David Ortiz, Seeking to Prove He’s More Insecure Than Most High School Girls, Lashes Out at Reporters Following Loss.

A meltdown following the second game of 2010 spells a long season for Ortiz.

Well that didn’t take long. 

Following a 6-4 loss to New York on Tuesday night the Boston Red Sox found themselves sitting at 1-1 and on pace for a .500 season; clearly it was time to hit the panic button. Former slugger and current decrepit designated hitter David Ortiz, who went hitless in the first two games of the season, was asked by reporters following the game whether he was concerned about his slow start after last year’s disastrous meltdown (Ortiz hit .185 with one HR and 18 RBI’s last April/May). Apparently the question struck a nerve, and Big Papi responded with Dickens-like eloquence: 

“Good…you guys wait ’til [expletive] happens, then you can talk [expletive]. Two [expletive] games, and already you [expletives] are going crazy. What’s up with that, man? [Expletive]. [Expletive] 160 games left. That’s a [expletive]. One of you [expletives] got to go ahead and hit for me.” 

Even if I can’t correctly identify all of the expletives listed above (s-word, s-word, f-ing, mother-effers, f-word, f-ing, s-word ton, mother-effers?) the gist of Ortiz’s comments is quite clear: don’t judge me by two games. 

He’s right of course. Seven at-bats is an extremely small sample size, and if Ortiz played in San Diego or Kansas City this minor slump would be a non-issue. Unfortunately Ortiz doesn’t play for the Royals, he plays for the Red Sox in one of the largest media markets in the sport. As a player in New York or Boston you’re under the microscope 24/7, which Ortiz should realize entering his 8th season with the Red Sox.

If Ortiz had just brushed off the questions, or laughed at his own expense, it’s unlikely we would still be talking about his slow start today. But by lashing out at reporters, Big Papi revealed what many in the media speculated last year…that the end is near. Ortiz is no longer the 40-50 home run threat he was when he first arrived in Boston and unless he rights the ship soon, both physically and mentally, Big Papi’s days in Beantown might be numbered with Mike Lowell waiting in the wings.

Love ’em or hate ’em the Red Sox sure know how to make things interesting.

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Changing of the Guard: Do the Red Sox Recent Acquisitions Make Them the Team to Beat in the AL East for 2010?

John Lackey has the heart of a warrior. Will it be enough to propel Boston past New York?

The Boston Red Sox came into this offseason in a foul mood. Not only were they swept from the playoffs by the Los Angeles Angels, but their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees, returned to baseball’s limelight by capturing the World Series on the strength of stars Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia—players that Boston had at one time targeted through free agency or trades. To make matters worse, the Yankees had already pulled off one of the biggest moves of the offseason, acquiring talented center fielder Curtis Granderson in a trade with the Tigers. Clearly Boston was feeling the heat in a never-ending arms race with New York, and it didn’t take long for the Red Sox to respond in turn. In the span of two days they acquired John Lackey, the best free-agent pitcher on the market, and Mike Cameron, a defensive virtuoso, to fill the void in left field. Both players will play important roles for Boston in 2009, but will they make the Red Sox the best team in the AL East?   

The addition of Lackey gives Boston one of the deepest pitching rotations in all of baseball, with a talented trio at the top and a number of serviceable arms at the back of the rotation. Lackey received staff ace money from the Red Sox (5 years/$82.5 million) but will probably be the third starting pitcher in the rotation behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester (Killer J’s? J-Cubed?). Though hampered by injuries in 2009, Lackey still went 11-8 with a 3.83 ERA and 139 strikeouts against only 47 walks. He is mainly a groundball pitcher but can be susceptible to the longball (he allowed 26 home runs in 2008), which may prove to be an issue with the Green Monster out in left field. Despite the fact that Lackey might not be in the same class as pitchers like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, he has a strong postseason track record (3.12 career playoff ERA) and past success against AL East foes (25-15, 3.62 ERA vs. New York, Baltimore, Toronto and Tampa Bay). After getting burned last year by the John Smoltz experiment the Red Sox were eager to acquire a dependable arm (Lackey has a .590 career winning percentage) and now have one of the most formidable starting fives with Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Clay Bucholz (though be may be traded for an additional bat) and either Dice-K or Tim Wakefield. In terms of pitching, Boston certainly has the talent to compete with the Yankees; do they on offense?  

Mike Cameron has some big shoes to fill in left field.

