Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre got his 3,000th career hit on Sunday, becoming just the 31st player in Major League Baseball to ever reach that milestone. Before the 2017 season is finished, Beltre could realistically pass Roberto Clemete (with whom he is tied at 3,000), Al Kaline (3,007), Wade Boggs (3,010), Cap Anson (3,011), Rafael Palmeiro (3,020), and Lou Brock (3,023) on the all time hits list. The 38 year old has had a great career and continues to be a productive player, though it took him a while for the general baseball viewing audience to fully appreciate how good he has been. Chief among those who overlooked Beltre are the Boston Red Sox, who had him for a year and let him walk in free agency.
Adrian Beltre signed with the Red Sox for the 2010 season, a one year, $9 million deal. That season was productive by any measure. He hit 28 home runs, led the Majors with 49 doubles, led the Red Sox with a .321 batting average, and was tied with David Ortiz for most RBI’s on the team with 102. That year, the Red Sox missed the postseason for the first time since 2006, and they let Beltre walk in free agency, but that was just the beginning of Boston’s relative struggles.
Beltre signed with the Texas Rangers and has been a fixture of their lineup ever since. He was a big part of the team that got back to the World Series in 2011, and came so close to winning it all before Tony La Russa performed some kind or blood magic (allegedly, and I’m the one doing the alleging) for the Cardinals to win Game 6 and finish the Rangers off in Game 7. That year, the Red Sox were eliminated on the last day of the season and the organizational over-correction that came from that collapse resulted in replacing Terry Francona with Bobby Valentine.
Beltre became a fan favorite and Internet sensation in Texas, between the nonsense about not liking his head touched (which only compelled teammates to touch his head more) and things like the exchange he had just last week with a humorless umpire over standing in the on deck circle that got him ejected. All the while, he was remarkably consistent in the field and in the batter’s box (probably, in part, because of his inability to pick up and drag the actual batter’s box).
Adrian Beltre was underappreciated for most of his career, playing on the Los Angeles Dodgers before they were the best team in baseball and outspending the New York Yankees, playing on the noncompetitive Seattle Mariners, and playing for the Red Sox in a rare Octoberless season in the 2000s. He was in his 30s and playing in Texas before he was on a consistently competitive team, and before he could get out of the shadow of the 48 home run 2004 season that got him a big contract with the Mariners.
I’ve been thinking about Adrian Beltre a lot this season, as third base has been a glaring area of need for my Red Sox in 2017. Although, it wasn’t exactly a stable position before this year, either. They moved Kevin Youkilis back from first base to make room for Adrian Gonzalez, then Will Middlebrooks showed some promise, until he didn’t. They moved Xander Bogaerts to third from shortstop, when they were desperately trying to make Stephen Drew happen, for reasons I never fully understood. They paid big money for Pablo Sandoval when they were better off with Brock Holt and Travis Shaw, and with Sandoval run out of town, they’re scraping by with Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin. And those are just the third basemen I could name off the top of my head.
Adrian Beltre has continued to have a great career that will now certainly end with a plaque in Cooperstown, and you can’t tell me the Red Sox were better off moving on from him seven years ago. They could have used him in 2011. They could still use him today.
This Major League Baseball offseason has been terrific for trades and player movement, to the point that baseball is taking up time in the 24 hour sports news cycle during football/basketball/hockey season the way the NBA was during the middle of the summer when baseball was the only major sport playing games. The eager waiting of baseball fans everywhere for Jon Lester’s free agency decision did not have the ESPN flair of LeBron’s decision to take his talents to South Beach in the summer of 2010, but jokes about waiting for a new Pope, and anticipating red smoke if the lefty ace chose Boston and blue smoke if he picked Chicago (or orange smoke if he decided to take his talents to San Francisco, but they were out of the running before the Red Sox and Cubs) dominated Reddit and Twitter, and did not seem that far off from the reality of the situation. Not every offseason is this exciting, but 2014 has not disappointed, unless you’re a fan of the Orioles or Athletics (but even then, A’s fans must be used to Billy Beane’s wheeling and dealing by now, and they’ll be contending again soon enough).
One team that usually flies under the radar during the winter, and rarely makes waves during the regular season has been right in the thick of it this offseason, however. The San Diego Padres might not be good this year, but there’s more to talk about with that club than there has been in a while.
