Tuesday, March 31

Red Sox Roster Finalized

Baring another injury or roster move in the form of a waiver or trade the Red Sox finalized their roster for opening day today. Nick Green and Chris Carter will start the year with the big club, Clay Buchholz is going back down to Pawtucket.

Here is the roster for opening day:

Projected Starting line up:

(L) Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
(R) Dustin Pedroia, 2B
(L) David Ortiz, DH
(R) Kevin Youkilis, 1B
(L) J.D. Drew, RF
(R) Jason Bay, LF
(R) Mike Lowell, 3B
(S) Jed Lowrie, SS
(S) Jason Varitek, C

The Bench

(L) George Kottaras, C
(R) Nick Green, IF
(L) George Kottaras, C
(L) Chris Carter, IF-OF
(R) Rocco Baldelli, OF

Starting 5

(R) Josh Beckett
(L) Jon Lester
(R) Daisuke Matsuzaka
(R) Tim Wakefield
(R) Brad Penny

The Band in the Bullpen

(R) Jonathan Papelbon (closer)
(R) Takashi Saito
(L) Hideki Okajima
(R) Justin Masterson
(R) Manny Delcarmen
(R) Ramon Ramirez
(L) Javier Lopez

Looks like JD Drew will bat 5th in the order so Tito can keep the lefty-righty match ups through the first 6 batters in the lineup. It will also allow Mike Lowell to ease back into things, if he's not completely in playing shape there will be less pressure on him to produce.

Mark Kotsay, Julio Lugo, and John Smoltz will start the year on the disabled list. Lugo is due back in mid April, Kotsay is expected back May 1st, and Smoltz is still on a June 1st time table.

Nick Green will play the utility infielder role while Lowrie starts at short. Chris Carter can play first and the outfield, he beat out Jeff Bailey for the last spot on the opening day roster.

Buchholz was sent down to Pawtucket, although he could start April 12th if Brad Penny is not ready to pitch. Perhaps this decision is for the best as Buchholz had his worst start of the spring against the Rays and what will pretty much be there opening day roster. Buchholz gave up 4 runs in the 4th allowing 2 doubles and 2 home runs. I don't mean to be all doom and gloom, I just think Buccholz needs to start in Pawtucket to build off his successful spring training. He'll pitch in the bigs again this year.

The Sox bullpen is set in stone, however as Tony Mazz wrote about, Papelbon is the one pitcher with a position as closer. I guess we can say the rest of the bullpen is setup by committee? We're not going to though I hate the way that sounds.

Certainly Tito can mix and match and try different guys out in the 8th inning setup spot, as well as other innings. Okijima and Masterson have setup Pap in previous years, Saito has closed before, Ramirez is lights out versus right handed hitters, and Delcarmen stated he wanted the setup job. Bottom line, the Sox have great options once Tito takes the ball from the starter.

5 days until the Sox open up at Fenway against the Rays, lock and load!

Monday, March 30

Make room for Rocco

Rocco Balldelli hit another tater today....that's back to back days with a homerun against lefty pitching...but perhaps more importantly, it's back to back days just having Rocco in the lineup.

Many people hear his name and quickly follow it jokingly with a yawn or fake limp, but not me, I'm somehow optimistic that my Rhody buddy can provide the Sox with a solid option off the bench in PH situations....and also fill in nicely when JD Drew inevitibly suffers from back problems or a hang nail. This could be blind optimism seeing how he's only hitting .194 this spring, but he openly admits to always having bad preseasons...

.....“No. I usually don’t hit tremendously well in spring training. Feels like I forget how to hit in the offseason, and then it takes me a little while when I get back. But it’s not something I’ve ever really worried about or pressed too much when trying to get ready for the season. I don’t know how many AB’s I’ve got, but I think I’ll be ready to go … I don’t hit that many home runs. I just try to hit the ball, that’s all I really try to do. I don’t really get caught up in that other stuff.”

Additional thoughts from Rocco....

In regards to his overall health/strength: "Better than they did last spring – but I didn’t make it through last spring training , so that’s not really saying much.” Awesome, thanks for the insight Rocco.

Overall: “I mean, I feel alright. I could always be seeing the ball better, making more hard contact consistently. But I feel pretty good, and I’m happy with how spring training is going so far.”

Sure he's an Italian from Rhode Island so that automatically increases his stock in my book, but something about the guy makes me want to see him succeed. I feel like he's been in the league forever, yet he's only 27 years old....if healthy, his best years could still be ahead of him (could being the key word there). I want to be the guy who says "I called it" when Rocco has a productive year, I really do....not only so I can tell everyone about it, but so the Sox get some reward out of their investment in the former Ray.

Rocco appeaers to be a normal, everyday guy who plays the game right, but injuries have put him on the back burner of everyone's mind. However, between being in a big market, and finally getting healthy, this is the year Rocco makes a "partial comeback"...I'm calling it. Don't let me down Rocco, don't you dare let me down....and make sure to stretch before and after all activity.

Sunday, March 29

What to do about Buchholz....

Clay Buchholz has done everything right this spring. He's been lights out on the mound to the tune of a 0.45 era, he's worked hard both mentally and physically to get past the nightmare that was last season, and he's played well with the media, answering each question with Patriot-like responses focused on the greater good. So the queation becomes, what do you do with the 24 year old?

Buchholz (outside of my boy Daniel Bard), has been the most impressive arm for the Sox this spring. He's put in the time at the gym and on a shrink's couch to prepare himself for a successul run at the big leagues. But simply put, the red sox, right now, don't need him in Boston. With Brad Penny most likely in the 5 hole and Smoltz showing signs he'llbe back sooner than later, Buchholz, through no fault of his own, appears to be the odd man out. Which immediatley brings up the topic of value. Save for just after he tossed a no hitter, Clay's value has never been higher, and some in Red Sox Nation think it's time to maximize that value via a trade for a young catcher or perhaps even more.

If I'm Theo, (which would be awesome) I surely explore theopportunity, but the old saying still holds true...you can never have enough pitching. So unless they can somehow land Hanley (with additional specs obviously), Buchholz should spend a significant amount of time in Pawtucket (which is beautiful this time of year), continue to build his physical and mental confidence, and look forward to a bright future pitching at Fenway...which could be sooner than later based on injuries and needs. Buchholz needs to build consistency and efficiency on the mound, something that shouldn't be tested underthe Fenway lights until we're absolutley sure he's ready.

All that said, I want to hear other opinions on this topic, anyone believe we should deal him at a high value for someone like Salty orTeagarden? Do we have enough studly arms on the way up through the farm system that we can afford the risk of moving him? Let's all playTheo for a few minutes....

PS: I just typed this up on my blackberry as I'm currently stuck on a plane facing delays while trying to get to Buenos Aires...that's dedication right there!

Wednesday, March 25

Red Sox Pitching Takes Form

After having a rough spring training with an ERA above 8 Tim Wakefield settled down and pitched 5 2/3 good innings last night against the Yankees and their projected opening day lineup. Wake pitched 5 2/3 innings allowing one run on 4 hits.

Catching Wakefield was George Kottaras who received great praise from his pitcher and manager Terry Francona. “He showed a little more assertiveness, calling some slow ones and mixing in different speeds on his call, not mine,” Wakefield said. “He just did a fabulous job.”

