Category Archives: Baseball
by PATRICK CAVANAUGH
(MANCHESTER)—The Fisher Cats put forth a solid defensive effort but they could not get their bats to spark up as they dropped the series finale to the Binghamton Mets by a score of 6-0 on Sunday afternoon.
The matinee matchup started off shaky when Blue Jays top prospect Aaron Sanchez came out and struck out a batter before he found himself in a bases loaded jam that he was later able to escape. However, the nightmare returned for the Fisher Cats in the fourth inning, when the Mets walk in a run, score on a sacrifice fly, and plate a run after an RBI single.
Fisher Cats reliever Tony Davis replaced Sanchez in the fourth inning and held the B-Mets to their three runs. The Fisher Cats starter threw 3.2 innings, gave up four hits, three earned runs, walked four batters, and struck out four as well. Davis pitched for 2.1 hitless innings, walked two batters, and had one strikeout. Fisher Cats pitching gave up a total of ten walks on Sunday afternoon.
In the top of the seventh inning, Binghamton caught a lucky break when Darrell Ceciliani scored on a passed ball. The Mets collected two more runs in the 9th inning off an RBI double and a sacrifice fly. At the end of the day, the six runs scored were enough to capture the victory and win the series.
The homestand continues for the Fisher Cats as they play host to New Britain for the next three days before getting on the bus for a seven-game road-trip in Binghamton and New Britain. Tomorrow the Fisher Cats will turn to Deck McGuire (1-1, 3.60) to take on the Rock Cats. First pitch is slated for 6:35 PM at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
by PATRICK CAVANAUGH
(MANCHESTER)—Kenny Wilson is an outfielder in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, ranked the 22nd top prospect in the club’s farm system. Although he is just
24 years old, Wilson is in his 7th year of professional baseball. He was drafted straight out of high school by the Blue Jays in the 2008 draft.
Wilson started his professional baseball career in 2008 with the GCL Blue Jays and has slowly made his way up through the organization ever since. Last year, Wilson spent the season in New Hampshire, but only played in 55 games due to a stress fracture in his shin. His hard work and dedication finally paid off when he was added to the Blue Jays 40-man roster this past offseason. Wilson leads the team with most RBIs (8), but also has more strikeouts than anyone else on the team (11).
During a press conference at Fisher Cats Media Day, Kenny Wilson told reporters he enters the ballpark with a mindset that all of his injuries are behind him. His major focus is to improve his results at the dish this season in New Hampshire. Baseball America’s analysis says that Wilson “has the glove to be a defense-first outfield reserve and could be an everyday center fielder if his bat continues to improve.”
Wilson is just one of two players to appear in all nine of the Fisher Cats games this season. If his impressive performance on the diamond continues, he could potentially see his names on the lineup card in Buffalo (Triple-A) or maybe even serve as a backup outfielder in Toronto.
By TJ Horgan
Win. This is the all-encompassing word describing the apex of competition. However, does it accurately depict the talent level of the athletic elite who performing America’s pastime, every day, for nine months every year?
The starting pitcher in baseball is someone who players follow, fans revere (or detest), photographers capture, and with whom owners anchor a team. One pitch could galvanize an audience of 50,000 boisterous fans. Yet there is one thing a pitcher is constantly subject to, and that is judgement.
Any person with the privilege of being financially rewarded for physical gifts is often scrutinized. However, the scrutiny often stems inauspicious “evidence,” such as the “wins” statistic.
A pitcher achieves a “win” if they last pitched prior to the half-inning when the winning team took the lead for the first time. The most common exception to this is when a starting pitcher does not complete 4 ½ innings, as that is the minimum innings requirement needed to achieve a win.
Despite a team’s ultimate goal being to win the game, the win is an antiquated and irrelevant way to judge the talent of a pitcher.
From quick stat lines on television broadcasts, to hyperlinks on web pages with the pitcher’s picture and statistics, the win statistic is everywhere, and often the first numeral evaluation of a pitcher. It is a staple in the juxtaposed world of baseball analytics, and a symbol of the “old school” and “new school” argument.
My reasoning for arguing that the win should be completely removed from mainstream pitcher evaluations begins with the fact that a win is contingent upon a plethora of other factors, many of which are not even remotely controlled by the pitcher himself.
For example, an outfielder’s range can impact a game in a way which will fluctuate from pitcher to pitcher, outfielder to outfielder, and game to game. Raul Ibanez played 824 and ? innings in left field for the Seattle Mariners in 2013, which led the Mariners for innings played at that position. Ibanez is 41 years of age, and had more time in the field than any player over the age of 40 by a substantial margin.
