McAdam: Lack of spending makes for shaky rotation

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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.

Bruins tap Maine-bound goalie Swayman in fourth round

Bruins tap Maine-bound goalie Swayman in fourth round

CHICAGO – It was thought the Bruins might swing for the fences with Boston University goalie Jake Oettinger, particularly if they traded down in the first round, but they ended up filling their goalie quota on Saturday in the fourth round of the NHL Draft at the United Center. The B’s selected University of Maine-bound Jeremy Swayman with the 111th pick in the draft after an impressive run for the Alaska native at Sioux Falls as a junior hockey player.

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The 6-foot-2, 183-pound Swayman posted a 2.90 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in 32 games for a poor Sioux City junior team, but distinguished himself with his size, athleticism and competitiveness as the rare goalie prospect to come out of the great state of Alaska. Swayman was eating breakfast in his Alaskan home while watching himself get drafted by the Bruins. Needless to say, he was pumped as he readies for his first season in Hockey East.

“I’ve been working my whole life for this and just to kind of have the notion of, your work has paid off in a small area of time or a small trinket, it’s very worth all of the hard times and tough times, and kind of working at everything for it. It’s kind of a token back and just an incredible opportunity for sure,” said Swayman, who said he models his game after Braden Holtby while also envying Tuukka Rask’s flexibility. “I would describe myself as a challenge goalie. So, a competitive goalie just kind of fighting through traffic at all times. Being able to see the puck from anywhere on the ice, whether there is a screen in front or a point shot and, of course, a point blank shot. Again, I trust my ability on my skates. I have good feet. I can stay up longer than most goalies in situations where they would have to slide. So, I can stay up and cover more net on a backdoor pass, per say. I also like to cut down the angle a lot.”

Bruins assistant GM Scott Bradley admitted that Swayman wasn’t the first choice of everybody at the B’s draft table, but said the scouts were confident making him the pick after another goalie was taken off the board before him. There were three goalies taken in the fourth round, including Prince Albert netminder Ian Scott taken one pick before the B’s selection, so it’s difficult to tell which other goalie Boston had their eyes on.

Clearly, the hope now is that Swayman follows in a proud tradition of stud Black Bears goalies that include Ben Bishop, Jimmy Howard, Scott Darling, Mike Dunham and Garth Snow, and that the B’s have drafted a new goalie of the future with Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre in the AHL.

“He’s a goalie that [Bruins goalie coach] Bob Essensa had really liked, and had scouted him. Most of our staff was on board with the goalie. We targeted another goalie, but he just went before our pick,” said Bruins assistant GM Scott Bradley. “We heard good things from [the University of Maine] staff there, and we did our due diligence on him. We’re happy with him.”

It remains to be seen how Swayman develops in college, but the B’s hope it’s a steady, ascending development like that of McIntyre after they drafted him prior to his starring run at North Dakota. 
 

Bruins go for some skill with Studnicka pick in second round

Bruins go for some skill with Studnicka pick in second round

CHICAGO – The Bruins aimed for one of their “skill” picks in the second round when they nabbed Oshawa Generals center Jack Studnicka with the 53rd selection in the NHL Draft Saturday at the United Center.

Studnicka, 18, took a jump with scouts this season while scoring 18 goals and 52 points in 64 games for the Generals and dominated the Memorial Cup playoffs with five goals and 15 points in ten games. Couple that with three goals in three games at the World Under-18’s, and the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder is the kind of forward prospect that Boston was happy to add to their draft class as a center or a possible right wing.

“He had a very good Under-18’s and he’s very skilled. He’s a late bloomer too. He came around and had a good second half and a strong playoff where he was a point-per-game player in the OHL playoffs,” said Bruins assistant GM Scott Bradley, who oversaw this weekend’s draft after the departure of head scout Keith Gretzky. “We addressed a need there because we think we can play both wing and center, and that he’s got room to develop. He’s close to 6-foot-2 but the frame is light, so we look forward to working with him and seeing what we develop there.”

Studnicka was happy to be selected by the Bruins on the second day of the draft and said he models his game after Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak while closely watching the Leafs games as a good Ontario boy should.

“I think I’m a two-way centerman that’s trusted in all three zones of the ice, but at the same time, I can contribute to the offense when I have to. I am a reliable center that can put up numbers. Being in Oshawa I got to a lot of Leafs games, and Tyler Bozak was a really reliable centerman, a good face-off guy and he’s very versatile while some nights playing power play and some nights playing penalty kill.”

Interestingly enough Studnicka was coached by Torey Krug’s dad, Kyle, when he played for the Detroit Belle Tire Minor Midgets and the Krug paterfamilias gave his stamp of approval on the B’s pick.

“Very cerebral,” said Kyle Krug to CSN while also mentioning that Studnicka’s dad played at the University of Maine. “Tremendous compete level. Really good skill. Good feet. Terrific work ethic off and on the ice. Great teammate.”

Clearly, Studnicka sounds like a Bruins-type prospect with the reliability, smarts and skillful upside, and the B’s can only hope he develops into a true Studnicka on the ice over the next couple of years while working his way to the NHL.