Hot Stove

While bemoaning the loss of Alex Hassan and Carlos Rivero to waivers recently (ummmm, yup, sarcasm here), I have some other thoughts on how the Red Sox can improve their team over the winter:

*The Fat Panda is apparently in town.  Pablo Sandoval is a good player.  Not sure he is a great one.  Certainly a clutch postseason performer.  The Sox have a huge hole at 3rd.  Will Middlebrooks is a stiff (more on him later).  Garin Cecchini is probably not ready, and the jury is still out on whether he can even play the position.  Xander Bogaerts should stay at SS.  Brock Holt seems to be best suited as a utility man with his ability to play just about anywhere.  And on and on…

Panda and the Sox have been linked for some time, even before he was officially a free agent.  I can’t say that I have ever really been in favor of it from the get-go.  But I’m starting to be talked into it a little bit.  The money being talked about is silly.  But as a baseball move it makes sense.  Switch hitter at a position of need.  Player is in prime of career.  Some power, though not as much as people are talking him up as.  But 6 years for 120 mil?  Yikes.  Maybe be better off with Holt/Cecchini instead.

*Give Jon Lester his dough.  As I’ve stated before, I have never considered Lester an “ace”.  I have never been in favor in dropping a long-term, zillion dollar deal on a pitcher, especially when he is over 30.  But I feel like this is an exception.  Lester has proven he can pitch in the pressure of Boston.  Durable.  Big-game pitcher.  Not to mention that right now the Red Sox’ number one starter is Clay Buchholz.  Enough said.  I’m dubious about the prospect of him actually coming back here.  But until he is elsewhere, of course there is always a chance.

*Trade some of these pitching prospects the Sox allegedly have (Rubby de la Rosa, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, etc.) for a proven major league stud pitcher…at least a #2.  If you can of course.  The Sox supposedly have like 10 prospects that some people like…to varying degrees.  Can’t fit all of them on the major league staff.  Can’t fit all of them on the 40-man roster.  Figure out who you like best, keep them and deal the rest.  Henry Owens and Eddy Rodriguez are supposedly the best of the crop.  But now you hear some doubts about Owens now because he doesn’t throw hard enough.  But the Sox know.  It’s time to move some of these guys.  Before they continue to fail in the majors, like most did in 2014.

*Sign another #2-#3 starter in free agency.  Ok, there may not be one out there other than James Shields.  If it’s him, go get him.  Overpay if you have to.  I’m just not sold on any of these kids, based on what I saw last year.  I could be wrong, but that’s what I’m feeling.  Then this leaves Buchholz and Joe Kelly as your back end starters.  Works for me.

*Get another late inning reliever, preferably a power arm, but someone with late inning experience regardless.  Along with Koji, Junichi and I guess Mujica (he did pitch better in the 2nd half, mind you!), this gives the team 4 guys at the back end.  Then the rest of the bullpen can be comprised of guys like Tommy Layne and Alex Wilson and some combination of the kids that are left.  Throw in a couple of guys like Burke Badenhop if you want too…hell, make it Badenhop himself.  Gonna need like 20 arms out there during the season anyway.

*Yoenis Cespedes.  A lot of negative buzz about this dude this offseason.  I’d prefer to keep him and see what he could do with a full year in Fenway.  Love to see him and his arm in right field as well.  But if all the talk is true about him not wanting to play right, not being “coachable” and all stuff, they may want to consider dealing him.  Especially considering the whole signability thing, as this is the last year of his contract.  Not sure if the Sox even want him long term, but that factors in as well.  I will say that I would absolutely deal him if someone wildly overpays for him.  But that goes for just about anyone on the roster.

*Allen Craig.  If Cespedes stays and plays right, that opens up left field, and I would consider playing Craig there.  Daniel Nava could get some ABs there as well.  Craig was absolutely atrocious last year, and that is being kind.  But that’s why I wouldn’t try to trade him.  His value is too low.  Play him in left or at first (consider a Mike Napoli deal, with only one year left on his contract) and see if he can rebuild any value.

