Tagged: Tampa Bay Rays

An MLB return to Montreal?

Montreal Expos logoNamed after the Expo 67 World’s Fair, The Montreal Expos (French: Les Expos de Montréal) were a Major League Baseball team located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, from 1969 through 2004, holding the first MLB franchise awarded outside the United States. After the 2004 season, MLB moved the Expos to Washington, D.C. and renamed them the Nationals.

The Expos started play at Jarry Park Stadium under manager Gene Mauch. The team’s initial majority owner was Charles Bronfman, a major shareholder in Seagram. Following the 1976 Summer Olympics, starting in 1977 the team’s home venue was Montreal’s Olympic Carter and the ExposStadium. After a decade of losing seasons, the team won 95 games in 1979, finishing second in the National League East. The Expos began the 1980s with a core group of young players, including catcher Gary Carter, outfielders Tim Raines and Andre Dawson, third baseman Tim Wallach, and pitchers Steve Rogers and Bill Gullickson. The team won its only division championship in the strike-shortened split season of 1981, ending its season with a 3 games to 2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.

Pedro and FelipeIn May 1992, Felipe Alou, a longtime member of the Expos organization since 1976, was promoted to field manager, becoming the first Dominican-born manager in MLB history.  Alou would become the leader in Expos games managed while guiding the team to winning records, including 1994, when the Expos, led by a talented group of players including Larry Walker, Moisés Alou, Marquis Grissom and Pedro Martínez, had the best record in the major leagues until the strike forced the cancellation of the remainder of the season. After the disappointment of 1994, Expos management began shedding its key players, and the team’s fan suppoPedro Export dwindled. Brochu sold control of the team to Jeffrey Loria in 1999, but Loria failed to close on a plan to build a new downtown ballpark, and did not reach an agreement on television and English radio broadcast contracts for the 2000 season, reducing the team’s media coverage.

In November 2001, MLB’s owners voted 28–2 to contract by two teams—according to various sources, the Expos and the Minnesota Twins, both of which reportedly voted against contraction.  However, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, operator of Minnesota’s Metrodome, received an injunction requiring the Twins to play in the Metrodome during 2002, so MLB could not eliminate the Expos alone while preserving its 162-game schedule. In December, the Boston Red Sox accepted a purchase bid from a group led by John W. Henry, owner of the Florida Marlins, and so Henry sold the Marlins to Loria, and MLB bought the Expos from Loria. In the collective bargaining agreement signed with the players association in August 2002, contraction was prohibited through to the end of the contract in 2006.

Pete Rose Expo

On September 29, 2004, the date of Montreal’s last home game of the season, MLB announced that the Montreal franchise would move to Washington, D.C. for the 2005 season.The Expos played their final game on October 3, 2004 at Shea Stadium, losing by a score of 8–1 against the New York Mets, the same opponent that the Expos first faced at its start, 35 years earlier. The Washington team was named the Washington Nationals, and retained all the Expos’ records, player contracts, and minor league affiliates, as well as their spring training complex in Viera, Florida.

The rebirth of the Montreal Expos might look like this: a relocated ball club bought for $525 million playing in the American League East, its new home a $500-million open-air downtown stadium, an average attendance sitting at roughly 28,000 keeping it healthy.

The Hawk ExpoThat’s the vision described by Ernst and Young in a feasibility study conducted for the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal and the Montreal Baseball Project, concluding that a new team “would be financially viable under a set of realistic assumptions, including a modest but competitive payroll.”

The findings were unveiled Thursday and a copy of the impressively thorough 62-page report was forwarded to Major League Baseball, where officials were reviewing it. Last month, commissioner Bud Selig said “I am paying close attention to it, it’s great,” when asked about the study.

Big Unit ExpoStill, by no means is a return of “Nos Amours” to La Belle Province imminent – far from it actually – but the document offers a potential starting point for the pursuit of a team, and a baseball-only venue to house it.

“What we’re looking for in the next weeks is to see if the private sector is up to the task,” Michel Leblanc, president and CEO of the board of trade, said in an interview.

That this is being discussed seriously at all as the 10th anniversary of the Expos’ departure to Washington nears is remarkable, underlining exactly how much the environment has changed in a decade.

As the study notes, the business of baseball is much different now with increased revenue sharing among owners plus new revenue from national TV deals, advanced media and merchandising, not to mention a much stronger Canadian dollar, which ranged from 62-84 cents against the American dollar from 1994-2004 (the study is based on exchange rate at par but adds a decline to 90 cents “shows little impact on the viability of the study”).

Plus, the metropolitan Montreal area’s population of 3.8 million makes it the 15th largest market in North America, and the biggest without a baseball team.

Montreal Expos Canadiens

Those and other factors – like an ownership that won’t alienate the fan-base – led the study’s authors to draw a parallel between a new team and stadium in Montreal and the Minnesota Twins and Target Field, describing both as “a good model” for the endeavour.

Both franchises were once pegged for contraction by Major League Baseball, but a new stadium and better business conditions have helped the Twins become stable and profitable. The same could happen for a new team in Montreal under similar circumstances.

Some of the key numbers underpinning the viability of a new club include the $525 million purchase fee, based on various valuations and conversations with eight current clubs to test ideas, the $500 million cost of an open-air stadium (a retractable roof adds $150-$180 million to the price) and an average paid attendance of 28,742 with a season-ticket base of 60 percent.

To anyone who remembers the dismal crowds in the Expos’ final years, those last figures seem particularly ambitious, but Leblanc says “Ernst and Young experts are convinced that number is realistic for Montreal.”

An online survey conducted by Groupe Leger of 1,589 Quebecers (with a margin of error of plus-or-minus 2.5 percent) and a telephone poll of representatives from 392 Montreal-based corporations gave credence to those projections, predicting an average attendance of 27,600-31,600 with a willingness to pay $25-$75 for tickets.

Expo farewell

Additionally, 69 percent of Quebecers favoured baseball’s return to Montreal while 11 percent were opposed, 81 percent of businesses approved and 24 percent of businesses expressed interested in buying advertising, along with season tickets.

