The New York Yankees welcome their old pals, the Boston Red Sox, to Yankee Stadium for the first time this season beginning on Friday. The Dead Sox, as they are being referred to many Boston circles, are limping in having lost five of their last six games and are 10 1/2 games back in last place in the American League East. This series is pretty much their season. If they get swept, it’s over. If they sweep, there is still a glimmer of hope. But in some ways the Red Sox have the look of Custer at Little Big Horn, the Texas Army at The Alamo and the Red Sox in September 2011. Here is why they will fail this weekend:
PITCHING IS KING
Looking at the pitching matchups this weekend does not instill much confidence in Boston.
Journeyman right-hander Aaron Cook (2.3, 3.50 ERA) will open the series for Red Sox. Cook, 33, is a symbol of the inability of the Red Sox to build a starting rotation this season. In past years the Red Sox would trade for a Josh Beckett and sign free agents like Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey while they developed young stars like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.
But with the team’s record 13-24 in games started by Beckett and Lester this season it really has not mattered much what three pitchers follow them in the rotation. Buchholz is 8-3 with an elevated 4.93 ERA and he has been hampered by injuries for a good part of the year.
Lackey is out for the season after Tommy John surgery. Dice-K came back from the same surgery only to make five ill-fated starts with an 0-3 record and 6.65 ERA before landing on the DL again. Matsuzaka has made only 49 starts since the 2008 season in which he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. The Red Sox have their own version of Carl Pavano, collecting huge paychecks while he constantly rehabs.
That is why the Red Sox have been forced to use Cook and Felix Doubront in their rotation. Doubront is 12-7 with a 4.62 ERA but he has become less effective as the innings have piled up. His ERA has steadily risen all season and was 5.83 in June.
So Cook enters this game actually as the the team’s most effective starter lately. He has a 2.79 ERA in July. But he also is 0-2 in his three July starts, which means he has not got much in the way of run support.
The Red Sox also will be facing right-hander Phil Hughes, who has rediscovered his 2010 form this season. Hughes is 9-8 with a 4.09 ERA, however, those numbers are misleading.
Hughes is 5-3 with a 2.77 ERA in his last nine starts and he has issued only 15 walks while striking out 53 in his last 61 2/3 innings. Add to that, the Red Sox have been outscored 43-17 in their last six games and you have the makings of a very ugly opening night for them in the Bronx.
The Red Sox will just have to hope they score enough runs early to keep Cook in the game and get Hughes out of it early. In other words, a typical Red Sox-Yankees four-hour marathon where the total of runs scored is about 24. But I do not think that is going to happen on Friday.
The Red Sox are without their Yankee kryptonite in designated hitter David Ortiz. Without his bat, the Red Sox become less potent against the Yankees. In a 9-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Monday, the Red Sox collected 10 hits against fill-in starter Scott Feldman. But they were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left eight men on base.
The Yankees do come in having lost five of their last seven and they are without Alex Rodriguez and possibly may be without Nick Swisher.
But the Yankees also come back home for this series and home is where they shine.
The addition of Ichiro Suzuki could make a big impact in this series with is bat, his legs and his glove. Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira come into the series hot and the Yankees are getting contributions from their bench in Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Jayson Nix.
Look for Game 1 to be close early but the Yankees will eventually burn Cook and serve him up as a special at NYY Steak over the weekend.
TOO MANY CCs
Even if the Red Sox do succeed on Friday, they will have to face CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30) on Saturday. That is bad news for the lefty-dominant Red Sox lineup of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who stinks as a right-hand hitter.
The Yankees, meanwhile, face Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). In Lester’s last three starts, he is 0-3 and has given up 22 runs (21 earned) on 25 hits and 10 walks over 12 1/3 innings. That is an ERA of 15.32. Ouch!
The word from scouts is that Lester decided to develop a cutter a few years ago. He used it to compliment his other pitches, which were nasty. He was able to control both sides of the plate and he was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA last season despite a September slide that coincided with the epic collapse of the Red Sox.
But this season, Lester has become cutter crazy and it cost him in velocity and command of his fastball. Hughes found the same thing happened to him in 2011 and he junked his cutter this season. But Lester has tried to carry on with his same arsenal and he is getting pounded harder than a herd of cattle in a butcher shop.