It puts my mind at ease to hear that Kottaras can handle Wake's knuckle ball; zero passed balls last night. After Kevin Cash left for the Bronx and Josh Bard was brought back many were having flashbacks to the 2007 season when Bard had an incredibly difficult time catching the knuckle ball.

Francona was happy with Wake and Kottaras' performances last night saying that he could see that, "They're starting to build a relationship which is good, because that’s not going to happen overnight.”

Coupled with Penny's start yesterday the Sox look to have all 5 of their projected starting pitchers on track for the start of the regular season. The beginning of the season is littered with days off so the Sox have the option to skip Penny in the rotation the first time through, or plug in someone like Masterson in for a spot start.

Dice K arrived in Fort Myers fresh of the WBC Championship and his 2nd WBC MVP. The plan is to have Matsuzaka throw one inning tomorrow and make a start against the Braves on Monday. There is a little apprehension surround Dick K after he throw 98 pitches against team USA on Sunday in only 4 2/3 innings.

Watching a Matsuzaka start tests the truest and most passionate of Red Sox fans, 100 pitches in 5 innings is enough to make anyone change the channel to Law and Order. The hope from the Red Sox was that Dice K would return more to the form everyone saw in the 2006 WBC, challenging hitters more with his fastball. We'll have to see what changes the Sox attempt to make with Dice K to get him pitching deeper into games. Last year the Dice man averaged 5 1/3 innings/start.

John Smoltz, who is on track to make his debut June 1st, is pitching off the mound for the first time this spring. Francona said Smoltz would throw 30 pitches, although Smoltz would probably want to throw 100. I can't wait for Smoltz to make his debut with the Sox, the guy is a warrior.

Baring any health problems the Sox starting rotation projects out as: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, and Brad Penny.

Monday, March 23

Going Around the Horn....

There has been a flurry of Sox-related news of late...so here's ITM's attempt at addressing a few of the larger items....

- Daniel Bard has been sent down, (most likely to Triple A) but I don't think many of us are expecting him to stay down there too long. ITM was extremely impressed with the 6'4" 23 year old while spending time in Ft. Myers a few weeks ago, and we weren't the only ones. The Red Sox staff openly admits Bard was among the best pitchers in the entire Sox camp, blowing his 100 mph fastball by hitters that ranged from chumps to studs (multiple sources confirm he can touch 101 with regularity, but can't control it as well when he reaches that far back)....who is this guy? Nolan Ryan?...let's hope for that and not Joel Zumaya. Bard struck out 11 while completing 9 1/3rd innings without surrendering a run this spring. Studly stuff from anyone, yet alone a 23 year old with no major league experience. The debate is already raging on whether to keep him in a bullpen role, or stretch him out to be a starter...either way, he's showing some of the best upside in a Sox system full of young pitchers. Man-crushes aside, the kid can bring it and provided he doesn't drop a table on his foot, he'll likely be up with the big league club at some point this year, September at the latest.

- Brad Penny went three scoreless innings in his first spring training start of the year against the Tigers today. Penny looked sharp and only allowed one base runner on a walk in the first inning. The best news here is that he felt no pain during or after the game. Everything looks to be on track for him to start the year as Boston's 5th starter. After the game Penny said: “It was nice, I felt good. It has been a while since I’ve got out there and felt good, you know. Last year, I went out. I was pitching, but I didn’t really feel like I had a lot behind it. Another stepping stone. I felt pretty good.” Red Sox Nation's collective tail is wagging after reading that.....If this guy stays healthy and reverts back to the 07' Brad Penny....lights out.

- Curt Schilling officially retired today. We've all seen it coming over the past week, but today he made it official via his 38 pitches blog. This topic probably deserves its own post, perhaps we'll get to that down the road....but say what you want about Schilling, his political beliefs, and his uncanny ability to stick his foot in his mouth at times, the man brought 2 championships to a city in desperate need of them. He stated his intentions when coming here in 2004 and sacrificed everything (including his 2005 season) to make them whole. The HOF debate is starting, and while his numbers alone may not get him there, I think he'll get in after a few years....the bloody sock will turn into the bloody pant leg, and did you know he had to walk up hill to Fenway both ways in the snow?

- ......anyways, the Sox hit back to back to back to back taters today off of Brandon Lyon (remember him?). Not big news considering it's spring training and all, but one of those 4 jacks came from Mike Lowell, who has now homered in back to back games and has 3 taters for the spring. Also, just hearing about the string of 4 homeruns brings me back to a very happy place.... April 22, 2007, at Fenway Park, against the Yanks, 4 tall jacks in a row off of Chase Wright....effectively ruining that kid's chances at a successful professional career. See how much the Sox poured??

Japan Eliminates USA

Japan defeated the USA 9-4 in last night's WBC semifinal matchup. The championship will be played tonight between Japan and Korea. (Interestingly enough, one man who seemed to have this final matchup pegged all along: Fidel Castro. See his baseball columns in Cuban Escambray.)

The Japanese capitalized on a big fourth inning, in which they knocked starter Roy Oswalt out of the game in the process of scording five. Although only 1 for 5, Ichiro seems to have found his groove and energized the Japanese lineup. Young stud third baseman Kawasaki held up the other end of the lineup and made sure the American pitchers never got a breather. On the American side, only 2006 WBC snub Jimmy Rollins (4 for 4) seemed really to have much life at the plate.

Starting for Japan was our man Daisuke, who was, for better and worse, our man Daisuke. He pitched 4 and 2/3, where he reached his 100 pitch limit on a frustrating mixture of brilliance and tentative nibbling. As usual, he got himself in and out of jams and kept the American side to a modest 2 runs (including, again true to form, a first inning home run to Brian Roberts). All his pitches seem to be clicking (this early in the season, a very good sign). Unfortunately, what the Sox brass were quietly hoping would come to pass did not: Daisuke did not find his old WBC groove. The sbuttlebut in the Sox clubhouse was that being back in the patriotic garb might bring out the old aggressive Daisuke of the 2006 WBC---where he absolutely attacked each hitter and was a beast with two strikes---and send that version back to the Sox for 2009. Unfortunately, there was no such transformation, and we'll just have to be happy, it seems, with the man who went 18-3 and didn't pitch 170 innings over the season.

So the US heads home, again lamenting a disappointing performance. Though I won't be one to agree with them that it was necessarily a 'disappointment' in the sense of failing to live up to correct expectations. Fidel's on to something. It might not be good for the psyche of the national pasttime, but it speaks of some exciting possibilities for the future: Asia is playing some damn good baseball. Not to mention the Latin teams who populate the higher rungs of our own league. And the Dutch! So tonight's championship is highly recommended viewing. The Koreans and the Japanese already have their national animosity, and the most rabid fan bases at the WBC. It should be a doozy. And I hope that MLB is watching closely and thinking about the future of the game, not just its own little domestic antitrust violation.

Sunday, March 22

Dusty Continuing to be Dusty

Dustin Pedroia....please don't let the great quotes ever end. You sir, are great for the blogging community......

Dusty will be playing for the Boston Red Sox on Sunday, but he is still pissed that he won't be able to man second base for Team USA in a semifinal match against teammate Daisuke Matsuzaka and Japan......"I wish I was there and could be a part of it with those guys," Pedroia said. "It was an unbelievable experience getting a chance to play with all those guys. I'll definitely be rooting hard for them. I'll shoot them a text message, a little motivational speech for 'em. I'll get 'em going." Initial ITM expectations of what that text message would say includes far too many four letter words for us to share publicly....but we're sure it'll be classic.