While Mike Cameron will be an upgrade defensively over Jason Bay in left field (or centerfield, depending on where Terry Francona decides to play Jacoby Ellsbury), he will be hard pressed to match Bay’s 36 home runs and 119 RBI’s. The 36-year-old Cameron hit .250 with 24 HR’s and 70 RBI’s last season, but also chipped in 32 doubles and 75 walks which led to a .342 OBP (vs. Bay’s .384 OBP). With the perpetually disappointing J.D. Drew in right, Boston won’t exactly have a murderer’s row in the outfield, and may lose even more ground to the Yankees’ big bats (New York outscored Boston by 43 runs in 2009). As questions continue to swirl around the health of Mike Lowell, and David Ortiz continues to age at the speed of light, the Red Sox are still at least another bat away from usurping the Bronx Bombers, and that’s assuming that New York doesn’t make any more moves (they did).

So, while the signings of Lackey and Cameron have improved the Red Sox’s pitching and defense, New York is still clearly the team to beat in the AL East. The Yankees have done nothing but improve this offseason after winning 102 games in 2009, and with a healthy A-Rod and the newly acquired Granderson the team could be a juggernaut in 2010. Boston is moving in the right direction, but unless they want to spend another postseason watching the Yankees raise a World Series trophy, general manager Theo Epstein had better continue to work the phones…New York isn’t going anywhere soon.

Completing the Puzzle: Who Do the Mariners Need to Target in Free Agency?

Jason Bay has ties to the Pacific Northwest, but is he a good fit for the Seattle Mariners?

Though the Mariners signing of free-agent third baseman Chone Figgins  shows that they are serious about competing for the division, baseball’s Winter Meetings have come and gone and the team still has plenty of holes left to fill if they want to have a realistic shot at winning the AL West.

Texas has been busy all week, signing free-agent Rich Harden and acquiring Chris Ray and Mike Lowell (still pending) through trades, turning up the heat on Seattle to keep pace.

The Oakland Athletics were one of the most improved teams in all of baseball during last season’s second half, and figure to be even better in 2010 with all the experience their young players gained down the stretch.

Los Angeles lost Figgins and may be unable to resign their ace Jon Lackey, but the Angels are still dangerous after winning the division by 10 games last year despite battling injuries to key players the entire season.

All four teams in the AL West have a legitimate shot at winning the division next year, with no clear front-runner at this point in the offseason; what will it take for the Mariners to come out on top in 2010?

The addition of Figgins fills Seattle’s need for a third-baseman, but the Mariners still need help at first-base, catcher, left-field, designated hitter and in their rotation (more on this in a later post). Statistically one of the worst offensive teams in the American League last season, Seattle’s superb pitching staff carried the team all year, leading the AL with a 3.87 team ERA. While the pitching will likely regress a bit next year due to the losses of Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn, it’s clear that the Mariners main focus this offseason needs to be on adding offensive firepower; this may prove to be an expensive proposition with four positions yet to be filled.

After Endy Chavez’s season-ending injury the Mariners got virtually no production out of leftfield, with the trio of Bill Hall, Michael Saunders and Ryan Langerhans performing well below replacement level. Jason Bay is imminently available after being unable to come to terms with the Red Sox and has strong ties to the Pacific Northwest, but is seeking a contract in the range of 4-5 years and $60+ million dollars, a deal that would leave the Mariners out of cash and still needing a first baseman, catcher and right-handed DH. Additionally, there are concerns about whether a one-dimensional player like Bay, who hits for power but provides little else, would be worth a long-term investment in a park like Safeco Field that caters towards pitching.

Free-agent outfielder Matt Holliday offers more versatility than Bay but would need a similarly hand-cuffing contract to come aboard (he is represented by Scott Boras after all). A more budget friendly option is former Seattle Mariner Mike Cameron, who despite turning 36 last season, is still a plus defender in the outfield who offers good power and patience at the plate. The Mariners could probably ink Cameron to a one-year deal, limiting the risk if he performs poorly, which would also give Saunders another year to develop in Triple-A Tacoma. Other players to consider in left-field include Randy Winn, Jonny Gomes or Josh Willingham.

A breakout performer last year, Seattle would be happy to bring Branyan back at first base in 2010.