A downtown stadium near the corporate core is key to that, explained Leblanc, a lifeline the Expos couldn’t tap into because of the inconvenience of getting to Olympic Stadium.

Funding for the entire project would be a hybrid of private and public funds and a baseball-only venue is crucial because the study notes that Major League Baseball “has made it clear that a team returning to play at the Olympic Stadium would not be acceptable.”

The study envisions the club’s owners contributing 67 percent of the projected $1.025 billion cost to buy a team and build a ballpark, with governments providing the remaining 33 percent, while retaining ownership of the facility.

How the government receives the study will be worth watching.

Leblanc said preliminary discussions with various levels of government urged him “to do the work thoroughly” and then “they said, ‘We’ll look at this seriously.’”

Still, the plan is to start with business engagement before pursuing the political track and finally, trying to work with Major League Baseball. Leblanc explains the plan is to put every step in place progressively and for the moment, “we’ve got more homework to do.”

“We need to have a project that unites Montrealers and Quebecers in a positive way,” he added. “We want this to be something that gives Montreal some oomph.”

All those various pieces must be in place to get baseball officials onside, something that must happen since the stadium plans and the team acquisition must go hand in hand. No one’s building a baseball-only stadium without a real commitment.

There is no shortage of people in baseball who’d like to see it happen, and super-agent Scott Boras weighed in Wednesday at the winter meetings, naming New Jersey and Montreal as two possible homes for teams.

“I think Montreal would be a tremendous environment for baseball,” he told reporters. “I remember in 1994 — when you look at the attendance rates and the Canadian rivalry in baseball, I really think baseball was in a good place. Players enjoyed playing there. It’s a beautiful city.”

Last month, Blue Jays president Paul Beeston told Sportsnet that he’d “love to see baseball back in Montreal. It’s good for us, it’s good for Canada and the fans would really love it.”

Canada Day 1997

Later he added, “The timing has to be right – if a team wants to leave, OK, or the league wants to expand. To be honest, 30 isn’t the ideal number of teams, 32 is a much better number. Because you play every day, 32 would really make it nice. And Montreal is a big market and a great city, it’s a world-class city and it’s got a history of baseball.”

The Blue Jays will play a pair of spring games against the New York Mets in March, the first action at Olympic Stadium since the Expos’ 9-1 loss to the Marlins on Sept. 29, 2004. It will be yet another chance to spur the process along.

“We heard about those comments (from Beeston) and were happy to hear the positive signals from him,” said Leblanc. “The two spring games are a great opportunity for Montrealers to show their love for baseball.”

The goal of having a team of their own once again remains way, way off in the distance, but maybe the feasibility study is the guide that helps get them there.

Hmmm… sleep with one eye open Tampa Bay Rays fans.

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A lil’ Championship Fun….

I picked this up from SB Nation:  And I can’t really argue with it.

Papi WWE Champion

These comparisons are based on the 2013 editions of each team. Yes, the all-time Yankees would be “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase or Hulk Hogan or whatever; the 2013 Yankees are neither of those. So kick back, enjoy and try not to take things too seriously.

Just kidding; it’s pro wrestling discussion on the Internet! Tear each other limb from limb!

The Boston Red Sox are John Cena

Cena at FenwayNo one over the age of 12 wants to admit it, but John Cena is absolutely outstanding at what he does. The problem is that everyone is sick of him. They’re sick of his dumb shirts, they’re sick of his Sincere Serious Voice, they’re sick of him constantly Beating the Odds and they’re sick of him in general. That’s the Red Sox. They’re terrific this year — again — after an epic collapse and a lost year. They used to be America’s darlings until they won 3  World Series’ and the country got exposed to Red Sox Nation. Wait a minute … Red Sox Nation … the “Cenation” …

The Tampa Bay Rays are Daniel Bryan

You know the story of the Rays by now. They don’t get any help from anybody. They’re a small-market team in the second-worst stadium in the league, playing in front of no one, with one of the smallest payrolls in the league. But it’s okay; they’ll still be one of the best teams in the world, year after year. They’ll do it their own damn selves. Daniel Bryan, AKA “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson has been wrecking shop coast-to-coast in independent federations for 13 or so years and he’s always been exactly this good. Always. Now he’s the hottest wrestler on the planet and wrestling fools for an hour on Raw and everyone is like “lol where the hell did this guy come from?”

The New York Yankees are the Undertaker

Red Sox versus Yankees

Spends most of the year injured, but will still never lose.

The Baltimore Orioles are Booker T

Everyone likes the Orioles in some way. They’re not really a team that lends itself to intense hatred. They probably don’t even have a real arch-rival (maybe the Giants for stealing their colors). I bet they think they do, like the Padres and Mariners have arch-rivals. But they don’t. Everyone loves that the Orioles are doing well again (except Yankees fans). Everyone likes the team’s history (except Yankees fans) and of course everyone is crazy about those gorgeous uniforms. (Yankees fans, you like the uniforms okay, right?) The Orioles have been up, they’ve been down, they’ve been the best, they’ve disappeared. That’s Booker T: no one really hates the guy; lots of people think of him very fondly. His career is all over the place. I mean ALL OVER THE PLACE. He was a tag team specialist, he was a guy who lost the rights to his name so he had to start wrestling as G.I. Bro, he feuded with a guy over shampoo, he was suddenly a foreign king, he kicked around in TNA hating everything before reinventing himself as an announcer. Like the Oriole’s, there is some aspect of Booker T’s career that you can recall fondly.

The Toronto Blue Jays are 2013 Chris Jericho

Jericho 2013 Rumble

We had such high hopes, but then it was all just terrible.

The Detroit Tigers are Kane

Kane has been extremely popular and successful for like 15 years. He’s been pretty much every champion there is, crowds love him, he sells merchandise and rarely makes a fool of himself in the ring. All that said; there’s nothing really getting worked up over. At the end of the day, he’s still just Kane.

(I am so sorry, Tigers fans.)

The Cleveland Indians are Tatanka

Yep.