When asked if he offered his Team USA friends any advice for how to hit against Matsuzaka, he quickly responded...."Daisuke is lucky I'm not there, I'd hit a line drive right off his back, and you guys can put that in your paper. I would hit him right in his back. He better hope the Red Sox don't trade him." An instant classic Dusty, good work.

More important than his funny quotes however, is Pedroia's health. Since returning from the WBC early with a pulled abdominal, Pedey has taken a few days off but made it back into the lineup this weekend without issue. For all intents and purposes we can consider him completely ready to go for the season.

Also, be sure to watch the US take on a very good Japanese team tomorrow (Sunday) evening at 6pm est....should be a great game despite injuries on both sides...
....which gets me thinking, where have the "USA chants" gone? Did that die with Hulkamania back in 1989'? We should bring that back.

Thursday, March 19

Injuries and the World Baseball Classic

As of right now we have no need to worry too much about the right side of our infield. Dustin Pedoria took batting practice today and a few ground balls at second base without any problems.

If you'll recall Pedroia felt a small pain in his oblique muscle during soft toss while at the World Baseball Classic. After that Pedroia was shutdown and sent back to Fort Myers to the Sox.

"I haven't felt it one time since I got back," he said. "I think the two days that I had off, actually three days that I had off, kind of calmed everything down. Every thing's been fine."

Kevin Youkilis came out today and said that the WBC was not to blame for his injured ankle and that he had been feeling sore for a few weeks. Not the greatest news if it is in fact true, part of me thinks Youk is covering for the WBC and Team America.

Red Sox, and boy wonder (when will he become a man wonder?) GM Theo Epstein said, "It was the right thing to do to shut him down for a few days, but it's nothing serious, nothing we're overly concerned with at all."

Youk added that if he had to play right now he could, the Sox are just being cautious, and why not? The season starts in a little more then 2 weeks, no need to push these guys. It's a long season and you don't win anything in April.

On the topic of the WBC and guys getting hurt, I'm not playing that card. They had a choice to play, ideally everyone returns healthy but I think we all knew there were going to be some casualties, unfortunately from the Sox this time around.

There doesn't seem to be a good time to play the WBC given the length of the regular season and a full month for the post season. I think they should shorten the season by 12 games and do the WBC in the middle of the season if they want to make it work, kind of like a prolonged all star break . Play it in two weeks when guys are in mid season shape, and you can still have pitch counts for the pitchers.

Of course someone is probably still going to get hurt and my plan is by no means perfect, but I thin it makes more sense then asking these guy to go from 0-100 mph in March. This is the 2nd year of the WBC and it certainly has its problems, like being televised on a station I have, but overall I like the upside of it.

And Then There Were Two

Kevin Youkilis was knocked out of the WBC yesterday, which leaves Dice-K and Venezuela pitcher Enrique Gonzalez as the last two Sox standing in the WBC. Who will go down next?

Youk reported to Fort Meyers yesterday, where team doctors diagnosed a mild ankle sprain and mild Achilles' tendinitis. MRIs were negative, but "to limit movement and allow his ankle to heal," a Sox press release announced, "Youkilis will wear a walking boot for the next several days but is not expected to miss significant time.

For the time being, then, it doesn't sound too serious. More of an 'oh God, if they touch a single hair on his body we're pulling him out of the WBC' move. A common play this year, and understandable, if not entirely desirable.

Certainly there is cause for concern, though. As things stand, three of the four projected starting infielders for the Sox are injured. Which means Mike Lowell is the healthiest member of the crew. So, I repeat, there is some cause for concern. Let's hope that the right side, at least, bounces back from what seem to be minor conditions, and prove to be as reliable as they were last year. For the left side, I know you can do it, Mike. I believe in you.

Wednesday, March 18

Josh Bard, Gone Again

The Red Sox have announced that they have put catcher Josh Bard on waivers, effectively meaning that he has been released.

This must mean that George Kottaras is going to be splitting time behind the plate with Jason Varitek in 2009. While ITM was down in Florida Kottaras looked good hitting the ball, and we've all forced ourselves to believe that Tek can teach him (or any young catcher) to work with the pitching staff.

Kottaras is a lefty and hit 22 home runs in Pawtucket last year, so he has a little pop in his bat. In comparison Tek can't hit a soft ball from the left side of the plate.

For Josh Bard this is the second time he's been shown the door in Boston. I don't recall any reports that Bard was struggling with catching the Wake's knuckle ball; I would think the Sox just see more upside in Kottaras.

More to come as this story develops.

Julian Tavarez, I miss you, buddy

Okay, this just had to be posted, and won't need much explanation. Julian Tavarez on why he signed a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals:

“Why did I sign with the Nationals? When you go to a club at 4 in the morning, and you’re just waiting, waiting, a 600-pounder looks like J. Lo. And to me this is Jennifer Lopez right here. It’s 4 in the morning. Too much to drink. So, Nationals: Jennifer Lopez to me.”

Tuesday, March 17

I Love the WBC--a rant

This is a debate we haven't really engaged in here yet. Possibly it's because we're first and foremost a Sox blog, though possibly everyone has just been avoiding the subject because they know how I feel and don't want to hurt my feelings. So I'm just going to put it out there. I love the WBC. And I hope DP and Braun and Lindstraum's injuries turn out to be very minor, but frankly, absent some Ecuador-Columbia friendly scenario where a soccer game erupts into cross-border disturbance, nothing's going to make me stop loving it.

And I find it hard to believe that anyone who watched Venezuela-Puerto Rico last night and paused for a moment to think, 'holy crap, it's only March,' doesn't agree. That place was pulsating. Salsa playing over the PA systems, beautiful women draped in flags, a level of sustained screaming usually associated with municipal disasters and the Jonas Brothers.

And from the game itself, what more could you have asked? Every inning someone was threatening, someone was in scoring position. Five times, five times I counted a pitcher leaping into the air and giving a fist pump that started down at his knees. And even when K-Rod did it after getting the third out in the 8th, I wasn't offended. Because there's something about this tournament. It's like the playoffs. When a guy pumps his fist, it doesn't feel like he's trying to show anyone up or create a signature gesture to cash in on with the sponsors (see K-Rod). It feels like he's actually expressing some sort of national pride. And this is in March.

I also find it hard to believe you weren't rooting just a little bit for the Dutch, who play small ball not by regal mandate of Mike Sciosca but because that's the only option available to them. Then just when you're thinking how cute and scrappy they are, they parade out some guy in the fifth inning doldrums who's throwing 95 with movement. 95 with movement from a Hollander!

So you start thinking, where the hell do these guys come from? And you get the pleasant sensation that baseball the world over is a sport of rugged individualists--a guy throwing 95 into a dyke, Aussies hurling rocks at outback crocs, and barefoot Syd Finch throwing 128 in Alaska. Yes, it's all a myth, but baseball, despite the 'roids and the inflated contracts and the 'dipsh#ts being dipsh#ts' has still got romance in spades. There's just something about midsummer nights.

And there's something about the ides of March nights right now, too. I love the WBC.

Monday, March 16

Beating a Dead Horse

T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times is a level 5 moron. He glosses over 8 years of "Manny being Manny" in Boston and lumps all Boston sports fans into the same category as a couple of idiots who emailed him using vulgar language. The synopsis of Simers article, we're all crazy in Boston.