The Mariners got surprising production out of first base last season, with Russell Branyan taking advantage of his first chance to play full-time by slugging 31 HR’s and driving in 76 runs. The early indications seem to suggest that Seattle plans on bringing Branyan back for at least one more year, although he would probably be due a substantial raise over the $1.4 million dollars he earned in 2009. Branyan stated all season long that he owed it to the Mariners to resign with the club because they were the only team willing to give him a full-time role, but it remains to be seen whether that will hold true if another team offers him a lucrative deal.

If Seattle loses Branyan to another team they could replace him internally with Mike Carp, who performed admirably in a short trial last season (.315 in 54 AB’s), or they could pursue free-agent Nick Johnson. Though injury prone, the 31-year-old Johnson has one of the best batting eyes in the game (.426 OBP in 2009) and is a solid defensive first baseman who could fit comfortably into the Mariner’s lineup as their number three hitter. There has also been some speculation that Seattle would consider shifting second baseman Jose Lopez (a defensive liability up the middle) to first base and moving Matt Tuiasosopo (a third baseman in the minors) to second, a possibility now that the hot corner has been filled by Figgins.

Catcher was another gaping hole for the Mariners in 2009, with a disappointing season from Kenji Johjima and young catchers Rob Johnson and Adam Moore struggling to adjust to big league pitching. With Johjima back in Japan, the battle for starting catcher in 2010 will boil down to Johnson and Moore unless the Mariners try to acquire a catcher via free agency or trade. Johnson received praise from the pitching staff for his game-calling abilities but he hit only .213 with 2 HR’s and 27 RBI’s. Moore saw limited action with the Mariners, spending the majority of the season in the minor leagues, hitting a combined .287-13 HR’s-56 RBI’s between Double and Triple-A. S

eattle has been mentioned as a possible destination for free-agent catcher Miguel Olivo, a defensively-challenged backstop who hit 23 HR’s in only 390 AB’s last season. While Olivo has never shown the ability to draw a walk, he has consistently produced good power numbers and is the best player available in a very thin catching market. If the M’s could sign him to an incetive-laden one-year deal, Olivo is probably a worthwhile gamble; if he wants a multi-year deal Seattle is better off allowing Johnson and Moore to develop in the majors.

Could the former Mariner killer become a killer Mariner?

Designated hitter may have been the most popular position for Seattle in 2009, with clubhouse favorites Mike Sweeney and Ken Griffey Jr. manning the post, but it certainly wasn’t the most productive. Griffey’s back and figures to get the majority of at-bats against right-handed pitching; the Mariners hope he can rebound from a sub par return to the Emerald City last year (.214-19 HR’s-57 RBI’s). Seattle needs to find a player who hits left-handed pitching well to platoon with Griffey, but this year’s free agent crop is very thin in terms of quality hitters.

The M’s might have to take a flier on someone coming off an injury or a bad season. Some possible candidates include Xavier Nady, Olivo, Carlos Delgado or even longtime thorn-in-the-side Vladimir Guerrero. While Guerrero’s power has dipped in recent years, he would still be a significant upgrade over Sweeney as a part-time DH, and could become a solid run producer with Ichiro and Figgins at the top of the lineup.

As of today there are still 266 free agents available for the Mariners to sign, so despite the team’s need to fill multiple holes in their lineup, there’s no need to panic–yet. The Rangers’ lastest moves have upped the ante, but Jack Zduriencik has shown himself to be a very capable baseball man, and will work tirelessly to make Seattle a frontrunner for the 2010 AL West title.

The Mariners certainly have issues to address, but the pieces to build a title contender are out there; now it’s just up to the Mariners and their front office to fit them all together.

Noteworthy News: Wrapping Up the Latest Deals from Baseball’s Winter Meetings

The Rangers sent Kevin Millwood to Baltimore, then signed free-agent Rich Harden the next day.

 1) Texas Rangers trade Kevin Millwood and cash to Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Chris Ray: The Texas Rangers have been one of baseball’s busiest teams in the  offseason thus far, and they continued that trend by sending former Opening Day starter Millwood and $3 million dollars to the Baltimore Orioles for relievers Chris Ray and Ben Snyder. Millwood was solid in 2009, going 13-10 with a 3.67 ERA but the Rangers were looking to free up salary to sign free-agent Rich Harden (a deal which has since been completed). The 27-year-old Ray is a former closer who struggled to return from elbow surgery last season but has saved 33 games as recently as 2006. The deal gives Baltimore a proven veteran pitcher controlled through 2011 to mentor younger starters David Hernandez, Brian Matsuz and Chris Tillman. 