*Will Middlebrooks/Jackie Bradley Jr..  I would bury these guys in Pawtucket the entire year.  Their value is so low now, maybe if they dominate AAA again, the Sox could get something for them next offseason.  Wouldn’t even get a bag of baseballs for them now.  I personally don’t want to see them in a Red Sox uni ever again actually.

*Backup catcher.  Who cares?  Christian Vazquez can catch most games.  Then bring Blake Swihart up mid-season or so.  Then have them do the catching for like the next decade.  So if you want to bring David Ross back, fine with me.  Or if you love yourself some Dan Butler, probably no harm done there either.  What I wouldn’t do is give Russell Martin 5 years and over 80 mil.  Thank God the Blue Jays already did.

*Shane Victorino and Mookie Betts?  Thanks for 2013 Shane, but doesn’t look like we need you anymore bud.  Just too unreliable from an injury standpoint.  Give him away if you have to, sorry to say.  Not sure what to do with Betts at this point.  Loved what I saw from him last year.  But if it is Craig/Nava, Rusney Castillo and Cespedes, left to right, then where does he play?  Not 2B, with Dustin Pedroia back.  And who knows if Betts’ 2015 looks like Bogaerts’ 2014 (after X had shown so much promise when he came up in 2013)?  If I had to guess though, I’d say it is Cespedes/Castillo/Betts left to right next year, with Craig and Nava as bench guys.  I could probably live with that.

In summary…pitching, pitching, pitching.  Go get it.  The offense should improve simply from a healthy Pedroia and Napoli, full seasons from Cespedes and Castillo (and Betts?), a healthier and better adjusted Craig and continued growth from X and Vasky.  And what the hell, overpay the Fat Panda a smidge (and that doesn’t mean the aforementioned 6/120) and add him to the mix.  But focus on the pitching.  That’s going to get you back to contention.

 

 

Worth watching?

Nope…not what you think here.  We know the Patriots are worth watching.  But everyone and their brother are writing about the Patriots this week, after their somewhat unexpected lopsided win over the Broncos this past Sunday.  So there’s no need to touch on them here today.  Long way to go, but the win was satisfying, needless to say.

The Bruins?  A couple of injuries should not temper expectations there, especially early in the season.  So it’s not about them.

The Revolution?  Making a run in the playoffs is always a good thing for a local team.  But this is about all of the space I want to use on them.

The Red Sox are in the offseason, so that leaves…the Celtics??

Possibly.  Probably??

I watched pretty much all of their first three games.  Based on last season, one may say that could be a form of torture.   I had low expectations, that is for sure.  But I have to say, other than two absolutely putrid first quarters on the road against strong contenders from the Western Conference (37-22 deficit against Houston on Saturday and 40-19 deficit against Dallas on Monday), the team has been, dare I say, entertaining?  Well, for the most part anyway.

The win against Brooklyn on Opening Night in Boston was nice, but I’m not getting carried away with it.  Despite still having some big names in Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and an aging Kevin Garnett, not to mention an injured Brook Lopez not playing, the Nets should not be contenders.  Unless those overseas guys that most people have never heard of are actually players.  But I’m not jumping on that bandwagon.  They may make the playoffs in the rancid Eastern Conference when all is said and done.  But I don’t believe anyone is afraid of the Nets.

But the two games on the road against stud teams from the West is what opened my eyes a bit.  Again, other than the first quarters.

I’ll admit, I still want to deal Rajon Rondo.  I just don’t see him as someone that can “carry” a team.  He is a good player, great when he wants to be.  But not a leader.  And not someone you build a team around.  Plus, lest we forget, his contract runs out after this year.  And he is definitely not a max contract guy.

I have been hugely disappointed in Jeff Green, which has been no secret.  I thought getting him in the Kendrick Perkins deal was a steal.  Sure it may have hurt a little that year, I thought initially.  But it wouldn’t kill their championship dreams that year and would be extremely beneficial going forward.  Looks like I was wrong with those thoughts.

I still think the Celtics should trade guys like Brandon Bass (should be a good 6th-8th man on a good team), Gerald Wallace (ok, this ain’t happening), Green and any other veteran who does not fit going forward (Evan Turner?  Marcus Thornton?).

