Nation STATion: Theo-cracy

308367.jpg

Nation STATion: Theo-cracy

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

As hard as I find it to believe that the Sox did not make postseason, I remain in a deeper state of shock and disappointment that Terry Francona was thrown under the bus by management. The one thing I can tell you without question is that the more you think you know what is going on with a ballclub, the less you actually know.

So lets discuss what we do know: from Day 1, this team had too many left-handed hitters and too few starting pitchers. The roster had little depth, minimal chemistry, few leaders. All that means, Nation, is that we have to turn our lonely eyes to GM Theo Epstein. This is not Los Angeles, where manager Mike Scioscia is the unofficial assistant GM (say goodbye to Tony Reagins) or Baltimore, where manager Buck Showalter has more and more front office control. In Boston, it became the opposite as apparently Terry ceded more influence to Theo, Lucchino, and John Henry.

When you look at the Sox homegrown players like Pedey, Jacoby, Youk, Buchholz, and Papelbon, you can see that Theo has a real gift when it comes to drafting and player development. But (Julio Lugo) signing free agents (Edgar Renteria) has not been his forte.

Theo seems to have a very specific formula for determining the free agents that he is interested in signing. Call it what you want, Moneyball or anything else, the veterans that Theo goes after have certain statistics (OPS) and a certain personality, usually quiet and unemotional (not unlike Theo himself), and rarely a leader (Dice-K, J.D. Drew, and Carl Crawford, come to mind).

Take a look at these nine notable free agent signing periods since the Red Sox' last postseason success, the 2007 World Championship (the Sox have won one postseason series since):

1. February 2008 - Signed Bartolo Colon as a free agent. Now in the Yankee rotation.
2. December 2008 - Signed Brad Penny as a free agent. Found success with St. Louis and Detroit.
3. January 2009 - Signed Mark Kotsay (now in the postseason with Milwaukee) and John Smoltz (retired) as free agents.
4. August 2009 - Signed Paul Byrd (retired) as a free agent.
5. December 2009 - Signed Darnell McDonald (November has hit .258 as a fourth outfielder), Marco Scutaro (has hit .284 for the Sox), Mike Cameron (released) and John Lackey (5.36 ERA in two seasons with Boston) as free agents.
6. January March 2010 - Signed Adrian Beltre (now in the postseason with Texas), Scott Atchison (4.08 ERA in mop-up role for Boston), Alan Embree (retired), Scott Schoeneweis (retired) as free agents.
7. December 2010 - Signed Carl Crawford (.255, 18 steals), Matt Albers (4.73 ERA), Rich Hill (injured), Randy Williams (only seven Boston appearances, 6.48 ERA), Andrew Miller (5.54 ERA 1.815 WHIP), Lenny DiNardo (now in the Oakland organization), Dan Wheeler (4.38 ERA), Bobby Jenks (6.32 ERA injured and ill) as free agents.
8. February 2011 - Signed Hideki Okajima (January quickly designated for assignment), Dennys Reyes (quickly released) and Alfredo Aceves (thank you for a great season; 2.61 ERA in 55 games) as free agents.
9. May 19, 2011 - Signed Kevin Millwood (pitched for the Rockies) as a free agent.

When you look at the group above, the only signing that can perceived as a Grade A success was the one-year rental of Adrian Beltre. I like Marco Scutaro, but he was signed with the intent that he would serve as a place-filler until Jed Lowrie or Jose Iglesias could grow into the job. I hope that Marco returns, as it doesnt look as if Lowrie will ever be healthy or ready and Iglesias, who is a defensive whiz, only hit .235 for Pawtucket this season and could use more seasoning. In addition, Iglesias wont be 22 until January and it may not be the wisest thing to bring him into the turmoil of 2012.

