- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
What Red Sox fans wanted to see after the last day of last season, after the September collapse, were broken-hearted Red Sox players. They wanted to see Josh Beckett laid out in despair, like Ralph Branca was after allowing Bobby Thomson's legendary homer. They wanted to see that the players cared as much as they did.
Beckett didn't give them this.
When the story about the chicken and beer broke, they wanted to hear Beckett throw himself on the mercy of Red Sox Nation. They wanted to hear an unqualified apology, and unqualified accountability, rather than griping about snitches.
Beckett didn't give them this.
When word broke this week that Beckett played golf while theoretically nursing an injury behind his pitching shoulder, what Red Sox fans wanted -- first and foremost -- was for Beckett to step up and shut down the Indians and provide a tourniquet for a team hemorrhaging games in the standings. And if that wasn't possible, they wanted an explanation from Beckett as to why it might have made sense for him to be golfing while being unavailable to pitch -- in the same way that an employer might wonder why someone calling in sick was seen partying on television at a ballgame.
Beckett didn't give them this.
From Gordon Edes' column, Beckett's postgame question-and-answer session, after the questions turned to the golf outing:
- Question (paraphrased): Did the golf business have any impact on how you pitched?
Answer: None. None.
Question: Anything to say about the golf business?
Answer: No. I spend my off days the way I want to spend them.
Question: Any regrets?
Answer: My off day is my off day.
Question: Given that you were skipped a start with what was described as a tight lat muscle, do people have the right to question why you were golfing?
Answer: Not on my off day.
Question: Do you understand the perception that leaves when the team is playing as poorly as it is?
Answer: We get 18 off days a year. I think we deserve a little time to ourselves.
Beckett wouldn't relent; he is the embodiment of stubbornness, and he's pitching badly, as well.
There is a disconnect between the Red Sox fans and Beckett, reflected in the boos he heard as he came off the mound -- and even in the Boston front office, the question of whether he has irreconcilable differences with the team for which he pitches should probably be asked. The Red Sox should probably begin exploring trade avenues.
Moving him might not be easy, short of giving him away, and even if a trade partner could be found, Beckett maintains 10-and-5 rights, and thus the ability to veto any deal.
Beckett is in year two of a four-year, $68 million extension. He is owed $15.75 million this year -- meaning that he is owed about $12.5 million for the remainder of 2012 -- and he has salaries of $15.75 million in 2013 and 2014. Boston's obligation to him, then, is about $44 million.
But his recent performance would be as much of an impediment to the Red Sox trading him as his salary. Beckett posted a 5.78 ERA in 21 starts in 2010, allowing 20 homers in 127.2 innings. After pitching very well early in 2011, he flamed out famously at the end of the season, throwing up a 5.48 ERA in the month of September. What he has shown early in this season is right in line with what he had in 2010: very flat stuff, with hitters taking big, aggressive swings against him. Beckett already has allowed nine homers in 34.2 innings, and he's got a 5.97 ERA.
Beckett's résumé contains some spectacular moments of brilliance, like shutting down the Yankees on short rest in Game 6 of the 2003 ALCS, and winning all four of his starts in the 2007 postseason. There will be a day in the future when the Red Sox invite all the members of the '07 championship team back to Fenway, and Beckett will be cheered.
But rival general managers won't care much about that history. All they will care about are the black-and-white numbers for Beckett since the start of the 2010 season. He's made 57 starts, thrown 355.1 innings, allowed 50 homers and has a 4.22 ERA. Since Sept. 1 of last year, he has a 7.33 ERA; he's just not a very good pitcher right now.
Would someone take him? Sure. But they would want the Red Sox to eat a huge portion of the money owed to the pitcher, or they would want Boston to take on an ugly contract in return, like that of Alfonso Soriano, or Barry Zito. Beckett just doesn't have a lot of trade value.
But the Red Sox have a hard decision to make, because the team cannot move forward with the status quo. Beckett is a leader on this team, no matter how the fans feel. The culture of the clubhouse cannot change unless he helps change it, or unless he is moved out. And Beckett demonstrated again Thursday that he isn't changing for anybody.
From ESPN Stats & Information, why Beckett was so bad:
A) Reached a two-strike count in eight plate appearances, but five of those hitters reached base with a double, two HRs and two walks.
B) Indians hitters were 4-for-6 in at-bats ending with an off-speed pitch, including three extra-base hits.
C) Left 22 of 56 pitches over the middle of the plate vertically, Indians hitters were 4-for-5 with three extra-base hits in at-bats ending with a pitch in that location.
