Matthew Pouliot

Xander Bogaerts

No, the Red Sox aren’t trading Xander Bogaerts for Cliff Lee

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Cliff Lee is pretty terrific. He’s currently 10-4 with a 3.05 ERA. He’s on pace for a sixth straight season of 200 innings pitched, and his worst ERA in that span is a 3.22 mark. Since 2008, he has the second best ERA+ or anyone to throw 500 innings, coming in a bit behind Clayton Kershaw. Lee is also 7-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 11 postseason starts.

Lee’s contract is less terrific. The Phillies backloaded it so that they could get away with paying him just $11 million in 2011. As a result, he’ll make $25 million in both 2014 and ’15. Worse is his option for 2016. It can vest at $27.5 million, which isn’t so terribly bad. But it has a $12.5 million buyout attached to it, which is going to be an awfully big hit for a team to take if Lee falls apart at some point within the next two years.

So, basically, any team that trades for Lee is going to be paying market value for his services. And if you’re going to pay market value for his services, there’s no way it makes any sense to give up one of the top 10 prospects in baseball for him.

Xander Bogaerts is considered the best prospect the Red Sox have produced since Hanley Ramirez. In truth, he’s a better prospect than Ramirez was, since there were always questions about Ramirez’s work ethic and ego as he climbed the ladder. Bogaerts might not be quite as talented as Ramirez, but he’s close. He’s hit .311/.407/.502 in 56 games in Double-A and .279/.380/.483 in 41 games in Triple-A this year at the tender age of 20. He’s also turned himself into a pretty good shortstop through hard work. It used to be assumed that he’d outgrow the position and move to third base. That’s still a possibility, and the Red Sox have recently given him starts at third in Triple-A in order to determine whether he can help them this year. But he has shown enough at shortstop to suggest that he could last there for at least his first few major league seasons.

The Red Sox won themselves a World Series by trading Ramirez to the Marlins for Josh Beckett, but they haven’t been back there since 2007 and maybe they would have been if they had kept Hanley and Anibal Sanchez around. Of course, they’d still do it all over again and they’d be right to. If trading Bogaerts for Cliff Lee assured them of a World Series victory this year, they’d do that, too.

But it doesn’t. Lee, for all of his postseason success, has never pitched for a World Series winner. That doesn’t reflect on him, just on the crapshoot that is the postseason. Lee is great, but he doesn’t swing the odds enough. If a lesser package could bring him in, the Red Sox might bite. It probably won’t, so they’ll simply make do. 6 2/3 seasons of Bogaerts for the right to pay Lee either $70 million through 2015 or $85 million through 2016 just doesn’t work.

Frank Castillo’s day in the spotlight

Frank Castillo
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Frank Castillo’s big-league career was rather interesting in the abstract. On the whole, he looks like a below average starter — he finished 82-104 with a 4.56 ERA in 13 seasons — but he had his moments.

In his first full season, he had a 3.46 ERA in 33 starts for the 1992 Cubs. He regressed the following year and ended up spending most of 1994 in the minors. He came back with his best season in 1995, finishing 11-10 with a 3.21 ERA that ranked eighth in the NL. The next year, he tied for the NL lead in losses, and when he went 3-9 with a 6.83 ERA for the Tigers in 1998, he appeared done, even if he was just 29.

Rather than give up, Castillo kept going. No turnaround appeared forthcoming when he posted a 4.68 ERA in 19 starts for the Pirates’ Triple-A team in 1999, but in 2000, he made the Blue Jays and busted out with a 10-5 record and a 3.59 ERA in 138 innings. Now, 3.59 might not seem like much now, but he would have ranked second in the AL in ERA to Pedro Martinez had he pitched the 162 innings to qualify. That caused the Red Sox to give him a multiyear deal as a free agent, and he came through with a solid first year (10-9, 4.21 ERA) before struggling in the second (6-15, 5.07 ERA) and vanishing again. He pitched just 5 1/3 more innings in the majors, the last at age 36 in 2005. In 2007, he pitched in indy ball as a 38-year-old before officially giving up. He later served as a pitching coach in the Cubs system before drowning this weekend.

