BoSox Banter gives way to Sox and Pinstripes

All great things don’t have to come to an end. This will be my last post on BoSox Banter. The reason why? Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com) – the blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball – has received such a tremendous response since Vince and I debuted it in mid-February, I am shifting the full focus of my blogging time on the new site.

I know that many of you who were BoSox Banter regulars have already moved to Sox and Pinstripes, and we appreciate your participating. If you read this message, feel free to visit Sox and Pinstripes are become a regular. Hope to see you there!

Opening Day at long last has arrived

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

You can have Super Bowl Sunday (except when the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing), I’ll take the first Monday of April, which typically features opening day and the NCAA men’s basketball championship game. There are pros and cons when you are in business for yourself. The cons involve paying for your own insurance, not having paid vacation and not receiving a guaranteed paycheck. Among the pros are having an unlimited ceiling of what you can earn, being your own boss and having the flexibility to set your own schedule.

As my bio explains, I have a writing and PR business. Knowing that I will have trouble focusing on work today, I spent several hours working on writing deadlines and client writing and media relations projects over the weekend. I’ll be completing more writing and PR work this morning and early this afternoon, but once 4 p.m. arrives, my mind will centered on baseball. Tonight, my focus will move to Ohio State and Florida.

I have been a devoted baseball fan since I was a little kid. My love for the game, and for the Red Sox, has consistently grown over time. Blogging about the Red Sox has only heightened my passion for all things Red Sox and baseball. The off-season was long, especially because of how the regular season ended last year for Red Sox Nation. Just as I feel on the night before I embark on one of my travel writing adventures, I sleep lightly on opening day eve. The day is enhanced this year with Ohio State’s presence in the NCAA Tournment championship game.

I’m certain that many of you in Red Sox Nation share the same excitement about this season. With the depth in Boston’s rotation and bullpen, and the potential production of the lineup from top to bottom, it will be one to remember. I have a strong feeling the the Red Sox will be playing in late October.

Don’t begrudge players like Drew

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

J.D. Drew was heartily greeted with a chorus of boos when he was introduced in Philadelphia last night in a game that saw the Sox edge the Phillies, 6-5. That Philly fans showered a visiting player with catcalls is no surprise. These are the same fans that once booed Santa Claus at an Eagles game, after all. That they showed no love for Drew is no surprise either.

It was 10 years ago when Drew was the second overall pick of the MLB draft by the Phillies. He never signed. His agent, Scott Boras, took advantage of procedural errors the previous year that allowed Travis Lee and Matt White (both who have posted less-than-stellar big league numbers) to become free agents and sign for $10 million each. If Lee and White received $10 million, so should Drew, Boras argued. Drew returned to the draft in 1998, was chosen fifth overall by the St. Louis Cardinals and signed a month later. Philly has never forgiven him. Fueled by then Phillies starter Curt Schilling’s encouragement to vent their displeasure, spectators treated Drew to a New York City environment in the City of Brotherly Love when he made his first trip to Veterans Stadium that August. He tripled, singled, scored a run and knocked in another. Fans threw D batteries at Drew. He must have felt like a Red Sox outfielder at Yankee Stadium.

As a fan, I understand the displeasure felt by Philly fans about the Drew situation, though nothing ever warrants the hurling of objects onto the field. Obviously, Sox fans saw first-hand how money can sometimes override integrity when Johnny Damon signed with the Yankees, despite vocally expressing that he would never play for them a year before.

As a journalist, I can see why professional athletes sign with the highest bidder. I am senior editor of OverTime Magazine, a national business and lifestyle magazine for and about professional athletes. The magazine contains travel and lifestyle features that depict these athletes’ glamourous lives, but the publication also offers an array of articles to help these same athletes effectively manage their money, make wise financial and business decisions during their careers, and prepare for life beyond professional sports.

