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August 16, 2012
On the Beat
A Clubhouse Scorned
Maybe this is the solution for the Red Sox: Place an emergency call to Popeye's for fried chicken with a side order of red beans and rice, and have it sent to the home clubhouse at Fenway Park. Fried chicken and beer became part of a scandal in Red Sox Nation in the wake of last season's historic collapse, during which the Red Sox blow a sure post-season berth in September while the starting pitchers sat in the cramped Fenway clubhouse eating, drinking, and playing video games when it wasn't their turn in the rotation.
Though the Red Sox were losing on a daily basis at the end of last season, it is hard to believe their clubhouse was as disharmonious as their current ones. A lot of details of their current discord came out in this story by Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan. After visiting the Red Sox' clubhouse last Thursday before and after a loss to the Indians in Cleveland, “toxic” would be a mild word to describe the atmosphere.
I have had the privilege of visiting clubhouses for a quarter century, but I have never experienced an atmosphere rivaling the aftermath of the Red Sox' loss. Most of the players sat at their lockers silently, holding a beer in their hand. Another group sat at a round table in the middle of the clubhouse, picking at a post-game dinner. Right-hander John Lackey, who’s on the DL, was eating an ear of corn big enough to win a blue ribbon at the county fair. While Lackey attacked the corn, he glared at the Red Sox' beat reporters, who were quietly waiting for anyone willing to talk about the game.
Things were nearly as tense in the manager's office both before and after the game. The usually loquacious Bobby Valentine gave a lot of one-word answers and seemed weary, the type of weary you sense from someone wondering if his first season on the job after replacing Terry Francona will be his last. Perhaps it was just one loss too many in a season highlighted primarily by injuries, controversy, and disharmony, all of which have the Red Sox sitting on the wrong side of .500 at 57-61 and possibly headed toward their first losing season since 1997.
There was a brief exchange I had with Valentine:
Me: Do you think your club has a run in it, where it can reel off a decent-sized winning streak?
Bobby V: Yes.
Me: Why do you think that?
Bobby V: Because we're due.
Me: Would if help if David Ortiz gets healthy and rejoins the lineup soon?
Bobby V: Hope so.
That certainly went nowhere, and it was also difficult to get any of the Red Sox players' thoughts on the matter beyond left-hander Felix Doubront and utilityman Pedro Ciriaco. And let's face it, nobody is interested in what Doubrount and Ciriaco think. It was clear none of Boston’s players wanted anything to do with the media before or after the game. When a group of reporters approached second baseman Dustin Pedroia at his locker after the game and did not immediately ask a question, he stormed out of the room while yelling a stream of profanities. To his credit, Pedroia has always been a standup guy and apologized as I walked past him in the tunnel way outside the clubhouse.
The Red Sox, to be fair, have rarely had their full team together this season. Left fielder Carl Crawford and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury both missed large chunks of time because of injury, and Ortiz has been out with a strained Achilles tendon. Third baseman Kevin Youkilis struggled with injuries early in the season, had his commitment to the game questioned by Valentine—which absolutely destroyed the manager's credibility in the clubhouse—and was dealt to the White Sox to make room for impressive rookie Will Middlebrooks. Now Middlebrooks is injured after breaking his wrist last weekend.
"For me, Beckett isn't a No. 1 starter anymore," one scout said. "I know he is still perceived to be that kind of pitcher, but his stuff isn't what it used to be. He was ridden very hard early in his career, and that odometer in his arm has rolled over. He doesn't have a great arm anymore, and he's not the type of pitcher who is going to be as successful if he doesn't have his good stuff. He's not exactly the thinking man's pitcher."
Said the same scout about Lester: "I don't know what Lester's problem is, but he's not the Lester of old. He doesn't look comfortable on the mound, and I don't know if that's either because he's hurt and not telling anyone, if he's distracted by something, or if he's just sick of the whole situation in Boston. For me, he's a guy who needs a change of scenery."
Despite all their problems and being 13.5 games behind the Yankees in the American League East, the Red Sox are still at least have a puncher's chance at one of the league's two wild card spots. The Red Sox enter Thursday 6 1/2 games out of the second wild card slot. However, the Baseball Prospectus Odds Report isn't very sure of the Red Sox' post-season hopes, giving them just a 5.9 percent chance of making it to October.
