Monday, July 25, 2016

My Problem with Xander Bogaerts

It’s just the one problem, really. And it’s not even his fault.

He succeeded.

You see, Bogaerts was the most recent “can’t miss” prospect. He was going to be a star, just you wait and see. Everyone knew it. He was untouchable for as long as I’ve heard his name. This was the one you hold on to. It didn’t matter how much was being offered, if it started with Bogaerts, the deal was off the table. He was UNTOUCHABLE. In huge capital letters.

Now, he wasn’t the first can’t miss prospect the Red Sox have had in their system. Remember Frankie Rodriguez? Nobody was good enough for him. He was a star in the making. Until his stock fell so low that he was traded for a rental of a relief pitcher. Or Lars Anderson? The Red Sox could make any trade they want, as long as they didn’t touch him. Until, of course, his stock fell so much he quietly drifted away. Or Will Middlebrooks? Have to keep him. He was going to be a 30 home run hitting first baseman for years to come.

So, every time someone suggested a player’s potential was too high to dare trade away, it was pretty easy to come up with examples of where that was not the case.

And then came Xander Bogaerts.

Thus far, at least, he has been everything people thought he could be. Everyone has been pretty pleased that he wasn’t dealt away. He was the starting shortstop in this year’s All-Star game, and looks to have that spot on lock-down for years to come.

So, now all the prospectors have renewed faith and energy. See, you can’t trade prospects! You may be trading away an all-star! They’re all untouchable.

So, when the Red Sox recently traded away a high school kid for a current all-star, people felt they had reason to complain. They can’t be trading away a future Cy Young award winner. The return is no longer important. It doesn’t matter the caliber of player they’re getting. It’s all about the potential caliber of the player they’re giving away.

Which is why this next week will be very interesting as rumors float about. Will the potential of Moncada be more valuable that the present of Sale? Or Gray? 

Will people look and see that the Sox have something pretty special going on here in the present? Will they be more worried about the future? 

Will they all think that can’t miss prospects really can’t miss?

Because Bogaerts didn’t miss.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Rylee Field Visits Section 36!

Section 36 has another visitor! This time Miss Vermont, Rylee Field, was nice enough to visit with us and answer some questions about the Red Sox and her time as Miss Vermont. After reading her blog entry about her most recent trip to Fenway, I was sure she’d be the perfect person to ask for a visit. Thankfully she agreed. So, let’s see what happens when Rylee Field visits Section 36!

Rylee and Governor Shumlin
Submitted by Rylee
What do you remember about your first trip to Fenway Park?
Actually the first time I went to Fenway was for a park tour. It was very touristy, but it was also filled with all sorts of historical facts and tidbits. That’s always one of my favorite things about tours like that - I love to hear the history!

If you can’t sit in Section 36, where do you (or where would you) like to sit while watching the Sox?
Well, when I last visited Fenway - for Vermont Day - I sat in the grandstands behind home plate, Section 23. Those seats were amazing! But of course, now I definitely have to visit Section 36.

You’ve been able to throw out the first pitch at a couple ballgames since being crowned Miss Vermont. How did you prepare for those pitches?
The first pitch I threw out was for our local NECBL team, the Vermont Mountaineers. Right in my hometown of Montpelier. So I actually practiced with my dad in my parent’s backyard for about 15 minutes before the game. That ended up being a great pitch - and such a fun game! The next pitch I threw was at Lake Monsters game in Burlington. And, because it was Princess and Superheroes night at the ballpark there were actually eight first pitches. I was the third, and thankfully the catcher was warmed up, because that pitch was not as perfect as the first.

Which Red Sox player, past or present, would you most like to have dinner with?
Dustin Pedroia. You know, over the last few years he’s be nominated for the Heart and Hustle Award - he actually just received the 2016 nomination too. I think this speaks so greatly to his character and who he is as an athlete.

Other than the chance to win, what are you most looking forward to about the Miss America competition?
Hanging out with all of my Miss America sisters! We just met in D.C. for Miss America Orientation, and I already can’t wait to see them again.

You’ve competed in several state pageants. What lessons from those experiences can you bring to Miss America in September?
I think the most important thing to understand whenever you compete is that you can only do your best, and your best is always going to be enough. So it’s not worth it to compare yourself to other contestants, or compare your dress to another dress, or so on. The only thing you can control is your ability to leave it all on stage, and that’s what’s important.