But let’s go back to 1995 for a moment. On Sept. 25, Castillo was making his next to last start of the Cubs’ abbreviated season. Three weeks earlier, he had pitched a five-hit shutout against the Rockies. But on Sept. 25, facing the Cardinals, he had something even more special in store. With his wife watching on, Castillo took a no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth, losing it only when Bernard Gilkey delivered a triple on a 2-2 fastball with two outs, Sammy Sosa dove for the ball in right field, but came up a bit short.

“It was one of those pitches that as soon as I threw it, I wanted it back,” Castillo told the Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan afterwards. “Sammy made a great effort. He almost made it.”

He was one strike away from history, but even though he couldn’t quite pull it off, it was a whale of a game. He fanned 13 and walked just two. He faced two batters over the minimum. His Game Score of 96 was tied for the best of the 1995 season, and it was the highest mark for a Cub since 1971.

RIP, Frank. 44 is far too young.

Blown call from Jerry Meals, bad baseball doom Red Sox in loss

Jerry Meals
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Make no mistake: the Red Sox played some pretty terrible baseball in losing 2-1 to the Rays on Monday. Still, a blown call at home plate in the bottom of the eighth cost them the tying run and, for that, Jerry Meals was to blame.

Here’s the video:

Meals admitted after the game that he made the wrong call. Which is good. Personally, I have less of a problem with the call itself than his positioning to make the call. Everything happens so fast that bad calls are going to happen. It’s giving oneself the best chance to make the right call that’s important. Meals had all day to set up, knowing that the play at the plate was forthcoming. Yet he still put himself at the worst possible angle to judge the play. It’s ridiculous that home-plate umpires still retreat behind the catcher to make the call at the plate. The percentage of missed calls at home plate is maybe the single biggest reason expanded instant replay is needed.

But let’s not make this all about Meals. Let’s also spent some time on all of the stupid things the Red Sox did in the final two innings:

– After Ryan Lavarnway’s one-out double in the frame, the Red Sox sent in Daniel Nava to pinch-run, even though they still had Jose Iglesias on the bench. Not only is Nava just not that fast, but the move robbed them of one of their two quality pinch-hitting options.

– Stephen Drew followed with a double over Wil Myers’ head in right. Nava did a terrible job reading it and only advanced to third on the play. Inexcusable.

– That brought Brandon Snyder to the plate against Joel Peralta. Snyder was 6-for-45 with no extra-base hits and 18 strikeouts lifetime against right-handers, so pinch-hitting for him was an obvious, obvious call. Except Snyder had homered earlier off lefty David Price. Apparently, that warranted him another opportunity in John Farrell’s book. Besides, Farrell had already burnt one of his pinch-hitting options in Nava. It would have been Mike Carp hitting for him. Snyder was the player who hit the fly to left on which Nava was thrown out at the plate.

– In the ninth, Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a single. The same Jacoby Ellsbury who happened to be leading the majors with 38 steals in 41 attempts. Regardless, the Red Sox had Shane Victorino try to bunt against Fernando Rodney anyway. It didn’t work, and Victorino ended up softly lining out on an 0-2 pitch after fouling off his bunt attempts. With Dustin Pedroia up, Ellsbury easily took second for his 39th steal.

– The Red Sox pushed the envelope no further from there. Baserunners are 11-for-13 lifetime stealing third off Rodney, but Ellsbury never went. He also decided to hang back on Pedroia’s grounder to short, when he could have gotten aggressive and tried to take third on the relay. Since he was only on second, the wild pitch Rodney threw to Mike Napoli with two outs proved harmless. Napoli ended up striking out to end the game, putting the Rays back in first place in the AL East at 63-43. The Red Sox are 64-44, a half-game behind.