Lackey signing could put BoSox in deal mode

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lackey exit.jpgThis is the most stunned I’ve been by a Red Sox transaction during the Theo Epstein era. I like to think I’m usually on the same page with the Boston braintrust when it comes to which players to pursue. But I fully expected the Red Sox to come out of this winter with Matt Holliday, Jason Bay or maybe an Adrian Beltre/Mike Cameron combination, as well as some high-upside pitching. I didn’t see them anteing up for Lackey, not when next winter’s starting pitcher market is shaping up as vastly superior to this year’s.
But, as it turned out, no one else really stepped up for Lackey. Even though he was perceived as far and away the top free agent pitcher available, no one was willing to give him a better deal than the five-year, $82.5 million pact A.J. Burnett received from the Yankees last winter. So, the Red Sox took the plunge, even though Lackey has had some elbow problems two years running. What also makes it interesting is that they’ve seen the worst of Lackey. He’s 3-7 with a 5.25 ERA against the Red Sox lifetime and 2-5 with a 5.75 ERA at Fenway Park.
So, now the Red Sox have six starters: Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield. That’s not surprising — it was a given that they’d add someone this winter — but that they’ve added a top-30 starter, rather than a Rich Harden-type question mark, would seem to make Buchholz more expendable. Of course, Roy Halladay is out now. But Adrian Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera are among the superstars that could yet be up for grabs.
My guess is that the Red Sox won’t go that route. If they do trade Buchholz, it could be for a fellow young stud. Milwaukee’s Mat Gamel, Cleveland’s Matt LaPorta and Texas’ Justin Smoak would be possible targets, though I doubt the last two would be available. In Chris Carter, Brett Wallace, Aaron Cunningham, Daric Barton and Sean Doolittle, the A’s have more corner bats than they can play and could put together a nice package.
But I think Buchholz stays and Wakefield either opens the season on the DL or in the bullpen. Buchholz is going to be needed in 2011 and beyond, and it’s easier to find cheap hitters that quality starters.
That’s what the Red Sox might do now. They should still have the cash to sign Adrian Beltre to play third base if they wish, but they still have the flexibility to put Kevin Youkilis in third base and they have Casey Kotchman at first and Jeremy Hermida in left, both of whom have flashed real potential in the past. Both won’t be starters on Opening Day, but one might.
My guess is that the Red Sox add Beltre to play third and pursue Jonny Gomes to battle Hermida for playing time in left field. It’d complicate things if the Mike Lowell deal doesn’t get done, but the Red Sox only stood to save $3 million with the swap anyway.

Dodgers look to join the Red Sox in the World Series

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One team has punched its ticket to the Fall Classic. Two teams are looking to join them, with the Dodgers carrying the distinct advantage. Los Angeles needs only a split in the final two games of the NLCS while Milwaukee needing to win both games at home. Doable? Absolutely. But to do it, the Brewers are going to have to wake up their sleepy bats.

NLCS Game 6

Dodgers vs. Brewers
Ballpark: Miller Park
Time: 8:39 PM Eastern
TV: FS1
Pitchers:  Hyun-Jin Ryu vs Wade Miley
Breakdown:

The Dodgers will give the ball to left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, who tossed seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but allowed two runs and tossed 72 pitches, failing to get out of the fifth inning, in Game 2 against Milwaukee. Even if he again turns in a short outing Dave Roberts should feel pretty confident, however, as the Dodgers’ bullpen — considered a question mark coming into this series — has allowed only three runs in in 21 and two-thirds innings of work.

For Milwaukee it’s once again Wade Miley, who was the Game 5 “starter,” but who pitched to only one batter. I suppose it’s possible that Craig Counsell will burn him like that again, but it seems more likely that Miley will actually pitch in this game rather than be used as a decoy.

As I noted the other day, though, the Brewers’ pitching gamesmanship has not really been a factor in this series. The real problem for them has been their offense. They’ve scored only 16 runs in five games while batting .219. That’s actually identical to the Dodgers’ run total and average overall, but L.A. has been better at distributing that meager offense. Milwaukee has been cold at the worst times, too, going 5-for-35 with runners in scoring position in the series, including one for their last 11. If that doesn’t change, their season ends tonight.