Simers of course references Jonathan Paplebon's interview with Esquire Magazine last week in which Pap called Manny a cancer. I too wish Pap offered no comment, but he was asked the question and from all accounts, including Peter Gammons, he was right. I know it's not popular to beat a dead horse, but the truth is the truth, and the truth is Manny gave up on the Sox last season.

For me that is water under the bridge, I'll certainly boo him if he makes a return to Fenway, but I sleep fine at night. I have the ability and understanding to respect Manny's numbers and all the great moments he gave us crazy fans in Boston.

I will however also remember him asking for a trade at the end of every season, his deplorable defense, the jogging down to first base, and the many injuries there we were never quit sure were injuries. Long and short of it was he was a cancer.
Funny story about the picture above. Game 2 of the 2007 ALCS, I was killing Manny for all the reasons in the previous paragraph. Enter Manny Ramirez, walk off home run, the entire room is killing me. Naturally I'm thrilled the Sox won, but I did have some egg on my face. I would be lying if I said I didn't feel vindicated in 2008 when Manny was traded then proceeded to light LA on fire.

I know Simers doesn't have the benefit of witnessing "Manny being Manny" for 8 years, so when he was traded to LA last July it was like Jesus was back, and he played left field for the Dodgers.

I'll grant Simers the fact that there are still people killing Manny here in Boston, both fans and columnists/radio personalities. Part of that is an inability to forget and the other part is entertainment.

However painting all of us Boston sports fans with the same brush is an amateur argument I expect to hear at a bar after a few too many drinks. Simers writes like he's had a few too many jack and cokes, somebody get this clown a water and call his ass a cab.

Manny didn't act alone during his exodus from Boston, his agent, Scott Boras, was whispering in his ear the entire time. There are people here who are still upset about the way things ended, but that's what happens when you have fans who care. I have my fair share of gripes with Red Sox Nation (including that) but caring is not one of them. The Red Sox are a cash cow for one reason, the fans.

I understand the atmosphere in Los Angeles laid back and everyone drinks star bucks lattes, and they probably won't even notice when Manny begins his annual song and dance. This is Boston, it snows, it's cold 7 months a year, and we care about our sports, perhaps to the brink of being labeled crazy.

Just for the record, Manny will be out for a week, his hamstrung is acting up again!

Sunday, March 15

Don't jump off the Tobin, Dusty is alright...

It could have been much, much worse. Julio Lugo's injury news didn't have me worked up much, but when boston.com produced a headline a few hours later it nearly put me on route 1 towards that big ugly bridge that spans over the Mystic river. "Pedroia Injured, done at WBC" it read... "#$*%" was my reaction, not only had I just taken him in the third round of my fantasy baseball draft, but he's one of the most significant parts of this Red Sox team, both on and off the field.

But by this morning, the feared "oblique strain" that could have kept him out 6 weeks or so was tossed aside as Pedey joked around with reporters. He had a smile on his face, informed everyone he was feeling pretty good, and expects to be back in just a few days.... "When you have a physique like this," Pedroia said, "when you're shredded and everything, something might happen." Does this guy ever come out of character?? God I hope not.

So while the US team got douched on by Puerto Rico last night 11-1, Dusty was home healing up for April 6th. He'll be fine, breathe a sigh of relief Red Sox nation (and fantasy owners), we dodged a small-sized bullet on that one.

Lugo on the other hand, will require surgery on what is likely a torn meniscus. That injury usually requires about a month or so to heal, which would put Lugo back on the field right around, or just after opening day. I'd expect to see Lowrie at shortstop on the 6th, but Lugo and his studly pre season average will force his way back out there soon after.....can't believe I just wrote "Lugo" and "studly" in the same sentence.

Saturday, March 14

Sox top Yanks, 8-4

The Sox and Yankees clashed for the first time in 2009 in a subdued Florida affair. Many of the big names were still missing (don't miss USA-Puerto Rico tonight at the WBC), but quite a few were returned.

Most notably, Ortiz was back after another DR embarrassment (gotta love those Dutch, though) and Mike Lowell had his second game of the spring (and his first in the field). Both players, sensing perhaps that Sox fans were being a little too realistic about what the offense can and can't do this season, decided it was time for some inflated expectations. Lowell knocked the third pitch he saw from Chien Ming Wang over the left field fence, then later in the game Ortiz flashed some of the old power in putting one out of right. Both players seemed to be swinging the bat well, and yes, I'll admit that four or five times before going to bed last night I mentally went through each spot in the Sox lineup and when I gauged the strength, I was thinking of Lowell and Ortiz in 2007 form. So what? It could be great.

Tim Wakefield got knocked around a bit, as did Wang. Both are looking to bounce back off some injury concerns and find their places in newly-deep rotations. Wang could be key for the Yankees this season. When healthy, he's been one of the more consistent and unheralded pitchers in baseball. Not a particularly exciting ace, but when you throw his 18 wins, low ERA, quick pitching double play ball into the 3rd or 4th spot in the rotation, you've got a lot of depth, and a good variety of pitching. So far this spring, he's looked a little tentative, but the Yankees are expecting big things.

One final note on the injury bounce back. Mike Lowell sounded thoughtful and positive on his first game in the field since departing in the 2008 postseason. "I didn't really think about my hip much playing on the field, so that's what I want to do. I don't want to be thinking, 'If it's hit this way, I've got to do this.' I don't want to compensate or do anything different." So far, so good for Lowell. The Nation is waiting with bated breath.

Friday, March 13

Spring Training MVP, Lugo Has MRI

I knew it. ITM was clearly too optimistic on Julio Lugo for 2009. "Grapefruit League MVP" we said, "he finally got the wake up call" we thought....we'll take the blame for this one. Julio Lugo, who is batting .450 thus far in spring training, played in the top half of the first inning in tonight's 8-4 win against the Yanks, but was quickly taken out and replaced by Ivan Ochoa. (Random thought, remember Alex Ochoa the right fielder?...guy had a cannon, is he still alive these days?)

Anyways, Lugo complained of recent knee pain that really sparked up early in tonight's game. It's unclear how serious the injury is, in all likelihood this is mainly a procausionary measure, but we'll know more when the results come in. Most likely tomorrow.

Somewhere in Ft Myers, Jed Lowrie is dreaming of the starting role.... More as it develops.

Thursday, March 12

Pedroia: "Derek Jeter can't do push ups"

The most covered story of the day is Pap throwing Manny under the bus....but to be honest, i'm sick of talking about that guy from Washington Heights......and i'm also a little tired of Pap running his mouth lately.

....A topic of conversation ITM had while down in Ft Myers was what Dusty would be like in the WBC clubhouse. Would he be more subdued and take it all in? Or use it as a chance to absolutely rag on a new set of players? Seems like we have our answer. With a locker right next to Derek Jeter, it didn't take Pedey long to get the jokes going. He is blogging about his WBC experience on WEEI.com, here is an excerpt from today:

"So this is how the game went during Monday’s workout: Each of us taking batting practice can’t hit a ball foul or it will cost five push-ups. Then if we hit a ball we think is going out you have to call it, but if it doesn’t go out then that will cost you five push-ups."
"I end up hitting a couple of line-drives that hit the top of the fence that I thought were gone. So I did my push-ups … real push-ups. Derek Jeter? Well, he didn’t really go down all the way. I’m not a trainer or anything, but those weren’t push-ups."

