McAdam: Lack of spending makes for shaky rotation


McAdam: Lack of spending makes for shaky rotation

BOSTON -- In theory, at least, this is supposed to be the time of year where every team in baseball is on equal footing.

During the ramp-up to spring training, every prospect is a can't-miss star-in-the-making, every aging veteran is surely going to return to glory and every roster has the makings of a world champion.

In reality, of course, that's not true. Some teams are clearly better than others, a fact which will be revealed when the games begin for real.

By then, another cold reality will hit the Red Sox: their staring rotation is nowhere near as good as two others in their own division, to say nothing of the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and perhaps the Detroit Tigers.

"I think," allowed GM Ben Cherington before Thursday night's Boston Baseball Writers Association's annual awards dinner, "we have more questions right now than Tampa and New York, for example."

Tampa Bay already had an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the rotation, with five quality starters all under the age of 28. The New York Yankees had some uncertainty in their rotation -- "had" being the operative word, since a week ago, in the span of a few hours, the Yankees traded for Michael Pineda and signed Hiroki Kuroda.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, has built some back-end depth by signing veterans such as Aaron Cook, Carlos Silva and Vicente Padilla to minor-league deals.

The idea, of course, is for the Sox to hit on one or more of those candidates, in much the same way that the Yankees did last year with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.

The Sox are operating on the cheap for a change, since they're already projected to be over the 178 million luxury tax threshold. Any money the Red Sox spend going forward will come with a 40 percent tax, which has effectively taken them out of the running for Kuroda (who signed a one-year deal with the Yanks) and Roy Oswalt, who remains on the market with his asking price dropping -- but not enough for the Red Sox' liking.

Cherington pointed out that the team is content with the front end of its rotation (Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz) and confident that Daniel Bard will make a successful transition from bullpen to rotation.

But uncertainty hangs over the Red Sox starters. Beckett fell woefully out of shape in the second half and won just one game in the disastrous final month. He's pitched more than 200 innings just once since 2007.

Lester took a step backward last year, and while most of the statistical changes were slight, he did pitch fewer innings and recorded fewer strikeouts while watching his WHIP and ERA climb.

Buchholz didn't pitch after the first half of the season and must first demonstrate that he's completely recovered from a stress fracture in his back.

The Sox are hopeful that Bard can transfer his stuff to the rotation, but he's never started a pro game above Single A -- much less the big leagues -- and will almost surely have his workload monitored closely. Even if Bard more than doubled his innings total from a year ago, he'll likely fall way short of the magic 200-inning limit.

Perhaps the Red Sox' scouting will pay off with Cook or Silva or Padilla and they'll give the Red Sox some low-cost, high-yield innings. But realistically, what are the chances of that?

Remember that Colon underwent a controversial surgical procedure the prior year in his native Dominican Republic that may have accounted for his surprise season. And Garcia had won a dozen games as recently as the previous season for the White Sox.

(By contrast, the three Red Sox longshots won a combined 13 games in the majors last season).

Were it not for some payroll constraints, the Red Sox might have signed either Kuroki or Oswalt, and ownership's stance is understandable. The last two World Series champions have won titles with payrolls about half of what the Sox have already committed for 2013. If you can't be competitive at 178 million, then perhaps there other factors at work.

And there are, of course. The current Red Sox payroll is bloated with dead money on the books for Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey. Lackey will miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery while Matsuzaka might be back by August after undergoing the same procedure last summer.

But the Sox are picking a curious time to watch payroll. Surely it hasn't escaped their attention that they are coming off not one but two straight third-place finishes, each resulting in a DNQ for the postseason.

By limiting payroll, they're putting both Cherington and new manager Bobby Valentine in a tough spot. Yes, the offense will produce runs by the boatload and yes, it's conceivable that the starting pitching, with some breaks, will be more than good enough.

For now, however, weeks before players report to spring training, there's too much uncertainty surrounding the Boston rotation to make the team feel as confident as it ordinarily would at this time of year.

