been there all week (or even earlier in Jon Lester's case). Here are some of the biggest takeaways thus far....

-We'll lead off with a video of Tito commenting on the health of Ortiz/Lowell....

video

(thanks to boston.com for the video)

- Brad Penny threw a successful bullpen session yesterday and did not show any evidence of the injuries problems that plagued him last year. In addition, pitching coach John Farrell said both Brad Penny and Takashi Saito would follow the same pitching schedule as the rest of the hurlers in camp. Don't be surprised however to see Penny receive a few extra days of rest during the season in an attempt to keep him healthy for the long haul. Personally, I'm trying to keep my optimism surrounding Brad Penny in 2009 in check, but the aforementioned update is reason to be a little excited.

- Josh Beckett appears to look more like the JB of 07' and not 08' . His shoulder strength tests registered higher than 07' and he came into camp at 228 pounds....in much better shape than the "fat JB" from early 08'.

- I'm sorry, but the 41 year old John Smoltz looks like he could pitch on April 6th. Saw a video of him throwing a football and going through long toss drills and he showed no signs of injury. Granted it was not throwing off a mound or trying any of his breaking stuff, but he looked to be in good shape and throwing easily and with good velocity.

- Lastly, "Old Reliable", Tim Wakefield stated he is 100 percent healthy and "feels great". He also had a very interesting quote in regards to Josh Bard.... “Three years ago I never had somebody work as hard as he did to try and catch me and do the right things. He was truly a professional in his attitude and the way he went about his work … My comfort level with him never changed from spring training into the season … He’ll admit this as well, I think his biggest mistake was trying to catch like Dougie caught.”


All of this gets me pumped for ITM's trip down to Ft. Myers in early March. The trip will include lots of baseball, sun, chain restaurants, beer, and Heidi Watney updates.

Wednesday, February 11

Abreu to Angels


Bobby Abreu has reportedly signed a 1 year deal with the Angels, worth approximately $5 m. Abreu began the offseason (after the Yankees declined to offer him arbitration) asking for multiple years at somewhere around his Yankees salary of $16m, but it soon became apparent that the corner outfielder market just didn't have the legs of seasons-past, especially when you didn't have the Yankees contending for your services.

Abreu joins a solid Angels outfield that already includes Guerrero, Hunter, Rivera, and (sometimes) Matthews, Jr. Abreu may very well provide the Angels with something of the added pop they've been looking for the last couple years.

While he doesn't reproduce what they got from Texeira the last few months of '08, Abreu has been an extremely consistent run producer. He's currenly running a streak of 6 seasons in a row driving in over 100 rbis. His power numbers have generally hovered between 20 and 30 homers.

Not bad for $5m. This may very well prove to be one of the biggest steals of the offseason.

Monday, February 9

A-Rod's Admission Video

So by now most of us have seen this, but given how big this is (and because he's a Yankee), I couldn't resist pulling it from ESPN and posting....


video

What are your thoughts? Glad he came clean? Still just have too much hate for the guy to think he did the right thing? Will you ever think of him again in the same manner?....

I sure won't.

A-Rod Admits Use


In an interview to air on tonight's 6pm SportsCenter, A-Rod admits to Peter Gammons that he used illegal substances when he was with the Rangers.

"When I arrived in Texas in 2001, I felt an enormous amount of pressure, felt all the weight of the world on top of me to perform, and perform at a high level every day," A-Rod says in the interview.

A-Rod also makes several apologies for his behavior. "I am sorry for my Texas years. I apologize to the fans of Texas."

He tells Gammons that the illegal use ended in 2004, and that it was purely a phenomenon of his Texas days: "all my years in New York have been clean."

Tune in tonight for the full interview.

Sunday, February 8

A-rod: A cheat and a liar...

Yesterday's somewhat shocking news that A-rod tested positive for steroids back in 2003 forced me to dig out this video. Keep in mind this is from just after the Mitchell Report was released back in 2007....


video

LIAR!

Saturday, February 7

Arod Tests Positive for the Juice


"Oh crap" That's what Arod said when he woke up this morning, reached over Madonna for the remote control and turned on Sportscenter.

A new report released this morning by Sports Illustrated reveals that in 2003, Alex Rodriguez tested positive for the steroid Primobolan, as well as testosterone. 2003 was A-Rod's final year with the Rangers in which he won the home run crown and the American League MVP.

