BOSTON -- Man, in this town, if you’re a professional sports franchise and you’re not playing for a championship, you’re standing still.
Remember when the Red Sox owned this place by winning two World Series in the span of four seasons (2004 and 2007)? Well, with the Patriots now headed back to the Super Bowl, that seems like ancient history. It is going on five years since the Red Sox advanced to the title round. The Patriots went to the Super Bowl in 2008 and are returning now. The Celtics won the NBA title in 2008 and lost in the finals in 2010. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup last spring. And don’t forget the Boston Cannons, defending Major League Lacrosse champions.
No pressure, Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine.
A few Sox notes, from hither and yon:
Retirement parties?: With Jorge Posada announcing his retirement Tuesday after 17 seasons with the Yankees, it would appear to be a matter of time before we hear similar announcements from Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek and J.D. Drew.
Wakefield’s agent, Barry Meister, said the 45-year-old knuckleballer just returned from a vacation in Mexico, and that he hasn’t had substantive conversations with him in about 10 days. He acknowledged that while there have been inquiries from other teams, there’s nothing in the works.
“There’s really not much to tell right now,’’ he said Tuesday. “I need to talk to Tim, and to Ben [Cherington] and Larry [Lucchino].’’
As Valentine noted the other day, it’s inconceivable that Wakefield would accept a minor-league offer from the Red Sox.
Varitek turns 40 just after Opening Day and got married in the offseason. No word from the player or his agents on Varitek’s plans, but the signing of Kelly Shoppach virtually closed the door on a return to Boston, and while Varitek last spring expressed a desire to play for as long as he can, he may have reached the endgame.
Drew, meanwhile, had indicated even before last year’s disappointing performance that he might decide to retire.
“Neither player has really made a decision regarding their plans,’’ a source close to Varitek and Drew said Tuesday.
This statement from Varitek on Posada, incidentally, was included in a press release: “After hundreds of head-to-head games during the regular season and the postseason, I can't say I respect and admire anyone at our position more than I do Jorge. The hard work and preparation he put into catching is a huge reason he has five championships on his resume. He is a true grinder.”
“Mortensen pitches in the high 80s with plus sink, tops out near 92 mph and mixes in a low-80s changeup to induce grounders at an above-average rate (51.3 percent of balls in play) over his 95 career big-league innings. Of course, he doesn't have much of a breaking ball, and his other peripherals do not paint a pretty picture -- 4.7 strikeouts, 3.7 walks and 9.8 hits per nine innings. Mortensen has spent most of his career in Triple-A, running up a 5.26 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in 447 innings for three Pacific Coast League clubs -- Memphis, Sacramento and Colorado Springs. Optioned to the minors in three seasons already, he probably will qualify for a fourth option year in 2012.’’
Comment: Mortensen will compete for a spot in the bullpen, but more likely will open the season in Pawtucket. Don’t look now, but the Sox have the makings of a potentially strong bullpen, especially if Franklin Morales, Andrew Miller or nonroster invitee Jesse Carlson, who missed all of last season because of shoulder surgery, can click from the left side. If the Sox succeed in acquiring another starting pitcher and elect to return Alfredo Aceves to the pen, on paper they look strong with Andrew Bailey closing and Mark Melancon sharing setup. If Bobby Jenks can be healthy and Matt Albers proves he just ran out of gas last season, the Sox pen has a chance to be strong and deep. And if the Sox elect to keep Daniel Bard in the pen (doubtful), it could be one of the best in baseball. A lot of ifs, but...
Scutaro trade “strange” move: Former general manager (and Weston native) Jim Bowden rates the Sox trade of Scutaro to the Rockies as one of the five strangest moves of the offseason.
In his latest dispatch for ESPN, here’s Bowden’s take:
“For most people in baseball, shortstop is generally the most important position on the diamond and usually warrants one of your best athletes. So trading your starting shortstop doesn’t make sense unless he's either really bad or the deal is a precursor to something else. Such is the case with Boston’s inexplicable trade of Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies for a middling swingman in Clay Mortensen. Scutaro is a gamer and a winning player who developed a great rapport with Dustin Pedroia. What doesn’t make sense is with a budget upward of $175 million, the Red Sox are worried about saving Scutaro’s $6 million salary? Worse yet, it leaves them with Mike Aviles, who can hit but can’t field, or Nick Punto, who can field but can’t hit. Farmhand Jose Iglesias is clearly not ready. Thus, common sense only dictates that Red Sox GM Ben Cherington has something else up his sleeve. Otherwise this is a move he will regret.’’
Bowden, incidentally, has enthusiastically embraced his role as Web commentator and radio host (Sirius), breaking news and cultivating a wide range of sources. Definitely worth following.