The Kansas City Royals are Chainsaw Charlie

It should have been a can’t-miss opportunity. Mick Foley was just starting to set the world on fire as Mankind following his infamous interview with Jim Ross and being tossed off that cage. Everyone knew he was a crazy guy who would do just about anything to get ahead. Who better to bring in to be his tag team partner than Terry gosh dang Funk? So Funk and the (then-)WWF put their heads together and … introduced Terry Funk as “Chainsaw Charlie,” a guy in suspenders who wore panty hose on his head.

The Royals during the offseason were determined to make a big splash. They traded away the top prospect in all of baseball and got woefully shortchanged on the deal. They traded, they spent, they seemed to make a bunch of bad decisions and now… It could have been amazing. Instead, they’re wearing panty hose on their heads and wondering what went wrong.

The Minnesota Twins are The Miz

Because WHOOOOO CAAAAAAARES

The Oakland Athletics are ACH

I know; you’ve never heard of ACH. ACH is an amazing pro wrestler who is out there killing himself in front of 15 people in a rec hall in a ring that looks like it has linoleum for a mat. But he’s not going to stop; he’s just going to keep being great at what he does. And the people who DO show up love him to death and realize they’re watching something special. So you can see how there might be SOME parallels. Just throwing it out there.

The Texas Rangers are Ricky Steamboat

Ricky SteamboatRicky Steamboat is probably one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. But he never rose much higher than “second fiddle.” His contemporaries were more colorful, or more charismatic, or just more interesting. He got right up against superstardom, but never really got over the hump. That’s where the Rangers are finding themselves now. Ricky Steamboat won that match at WrestleMania III, but Randy Savage will always be more beloved. Can the Rangers find a way to make themselves memorable?  (For those who don’t know, he’s pictured here holding the WWF/WWE Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship: It’s like winning the American League pennant but not winning the World Series… sorry)

The Seattle Mariners are Al Snow

In one of his books, Mick Foley uses “Al Snow” as a euphemism for taking a poop. The Mariners are not as bad as all that. Mostly because the Astros are in their division now. But I mean, come on; the Mariners are Al Snow.

The Chicago White Sox are Zack Ryder

From tarnished and shamed, to a long stretch of awfulness, to a relatively-brief period of intense success. Then they vanished from the face of the earth, never to be seen again.

The Los Angeles Angels are Scott Steiner

Once amazing, but now bloated with … contracts. Flashes of brilliance interspersed with deep slumps of sheer insanity. Either way, you can’t look away. Always, always, always entertaining. For better or for worse.

The Houston Astros are Dennis Rodman

Yes, Dennis Rodman wrestled. He fell asleep on the ring apron. He’s one of the worst wrestlers in history, but you can’t even be mad, because he’s Dennis Rodman. Like, what else is he gonna do, you know what I mean? I hope you know where I’m going with this.

‘Tis The Season…Tick.. Tock..Tick..Tock

Let the clock-watching, the countdown or however you want to refer to it begin!

October is closing in fast, and that means the 2nd Season.

MLB team roster

Red Sox record: 87-58

Games left: 17

Lead in AL East: 7½ games over Tampa Bay (78-64)

Magic number to win division: 12

What does magic number mean? If Tampa Bay wins all 20 of its remaining games, Boston would have to win 12 to win the division.

How to calculate magic number: You calculate your magic number by looking at the number of games remaining in the season and assuming that your nearest competitor will win all of their remaining games. Then you see how many games you still need to win to ensure the division title even with your nearest competitor winning all of their remaining games.

Overall ranking in league (important for determining home field in playoffs): First, 3 games ahead of Oakland, 4 games ahead of Detroit

If season ended today, teams in playoffs: Sox, Tigers, Athletics, Rangers, Rays.

What about the Yankees? Salvaged the final game of a four-game series against the Red Sox with a 4-3 win. They remain 2½ games behind the Rays for final wild-card spot.

Who’s hot?: Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks has five straight multi-hit games, the first time in his career he’s done that. He’s batting .500 (11 for 22) in that stretch, with 4 home runs, 8 runs, and 7 RBIs.

Who’s not?: The Indians fell two games behind the Rays in the wild-card race when they were beaten, 2-1, by Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was agonizing for Terry Francona to watch in his last years in Boston and really tormented him Sunday.  Matsuzaka, who had begun the season with the Indians, had lost  his first three starts for the Mets, posting a 10.95 ERA. Against the Indians, he allowed one run on three hits in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out six and walked three on 103 pitches.

Red Sox latest outcome: Lost to the Yankees, 4-3, on Sunday.

Rays latest outcome: Beat the Mariners, 4-1, on Sunday.

Notable: The Yankees, who don’t expect to have shortstop Derek Jeter for at least a couple of days as his bad ankle flared up again, begin a four-game series Monday night with the Orioles, who are two games behind the Rays in the wild-card race. CC Sabathia faces Chris Tillman in the series opener Monday night. The Yanks then come to Boston on Friday, so this week will be critical to their fading wild-card chances.

Playoff format: AL wild-card play-in game on Wednesday, Oct. 2. AL best-of-five division series begins Friday, Oct. 4.

No surprises thus far….

Justin Verlander wins the American League Cy Young Award.  Yep.

Joe Maddon takes Manager of the Year in the American League while former MVP Kirk Gibson takes it in the National League.  I don’t think either of these was unexpected.  Yes, many will whine and complain that Ron Washington and Tony LaRussa were more deserving, but this a regular season award and both Maddon and Gibson worked with teams that weren’t on anyone’s radar, especially the Rays who rebuilt nearly their entire bullpen.

The Miami Vice Marlins (having debuted their rather lame new uniforms and ‘Miami Vice’ logo) have made official and substantial offers to both Jose Reyes and Albert Pujols.  Ozzie stands by the team’s offers saying that they aren’t just public relations moves, but serious offers.  Word has it the Pujols offer could be just as substantial as the one presented by the Cardinals last off-season. with 8 to 9 years in the $220 million range.

So far, no surprises in the Hot Stove season.