He went on to say he respects the hell out of Jeter, but can't help but zing him at every chance he can. Pedey also mentioned David Wright has been the target of many of his jokes as well "because it's just too easy". Way to be Pedey, give those New Yorkers hell.....

....and is there anything better than Pedey's newest MLB Live Commercial??...guy is hilarious...

Wednesday, March 11

Wrapping Up Things from Fort Myers

After finally landing in Boston this morning at 3am I finally have regained all 5 of my senses, allowing me to attempt to wrap up things down in Fort Myers, Florida. Of course you can't tell a whole hell of a lot from Spring Training, the games don't matter and of the starters who aren't at the World Baseball Classic, they only play a few innings. Regardless, here are some thoughts, predictions, and players to keep an eye out for.
  • Daniel Bard looked very good in the two relief appearances we saw him. A lot of people are high on this kid, but seeing him pitch in person was impressive. The Sox bullpen is pretty deep, but an injury could result in him coming up. The kid brings the heat!

  • Julio Lugo is playing better. Again, it's Spring Training who cares, but he's making the plays at short stop and he's batting over .500. I think he knew he had to work hard in the off season and come into camp ready to play. Looks like he'll at least start the year as the starting short stop with Lowrie playing the role as the utility man.

  • Mike Lowell seems like he'll be ready to start the season at third base. I'm sure they take it easy with him with days off when he needs, but we saw him sprinting before Tuesday's game and he's getting at bats as the DH.

  • They don't have a radar gun at the City of Palms Park, which we found thoroughly annoying. Maybe the brass can spend a few dollars and install one for next year.

  • Memo to the Tampa Bay Rays: you have proved that you can play in the AL East, drop all the cheesy minor league gimmicks, it's annoying.

  • I hate paying for parking, if I did one of the "25 things about me" on facebook it would be on there followed by a rant where I quoted Thomas Jefferson. $7 to park on the grass, go screw.

  • Jeff Bailey, Chris Carter, Jon Van Every and Nick Green all seem like they could major league ready. Not saying they would be all stars, but if we need to call someone up to because of injuries I think these guys could hang.

  • Lars Anderson didn't do anything that made my jaw drop, but he's young, so I'm not going to hold that against him.

  • One of the many running jokes we had was calling Lugo, Drew, and Tek (batting 2-3-4 in the lineup) Murders Row!

  • Justin Masterson looked great. If Brad Penny isn't ready to start the season I wouldn't be opposed to him starting the year as the number 5. Arguments can be made that we should keep him in the bullpen and that the Sox can survive April with 4 starts because of built in days off.

  • There are a lot of cool people at Spring Training and a lot of people who piss me off. The cool people comprise of the old guys who get drunk and casually enjoy the atmosphere. The people who piss me off are the people desperate to get an autograph. When I say desperate I'm being kind, I like baseball as much as anyone but I don't feel the need to burst into tears when Chris Carter walks by, sorry Chris.

  • Heidi Watney is all that and a bag of chips! Saying that may contradict my previous bullet but she makes my heart flutter when she's near.

  • Paying $7 in total fees at the ATM made me so upset I almost walked out of the park. Really? I paid for a flight, hotel, rental car, tickets, and now you want to rake me over the coals for another $7. How high would the fees be if we did sign Mark Teixeira, christ!

  • Unless the Yankees will be competing in the Steeple Chase I'm not worried about their new third baseman.

  • Wally the Green Monster job sucks, I was burning up and it was only 80 degrees, it must have been at least 128 degrees in that suit.

  • 15 or so of the Sox are at the WBC, including Pedroia, Youk and Ortiz. It would have been nice to see them, however I can only imagine the crowd standing in front of my seat begging for their auto graphs.

Now that I've had my fill of Spring Training I'm ready for the season to start, sadly that is another 4 weeks or so away. Look for our season predictions in the near future.

Tuesday, March 10

ITM Ft Myers Update

Unfortunately it's ITM's last day down here in Ft. Myers. We're cleaning up the disaster that is our hotel room and checking out....we'll be going to today's game and then stomping our feet as we head off to the airport for a night flight back to Boston.

We'll have our first look at Mikey Lowell this afternoon, here is today's lineup:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF

2. Julio Lugo, SS

3. J.D. Drew, RF

4. Rocco Baldelli, LF

5. Mikey Lowell, DH

6. Jason Varitek, C

7. Brad Wilkerson, 1B

8. Jed Lowrie, 3B

9. Ivan Ochoa, 2B

Clay Buchholz, SP

With yesterday's game being a few hours north of Ft Myers in Bradenton, we decided to take a day off from baseball and hit the beaches. After screaming at the navigator system for about an hour, we made our way to Ft Myers beach...not much baseball talk there, but we can verify that it's a great place to visit. The night brought with it our attempt at finding the best Red Sox bars in town, we had a small pub crawl of sorts downtown...but being a Monday night we can't say there was anything crazy to report. The Hideaway Sports Cafe showed the most potential. We had a few awkward experiences with drunk locals but were told a free trolley runs to and from City of Palms Park before and after the game, and that it's the best Red Sox bar in town....something to remember when return.

Yesterday's Sox game against the Pirates started with Jon Lester struggling a little through2 1/3 innings, and ended with a football score of 15-14 in Boston's favor. Jeff Bailey and Nick Green continue to make ultimate roster decisions difficult, Green has played extremely well, but the 30 year old faces an unlikely chance of making the big league team with Jed Lowrie likely to assume the utility role (even though he made two errors in one inning yesterday...no big deal). Bailey on the other hand, is proving to be a legitimate choice for the coveted 5th outfielder role.

Even though we're be headed back up north to the cold tonight, keep checking in with ITM for our additional thoughts on our trip down Ft Myers. Tim has a few soap box items he'll be posting on for sure.

Sunday, March 8

Ft. Myers Day Three: Sox Feast on Rays Pitching

With great seats, weather, and beer, ITM was treated to a hitting clinic by the Red Sox this afternoon. The Red Sox ended a home and away weekend series against the Rays with an 8 to 2 bashing. Masterson started the game and went 3 strong innings, the Red Sox offense took it from there as the outcome was never truly in doubt after the third inning.

Some of the news and notes from ITM's day in Ft Myers....

- The current Grapefruit league MVP, Julio Lugo, continues to impress. Despite having his pants pulled up over his belly button, Lugo went 3 for 3,with two rbi and played great defense at short, especially on plays up the middle. Thus far this spring he has seemingly mastered the seeing eye single through the left side of the infield. He had two more of them this afternoon, as well as a line-drive double to the left-center gap. ITM note, he continues to run like Cologero from "A Bronx Tale"....an incredibly nonathletic looking motion.

- Zach Degeas, a double A Portland outfielder made a catch in left field and followed it up with a monster tater in the bottom of the inning. How often do we see that? ITM note, this kid can play, he hit .307 in Portland last year.

-We were quite impressed with Daniel Bard. The kid was lights out. He had a 15 pitch inning, striking out the side with a filthy mix of gas and off-speed pitches. His stock just went up in ITM's book.

-Junichi Tazawa settled down after a rough first inning, throwing two innings, giving up one run on two hits while striking out two. As expected, he showed signs of brilliance, but needs additional work and experience.

Players who have impressed ITM thus far:

-Jonathon VanEvery has shown power from both sides of the plate thus far. Another tater in today's game.

