McAdam: Lack of spending makes for shaky rotation

560882.jpg

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.

Roethlisberger takes aim at young Steelers teammates after loss to Patriots

Roethlisberger takes aim at young Steelers teammates after loss to Patriots

FOXBORO – Ben Roethlisberger rolled some teammates under the bus Sunday night but it was hard to tell exactly which ones had the tire tracks to prove it.

“It just at times almost felt like it was almost too big for some of the young guys,” said Roethlisberger after the Steelers were sent home sucking on a 36-17 loss.

PATRIOTS 36, STEELERS 17

He could have been talking about young receivers Sammie Coates and Cobi Hamilton, each of whom had deep balls slide through or past their hands.

Or he could have been talking about Antonio Brown, who within a week, went from being the star of his own Facebook Live broadcast to being bottled up by the Patriots secondary (seven catches, 77 yards).

While Coates and Hamilton didn’t come up with “combat catches,” a Steelers term that both Roethlisberger and head coach Mike Tomlin employed, Brown launched the Steelers week of preparation by depantsing Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers veterans with his tone deaf self-promotion.  

Roethlisberger may have been talking about the on-field product when he said the following, but it just as easily could be applied to Brown.

“Hopefully this is a learning game for guys to understand that this isn’t promised to anybody,” said Roethlisberger. “Tomorrow’s not promised to any of us and just to make the playoffs isn’t enough to get to this championship game. A lot of guys have been in this league for a long time and haven’t been to any of these or have been to very few, so I hope that they understand the importance and relish the opportunity if it comes again.”

Asked if he thinks the younger players understood that, Roethlisberger said, “I don’t know. That’s a good question. That’s probably a question for other guys, but I know I did.”

Brady on Hogan after record-setting night: 'He's been incredible'

patriots-brady-hogan-012217.jpg

Brady on Hogan after record-setting night: 'He's been incredible'

FOXBORO -- Someone told Chris Hogan before the AFC Championship that it would be a game he'd look back on 30 years from now and remember in perfect detail. 

That may be difficult for him given the sheer volume of plays he made in Sunday's 36-17 win over the Steelers. Hogan finished the game with nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns on 12 targets, surpassing Deion Branch for the franchise record for receiving yards in a postseason game. 

"It'll be something that definitely I'll remember for the rest of my career," he said, "and probably for the rest of my life . . . I'm happy for everyone in this locker room, all these guys in the locker room, the coaches. We've worked so hard to get here, and I was just happy that I was able to help this team get a win tonight."

Hogan did more than that. He was pivotal during New England's first touchdown drive of the night, catching passes on three consecutive plays for a total of 41 yards, and then reeling in an easy 16-yard touchdown when the Steelers defense lost track of him in the right half of the end zone. 

"I moved a little bit to the left because they were pressuring up the middle, and the pocket kind of collapsed," Brady said. "So I kind of slid to the left and I had good vision. They kind of bit down on Julian [Edelman] pretty hard, and then Hogs just was standing there in the back of the end zone."

Hogan's other catches were generally more contested than that one, but several were made without a Steelers defender harrassing him. And when they let him be, he made them pay. 

The flea-flicker pass that resulted in Hogan's second score of the day was a kick in the gut for the Steelers defense, putting the Patriots ahead, 17-6. Brady initially needed a reminder of how Hogan scored his second touchdown of the night, saying, "Oh, the flea-flicker. How could I forget that?"

"We ran one earlier in the year against, I think it was Baltimore, and it worked," Brady added. "I hit Hogan on that one too, on a crossing route. Those were well-executed plays. It's nice when you can take advantage of some of those plays, nice to gain some chunks that way when you kind of get some misdirection or double-pass, flea-flicker, something like that. It's a big spark for the team."

At that point Hogan already had racked up a career day. He had never scored multiple touchdowns in an NFL game coming in, and he set his own career-high for receiving in the postseason with 117 yards. In his first and only playoff game the week before, he had 95 yards on four catches. 

Hogan suffered a thigh injury in that game that limited him in practice and made him questionable against the Steelers. But he played, and he gave his team an early boost, helping force the Steelers to play catch-up for the vast majority of the night.

And the injury didn't appear to slow him down all that much. Though there were times when he was slow to get to his feet after being tackled, he showed the kind of speed that allowed him to put himself near the top of the list in the NFL when it comes to yards-per-catch (18.7). Among  receivers with at least 20 catches, he trailed only Sammie Coates (20.7) of the Steelers. 

"He's been incredible," Brady said. "I mean, to lead the league in average yards per catch is spectacular. He's made big plays for us all season. He made big plays in the biggest game of the year for us."

It's one that he'll remember for a long time, but he's hoping to add to that happy memory in two weeks.

"We've grinded throughout this entire year, this is what we worked for, and this is what we wanted to get to," Hogan said. "It's a special moment for all of these guys in this locker room. We'll enjoy this and get back to work because we've got one more."