Jason Varitek

11 years after being drafted, Kelly Shoppach belatedly replaces Jason Varitek

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When the Red Sox made Kelly Shoppach their first pick in the 2001 draft, the thinking was that he might someday take over for Jason Varitek behind the plate in Boston. Of course, then GM Dan Duquette probably didn’t see it happening 11 years and two Red Sox World Series championships later. Nor did he know that it’d be his last draft at the helm of the team.

Shoppach, a polished catcher out of Baylor, was selected 48th overall in 2001 after Boston lost its first-round pick for signing Manny Ramirez. He proved solid right away, hitting .271/.369/.432 in high-A ball in his pro debut in 2002.

Varitek turned into an institution in Boston, but at the time, he was a 29-year-old with only one really good season under his belt. He hit .269/.330/.482 with 20 homers and 76 RBI for Boston in 1999, but he fell off to .248/.342/.388 with just 10 homers in 2000. His 2001 season was ruined by a broken elbow suffered just two days after the Shoppach pick was made. Varitek returned in 2002 and had another modest season (.266/.332/.392, 10 HR) before really coming into his own and making his first All-Star team in 2003.

Of course, the story from there took a dramatic turn. While there was much speculation in the 2004 postseason that Varitek and Pedro Martinez might be playing their final games for the Red Sox, Varitek got a four-year, $40 million to stick around. It was a choice made easier by Shoppach taking a step backwards in his first year in Triple-A. Shoppach rebounded in 2005, hitting .253/.352/.507 with 26 homers for Pawtucket. He was then shipped out as part of the much ballyhooed Andy Marte-for-Coco Crisp swap with Cleveland, a move that proved a letdown on several levels.

Now Shoppach is back in Boston, pushing the soon-to-be 40-year-old Varitek out the door. It should be an upgrade, though Varitek was just fine offensively in his two season as a backup for the Red Sox. Boston, however, needed a catcher capable of throwing out a basestealer every once in a while, and Shoppach is a big plus there.

Of course, Varitek will be missed. The Red Sox eased their restrictions to retire the number of a non-Hall of Famer three years ago, when they put Johnny Pesky’s No. 6 up on the wall. They may want to consider doing the same to Varitek’s No. 33 someday, because while Varitek won’t sniff Cooperstown, he had a terrific ride.

Oakland A’s officials taking a tour of a possible waterfront ballpark site

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 19:  A Maersk Line container ship sits docked in a berth  at the Port of Oakland on February 19, 2015 in Oakland, California. International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) longshoremen at the Port of Oakland took the day shift off today to attend a union meeting amidst ongoing contract negotiations between dockworkers and terminal operators at west coast ports. The port closure, the seventh one this month, has left 12 container ships stuck at the dock with no workers to load and unload them. The ILWU members at 29 West Coast ports have been without a contract for 9 months. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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The Oakland Athletics’ ballpark saga has gone on for years now, with false starts in Fremont and San Jose, lawsuits and seemingly interminable talks with the City of Oakland over a new place on the current Coliseum site. That’s all complicated, of course, by the presence of the Raiders, on whose address — be it Oakland, Las Vegas or someplace else — the A’s future is still largely contingent.

The city has tried to get the A’s interested in a waterfront site for several years now. There are a lot of problems with that due mostly to zoning and regulatory matters, as well as proximity to transit and other practical concerns. The artist’s renderings are often pretty, but it takes more than artist’s renderings to make a good ballpark plan.

But no one is giving up on that and, it seems, even the A’s are willing to at least listen to such proposals now:

Oakland A’s co-owner John Fisher is expected to join officials Thursday for a hush-hush tour of the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal, a cargo-loading area near Jack London Square that Mayor Libby Schaaf tirelessly promotes as “a fantastic site for a ballpark.”

Guess it ain’t so “hush-hush” anymore. As with all Oakland ballpark stories, however, feel free to continue snoozing until someone gives us a real reason to wake up.

Note: The above photo is from the Port of Oakland. I have no idea what the proximity of the working part of the city’s port is to where they’d build a ballpark, but I used this picture because I love the story about how George Lucas spotted those things from an airplane as he was leaving Oakland or San Francisco or whatever and used them as inspiration for the AT-AT Imperial Walkers in “Empire Strikes Back.” Which may be a totally aprocyphal story, but one I love so much that I told it to my kids when we flew in to Oakland back in June and will choose to believe despite whatever evidence you provide.

Wade Davis? Greg Holland? Who needs ’em?

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 21: Joakim Soria #48 of the Kansas City Royals throws in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on August 21, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The story of the two-time defending AL champion and current defending World Series champ Kansas City Royals cannot be told without talking at length about their bullpen.

In 2014, Wade Davis, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera formed a shutdown brigade that not only made it next to impossible for the opposition to mount late rallies, but managed something which seemed utterly impossible before 2014: they turned Ned Yost into a tactical genius. Indeed, the only time Yost got criticism at all that fall was when he messed with the autopilot formula that had that three-headed monster handling the 7th, 8th and 9th innings.

Much the same happened in 2015, of course, despite Holland’s sharp decline and eventual injury. Davis and Herrera continued their dominance. They were joined by Ryan Madson and a cast of other effective relievers who, along with timely hitting, great defense and good health, helped propel the Royals to the title.

This year had not been quite the same story. Holland has been out all year and Davis, while effective when he’s pitched, has missed time due to injury. As has longtime contributor and presumptive next-man-up Luke Hochevar. Herrera is basically still Herrera, but Ned Yost has been presented with a decidedly different set of choices. Lots of choices and Ned Yost don’t always go together well, but lately that hasn’t mattered.

Last night the Royals’ bullpen came in to a close game and tossed three scoreless innings. That set a franchise record with 32 straight scoreless frames, besting the previous record set back in the club’s inaugural season in 1969. The streak is a huge part of why the Royals have won nine games in a row.

Unlike the success of 2014-15, the streak is not a three-man show. As Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star notes, eight different relievers have appeared for Kansas City during the streak, with Joakim Soria and Matt Strahm leading the crew with five and a third innings pitched. Herrera has tossed five scoreless. Otherwise it’s been a group effort with even Peter Moylan offering a couple of scoreless frames. And here you thought Moylan was, I dunno, gearing up for the upcoming Brisbane Bandits season. Nope.

The Royals are still not, in my view anyway, a lock to make the postseason. It’s a a crowded field right now. They’re seven and a half back in the AL Central and four back in the Wild Card with a bunch of teams in front of them. But they’re certainly playing themselves back into the conversation. They’re interesting. And they’re doing it in much the same way they’ve done it the past two years. Only with different dudes doing the do.