The Red Sox are expected to meet with FA pitcher C.J. Wilson’s agent this evening or tomorrow, however given Wilson’s thoughts on a proposed contract in the $120 million plus range (for openers), I’m guessing the meeting will be more on Roy Oswalt, whom the agent also represents.  They have also met with the agent for FA closer Fransisco Cordero (who’d prefer to return to the Reds) and are talking with the reps for Heath Bell.  Brad Lidge (who has stated he’d accept a set-up/spot closer role) is also on the radar but for a more limited reclamation project contract.  At this point, the Scarlett Hose need to get serious with their bullpen… Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves are both awaiting word (as both would prefer to start or close) and Bobby Jenks is still under contract.  Aceves is incredibly valuable in his role as relief/spot starter which makes it harder, but settling the 7th/8th/Closer roles are obviously important.  Now take into account the fact that the Sox don’t have a skipper yet and it just gets more screwed up.

On that note, Cherington hasn’t ruled anyone out yet and with our list matching the Cub’s list (minus Mike Maddux) that leaves us in limbo.  With the ongoing questions of the bullpen, starting rotation and a few of the positions players (Youk.. trade for prospects and pitching or keep?), I’d have to believe the Sox need a manager in place fairly soon before the market gets heated up and top targets are still out there.

Tim Wakefield’s agent has noted that he has had some discussions with the Sox brass and would deem it a ‘shame’ if the veteran doesn’t return to Boston (also stating Wake wants another parade in Beantown).  He also noted some unnamed National League interest in his client.   Meanwhile, sources report an offer has been made to Big Papi however terms were not released.

The real intrigue of the off-season will be next week’s AL MVP announcement and the Justin Verlander argument.

Let’s take a closer look…

With nearly 200 Free Agents on the market this winter, there’s oodles of Hot Stove speculation, especially since The Red Sox didn’t make the playoffs and both the Phillies and Yankees dropped out in the first round.

Looking at the list, here are a few FA’s that I feel the Sox should give consideration and in the order most of the experts have them ranked.

C.J. Wilson, SP:  Wilson is the top pitcher in the market and deservedly so.  He’s won 15 games the last two seasons as part of the Texas Rangers machine but fell apart in this years playoff run.  The talent pool for starters is thin and Wilson will probably command a greater price tag than the $82 million or so both John Lackey and A.J. Burnett received, and that would be a lot for a guy who’d project as the 3rd or 4th starter.  Inquire but move on.  (Signed by LA Angels @ Winter Meetings)

Roy Oswalt, SP: Oswalt, as he did in Philadelphia, could fill the #4 hole in the Sox rotation, but as the Phillies already established by declining his option, it won’t be for silly money.  Chances are he could return to Philly, but the Rangers (he’s established in the Lone Star State) and probably Yankees will inquire with some real interest.   

David Ortiz, DH/1B: Big Papi would be foolish to leave his folk-hero status in Beantown but this is a business and easily his last chance at the big paycheck.  Aside from the Scarlet Hose, I feel the Angels and Rangers could be real contenders for his services while Toronto, Seattle, Minnesota and Cleveland test the waters.  The ‘Bombers could send out a phone call or two just to p!ss of Sox fans.  (Accepted arbitration from Boston)

Mark Buehrle, SP:  Many ‘in the know’ have mentioned St. Louis as a possibility while others believe he’ll stay put in Chicago.  He’s a good talent and calming presence worth a look.  Since Texas, Miami, possibly the Angels and probably Yankees will be looking, we should too.  (Signed by Miami Marlins @ Winter Meetings)

Jonathan Papelbon, RP:  Cherington has said he’d love to bring back both Ortiz and Papelbon for deals that make sense to everyone… however Pap’ is the best closer on the market and will be of interest to Philadelphia, possibly Miami (a showboat presence for a showboat manager) and any other team who can both spend big and be a contender.  If he’s not in Boston, look in the Phillies bullpen. (Signed by Philadelphia 11/13)

Ryan Madson, RP: Philly could be looking to keep him as he might be an alternative to Papelbon or a Heath Bell.  Madson has progressed nicely over the past few seasons and depending on what Boston plans to do with Daniel Bard or Aceves (convert them or make one closer in waiting), with or without Pap’, Ryan should be on the radar. (Signed by Cincinnati 1/11/12)

Grady Sizemore, OF: Sizemore is not the Indians slugger from just a few scant years ago, but he is still only 29 and worth a look.  A year removed from microfracture surgery most believe Grady should be eased back in to a starring role, getting 70 to 80 starts as a OF/DH platoon.  Rushing back to be the Cleveland slugger and star outfielder may have been what caused his several setbacks.  He could be worth a one or two-year deal to a big market team with room for him in such a situation.  Both he and Josh Willingham present better alternatives to Carlos Beltran (whom I omitted from this list). (Signed by Cleveland 11/29)

Heath Bell, RP: All signs point to Bell staying put in San Diego but he’s definitely worth the effort of a phone call or two should the Papelbon contract drag out or just not materialize.  (Signed by Miami Marlins @ Winter Meetings)

Josh Willingham, OF: Willingham played in Oakland whose stadium, the O.co, is massive and still put out 15 homers and a respectable slugging percentage.  Now, put that right-handed bat in Fenway and watch his numbers flourish.  He could platoon well in RF and present a viable option to Carlos Beltran. (Signed by Minnesota 12/14)

Paul Maholm, SP:  A left-hander on the market is going to get attention no matter what (see Darren Oliver and soon to be returning Jamie Moyer), so at 29 Maholm could be worth a look.  He finished the season with a shoulder problem sending him to the DL, but his consistency to cause grounders could be a great lefty complement to Lester in the rotation. (Signed by Chicago Cubs 1/10/12)

Jonathan Broxton, RP:  He’s a reclamation project coming back from non-reconstructive elbow surgery, but then again the Sox love those low-risk high-reward incentive laden contract players.  With the way the bullpen collapsed in September, call him.  (Signed by KC Royals 11/29)