2) Boston Red Sox trade Mike Lowell and cash to Texas in exchange for catching prospect Max Ramirez: The Red Sox freed up third base for next season, possibly in order to sign Adrian Beltre, with today’s trade of Mike Lowell to Texas. The Rangers plan to use the injury-prone Lowell as a DH and first baseman (potentially a platoon partner with Chris Davis). Lowell, a major liability in the field due to hip problems, appeared in just 119 games last year but still hit .290 with 17 HR’s and 75 RBI’s. The Red Sox have also agreed to pay most of Lowell’s $12 million dollar salary for next season if the league approves the deal. In return Boston receives Max Ramirez, a 25-year-old catcher and former Atlanta Braves top prospect, who will likely serve as Victor Martinez’s backup unless the Red Sox decide to shift Martinez to first. 

The Astros hope Feliz's strong defense will help them return to the postseason.

 3) Houston Astros sign free-agent third baseman Pedro Feliz: Feliz spent the last two years as the primary third baseman for Philadelphia but with the Phillies acquisition of Placido Polanco, the 2008 World Series champion was left looking for work and Houston happily obliged. The Astros already have Geoff Blum manning the hot corner but would prefer to use his versatility all over the field rather than play him full-time at third. Feliz is a solid defender at third base but is starting to become a liability at the plate after hitting only .266 with 12 HR’s and 88 RBI’s last season. Already 34-years-old, Feliz doesn’t have much in the way of upside and won’t turn a team from pretender to contender, but is a solid if unspectacular pickup (1 year/$4.5 million) for a team on a budget like Houston. 

4) Pittsburgh Pirates sign free-agent shortstop Bobby Crosby: An underachieving team signing an underachieving player doesn’t sound like a traditional recipe for success, but so is life for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans. Crosby has been in steady decline since winning the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2004 and struggled last year with injuries and inconsistency (.223-6 HR’s-29 RBI’s). The Pirates hope that he can challenge Ronny Cedeno for shortstop and possibly recapture some of his past success, but at only $1 million for next year Pittsburgh isn’t taking that big of a gamble on him…what’s new in Steeltown? 

5) Atlanta Braves trade relief pitcher Rafael Soriano to Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for pitcher Jesse Chavez: One of the top right-handed relief pitchers in the National League last season, Tampa Bay acquired Soriano with the idea plugging him in as their full-time closer in 2010. While splitting the closer’s role with Mike Gonzalez in Atlanta last year, Soriano posted a 2.97 ERA and struck out 102 batters in only 75 innings. The Rays had a full-blown closer by committee bullpen in 2009, and if Soriano can stay healthy Tampa Bay will be one step closer to challenging the Yankees and Red Sox for AL East supremacy. The Braves decided to move Soriano after he accepted their arbritation offer which would have cost the team between $7 and $8 million dollars next season if they had kept him. In return, Atlanta acquires an average bullpen arm (Chavez went 1-4, 4.07 ERA in 2009) at a steeply discounted price. 

Randy Wolf snagged almost $30 million dollars from the Brewers. Is he worth it?

 6) Milwaukee Brewers sign free-agent pitcher Randy Wolf: Looking to add stability to their rotation behind ace Yovanni Gallardo, the Brewers have reached an agreement with Randy Wolf on a three-year, $29 million dollar contract. The left-handed Wolf was the Dodgers most consistent pitcher last season, winning 11 games to go along with 160 strikeouts and a 3.23 ERA. However, before last year Wolf only had two other seasons with an ERA below 4.00, and is moving from one of the league’s best pitcher’s parks to one of the worst. The Brewers desperately needed starting pitching, help, but it remains to be seen whether Wolf is the right choice long-term. 

7) Texas Rangers sign free-agent pitcher Rich Harden: The ultimate high-risk, high-reward player on the market, Harden is one of the game’s most dominating starting pitchers—when he’s healthy. The deal promises Harden $7.5 million next season with a club option of $11.5 million for 2011. Harden went 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA last year for the Cubs, striking out 171 batters in only 141 innings. Unfortunately, last season was just the third time in his seven-year career that Harden pitched more than 140 innings, and only once has he made more than 30 starts in a single year (2004). If he can stay off the disabled list this could be a major coup for the Rangers, if not, it’s just a very expensive mistake.