How did you celebrate being crowned Miss Vermont?
Mostly by hitting the ground running and embracing every moment that this new title has given me. But I also had Cheez Itz at about 1 AM the night I was crowned, and oh my goodness, those were good.

Section 36!
Submitted by Rylee
What do we all need to know or do in order to break down the barriers and stigmas surrounding mental health?
The most valuable thing I can tell people about mental health is that you have to talk about it. One of the principle reasons that there are so many negative perceptions surrounding what it means to live with mental health issues is that people simply don’t understand what that means. A large part of my platform is speaking to individuals that don’t suffer from mental illness, and helping them understand how to embrace those that afflicted, and how to have frank discussions about what healthy mental health looks like.

How do you see the 2016 Red Sox season finishing?

As of last night, I think they’re in a great place, coming out on top of the AL East. However, wherever they finish this year I think we are still seeing some amazing players coming out of this season. You know, building brand around players like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. is part of what keeps such a strong Red Sox fan base. These are players we want to watch - even with the highs and lows of a season. 


Have to love Rylee’s attitude towards the Sox this season and beyond!

I definitely want to thank Rylee for taking the time to visit with us. I know she’s extremely busy with her new duties as Miss Vermont, especially as the Miss America competition grown closer. I’m grateful that she was able to squeeze in a visit. I’m also glad she was willing to send along some pictures from her trip to Fenway. They make the interview all the more interesting.

If you want to hear more from Rylee, I highly recommend checking out her blog. You can also follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and just about everywhere else on social media. 

And, of course, I'd like to wish Rylee good luck at Miss America in September! I know she’ll do a great job.

Thanks again Rylee!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Great Now, or Good Later?

When Theo was here, I used to wonder about his philosophy. He loved his farm system. He loved the idea of bringing up cheap young players to form the basis of your team. He often referenced the Atlanta Braves, and their ability to call up one key contributor seemingly every year. There was always something that bothered me about that analogy, though. The Braves only won a single title in their decade plus of dominance. They were always very good, but seemingly never great.
I felt that was a trap that Theo fell into. He held onto his prospects like they were solid gold. He felt they were needed in the future. He wasn’t going to mortgage the future for the present. It’s a good plan, really. But like every good plan, there needs to be some flexibility in it. Dave Dombrowski seems to understand that.

Let’s look at the Red Sox right now. There’s David Ortiz playing in his final season. So, there’s the temptation to say this is an “all-in” sort of move to send him off with a ring. But, look a little further. When David Price signed, everyone kept telling be it was a deal contract because of the three-year opt out. The Sox would pay for is best years at the beginning of the contract, then he’s be on another team while he grew old. So, the Sox have a couple years left with their ace. Rick Porcello only has a few years left on his contract. Pedroia’s almost 33 years old. Hanley Ramirez has three years left on his deal. That’s a pretty big glut of stars that are short timers. And the kids? This isn’t the seventies anymore. When you have a young stud, he’s not yours for the next 20 years. You’re looking at around six years of control. Bogaerts, the Boras client, is about halfway through that. 

What’s my point?

There’s a window here. There’s about a three to five year window where the Sox can really do some damage. You know who can’t help you during that window? Anderson Espinoza. You know who can help you during that window? Drew Pomeranz can.

This wasn’t a rental. The Sox didn’t send their top pitching prospect for three months of someone. This was a trade that helps the Sox for three seasons. The three most important seasons. This is a trade that makes the Sox great right now.

Will they be good later? I have no idea. Neither do you. Maybe Espinoza is everything people think he could possibly be. Maybe he ends up being Pedro Martinez. But, by the time he gets here, the team will have practically turned over. If the Sox fill the holes with talent, the team will be good. If they fill those holes with stiffs, they won’t be. Espinoza doesn’t solve that any more than Pedro could. With so much other work to do, one player isn’t the key to it all.

If he’s the next Pedro? I’ll be bummed that I won’t get to watch him pitch every day. If he’s the one that actually comes through, unlike all the other top of the rotation talent the Sox have had in the minor leagues. But, that’ll be tempered a bit why what I assume the Sox will be able to accomplish by the time he reaches those heights. The Sox have filled three glaring holes in the last two weeks on a team that was just a couple games out of first anyway. They made themselves a force to be reckoned with. I’ll take the trade to make them great today.