Kerry Wood, RP:  Wood has salvaged his career as a late-inning specialist (if only Brad Penny would follow his lead) and put the gloom of lost potential in the past.  The Sox considered him at the trade deadline the last two seasons, so there’s no reason not to consider him now.  (Signed by Chicago Cubs 1/13/2012)

Jim Thome, DH:  Thome could present a poor man’s solution to David Ortiz should Big Papi take his talents elsewhere.  Thome is a legendary clubhouse presence and could still hit a few of those HOF home runs at Fenway’s friendly confines.  I expect he’ll return to Cleveland (if the Indians ‘do the right thing’) but anyone in the AL who can’t land Ortiz or Beltran may come calling. (Signed by Philadelphia 11/5)

Hideki Matsui, DH/OF:  Like Thome, Godzilla could find a late career flourish in Fenway as Big Papi’s replacement.  He’s still a threat in the middle of the line-up and my gut tells me he’ll continue the pilgrimage north (LA to Oakland) to Seattle and play alongside Ichiro for the Japanese owned Mariners.

Takashi Saito, RP:  He’s older but still a workable component to a bullpen.  Plus, we’ve had him before.  Worth the look.  (Signed by Arizona 12/12)

Brian Sanches, RP:  A young arm who was worn out by the Marlins bullpen.  Placed in the right situation, he could be a valuable addition to a pen armed with Jenks, Bard and Papelbon.

Jason Varitek, C:  ‘Tek appeared to adapt well to his new role of mentor/back-up to ‘Salty for the majority of the season.  As a tag team, their numbers were comparable to many others at catcher in the league, especially during the mid-months when the Sox were the best team in all of baseball.  Ryan Lavarnway is still at least a half-season from a steady role on the big club, and while some have called for any old veteran to back-up ‘Salty, I say stick with what works.  Let him continue to groom Jarrod, then work more with Lavarnway and transition from mentor to his next life as an MLB coach and future manager.  His silence during ‘The Fallout of Francona’ and ‘Pitcher-gate’ (after all, he is The Captain) is the only reason I could see him not being offered a return.  As many Yankees fans have noted in regards to FA Jorge Posada, I can’t see ‘Tek in another uniform. 

Tim Wakefield, SP/RP:  Like Varitek, The Time Lord is a proven veteran commodity for the Sox.  He can pitch from wherever he is asked to and can flash that knuckleball on many an occasion.  He’s 6 wins away from tying both Clemens and Young for all time on the Red Sox wins list, and could easily get there with a solid rebound year.  While he too was silent during ‘The Fallout of Francona’ as well as ‘Pitcher-gate’, he’s an established veteran that could assist the new manager in the rotation, bullpen and clubhouse.  Though, like in the case of ‘Tek, it may just be sentimentality.

The Holidays are upon us… must be Hot Stove!

Isn’t it crazy that the Hot Stove season can be just as exciting as the real deal?

Due to the ongoing CBA negotiations and other technical stuff which isn’t expected to be resolved till the Thanksgiving time-frame, the real heat of the Hot Stove could be closer to December.

Teams that could definitely make a splash:

The Los Angeles Angels. Several members of the Halo’s front office were let go following the rather inept offseason of 2010-2011.  The ‘Napoli’ fiasco (turning Texas down and then trading him to Toronto knowing Texas would obtain him from the Jays) and taking a pass on Adrian Beltre (who lives 30 minutes from the Stadium) who both went on to solidify their only division rival (well, with money, anyway) and have great postseason stats will do that.  Even with the division facing expansion (The Houston Astros joining the AL West) the Rangers are their biggest foe (in town rival Dodgers should be fairly quiet facing their sale to new ownership) and the Angels need to make up ground to keep pace.

The Miami Marlins: New stadium, new branding and a good deal of dollars to invest.  The Fish are looking to become ‘Latin America’s Team’ and have already taken a few steps to push that.  Signing Ozzie, Latin baseball’s poster boy went a long way as did the geographical name change but look for a few changes in the playing personnel too, especially with a number of Latin free agents available and the owner’s decision to increase payroll.

The Washington Nationals: They’ve rebuilt and now it’s time to contend.  The Nat’s have shown some signs of brilliance and an ability to contend in the NL East (the Braves and Phils aren’t going anywhere) with the talent assembled.  Like Miami, they have money to spend and a hungry fan base.  Plus being friends with Scott Boras helps.

The Chicago Cubs: Theo has arrived and brought a number of his former Red Sox employees with him to build a new Dynasty in baseball’s only other historic Cathedral.  He may not have as much payroll as he did in Boston but he has enough to make a splash and be taken seriously in the market.  No, the Cubs won’t be serious playoff contenders next year, but building for two and three years down the road starts right now.

Darkhorse Candidates:

The Los Angeles Dodgers: No, I don’t see them being serious contenders for Prince Fielder (though they should have been under better circumstances) or the top five to ten in the market, but with a pending sale both Frank McCourt and MLB may believe a few prize pieces to complement the established core could go a long way to frost the cake.

The New York Mets:  Again, I don’t see a lot of big name consideration but the brain trust finally came to the overdue decision to bring in the fences at CitiField and by cutting loose Jose Reyes and possibly David Wright they’ll have money to spend on some flashy re-treads who could show some power.  The owner’s financial situation may be too shaky for a Pujols or Fielder to settle on.  Plus they need to contend with the Yankees on the back page.

Now, I’m not expecting the Sox to be big players in the market, they have a set team and may be playing ‘gun-shy’ because of their recent past signings (Crawford, Lackey, multiple members of the bullpen), but they will dabble and pick some fruit from the lower B & C tier.  After all, anyone in their right mind knows Carl Crawford will rebound and so for that matter could John Lackey.  If I had a bum arm, a wife with cancer who decided to divorce me and was in a generally p!ss poor mood for the entire season… yeah, I’d be a rather poor teammate, drinking and fast food pickin’ in the clubhouse who had one of the worst starting pitching seasons in Sox history (and we had Matt Young in early 90’s too.. Yeesh!).  Just remember, now he has something to prove (or at least should) and will be easier to off load if he turns it around.

