Baseball Notes

Werth may have been a more worthy signing

By Nick Cafardo
April 17, 2011

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We finally got the official bottom line. Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez came in at a shade under $300 million.

It’s hard to evaluate the signings this early, except we know Crawford has not started well and Gonzalez hasn’t yet lived up to having the perfect swing for Fenway Park. Whether they are pressing or just not yet in the flow or whether they’re being weighed down by their massive contracts is anyone’s guess.

A month or two from now we’ll likely see Crawford’s tremendous skill level manifest itself in a variety of ways, but mostly with world-class speed that shows up on the base paths and on defense. We will likely see the beautiful inside-out stroke Gonzalez has always possessed, and we are sure to be reminded of Fred Lynn.

The Red Sox’ new acquisitions will likely be all right.

Whenever a team spends that much money, it is under tremendous scrutiny from media, fans, and other teams.

We wrote in this space a while back that Tampa Bay hoped Johnny Damon would be 60-70 percent of Crawford, but as one clever texter wrote, “Wonder if Crawford will be 60-70 percent of Damon.’’

While the Crawford signing was exciting, it also raised questions about whether the Sox needed that type of player. They were already lefthanded-oriented and there seemed to be more of a need for a righthanded power hitter than a lefthanded speedster. They seemed to have that already with Jacoby Ellsbury, and Crawford was a bit redundant.

“One of the worst decisions both by a team and by the player was Jason Bay leaving Boston,’’ said one National League general manager. “In New York, he’s like a fish out of water. Whatever the Red Sox wanted to put in that contract [clauses to protect the team in case Bay’s knees broke down], Jason should have gone along with it because he was so comfortable in that lineup and so perfect as a power-hitting righthanded bat. I think they miss that. As good as Crawford is, they miss Bay and Bay misses them.’’

It’s true that Bay’s career has spiraled downward since he signed with the Mets, where he’s miscast not only for the city but for the ballpark. Bay also has been injured a lot. The Sox replaced Bay with Mike Cameron, who suffered from an abdominal tear last season and didn’t live up to Bay’s numbers. And when coupled with Ellsbury’s injury-plagued season, it was a disaster.

There are baseball people who still believe that Jayson Werth was a much better fit for the Sox than Crawford, but Theo Epstein believed seven years at $126 million was too much for Werth. Maybe it was. But was eight years, $142 million too much for Crawford? That’s what the next few months and years will answer for us.

Werth signed with the Nationals after a nice run with the Phillies. At 31, he’s two years older than Crawford and his skill set is different.

Werth is a hard-nosed player who hits in the middle of the order. He had a .921 OPS last season and is at .845 for his career. Crawford has a .777 career OPS and his .851 a year ago was his highest ever.

Crawford has more wear and tear. Despite being younger, he’s played many more games — 1,247 to 788. As speed guys get older their legs tend to go, though with Crawford that seems years away because he’s in such tremendous shape.

Crawford is batting .137. He’s been shifted from third in the order to seventh to second, and now he’s in the leadoff spot. His skills seem better suited for batting first or second; he’s somewhat miscast as a middle-of-the-order hitter. There’s been no easy place to put him, and the constant shifting reflects that. Werth, like Bay, is more of a 5 through 7 hitter.

What did the Red Sox need most after obtaining a lefthanded bat like Gonzalez?

“There’s no question Werth was the better fit because it balances their lineup better,’’ said an American League GM. “It seemed like the Red Sox wanted to make sure [Crawford] was kept away from the Yankees and they did that by offering that type of contract. He’ll be a heck of a player for them, there’s no doubt about that. His speed and Ellsbury’s speed should play well together over the course of the season. I think Werth would have given them some more grit. More of a righthanded threat. With Ellsbury, [David] Ortiz, Gonzalez and [J.D.] Drew they had a big lefthanded presence already. Not sure that many of us are unhappy they chose Crawford over Werth. But Werth just seemed to fit that lineup better.’’

And the feeling is Crawford can be pitched to. There are also many ways to get Werth out, or so the Phillies think. When the Nationals faced the Phillies last week, Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro Jr. was reminded of a comment he made after Werth signed with Washington.

“We’ll get him out a lot,’’ Amaro said.

When asked if he knew the secret to getting Werth out, Amaro said, “I believe that we do.’’

As we watch these two players over time, we will ask who’s better? The consensus is Crawford is better, but not necessarily the better fit. It will be fascinating to watch the truth unfold.

Yankees deal with injuries While last season was a medical nightmare for the Red Sox, could the Yankees already be having one this season?