Boston has a 6M option on Scutaro. If the Red Sox don't exercise Scutaro's option, Marco can opt to remain in Boston for 3M or become a free agent and take a 1.5M buyout. Among shortstops with at least 400 plate appearances, Scutaro, who hit .299, had the majors fourth highest OBP at .358, exceeded only by Yunel Escobar (.369), Troy Tulowitzki (.372), and Jose Reyes (.384). Among that group of shortstops, only Reyes is a free agent and who knows what Theo has in mind as he re-evaluates the team's free agent policy.

But it wasnt just free agents that led to Red Sox 2011 mess. Here is a chronology of the Sox transactions since the completion of the 2010 season:

November 2010
Mike Lowell granted Free Agency the Sox never replaced this veteran.
Victor Martinez granted Free Agency Not signing Martinez was Bostons biggest mistake of the offseason. V-Mart not only is a switch-hitter who provides a terrific bat as a DH, first baseman, and catcher, but is renowned for being a great clubhouse presence.
Jason Varitek granted Free Agency.
Adrian Beltre granted Free Agency Beltre wanted to return to the Sox, but was ultimately blocked when Theo fulfilled his long-felt desire to acquire Adrian Gonzalez and Youk was moved to third. Beltre ultimately signed a five-year deal with Texas and is now in the postseason.
Bill Hall granted Free Agency.
Felipe Lopez granted Free Agency.
Chad Paronto granted Free Agency.
Ramon Ramirez granted Free Agency.
Dusty Brown granted Free Agency.
Carlos Delgado granted Free Agency.
Gil Velazquez granted Free Agency.
Rich Hill granted Free Agency.
Tommy Hottovy granted Free Agency.

Traded Pedro Perez (minors) to the Detroit Tigers. Received infielder Brent Dlugach. Did not play.
Traded Dustin Richardson to the Florida Marlins. Received Andrew Miller. See below.

Selected Taylor Buchholz off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays. See below.

December 2010
Hideki Okajima granted Free Agency.
Taylor Buchholz granted Free Agency.
Andrew Miller granted Free Agency.

Signed Utilityman Drew Sutton as a free agent. Hit .315 in 31 Sox games playing six different positions. No homers and seven RBI in 60 plate appearances.
Signed pitcher Brandon Duckworth as a free agent. Went 8-6 in 22 games (21 starts) for Pawtucket. Had a 3.97 ERA and a 1.314 WHIP.
Signed pitcher Jason Bergmann as a free agent. Did not play.
Signed catcher Jason Varitek as a free agent. In 68 games, Tek hit .221 with 11 homers and 36 RBI. He hit lefties at a .200 pace. He hit .176 after the All-Star break.
Signed outfielder Carl Crawford as a free agent. Crawford suffered through the worst season of his major league career hitting .255 with 11 homers and 18 steals.
Signed Matt Albers as a free agent. After all was said and done it was a typical season for Albers, who came in with a 5.11 career ERA and ended with a 5.04 after going 4-4 with a 4.73 ERA this season. He had a 1.438 WHIP.
Signed Rich Hill as a free agent. Hills season ended June 1. Hes now thrown 12 innings over the last two seasons.
Signed Randy Williams as a free agent. Williams threw 8.1 innings and gave up six runs.
Signed Andrew Miller as a free agent. Miller was 6-3 but had a 5.54 ERA and a 1.815 WHIP. He now has a career WHIP of 5.79.
Signed Lenny DiNardo as a free agent. Did not pitch for Boston.
Signed Dan Wheeler as a free agent. Wheeler was 2-2 with a 4.38 ERA but had a very respectable 1.115 WHIP.
Signed Bobby Jenks as a free agent. For the fourth straight season Jenks ERA rose, this year to 6.32. He had a horrible 2.234 WHIP and was repeatedly on the DL.

Traded Eric Patterson and top prospects Casey Kelly (minors), Reymond Fuentes (minors) and Anthony Rizzo to the San Diego Padres. Received Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzo hit .338 with 27 homers and 119 RBI. His 27 homers were his lowest total since 2004 and he only hit 10 homers at Fenway. He hit .183 against the Yankees and .131 against the Rays. He apparently does not like Sunday night baseball.