In his last start against the Yankees on July 8 at Fenway Park, Lester lasted just 4 1/3 innings and he surrendered five runs (four earned) on nine hits and a walk.
The bottom line is Lester is just not the Lester that Red Sox Nation is used to seeing dominate lineups. He is headed for a big fall on Saturday.
COUP DE GRACE
The Red Sox will face on Sunday the Yankees’ best pitcher, of late, in Hiroki Kuroda (10-7, 3.34 ERA).
Kuroda is 7-1 with a 2.49 ERA in last 11 starts. Though he did struggle against Boston at Fenway Park, Kuroda has proven to be a much more effective pitcher at Yankee Stadium this season. He is 7-3 with a 2.68 ERA in the Bronx.
That is bad news for the Red Sox, who have not announced a mound opponent for Kuroda.
Doubront defeated the Yankees at Fenway on July 7 but he also was shelled for six runs on eight hits and three walks in five innings against the Rangers on Monday. The Red Sox may, instead, call upon Buchholz to pitch the finale. He gave up just one run on four hits and three walks in seven innings against the Rangers on Tuesday.
If Buchholz pitches on Sunday it indicates that manager Bobby Valentine is desperate. He has to be if the Red Sox pick up the Sunday New York Times facing a 12 1/2-game deficit to the Yankees.
The game will be very close on Sunday but the Yankees have a decided edge on the mound. They should win in a very close game.
IN THE END
The truth is that the seeds of the 2012 season for the Red Sox were sown in the aftermath of their historic collapse in September 2011. The departures of manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein have left Valentine and new general manager Ben Cherington with a mess.
He has some prima donnas like Beckett and Lackey and a huge albatross of a contract to Crawford tied around his neck. The team can’t rebuild only through free agency because they are right up against the edge of having to pay the luxury tax.
They could start shipping high-priced underachievers out and let their free agents like Ortiz walk. But there are so many holes on this roster it looks like Swiss cheese.
Young talent the Red Sox are hoping to develop is in short supply and that is really the biggest problem they have going forward. They likely would be better off with a roster purge and rebuild effort. But that also will mean they have to be candid with Red Sox Nation that they will not be competitive for some time.
That is hard sell. But after this weekend, it could be quite likely you will see Beckett go and others will follow.
The Curse may be over but it might be a long, long time before we see a Red Sox team capable of competing with the Yankees.
To us Yankee fans, that is just fine.
YANKEES vs. RED SOX (POSTPONED – RAIN)
The game scheduled between New York and Boston on Sunday was canceled at 3 p.m. due to a heavy downpour engulfing Fenway Park.
It is nothing compared to the firestorm surrounding the Red Sox in the wake of their 7-20 collapse last September, their change in general manager and manager and their dreadful 4-10 start this season. The fact they blew a 9-0 lead after five innings on Saturday to end up losing to the Yankees 15-9 has merely ripped off the fresh scabs from an entertaining week of upheaval.
If we didn’t know any better we might think that manager Bobby Valentine took up a weather plane and seeded the clouds to rain himself to stop the hail of runs his team’s pitching staff is handing out like Halloween candy and the chorus of boos cascading from the stands upon him.
Valentine admitted after the debacle on Saturday that he needed to do a better job. But, like it or not, Valentine has become the symbol of the discontent in Red Sox Nation.
His mismanagement of two games last week and the dustup he had with Kevin Youkilis were fueling most of the anger aimed at Valentine. But Sunday’s loss was really not Valentine’s fault. But the fact that his club surrendered that huge lead shows just how deep-seeded and difficult the root of the problem is to identify.
It seems to be a lot deeper than some chicken and beer.
Theo Eptein fled to Chicago and Terry Francona took his class act out of the dugout to the television booth. Owner John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino sought out Valentine to right the ship. But they are not offering him any of the largesse it would take to fix the hull.
Unwilling to venture past the limits of the luxury tax, Valentine and new general manager Ben Cherington kind of look like the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” valiantly trying to fight a battle without limbs. Such is the sad state of affairs in Beantown. Well, it is not so sad for those in the Bronx.
The rainout on Sunday gives the Red Sox time to find the answers and gets some players healthy before they play the Yankees again at Fenway. No makeup date has been announced. It is anybody’s guess whether the game will actually matter.