Obviously, a 41 year-old player is slightly slower, less limber, and less agile than, say, Boston’s Shane Victorino (32). The statistics corroborate this, as Ibanez scored a -17.1 in Ultimate Zone Primer (UZR). This statistic encompasses a fielder’s range, in respect to ability to fielding a ball in any specific location.
Shane Victorino scored a 24.0 with UZR. Ibanez tallied the worst UZR among all players in the MLB with at least 800 innings, while Victorino sat at fourth place. Fielding discrepancies such as this are not accounted for in wins.
There were 45 players with more wins in 2013 than Felix Hernandez, Seattle’s best pitcher. Had Raul Ibanez been moderately more agile, a fly ball to left-center field may have been caught for an out, instead of dropping, and scoring 3 runs.
Jon Lester, on the other hand, Boston’s “ace” tallied 15 wins on the 2013 season. According to fangraphs.com, Victorino saved 24 defensive runs last year. That equates to one run saved every 6.75 games. Defensive metrics are highly underrated and can often be used to justify a pitcher’s low (or high) win total.
Hernandez placed fifth in terms of FIP, Fielding Independent Pitching, which is calculated using home runs, strikeouts, walks, batters hit, and other “fielding-independent” statistics. Lester finished 41st in terms of FIP.
Is it fair to depreciate the value of Felix Hernandez because Raul Ibanez is an incompetent fielder? Of course it’s not. Is it fair to say Jon Lester is an “ace” or “shut down” pitcher because Shane Victorino can run, catch, and throw better than most players? Of course it’s not. That is why wins should never surface on a remedial stat-sheet or glance at a pitcher, and metrics such as FIP should.
by PATRICK CAVANAUGH
(MANCHESTER)—The New Hampshire Fisher Cats drew a nice crowd of 5,946 fans for Opening Night, but the team on the field fell short in Thursday night’s 9-1 loss to the Binghamton Mets at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
The Mets struck first in the top of the second inning. Designated hitter Jayce Boyd led off the inning with a double after drove a pitch to deep centerfield. Dustin Lawley followed with a two-run homerun over the leftfield fence, and this gave Binghamton an early advantage.
Two innings later, the Fisher Cats answered with one run after Jon Berti stole third base and went on to score after Kevin Plawecki, Binghamton’s catcher, threw the ball away into left field. This would be the only run the Fisher Cats plated in the contest.
Binghamton was not done scoring, however.
The Mets picked up three more runs in the fifth inning, one in the top of the seventh, and three more in the ninth. While the Fisher Cats defense made some spectacular plays, there were some costly errors committed.
Fisher Cats starter Austin Bibens-Dirkx threw six innings, gave up four hits and five earned runs, but did not walk a batter. The veteran righty struck out five batters in his second start of the year.
The New Hampshire Fisher Cats play three more games against the Binghamton Mets before the New Britain Rock Cats come to town for a three-game series to cap off the homestand.
by PATRICK CAVANAUGH
(MANCHESTER)—For the tenth time in franchise history, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats open up the gates for Opening Night. From championship titles to rebuilding seasons, the organization has definitely seen it all. With ten seasons comes more than a handful of memories and the stories of joy and heartbreak. In honor of the Fisher Cats celebrating their decade of operate, let’s reminisce the most memorable winning moments in Fisher Cats history.
2004: The Fisher Cats finished their inaugural season with a record of 84-57 and the Eastern League championship title. Tyrell Godwin, Aaron Hill, and Justin Singleton were some of the top performers for the organization in their first season. The championship team was unstoppable under the leadership of Mike Basso.
2011: The only other time the Fisher Cats have raised the Eastern League championship trophy was in 2011 under the management of former Major Leaguer Sal Fasano. Key players on the roster included Anthony Gose, Eastern League MVP Travis d’Arnaud, and Mike McDade. The Fisher Cats wrapped up the season with a record of 77-65.
The Fisher Cats have played six games so far this season and sit at the bottom of the Eastern Division with a record of 2-4. Brad Glenn, Kenny Wilson, and Kevin Nolan have all contributed offensively for the Fisher Cats. On the mound, Deck McGuire and Blue Jays Top Prospect Aaron Sanchez have both showcased their talents.