I’m willing to see just how good they’ll be tomorrow.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Wright Call

I didn’t write this yesterday, honestly because I kept going back and forth on it. For a long while, I had convinced myself that not pitching Steven Wright in the All-Star game was actually the right move. That it made sense to save the knuckleballer in case you were out of pitchers in extra innings and needed someone to go as long as they could. After all, someone needs to be the long man in the pen. 

Then I realized that I had been tricked. I had fallen into the trap set by Major League Baseball.

They missed the first time they tried to trick me. I wasn’t fooled by the second wild card sham. You remember that one, right? They used to have three division winners and a wild card in each league. But, teams quickly realized that home field advantage wasn’t enough to waste your top pitcher trying for. You don’t pitch David Price on the last day of the season, and possibly get home field. You punt on home field and have him ready to go game one. MLB decided to “fix” this by adding yet another wild card team. As if this weren’t bad enough, they arranged for the two WC teams to play in a single game play-in. Basically, the winner of a coin toss gets to move on to the ALDS. Look at that, they crowed, “Winning the division is important again! Nobody wants to play in the WC game! We fixed it.” But, all they did was make the best out of the problem they created by adding the original wild card in the first place. Because you know what else makes winning the division more important? Only letting division winners into the playoffs. So, MLB almost fixed a problem they created, and then patted themselves on the back over it.

I almost fell for it with Ned Yost.

Like I said, his reasoning made some sense. You need to hold that guy back. If you need someone to pitch a long time, Wright would be your guy. If you’re down to your last pitcher, I’d want it to be a knuckleballer as well. He was fixing the problem.

He almost got me.

Because, you know what else would solve the problem of running out of pitchers going into extra innings? Not running out of pitchers going into extra innings.

Yup. Yost was fixing a problem he himself created in the first place. If you’re worried about having enough innings on your staff, how about you don’t make half your staff closers? That would fix the problem. Or, how about you let your starters go two innings each? That would solve the problem. Maybe you don’t worry about getting everyone into the game. That would solve the problem. And, the benefit of those solutions is it allows the AL ERA leader to pitch in an all-star game.

Because the team has ten pitchers on it, right? So, if they all went two innings, that would be 20 innings or work available to you. If the game goes 21 innings, then we’ll have to figure something out. But, other than that, there’s no reason whatsoever for you to “save a pitcher”. Just pitch your five best guys. If you need a sixth, or seventh, he’s ready for you. Don’t try and trick fans into thinking you’re doing the right thing. Don’t treat the symptoms, cure the disease.

Just play the game like it counts.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

MLB’s ASG Lucky Break

Sometimes things just work out for you. My guess is that whenever football was being invented, the founding fathers didn’t decide that a rectangular field would work really well on a widescreen television. They just picked that shape because it worked pretty well for the game itself. I’m also assuming that they didn’t decide on a sixteen game schedule because it would make it a lot easier for fantasy football players to keep track of their teams and make moves. But, it worked out that way for the NFL, giving them a huge advantage in attracting viewers. Even ones who don’t really like football. I’m also assuming the NBA didn’t have its players wear sneakers because they would be more marketable to a fan base that wears sneakers every day to school. They didn’t stop their players from wearing any sort of headgear because it would make them more recognizable in marketing. It just worked out that way.

Similarly, I’m guessing that the creators of major league baseball didn’t set up their rules so that it would make for a really compelling all-star game.

It just worked out that way.

And it’s true. Major League Baseball has the best all-star game, because it can. It doesn’t have to change its rules, or even its intentions. Nobody expects NFL players to deliver jarring hits at the Pro Bowl. Why risk an injury in an exhibition? So the game loses its feel. Holes are suddenly wide open. Players are free to make catches they’d never attempt in the regular season. The game isn’t a game anymore. It’s a practice. The same goes for hockey without checking. Even the NBA has to tone down its game during an exhibition match. 

But, not baseball. Everything can stay almost exactly how it always is. The pitchers can throw every pitch exactly how they always do. The hitters can hit as well as they always do. The fielders still make almost all the plays. Every once in a while a player might not dive for a ball in the outfield. But, they’ll still make fine running catches or rob a home run.