Remember, the span of a professional athlete’s career is not everlasting. Though there are exceptions – like Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Bernie Williams, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken as a sampling – the average big leaguer plays no more than five to seven seasons, and your career can end in an instant due to injury. There is a small window to make those millions, and there are very few jobs that allow you to earn seven or eight figures. This is why I support athletes who choose to leave college early, or forego it altogether, to play professional sports. The opportunity to earn a degree will be there long after the window to make the big leagues closes. And that small window also helps me understand why professional athletes leave one team for another if the dollars are there.

Actors, musicians and professional athletes make exhorbitant amounts of money. Like acting and singing, playing a professional sport requires God-given talent. Unlike acting and singing, there is a limited time period where you can showcase your skills as a professional athlete. The next time you cringe after reading an article about a marginal pitcher like Gil Meche signing five year, $55 milion deal or even a productive player like Drew inking a five year, $70 million contract, ask yourself this – would you take the same deal? Of course you would, and you would be thankful you did long after your playing days were over.

Tavarez to start All-Star Game

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

OK. I admit that’s a stretch. Still, Julian Tavarez picked up tonight where he left off last September by allowing one run and six hits in 5.2 innings. The Sox held on for a 6-5 win over Philadelphia. Tavarez faced a lineup that included most of Philly’s regulars. He threw 69 pitches, an economical outing. Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka give the Sox one of the game’s best 1-2-3 punches. Tim Wakefield can be counted on for 12-14 wins. If Tavarez keeps his ERA near or below the 4.00 mark, where he was as a starter last season, the Sox will have one of the game’s most formidable rotations.

Boston was productive offensively. Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew continued their torrid pace by each slugging a home run. Manny Ramirez added a dinger, too. Jason Varitek had two hits to lift his spring training average to a dismal .143. Dustin Pedroia went yard and is now hitting .217. Let’s hope this game helps the confidence of Varitek and Pedroia at the plate.

It was not a pleasant outing for Kyle Snyder, who surrendered four runs and five hits in 2.2 innings. Of course, three of those runs scored on the two hits that Travis Hughes gave up after relieving Snyder. Hughes did retire Michael Bourn to end the game and record the save.

I still find it amazing that the fortunes of Tavarez can fall, rise, fall and rise again as he shuttles between the bullpen and rotation. He was atrocious as a reliever last year, but gained the confidence of Sox management and fans with his performance in the rotation last September. Then he performed poorly at the beginning of spring training, and though he started to throw the ball well in relief, Red Sox Nation shuddered at the thought of the lone remaining EZ-brother closing, as was projected until Jonathan Papelbon reclaimed that role. Once again, he proved his worth as a starter tonight. If he wore Yankee pinstripes, he would likely be the No. 3 or No. 4 starter.

Until Jon Lester is ready, the Sox have options at Triple-A if Tavarez falters. That won’t be an issue if Tavarez builds on tonight’s start. What are your thoughts about the Sox No. 5 spot in the rotation? Are you as high on Kason Gabbard and Devern Hansack as I am? Are you comfortable when Tavarez takes the hill (at least as a starter)?

Sox bullpen looks just fine, thank you

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

Future Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz pitched scoreless baseball through his first four innings this afternoon, and then allowed three runs and four hits in the fifth inning before being lifted for Javier Lopez. The Sox and Devil Rays ended spring training with a 3-3 tie. The Sox now play two exhibition games up north against the Phillies and then open the season with a three-game series in Kansas City, starting on Monday. It was an encouraging appearance today for Boston’s top pitching prospect. Even more promising is the continued performance of the Sox bullpen.

Lopez, who will be part the Sox bullpen until Mike Timlin returns, added another 1.1 scoreless innings to his spring training stat file. Hideki Okajima, Barry Hertzler (another Sox minor league relief pitching prospect) and Jonathan Papelbon each added a scoreless frame.