-Nick Green. Plays both second and third, good contact hitter with a solid glove in the field. Potential role as a big league utility guy down the road.

-Heidi Watney. She continues to wow the crowd with her sun dresses. Safe to say those who have been to games before make sure to stay a few minutes after the game to watch her on the field giving her post-game wrap up. Solid contributor.

Breaking News: Lester signed to a five year extension

There are reports flying around Red Sox camp that Jon Lester has been signed to a five year contract extension worth $30 million with a team option for 2014 that would pay the lefty another 13 million.

Reports have yet to be confirmed, and we've asked around down here in Ft Myers without getting an honest answer, but if this is indeed true, the Sox have locked up another key young talent long term for relatively cheap money.

It's unclear if the the deal is full of incentives to increase the ultimate value, but paying a top left-handed pitcher 6 million per year throughout the prime of his career is a great business move by the Sox. It falls in line with their recent moves to sign Pedey and Youk to long term deals. While the tanking economy certainly has had its effects on contract values, the Sox are clearly selling the "let's stick together long term as a team" approach to sign their young talent.

Keep checking back with ITM as we'll have some more pictures and a wrap up of today's game against the Rays at City of Palms Park....we just need to sink a few more beers and do some cannon balls first...

ITM Updates from Fort Myers

We woke up to cloud cover this morning, however it looks like the sun is coming out for today's game vs the Rays. Game starts at 1:05, here is the Sox line up:

1. Julio Lugo, SS

2. Rocco Baldelli, DH

3. Jason Varitek, C

4. J.D. Drew, RF

5. Lars Anderson, 1B

6. Chip Ambres, LF

7. Jonathan Van Every,

8. Nick Green, 3B

9. Ivan Ochoa, 2B

Yesterday ITM drove up to Port Charlotte to watch the Sox play at the Ray's spring training home. The Ray's ended up winning the game 15-7 despite being out hit by the Sox. The Sox made 6 errors, including two by Argenis Diaz, who is regarded as the best defensive player in the Sox system, oh well.

Tim Wakefield started and got roughed up a little, 3 earned runs in 4 innings. Wes Littleton came on after Wake and struggled to throw strikes.

Jonathan Van Every and George Kottaras both went deep, and Jeff Baily and Chris Carter continued their hot hitting this Spring. Bailey was the MVP of the International League last year with Pawtucket, looking like the Paw Sox could have some pop in their line up this year. In addition, Ellsbury wowed the crowd with his speed when he tripled over the center fielders head. He's certainly put on a few pounds of muscle, but he has by no means lost any of his speed.

The Rays stadium was renovated for this season, probably because fans are finally showing interest in the Rays. The stadium is very impressive, fans are into the game, and the outfield features standing room all the way around and an out door bar.

The one drawback is the organist never misses an opportunity to play some stupid sound affect between at bats, pitches, or innings. After every foul ball we were treated to the sound of glass shattering, yes that is clever, watch out in the parking lot!

The sun is coming out now and we're off to the game. We'll be in the left field boxes next to the Sox bullpen, I think the game is on TV, so watch for us rumbling with 9 year olds for foul balls and staring at Heidi Watney.

(we had good seats...Lars looks like he's about 12)

Saturday, March 7

O Canada

The US's opening match in the WBC against Team Canada turned out to be a thriller. USA squeaked it out 6-5, but boy did the Canucks fight them good. The atmosphere was downright electric.

It came down to the 9th, when Joey Votto doubled off of J.J. Putz to drive in Russell Martin and make it 6-5. Morneau hit a hard ground ball, but couldn't get it by Jimmy Rollins (who made a strong, strong throw to get the first batter of the inning, Adam Stern, on a bang-bang play that likely saved the game). It came down, then, to Jason Bay, who went down 0-2, fought the count full, but ultimately came up short with a pop up to left.

Stars of the game: Adam Dunn, who homered to center in the 6th to drive in Youk and put Team USA ahead for the win; and Joey Votto, who went 4 for 5, and Martin, 2 for 3 with 3 runs; and finally, Chris Leroux, a single A prospect with the Marlins who pitched out of a bases loaded, nobody out jam in the 7th.

Random notes:

---Adam Dunn's enthusiasm at the WBC is really infectious. He kept taking his pulse in the dugout and whooping out of nowhere.

---Quote of the night, naturally, goes to Adam Dunn in the postgame interview: "This was playoff atmosphere...Well I've never been in the playoffs, but boy, if it's like this, I can't wait."

---According to Rick Sutcliffe, managers and players all say that the difference, and the big advantage, for this year's Team USA is none other than Dustin Pedroia. Apparently he's really buoyed the clubhouse and they all say he's given them the swagger they need to have in a tourney like this. That's our boy.

---Watching Team Canada is a great time if for no other reason than every couple of innings you go, "What? He's Canadian?" I mean, Joey Votto. Really? Et tu, Michael Teahan? They're a fun team to watch.

Friday, March 6

Go West, My Son

Wins aren't going to be easy to come by in the AL East this season. That means that out-of-division performance will be a key factor in determining who amongst the beasts of the east can give themselves a little separation. It's the mark of professionalism---a team that doesn't just get up for the big games, but plugs away night in and night out, no matter who the opponent.

Last season, the AL East relied heavily on the poor quality of the AL West to pile up wins. The Rays, Sox, Yanks, and Jays were able to compile 97, 95, 89, and 86 wins, respectively, in large part because the Rangers, A's, and Mariners finished at 79, 75, and 61. But mark it down, ITM readers, you're hearing it here: the West will no longer be bullied.

Now let's not go nuts. I'm not saying we're flashing back to the early naughties, like in 2001 when the Mariner's and A's each had over 100 wins and the Angels were on the make. But teams in the AL West made some strong, efficient moves this offseason, and are poised to bounce back from some major injuries.

Exhibit A: the Oakland Athletics. Their outfield got a much needed bat in Matt Holliday, and their infield added a Jason Giambi with something to prove and feeling right back at home. Chavez is finally healed and if Jack Cust can limit the strikeouts just a little, he's a solid power option in that lineup. Add to that the fact that the A's have some of the best young pitching in all of baseball. Not only is Duchscherer's starting to establish himself as an ace, but the rest of the rotation is going to get a shot in the arm this year when two of Baseball America's top 15 prospects get their call up: neatly enough, one righty, one lefty, Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill. Add it all up and the A's could make a solid push this year.

The Mariner's made a high profile move in bringing Junior back home, but even more important is the development of Eric Bedard. The Mariner's are not going to out-score the AL East too often. But on good nights, they can outpitch even the most stacked rotations. Maturity has been an issue with Felix Hernandez, but not talent. And Bedard has got some of the nastiest stuff in the league when he's on. If the Mariner's catch a good stretch, watch out. (Also, I'll just note as an aside that if given the choice to watch any major league hitter for 24 hours straight, at-bat after at-bat, I'd choose Ichiro. The man is an artist.)

The Rangers...the Rangers. What can you say? Proof of the adage that pitching wins crowns. What an offense, what a waste.

The Angels might have lost out in the Texeira sweepstakes, but don't expect a let down. If a couple of their heavy bats prove to have a season or two left in them, their lineup is as good as almost any, and their pitching is always solid. That, and Bobby Abreu was one of the smartest moves by any team this offseason. What the Angels needed more than anything was a sure bat in the middle of the lineup and Abreu is a consummate hitter and can be counted on for his usual 90-100 rbis.