• Albert Pujols hasn't drawn a walk since April 25, and he has six walks for this season. He is on a pace to draw 30 walks for this season. To put that in perspective, Pujols drew 103 walks in 2010, in what was his third consecutive season drawing more than 100 walks.
• Chris Sale's treatment is a concern to his agent, writes Mark Gonzales.
A) Induced 20 swing-and-misses; the most in a start in his career.
B) Strasburg had 7 strikeouts with his fastball, tied for the most with the pitch in his career.
C) Pirates hitters were 1-for-8 in at-bats ending with an off-speed pitch, including six strikeouts (3 curveball, 3 changeup).
D) Threw 54 of 103 pitches (52.4 percent) on the outside part of the plate; Pirates hitters were 0-for-6 with 5 strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch away.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro says out loud that he might be a seller in July. From Jim Salisbury's story:
- "We can be buyers," [Amaro] said. "It just depends on how creative I can be."
But he added, if things don't turn around, he could look to subtract talent, not add. "July is so far ahead," Amaro said. "We just have to get on track. But if July comes and we're playing like this, we'll be sellers. How we play now will determine whether we'll be buyers or sellers in July."
It's hard to know exactly what Amaro was aiming to do with these remarks. Was he trying to motivate the players? Was this a warning to them? Was he just being frank?
Either way, Amaro's comments are very unusual, because most general managers will run in the other direction from any perception that their team's standing as a contender could be comprised. Rather, as a business strategy designed to fuel ticket sales, they'd prefer to foster the perception that their team will be in it to win it -- right up until the moment they announce strip-down trades.
If the Phillies actually did look to make moves in midseason, Cole Hamels obviously would have significant trade value. Amaro could get something decent for Shane Victorino, who is eligible for free agency this fall, or for Hunter Pence, who could be a free agent after 2013. Beyond that, they don't have a lot of marketable players.
Amaro is making roster changes today, as Bob Brookover writes.
2. The Yankees are trying to decide whether to go with Rafael Soriano or David Robertson as closer, writes John Harper. Steve Karsay knows what it means to step into Rivera's shoes, as Joel Sherman writes.
4. The Jays signed Vlad Guerrero.
5. The Royals are going with a second-base platoon.
Dings and dents
2. An arrest has complicated a potential call-up for the Padres.
1. The Pirates were foiled in their effort to sweep.
A) 55 of 119 pitches were off-speed (46.2 percent), his highest off-speed pitch percentage this season. Rays hitters were 1-for-11 with seven strikeouts in at-bats ending with an off-speed pitch, including six strikeouts versus the slider.
B) Threw 67 of 119 pitches (56.3 percent) down in the zone or below, his highest percentage in that location in a start in the past four seasons. Rays hitters were 2-for-14 with six strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch down.
C) The Rays chased 27 pitches out of the zone, the second most by Sabathia in a start in the last four seasons. The Rays chased 42.2 percent of Sabathia's pitches out of the strike zone; in his 13 previous starts against Tampa since 2009 the Rays chased an average of 28.8 percent of pitches out of the zone.
3. The Orioles experienced some highs and lows in their doubleheader split, as Eduardo Encina writes.
8. You can't stop the Indians, you can only hope to contain them.
By The Numbers
3: Stephen Strasburg has hit as many doubles (3) as he's allowed as a pitcher this season (3).
5: Orioles total hits -- all home runs -- allowed by Rangers starter Colby Lewis on Thursday.
12: Batters Rangers starter Colby Lewis struck out (career high).
16: The number of team games it took Curtis Granderson to reach 10 home runs at home; fewest in Yankees history.
• There were tributes to Carl Beane, the Red Sox PA announcer who died this week.
• Next up for the Braves: A series in St. Louis.
• Cincinnati will be home to Bryce Harper this weekend.
• The Diamondbacks are keeping the faith, writes Nick Piecoro.
• The Cubs are playing like they believe they can win.
• The Brewers could fall into last place today.
• The Rockies suddenly have some rotation depth.
• The Giants' new third baseman is chasing his dream, as Henry Schulman writes.
• A Mariners reliever is a small-town hero, as Larry Stone writes.
• Stan Kasten is assessing his team.
And today will be better than yesterday
Josh Beckett hasn't just driven a wedge between himself and Red Sox Nation; he's driven a wedge between himself and any sense of a trade market. Boston is in a tough position -- the city and the team management.