David Backes out at least 2 more games (and likely longer) after elbow procedure


David Backes out at least 2 more games (and likely longer) after elbow procedure

The Bruins look like they’ll be without gritty veteran forward David Backes for at least the next couple of games, and probably more like the next couple of weeks.

It was announced that the gritty Bruins forward underwent a procedure on Monday remove the olecranon bursa from his elbow, and that “his condition will be updated after the weekend.” The procedure is commonly performed when bursitis in the elbow becomes an untenable, and seems more like an injury that worsens over time rather than anything that happened in a particular game this season.

Backes’ effectiveness did seem to be impacted after he got into a fight with Nazem Kadri in the second game of the season in Toronto, but it’s unknown if there’s any connection between that sequence and the forward’s elbow issues. According to the AAOS (American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons) website, it may take “10-14 days” for the skin to heal following the procedure, and three-to-four weeks before a doctor would clear the average person to resume normal activity.

The 32-year-old Backes is off to a good start for the Bruins with two goals and four points in five games prior to missing Tuesday night’s loss to the Minnesota Wild, and his absence makes an already-thin Bruins forward group smaller, softer and much less dangerous. With Backes on the shelf for at least the next two games against the Rangers and Detroit Red Wings, the Bruins have recalled young center Austin Czarnik after his short stint with the Providence Bruins.

Julien: Defensive mistakes 'doing a lot of damage to our game'

Julien: Defensive mistakes 'doing a lot of damage to our game'

BOSTON – The fact that the Bruins goaltending wasn’t up to snuff was well-documented in Tuesday night’s 5-0 home loss to the Minnesota Wild.

But the Bruins are also experiencing some major defensive problems along with injuries to Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin, and that has been a major factor in things suddenly taking a turn for the Black and Gold. Perhaps it’s also a byproduct of playing higher quality NHL teams that can exploit some of those issues, and that’s exactly what the Canadiens and Wild have done in scoring eight mostly easy goals against the B’s in the last two games.

“We give up two quick goals in that [second] period that just deflated us at that point. But you know, our game right now has to be better without the puck and the kind of goals we’re giving up are killing us. They’re taking momentum out of our hockey club. We’ve had some decent starts we haven’t been rewarded for,” said Claude Julien. “We haven’t scored first now in six games, so you’re playing that kind of a game and the minute you give up a goal you’re playing from behind.

“You’ve got to find a way to score that first goal but at the same time I think we need to be much better without the puck and respecting that part of our game a little bit better. Mistakes, or lack of coverage and not being in the right place [in the D-zone] right now, are doing a lot of damage to our game. It’s hurtful at the end because you end up with this kind of a result.”

The first goal allowed by Subban was a lost battle in front of the net as Charlie Coyle took the puck from Danton Heinen in a 50/50 battle, and then the B’s rookie goaltender allowed a fluttering puck to get through his pads on his glove side. Then 12 seconds later a really big breakdown by the Bergeron line and John-Michael Liles/Colin Miller pair left Chris Stewart all alone in front with a point blank chance in the slot.

That was a defensive punch to the gut that knocked all of the wind out of the Black and Gold, and they were never recovered. It was also an inexcusable mistake in a Julien-coached system that is supposed to suffocate any attempts by attackers to get into the slot area for scoring chances.

“It’s really, you know, getting away from playing the way we know how to. We talked about not cheating on the offense, not giving up the slot, and you know giving them the outside as much as possible. When you don’t do that obviously it’s going to be hard on the goalies,” said Patrice Bergeron. “You know obviously it’s a team game, it’s about everyone and [the young goalies] are definitely not to blame tonight. We talked about being a strong, defensive team and being tight in our zone. We did that in the first, I thought, and the second was ugly.”

Give Subban credit for making a stop on Marco Scandella after giving up the two goals in 12 seconds, but a soft power play score allowed to Ryan Suter resulted in the rookie getting pulled from the game despite whatever was happening defensively in front of him. For good measure, an Adam McQuaid turnover in the B’s defensive zone quickly turned into a Jason Tucker goal through traffic to make it 4-0, and the Bruins were well on their way to their worst loss of the season.