January 2011
Signed Utilityman Hector Luna as a free agent. Did not play.
Signed pitcher Tony Pena as a free agent. Did not play.
Signed pitcher Hideki Okajima as a free agent. Went 1-0 in seven Sox games with a 4.32 ERA and 1.440 WHIP before he was designated for assignment.
Signed and released pitcher Matt Fox as a free agent. Pitched in 28 games (21 starts) for Pawtucket going 10-4 with a 3.96 ERA.

Selected Max Ramirez off waivers from the Texas Rangers.
Max Ramirez selected by the Chicago Cubs off waivers.

February 2011
Signed catcher Paul Hoover as a free agent. Did not play.
Signed pitcher Tommy Hottovy as a free agent. Appeared in eight games for Boston with a 6.75 ERA in four innings pitched.
Signed Dennys Reyes as a free agent. Appeared in four games for Boston with a 16.20 ERA in 1.2 innings pitched before he was released.
Signed Alfredo Aceves as a free agent. The MVP of the pitching staff. Finished 10-2 with a 2.67 ERA and a 1.105 WHIP. Appeared in 55 games, including four starts, and pitched 114 innings.

Traded Robert Coello to the Chicago Cubs. Received Utilityman Tony Thomas (played for Pawtucket).

March 2011
Released Aaron Bates.
Released Lenny DiNardo.

Free agent signing of Jason Bergmann voided.

Traded pitcher Daniel Turpen (minors) to the Colorado Rockies. Received catcher Michael McKenry who was traded to Pittsburgh in June.

May 2011
Signed Kevin Millwood as a free agent.

Traded player to be named or cash to the Colorado Rockies. Received Franklin Morales. Morales was 1-1 with a 3.62 ERA and a 1.268 WHIP in 36 relief appearances as the lefty from the pen.

June 2011
Traded Michael McKenry to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Received player to be named or cash.

July 2011
Signed pitcher Royce Ring as a free agent. Did not appear.
Signed pitcher Charlie Haeger as a free agent. Did not appear.

Traded Mike Cameron and cash to the Florida Marlins. Received player to be named or cash.
Traded Kendal Volz (minors) and Yamaico Navarro to the Kansas City Royals. Received infielder Mike Aviles. Aviles hit .317 in 38 games and played five positions.
As part of a 3-team trade, traded pitcher Juan Rodriguez (minors), pitcher Stephen Fife (minors) and catcher Tim Federowicz to the Los Angeles Dodgers and outfielder Chih-Hsien Chiang (minors) to the Seattle Mariners. In addition, the Los Angeles Dodgers sent Trayvon Robinson to the Seattle Mariners. Received pitcher Josh Fields (minors Went 3-0 for Portland) and pitcher Erik Bedard from the Seattle Mariners. Bedard went 1-2 in just eight starts. He had a 4.03 in only 38 innings.

August 2011
Signed outfielder Brett Carroll as a free agent. Did not appear.
Signed pitcher Trever Miller as a free agent. Pitched two scoreless innings in three appearances.
Signed pinch runner Joey Gathright as a free agent. He scored one run in seven appearances.

Released Kevin Millwood. Millwood signed with Colorado and made nine starts, going 4-3 with a 3.98 ERA.

Traded Jason Rice (minors) to the Oakland Athletics. Received Utilityman Conor Jackson and cash. Jackson went 3-for-19 with one homer.

I find it astounding that this was the extent of help that Theo provided this ball club, particularly in light of the fact that Dice-K was lost for the season on May 16 and that Clay Buchholz was lost for the season on June 16.

I am not denying that hindsight is 20-20, but there were many of us who questioned the John Lackey signing (he still has won over 14 games in a season just once) and also questioned the Carl Crawford signing (it felt as if the Sox were compensating for signing the over-the-hill Mike Cameron and for letting Jason Bay get away. The Sox needed then, as now, a right-hand power bat. Bostons 71 homers by right-hand batters were good for 10th in the AL and it looks even uglier when you subtract the seven hit by the switch-hitting Salty-Tek combo. Dustin Pedroia led the teams righties with seven homers off of lefties. He also led the righties with 14 homers off of righties).