The Fisher Cats open up their season at home on Thursday night and go on to play three more games with the Binghamton Mets. The homestand will continue with three games against New Britain before the team heads on a seven-game roadtrip that starts in Binghamton, New York.
The final days of Spring Training are here at last and baseball at McCoy is right around the corner. The PawSox begin their 2014 season Thursday and will be loaded with talent yet again. Almost every position on the diamond will be filled by someone with a legitimate chance of being in the Majors and this is one of the deepest Opening Day rosters I can remember for Pawtucket.
The greatest amount of depth lies in the PawSox rotation, a group that has been talked about greatly this spring. They are filled with young talent that the organization is high on and are ready to make an impact. Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, and Drake Britton all have a chance to compete in this rotation, though De La Rosa and Britton could be used out of the bullpen.
Webster split time between Boston and Pawtucket last year, and like most of his pitching teammates his time to shine is now. Webster’s biggest improvement a season ago was likely the increase in velocity as not many predicted that he would hit 98 M.P.H. on the radar gun. However his MLB numbers weren’t there, as anytime he was called up he was unimpressive. Command was a big issue for him and keeping his sinker down will be important in 2014. At age 24, he has the promise to be a big league pitcher but must show he is ready before his chance passes by.
Ranaudo and Barnes fall into the same boat as Webster. Even though they haven’t made their MLB debut, they are at the age where they need to take the next step in their careers. Both pitchers have the stuff to be successful, but they will have to work on secondary pitches and consistency to make this leap. As highly regarded prospects with little Triple-A experience, I look for them to have big years and force their way into the big leagues at some point. With so much depth for Boston, it can be tough to crack THEIR roster as anything other than a late season call up. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Sox pull off a trade using some of these pitchers as chips. If they perform well early on it bodes well for them playing in the Majors at some point this year, whether in Boston or somewhere else.
De La Rosa is coming off a disappointing season in 2013, but there is reason to believe that the former highly touted prospect can bounce back. For starters, he came off Tommy John surgery last year and was never really comfortable all year. Now fully healthy, he can be a very effective pitcher in whatever role the team wants him in. The organization put him in the bullpen at the end of last year, and whether he starts or relieves for the PawSox he is someone who can help the Boston bullpen in 2014. While he is lower on the totem pole for a spot starter call up, his ability to throw in the high 90s and strike out hitters makes him a likely call up at some point.
Workman and Britton were fighting for the final spot on Boston’s roster, and Workman won the battle. However had Craig Breslow not been placed on the disabled list, both likely would have been ticketed for McCoy Stadium. That’s not to say that Boston doesn’t like them. It’s just the opposite. The team is very high on Workman and thinks he can be a starting pitcher in the future. Once Breslow comes back, expect Workman to be sent to Pawtucket and work on starting. He was a starter most of last year, and once he gets stretched out would likely be the first pitcher the Sox call upon in a pinch. Britton can still start, but for the Sox would likely be a power lefty out of the bullpen. Pawtucket may use him in the rotation to start the year, but his Boston future lies in the bullpen in all likelihood.
In the bullpen, the PawSox have big league tested arms that could help Boston in 2014. Francisco Cordero had the chance to pitch for Pawtucket in 2014, however the former closer asked for his release instead of going through minor league lifestyle at his age. Returning to the bullpen will be Alex Wilson and Bryan Villarreal who both were up and down from Boston last year. Rich Hill and Tommy Layne were added as lefty specialists, and both could see some action at Fenway after each had great springs. Dalier Hinojosa and Shunsuke Watanabe signed from Cuba and Japan respectively. With no pro experience, these are the two question marks early on for the bullpen.
Moving to the offense, two names stand out above the rest to start 2014. Jackie Bradley Jr. was optioned to Pawtucket early on Friday after Grady Sizemore won the CF job from him. This move was inevitable as spring moved forward, as Bradley was the only outfielder with minor league options remaining. An elite defensive outfielder, he will have to work on reducing his strikeouts, specifically on high and in fastballs. This pitch gave him trouble in 2013, though in spring he has been able to get around on it a little better. Bradley also tended to be streaky in 2013, having stretches of brilliance followed by a prolonged slump. From what I’ve seen, the fact that he was sent down and has things to work on won’t be a mental problem for him. He is calm and collected on and off the field, one of his biggest strengths. He will see MLB time in 2014, but with an injury prone Sizemore plus Shane Victorino being nicked up, the only question is how much.
