- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
There is enormous respect for Daniel Bard in the Boston Red Sox organization, for his maturity and his work ethic and his self-awareness, and so the club has listened in earnest as he's made his case to move into the rotation. He was among the best setup men in the majors last year, and if Bard becomes a starter, it would weaken the Boston bullpen.
But Bard is convinced he can become a successful starter, and as he attempts the switch, he will be helped by new Boston pitching coach Bob McClure, who once shifted from the bullpen to the rotation during his career. If Bard is right -- if he can be a good starter, in a division filled with strong offensive teams -- the Red Sox rotation that appears thin now could be a strength.
More than any other group, the Boston starters fueled the September collapse. But so far, the team has been encouraged by the response of Jon Lester and Josh Beckett to the debacle, and with Clay Buchholz due back, the Red Sox could have a strong front three in their rotation. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had been pitching with a bad elbow for awhile before having Tommy John surgery last summer, is in excellent physical condition and could be pitching in minor league games by late May and return to the rotation by midseason.
Alfredo Aceves was invaluable for the Red Sox bullpen last season, but he will compete with Bard and others for rotation spots. Boston will look to add one or two starters through free agency, as the asking prices drop.
"There is still a lot of quality arms available," says one AL official. Someone like Hiroki Kuroda, who will have to be offered enough to keep him from returning to Japan, or Joe Saunders, or others. Boston's approach, in looking for another starter, seems to be exactly where the Yankees are these days -- looking for a good bargain.
• An interesting story from the Boston collapse: In the midst of the final game of the season, one of the highest-ranked members of the organization sent word to the dugout nudging the staff to use Buchholz in relief -- despite the fact that Buchholz hadn't pitched in a major league game since June 16 and was still early in his injury rehabilitation. The suggestion was ignored.
• Some thoughts about the Cubs-Padres trade that brought Anthony Rizzo to Chicago: Rizzo's ugly numbers from his first turn through the majors -- 18 hits in 153 plate appearances, with one homer -- tell only part of the story. Rival talent evaluators were taken aback by how overwhelmed Rizzo looked against even mediocre fastballs last summer; to many, it looked like Rizzo simply lacked the kind of bat speed needed to be a productive major leaguer. "What I saw scared the [bleep] out of me, to be honest," said one AL official, describing how he saw Rizzo get tied up inside by right-handers throwing 88-90 mph fastballs.
Cubs executives Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod have a broader perspective on Rizzo. They were all involved when the Red Sox drafted Rizzo in 2007, and got to know him and what they believe is his superlative mental makeup. They were all involved in the Adrian Gonzalez trade that brought Rizzo to the Padres 13 months ago. Rizzo, they thought, fell into some bad habits after his call-up to the big leagues last summer, and his swing got away from him; it got longer, with an uphill plane that greatly affected his ability to make contact.
Hoyer and McLeod moved on from the Padres to the Cubs earlier this offseason, and clearly, the executives who replaced them had concerns about Rizzo, which is part of the reason why they traded for Yonder Alonso and were willing to move Rizzo. But the Cubs believe that Rizzo is much more the player who dominated Triple-A last year, and that he will make the needed adjustments to shorten his swing.
Along the same lines: The Padres appear to be evaluating Andrew Cashner differently than the Cubs, who believed that for them, Cashner's future would have been as a reliever -- which is why they were willing to move a young power arm for an everyday prospect such as Rizzo. If the Cubs thought Cashner could be a starting pitcher, they probably wouldn't have traded him.
A rival evaluator -- someone not involved in this trade -- also likes the second player the Cubs got in this deal -- Zach Cates, a 22-year-old right-hander drafted in the third round by the Padres in 2010. Cates allowed four homers in 118 innings in the Midwest League last summer, his first season in pro ball. "He's a pretty interesting prospect," said the official.
This trade is a high-risk, high-reward proposition, writes Phil Rogers. Cashner is the major factor for the Padres in this deal, writes Bill Center. So much for the Killer C's, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.
• Rizzo costs pennies and Prince Fielder costs tens of millions, so the acquisition of Rizzo really has zero impact on whether the Cubs were to pursue Fielder; it's an apples-and-oranges situation. But the Cubs are not acting with any urgency in the conversations about Fielder -- and all along, they have been leery of the cost of signing Fielder to a long-term deal.
Only Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, knows what offers have been made for the first baseman, but the most interested team -- the team most willing to pay big -- might be the Seattle Mariners. Whether Fielder wants to play for the Mariners is a separate question.
Alfonso Soriano could be the next Cub to go, and Phil Rogers suggests that the Cubs might take Brian Roberts in return; Roberts has been hurt and has fallen out of favor within the Orioles organization.
• The Mets have hired a financial firm to help them, writes Ken Belson, and while the team insists this is not a precursor to bankruptcy, the move is being viewed as transitional by rival officials.
• The Miami Marlins are doing everything they can to generate interest in their team and their franchise -- a new ballpark, new uniforms, new players. An early indicator for the Marlins, as they open their new ballpark, will be the number of season-ticket packages the team sells. Good seats are available.
• During the collective bargaining talks, the two sides negotiated a certain expansion of the playoff field to 10 teams for 2013, and Major League Baseball has the option of putting this into play for 2012. Some baseball officials, as well as some within the union, continue to assume this change will happen this year.
• Joe Torre's initial inclination was that he didn't want (or see a need for) rule changes related to plays at home plate. But now that Torre has left his job at Major League Baseball, officials who are in favor of change are hopeful that the conversation about protecting catchers from needless collisions will accelerate.
• By the way: Some executives wonder if Andy MacPhail will eventually fill Torre's old job.
• Meanwhile: There are two new bidders for the Dodgers, Bill Shaikin writes.
This is shaping up to be a very competitive bidding process, with a whole lot of successful high rollers involved -- and they are all well aware of who the competition is, and how much money the others have. Ego presumably will become a factor for some of the bidders, and you have to wonder if the final price will be closer to $2 billion than $1 billion.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Cardinals moved quickly to replace Dave Duncan, who won't serve as pitching coach at all during the upcoming season. His departure will be a blow for the Cardinals, writes Bernie Miklasz, who has a lot of great stuff about Duncan's work.
The turnover the Cardinals have had since the end of the World Series has been remarkable: They have lost the three most prominent members of their organization, from Albert Pujols to Tony La Russa to Duncan, who has altered his priorities.
2. The Rangers may have opened a Pandora's box with the hiring of Josh Hamilton's father-in-law, writes Evan Grant.
I don't think it's an issue. It won't be difficult for the Rangers to explain that Hamilton is a special case, who requires special treatment, and if any player has a problem with that, well, you probably wouldn't want him on your team, anyway.
• The Georgia state trooper who was involved in the fatal accident of Kathy Porter -- the wife of Atlanta trainer Jeff Porter -- had a history of wrecks, writes Mike Morris.
• The D-Backs are letting everyone know when to show up.
• Vanderbilt wants a more consistent effort from its defense as it begins SEC play today.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Buster Olney breaks down the changes the Red Sox will look to make to their starting rotation heading into the 2012 season.