That means baseball can actually be what every other sport wants their all-star game to be. The best players seeing what they can do against the best players. How will Sammy Sosa fare when he has to face Pedro Martinez? Or Manny Ramirez against Roger Clemens. Nothing is watered down. When Pedro struck out five guys, it wasn’t because they weren’t really trying. It was because he was so dominant, the best players in the game were helpless. When Ramirez took Clemens deep, it wasn’t because Clemens was just throwing mid-range fastballs. It was because Manny could hit the best pitcher’s best pitches. It was a true event.

Which is why it bugs me when MLB doesn’t take advantage of that. Instead of doing what they can do best, they seem to follow what other teams have to do. Interviews from the dugout during the game. Making sure every player gets a chance to play. Making sure every team is represented. Letting fans vote. 


Other leagues have to put on a show. Nobody actually wants to see the Pro Bowl action, so they have to throw in some fluff. The game doesn’t show you how Richard Sherman would fare against Tom Brady. So, they need to do an interview off the field to talk about it instead. Since the NBA game doesn’t play an defense, the players have to do goofy backboard passes. Sure they’re fun, but there’s a reason the NBA gets better ratings than the Globetrotters.

So I hope that MLB stops following the wrong leads. I hope it doesn’t fall into the trap of thinking it needs to trick people into watching. This isn’t Rock and Jock softball. This is a game with actual skill players. If they keep assuming that the game itself isn’t very interesting, people are going to start believing them.

So stop assuming that the only reason someone from Tampa Bay will watch the game is so that a Rays player can get one at-bat or throw one inning in the eighth. Stop assuming that people will only tune in to see a player with a huge twitter following. How about assuming that people will tune in because seeing Xander Bogaerts bat three or four times against the best the NL has to offer is interesting. Because they want to see what Big Papi can do. Can Jackie Bradley Jr throw out Paul Goldschmidt trying to stretch a single into a double? 

I’m sure they’d rather see that than see Justin Verlander be interviewed on his favorite past teammates.

Especially if Major League Baseball stops telling them otherwise.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Making a Mountain out of A. Hill

Remember the 2003 Red Sox? Remember Damian Jackson? He was a key to victory on many occasions on that team. Why? Because he could star a base when everyone knew he was stealing a base. So, down by one in the ninth and a guy gets on first? Jackson was coming in and stealing second. The 2004 team, however, didn't have that guy. The team realized that, so at the deadline they went and got Dave Roberts. You may remember that he could steal a base when everyone knew he was running. It's the kind of piece and addition that can be key to a winning team. It can make a good team into a championship team.

That's what the Red Sox did yesterday.

The Sox clearly realized that the bloom had come of the Travis Shaw rose. They realized that one too many times the Red Sox had to send Josh Rutledge up as a pinch hitter with the tying run on base just to see him strike out. That couldn't happen any more. They needed help.

So, they went out and got Aaron Hill. Dave Dombrowski said it was to give the Sox a third base option against lefties that could actually hit. Of course, he also mentioned that Hill was an everyday player in Milwaukee. The implication certainly is that he could be one here too if needed. Either way, the Red Sox added some bench depth that they were severely lacking. Whether it's Shaw or Hill, the Sox have an option available when needed. An option the Sox have been lacking since Brock Holt is stuck in the outfield.

The problem for the Sox, PR-wise, is that this deal was made at the wrong time. If they had done this a week or two ago when the Sox were losing games 3-2 or 2-0, this move would have been cheered. An option off the bench could have been the difference in any number of those games. 

But, it's a different time. The Sox just took a series from the best team in the league, while thumping out tons of runs. The offense isn't the problem today. 

The pitching is.

So, too many people are screaming that the Sox got rid of a pitcher that had been pitching well. He could have been the replacement fifth starter!

But, he wasn't going to be. He's no longer a prospect. He was an organizational depth pitcher. At 27 years old, he should have been performing well at AAA. But, to hold onto him like your mother's fine china is foolish. He's exactly the type of player you use to improve the big club. You can't hold onto everyone. If you want improvements to be made, something has to go.