So watch carefully when the Sox make their first swing up the West coast. Time zone and travel already make that journey hard enough. Talent on the rise is going to make it even harder this year, when the Sox need every game outside the East they can get.

Day One: ITM's Arrival

ITM landed in Fort Myers right at noon, then proceeded to wait in line for a rental car for an hour. That rental car company shall remain anonymous, however let's just say it was in our "Budget".

We arrived at the City of Palms Park in the 4th inning, Beckett had already thrown another strong outing, 3 hits over 3 innings with 2 K's. Julio Lugo started at short and had 2 hits, improving his spring training average to .417. I would never throw a lot of weight behind spring training numbers but it's encouraging to see Lugo hit the ball, it's looking like he'll be the starting short stop and Lowrie will be the utility guy, especially with Lowell's initial health question marks.

Jeff Bailey cranked a two-run tater that almost killed a few laid back fans in the right field deck. Depending on the injury situation this season there's a chance Baily sees some playing time with the big club.
JD Drew started and played, throwing it our face. I love to rip him, however I'm happy if he's healthy.

This is my first time down in Fort Myers, so far I am impressed. The stadium has the feeling of the Fenway area. Lot's of fans dressed in Sox gear, the beers are flowing, and Sweet Caroline plays in the middle of the 8th inning. I'm less excited about that.

Not that it matters, but the Sox won 5-3. We're off to Port Charlotte tomorrow where the Tampa Bay Rays call home. We have seats in row 2 behind the Rays' dugout, hopefully we'll get some good pictures and a word with a player or coach.

Of course we were talking baseball with anyone who would listen, and we were lucky enough to strike up a conversation with a penitential engineer for the new Red Sox spring training stadium. While nothing is set in stone, Red Sox management is reportedly trying to replicate many of Fenway's features in the new stadium, including the same exact field dimensions. The new stadium is expected to hold about 10,000 fans, or about 2,500 more than the current complex. We were also told to expect a street comparable to lansdowne street with many restaurants and bars. Should be interesting to watch unfold.

Off to dinner to meet with the ITM Gal and her friend, yes they are crashing ITM weekend....but just for one night. Cheers.

Thursday, March 5

Going Around the Horn....

ITM is counting down the hours until take off for Ft. Myers...it can't come soon enough at this point. With that in mind, let's quickly go around the horn to check in on some of today's news and notes....

-The biggest news is obviously Aroid's alleged hip surgery. As reported by his brother (seriously, hasn't this guy got in enough trouble when dealing with family?), Aroid will require surgery to remove a cyst on his hip. It's not a structural injury, but it's surgery nonetheless, and he is likely to be out for at least 10 weeks (until early May). Fantasy league managers are now scrambling to figure out their first round draft order (I won't be drafting him, you can count on that).

-A health update out of Ft Myers this morning was increasingly positive. In a nutshell:

  • Mikey Lowell is just about ready to play in a spring training game, he appears to be on schedule to start on April 6th.

  • JD "Nancy" Drew took bp today, which included blasting a shot out of the stadium completely. he was quoted as saying "See how much I poured ITM?...Now quit calling me Nancy, it hurts."

  • John Smoltz has had a great string of days this week. He reportedly looks as strong as ever.....there are rumors going around that he is healthy enough to be on the active roster at the start of the season, but the Sox will be holding him back and keeping him healthy for the stretch run. Expect a late May or early June Smoltz sighting on the field at Fenway.

-Lastly, and perhaps most importantly. Tomorrow at 8:30am ITM will be taking off from Logan International Airport, bound for the sunny skies of Ft. Myers, Florida. Once landing, it's likely that we'll go right to City of Palms Park for tomorrow's home game against the Marlins. We'll be covering everything from games to practices and everything in between while down there (including attempts at interviews with players and management). Be sure to check back to view photos and get some of our live updates.

Many of you have expressed both interest and hatred in the fact that we're traveling south to check in on the Red Sox (and Heidi Watney). Since we're all about Red Sox Nation, if you have any questions for us while we're down there (i.e., how well is this prospect playing?, can you ask Heidi out for me? how are the beers? etc), please email us at insidethemonster@gmail.com We'll do our best to share our answers on the blog.

Go Sox.

Wednesday, March 4

Wide World of Baseball

In a warm-up game of some interest to Sox fans, Team USA got ready for the WBC with a game against the Yankees. That means Youk and Pedroia were in action (made a couple of nifty plays together) and helped Team USA to a 6-5 victory.

Just as notable, though, were a couple of continuing story lines from the Sox rivals. Warning---if want to believe the hype about the Yankees' weak offensive projections going into the season, don't read any further.

First, and this is shaping up as one of the biggest stories of the spring, Jorge Posada continues to stroke the ball like it's 2007. If that's a harbinger, it could be real trouble for the AL East. Other factors will play in of course---can Posada still catch, and how will that strain affect his hitting? (Posada is now at DH with our old friend Kevin Cash doing most of the catching.) But there's no denying Posada's numbers. Posada went 2 for 3 in the game and looked like he owned American stud Roy Oswalt. That brings Posada to 5 for 8 for the spring, with a home run and 3 rbis, all that on top of the daily gift he's been giving fans and teammates at BP. Stick a hot-hitting Posada into the middle-end of the Yankees lineup, and all of a sudden run production isn't looking like much of a concern.

Derek Jeter was the star of the game, going 2 for 4 and driving in 2. He's had a nice spring, though the numbers might be a little misrepresentative---he's getting on base, but the contact hasn't been too solid.

Another point of interest---the Yanks are officially in the middle of an all-out battle for the center-field position between Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner. Gardner continues on a tear, going 5 for 10 this spring, with 2 home runs, 2 doubles, and a lot of speed on the basepaths. Melky's been decent, but not spectacular. If the competition ended today, you'd see Gardner patrolling the new centerfield at Yankee Stadium III.

And finally, I'd also add that Robinson Cano looks great this spring, but I just can't stomach the idea of Posada and Cano both having bounce-back seasons, so I'm just gonna assume without any real basis that his numbers (you can see for yourself) mean nothing. And I'll try to pretend that every time I flip by YES he isn't cranking the ball.

So, there you have it. A small sample, yes, but troubling nonetheless. But, on the bright side, it could just be a spring mirage, and all you Bostoners who have sources of tv baseball besides the pinstripes can just pretend it's not happening. I'll try to do the same.

---Side note. Before the game, Kevin Cash passed Dustin Pedroia and announced for everyone to hear that he thought it was really great that Team USA was bring its own ball boys along for the WBC.

Tuesday, March 3

Manny, Dodgers are near a deal...I swear, kinda

Nearly every publication has at one time or another posted that the Manny saga out in LA was over and a deal was almost complete. ITM chose not to cover the west coast drama in the off season....no need to rehash some serious hatred right?

As a result, we'll say this, the deal is "just about done"....reportedly for 45 million over 2 years....undoubtedly Manny will have issue with something...from not enough blue M&M's in his locker, to no personal assistent who deposits his checks for him....something will hold it up for a day or two more....(really it's the amount of deferred money, but I imagine Manny has some ridiculously outrageous demands as well).

