McAdam: Painful memories are returning

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McAdam: Painful memories are returning

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- It was June of last season when the injuries began to wash over the Red Sox like a tsunami, one position player after another felled.

In a matter of weeks, the Red Sox lost Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez to a growing list of players on the DL, joining Jacoby Ellsbury. Soon, Mike Cameron, Jason Varitek and Kevin Youkilis joined them, consigning the Red Sox to a third-place finish and a DNQ for the postseason.

Now, a quarter way through 2011, the injuries are hitting again, only this time, it's the pitching staff that is being struck. In the span of 24 hours, two starting pitchers were placed on the disabled list. First came John Lackey with a tender elbow; Tuesday night, Daisuke Matsuzaka joined him with the same malady.

It could be worse, of course. The top three starters -- Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz, who have pitched to a collective 2.97 ERA -- are healthy.

And given that Lackey (8.01) has struggled mightily and Matsuzaka (5.30) nearly as much recently, the temptation is to suggest that these losses are, in the big picture, hardly significant.

But that ignores the fact that injuries to a pitching staff have a domino-like effect. In filling Lackey and Matsuzaka's spots in the rotation with two members of the bullpen -- Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves -- the Sox are depleting their relief depth, a fact that shouldn't be underestimated.

Aceves had been providing valuable innings out of the bullpen, particularly in the absence of Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks, who themselves are still on the DL. With Aceves shifted into the rotation, the Sox will now have to designate someone else to handle the seventh inning - or eighth, on nights in which Daniel Bard is unavailable. Matt Albers, another veteran who has quietly surpassed expectations, is the likely choice.

(How widespread have the pitching injuries been? Of the 12 pitchers who constituted the pitching staff which opened the season with the club on April 1, five -- or nearly 50 percent -- have now spent time on the DL: Matsuzaka, Lackey, Wheeler, Jenks and Dennys Reyes, the latter of whom has since been re-assigned to the minor leagues.)

It doesn't help that the rash of pitching injuries have struck at a time when the Sox are in the middle of a stretch of the schedule which finds them without an off-day until June 2. That, more than the wet conditions, may explain the decision Tuesday to postpone the final game of the mini-series with the Baltimore Orioles.

It's uncertain what the Red Sox will get from their plug-in starters. In two spot starts to date, Wakefield threw one gem -- matching Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez pitch-for-pitch on May 1 -- and another that was far more ordinary (six earned runs in just 4 13 innings against Minnesota on the last homestand). It's likely that Wakefield's starts going forward will fall somewhere in between those two.

As for Aceves, the general consensus is that his stuff plays out better as a starter. He's been terrific in his relief role (just 12 hits allowed in 17 13 innings and a 1.038 WHIP). But Aceves's history suggests that he's brittle, the chief reason the Yankees didn't tender him a contract last fall despite their obvious need for pitching inventory.

In general, the loss of pitching is more crippling than the loss of everyday players, unless that everyday player is, say, Albert Pujols. Most times, as the Red Sox demonstrated throughout most of the summer before the cumulative toll became too great, a team can withstand the loss of a key position player or two.

Pitching is, by defition, tougher to replace since pitchers tend to impact the outcome of a specific game more than any other player on the field. Also, pitching depth is almost always thinner than it is for position players.

It's worth noting that while Wakefield and Aceves are quality fill-in options, they each would have been bypassed for Felix Doubront. Like Yamaico Navarro, however, Doubront picked a costly time to be injured at Pawtucket. Doubront would have been chosen for one of the openings had he not been sidelined by a groin pull, the second nagging injury since spring training.

If there's a silver lining to the spate of starter injuries -- beyond the obvious point that the team's Big Three remain healthy -- it's that Lackey and Matsuzaka, as they were performing of late, shouldn't be hard to replace.

After all, it's not as though they were dominating hitters and routinely taking the Red Sox deep into games. All that's being asked of Wakefield and Aceves for the time being is to keep the Sox in games through the middle innings -- hardly a high standard.

How will the Sox respond over the next few weeks as Matsuzaka and Lackey recover and staff shuffling continues? That's impossible to say.

But because the injuries are taking place just as the team begins to perform as expected (7-2 over the last nine games), it has potential for disruption.

Worse, for a team which weathered a staggering number of injuries at midseason last year, there's the disconcerting notion that this season is starting to resemble, at least somewhat anyway, last.

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

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.