The scout who has seen the Red Sox extensively this year isn't counting on seeing them play past the end of the regular season, saying, "I don't see any way they make it. They are a train wreck. It starts in the manager's office and carries over to the clubhouse. That's just the off-the-field stuff. On the field, they're just not good. They truly are a case of being what they are: a .500 ballclub."
A player who recently played with the Red Sox and keeps in touch with some of his old teammates also offers a bleak forecast: "I don't care what they're saying publicly (in light of the Yahoo! Sports story); those guys hate playing for Bobby Valentine. Management really made a bad decision when they hired him. You're taking a veteran team that played for the best player's manager in the game in (Francona) and replacing him with a guy who threw the most-respected player in that clubhouse under the bus? There's no way that is every going to work."
A few minutes with Padres manager Bud Black
On the importance of retaining closer Huston Street and left fielder Carlos Quentin with contract extensions rather than trading them: "I think the media was a little bit aggressive with the trade report. I'm sure our general manager, Josh Byrnes, talked to a lot of other general managers about both players because I'm sure a lot of other clubs would want Huston and Carlos. However, it was never our intention to trade either one. Even though it's the first year for both of them with us, they made it clear very early on that they enjoyed playing here, liked the Padres' way of doing things, and let it be known to Josh through their agents that they would like to find a way to make it work so they could stay in San Diego. I think it says a lot for both players that they wanted to stay here, it says a lot for Josh that he was able to work out contracts with both of them, and it says a lot for where we're at as an organization that quality major-league players want to play for the San Diego Padres."
On how the Padres have benefitted from the off-season trade in which they sent right-hander Mat Latos to the Reds for right-hander Edinson Volquez, reliever Brad Boxberger, catcher Yasmani Grandal, and first baseman Yonder Alonso: "It was difficult to give up a talented young pitcher like Mat, but I think the way you judge a trade is if both sides are happy, and both sides are. The Reds have a guy at the top of their rotation doing everything they expected from him. We got depth, which we really needed, and a volume of good players. We got a pitcher to replace Mat in the rotation, we got a catcher and first baseman who we feel can become integral parts of the lineup, and a relief pitcher with big upside. It's not every day you get four players who can help you in the same trade, and we're already feeling the impact of it in a positive way."
On the Padres showing improvement as the season has gone on: "We've played very good ball since the All-Star break, and it reminds a little bit of 2009 when we played really well after the break, then had the good first half in 2010 and just missed making the playoffs. We made some changes in the middle of the diamond (playing Everth Cabrera at shortstop and Alexi Amarista at second base), and our pitching staff and has really solidified this team. I really believe we're on the right track here to be very competitive again."
Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun: "He really looks like he's out of gas, and I can't help but wonder why. I'll leave it at that."
Rockies right-hander Tyler Chatwood: "He looks a lot more comfortable than he did the other times he was in the major leagues. He is much more aggressive. He's going after hitters and attacking the strike zone, and he's having success."
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman: "He's a pretty good hitter now, but he would be even better if he were more patient. He goes through stretches where he gets jumpy at the plate and swings at the first pitch, whether it's a good one to hit or not. He needs to tighten up his approach."
Blue Jays third baseman Adeiny Hecheverria: "They're playing him out of position right now at third base, but he's going to be a heckuva shortstop once Yunel Escobar is gone at the end of this year. The kid can really play defense. He's got the range, the feet, the hands, and the arm, and he's got a little more pop in his bat than you think."
Mets right-hander Matt Harvey: "He's got great stuff. He needs some polish and he'll go through some growing pains, but you're talking about a potential No. 1 starter here. There's a lot of upside."
Indians right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez: "It seems like most of the time he wants to be anywhere in the world but on the mound. He doesn't give 100 percent very often. He's become an embarrassment to himself with his lack of focus and effort."
Cardinals right-hander Joe Kelly: "I liked what he did during his time in the rotation. He looks like he is someone they are going to be able to count on as a starter in the years to come."
Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick: "He's so hard to figure out. He looks so bad at times that you wonder if he can even pitch in long relief at the major-league level. Then he'll turn around and pitch a really good game and you think he has the upside of a No. 3 starter. The Phillies aren't playing for anything this year, so they can take a good, long look at him and see where he fits into their future."
Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda: "He has quietly been a lifesaver for the Yankees this season. He's been solid all year and spectacular at times. I'd feel very comfortable lining him up behind CC Sabathia in a playoff series."
Twins outfielder Darin Mastroianni: "He's been a bright spot for the Twins. He's become a good bench player. He can get the occasional hit, steal a base, and play pretty decent defense. He'd really help a National League team out."
Blue Jays catcher Jeff Mathis: "I know it's easy to laugh about him getting a two-year, $3-million extension, but it's really not out of line for what he is—a solid No. 2 catcher. A lot of teams would take him under those terms."
Diamondbacks left-hander Wade Miley: "What I really like about him is that he has no fear. He works fast, goes right after hitters, and isn't afraid to throw his breaking pitch in any count. He pitches like a guy who is wise beyond his years."
Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta: "That he's been batting fifth is an indictment of how disappointing the Tigers have been this season. He's a complementary player, not a middle-of-the-order guy."
Rays first baseman Carlos Pena: "It's really tough to watch him. He looks lost in the plate, and he's no longer a plus defender for me. He looks like a guy at the end of the road."
Orioles first baseman Mark Reynolds: "It's easy to say the Orioles should give up on him, but you just don't find that many players with the type of raw power he has. Power is the scarcest commodity in the game today."
Reds third baseman Scott Rolen: "I've got to believe this is his last year. He can't stay on the field anymore. It's a shame. He's had a good career and he's a real pro, but his body has just completely broken down."
Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak: "Maybe I'm just stubborn and blind, but I still think there's something there with this guy. I still think he has the makings of a good major-league hitter."
Cubs right-hander Chris Volstad: "When does the point come when it becomes apparent to everyone that this guy isn't a big-league starting pitcher? Whatever confidence he ever had—and it was never much—has been totally shot, and I think the best thing now would be to try him as reliever and see if you can salvage something out of him in the bullpen."
Astros first baseman Brett Wallace: "There is no doubt he can hit, but I'd like to see what he could do if he'd get in better shape. He's at a point in his career where he needs to start taking it more seriously and get in shape, or he's going to be out of the league."
Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth: "I appreciate him being a gamer and trying to be on the field every day after missing all that time with the broken wrist, but he can barely move on that bad right ankle. There's a fine line between being a gamer and hurting your team, and I think he's on the verge of crossing it."
Rangers designated hitter Michael Young: "One of Ron Washington's strong points is being loyal to his players, but I don't how he can keep hitting this guy in the middle of the lineup. I understand taking a patient approach, but at this time of year you have to go with the hot hand, and he definitely isn't the hot hand."
Front office types' views
Angels: "For as bad as they've looked the last couple of weeks, I'd still be shocked if they didn't make the playoffs. If they don't make it, that'll be the best team in a long time that didn't play in October."
Athletics: "They seem to be running out of steam. They've played as hard as they could for a long time, but you can see their guys are just worn out."
Dodgers: "There is a really good vibe with that team. You can tell they have a lot of confidence and a lot of chemistry. I thought adding Hanley Ramirez might screw things up there, but he's been on his best behavior and playing his ass off."
Giants: "Losing Melky Cabrera to the 50-game drug suspension is a big blow, but I don’t think it's a killer blow. The Giants are always very resourceful. They find a way to get things done, which is a reflection of Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy."
Marlins: "That's a total mess. They're not going to be able to move Heath Bell's contract this winter. They've got guys who clearly don't want to play for Ozzie. They're hard to watch beyond Giancarlo Stanton. Ugh."
Pirates: "They've played a little bit over their heads this season and it's starting to catch up to them now, but they've come a long way in a couple of years. They're at least putting legitimate big-league players on the field, and they're trying to win. They've got a ways to go still, but they're on the right track."
Royals: "I really like their lineup a lot, and it's only to get better as some of their hitters mature. That being said, they absolutely have to go out and get some starting pitching in the offseason or they are going to do nothing but lose again next year."
White Sox manager Robin Ventura:"Everyone talks about how his personality has made a big difference in Chicago because he's the anti-Ozzie, but he's a very good strategist. I'm impressed with the way he runs a game, especially considering he had never managed before this season."
This week's Must Read is a cute story for the New York Daily News by a pair of friends who used to hitch rides to Yankee Stadium during their teenage years with Phil Rizzuto when the late Hall of Fame shortstop was a Yankees broadcaster.