Rating “PuntoViles”: Here’s how Eric Seidman of FanGraphs.com assesses the situation at shortstop, which for the moment leaves them with a platoon of Punto and Aviles:
“As a playoff hopeful, the Red Sox shouldn’t really forego the shortstop position just to sign an older Oswalt coming off an injury-shortened season. In the PuntoViles Platoon’s defense, the utility they provide to the Red Sox isn’t in what they have done, but rather in what they can do moving forward. In a platoon, it’s possible to mask the weaknesses and heighten the strengths. In this case, however, those generalities don’t necessarily apply.
"In approximately 30 percent of his career plate appearances, Aviles has a very good .350 wOBA against lefties, compared to a .307 mark against same-handed righties. However, those career splits include his rookie 2008 campaign, when he hit .325/.354/.480, put up a .360 wOBA and posted a +11 fielding mark. Suffice to say, he hasn’t come close to those stats since, and his 2009-11 numbers are more indicative of his expected output.
"Focusing strictly on the last three seasons, Aviles has still performed better against lefties, but the wOBA gap substantially shrinks to .320 vs. .314. That difference isn’t statistically significant, and his numbers against opposite-handed hurlers certainly aren’t gaudy for an advantageous platoon split.
"Essentially, the Red Sox have two shortstops that can’t hit, and only one that can field. Plus, the good glove belongs to a 34-year old part-time player that hasn’t played over 100 games since 2009 and hasn’t spent more than 500 innings at the position since 2008. The Red Sox offense will still produce well, especially if Carl Crawford regresses, but it isn’t yet clear that the trade-off of the shortstop position for Oswalt is beneficial to the team. This isn’t a traditional platoon in any sense of the term, and it’s hard to envision how this tandem will pay dividends over the course of a long season."
A seat at the table: Bobby Valentine is living up to his reputation for conducting life at a breakneck pace. Besides spending many of his waking hours in the offices at Yawkey Way studying video and making phone calls to players, Valentine has made numerous public appearances. Just in recent days, he attended the Boston Baseball Writers dinner, the New York Baseball Writers dinner, and hot-stove events in Portland and Greenville for Boston’s minor-league franchises in those cities.
This Sunday, Valentine will be in his hometown of Stamford, Conn., with longtime broadcaster Ed Randall for a charity event to raise awareness of prostate cancer. The event, which runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., will be held at the Rippowam Middle School, which was the high school when Valentine was starring as one of the best prep athletes in the state’s history. This promises to be more than your typical meet-and-greet. Randall said that for two hours he will sit down with Valentine for a long-form interview. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $40 at fans4thecure.org or at the door for $50.
Youk's Kids: This from event publicist Adam Klein: Platinum-selling singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw will join Boston Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis Thursday night at the second annual Youk’s Kids Not Your Average Idol, to benefit Youk’s Kids. The event, to be held at the State Room in Boston, will be hosted by Sarah Colonna and Josh Wolf of Chelsea Lately, Not Your Average Idol will feature performances from the R&B group AHMIR, Ayla Brown, comedian Tony V, and Boston recording artist Will Dailey and more. Tickets for the event are $250 and $500 and can be purchased online at www.youkskids.org or by calling 617-964-9685 (YOUK).
Presented by New Balance, the event will feature a silent and live auction as well as food tastings from many of Boston’s top restaurants. Expected to attend are U.S. Senator Scott Brown, one of the honorary co-chairs of the event; Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, ESPN commentator and former NE Revolution player Taylor Twellman and former NE Patriots player Jermaine Wiggins. Youk’s Kids is a nonprofit organization founded by Kevin Youkilis. The organization aims to create a community of support, increase awareness, and advocate for the health and well-being of children in need. The organization supports Josh Cares, a surrogacy program for critically-ill children in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, at-risk youth at the Italian Home for Children in Jamaica Plain; and most recently a new program called Athletes for Heroes that provides grants to the minor children of fallen or severely disabled men and women of service so that they might participate in team and academic enrichment activities. The program begins at 7.
Living his dream: Finally, from Eric Boynton of the Spartanburg (S.C.) Herald, comes this make-you-smile comment from Jackie Bradley Jr., the University of South Carolina star outfielder who was a first-round sandwich pick by the Red Sox and was at the Greenville event Monday night:
"My grandma always reminds me that when I was 8 years old she was driving me home from practice and I just unbuttoned the seat belt, leaned forward and told her when I was 21, I was going to become a millionaire," said Bradley, who got a reported $1.1 million signing bonus. "That always stuck with her and then at 21, I get drafted by Boston, now I'm here and it's all just happened so fast. But I'm far from being satisfied. I'm trying to make it to the top."