The Padres are one of those teams that you might forget are in Major League Baseball if you follow an American League team, and they’re not on the inter-league schedule. In recent years, the National League West has been dominated by the San Francisco Giants, and Los Angeles Dodgers, but the Arizona Diamondbacks (who beat the New York Yankees in seven games in 2001) and the Colorado Rockies (who actually beat the Padres in a one game playoff before eventually getting swept by the Red Sox in 2007) have both been to the World Series since Bruce Bochy, Trevor Hoffman and the late great Tony Gwynn led them to a National League Pennant in 1998, before being swept by the juggernaut Yankees. These days, Gwynn is in Cooperstown, but gone well before his time, and Bochy and Hoffman appear to be headed there eventually, with Bochy the skipper behind three World Series winning teams in the last five years, and Hoffman getting a new award for the National League’s best closer named in his honor, but none of them are doing anything to help the Padres right now.
The plight of small market teams in baseball is reflected in San Diego’s baseball club. Adrian Gonzalez was a good player for them, but they traded him to Boston in 2011 rather than sign him to an extension or lose him via free agency. This winter, however, the Padres went on the offensive with their trades, acquiring Matt Kemp from the Dodgers, Wil Myers from the Tampa Bay Rays, and Justin Upton from the Atlanta Braves, three outfielders with All-Star caliber bats. They also flipped veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan to the Red Sox for third baseman Will Middlebrooks. This is a low-risk trade that could potentially work well for both teams. Middlebrooks is a young player with plenty of power who gets injured almost as much as he strikes out, but a change of scenery could be good for him, especially since the Red Sox were ready to move on from him with the signing of World Series hero Pablo Sandoval earlier in the offseason. For the Red Sox, Hanigan is a local kid (from Andover, MA) who could play the role of mentor to young catcher Christian Vazquez, and replace David Ross (who signed with the Cubs to catch for Lester) as the team’s backup catcher.
The recurring theme seems to be a change of scenery, and there isn’t much better scenery than San Diego. I was always surprised that San Diego couldn’t attract free agents on its good weather alone, but it is exactly what these players need. Matt Kemp was a fan favorite and a legitimate superstar in Los Angeles, having been a two time All-Star, two time Gold Glover, and a two time Silver Slugger, but is now 30, and has had injury issues, and has fallen out of favor with the Dodgers. It’s interesting to note, though, that both Kemp and Dodgers owner Magic Johnson were mentioned by name in the Donald Sterling tapes, for being people that V. Stiviano had taken pictures with and posted to Instagram against Sterling’s approval. At any rate, it was probably time for Kemp to head south. San Diego should be a good change of pace after playing his entire career with the Dodgers.
Wil Myers was part of a big trade two years ago that sent pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Kansas City Royals. Myers, a top prospect in Kansas City’s farm system was believed to be a steal at the time, although Shields and Davis were a big part of the incredible, improbable, no joke, very exciting run to Game 7 of the World Series that Kansas City went on this past October. Myers was no slouch, either. He won the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year Award with Tampa, and at 24, still has a promising future ahead of him in the game of baseball. It may be a very Boston-centric sports take, but it might do Myers a lot of good to spend less time at Fenway Park. Myers made a costly error at Fenway in the 2013 ALDS, which helped kick off the Red Sox postseason success that year, and in 2014, he collided in the Fenway outfield with Desmond Jennings resulting in a wrist injury that would derail his season (as well as the Rays’ season, which resulted in Tampa trading David Price to the Detroit Tigers, general manager Andrew Friedman leaving to become President of Baseball Operations for the Dodgers, and field manager Joe Maddon leaving to become manager of the Cubs). With the Padres, Myers won’t even have to go to Fenway every season.
Justin Upton is another player who could use a change of scenery because things just weren’t working in Atlanta. The Braves had plenty of bats, but had poor plate approach as a team. Upton and his brother B.J. did not live up to the hype that came with them arriving in Atlanta the same year. After the Braves dealt Jason Heyward to the St. Louis Cardinals, it seemed as if they were ready to blow it up and start rebuilding.
It’s unclear at this time if the Padres will be good, but it’s the first time I can remember that there is buzz around the Padres in the offseason, and it just might lead to regular season buzz. At the very least, the Giants and Dodgers are looking over their shoulders because the division has a chance to be more than just a two team race in 2015.