Yankee manager Joe Girardi decided to shift Sunday’s scheduled starter, CC Sabathia, to start on Monday against the Rangers in Arlington, TX. He also said that Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes will follow Sabathia in the three-game series. Ivan Nova will open the home series against the Tigers on Friday. However, Girardi has not announced who will start on Saturday. Freddy Garcia (0-1, 9.75 ERA) would be in line to make the start. But Garcia could be skipped in order to keep Sabathia on schedule to pitch every fifth day. . . . Girardi said he expectes to have Brett Gardner back in the lineup on May 3 when the Yankees begin a four-game series with Kansas City. Gardner was placed on the disabled list with a strained and bruised right elbow he suffered making a diving catch on a sinking line drive on Tuesday. Gardner is hitting .321 this season. . . . Michael Pineda will meet with a team physician in New York on Monday to evaluate recurring tightness behind his right shoulder. The 23-year-old right-hander has to end a bullpen session on Saturday after 15 pitches because of pain in his shoulder. He will remain on the 15-day disabled list and it unclear when Pineda now might be able to return.
The Yankees first test against two-time American League champion Texas begins on Monday.
Sabathia (1-0) gave up three runs on four hits in six innings against the Twins to earn his first victory of the season on Tuesday. He is 10-3 with a 4.44 ERA against the Rangers in his career.
The Rangers will start left-hander Derek Holland (2-0, 3.10 ERA), who gave up two runs on four hits and three walks in seven innings against the reeling Red Sox in his last start. Against the Yankees, Holland is 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA in five starts.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by MY9.
As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.
PART 4 – BOSTON RED SOX
A fellow Yankee fan once called the Red Sox the Red Flops because of their penchant for running out to big leads in the American League East and fading badly in the second half. After the famous “Collapse of 2011” the term seems apropos.
On Sept. 3, they were 84-54, a half game behind the Yankees and nine games up on the Tampa Bay Rays. They finished the season with a dreadful 6-18 record and missed the playoffs by a game. In Boston that is not an oops, it is an eruption and it cost manager Terry Francona his job and general manager Theo Epstein fled to the Chicago Cubs.
Looking to 2012 the Red Flops hired ego-driven Bobby Valentine as manager. Ben Cherington, an Epstein assistant, took over as GM. They even dismissed first-year pitching coach Curt Young in favor of Bob McClure to keep their starting pitchers from getting bagged in the clubhouse on Samuel Adams.
Of course, that is odd because McClure pitched most of his career with the beer capital of the world in Milwaukee.
There is no doubt the starting pitching let the Red Sox down in 2011. They scored runs and the bullpen was good until it got overtaxed. But has this team addressed the areas of weakness enough to win the division in 2012?
Well, it does not look good.
The Red Sox were unable to acquire any starter of significance this winter because they had to re-sign free agent David Ortiz and the team was already perilously close to the salary mark that would incur the luxury tax.
So they return to the field with two of the pitchers who aided in the collapse (Josh Beckett and Jon Lester), one pitcher who was hurt most of the 2011 season (Clay Buchholz) and two big question marks behind them. That seems hardly like a recipe for success.
Beckett, 31, returns as the team ace after a season in which he was 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA. But an ankle injury late in the season forced him to fade like a typical Red Flop in September. He posted a 5.48 ERA in September. He also was in the center of the beer issue that drew the ire of teammates and the front office.
If Beckett wants to remain the ace he better start showing some leadership by example.
Lester, 28, is starting to look like the Red Sox version of Mike Mussina. He has all the talent and the pitches to be successful but he never takes that big step forward to be an elite pitcher. He was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA but he also slid in September. He had only two quality starts from Aug. 27 to the season finale and was 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in the final month.
Buchholz, 27, made only 14 starts last season before ending up on the disabled list with what was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture in his back. He finished with a record of 6-3 and a 3.48 ERA. There is no doubt he was sorely missed last season because Epstein failed to stock the Red Sox with any depth and the team floundered after he was shelved on June 16.
The Red Sox other two starters were veteran right-handers John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
If Lester is like Mussina then Lackey is looking like the Red Sox version of A.J. Burnett. Signed as free agent before the 2010 season, Lackey has done nothing but disappoint Red Sox Nation with bad pitching. He was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 2010 but he got much worse in 2011 with a 12-12 mark and 6.41 ERA.