I didn’t love the Avery Bradley contract.  Seemed like a lot of dough for a player like that…great defense, inconsistent offense.  But if reports are to be believed, someone was going to pay him.  And he is only 23 and still has upside.  So maybe…

I’m not sure I am as high on the upside as some regarding Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger…or James Young and Marcus Smart, for that matter.

Etc.

Still had a lot of question marks heading into the season, as you can see.  Felt that the team was still in transition (and it is), especially when one considers all of the upcoming draft picks they have in their pocket.  Did not like some of the stuff they did to get under the cap (trading Keith Bogans for nothing…unless this Dwight Powell guy turns into something; eating Will Bynum’s 2.9 mil, after unloading Joel Anthony to get him and create some relief; waiving a decent bench guy in Chris Johnson, instead of dumping other, more useless, bodies; etc.).  Ok, most of those were minor and not even really worth talking about, but still part of the overall equation.

But I always loved the coach.  I had no idea what Brad Stevens was going to bring to the table when they hired him before last season.  No idea.  But I loved the hire at the time.  Take a chance on a successful college coach instead of hiring another retread who was just “minding the store” until the tide turned (ML Carr anyone?).  Then when the season progressed, to see the players still play hard for Stevens despite the circumstances (Tankapalooza!) was extremely encouraging.  They seemed to be in most games.  Didn’t get waxed a whole ton throughout the year.

So far this year, I love what the coach is doing.  The roster is still deficient, but I’m in favor of how Stevens is handling it in the early going.  Especially the part where he glues Wallace and Phil Pressey to the bench.  The team still doesn’t really have a center, kind of surprising that Dwight Howard couldn’t take advantage of that the other day.  So Stevens is mixing and matching…and doing it effectively for the most part.  Throwing the 3 guards (Rondo, Bradley & Smart…all with tremendous defensive reputations) out there at once is intriguing.  Won’t work all the time, but it was pretty intense in the 2nd half against Dallas.  But Stevens also seems to be spotting guys like Tyler Zeller, Thornton and Turner out there at the right times as well.  Loved the fight in the team in the comebacks in both road games, especially against the Mavs.

One thing I’m not huge on is all the threes that are being hoisted up…more importantly, some of the guys taking a ton of threes, such as Olynyk and Sullinger…though Rondo, Bass and even Smart firing them up don’t really excite me either.  Especially after that 1-25 effort against Houston.  If they can reign that in and take them a little more judiciously, it would make me feel a whole lot better.

Anyway, after three games, admittedly a very small sample size, there are encouraging signs.  But the Eastern Conference is atrocious, there is some talent on this team, the coach appears to be a keeper and there are “assets” in place to make some moves.  If you sum it all up, could be an interesting year.  It’d be hard to go Tankapalooza II this year with some of the talent they do have…and the extreme lack of talent other teams have in the league.  So why not keep heading in the up direction if you can?

Of course now that I write this, they’ll probably throw up a stinkbomb against Toronto tonight…

No Big Z…no chance?

Well, one may argue that the Bruins had no chance BEFORE Zdeno Chara got hurt yesterday, based primarily on Peter Chiarelli’s lack of activity this past offseason.  Ok, no chance may be overstating it a smidge…or a ton.  Admittedly, Pete’s moves (or non-moves, mind you) since the end of last season do leave a lot to be desired.  And the early season performance of the squad has been kind of putrid as well.  But let’s not go overboard.  The Bruins should still have a very competitive roster.  And with the reigning Vezina trophy winner in net, that should give them a fighting chance, barring unforseen catastrophe.  It’s too early to go nuts about anything.

Is Chara’s injury that unforseen catastrophe?  I actually do not think so.  Love the Big Guy, but it has been no secret I have proposed dangling him in trade talks over the past couple of years.  Not that I want to unload him for a bag of pucks.  Don’t be silly.  The fact is though, Z is 37 (38 in March).  He is on the hook for 7 mil a year through 2016-2017 and then another 4 mil in 2017-2018.  Claude insists on playing him upwards of 25 minutes a game in meaningless regular season games, which many feel has caused him to wear down in the playoffs the last two years.  He would have trade value and it wouldn’t be so bad to take advantage of that before he really starts to decline.  Etc.  Let’s see what is out there.  I’ll say the same thing this upcoming offseason.