This time a year ago, I wrote about the state of the Chicago Cubs, America’s lovable losers, who appeared poised to be doing more of the same. Cubs team president, Theo Epstein, and general manager Jed Hoyer, made names for themselves in the game of baseball as general manager and assistant manager, respectively, for the Boston Red Sox when they won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, the first titles for Boston’s American League ball club since the Wilson Administration. It’s been a slower process building Chicago’s National League club into a winner, and they continued to do a lot of losing in 2014, but they seem to be heading in a better direction, or they have at least picked a direction, which could not be said a year ago.
I pointed out that they had an easier job turning the Red Sox into winner than they have with the Cubs, because they inherited from (current Baltimore Orioles GM) Dan Duquette a pretty good roster that included Boston mainstays like Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, Trot Nixon, Tim Wakefield, and Nomar Garciaparra, and I pointed out that the roster already included two guys named Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez. Building a championship team is never easy, and there is a lot of luck involved when it comes to actually playing out the games, but it’s a lot easier to get to October with a chance at a title when you already have the best right handed pitcher and the best right handed hitter in the American League (if not all of baseball). While Theo did make his share of moves to put the Red Sox over the top, and he bolstered the farm system through the draft, paving the way for success beyond 2004, Dan Duquette deserved a World Series ring for 2004 as much as anyone employed by the team when they won it.
While I think Theo Epstein is a very smart baseball executive, and he has as good a chance as anyone in the last century to lead the Cubs to a World Series title, his tenure at the top of the Red Sox baseball operations department is overrated for more than just 2004. During the 2005-06 offseason, Epstein resigned as general manager of the Red Sox in a power struggle with team president Larry Lucchino that defined his tenure in Boston as much as the two championships did. He signed back on with the Sox before the start of the 2006 season, but in the interim, the Red Sox made a bold move that Epstein would not have made, and set the stage for the 2007 World Series run. The Red Sox, led by Epstein’s assistant GMs Jed Hoyer (currently serving under Epstein as GM of the Cubs) and Ben Cherington (currently serving as GM of the Red Sox) serving as co-interim GMs, traded highly touted shortstop prospect Hanley Ramirez along with Jesus Delgado, Harvey Garcia, and Anibal Sanchez to the Florida Marlins for Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, and Guillermo Mota. Epstein was hesitant to trade Hanley, as the Red Sox have had a bit of a revolving door at the shortstop position, not unlike the Defense Against the Dark Arts professorship at Hogwarts, ever since they traded Nomar in the middle of the season in 2004. Hanley Ramirez became an All-Star, but the Red Sox would not have won the 2007 World Series without Beckett and Lowell.
Epstein left the Red Sox for good after the 2011 season and hired Hoyer (who had left the Red Sox for the San Diego Padres a couple of years earlier) as his general manager shortly thereafter. Since then, they have made trades to cu salary and lose as much as possible to improve draft position. The free agents they have signed have been used as trade bait for contending teams like the Oakland Athletics with deep farm systems. This offseason, however, they appear trying to win for a change. When Joe Maddon opted out of his contract as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Cubs pounced on the chance to hire their third manager in four years. Maddon was annoying to Red Sox fans within the division because of his arrogant personality leading the little ball club that could down in Florida. Annoying and arrogant as he may be, they guy is a winner. By hiring Maddon, the Cubs are showing that they look to take advantage of the chances they get and the breaks they may catch, as opposed to just sitting back and hoping their prospects become big ballplayers.
Building through the draft is great when your prospects are working out. When Epstein was in Boston, they went on a run where almost all of there homegrown talent was panning out. Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, Manny Delcarmen, and Jacoby Ellsbury all turned into impact players for the Sox, but when you go cold, you go cold. The last of those guys made it up to the big league team in the midst of the 2007 title run, and Kevin Youkilis is now 35 and retired from playing. Lars Anderson, Ryan Westmoreland, and Ryan Kalish never became who the Red Sox and their fans hoped they would become. Prospects are nice, but established Major League players are better to bank on. Good teams find a way to strike a balance between building through the farm system, and filling needs through free agency. It is hard, if not impossible, to sustain success doing just one or the other.
The Cubs have decent assemblage of talent that includes former Red Sox prospect Anthony Rizzo (who was traded to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez Trade), starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, who nearly threw a perfect game at Fenway Park last summer, and this week, they signed my favorite pitcher not named Pedro Martinez. Last season, one of the highlights for the Cubs was going into Fenway and sweeping the then-defending World Series champion Red Sox. It must have felt good for Theo Epstein, now that he finally has a chance to call the shots as team president, and it showed how small the margins between the best teams and the worst teams are in baseball, as the Red Sox proceeded on their way to their second last place finish in three years, making a miserable bookend for the magical season that was 2013.