Red Sox fans have taken to calling him “Lacking.”
But there is good news for RSN, Lackey, 33, will not pitch at all in 2012 because he had to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. There is no real guarantee Lackey will be any better in 2013, which will be the final year of his four-year contract. His days in Beantown look to be limited at this point.
Speaking of that, Red Sox fans also would like to see Matsuzaka, 31, gone after three injury-filled seasons in which he was a combined 16-15 with a plus 5.00 ERA in only 44 starts. Last season, he was shelved in June with a 3-3 record and a 5.30 ERA. Like Lackey he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
He possibly could return late in the season but there is no one banking on him coming back pitching like in he did in 2008 when he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. He is in the final year of lucrative six-year contract and the Red Sox seem to be counting the days they can part with him.
With Lackey and Dice-K on the shelf, the Red Sox have to come up with two starters and one of them is Daniel Bard, the team’s setup man the past two seasons. Bard, 26, does throw hard and he has two breaking pitches to mix in his arsenal.
But Bard also was the poster boy for the Red Sox collapse. Forced to pitch a lot to cover for weak starting pitching, Bard got hit hard and often in September, finishing the season 2-9 with a 3.33 ERA and five blown saves. Only July 31, Bard had a 1.76 ERA.
Now the question is can he be an effective starter? It has not worked for relievers lately. It did not work for Joba Chamberlain and Brandon Morrow of the Blue Jays has struggled to get past the fifth inning with the Blue Jays. Usually it works better when a starter becomes a reliever as it did with former Red Sox right-hander Dennis Eckersley.
Until Bard proves he can pitch deep into games consistently and does not fade late in the season as the innings pile up, he is big question mark in 2012.
For the fifth spot, the Red Sox issued an open casting call much like the Yankees did in 2011 with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.
They are looking at holdovers Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller as possible candidates. Aceves, 29, was 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA but made only four starts. He is better suited as a reliever, as he proved with the Yankees. Miller, a 26-year-old left-hander, was 6-3 but he had a horrible 5.54 ERA in 12 starts.
The Red Sox also signed former Yankee right-hander Ross Ohlendorf and three other right-handers including Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and Carlos Silva to compete for the job this spring.
None of these candidates are going to impress the Red Sox faithful. They all have a lot of mileage on them and they all have not had much success in recent years.
This might be one of the weakest Red Sox rotations in many years and the lack of depth in it is the major problem. If Beckett, Lester or Buchholz are hurt, who steps up to replace them?
The Red Sox allowed Jonathan Papelbon leave for the Philadelphia Phillies rather than pay him what he was worth as a closer for them over the past six seasons. The conventional wisdom was Bard would take over as the closer.
But the Red Sox made him a starter instead and opened up the job. They decided to fill it with 27-year-old right-hander Andrew Bailey, who was acquired in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.
Bailey is coming off two injury-plagued seasons but is pretty darn good when he is healthy. Bailey is 7-10 with a career ERA of 2.07 and 75 saves in 84 chances.
There is no doubt Bailey is an excellent closer. The only question is of the Red Sox can keep him healthy and can Bailey adjust to the very small dimensions of Fenway as opposed to the expansive Coliseum.
The Red Sox also traded with the Houston Astros for yet another former Yankee reliever in Mark Melancon. (Can the signing of Tanyon Sturtze be far behind?). Melancon, 26, was 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and saved 20 out of 25 games for the lowly Astros last season. Melancon, who was touted years ago as the eventual successor to Mariano Rivera when he was in the Yankees’ minor-league system, will set up Bailey and can close if Bailey should revert to past form and pull up lame.
Speaking of lame, the Red Sox suffered a huge blow to their bullpen before pitchers reported to camp on Sunday because 30-year-old right-hander Bobby Jenks will miss more time when a pulmonary embolism was discovered in his lung. This was discovered after he had two back surgeries after pitching only 19 games last season. He is on the 60-day DL and he will be on a long road back to health.
Aceves also figures in the late innings because he is much more valuable in that spot.