But back to now.  Chara being hurt can’t ever be considered a good thing.  But one good side effect of it is that Claude will not wear him out early in the season, as referenced above.  Hopefully the team will take it’s time bringing him back and then get him ready for the stretch run.  Of course if they fall too far back in the standings, then that is another issue entirely.  But I don’t expect that to happen.

The truth of the matter is that having 9 NHL-caliber D-Men should help ease the sting of losing Chara.  Oops.  Make that 6 now…in Pete’s eyes, that is…he said it originally, not me.  Chara and Kevan Miller are hurt and Johnny Boychuk is on Long Island.  Of course, part of Pete’s 6 that are left are 2 offensive d-men that have questionable D skills (Torey Krug and David Warsofsky…and who knows even what Warsofsky’s offensive skills are, in reality).  The 6 also include a 3rd pairing defenseman at absolute best in Adam McQuaid.  And a probable 3rd pairing defenseman at best, who has had a number of defensive lapses already in his brief NHL career in Mark Bartkowski (not to mention Pete has tried to deal him more than a few times…telling you his true value).  So that leaves Dennis Seidenberg and Dougie Hamilton as theoretically their only reliable D-men…as I see it.

As an aside, to revisit the Boychuk trade since I’ve never commented on it…I would not have made it.  Of course it is easy for me to say now with what has transpired.  But what was the need to make the trade?  Pete said he had 9 NHL caliber D-men.  But with all the question marks listed above (plus Seidenberg coming off major injury), why not keep a Top 4 guy around?  Especially if you think your team can make a run at a Stanley Cup?  Salary cap?  There were other ways to clear salary.  Some combination of McQuaid, Bartkowski, Chris Kelly, Greg Campbell or Daniel Paille should have been enough.  Those guys are all replaceable.  Especially with all the “kid” forwards that are supposedly on the cusp…Ryan Spooner, Seth Griffith, Justin Florek, Matt Fraser, Alexander Khokhlachev, Matt Lindblad, etc.  For a team that is based on defense, keeping Boychuk and integrating a few of the kids on the 4th line made all the sense in the world.  Plus when you factor in the return for Johnny, the measly pair of 2nd round picks…that’s the best they could do?  Unnecessary.

Of course now they need a guy like Griffith on the first line, in place of a real goal scorer, since they couldn’t re-sign Jarome Iginla, or someone of that ilk…but that’s another story.  Hey, Jack Edwards said recently that Griffith had 100 goals in 190 games in juniors…then another 20 in Providence last year…so I guess they have that going for them.  That being said, even with the loss of Iginla, they should have enough “firepower” on the top 3 lines, that on a team based on defense and goaltending should be able to make a run deep into the playoffs.

Truth be told, as much as I am interested in giving some of the aforementioned forwards a chance, I’d like to see some of the kid defensemen as well.  I’m sure Zach Trotman can be just as average as McQuaid or Miller.  And this Joe Morrow kid.  Let’s have a look-see.  I believe that this dude was the true key to the Tyler Seguin trade.  Everyone wanted to focus on Loui Eriksson…even though he was like 7 years older.  And Fraser and Reilly Smith are nice pieces.  But Morrow is a 21 year old former first round pick.  Had a feeling he was the real prize.  Of course I have absolutely no proof and am completely guessing.  But regardless, let’s see what he has.

The Bruins are off to a slow start, no question about it.  But take a look at the stats.  Chris Kelly leads the team in points.  Does anyone expect that to last?  The Patrice Bergeron line with Reilly Smith and Brad Marchand is a combined minus 8.  Does anyone expect that to last?  Tuukka Rask’s goals against average is 2.91 and save percentage is .880.  Yikes!  But does anyone expect that to last?  We are 9 games in folks.  And it hasn’t been pretty.  D-men are going down.  But give it time.  It will all come together.  Hopefully Chiarelli will provide better in-season acquisitions than Corey Potter and Andrej Meszaros this year though.  Then Big Z will come back later in the year with less wear and tear.  And the team will be on it’s way.

At least that is my wishful thinking…

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