The other big prospect that will play everyday for the PawSox is 3B Garin Cecchini. The third overall prospect in the Boston system, Cecchini will make his Triple-A debut after a great season with Portland. He has the tools to be a good hitter with developing power and great discipline. It’s doubtful that he’ll see time with Boston this year, but he is one of the better prospects in baseball and should be fun to watch him develop this year.
Pawtucket’s other hitters aren’t too shabby either. Ryan Lavarnway will split time between DH, catcher, and first base for the team, providing a power bat in the middle of the order for however long he is with the team. He is the third catcher in the organization heading into the year. The starting catcher will be Christian Vazquez, a player the team likes defensively. He spent the end of the year with Pawtucket after a good year in Portland and is a strong candidate to be Boston’s 2015 starting catcher if his offense continues to progress. Lost in the catching mix is 2013 PawSox MVP Dan Butler. Butler’s big league future is that of a backup, and as such his at bats in Triple-A will suffer. He figures to be the primary back up to Vazquez, with Lavarnway getting mostly DH at bats.
Aside from Bradley in CF, Bryce Brentz, Alex Hassan, and Corey Brown will have to fight for playing time. All three are good players, but I think Brentz would get the most time out of those three because of his power potential and how well he’s played for Pawtucket over the past few seasons. Outfield is the deepest offensive position on the team by far. The infield returns Brandon Snyder, another veteran hitter with pop, Brock Holt, who had a chance to make Boston’s roster, and Heiker Meneses from last year. Justin Henry and Mike McCoy will be on the bench as super utility players, as each can play all over the infield and outfield.
For the second year in a row, the PawSox will open up with a new manager. After a successful season last year from Gary DiSarcina, who left to join the Angels as their third base coach, Kevin Boles was promoted from Portland to manage Pawtucket. This was the perfect man for the job. As I touched on earlier, this is such a big year for many top Sox prospects. Boles has had experience managing many players on this roster and his presence could help their development move quicker.
He also has managed some of the other prospects that could play in Pawtucket this year. Top pitching prospect Henry Owens will start with the Sea Dogs, but once he shows he can handle Double-A hitters he will be promoted. Blake Swihart, Mookie Betts, and Deven Marrero are other highly regarded prospects that will have a chance to be promoted at some point this season.
This roster will be much different and see many changes as the season goes on. But as it stands right now this team has one of the deepest lineups and deepest rotations in all of minor league baseball. With many budding stars on their way up, it promises to be another exciting year in Pawtucket.
The saying goes “You can never have too much pitching,” and time and time again this theory has proven true. Just think back to the Bronson Arroyo – Willy Mo Pena trade if you need convincing. Even a season ago, it was thought that the Red Sox bullpen would be too deep with talent. Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Alfredo Aceves, and Andrew Miller were supposed to make up one of the best bullpens in the game and other players on the roster could have to be moved to accommodate them. But the team didn’t dispose of their depth, finding ways to keep it. As the season went on, the above mentioned players found themselves out of the picture or out for the season, and that depth was put to the test. It’s safe to say they passed the test, as throughout the year despite all the injuries Boston had a very good bullpen and pitching staff.
The 2014 Red Sox face a similar predicament, having many good options for their pitching staff and not enough spots. The roles players will be fighting for lie in the bullpen, as the starting rotation seems pretty set in stone.
While the Sox don’t have that dominate number one ace like a Clayton Kershaw or Justin Verlander, what they do have is five above average starters and one of the deepest rotations in all of baseball. Jon Lester, coming off a dominating postseason, is the team’s ace. He’s had stretches where he is untouchable, but has also had stretches where he struggles for an extended period of time. His month of June specifically was where he struggled most last year, as he had an ERA of 7.62 over five starts. The preceding and following months however were much more Lester-like, eating up innings and leading the staff down the stretch. Lester is in line for another good season, just don’t overreact too much if there is period of time he struggles.
The ace of the staff the first months of last season for Boston was Clay Buchholz, and he was one of the best pitchers in baseball during this time. Shoulder and neck problems halted his season, and he never really was that dominating pitcher for the rest of the year. He gutted out some postseason starts clearly not at 100%, though he is reportedly fully healthy this year. He has a tough injury history and staying healthy in 2014 is a big question mark for the team as he has the stuff to be one of the top pitchers in the game.
John Lackey and Jake Peavy both come off good seasons and their continued success adds to the depth of this rotation. Lackey’s year especially was good and unexpected, and even if he is unable to match the work he did in 2013 he has reaffirmed to Red Sox nation he is a bulldog on the mound that wants the ball and can he a good pitcher. Both guys have had injury problems over the years, so keeping them fresh and healthy is a key goal for the organization this year.