The testing was part of a league-wide sample designed to determine whether tougher rules were required. There was no penalty for a positive test, and approximately 5% of players tested positive. 104 players tested positive for steroids, all of which were notified after failing the drug test. So to answer your next question, yes Arod and others have known since 2003 they tested positive for steroids.

ARod did not respond to SI's request for comment, saying only, "You'll have to talk to the union." When asked if he would discuss testing positive for steroid Arod said, "I'm not saying anything." Doesn't sound like the comments of an innocent man.

Did baseball just lose the next home run king of baseball to steroids? Coupled with this story is Barry Bonds in court for allegedly lying under oath about taking steroids, and not far back in car number 7 is Roger Clemens, who's DNA was recently linked to needles used for injecting steroids. Arod is the latest car to be hooked up to the steroid train.

A number of questions are being asked now, but we don't have answers yet. Is Arod still on the juice? Has he tested positive since 2003? Who leaked the supposedly sealed information? (SI is saying they have 4 separate sources) What will baseball's response be, what will Arod say?
I know what I would do if I were Arod; go the Andy Pettitte route and come clean.
Somewhere in a swimming pool in America Michael Phelps has a smile on his face, his famous bong hit has finally been bumped from the top story.

ITM will have more on this story as it develops, as well as reactions and opinion.

Friday, February 6

Moneyball---coming soon to a theater near you?

While there isn't a lot of information out there on this story, this might be enough to pique your interest:

Reports emerged today that Steven Soderbergh may be taking on the reigns of the movie adaptation of Michael Lewis's bestseller, Moneyball. Soderbergh is the director of the Ocean's 11 series, Traffic, and Sex, Lies, and Videotapes. And also the 6 part Che epic now playing downtown at the IFC theaters, if you have, you know, 6 hours to spare. (Also, he's had a producer credit on nearly every cool movie of the last two decades---see Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, etc.)

The same reports also indicate that Brad Pitt has expressed strong interest in starring. A bit of a typecast, since Beane is also aging backwards, but just so long as this gets green lit.

We won't go into detail explaining the book, since it's safe to assume our audience has a dog-eared copy somewhere on the bookshelf. Suffice it to say, the Soderbergh and Pitt team definitely has the potential to make this one of the cooler sports movies of all time. Yeah, that's right, throwing out the all-time label already. Just picture a beefed up Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing a young Youkilis. Enough said. Let's just hope it's 6 hours.

Thursday, February 5

Kotsay on the Shelf Until May


My boy, Mark Kotsay, will be sidelined until at least May after having back surgery to remove a displaced disc fragment on January 29th. Health is a concern for the Sox heading into the season, perhaps why they signed Brad Wilkerson to a 1 year deal yesterday.

David Ortiz and Mike Lowell are both coming off injuries, and you never know with JD Drew and Rocco Balldeli; it's certainly conceivable that Kotsay could have seen some serious playing time early in the season. However, the word out of Red Sox camp is Lowell and Ortiz are on track to be ready for the season, but of course they are saying that.

I don't expect the Sox to rush Lowell or Ortiz out on the field in spring training, it's far more important that these guys are healthy for the season then to get 2 at bats against the Twins for the Mayors cup.

With Kotsay out I assume that means Brad Wilkerson makes the team as the back up first baseman, unless another deal is made. Wilkerson hit a Varitek-like .220 last year between Seattle and Toronto with 4 home runs, however he has hit 20 taters in a season in 3 or his 7 years in the bigs, not that the Sox are signing him for his bat.

That said, the search for my Mark Kotsay t-shirt jersey continues...

This pic should make us all feel a little better.....

It's cold as hell here in Boston today.....my hair froze while waiting for the subway this morning...and I don't think it was even wet......anyways, I figured this picture would stir a little optimism into a frozen Red Sox Nation. Ortiz has clearly been working hard in the off season....he's showing off the guns in this picture from Boston.com

I'm glad to see he didn't just eat salsa and subway cookies in the off season. He looks ripped up and ready to blast 40+ taters again....I'm knocking on wood right now, you should be too.

Wednesday, February 4

Trick Question, Theo is God....