So that's it, I'm done with the Manny story...even if the report of a done deal turns out to be false rumors, I don't care, I'm not writing about it. Do me this one favor though, as of right now, forget about Manny....he's going to RAKE out there in the NL West, some of you will wish he was back in Boston, but be sure to remember all of the bad times you had with him. He's like that hot ex girlfriend who cheated on you and left you out to dry, yeah she's still hot, but there is no way you could ever take her back....never.....and in Manny's case, he's on the decline anyways....I think.

Nancy Drew...

I'm a what have you done for me lately kind of guy, so naturally JD Drew drives me insane.

Yesterday Drew went back to Boston to get an injection in his back. Apparently the injection was "precautionary" according to Francona. Drew came into camp complaining about his back saying it was still stiff, same old song and dance. No word on what the injection was. If this is the start of something bigger I'm a little worried.

I know a lot of people come to his defense because of his playoff performances in 2007 and 2008 and last June when Ortiz was on the DL. That I'll grant you, however overall I've never felt good when Drew steps up the plate. If I bet you $1 every game that he'd ground out to second base at least twice I'd be sitting on a mountain of $1 bills.

If Drew misses significant time this year I don't feel nearly as good about our back up options as I did last year. Theo signed Rocco Baldelli to be the 4th outfielder, and Mark Kotsay is a 5th option, maybe the 4th depending on Rocco. Last year when Drew was out Crisp was in center and Ellsbury played right.

Let's say Drew does go on the DL in '09 (which I guarantee will happen) and misses a month, similar to last year. Kotsay is coming off back surgery and with Rocco we still don't know how he'll respond to his mitrochrondrial disorder. I don't have a lot of faith in Baldelli's ability to play back to back games, especially once the season gets in full swing.

We'll see how everything plays out; hopefully Drew and the Sox are just being overly cautious because they realize their back up options aren't as solid as they were last year.

ITM News and Notes:

-Brad Penny's start on Thursday will be pushed back so he can build up more strength in his shoulder. The problem has nothing to do with the injury from last year according to the Sox. Penny is still projected to be the 5th starter and be ready for the season.

-Julio Lugo was scratched from the lineup today with apparent food poisoning. I would just like to say I was at home last night and no where near the Fort Myers area.

-That said ITM will travel to Fort Myers on Friday to cover the Red Sox down in spring training. We'll have updates from Spring Training and hopefully get to talk to some players or members of the organization. We'll see how it all plays out.

Monday, March 2

Don't Forget About This Guy....

Maybe it's because no one can properly spell or pronounce his name, but Junichi Tazawa has flown under the radar all winter and continues to do so into the spring. Not much is known about Boston's 4th new Japanese pitcher in the last three years....but from what we've seen this spring, he could be a value-added contribution to an already stacked bullpen, as soon as this year.

Like Dice-K, Saito and Oki, Tazawa comes from Japan and requires a translator, but that's where the similarities end. His acquisition had 1/1000th of the fanfare Dice-k's did and he doesn't have a cool nickname like Oki, but Tazawa does have significant upside potential. He is the first pitcher to come to the US prior to playing any pro ball in the Japanese league. At just 22 years old, Tazawa played the past four years in the Japan Industrial League where he was 14-3 with 11 saves and a 1.99 ERA in 53 games....impressive numbers at any age.

So far this spring he's had two outings, both against collegiate kids (BC and Northeastern, neither of which are as good as BU), he dominated both appearances and has made a great first impression with his teammates...including Tito; “I guess I didn’t quite expect him to be this polished, at first blush there’s a lot to like.” The next step is to see how he fares against big league hitters this week, which could be an all-together different story.

At such a young age, in a new culture and environment, and without any pro baseball experience, look for Tazawa to start the season in Double-A Portland.....but remember his name because you might be looking up its spelling again sooner than later.

Sunday, March 1

State of Bay

In an offseason where the Sox have made great efforts to lock up their young talent, one young-ish talent is still wondering where he stands. Jason Bay isn't part of the home-grown youth movement Theo's spent the offseason negotiating with, but he does have a contract up at the end of the year, and he's talking like he wants to make Boston his home.

The first few days in camp, Bay let everyone and their mother know that he's willing to be reasonable when it comes to contract negotiations. Over the last few days, however, he's hardened a bit and is starting to sound more like a man getting some advice from his agent. Nothing wrong with that, but Sox fans have had precious little information on where the Sox stand on Bay. And arguably, this will be one of the franchise's more important development decisions this season.

Early in camp the Sox announced they were going to work top prospect Lars Anderson into various outfield schemes to see how he did. Possibly this is a short-term maneuver---a way of getting Anderson up into the big league this year as a...sixth...seventh outfielder backing up the MGH platoon. On the other hand, the Anderson move could be long-term. Nobody in the Sox organization seems to think too highly of his defensive skills, and no one seems excited about the prospect of him anchoring down an infield position. Young guys almost never come up at DH, so the eyes seemed to have turned to left field. Which is where Bay stands, looking back.

So the Sox are at a cross-road. Sign Bay to an extension, keep him in left, roll the dice long-term with Anderson developing as a first baseman, and if Anderson's ready to step in, move Youk to his preferred third base. But Mike Lowell has two years left, and the Sox are showing signs that they want Anderson up sooner rather than later. Another option: let Bay leave at the end of the season, keep Youk and Lowell in the infield for another year, and insert Anderson into an outfield platoon and hope he thrives.

Both scenarios make some blind assumptions, namely---that the Sox aren't going to look to move or phase out Lowell somehow (that'll depend on this season's bounce back from injury no doubt) and that the Sox plan on keeping Anderson long-term. It also depends on who appears to be on the market later this year. It could very well come down to the talent pool for outfielders v. first baseman.

That said, the Bay situation is more than just your typical contract negotiation. This has a lot of moving parts. But for the time being, Bay is the one talking about contracts. Politely, but still talking. The Sox, as usual, are playing it close to their vest.

Buchholz Looking Confident

Many in Red Sox nation are not expecting much out of Clay Buchholz this season. Most believe he'll start the year in Triple A, especially given the current level of pitching depth as a result of off season acquisitions and other young talent. That said; the still skinny pitcher, who looks like he's closer to 12 than 24, had his second straight solid performance, going two innings, not giving up a run and allowing just one hit.

After the game, Buchholz sounded confident in his abilities and ready to put last year's difficult season completely behind him: “There’s no doubt in my mind I know I have the physical ability to do anything I want to do in this game. It’s a lot harder than a lot of people think it is as far as the mental side of the game. That’s where I had to build a lot on this offseason, talking to people and listening to what their past experiences were as a big leaguer back in the day or even now guys on this team. It was a struggle for last year but at the same time I learned a lot from it and I definitely know when I get in a certain situation this year I’ll know what I need to get through.”

Throughout the off season, Buchholz saw a sports psychologist to help him move beyond a difficult year and focus on the mental challenges he faces on the mound. In what is a very small sample this spring, it seems to have worked. Buchholz appears comfortable and more confident on the mound. Let's hope they tell Pedroia to not zing Clay too hard about seeing a psychologist...because you know he's dying to jump all over him about it.

Most believe Clay will start the season in Triple A regardless, and barring any injuries, I can't say I disagree. Building on some of this momentum will only help in his long term development. The question I have in my mind however, is that if Buchholz continues to improve and throw well, do the Red Sox try to move him at a high value come the trade deadline this summer? I think it'll depend on injuries and offensive production. Anything can happen from now until late July, but early signs point to an improved Clay Buchholz, which is certainly not a bad thing.
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