So, I think this was a great move. The Sox got something they desperately needed, and gave up something that they didn't. That's exactly what you use your minor league club for.

To make a run at a championship. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Kimbrel's Tin Cup

Did you all see the movie Tin Cup? It's the one where Kevin Costner is a golfer. Remember the end? (spoiler alert.) (Do I still need to say spoiler alert?) He's golfing in the US Open, with the lead coming up to a tough final hole where he has to shoot over water. He takes his shot from the green, but it's short and rolls back into the drink. Oh well. He just has to move up to take a drop and make par. Probably still wins. But, no. That's not what he does. He's stubborn. He's going to try again. Right from where he was. He didn't care that he just failed. He was going to get right back on that horse and try again. This time he would do it. 

He didn't. 

The ball rolled right back into the water when he took that shot too. And the next one. And the one after that. And so on. Until finally he holed out his last ball for a 12. He didn't win the Open.

I thought of that last night when Craig Kimbrel came into the game. He had a terrible game the night before. Once again, he struggled in a non-save situation. For whatever reason, he just hasn't done well in those appearances this season. He faced four batters, and they all scored. Not a good game at all.

So, apparently, he went to John Farrell before last night's game, and said he wanted to pitch. No matter the situation, he wanted the ball in the ninth. He was going to get right back on that horse. He was going to do it, dammit. 

Thankfully, he did it. But, it wasn't smooth. And, I don't know about you, I certainly feared a Tin Cup moment as he put a couple runners on base. Was he going to come in and try to prove to himself that he could do it, only to fail miserably again? Then what? Would he have to try and do it again tomorrow? Would it ever end?

But, it did end. I sometime wonder if controlling damage might actually be even more uplifting. He knows he can do it, even if he doesn't strike out every batter he faces. He can pitch himself out of jams. Even in non-save situations. He stood up against his demon, and stared it down. 

And he didn't shoot a twelve.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Kevin Durant and Curt Schilling

I’ve often said that there is only one thing that Curt Schilling ever said or did that I agreed with. When he was negotiating with the Red Sox prior to agreeing to a trade bringing him to Boston, he sat down with Theo at his house. He made sure that he set the chairs up so that Theo could see his World Series trophy over his shoulder, and basically said “You want one of those? I’m the guy to get it for you.”

I had never heard anyone say that before. It was in contrast to someone like, say, Mike Mussina who chose to join the defending World Champion Yankees instead of the Red Sox. He didn’t look and say, “boy…add me to the rotation behind Pedro and the Sox would be unstoppable.” Instead he went to the team that already “unstoppable” and wanted to go along for the ride.

Without getting into the argument over which approach is “better”, I’m surprised that the Schilling approach isn’t used more often.

After all, these superstar athletes have been stars for a long time. They were probably the best player on their team since they were six. Everyone has been calling them the best for a decade, if not two. How do they not have the attitude that they can do anything? How did Mussina not look and say, “whichever team I go to will immediately be the favorite to win. So, I’ll just pick one.” How has that attitude not been burned into his brain for years? Johnny Damon talked about having been introduced over the loudspeaker as the best player in the state during high school games. How did he not think he was invincible?

So, why wasn’t Schilling the opposite? He was terrible for so many years. Bouncing from team to team. How did he have that attitude? Why on earth would he assume that he could bring a title to Boston? Was it simply because he had just done it? Like a bandwagon fan pumping his chest with a newfound sense of success? 

Maybe he’s just always been full of himself?

Or, maybe I’ve been giving Schilling too much credit. It’s not like he went to a last place team with the intention of turning them around. The Sox had a lead in game seven of the ALCS the season before Schilling decided to come. He wasn’t suggesting he would be a monumental improvement. But just enough.

Is that what Kevin Durant did? Did he decide that he couldn’t bring OKC all the way up…but could bring Golden State up just enough?

But, boy, Durant is about 100 times the player Schilling was. Durant has been the chosen one. Durant actually did bring Oklahoma City up from nothing to the finals. He of all people should have assumed that he was superman. That he could bring any team wherever it wanted to go. But, even he decided it wasn’t enough. He just slid into the best team he could find. He didn’t see himself as the missing piece to the next Celtics dynasty. He wasn’t the next Larry Bird. He was just the next Ray Allen.

How on earth did he get that idea in his head?

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