The final spot belongs to Felix Doubront, who has looked very good this spring. He has come into camp in better shape and has pitched great in his early outings. We have seen spurts of greatness from him over his short career, but he never fully put it together. Each year it seems he takes steps in the right direction, and at age 26 I think we will finally see him reach his potential.
Moving to the bullpen, the back end looks really strong and really deep. Koji Uehara returns as closer after a magical 2013. It’s unfair to expect the 38 year old to match what he did last year as that was a season for the ages, not to mention he threw more innings than anyone could have anticipated. The good news is the team has other closing options that allow them to manage his innings however they want to. Edward Mujica signed in the offseason after serving most of the 2013 as the Cardinals closer. In total he amassed 37 saves before he got worn out in September and lost his job. He enters the year as one of the primary setup men on this club and likely will be first in line for saves when Uehara can’t pitch. Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow are coming off great postseason runs and will be relied upon heavily again in 2014. Fans know how crucial they were to the teams success, as they both got several key outs late in big games.
Andrew Miller returns from a foot injury that cost him the final half of 2013, and as a power pitching lefty he has great value for this team as more than just a lefty specialist. Burke Badenhop was added from the Brewers for more depth and is a solid pitcher when used right. Chris Capuano was added early in spring as a long relief type pitcher, essentially filling the role Ryan Dempster would have played: a veteran presence that can spot start in a pinch.
Assuming the team starts the season with twelve pitchers it seems that these guys would be the pitchers they go with, though obviously nothing is set in stone. But we haven’t mentioned someone who pitched very well in the playoffs and probably should be on this roster. That is Brandon Workman. How can someone who didn’t allow an earned run in 8.2 innings of playoff baseball not make this team? Fair or unfair, he is the player out of everyone mentioned with minor league options remaining. Plus the team still wants him to be a starting pitcher at some point. Even though he was an important piece to the World Series puzzle, getting sent to the minors to work on starting may be what’s best for the team at this point. Should there be an injury of any sort, he would be the first man called up.
The minor league pitching depth is the deepest I can remember it in terms of young talent. Drake Britton enjoyed success at the big league level last year though appears destined for Pawtucket. Alex Wilson and Brayan Villarreal also saw big league time with the Red Sox last year, plus the team signed lefty specialists Rich Hill and Tommy Layne. Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, and Rubby De La Rosa are all highly touted prospects ready to make an impact as well, so the minor league pitching depth appears to be ready whenever they are called upon.
Injuries happen, and no matter how much pitching a team has, history has shown it is never enough. That being said, the Sox look to have as much depth as any team in baseball and over the course of 162 games, it should hold up better than most because of the amount of arms they have.
Spring Training games started this week around Major League Baseball, another milestone for fans and another sign that the regular season is fast approaching. Last week I took a look at the Red Sox outfield situation, and there was some uncertainty about who would be making the Opening Day roster. There’s speculation on where Jackie Bradley Jr. will start the season and what to expect from Grady Sizemore. However, the infield roster positions seem pretty set in stone. At this point, it is a matter of what to expect from each spot.
There are two absolute locks in the infield, Dustin Pedroia at second and Mike Napoli at first. Pedroia, barring injury, will be on the field 160+ games again. Fans know what to expect from him, though don’t be surprised if he adds a little more pop as his thumb injury sapped some power from his 2013 campaign. Napoli is coming off a very good year for Boston, not only hitting for power and run production but playing solid defense at first base. The one new thing I’m looking for him to improve upon is his strikeout rate. This has been a part of his game for most of his career, but he has said that he was bothered at the amount of strikeouts he had last season. The Sox will probably trade some extra strikeouts for more homers, but getting his strikeout rate down should help his overall numbers in 2014.
As of now, Stephen Drew remains unsigned but doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. Should the Sox change their mind and sign him, he would take over at shortstop everyday. I don’t think they should go in this direction because I truly believe in what they already have on the left side of the infield: Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks.