The last time the Cubs won the World Series, Ottoman was the name of an empire, and not just the thing Dick Van Dyke trips over (and I realize that’s a half century old television reference itself), but they just might have the foundation in place for it to happen this century, or even this decade. Or maybe 2015 is the year, after all.
The Boston Red Sox have won the World Series three times in my lifetime, and that’s three times more than they won it in my grandfather’s lifetime. I am grateful for being able to see the great local baseball I have seen, and I will do my best not to take it for granted. The current Red Sox owners deserve a lot of credit for accomplishing what they’ve accomplished, between renovating and revitalizing Fenway Park as well is turning the club’s fortunes around, winning more titles than any other Major League team in the 21st century.
Each championship team was distinct. We had the Idiots of 2004, who were just dumb enough to end an 86 year drought that dated back to Babe Ruth’s pitching career and the Woodrow Wilson administration. We had the 2007 club that dominated the American League all season, and could so it all. And then we had the Band of Bearded Brothers in 2013, who took baseball by storm righting the wrongs of the recent years. Turnover is natural and healthy in baseball. By 2011 and 2012, there were too many satisfied and overpaid guys on the roster, and changes needed to be made. While I’m okay with parting ways with members of the 2013 team (like the Red Sox did yesterday, sending Jake Peavy to the San Francisco Giants), there is one guy they need going forward, that the Sox are in danger of losing because of their own hardball tactics. If Jon Lester gets traded this week or leaves in free agency, Red Sox fans will have every right to be angry with the team and have every right to turn on the ownership.
David Ortiz is the only player take part in all three World Series titles in Boston in the past decade, but the list of players to play on two of them is not that much longer: Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Timlin, Jason Varitek, and Tim Wakefield were part of the ’04 and ’07 squads while Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz (although Buchholz did not play at all in the 2007 playoffs), and Jon Lester were part of the ’07 and ’13 championship teams. With Big Papi getting up there in age, and Pedroia under contract for the years to come, Lester should be the priority for the Red Sox, but they insulted him with an offer well below his market value during spring training. Lester has had a great season, and was one of only two Red Sox players selected for the 2014 All-Star Game in Minnesota last week (along with 39 year old closer Koji Uehara). He has been a model of professionalism and consistency, and has handled pitching in Boston, one of the toughest markets in North American professional sports, as well as just about anyone. The Red Sox have taken a step back, and the magic of 2013 seems like a distant memory, but one thing Red Sox fans have been able to take solace in has been how well the pitchers have pitched. Lester has been the ace and the leader in every sense of the word. Without him, the one certainty the Red Sox have anymore would be uncertain again. That does not bode well for the future.
The Red Sox have a lot of young pitching prospects in the system. The ones we have seen the most of so far have been Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa, with Allen Webster (who, along with De La Rosa, was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the franchise-altering Josh Beckett/Adrian Gonzalez/Carl Crawford/Nick Punto trade of 2012) and Henry Owens in the big league club’s future plans. The thing about prospects is that they have plenty of upside on paper, but potential doesn’t always pan out. Remember Lars Anderson? Drafted by the Red Sox in 2006, we heard for years from the team and the writers who cover the farm system that he would be the power hitting first baseman of the future, but at 26, his rookie status is still intact and he’s playing in the Chicago Cubs’ farm system because it never happened. He has played in a total of 30 Major League games, has not reached the Majors since 2012, and has never hit a big league home run. Proven talent is always more of a certainty than unproven talent, and Lester is only 30, so he should have more than a few good years in his left arm. The young pitching talent could be good in the future, but to compete in the meantime, the Red Sox need Jon Lester, and he also doubles as the perfect role model for the young pitchers.
In a lot of ways, Lester has been underrated and taken for granted by Red Sox fans. Part of it is his consistency, but another aspect the near death experience he had earlier in his career that he recovered from so quickly. After a strong start to his rookie season in 2006, Lester was diagnosed with cancer. He fought it, and he beat it, and a year later he was pitching for the winning team in the World Series. It reminds me a lot of what Paul Pierce went through early in his career. In September of 2000, just two years into what has become a Hall of Fame career, Pierce was stabbed 11 times at a club in Boston, and needed surgery to repair his lung. In spite of that, Pierce played all 82 games for the Celtics that season, and with the exception of the 2006-07 season when the C’s were holding him out to try and improve their chances of drafting Kevin Durant, was an incredibly durable and consistent player during his 15 year tenure in Boston. Since his battle with cancer, Lester has been so good, people have largely forgotten what he went through, and the 2007 World Series was just the start.