While I didnt question the Adrian Gonzalez deal, it did come with a caveat that this would only be a good deal if the Sox made the postseason because, if the team was not making the postseason, why give up top prospects for a player who, along with Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, would be an available free agent this offseason.

The declaration that this was the greatest team ever was predicated upon the arrival of Gonzalez and Crawford. That was fantasy. This is reality:
In 2010, the third-place Red Sox pitching staff had a 4.20 ERA (9th in the AL) and the rotation had 89 Quality Starts (55). No significant additions or subtractions were made to that staff.
In 2011, in this year of the pitcher, the third-place Red Sox pitching staff once again had a 4.20 ERA (9th in the AL) and the rotation had just 71 Quality Starts (44).

And:
In 2011, combined, Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez hit .313 with 44 homers and 208 RBI.
In 2011, combined, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford hit .300 with 38 homers and 173 RBI.

Finally:
The 2010 Red Sox were 89-73, finishing third, 7.0 games back.
The 2011 Red Sox were 90-72, finishing third, 7.0 games back.

If the Chicago Cubs want Theo as their General Manager, I say let them have him under the condition that they provide compensation. And that compensation is simple: I dont want players in return; if they want Theo, they take Lackey with him.

Angels score three after overturned call, beat Red Sox, 4-2

Angels score three after overturned call, beat Red Sox, 4-2

BOSTON - Parker Bidwell pitched a solid 6 2/3 innings and Los Angeles scored three runs after its challenge overturned an inning-ending double play in the second, leading the Angels to a 4-2 win over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday.

Ben Revere had three singles and Kaleb Cowart drove in two runs for Los Angeles, which won two of three against the Red Sox for its fifth series win in the last six.

Doug Fister (0-1) lost his Red Sox debut, giving up three runs and seven hits in six-plus innings. He was signed by Boston on Friday after being released by the Angels.

Mitch Moreland and Jackie Bradley Jr. each hit a solo homer for the Red Sox, who lost their second straight at Fenway Park after winning 10 of the previous 12.

Bidwell (2-0) gave up two runs and seven hits, striking out four without issuing a walk. Yusmeiro Petit pitched two scoreless innings for his first save.

Beyond Devers: The Red Sox farm system halfway into 2017

Beyond Devers: The Red Sox farm system halfway into 2017

BOSTON — Sometime soon, Rafael Devers should be in Triple-A Pawtucket. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said as much on Friday, calling Devers “real close.” Jhonny Peralta’s to get some time at third base at Pawtucket, and Michael Chavis is going to now at Double-A Portland alongside Devers, so it’s not the clearest path. 

“I don’t think I can pin it on one particular thing,” vice president of player development Ben Crockett said of what's kept Devers in Portland. “I think he continues to refine. I think his approach at the plate and kind of the maturity of his game and just the experience that he’s had — he’s moved so quickly, being a 20-year-old in Double-A, and one of the youngest players in that league. And having that type of success he’s had offensively is awesome. 

“Yet at the same time, you still do see some inconsistencies. They’re not unexpected of a young player like him at the plate. ... He obviously got off to a really hot start, had a great first month — really almost two months or a month and a half. And then, the league started to adjust him. I mean, they're pitching to him like they should be pitching to him. Which is pretty tough. 

“That kind of forced him to make some adjustments. So I think in that sense, it’s been a good experience for him as the league has gotten to know him better. That, I think, always is a great you know is a great test for a player. … He’s in the process of doing that. I think we’re very happy with the overall progress that he’s made on both sides of the ball, and he’s in a good place. I think he’s still in a place where he’s challenged, but I think he’s certainly done a lot of really good things.”

There’s been attention on Devers' build. He has a big frame, and the potential to carry extra weight. Crockett said lifestyle hasn’t been a direct focus, but having Devers around other more mature players has helped: former top prospect Mike Olt, for example.

