Balls and Strikes

A few thoughts as we gear up for the start of the 2015 MLB season.

The Boston Red Sox have had a somewhat bizarre offseason. They have seemingly loaded up on offense, could have the best 1-6 hitters in baseball if things fall right, but have no #1 or possibly #2 starter, have a 40-year-old closer Koji Uehara, who looked tired and ineffective the final months of last season and a bullpen that has some undefined roles and potentially a lot of mediocrity. I have always been a huge fan of compiling assets, but those assets seem to represent redundancy while leaving too many holes. The Red Sox have the best young prospects in baseball and have trade chips aplenty but here are the things I question most heading into the season:

1. The Red Sox declined to resign Jon Lester because of his age and potential decline. Yet, they opted to resign Uehara for 2 years and 18 million instead of resigning Andrew Miller for four years and 36 million despite the fact that Miller is a lefty, is in the prime of his career and is clearly trending upward. Miller went to the Yankees and this decision will be one the Sox sorely regret.

2. The Sox signed Rusney Castillo to a seven year-72 million contract last season. Who signs a player to an average salary of 10 million plus and then can’t find a place in the starting lineup for him? Shane Victorino was named the starter but not on merit and solely based on his past success and the likelihood that he will be a clubhouse problem and become petulant if he is coming off the bench.

3. Xander Bogaerts. I am a big fan and believer, but if he stumbles and he will get a huge leash, the Red Sox have a big hole at SS offensively and defensively. If the rumblings start midway through the season of moving Hanley Ramirez back to SS, that will create a whole new set of problems.

It will be interesting to see how former Red Sox player Will Middlebrooks does in San Diego considering it is not a good hitter’s park. If Middlebrooks does well, he hit .333 in spring training, and it proves out that the Red Sox panicked and gave up too quick, then the 95 million dollars spent on Pablo Sandoval will look bad. However, in light of the Sox losing Christian Vazquez, acquiring Ryan Hanigan for Middlebrooks could help save some face.

Speaking of the Padres, they are one of the most intriguing teams to watch heading into the season. Justin Upton and Matt Kemp have a chance to rebound for big years. Wil Myers and Will Middlebrooks get out from under the pressure of their previous teams and if either or both can perform effectively, the Padres could be a force to be reckoned with. San Diego also acquired all-star catcher Derek Norris, ace pitcher James Shields who should thrive in San Diego and they took minor risks on Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson.

The Kris Bryant – Chicago Cubs saga is getting all too repetitive. So the Cubs sent him down to the minors so they could secure an extra year of service time and delay him going to free agency and having to deal with uber-agent Scott Boras. All Bryant did in spring training was hit nine home runs, knock in 15 runs and hit .425 in 40 at bats.  Those are Stephen Drew’s power numbers over the last two season coupled with a batting average approximately 300 points less. The players association agreed to this rule and every time a team exploits it, there is an uproar. Next time the collective bargaining agreement comes due, surely this issue will be addressed. However, the Cubs have a potentially contending team for the first time in God knows how long and more importantly, their fans can say the word playoffs without breaking out in laughter. If at the end of the season, the Cubs miss the playoffs by one to three games, everyone will be asking if Kris Bryant could have made the difference and for a team that hasn’t won since… well let’s just say the last time they won: a loaf of bread was five cents, a gallon of milk was 32 cents and a gallon of gas was 11 cents, having another year of service time might not be worth losing a playoff spot.

And how could I finish baseball without discussing the Bronx Bombers. Anytime you go into the season thinking this could be our year if Mark Teixeira bounces back and stays healthy, Alex Rodriguez stays healthy and doesn’t implode, Carlos Beltran stays healthy and bounces back, Tanaka’s elbow holds up, Sabathia’s arm doesn’t fall off from overuse or from holding up his belly and Michael Pineda can stay healthy and fulfill his previous vast potential, you can’t feel good. The only lock on this team offensively might be Jacoby Ellsbury and let’s face it, he is so overdue to get hurt.

Too bad the New York Mets lost Zack Wheeler for the year because it would have been great to see Matt Harvey and Wheeler as a 1-2 punch.

As MLB gears up, the NBA and NHL regular seasons wind down.

As usual the Western Conference holds all the intrigue and excitement. Not thinking too many people are breathlessly awaiting how far the Atlanta Hawks or Toronto Raptors go in the playoffs. The Western Conference should ultimately come down to the Warriors and Clippers. LA has the talent, athleticism and coaching to stay with Golden State, but I am not sure the IQ is there and I truly believe Golden State could be a team of destiny this season as they have virtually no weakness. Everybody still has to get by San Antonio of course but seeing Stephen Curry and the young gun Warriors in the Finals would be refreshing to say the least. By the way, six of the top seven teams in the NBA are in the Western Conference.

Congrats to Phil Jackson on a brilliant first season with the Knicks guiding them to the worst season in franchise history as they are currently 14-61. I wonder if it was a big deal in losing out on getting Steve Kerr to coach the team and settling for Derek Fisher?

I pointed out in my last blog how much more successful the Celtics have performed post-Rondo and how much less successful the Mavs have performed. What seems to be the hidden gem from that trade though is Jae Crowder. He is a jack of all trades and a player Danny Ainge insisted on. Crowder can rebound, pass, shoot from the outside and defend any of the frontcourt positions despite being only 6’6’’.

With all the struggles Kevin Love continues to have in Cleveland and the steady improvement Andrew Wiggins is having in Minnesota, perhaps Cleveland wishes they could rethink that trade. But if Love leaves after this season or doesn’t live up to his potential come playoff time than that failed trade is on LeBron because Cleveland doesn’t pull the trigger on that without LeBron cajoling management.

I am about 50% over losing Darelle Revis and have two other thoughts. First, I thought it was telling last week that Revis felt the need to point out that the Patriots offer wasn’t in the ballpark. This was heavily reported after he decided to resign with the Jets anyway so this was hardly news. What Revis intentionally chose not to address was whether he would have resigned with the Patriots if the offer was in the ballpark. I maintain the Patriots didn’t make a competitive offer because they felt his heart was with the Jets all along and they didnt want to be embarrassed and match the Jets and still lose the player. On the flip side, if the Pats could have resigned him, but they were thinking towards next season when they will have to address the contracts of Donta Hightower, Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, then shame on them. Jones has been injury prone and inconsistent, Hightower is overrated and Collins looks very promising, but why not keep the proven commodity at a position that is virtually impossible to find a stud.

Can’t wait until MLB umpires start issuing delay of game warnings.

World Series prediction:

Washington Nationals win it all and beat the Baltimore Orioles in the Beltway Series.