Bogaerts, the number two prospect in all of baseball, showed the Sox what he can do on the brightest stage, performing very well in the postseason and taking the starting third baseman job. Now penciled in as the starting shortstop, we should generally see the same things we saw at the end of last year. A word constantly associated with Bogaerts is “poise,” and anyone who watches him play every day can see that. He is not intimidated by any stage and remains collected on the diamond. He can drive the ball to all fields while showing plate discipline. As with any young player, there will be learning curves along the way and he will continue to grow and add to his game. However Bogaerts is one of the future superstars of this game and I expect an impressive year from him.Middlebrooks is the organization’s former number one prospect, but fell on hard times last season. After struggling with Boston he was demoted to Pawtucket and played on and off after being recalled. Despite these struggles, Middlebrooks is penciled in as the every day third baseman and his production remains one of the biggest questions for this team. He has the potential to hit 30 home runs as his power, specifically his opposite field power, is above average. When I first saw him play this aspect of his game really stood out and still does. Even in a down year last season he hit 17 homers in 93 games. So what does he have to do? Too many times last year at both levels he rolled over outside pitches to shortstop instead of taking what the pitcher gave him and shoot the ball the other way. This would allow him to display his opposite field power better while raising his average. While we may have to accept that Middlebrooks will never be a .300 hitter, being a .250 hitter with 25-30 home runs will do the job towards the bottom of the order. The organization doesn’t want to give up on him because of his great potential, but if he can’t take steps in the right direction this year he may be in another uniform before season’s end.
For backup infielders, look for Mike Carp and Daniel Nava to play first base when Napoli is out of the lineup. Carp has more experience there but Nava has worked since the start of last year to improve at this spot. The only other infielder on the roster is Jonathan Herrera, who can play second, third, and shortstop. Herrera was acquired when the team sent Franklin Morales and Chris Martin to Colorado in December. A good utility piece, his versatility gives the Sox some insurance should Bogaerts or Middlebrooks struggle at any point. He doesn’t offer much in terms of power or speed, but he’s a solid infielder who hit at .292 last season. He’s not someone I’d be comfortable relying on for an extended period of time, but as a backup infielder he’s a great fit.
This group has proven talent as well as potential All Stars. With Bogaerts likely starting off hitting around the six spot in the order and Middlebrooks hitting around eight, their production will make the Boston lineup one of the deepest in all of baseball.
by TIM SCOTT
The glory of winning Olympic gold, the pride of representing your nation, and the dreams of success on the international stage are the driving forces behind anybody’s Olympic aspirations. Whether it be in the summer, or in the winter (like this year’s Sochi Olympics), many athletes share the same passions, bonding on a platform of athletic ingenuity while participating in the competitive atmosphere of sports.
However, like many removed Olympic sports before, baseball players around the world have not had the opportunity to revel in those dreams for many years. Ever since the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to remove baseball and softball from the Olympic Program after the 2008 games in Beijing, supporters of the sport have feverishly tried to restore the sport’s status on the Olympic stage. Despite strong advocacy from many supporters, baseball and softball were not selected by the IOC for the 2020 Olympic program, instead choosing to reinstate wrestling.
Baseball was first played in the 1904 Summer Olympics, and after many years of intermittent competition, became an official Summer Olympic sport in 1992. The popularity of baseball at the Summer Olympics spanned globally, as eight teams and 160 athletes were able to participate in the Summer Olympics. Cuba may have won the most medals during the five Olympic tournaments (3 gold, 2 bronze), but it was the global appeal of baseball (each populated continent had representation at some point during the five tournaments) that made the Olympic tournaments more unique, and intriguing to watch.
However, in the grand scheme of Olympic planning, baseball was fighting a losing battle against other globally-defined sports, such as golf and rugby sevens (the two sports voted into the London Olympic Program). In an interview with MLB.com in 2008, former IOC head Jacques Rogge stated that in order for baseball to rejoin the Olympic program, “you would need to have a sport with a following, you need to have the best players and you need to be in strict compliance with WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). And these are the qualifications that have to be met. When you have all of that, you have to win hearts. You can win the mind, but you must still win the hearts.”
Essentially, Rogge argued that professionalism, globalism, and clean competition are the three main factors behind baseball’s inclusion into the Olympic program. The first problem affecting nations such as the United States is the fact that professional athletes should compete in the Olympic Games. In the past, the United States sent minor leaguers and Major League free agents to the Olympic Games, and have finished with mediocre results (1 gold, 2 bronze). The obstacle for the United States is trying to convince America’s best baseball players to step forward from their comfortable confines, and represent the nation on the international stage. This would mean trying to tamper with the Major League season, which runs during the traditional Olympic calendar. A proposal that resonated throughout the MLB was to suspend the season one month while professionals played in the Olympic tournament. Although that could lead to international success, most players and fans would not be in support of that policy, due to the notion that fans would miss watch their teams for a month (similar to the NHL and their Olympic guidelines) and that players would have to interrupt their training regimens and pitching cycle in order to join the American team on the international stage.