But, as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches in a little more than a month, it’s worth peeking at the first half of the Red Sox system beyond just Devers too.

There is, in fact, a group of players worth talking about beyond Devers.

It’s well known Dombrowski has depleted the system for hoped — and in some cases, realized — gains in the big leagues. Crockett discussed some of the remaining and burgeoning talents the Sox have.

Questions and answers have been edited lightly.

What’s your reaction when you hear people say the Sox don’t have much left in the minor leagues?

I don’t pay too much attention on what those on the outside are saying in either direction. If there’s been great things, really, it doesn’t matter until players get to the big leagues and have proven that they are good players. And you know, when there’s other messages too, it doesn’t really impact the way we go about our job and really control the things we can. Clearly we have, we’ve traded quite a few good players, but I I think we still have a really good group within our system.

You’re involved with the trade process at this time of year?

Yeah. And that’s kind of an ongoing timeline. As we get to the July, the discussions tend to pick up. I think there’s always a group of folks from different areas and different departments that are consulted or involved in these sorts of these things and it kind of touches their area.

How do you look at the lower levels vs. the upper levels. Are there more high-ceiling talents in the lower levels right now?

I don’t know about that. We certainly have some guys with some ceilings at the lower levels but you get guys like Devers and [Blake] Swihart and Sam Travis, guys like that in Double-A and Triple-A. … Travis is in the big leagues right now. 

We do have some impact guys at those upper levels as well, and I think one of the things that’s really stood out has been some of the bullpen developments that have been made over the last 18 months or so, 12-18 months. It’s put some of these other arms on the map. Whether it’s Austin Maddox, whether it’s Ben Taylor, Jamie Callahan, Ty Buttrey. Kyle Martin was added to the 40-man roster. Other guys. Brandon Workman, his resurgence.

Starting pitching, and the Red Sox’ trouble developing rotation pieces, has become almost a dead horse. At the least, it’s a well known issue. Have you seen progress?

Developing starting pitching is really challenging. Across the league, it usually isn’t quite a direct path, clean path to the big leagues for major league starters. Usually there’s some sort of break-in period for those guys. I think obviously there’s work that we can continue to do. 

Having guys like Brian Johnson bounce back, contribute at the major league level, bring Hector Velazquez in — he’s certainly been a nice addition. Jalen Beeks kind of taking a step forward here the upper levels, and taking that step into Triple-A. These are all certainly things that we feel pretty good about. But of course, we’re also focused on trying to continue to improve in those areas. 

Beeks, a 23-year-old lefty who was a 12th round pick in 2014, has a 3.60 ERA at Pawtucket entering Sunday, with 24 strikeouts and eight walks in 25 innings. What’s he doing differently if anything?

He really kind of re-established a changeup that we had seen in years previous. He didn’t have a great feel for it last year. I think in the meantime, last year, that allowed some of his breaking balls and his cutter and his curveball to improve a little bit. Make them more reliable. And now that he’s now bringing the changeup back in the fold, it has really allowed him to have a nice four-pitch, quality four-pitch mix. The fastball he’s had is always a pitch that plays a little bit above his velocity, and he’s somebody that’s been really consistent and kind of calm under pressure in a tough situation. So that’s certainly something you look for on the big league side.

Have you guys changed how you approach the development of your starters?

Not dramatic, drastic changes, no. I think we’re always making small adjustments to our programs as well as trying to [apply] what’s being used at the major league level, and also kind of trying to continue to kind of evolve evaluations of individual pitcher strengths and trying to leverage those strengths most effectively.

Blake Swihart’s hitting .211. He had a left ring finger injury. What’s going on?

It’s been a challenging season for him just given the injuries. I think that’s first and foremost: after having a solid spring training and coming out out of the gates pretty well in Pawtucket, he’s missed a bunch of time. [He’s played 34 games.] Obviously that’s nothing of his own fault, and yet, it is what it is. And I think at this point he’s still trying to find, find his stroke after the finger injury. He hasn’t let it affect him defensively. Particularly in the last couple weeks here, as he’s gotten back into the flow games, the defense has been pretty good.