In 2008 and 2009, Lester established himself as Boston’s best starting pitcher. While Josh Beckett held the honor of being the Opening Day starter both seasons, Lester was the guy Terry Francona wanted on the mound for the first game of the playoffs, a decision John Farrell also made when the Sox returned to the postseason in 2013. Lester has demonstrated a great ability to go blow for blow with everyone else’s ace pitchers whether it was rival turned teammate John Lackey, or “Big Game” James Shields, or David Price, or Max Scherzer, or Adam Wainwright. In a year when pitching has been the only thing to write home about for the Red Sox, Lester has been the best. If the Red Sox don’t pay a Jon Lester what he’s worth, there is no reason to believe they would do that for someone who has never pitched in Boston. They won’t replace Lester with Price or Scherzer.
Jon Lester has said that he wants to pitch for the Red Sox, but there are plenty of teams who are willing to spend money that would love to have him. The New York Yankees come to mind. He’s pitched well against them his whole career, and knows what it’s like to compete in the American League East. The Detroit Tigers could also be in play, especially if Max Scherzer leaves in free agency. Lester’s hometown Seattle Mariners, who are as close to being a contender as they have been in a decade with the offseason addition of Robinson Cano, might also make a push to acquire the Lester, and create a deadly one two punch at the top of their starting rotation with Felix Hernandez. If anything, it’s worth it to the Red Sox to overpay Lester so he isn’t pitching against him in pinstripes for the second half of his career. I don’t care how much it costs and I don’t care if they sign Lester for longer than they should, but the Red Sox cannot win in the next two or three years without him. The title of this post says it all. Pay this man. He’s earned it.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have signed ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw to a record setting seven year deal worth $215 million. Kershaw is a great pitcher, but this isn’t the first enormous deal the Dodgers have taken on since the partnership led by Magic Johnson purchased the team. Kershaw is the face of the franchise, and the best pitcher in Dodger Blue since Sandy Koufax, and only 25 years old, but they’re already playing Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Zack Greinke big money to play in LA. Paying Kershaw was the right thing to do, but what will happen when the money runs out?
I get what Magic Johnson is trying to do. The legendary Los Angeles Lakers point guard is trying to transform the Dodgers into baseball’s version of the Lakers. The New York Yankees have been that team for generation after generation, but the Bronx Bombers are currently being held hostage by expensive contracts for players over 30. The Dodgers would be a breath of fresh air for baseball with their classic blue caps, irrational swagger, and west coast attitude. They have a high payroll and a history and tradition of success, but have not been to the World Series since they defeated the Oakland A’s in 1988. Since then, their rival San Francisco Giants have reached the World Series twice, and have won their first two World Series titles since the Giants and Dodgers moved to the west coast together in 1958. The Dodgers are relevant again, but they haven’t broken through.
Johnson gained a lot of talent in the summer of 2012 when he took Beckett, Crawford, and Gonzalez off the Red Sox’ hands. It meant resetting the plans for the franchise for Boston, and it meant the expectations to win now for the Dodgers. The Dodgers got off to a slow start in 2013, and manager Don Mattingly’s job appeared to be in jeopardy. Even with Kershaw and all that surrounding talent, the Dodgers looked really bad before a Cuban born catalyst named Yasiel Puig got the offense going and made the Dodgers more exciting than they had been in years. The momentum carried them to the NLCS, where they were were defeated by the St. Louis Cardinals, but it was a fun ride while it lasted. I don’t expect the Giants to be as bad as they were this year, so I don’t expect the Dodgers to be quite as good in 2014, either. They have a lot of volatile stars who explode when the team is hot, but check out when things go south. Kershaw is the consistent one on the team, but he’s just one guy and he only plays every five days. At some point, the Dodgers will hit the limits of their spending capacity, and they would like to win it all before then. The Red Sox dumped their overpaid players on the Dodgers in 2012, and won the World Series in 2013, so the pressure is already there to have success from that particular trade. Bringing back Kershaw is the right thing to do, but the Dodgers need to win soon or fans will be calling for Magic’s head, Mattingly’s head, and running these highly paid players out of town. Or maybe they won’t. It’s LA, not Boston, New York or Philly.