Anywhoo!  Here is a list of the Scarlett Hose free agent players:  Erik Bedard, J.D. Drew, Conor Jackson, Trever Miller, David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon, Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield.  Obviously, of these eight, Big Papi and Pap’ are the one’s to watch while Wake and ‘Tek are the sentimental faves.

David Ortiz: A Type-A free agent who has ranked in most experts Top 10 or close to it.  Yes, he had a great year, almost a ‘comeback’ year but in the end it was a ‘contract’ year.  Papi has the cache to demand his price for a what will probably be his last big payday but the market for a professional DH has dwindled greatly.  Sure, the power is there and he can still be a middle of the order threat in the right line-up (taking home his 5th Silver Slugger), but the stars still need to align both contract wise and probably (with most veteran players) championship caliber talent wise as well.  No, he won’t be as beloved elsewhere.  He’s a big personality and a great media darling but he’s a part of Red Sox lore and you can’t just transplant that, even if he did shoot himself in the face with the ‘Yankees are great’ comments in the Francona/Theo fallout, plus the fact Youk may require more DH time to avoid these late season breakdowns, especially with Will Middlebrooks seasoning in Pawtucket. I don’t forsee much NL interest due to his limited mobility at first.

Teams who might show interest:

1. Boston: Obvious.

2. Los Angeles Angels:  A big-ticket draw who can re-shape that line-up in a hurry and appeal to LA’s latin fan base.  They are contenders in the West and would sign him to keep Texas from thinking about it.

3. Toronto Blue Jays: A power hitter who does well at the Rogers Center but they Jays could climb as high as 3rd in the AL East.

4. The Texas Rangers:  A world champion and veteran presence who could change the face of an already great line-up.  If they can’t sign Prince Fielder, he may be a power hitting 2nd chance prize.

5. New York Yankees: He’s a part of Boston’s folk-lore, so he’s worth a look just as the Sox looked at both Jeter and Mo Rivera last off-season.  They’re the ‘Bombers so they can afford him and will obviously be in contention, but they don’t need him and don’t really have the roster space.  With A-Rod declining in the field, he’ll need more DH time to avoid injury as will a grooming Montero, aging Posada (should they re-sign him) and possibly Jeter as well.

I see him staying put, but if the Angels or Rangers offer 3 years and silly money…

Jonathan Papelbon: Type-A free agent who had a good rebound year but more importantly progressed as a leader with maturity.  Pap’ has said for years he’s been drooling to hit the market and I don’t see him jumping without due diligence.  There are several other closers on the market, however, Papelbon is obviously the best pick, ranking in the mid to late teens on most experts FA lists.

1. Boston: Obvious

2. Philadelphia: The closer’s role has been somewhat by committee the last few seasons and after the downfall against the Cards in the NLDS, they may be the serious contenders for a proven closer.

3. Los Angeles Angels: He’d go great with the Rally-Monkey.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers: Would be another jewel to package with the young core to entice a new owner.

5.1 Washington Nationals: If they’re making an honest push, they’ll make contact but K-Rod or maybe even a Joe Nathan could be a cheaper alternative if Prince or Reyes are on the radar.

5.2 Chicago Cubs: The Cubs can offer a ‘reasonable’ contract, and Theo’s experience will definately dictate that as the former Sox GM praised Pap’s progress as a mature leader who found the next level in his game.

If he doesn’t go to Philly, the Sox may be the next best landing spot for a big payday and shot at another title.  If he can accept a leadership in rebuilding role, Theo’s Cubs could be a very distinct Darkhorse candidate.

Tim Wakefield: Sure, he’s closing in on tying both Clemens and Young for all time Sox wins and is old enough to say he played in Scarlett Hose with the Rocket, but he fits in where ever he is asked and he’s still the Time Lord who can flash some brilliance in the flutterball.  His silence in the ‘Pitcher-gate’ fall out may go against him as a veteran leader in a clubhouse looking for change.

Jason Varitek: He rebounded a bit with a lighter work load in his role as mentor/back-up to ‘Salty for the majority of the season.  With Lavarnway still needing some seasoning in Pawtucket for both his defensive and offensive prowess (probably a mid-season call up with some back-up catcher/DH duty), I can see ‘Tek coming back for one more year as back-up before transitioning to his life as a coach and manager in the major leagues.  Like Wakefield, he may suffer from the silence regarding ‘Pitcher-gate’ and the fall-out may go against him.

Now, a few of the other groceries available in the winter market…

Albert Pujols, 1B: The best player of his generation seeking a contract to match.

1. St. Louis Cardinals: He’s a an established legend in a rabid baseball town and two-time WS Champion with the ‘Cards.  However, LaRussa was his mentor and King Albert may not be giving a hometown discount.

2. Miami Marlins: The Marlins should be hip deep in the biggest Latin player this side of Ozzie Guillen, who just happens to be the new manager for the Fish.  While increasing payroll, it still might be too steep to relocate the King.

3. Toronto Blue Jays:  The Jays are looking to compete in the AL East and obviously Pujols would be the trigger to get them on the right track.  He’d put a$$es in the seats but probably limit them beyond that.

4. Los Angeles Angels: Since the Dodgers can’t do it, it’s up to the Halos to try to bring one of baseball’s biggest marquee names to LA.  Arte Morneo would love to put this Latin juggernaut in the line-up, but may need to pick up more pitching and line-up depth for the money.

5. New York Mets: Nothing serious, but it would trump the Yankees Hot Stove season on the back pages.

This will probably drag out but will make a great Christmas present to either Miami or front-runner St. Louis.

Prince Fielder, 1B: He’s only 27 and been one of the best hitters in either league for the past six years.  Probably not A-Rod money (Rodriguez was younger in his initial free agency), but easily Mark Texiera dollars.

1. Washington Nationals:  He’s the cornerstone to build on and become the new ‘it’ team in the NL East.  They have the money to spend and have taken years to rebuild to this point.  Baltimore is an afterthought in this mid-Atlantic market and the Nats can finally put the Montreal stigma in the rear-view mirror.

