Victor Martinez bails out Terry Francona

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What might get lost in the aftermath of a wild 9th inning rally for the Red Sox is a puzzling decision by Terry Francona. The Boston manager can thank Victor Martinez that he’s not getting hammered in the press today.

To recap, the Sox entered the top of the 9th trailing Texas 4-2. David Ortiz led off with a double and then Jason Varitek followed with an infield single up the middle. Now, watching Varitek run is pretty painful at this point, and had it been anyone else, the second baseman probably would’ve eaten the ball. But he hustled and beat the throw. First and third, no out, down two.
This is where Francona did something strange: he kept Varitek in the game, even though he represented the tying run. Sometimes you see managers wait until a slow runner gets to second base before pinch-running, but that’s in a tie game where the team isn’t staring a loss in the face. Varitek represented a run the Red Sox desperately needed.
Naturally, the next hitter, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a ground ball single up the middle to score Ortiz. But Varitek had no chance of going first-to-third on the play. Would a faster runner have been able to make it to third on the hit? Not definitely, but most likely. After a strikeout, Francona finally pinch-ran for Varitek, but with pitcher Clay Buchholz, a guy who probably hasn’t run the bases since high school.
The next batter, Dustin Pedroia, hit a deep drive to left. Rangers left fielder David Murphy jumped against the wall but couldn’t make the catch. But he got to it quickly and fired it back in, and the relay throw actually nailed Buchholz at home. How is that possible, you ask? Watching Buchholz on the bases, he went halfway when the ball was in the air, then danced back and forth, waiting to see if the ball was caught. When he rounded third, he slipped, and inexplicably adjusted his helmet as it appeared to be falling off. A great throw got him at the plate, and the Sox still trailed by one with two and outs and runners on second and third.
Luckily for Boston, Martinez is an animal, as he ripped a two-strike double to give the Sox the lead. A hit for Jason Bay and a cherry-on-the-top homer from JD Drew put the game away and caused Rangers volatile closer Frank Francisco to tell reporters to “beat it” after the game. At least he didn’t fling a chair at them.
On one hand, the Red Sox won the game, so maybe Francona’s decision-making isn’t worth dissecting. And Pedroia’s hit was a tough play to read, so you can’t get on Buchholz too hard. But we’d love to hear an explanation for waiting to pinch-run for Varitek, and why there wasn’t a more experienced base runner used.

Cubs won’t make Kyle Schwarber available in trade talks

Kyle Schwarber
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Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the Cubs won’t deal Kyle Schwarber this winter, despite multiple inquires from teams around the league. Schwarber is approaching his first year of arbitration and will remain under team control for another three seasons before reaching free agency in 2022.

The decision comes on the heels of one of the strongest seasons of the 25-year-old outfielder’s short career. Over 137 games and 510 PA for the Cubs, he proved a passable defender in left field and batted .238/.356/.467 with 26 home runs, an .823 OPS, and 3.2 fWAR in 2018. He also led the National League in intentional walks, with 20, and bumped up his total walks from 59 in 2017 to 78.

Despite his marked improvements from previous years, Schwarber’s performance still left something to be desired — specifically against left-handed pitchers, who held the slugger to a paltry .224/.352/.303 with four extra-base hits across 91 PA. Still, it’s evident the Cubs feel Schwarber is capable of strengthening his splits in the years to come, and they might stand to get more value from him on the field than they would in a trade this offseason.

Of course, that’s not to say the Cubs intend to pass the Winter Meetings in total silence, especially as they’ll be seeking bullpen and catching depth in advance of their 2019 run at the division title. As club president Theo Epstein remarked last week, “We’re certainly open and active in trade talks with a lot of deals that usually don’t come to fruition. So, we may make some trades. We could make big ones that transform the roster. We may make smaller complementary ones. But there’s certain things we’d like to accomplish.”