While everyone focused on whether A.J. Burnett could rebound and whether Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia could hold down the final two spots in the rotation, the developing story was Phil Hughes’s weak arm. His velocity kept slipping to the point where the Yankees placed him on the 15-day disabled list. That, coupled with news that lefthanded reliever Pedro Feliciano was gone for the season after opting for shoulder surgery, made it a tough week for the Yankees.

Unless there’s structural damage, Hughes, who has posted a 13.94 ERA, should be OK with rest, but the loss of Feliciano chips away at what was the best bullpen in baseball. The Yankees will use Bartolo Colon in the rotation for now, with Kevin Millwood and Carlos Silva getting ready in the minors. GM Brian Cashman acknowledged he probably won’t be able to adequately replace Feliciano.

“Something had to be done,’’ Hughes said on Friday. “The arm strength just isn’t there. The arm feels dead, just nothing coming out. I’ve got to get it right, so this will give me the opportunity.’’

Cashman has taken some heat for signing Feliciano after knowing about his heavy workload with the Mets. Cashman even criticized the Mets for “abusing’’ Feliciano. He also mentioned his own former manager, Joe Torre, overusing Scott Proctor.

“When there is a consistent overuse pattern, that becomes the abusive issue. We had guys that got overused, yeah, and I went proactive and failed in trying to stop it,’’ Cashman said. “I went every which way, to the player, to the manager, to the pitching coach, to the agent. I remember telling Proctor, ‘You haven’t made money yet, you’re hurting your career while you’re helping us.’ He told me, ‘I’m never going to tell him no. If he needs me I’m going to be there for him.’ ’’

Why didn’t the Yankees test Feliciano more thoroughly, such as a dye injection, before they signed him?

“No, that’s an invasive test. You stick a needle in somebody. He wasn’t having symptoms,’’ said Cashman. “When we signed him there was a known risk, but he didn’t have any issues, we went through all the medical reports from the Mets. We don’t believe he had a capsule tear when we signed him.’’

Mattingly has good material Former Boston Herald baseball writer Mike Shalin has written an interesting biography on former Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly entitled “Donnie Baseball’’ (Triumph Books). Shalin covered Mattingly while with the New York Post, and while Mattingly, now manager of the Dodgers, has never been a controversial figure, there are some compelling stories.

One involved Mattingly’s competition with Wade Boggs for the American League batting title in 1986.

“Wade Boggs, at .357 after going 1 for 4 in the previous series finale against Baltimore, had a hamstring tear and, with the playoffs coming up for the Red Sox, sat on the bench and watched. Mattingly, at .350 coming in, was going to go it alone,’’ Shalin wrote.

“Most baseball fans are familiar with the tale of Ted Williams in 1941, when Teddy Ballgame could have sat in the last-day doubleheader and finished at .400. Instead, he played both games, went 6 for 8, and finished at .406. It was what Boston fans expected of Boggs in the final series. When he didn’t play, there were questions. A New York tabloid blared the headline, ‘Chickened Out,’ a reference to Boggs’s daily pregame diet of chicken.

“Mattingly told Boggs at the time, ‘If you read one quote that even hints at my questioning you, then it’s been twisted or it’s a fabrication. You know me. We’re friends. If I were you, if I were hurting and had the playoffs to think about, then I’d do the same thing.’ ’’

Mattingly needed to go 6 for 6 on the final day and manager Lou Piniella batted him leadoff. He homered off Red Sox righthander Jeff Sellers to start the game.

Bruce Hurst told me that after that [homer], Boggsie went up and started to warm up,’’ said Mike Pagliarulo, the Yankees’ third baseman at the time. “I mean, God. He shouldn’t have played. If it would have hurt the team he wouldn’t have done it, no way.’’

According to Marty Barrett, Boggs’s teammate, “Boggs started warming up like, I better get ready, I might have to go get a hit. It was really kind of funny watching that and halfway thinking, ‘Man, this guy might be able to do it.’ ’’

Boggs told Shalin: “You know me, and you’ve covered me enough to [believe my] guarantee that I said it in jest. There was no way I was going to go in that Sunday game. [Red Sox manager John McNamara] wouldn’t have let me go in. He would have said, ‘You’re going to lose the batting title, and we’re going to the playoffs.’ That would have been the scenario. I wouldn’t have gone into the game to jeopardize not playing in the playoffs.’’

Apropos of nothing 1. The Adrian Gonzalez deal was agreed to in December and yet both sides gave us this song and dance about how it wasn’t done. Makes you sick; 2. Jose Iglesias isn’t far away and Jed Lowrie needs a chance to play every day. What do you do? 3. In Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, David Ortiz, and Marco Scutaro, there’s a potential of more than $40 million coming off the books for 2012; 4. Can I pull a Bill Parcells and reserve the right to change my mind about predicting the Red Sox will win the World Series?; 5. Now you wonder if 90 victories will win the AL East.