2. Texas Rangers: The Rangers, for all their power and prowess, went to the WS without a bona-fide 1st baseman.  Adding Prince shores up the corner position, adds incredible power to an already potent line-up and ensures Texas a ticket to the dance for years to come.

3. Chicago Cubs: Theo will call in for King Albert but could give serious consideration for the Prince instead.  Fielder is younger and will most likely be cheaper, but could easily carry the hopes and dreams of Cubs fans while kicking Brewers fans in the gut.  Plus, one would think the smaller confines of Wrigley may increase those already gaudy numbers.  It may be the first big step in Theo’s plan for the future.

4. St. Louis Cardinals: Pujols is obviously the priority but should talks stall, turn ugly or just not meet on paper, another star of the NL Central certainly couldn’t hurt.

5. Darkhorse: It’s hard to imagine an off-season like this, with a player like Prince Fielder, where both the Dodgers and Mets are basically tied up in a corner and forced to watch.  This could give teams like Miami, Seattle or Toronto a chance to get into a better negotiating position.

Too close to call for me.  The Cubs offer history and a massive media market to a shy kid who could be the darling of a hungry fan base while Texas may be the best chance at a quick fix WS title.  I’d avoid St. Louis and the endless comparisons to Albert and settle for Washington, whose money is still green, if I had to.

Jose Reyes, SS:  He may have wanted Carl Crawford money but the poor dear is fragile and may have to settle for four or five years just under a hundred million.

1. Miami Marlins: Jose is friends with Hanley Ramirez (who already supposedly stated he’d move to third or another bag for his buddy) and could flourish under Ozzie Guillen.  If Pujols is off the radar, signing Reyes and maybe an Aramis Ramirez could go a long way remaking and re-branding ‘Latin America’s Team’.

2. Washington Nationals: Again, they have the money and he could fit nicely with what the Nats hope to do this offseason.

3. San Fransisco Giants: Jimmy Rollins may be a better investment for the G-Men but I look for them to make a fairly serious inquiry on a still moderately young big name.

4. New York Mets: It’s a longshot at best but he’s been there, has a fan base and is still marketable as a Met.

5. Darkhorse: The Red Sox may only be a bit off the radar if they feel Jose Iglesias is going off track, especially since Scutaro isn’t a long-term fix. St. Louis is in the market as well and don’t count out interest from the Yanks (Jeter and A-Rod are aging…).

I can easily see him amending his asking price / years to be part of something special in Miami.  Anywhere else, he’s cashing in.

C.J. Wilson, SP: He’s had a couple of above average regular seasons now, but fell apart in the playoffs.  However mediocrity is always rewarded (John Lackey & A.J. Burnett) when starting pitching is thin.

1. Texas Rangers: Texas is certainly a good place to be these days, so I’d be surprised if he wanted to leave.  But if the Rangers are going for Prince Fielder then it may tie things up.

2. Los Angeles Angels:  Hometown OC kid who the Halos can afford to add to an already impressive front half of the rotation (and lure away from rival Texas).

3. New York Yankees: He’s a big-ticket AL pitcher. Nuff’ said.

4. Boston Red Sox: I think the Sox will take a fairly serious look at a young guy who can win 15 games.  I think the Bombers will take it more seriously as Cherington may want to avoid a big-ticket pitcher for a rehab/low-cost alternative for the #4 and #5 starter.

5. Darkhorse: Obviously each of the bigger market teams will have a look with Chicago (both), St. Louis, Washington and maybe even Seattle on the bubble but he has WS experience now and again the market is thin.

The Angels should be able to pry him free, especially if he’s perceived by Texas as a choke artist in the playoffs.

Carlos Beltran, OF: 2011 was supposed to be the contract year but once he got to San Fransisco the remainder of the year stalled out on him.  There’s still a market for his bat, even if his outfield mobility is waning.  The Red Sox and Yankees are expected to make calls on him as are several other clubs.  I’d imagine he’ll land in the AL for a platoon OF/DH role but probably won’t be worth the years/money expected.  Grady Sizemore may be a better alternative for someone wanting to take a chance.

Roy Oswalt, SP: He’s older and obviously a bit more hittable, but he’s still Roy Oswalt.  He’s not necessarily out of Philadelphia, but he’s going to be cheaper if he’s in.  Most teams will call in on this one, especially from the NL, but The White Sox, Red Sox and Yankees love older innings eaters who cost money.  The Rangers will probably give some serious consideration for mid-range money for the guy who carried the Astros for years.

Jimmy Rollins, SS: He’s not the same player he was four or five years ago but his skills, passion and leadership could easily make him a valuable alternative to Jose Reyes.  He’s looking for four years, but an incentive laden three years plus an option for a contender may work.  Both the Cardinals and Giants could go deep for his services, but San Fransisco might win out as the Cards wait on Pujols.  Washington and Seattle (and don’t count out the Mets) could call on him for some veteran stability as well.

Grady Sizemore, OF:  He’s not going to rate very high on anyone’s FA list due to his injury plagued past, but he’s only 29 and will be a year removed from micofracture surgery.  For a big market team in need of a platoon OF/DH type, he could definitely be worth a try.  Boston should be on the phone with serious consideration (after all, they used to have J.D. Drew) as could a team like the Rays.  If he gets the right situation and is held to under a hundred games, it could supply enough rest to build towards his old self.   He could fall somewhere between Carlos Beltran and a Josh Willingham.

Aramis Ramirez, 3B: He opted out of Chicago which may have saved Theo the buyout fee.  One of the better hitting 3rd basemen in the NL, there aren’t a lot of options on the market this off-season.  Definitely not Adrian Beltre but may translate as a 3B/1B/DH for an AL club.  Look for the Miami Marlins to give a serious look as a Pujols fall back plan to team with Reyes and Hanley.

David Ortiz, DH/1B: see above.