Yankees fans and naysayers who believe that the Sox bullpen is not deep and talented will be sorely disappointed when the regular season begins. There are no holes in the pen now that Papelbon has returned to the closer’s role. The Sox have one of baseball’s best starting rotations. The bullpen will be more than adequate enough to preserve leads. 

Epstein’s decision about Gagne looks good right now

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

I no longer hear anyone questioning Theo Epstein’s decision to sign Joel Pineiro to a $4 million deal with $2 million in closing incentives rather than inking Eric Gagne to a $6 million contract. Even if Jonathan Papelbon did not return to the closer’s role, Pineiro has looked better than Gagne in spring training. Pineiro started slowly but has recovered to post a 3.09 ERA (10 games, 11.2 innings, five runs and 15 hits) while the injury-plagued Gagne has recorded a 15.00 ERA (five runs and seven hits in three innings) and has clearly not rebounded from his injury woes.

Rangers officials admit that he will not be able to pitch back-to-back games early in the season, but they are committed to Gagne opening the season as the team’s closer. Akinori Otsuka, who has thrown the ball well this spring, will close on days that Gagne is unavailable. The Sox play a three-game series at Texas April 6-8.

Perhaps Gagne will recover at some point this season and become a dominating closer, but I am glad Epstein chose not to sign him. I advocated a deal with Washington for Chad Cordero (at the right price) or a deal with Houston for Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls or Dan Wheeler (at the right price as well), but it was too risky for the Sox to depend on an injury-maligned pitcher like Gagne to regain his form as an overpowering closer. Pineiro is better suited as a middle reliever than he is a closer, in my opinion, and he also can help as a spot starter. I would rather have Pineiro on the roster than Gagne.

Who will close when Papelbon is unavailable?

This is a question many Sox fans have not considered. Unlike last season, when Papelbon entered some games in the eighth inning and then appeared the next night, Terry Francona will likely (hopefully) be more cautious in using the all-star closer. Who do you think should get the call on days when Papelbon will not pitch? My guess is Mike Timlin, when he returns, and possibly Pineiro, if he throws the ball well early in the season.

Jayhawk Bill says Ortiz and Ramirez on the decline

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

Last night, I had the privilege of serving as a guest on Up On The Monster Radio, an extension of the web site I encourage you to visit, www.uponthemonster.com. The show featured a thorough review of the Sox farm system by Jonathan Singer, editor of Sox Prospects (www.soxprospects.com), another must-read web site for die-hard Sox fans who crave every bit of information they can get about the team’s future.

I was part of a panel discussion regarding how the Sox look for 2007. Fellow guests were Jeff Moon of Fenway Fanatics (www.fenwayfanatics.com), host Dave Devlin and a character named Jayhawk Bill from Up On The Monster. It was Jayhawk Bill who offered some questionable if not ludicrous opinions. I will not invest the time to list all of these remarks, but you can get the idea by just reading one – his view that you cannot pencil in David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez for 35-plus home runs and 100-plus RBI because they are reaching a point in their career where their numbers will start to slide. He justified this by mentioning their spring training numbers, which we all know is definitely a true indication of how the regular season will progress (I say with sarcasm).

Believe me, you can pencil in – make that, etch in stone – that Big Papi and Manny will surpass 40 home runs and 100 RBI this season. Ortiz is 31 while Ramirez is 34 (he will turn 35 in May). Both are far from done. Ramirez is one of the best all-around hitters in the history of the game. Gary Sheffield still swings a productive bat at 40. There is no reason while Ramirez can’t do the same, though it will likely not be in Boston, since there is room for just one DH, and Big Papi isn’t going anywhere. Spring training is a time when pitchers are ahead of hitters. Do you honestly think that Big Papi and Ramirez are on the decline, and that their spring training numbers are reason to worry? Like you, I don’t think so either, but Jayhawk Bill does.

Pavano the Yankees opening day starter? Are you kidding me?