Countering the removal of baseball from the Olympic program, the major professional baseball leagues created a tournament sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) known as the World Baseball Classic. There, 16 teams would be grouped into pools, and the best teams from each pool would have the opportunity to compete for the championship. Despite successful tournaments in 2006, 2009, and 2013, the support for the tournament in the United States has been minimal, due to the lack of big-name players participating in the tournament. Despite having players like Ryan Braun, Giancarlo Stanton, Joe Mauer, and David Wright in the fold, most people did not take to the excitement of the tournament, simply because high-profile players (Justin Verlander, Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, etc.) did not elect to participate in the tournament. Although the sport of baseball has tried to recapture its glory on the international stage, the rapport for international support for the United States baseball team has struggled due to the lack of big-name professional players donning the red, white, and blue with the aim of winning the championship.
Alongside professionalism, globalism is another issue that baseball has to work out in order for its Olympic status to be renewed. On the surface, this issue seems minimal, as 51 countries have sent players to play in the Major Leagues since 1876. However, the depth of this international passion, as evidenced by the lower number of Major Leaguers in some countries, seems to be a concerning factor for the IOC. Despite a large contingency of Major Leaguers from the Dominican Republic, Japan, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela, many countries that participated in the Olympics and World Baseball Classic did not have many Major League players to their name. For example, Italy, a team that has been a consistent participant in the World Baseball Classic, has no active players in the Major Leagues. In order to maintain their competence, players with Italian descent chose to play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, a policy that can’t be carried over in the Olympic Games. Since some countries have to depend on international mercenaries to fill out their rosters, it may be alarming for the international support system that most countries can’t field teams of talented players to compete against the likes of professional juggernauts (USA, Japan, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, etc.).
In order to fill this international void, the Major Leagues has established many initiatives to rally international support for the sport in many countries. Most teams have established training programs in countries such as China and Aruba in order to develop talented players. Also, teams have traveled to nations where baseball hasn’t prospered to find raw talent. One example occurred in India, where the Pittsburgh Pirates signed two Indian pitchers after their participation in the reality TV Show Million Dollar Arm. Although Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel have not broken into the major leagues yet, their influence and admiration throughout India has helped the nation develop a following for baseball that was barely present in prior years. In effect, the programs established by the MLB has developed an international admiration for the game, spreading the game’s popularity worldwide, and helping its case to restore its Olympic status.
In addition to professionalism and globalism, clean competition is needed in order for baseball to thrive as an Olympic sport. Due to the recent scandals involving performance-enhancing drugs that have rocked the Major League community, many initiatives have been taken by Major League baseball to protect the pureness of the game. In compliance with WADA and other drug prevention programs, the MLB has suspended numerous Major and Minor League players for 50 games or more for drug violations. The effects these initiatives as the translate to the international level are a major factor towards the sport’s inclusion as an Olympic sport. The IOC, who has had to endure many drug scandals throughout its tenure, wants to ensure the purity of sport during their Olympic competitions, and believes that baseball should clean up before it is reconsidered as an Olympic sport. If many players comply with the drug policies set forth by Major League Baseball and WADA, then that would significantly affect the prognosis of baseball as an Olympic sport.
If baseball can emphasize its professional, global, and pure standards that have made it a popular game throughout the world, then it should be reinstated as an Olympic sport simply because of its international support. Nationalism and dedication, which are the heart and soul of the Olympic competitions, are two things that baseball brings to the table effectively. Ever since 1992, three countries (Cuba, United States, and South Korea) have been able to tout themselves as the strongest baseball nations on the Olympic stage. Being able to call oneself the best in something is a feeling that is rarely duplicated, making the nation and its people feel confident and stronger in the process. If the IOC wants to have nationalism and loyalty thrive within the confines of their games, then they should definitely reconsider bringing baseball back to the Olympic Games. Whenever baseball is restored into the Olympic Program, it will return stronger than ever before, capitalizing on the opportunity to repair the mistakes made in the previous five Olympic baseball tournaments.
As the Red Sox enter 2014 as defending Champions, this team is different from the team that won it all last season. With the season approaching rapidly, I will take a look at what the team has done in the offseason to improve, replace departed pieces and get ready to contend again. In the weeks leading up to Opening Day I’ll evaluate the Sox infield situation as well as their pitching, but we’ll start today by looking at their 2014 outfield.