The Red Sox got some use out of 29-year-old right-hander Matt Albers, who was 4-4 with 4.73 ERA in 56 games last season. The lefty specialist was 26-year-old Franklin Morales, who was 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 50 appearances. The Red Sox are hoping Rich Hill will come back from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow sometime this season.
The Red Sox think 24-year-old lefty Felix Doubront can take the second left-hander spot in the bullpen. He had no record and 6.10 ERA in 11 appearances last season. Doubront could also get a chance to start and he has some upside.
This bullpen is definitely in a state of flux. New personnel, new roles and there are some pitchers coming off injuries or currently rehabbing injuries. It is not a recipe for success.
Valentine and McClure have a lot of decisions to make in the spring. For the Red Sox to succeed they need an excellent bullpen. For now, it looks just mediocre.
The Red Sox were largely a four-man offense – a very good four-man offense but a four-man offense nonetheless – in 2011.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was as advertised. He hit .338 with 27 home runs and 117 RBIs and played Gold Glove defense. The Red Sox hope Gonzalez, 29, is the fulcrum of the Bosox attack for many years to come.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia bounced back from an injury-plagued 2010 season to re-establish himself in 2011. He hit .307 with 21 homers and 91 RBIs and also won a Gold Glove. Pedroia, 28, remains the spark-plug in the Red Sox engine. His grit and determination makes him the heart and soul of the team.
Designated hitter David Ortiz followed up a bounce-back 2010 season with another solid campaign in 2011. Ortiz, 36, hit .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs. He is not the same feared hitter he was in his steroid days hitting behind Manny Ramirez but he is still good enough to help the offense.
The big surprise was center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who played only 18 games in 2010 and was accused of milking his rib injury by some teammates. Ellsbury, 28, must have been angry because he came back with a vengeance in 2011. He hit .321 with easily a career-high 32 home runs and 105 RBIs from the leadoff spot. He also stole 39 bases.
To most Red Sox observers, Ellsbury was the team’s MVP and would have won the American League MVP if Justin Verlander of the Tigers had not.
The big disappointments in this lineup were Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford.
Youkilis, who will be 33 when the season starts, still has not played any more than 147 games in a season. Last season, the combination of bursitis in his left hip and a sports hernia limited him to 120 games. He hit a disappointing .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and he did not play third base as well he played first base. Youkilis must stay healthy and return to form if the Red Sox are to make a move in 2012.
Left-fielder Crawford, 30, arrived in Beantown with 409 career steals and .293 career batting average. His seven-year, $142 million contract was the signing that limited the Red Sox from adding pitching this winter. He also proved he did not fit in well at Fenway. He hit .255 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs and only 18 stolen bases. He also proved weak in the field despite having won a Gold Glove with the Rays in 2010.
More bad news about Crawford: Late in the winter Crawford realized his left wrist required surgery and he is not likely to be able to play on Opening Day. Crawford will either turn his game around or become one of the biggest albatross signings in baseball history.
The Red Sox have shuffled the deck in right-field and shortstop this season.
The Red Sox released aging outfielder J.D. Drew and they used promising youngster Josh Reddick in the Bailey trade.
The Red Sox did obtain outfielder Ryan Sweeney in the Bailey deal and he is a left-handed hitter like Reddick. However, the 27-year-old has been a huge disappointment in Oakland. He is career .283 hitter but he lacks both power and speed.
Holdover Darnell McDonald, 33, was brought up last season and he hit .236 with six home runs and 24 RBIs in 79 games. He could figure in an early platoon with Sweeney or win the job outright. Ryan Kalish, 23, hit .252 in 53 games and he will get a look also.
The Red Sox also picked up Cody Ross from the Giants. Ross, 31, bats right-handed and he figures to start n left-field until Crawford returns to health. Then he will shift to right in a platoon with either Sweeney or Kalish. Ross hit .240 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs in 2011.
Shortstop also was shuffled for 2012. Starter Marco Scutaro was shipped to Colorado for right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen. Backup infielder Jed Lowrie was used in the Melancon trade with the Astros.
That leaves former Royals infielder Mike Aviles to start at the position. Aviles, 31, is a career .288 hitter but he hit only .255 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs in 91 games with the Royals and Red Sox.