Ryan Madson, RP:  Like Oswalt, he’s not necessarily out of Philly, but with the steps he’s taken in the past few seasons he’s definitely sought after.  The Phillies and Red Sox (depending on what they plan to do with Bard) could be at the top of the list (especially if both end up scrambling for Papelbon) but so could any big market team in need of late-inning help.

Edwin Jackson, SP:  Yes, he’s a WS Champion but he’s been traded more than a few times and you really have to wonder why for such a young and seemingly capable guy.  He’ll command a salary in the market (perhaps too pricey for a #4 or #5 type guy the Yankees or Red Sox need) but that could leave anyone to step-up.

Jonathan Papelbon, RP: see above

Carlos Pena, 1B:  His average was down but over all Pena still performed for the Cubs.  Most figure he’ll land in Milwaukie to replace Prince Fielder but I could see the Rays (he has a history), Rangers (if they don’t land Fielder) and Pirates (could be cheap but established) calling as well.

Heath Bell, RP: His K’s were down but he’s still a possible alternative to Papelbon or maybe a Madson.  Probably staying in San Diego, he could still command more than a few inquiries.

Francisco Rodriguez, RP: K-Rod will probably get a lot of attention as a Papelbon alternative even though he’s still a 9th inning rollercoaster.  A few teams will probably call for his set-up qualities as well as closing prowess, the Reds and Red Sox among them but look for Ozzie’s Marlins to make a big push.

Josh Willingham, OF: Even though he played in the caverns of Oakland’s O.co Stadium, Willingham still posted respectable numbers.  Moving to a smaller home field will probably work wonders for him.  The Mets, Red Sox, Braves and Rays could come calling.  Boston could be a viable option as they need a right-handed RF in Fenway to platoon.

Johnny Damon, DH/OF: Damon has transitioned well from everyday outfielder to spot starter/DH and mentor for teams with younger emerging talent just as he did in Detroit and most recently Tampa.  Plus he can still hit.  Arizona would appear to need someone to fill those shoes and maybe even the Cubs (Theo won a title with Johnny) but I see him staying in the AL, possibly for Toronto, Seattle or the Angels if not returning to Tampa.

Now obviously there are roughly 200 free agents on this year’s market.  I’m not covering them all, just touching on some of the more notable players crossing everyone’s wish lists.  There are a lot of B and C type players, veterans, rehabs and retreads who will be circulating as well.  In my next post, I’ll touch upon a few more who I feel the Red Sox in particular should explore.

“Gentlemen, start your engines…”

The clock is slowly ticking down to the start of September and the 2011 season is about to hit its stride.  However, there is one helluva straightaway before we get to turn four.

Now granted, be it in NASCAR terms or whatever vehicular jargon you like, the Sox are in pit row.  The pitching has since sputtered, the line-up is thumping over a blown tire and while the fuel has been fine, thinning the mix for the length of the race has been a problem.  Luckily, at this point anyway, we’re not alone as our neighbors roughly 150 miles to the southwest have been in the same race.

Lackey has been anything but the ‘second ace’ we expected were getting when the ink dried on the contract.  In fact, from one start to another, you’re not sure which version of the big hoss will show.  Wakefield has been stuck, seemingly, in nuetral.  However, in Wake’s defense, the Time Lord has pitched fairly well and kept opponents at bay as well Miller or the semi-Lackey but just hasn’t had the stability behind him.  Lester is for a better word ‘back’ and Beckett is looking as if he’ll be completing a great ‘comeback’ year.  Bedard, well, there is yet another question mark.  Yeah, the ERA isn’t horrific but do we have time for a ‘work in progress’ we may only be renting anyway?

Youk, who’s been in and out of the line-up with various injuries (which to his credit he has attempted to play through) may have picked a ‘good’ time to go out on the DL.  Big Papi was already riding the bench and should be back and well into getting his swing on by the time Youk returns.  A-Gon has been hampered by a neck problem which has stolen his home run stroke and now Jacoby ‘The Machine’ Ellsbury is hitting a slight breakdown.  Well, believe it or not, we should still be OK.  Petey rode in the slow lane early and has picked up an MVP caliber season since while Crawford, extremely slow to adapt to his new surroundings, is again hitting his stride following the mid-season  injury.  Combine that with Marco, Reddick, Salty/Tek’ and the on and off mix n’ match pieces we’ve been plugging in… along with A-Gon’s ability to still hit for average if not power… we’re hanging in there.

But not by much.

Now comes the time of year where you need to take every series.  Splitting a four game series won’t be enough.  Now its three out of four or two of three.  Sure, you can’t sweep every series, not should you expect to, but taking the series is without a doubt.  So the question is… who do we need to line up in our sights and show no mercy..?

We open a four game set with the Rangers of Texas in Arlington who will obviously be no push-over and then return home for a month-ending home stand.  First we see the Athletics, late of Philly and Kansas City (and possibly soon of Oakland), for a three game series and after an off day welcome the New York Highlanders for an all important AL East match-up (of course, we visit the Bronx Zoo in late September for the final weekend of the season, amidst a Baltimore sandwich series).  We then open September with the final game of the Pinstripes series in the friendly confines and then welcome… guess who, the Texas Rangers for yet another volley of Defending AL Champs stew.  The remainder of the month is as it should be, an AL East love-fest where we play what seems like 400 games against the Blue Jays and Rays (strangely, both teams having towns that begin with ‘T’ and names that end in ‘..’ays’) with the aforementioned Baltimore sandwich with Yankee filler.

Those same Pinstripes will be home for a series against the wandering A’s, a visit to the O’s and then have the aforementioned sleep-over at Fenway.  There month however… isn’t as AL East lovey-dovey as ours.  In fact, they have a West Coast road trip amidst the love-fest to visit Seattle and the Los Angeles Americans (as compared to the Los Angeles Nationals).  The ‘Bombers also will play the final two weeks of the season with no day off as a one-game visit from the Twinkies will fill that date on the calendar.

So all we really need at this point is for the pitching woes to sure-up, the bullpen to get some new life and the hitting to get back on track while the opponents from the city so nice they named it twice to get some serious fatigue and jet lag, but with some of the seniors playing on their team, that might not be a problem.