ALCS - Boston Red Sox v Detroit Tigers - Game Three

Four years later, 2009 free-agent pair comes up big in LCSs


Headlined by three players, the post-2009 season MLB free agent class was undoubtedly the weakest seen in at least a decade. The prizes: Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday (acquired from the A’s earlier that summer), Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay and Angels right-hander John Lackey.

The field was so bad that the fourth biggest contract went to Chone Figgins (four years, $36 million from Seattle). Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman (six years, $30.25 million from the Reds) and left-hander Randy Wolf (three years, $29.75 million) were the only other players to get contracts worth a guaranteed $20 million.

The big question at the time was whether the Red Sox would re-sign Bay or try to upgrade to Holliday in left field. Instead, they shocked pretty much everyone with their play for Lackey, signing him to a five-year, $82.5 million contract in mid-December. They added Mike Cameron on a two-year deal at the same time to officially take themselves out of the mix for the top two outfielders.

Bay went on to sign with the Mets two weeks later, getting a guaranteed $66 million over four years. About 10 days after that, Holliday reupped with the Cardinals for $120 million over seven years. The Orioles were also reported to be in the running for Holliday, but that might have been mostly posturing. Before signing Lackey, the Red Sox reportedly offered Holliday the same five-year, $82.5 million deal that the right-hander received, then moved on when it was declined.

Obviously, of the long-term contracts, only those given to Holliday and Chapman worked out as hoped. Lackey, though, has earned his money this year. He and Holliday both came up very big on Wednesday, with Lackey pitching 6 2/3 scoreless innings in Boston’s 1-0 win over Detroit and Holliday hitting a two-run homer in the Cardinals’ 4-2 defeat of the Dodgers.

Still, I can’t help but wonder how much different things would look right now if the Red Sox had stepped up and signed Holliday, as many thought they would. Lackey had a solid first season in Boston before posting a 6.41 ERA in 2011 and missing all of 2012 following Tommy John surgery. Cameron was injured and rather ineffective in his Boston stint. Obviously, Holliday would have been great to have around in the middle of the order from day one. However, if the Red Sox had signed him, they probably wouldn’t have landed Adrian Beltre on a bargain one-year deal later that winter. Those two went on to produce very similar numbers in 2010.

One thing is for sure: if the Red Sox had signed Holliday, they wouldn’t have given Carl Crawford a seven-year, $142 million contract to play left field the following winter. And if they hadn’t done that, there’s no megatrade with the Dodgers a year ago (perhaps they also don’t trade for Adrian Gonzalez in the first place).

And if the Cardinals had missed out on Holliday? Well, it doesn’t seem like they had any interest in Bay, so they probably would have dodged that bullet. It also isn’t very likely that they would have ended up with Lackey. Perhaps they would have signed Beltre instead, though that would have meant bypassing David Freese at third base. They also could went after Johnny Damon as a left fielder and leadoff man.

For the long term, without Holliday, one imagines there would have been no 2011 World Series championship. There likely would have been more pressure to re-sign Albert Pujols, and if the Cardinals could have gotten that done, not only would they probably be stuck with maybe the game’s worst contracts, but they could have missed out on Michael Wacha, who was selected with the Angels’ pick in the 2012 draft (also, the Angels very well could have ended up with Crawford in this scenario, making it even more likely that Pujols stays in St. Louis).

In the end, it seems that everything worked out for the best. Well, not for the Mets, obviously. And the Mariners.  And the Angels. And, lets face it, 2011-12 weren’t too peachy for the Red Sox. But it definitely worked out best for the Cardinals, and I’m sure at least half of you will tell me that’s really all that matters.

Phil Nevin: managerial candidate for the Nats, Mariners, Marlins and Padres

Phil Nevin

Phil Nevin retired following the 2006 season so he was too early to join the trend of All-Star players who, rather than simply wait around for a big league managerial job to be handed to them, actually went and managed in the bus leagues for a while.

He started in independent ball, jumped to the Tigers’ Double-A team and then Triple-A team and then, for the past two seasons, managed the Diamondbacks’ Triple-A club in Reno. In short, the man has paid his dues and has had good reviews from his players everywhere he’s been. So this is not too much of a surprise:


The Padres feel like the most natural fit given that Nevin’s best seasons came with the club and given that he makes his home just outside of San Diego. But all of those jobs are fairly desirable, either for personal reasons or because they’re fairly talented clubs who underachieved in significant fashion this year. Nowhere to go but up, right?

No hearing today: Chase Utley to be eligible once again

Chase Utley
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Chase Utley‘s suspension is quickly turning into a more theoretical than actual thing.

Following his Sunday suspension for sliding into Ruben Tejada and breaking Tejada’s leg, Utley appealed. Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement players are eligible pending appeal, and because MLB, the union and Utley’s agent could not get together for a hearing yesterday he was eligible for last night’s game. Of course he didn’t play.

Now, Tim Brown of Yahoo hears from a source that there will be no hearing today either.

This is simultaneously interesting given how much of a to-do the whole matter has become and boring given how, in reality, Utley is a pretty unimportant piece of the Dodgers roster at this point and his presence or absence will, in all likelihood, not affect any game on a level even approaching the manner in which he affected Game 2.

Clayton Kershaw on short rest: an OK idea if Mattingly has a quick hook

Don Mattingly

Last night, as Brett Anderson was being tattooed by Mets batters, I wondered when we’d see Don Mattingly amble out of the dugout to take the ball from him. Turns out he didn’t. He let Anderson finish the third inning having given up six runs and turned it over to the pen for what was essentially a mop-up job.

Maybe that was defensible. Maybe Mattingly realized that, even though the Dodgers would end up scoring more than six runs on the night, the game was already out of hand. Sort of a gut thing, maybe. Let’s not dwell too much on that except to say that Mattingly’s hook was not terribly quick given that his pitcher was having issues.

His hook had better be quicker tonight.

Clayton Kershaw is going on short rest. Historically, pitchers haven’t done too well on short rest in the playoffs. But Kershaw, who pitched on short rest in both the 2013 and 2014 NLDS, has been generally OK. He has, at the very least, given the Dodgers a chance to win.

In Game 4 of the 2013 NLDS against the Braves he allowed two runs — unearned — in six innings. He didn’t figure in the decision in that one — it was the infamous “Craig Kimbrel standing in the bullpen but not being used as the Braves’ season effectively ended in the eighth inning for some reason” game — but the Dodgers advanced to the NLCS.

Last year’s NLDS appearance against the Cards was less-than-stellar. On regular rest he was beat up badly in Game 1, allowing eight runs in six and two-thirds. Then, in Game 4, he came back on only three days’ rest. And, for a while, he pitched well, allowing zero runs through six innings on 94 pitches. Normally Kershaw can go longer than that, but on short rest? Seemed like a bad idea to send him out for the seventh. Mattingly sent him out for the seventh, however, and eight pitches and a Matt Adams home run later the Cards led 3-2 and the Dodgers’ season was over.

Don Mattingly doesn’t have a lot of options tonight and didn’t really have them even before burning Alex Wood last night. He has to use Kershaw and it’s the right decision to do so. Go with what brung ya and go with your best. But he needs to remember that his best on short rest isn’t the same as his best at other times. He should plan for, at the outside, six innings from Kershaw. Indeed, he should be ecstatic if he gets six. A reasonable plan would be for less and to have a reliever ready to go at basically any time in the game.

The Dodgers’ entire season is on the line tonight and Mattingly’s job may very well be on the line too. If he’s on his keister in the dugout watching Kershaw put two men on with nobody out in a close game, he may as well just tender his resignation right then and there.