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

Pardon me while I snicker. Excuse me as that light snickering envelops into a bellowing laugh. Joe Torre announced that Carl Pavano could be the Yankees opening day starter. With Chien-Ming Wang on the disabled list with a balky hamstring, Andy Pettitte recovering from back spasms and Torre’s preference to keep Mike Mussina in the No. 2 spot, apparently Pavano will get the call. It’s only against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, you say? Well, the Devil Rays feature a productive lineup, and left-hander Scott Kazmir (who is unkind to AL East foes) will likely start on the mound. On paper, it’s not a promising season opener for the Yankees. Too bad.

Red Sox season preview to air on Up On The Monster Radio

If you want to share your opinion on the state of the Sox in 2007, be sure to listen to Up On The Monster Radio this Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. Yours truly will be a guest on the Red Sox season preview show along with Jonathan Singer of Sox Prospects, Jeff Moon of Fenway Fanatics and a yet to be determined host from Up On The Monster. This is an Internet radio show, and the URL is http://www.blogtalkradio.com/hostpage.aspx?show_id=16236. You can call the show at 718-664-6916. For more information, visit http://www.uponthemonster.com and click on the UOTM Radio section in the top left column.

Damon says what?

Last week, Johnny Damon told the New York Post that the Yankees are the team to beat. Of course, this is the same Johnny Damon who confidently proclaimed that no matter how aggressively the Yankees pursue him, he will never wear pinstripes, and then the next season debuted in center field wearing those same pinstripes. So it is evident you cannot seriously consider what Damon has to say.

After the Tigers dismissed the Yankees from the ALDS last October, Damon told the media that the best team doesn’t always win. That is not applicable in 2007 – the part about the Yankees being the best team. Has Damon reviewed the roster lately? Chien-Ming Wang on the disabled list. An injury-prone Andy Pettitte experiencing back spasms. Kei Igawa, who is best suited as a middle reliever, starting at the No. 4 spot. And Carl Pavano, the guy who was supposedly their No. 5 starter is now being considered for opening day. Pitching wins championships, Johnny boy, and your team is weak in that department. Good luck with that!

Let the talk about Helton and Clemens begin

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

Now that Jonathan Papelbon has answered the most prominent question of the spring (Who will close for the Sox?), let the banter begin about Todd Helton and Roger Clemens.

It was Rockies owner Charlie Monfort who approached the Red Sox about a Helton deal, then pulled back when Theo Epstein would not send two top prospects along with Mike Lowell and Julian Tavarez. With Papelbon slated to close this season – and prized prospect Bryce Cox primed for duty in 2008, either as a set-up man or a closer, depending on if the Sox move Papelbon to the rotation – would the Sox consider dealing Hansen and Delcarmen along with Lowell and Tavarez to get Helton?

It’s an interesting debate. Helton appears to be healthy again, and he would fit nicely at Fenway Park. The Sox could move Youkilis to third. Boston’s minor league system is ripe with promising relief pitching prospects. And Helton’s salary would not hamstring the payroll, especially since the contracts of Lowell ($9 million a year), Clement ($8 million a year, I believe) and Schilling ($13 million a year) will expire at the end of this season. Do you think Helton is worth surrendering Lowell, Tavarez and two prospects, or would you only make the deal for Lowell, Tavarez and Hansen or Delcarmen (which is my preference, but I’m not sure if the Rockies would be receptive)?

Perhaps Epstein would hesitate to include Tavarez since he is the No. 5 starter until Jon Lester is ready. Of course, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Boston has depth in the starting rotation. Today, Kason Gabbard and Devern Hansack could make the starting rotations of many MLB teams. They are ready to occupy a back of the rotation spot with Boston, if needed. Kyle Snyder is an option as well, but I think he is best suited for a middle relief role.