There may be no bigger change to the Red Sox lineup than the centerfield position. Most people knew that the team would not be able to resign Jacoby Ellsbury this offseason, and his departure left a hole not only in center, but atop the Sox lineup. While losing someone of Ellsbury’s caliber may cripple some teams, it opens the door for possibilities in Boston. As they say: the more things change, the more they stay the same, and that would hold true for Jackie Bradley Jr. as he again will be a huge story throughout spring. Questions about his ability to be an everyday centerfielder have lingered throughout the offseason, though he is all but sure to be the starter on Opening Day. The question is, can he handle it?
Bradley, who will turn 24 in April, is not going to be what Ellsbury was last season. He won’t steal 50 bases nor will he anchor the top of the lineup. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be productive, especially for a centerfielder. Bradley will not have to do the things Ellsbury did when batting towards the bottom of the order. His patience at the plate and ability to work his way on base will be valued at that spot, giving Boston a deeper lineup than most teams. He can make plays on the base paths, though not nearly to the extent of Ellsbury. Bradley also will not hit for much power, though he could reach double digit home runs by season’s end. What Bradley can do, and do better than Ellsbury, is field his position. Anyone who has seen Bradley play knows he is a natural in centerfield, gliding to balls others wouldn’t get to while making tough plays look routine. While people will be hesitant to say Bradley is a better defender than Ellsbury, those who get to watch him play everyday will not be surprised with the comparison. To expect Bradley to have an All-Star season is setting the bar too high, but those who doubt he can play at this level will see is a budding star.
For all the things Bradley can do, the role of leadoff hitter is not yet one of them. That role will be filled by postseason hero Shane Victorino. Victorino slots nicely into the leadoff spot after batting second most of 2013, a move that also allows Dustin Pedroia to go back to the two spot where he is more comfortable. His biggest concern will be health, as he is coming off surgery on his thumb and wrist not to mention a back injury that held him out some games in the playoffs. Managing him throughout the season will be important, and that should be doable as the Sox have plenty of outfield options. A healthy Victorino will play an important part in the Sox offense again, as his skills and knack for the big hit will be on display again.
With those two spots pretty much set, leftfield will see a platoon again between Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes. I usually don’t like platoon situations as the main option for a team, however with the unselfish attitude that this team possesses it works very well. Nava will see a bulk of the action again, not only because he would hit against right handed pitching but because of his lineup versatility. He can hit anywhere in the lineup and give a solid at bat each time up. Gomes will get the starts against most lefties, though he will have plenty of at bats whether it’s in the starting lineup or as a pinch hitter. “Mr. Intangible” showed what his game is all about throughout the 2013 regular and postseason. He along with Nava will have very similar roles as they did a season ago, and they should both thrive in these roles again.
Newly signed Grady Sizemore will be the competition in centerfield for Bradley, and what to expect from him is truly unknown. He’s played 112 games since 2010, none since 2012. In his prime, he was an elite player who could do it all. Now, the Sox hope he can regain any of his old form while providing insurance behind Bradley. Regardless of his success, he will be managed physically to ensure he doesn’t sustain another injury. I expect him to be another member of the Sox outfield platoon, with the chance to see some starts should Bradley struggle.
A man people forget is Mike Carp, who had a very good season in his platoon role. An outfielder and first baseman, Carp will have his share of at bats against right handed pitching and as a pinch hitter, whether it is in left or at first. My question is would the Sox want to keep six outfielders on their roster? While Carp is the backup first baseman, Nava can also play first. Victorino, Nava, and Gomes are locks to be with the big league team all year long. Bradley is unlikely to get sent down unless he really struggles, so he too is a lock for a big league spot. The team didn’t sign Sizemore to a guaranteed contract just to release him early in spring. So that leaves the 27 year old Carp as the potential odd man out. Keep in mind that this is my pure speculation, but his $1.4 million salary along with his age and production seem to make him a tradable asset. What the team could get back for him or would be looking to get back for him is unknown, but he is a guy that can start on other MLB teams. Another option could be Sizemore starting the year on the DL or carrying one less pitcher, but trading Carp is not out of the realm of possibility.
With the amount of versatility and talent this outfield has, this group should be one of the deepest positions on the team. Everyone can play multiple spots and hit all around the lineup, a huge advantage for the team. 2014 should see continued success from the Red Sox outfield, even without Ellsbury.