McAdam: Rotation uncertainty cause for concern

492788.jpg

McAdam: Rotation uncertainty cause for concern

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam

TORONTO -- It's not a huge concern that the Red Sox have lost four of their last five, or that they now trail the first-place New York Yankees by their largest margin since July 2 -- 2 12 games.

It's not particularly troubling that they've been shut out four times in the last 22 games, for that matter. As the early part of the season taught us, things run in cycles over the course of a 162-game season.

But the fact that two of the Red Sox' starting pitchers are now unlikely to make their next starts because of physical issues? That could be plenty problematic.

Monday began with the news that Erik Bedard, who had just come off the DL with a knee injury when the Sox traded for him from Seattle on July 31, would be skipped in his next start. Terry Francona made it sound like the Sox were merely exercising caution.

Bedard, after all, has been pitching with a brace on his ailing left knee since coming to Boston. There was more soreness in his knee than usual in the last inning of his start Saturday, so the Sox thought it wise to plan to skip him Friday in St. Petersburg, his next scheduled turn.

No big deal, the Sox seemed to be suggesting.

Then, in the fourth inning, Josh Beckett had to leave Monday's game, later diagnosed with a sprained right ankle.

Three weeks before the end of the season, the projected Game 1 playoff starter has to leave the game? That qualifies as a big deal, without question.

Beckett will fly to Boston this morning and be examined by Dr. George Theodore, one of the area's foremost foot and ankle experts. Theodore assisted on Curt Schilling's ankle procedure in October 2004, so that alone should establish his bona fides in the matter of ace pitchers getting ready for the post-season.

The Sox had planned to give Beckett an extra day before his next start, meaning he would finish the road trip Sunday against the Rays.

Now, that start is up in the air, and with it, the team's post-season chances.

It's hard not to compare this to the end of the 2008 season, when, on the final weekend of the season, Beckett suffered an oblique pull. He made several starts before the Red Sox were eliminated in Game 7 of the ALCS, but was clearly not 100 percent.

This time, there's more time to rebound, of course. Game 1 of the ALDS is scheduled for Sept. 30, three weeks from this Friday. If Beckett is merely battling a sprained ankle -- and not damage to any ligaments in the area -- he should have plenty of time to recover.

But what's unsettling as September kicks off is the thinning of the Red Sox' rotation. Remember, at the beginning of the season, the Sox were thought to have a big advantage over the Yankees with the quality and depth of their rotation's front end.

With Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, the Sox seemed to have the best Big Three in the American League, and that trio alone would make them a formidable post-season opponent.

Except now, with the days flying off the calendar and potential first-round opponents being measured, the Sox don't have their Big Three. They have Jon Lester. And for now, that's it.

Buchholz hasn't pitched since June and has yet to be cleared to get back on the mound. At best, the Sox hope he can give them some help in the bullpen, and even then, perhaps not until the ALCS, if the Sox survive the first round.

With Buchholz's return at the deadline very much in question, Bedard was supposed to provide them with another middle-of-the-rotation starter and indeed, he's done that. But he too is far from a certainty, given the ongoing issues with his left knee.

Even without a dominant option beyond Beckett and Lester, the Sox were going to be a handful in October. Together, they could make three of the five starts in the ALDS, and perhaps four of the seven games in the LCS.

Now, who knows?

Perhaps Beckett will confirm Tuesday that his ailment is nothing more serious than a sprain and will be skipped Sunday, enabling him to get the rest the Sox had been plotting for him anyway.

Maybe, in the end, this will be seen as a blessing, allowing him to hit the refresh button just when starting pitchers are dragging toward the finish line.

But the uncertainty surrounding the rotation is, if nothing else, disconcerting. What was supposed to be a team strength has been suddenly transformed into a question mark.

There's time for the Beckett and Bedard to get healthy. But until they prove they are, there's plenty of time to worry, too.

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.