Regarding Clemens, though I am not convinced that he would help the Red Sox, I’m sure that Papelbon’s move to the bullpen increases the chances of the Rocket signing with Boston. The Yankees have a greater need. Their rotation is shaky, and now Pettitte is recovering from back spasms and Chien-Ming Wang experienced discomfort in his hamstring today. The Yankees could give Jeff Karstens and/or Darrell Rasner a chance, and they might even summon Phil Hughes and/or Humberto Sanchez from Triple-A at some point, but I think that signing Clemens is a priority for Brian Cashman.

Early April rotation set

With his closer in place, Terry Francona announced the rotation as it will begin the season. Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka will pitch in Kansas City followed by Tim Wakefield, Julian Tavarez and Schilling in Texas. Beckett is slated to start the Sox home opener against Seattle on April 10.

The numbers game

After such a dismal performance from the starting rotation and bullpen last season, it’s encouraging to see positive numbers in spring training. The Sox rank fourth among AL teams with a 3.63 ERA in March, including a 2.59 ERA (23 earned runs in 80 innings) in the last nine games. The bullpen? It has allowed just seven runs in the last 31.2 innings for a 1.99 ERA. Curt Schilling (2.20), Dice-K (2.84), Kason Gabbard (2.70) and Julian Tavarez (3.55) are leading the way in the rotation while Javier Lopez and J.C. Romero (1.17), Bryan Corey (1.64), Hideki Okajima (2.08), Jonathan Papelbon (2.31) Kyle Snyder (2.89), Devern Hansack (3.18) and Joel Pineiro (3.38) are throwing the ball well in relief. 

Papelbon as closer, Tavarez/Lester as No. 5 starter, make Sox a better team

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

Jonathan Papelbon is back in the closer’s seat and Julian Tavarez will be the No. 5 starter, at least until Jon Lester is ready. This is a brilliant move by Theo Epstein and Terry Francona. Would you rather have Papelbon start and Tavarez close, or Papelbon close and Tavarez or Lester start? The answer to that question is obvious. Joe Torre himself said that he was "delighted" that Papelbon was starting and not closing. Boston answered its’ most prominent question with the decision.

The bottom line? With Papelbon as the closer, and the depth Boston has in its rotation, the Sox will have a starting five and a bullpen that is superior to the Yankees. Tavarez, Lester, Gabbard and even Hansack are better options than Kei Igawa and Carl Pavano, whose days as an effective starter have long passed. Believe me, if the Yankees had Lester and Gabbard, they would be No. 4 and No.5 rather than Igawa and Pavano. Even Tavarez would make the Yankees rotation as it currently stands. Beyond Mariano Rivera and Scott Proctor, the Yankees bullpen is mediocre. Give me J.C. Romero, Hideki Okajima, Brendan Donnelly and Kyle Snyder over any set-up man in the Yankees bullpen than Proctor. A healthy Mike Timlin will make a positive difference as well, as long as he waits until he is truly healthy to return.

Will ‘Tek regain his hitting stroke?

In an injury-plagued 2006 season, Jason Varitek hit just .238, including a .213 mark in 61 at-bats after returning early from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. This spring, he has just two hits in 25 at-bats for an .080 average. In an article written by Gordon Edes in today’s Boston Globe, Varitek says he is concerned. That, in itself, is reason for concern.

At any level of baseball, confidence is an important element of hitting success. If you walk to the plate burdened about what will happen, chances are you will fail. A player at his best in the big leagues gets a hit just three out of every 10 times. Varitek doesn’t have the luxury of solely focusing on perfecting his swing. He is helping Dice-K adjust to the bigs and learning several new pitchers in the bullpen.

The captain turns 35 in April. Like every big league catcher in his mid-30s, Varitek isn’t as spry as he once was. Still, he is a valuable part of this team with his leadership and game-calling abilities alone. Yet the Sox do need more production than last year’s .238 average. It’s crucial that Doug Mirabelli hits much better than .193 as well since he will see more at-bats to give Varitek days off beyond Wakefield starts. Varitek has more left in the tank. A multi-hit opening day at Kansas City would certainly help his confidence.

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