He’s coming back from the ankle [injury that ended 2016], then missing the month of basically the month of May. Getting to play for three weeks at the beginning of the season, and then missing a month, and then coming back and trying to get back and trying to make up for lost time.

Third baseman Michael Chavis was just promoted to Portland. He hit .237 in 2016. He’s hitting .320 in 2017. What changed?

An improved approach. I think he’s always had the bat speed. He’s had a good fundamental swing. And I think the keys for him, even in some of the shorter stints of success that he’s had in the past have been, when he’s really locked into his approach and he’s stayed under control and not trying to do too much — he’s got so much raw power that he doesn’t really have to. He’s not a guy that needs to seek that power if he’s swinging at pitches he can handle. 

[Approach is] something that he’s really committed to coming into this year, and something that you know he’s been able to maintain for the whole pretty much first half. Which has been a nice part of his overall maturation. I mean, he’s a 21-year-old kid. He’s dealt with injuries the last couple years. He tried to repeat [Low-A] Greenville from ’15 and ’16, and I think there’s a lot to be learned from those things. 

What he’s shown in the first half more closely matches what our scouts saw from an evaluation standpoint from where we took him initially. The premier bat speed, the power, the ability to hit different pitches. The ability to really use the whole field has been impressive.

Third baseman Bobby Dalbec, a fourth round pick last year from Arizona, had a .358 OBP at Salem when he got hurt. He’s expected back in July from hamate surgery?

Somewhere in July. Hopefully sooner than later. We’re kind of at the mercy the rehab process but he’s progressed really well thus far. And is feeling good, so hopefully not too far away. 

Do Dalbec and Chavis stick at third base?

I think Dalbec’s a definite third baseman. … [Chavis] came in as a shortstop. He’s been somewhat limited with some early season elbow issues, so hadn’t played quite as often, and I think that’s kind of affected his rhythm and I think his comfort at third base. That’s something we’ll continue to work on with him as he gets to Double-A.

Top-10 lists are always somewhat arbitrary and don’t match your own internal rankings, presumably. But if you look at SoxProspects.com's rankings, or simply consider the guys you see as upper echelon talents, have you seen as much of a step forward in the first half as you’d like on a whole? Jason Groome had a lat strain he just returned from. Dalbec and shortstop CJ Chatham (a second rounder last year) have been hurt. Mike Shawaryn’s had a rough time since a recent promotion to High-A Salem.

One thing that’s been challenging has been injuries. The three guys from last year’s draft. Groome, Chatham and Dalbec all missing significant time or almost all of the year so far. It makes it hard to evaluate where they are. But I think guys like Devers and Travis and [Josh] Ockimey and Chavis, guys like that, have either taken a step forward or continued on with their progression. 

There’s been quite a few guys kind of as I mentioned, some of the guys drafted, pitchers from last year. Guys like [righty Bryan] Mata, if you want to go down to the lower levels. Somebody that we like quite a bit, 18-year-old pitcher who has gone from the Dominican Summer League to Greenville with some success. Darwinzon Hernandez, another starter down there with Greenville with really big stuff. I think there have been quite a few successes. Of course, you’re never going to bat 1.000 on this sorts of things. There’s alway going to be guys that you know that from a performance standpoint may not be hitting their stride.

We do have some interesting, younger pitching in addition to the guys that are up there now with Groome and you know Shawaryn and [righty Shaun] Anderson at the lower levels as well as guys like Hernandez, Mata.

Greenville’s second half could be pretty interesting as they get some of those guys back healthy: the Chatham's and the Dalbec’s and others, as well as running out a rotation of maybe four, maybe five guys that are 20 or younger.

Mata’s been limited because of innings lately?

We’ll be pretty cautious with [Mata]. Just like we would do with Groome and any other young pitcher.