The Jason Varitek era in Boston is officially over. Varitek was not re-signed and Jarrod Saltalamacchia enters his second season as the unquestioned starter for the Red Sox. Saltalamacchia, 26, is coming off a so-so 2011 season. He hit .235 with 16 homers and 56 RBIs. He also struck out 119 times in 358 at-bats so he is not exactly a selective hitter. The Red Sox also wish he would continue to improve his defense and throwing.
The Red Sox will likely keep Ross, McDonald and either Sweeney or Kalish as backup outfielders. McDonald is valuable because he play all three spots and he is better in center.
The Red Sox picked up former Twins infielder Nick Punto as a reserve at second, short and third. Punto, 34, hit .278 with one home run and 20 RBIs with the Cardinals last season. Having Punto means the Red Sox can allow 22-year-old shortstop Jose Inglesias another season to develop at Triple-A. Inglesias can field but has not developed much as a hitter.
The team also picked up former Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach from the Rays. Shoppach, 31, hit .176 with 11 homers and 22 RBIs with the Rays and he replaces Varitek as the backup catcher. He is solid defensively.
This is a serviceable bench but I would hardly call it talent-laden or special.
The Epstein-Francona era is over. The main architects of the only two World Series championships in the last 96 years have fled. They left a financial constraint on the team that prevented them from addressing their crisis in starting pitching, the bullpen and in right-field.
The Crawford and Lackey signings along with the trades for since-departed Victor Matinez and Gonzalez left this very dollar-rich team weak in minor-league prospects and unable to find enough wiggle room to sign what they needed without breaking way past the level where the luxury tax kicks in.
This limits what the Red Sox will actually do this season. This is team that already is beset by injuries (Lackey, Dice-K, Crawford, Jenks) and they are severely lacking in depth before spring training has even started. It is hard to see how they find the money to fix what needs fixing if the ship should begin to flounder.
The Red Sox will only go as far their offense and their top three starters take them this season.
With the Rays a bit flawed it is easy to see both the Red Sox and Rays battling for second place behind the Yankees in 2012. Because of what happened to the Red Sox last season it hard to see how it could happen again. But that is what I am predicting.
I just have a sneaking suspicion that the Rays pitching will be the reason the Red Sox will finish third. The only question is can Valentine get out of town before RSN tries to lynch him. Good luck, with this bunch, Bobby. You are going to need it – along with a lot of Maalox.
Just call them the Red Flops.
“Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails he makes us wait
And we wait without Yu
With or without Yu
With or without Yu”
– Lyrics (with slight revision) of a popular U2 song
After ducking and coyly answering questions about whether the New York Yankees have any interest in Japanese pitching star Yu Darvish, general manager Brian Cashman will finally have to lay his cards on the table on Wednesday by 5 p.m. Eastern time.
That is the deadline for all teams who are interested in Darvish’s services have to come up with what is called a posting (or bid) to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, the team for which Darvish has toiled since he was 18. That bid goes from the team with the highest bid to the Fighters and it only earns the team a 30-day window to negotiate a contract for Darvish. If the team fails to agree with Darvish on a contract the posting money is returned to the American team and Darvish remains with the Fighters for another season.
For all the successes some Japanese players have had in America (Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Hideo Nomo) there have also been some monumental failures (Hideki Irabu, Kei Igawa and to some degree Daisuke Matsuzaka). So on which side of this equation does Darvish fit?
Scouts who have been watching him the past six years have seen a skinny 6-foot-5 right-hander mature into a 220-pound dynamo. On the world stage at the Olympics and the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Darvish has shined, winning the Most Valuable Player Award for Japan’s winning WBC team.
In his seven seasons with Nippon Ham he is 93-28 and since 2007 he has recorded ERAs below 2.00 in five consecutive seasons. In 2011, he was 18-6 with a 1.44 and 276 strikeouts and only 36 walks in 232 innings.
He throws in the mid-90s on his fastball and he throws both a two-seam and four-seam variety along with a cutter. He has three breaking pitches and some believe he throws a decent changeup. But unlike Matsuzaka, who throws pitches off the plate to get batters to swing, Darvish attacks the strike zone and is confident in his ability to get batters out.
Will the talents of Darvish translate to American baseball?
New Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who managed for six years in Japan, certainly knows Darvish well and likes what he has seen of him. The Yankees have scouted him and Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has seen him pitch in person.