With not much going on within Red Sox Nation, here are some of the better tidbits from Theo's candid conversation on WEEI's Dale and Holley show earlier today:

On the Yanks signing Teixeira:
"We're not building this organization through free agency. I don't think that's an intelligent way to build an organization. We're building it through drafting players, signing players internationally, developing a homegrown core from within, and complementing it with trades and free agents. So I always assume if the Yankees want a player, they're going to get him, so that's why it can't necessarily be a part of our business model to assume we're going to land the big-ticket free agent. With respect to this particular negotiation, I don't think we were swimming upstream because he could always go back to the Yankees again [in the end]. I don't necessarily feel that way, I know it can be interpreted that way."

In a paragraph, Theo articulately details why the Sox have enjoyed recent success, and the Yanks haven't.....but Theo's not trying to tell Hank/Cashman how to do their job or anything...


On the off season signings of Dusty and Youk:
"With Pedroia and Youkilis, we knew that they were among the players that we wanted to sit down and have multi-year conversations with. And, you know, they were really reasonable. And so we were able to work something out. I hope we will look back and say that was an important part of our offseason, being able to lock Pedroia up for the length of time that we did, six years and an option, and then Youkilis for four years and an option. We get these guys through their prime years, get the club option . . . they get a lifetime's worth of security, we get cost-control, affordability, and the knowledge that we'll keep a good part of our offensive and defensive core intact. So it's a win-win there for all sides."

Pretty much saying these guys are real Sox players...putting winning above money. Manny, not so much.

On Youk's ability to be a clean-up hitter:
"Oh, yeah. And it's not my responsibility. I think Tito [manager Terry Francona] is open to hitting him all over the lineup. When people say that Youkilis isn't a traditional cleanup or middle-of-the-order hitter, I think they haven't quite noticed how he's evolved as a player. When he first came up, his clear strength as a player was plate discipline, he had a way above-average walk rate . . . and only had power sporadically, only on certain pitches he could drive. He's really changed, you've probably noticed, over the last couple of years, last year in particular. He's still got an above-average walk rate, he's still got above-average plate discipline. But he's sacrificed a little bit of that patience to drive the ball earlier in the count. He's adjusted his approach where there are a number of different places in the strike zone he can drive the ball."

Well said and great point in regards to sacrificing patience to establish early in the count power. I don't know why Theo continues to impress me, he is our GM, but he manages to do so every time.

On Mike Lowell's health:
"..he’s started swinging the bat and doing some agility work so he’s on schedule to be available by the end of spring training. And that’s really what we’re focused on, what he’s going to look like at the end of spring training rather than the beginning."

Can't help but be encouraged by this news, alongside Ortiz, Lowell is the biggest offensive question mark going into the season.

On any other off season moves:
"I think we’re probably done. There is always something else that might fit as we round out our spring training roster and there’s always trade discussions as well, so I wouldn’t rule anything out. But nothing is that hot or active right now. I think most teams are packing up and heading down to spring training seeing what they have the first few weeks of camp then trade discussions will pick up from there."

I think we all know how ITM feels about acquiring a long term catching solution, but like we always say, in Theo we trust.

To see the entire transcript from today's meeting click here.

Monday, February 2

It's Officially Baseball Season...


The Superbowl and it's ridiculous hype is finally over. Thank god, now we can sincerely start worrying about baseball and more importantly, the Red Sox. Not that anyone in New England really cared about last night's game, but there is something about the end of football season that officially accelerates all of us into thinking about spring training and the boys of summer. Sorry Celtics and Bruins, we love you and all, but we'll really pay attention come playoff time.

As we draw closer and closer to both the warm weather and the start of the 2009 baseball season, ITM will be taking a look at the 2009 Red Sox in closer detail. Of course we'll offer our predictions once the season is close to kicking off, but we'll also take a look at Boston's off season moves, trade deadline possibilities, and where we stand against our AL East rivals.

An intricate part of ITM's ramp up to the 2009 season is our trip down to Ft. Myers to take in some spring training baseball. We'll be headed down in early March and will likely travel with away games as well. It's likely we'll hit up every chain restaurant and bar on the way, but that's part of the Floridian experience....and there will surely be a ton of fantasy baseball trash talk between us.....but hopefully, we'll be able to provide some of you back here in New England with some thoughts, opinions and stories from City of Palms Park and beyond.

Pitchers and catchers report in just 9 days.....ITM reports in about a month...it's baseball season Red Sox Nation, get excited.
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