McAdam: Sox will miss Hill, not Dice-K

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McAdam: Sox will miss Hill, not Dice-K

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

One pitcher grew up half a world away, the other just miles from Fenway Park.

One was the object of an unprecedented bidding war, the other signed for less than double the major-league minimum salary.

One threw a dizzying array of pitches, the other spent the past two seasons experimenting with various arm angles.

One is right-handed, the other lefty.

Yet, for all their differences, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Rich Hill are the same in ways they surely don't wish: both seem headed for season-ending -- and potentially career-threatening Tommy John surgery.

Dr. M. explains Tommy John surgery

And here's the irony: despite the fact that the Red Sox paid 103 million for Matsuzaka and just 700,000 for Hill, it's Hill whom they'll miss the most.

Matsuzaka may have attracted the most attention, arriving with great fanfare and a mythical pitch (gyro ball), and he may have won 33 games in his first two seasons with the Sox, 11 more than Hill has over parts of seven big-league seasons.

But in 2011, it was Hill who held much greater value to the Red Sox and whose absence will be far more difficult to replace.

No matter what they had invested in him, financially and otherwise, Matsuzaka remained an enigma, seemingly unable to win with any consistency. Since the start of 2009, in 44 starts -- roughly the equivalent of a season-and-a-third -- Matsuzaka was 16-15 with a 5.03 ERA.

This year, he was as unpredictable as ever. In back-to-back starts in April, he teased the Red Sox with one-hitters. But as dominant as he was in those two outings, his ERA for the season was 5.30 -- about a run higher than the American League average.

Money and reputation aside, Matsuzaka had devloved into a back-of-the-rotation starter -- and not a very durable one at that.

In the eight games that Matsuzaka started for them this season, the Red Sox were 4-4; with others starting, they are at least (nominally) over .500 at 26-22.

And though neither Tim Wakefield nor Alfredo Aceves are necessarily long-term solutions to the Red Sox rotation, they've consistently given the Sox a chance to win games. In seven starts combined, the pair have twice allowed five or more runs; in Matsuzaka's eight starts before his trip to the DL, he also allowed five or more runs twice.

For the time being, the Red Sox plan to use either Wakefield or Aceves in place of Matsuzaka. In time, they could call upon Felix Doubront (fresh off a DL stint of his own at Pawtucket) or perhaps even Kevin Millwood.

But they're not about to venture into the trade market to replace Matsuzaka, thanks to the prohibitive cost of obtaining pitching help and, frankly, because it shouldn't be difficult to match what Matsuzaka was giving them with their many internal candidates.

Hill, however, is another story.

Even after walking off the mound and out of the game Wednesday afternoon following a walk to Adam Dunn, Hill had not given up a run in eight appearances this season. In fact, dating back to his late-season callup last September, Hill was, improbably, unscored upon in his Red Sox career, throwing nothing but blanks over 15 appearances, covering 12 innings.

If quality starting pitching is difficult to find, it's downright bountiful when compared to effective left-handed relievers like Hill.

Consider that the Red Sox had a handful of lefty relievers in camp this spring, including Hill and journeyman Dennys Reyes.

Reyes made the Opening Day roster, then pitched so poorly that the Red Sox found a reason to place him on the DL before they even returned home from their season-opening road trip.

Hill, on the other hand, was showing signs of beginning to master his role. A starter earlier in his career, Hill transitioned to the bullpen after shoulder surgery in 2009.

This year, he held opposing lefty hitters to a single hit in 14 at-bats with seven strikeouts and just two walks. But Hill was also getting righties out, allowing just two hits in 12 at-bats (.167 BAA).

Had Hill remained healthy, he might have resulted in another option for the seventh or eighth innings -- beyond his usual duties as a situational left-hander.

The Sox don't have anyone like him in their system. Even in his first few seasons with the Sox, Hideki Okajima wasn't particularly effective against lefties, and the Sox thought so little of him two weeks ago that they designed him for assignment.

Doubront could conceivably help out in the short-run, but long-term his future is as a starter.

By their own admission, the Sox got lucky with Hill. He chose to opt-out of a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals organization last summer for the chance to pitch for his hometown team. As a free agent, non-tendered by the Sox last winter, he turned down offers from other interested clubs to accept a minor-league, make-good deal with the Sox. And after experimenting with a number of sidearm release points, he found one this spring that worked.

Now, he's gone for the remainder of this season and parts of next. And putting aside his modest salary and the little fanfare he attracted, his loss is far greater to the Red Sox than the internationally known pitcher with whom he's now linked, both felled by the same injury, different as can be but united in their fate.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.