But no club is willing to say out loud they are interested in bidding for Darvish because they know that will only drive up the price of the posting. In 2006, the Red Sox bid $51 million to the Seibu Lions for Matsuzaka. They later signed him to a six-year, $52 million contract.
The posting for Darvish could very well easily eclipse the $51 million Seibu received from the Red Sox. Some say that the absence of quality pitching in the American free-agent market this winter gives teams an opportunity to sign what could potentially be a No. 1 starter for less money than the Angels paid to sign Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson.
The reason is the posting fee does not count toward a team’s payroll. The only money that counts is the money paid to Darvish. Because Darvish is just 25, a team could structure a long-term graduated contracte that pays Darvish about $10 million the first season and up to about $15 million in the final season. Wilson is being paid $20 million per season by the Angels. So Darvish actually could be a bargain at half the money the first season.
There are also many teams who can’t afford to get into the bidding in the first place due to payroll issues. The Boston Red Sox, for one, are out the bidding because they need to re-sign free agent David Ortiz and his contract will put them perilously close to the $178 million mark in which the luxury tax kicks in. New Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said the Red Sox will not raise their payroll past that level so Darvish will not be a target.
The Angels seem pretty much tapped out after their signings of Wilson and first baseman Albert Pujols. The Marlins have also spent a lot on closer Heath Bell, shortstop Jose Reyes and starter Mark Buerhle.
So just where are the Yankees in all this?
They have spent only $5.5 million to re-sign free-agent starter Freddy Garcia and $2.5 million for the rights to Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima of the Seibu Lions.
Though Cashman looked at the free-agents starters available, he determined that their cost was much more than he thought they were worth. It was, by far, not a buyers’ market for such limited talent available.
So Cashman spent the Winter Meetings last week trying to gauge the availability of starting pitchers via the trade route and came up empty again. He looked at possible deals for pitchers such as Gio Gonzalez of the Athletics, Matt Garza of the Cubs, Jair Jurrgens of the Braves and John Danks of the White Sox.
But each time he asked teams what they wanted in return the names of the Yankees’ best prospects such as catcher Jesus Monetro, pitchers Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos or outfielder Mason Williams came up. Cashman seems loathe to deal away the best prizes of the minor-league system the Yankees have rebuilt over the past five years.
There also was interest in some homegrown Yankee major leaguers such as Brett Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Phil Hughes, David Robertson and Phil Hughes. But Cashman did not want to go there either.
So just how interested could the Yankees be in Darvish?
My gut feeling is very interested.
The reason is that unlike trades, a free-agent signing means you can keep your young talent. In addition, with the signing of a Japanese pitcher like Darvish the Yankees do not lose a draft pick like when they sign a Type A free agent stateside. Keeping the farm system intact and not having to surrender a draft pick for Darvish appears to be win-win situation for Cashman.
The fact that teams like the Red Sox and Angels are out of the bidding also seems to bode well. The only teams strongly rumored to be interested in Darvish are the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays. The Yankees simply have more financial resources to put toward a bid than those teams. It is a question of just how much of a bid do the Yankees put forward.
The $51 million bid the Red Sox made for Matsuzaka shocked Cashman, who was believed to have bid a little more than half that amount. But the Red Sox were desperate for pitching and they wanted to ensure they would not lose out to the “Evil Empire” that stole Cuban star Jose Contreras away from them years earlier.
This posting looks to be definitely different. There has been less hype and teams have been very circumspect in their public statements.
But if Cashman really wants Darvish, it stands to reason he will be able to convince Hank and Hal Steinbrenner to provide the cash it will take to get it done.
With the time difference in Japan it likely won’t be until Thursday before we find out something about Darvish. The team ownership of the Fighters have four days to accept the highest bid. But I don’t think it will be that long before we hear who has submitted the high bid.
For the sake of Yankee fans, let’s hope that Caahman is the man with the biggest grin this week. Yankee fans need to see some movement towards improving the team for 2012 and Darvish could be the one piece of the puzzle that gets the team just a bit closer to the goal of winning their 28th world championship.
The key to that is pitching, pitching and more pitching. Right now the Yankees just have pitching.
But I can just hear Yankee fans rising in their seats and shouting through the Bronx night air “Yu, Yu, Yu.” Music to my ears!