Updates on nine 1. Francisco Liriano, LHP, Twins — Liriano is scheduled to make his fourth start tomorrow, at Camden Yards, and boy does he need a turnaround. As bad as John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Phil Hughes have been, Liriano might take the prize. He’s 0-3 with a 9.42 ERA, after having a 1.29 ERA in his first three starts last season. He’s looked more like the 2009 Liriano, who started 0-4 and finished 5-13. The Twins have to hope that isn’t the case and instead he starts to resemble the pitcher who held the Royals scoreless for four innings last Wednesday, before surrendering six runs on eight hits in the fifth.

2. Justin Upton, OF, Arizona — It’s the lack of consistency that makes you pause with Upton, but the talent? He hit a 478-foot homer last Tuesday. The sky is the limit for the 21-year-old. Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers was willing to deal him to the Red Sox in the offseason, but only if he got the Gonzalez package or straight up for Buchholz in return.

3. Alex Wimmers, RHP, Twins — Minnesota’s first-round pick last season had an alarming outing for Single A Fort Myers last week, throwing only four of 28 pitches for strikes before having to come out of the game, and for now the rotation. Wimmers, an Ohio State product, was 2-0 with a 0.57 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings for Fort Myers after signing last summer. He did battle a hamstring injury during spring training, so the hope is the wildness is related to that.

4. Takashi Saito, RHP, Brewers — Saito has always been an effective reliever. It’s been somewhat of a miracle that he’s been able to hold on through various ailments, including an elbow ligament hanging on by a thread. He’s been dealing with a hamstring strain that forced him to the DL, similar to one he had in Atlanta last season that forced him to miss some time after he overcompensated and wound up with a sore shoulder. So, Saito is trying to heal the hamstring fully in the hopes of avoiding more shoulder problems. Saito has a contract for $1.75 million, but he also has $1.5 million in bonuses. He gets $100,000 each for 30, 60, 90, 120, and 150 days on the active roster. So, time on the DL is costly.

5. J.P. Howell, LHP, Rays — Who knows if the Rays will fully recover from their poor start, but a significant development is Howell’s comeback. Howell, who missed all of last season because of shoulder surgery, is throwing batting practice and will soon head out for a rehab assignment and could be back in the majors, if all goes well, by mid-May. This would create more depth and a more defined set of roles for Joe Maddon’s bullpen.

6. Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers — So far, Fielder isn’t being affected by this being a potential walk year. He had a seven-game hitting streak that ended Friday in which he was 13 for 26 with three home runs and 15 RBIs. He’s decided to go the other way more rather than pull everything, and the results have been positive. It’s going to be interesting to see where Fielder ends up. Among the suitors could be the Orioles, Angels, Cubs, and Rangers. Fielder is putting himself in good position (he’s also only 27) for a massive contract, perhaps bigger than Gonzalez’s.

7. Omar Minaya, former Mets GM — Minaya said he may soon decide what he wants to do. He’s still drawing a salary from the Mets, but said, “I’m a free agent.’’ Minaya could land a job as a GM’s special assistant or perhaps as a scout in Latin America. Minaya is very popular among GMs and several have talked to him about jobs. “Just trying to sort through things to see what I want to do and what fits,’’ he said. “But the response has been great. I’ll be doing something.’’

8. Jose Tabata, OF, Pirates — The former Yankees farmhand is developing into quite a player. The Pirates are experimenting with him as their leadoff hitter, and it is going well. Tabata, only 22, had at least one hit in each of his first 10 games, hitting .342 with a .457 on-base percentage. The Pirates batted him leadoff sporadically last season (33 games), and his on-base percentage was only .311. He seemed to thrive more from the No. 2 hole. Manager Clint Hurdle decided to force the issue this season, and “I like what I’ve seen.’’

9. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Padres — Rizzo, traded along with Casey Kelly and Reymond Fuentes for Gonzalez, has started well for Triple A Tucson with a .333 average, two homers, 11 RBIs, and a .929 OPS in his first seven games. Gonzalez’s replacements — Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu — have combined for the worst OPS among NL first basemen. Hawpe, especially, has struggled, starting 4 for 31 with 13 strikeouts.

Short hops From the Bill Chuck Files: “If it’s any consolation to Carlos Delgado, he retired with 473 homers, two shy of Stan Musial and Willie Stargell, but eight more than Dave Winfield. His 1,512 RBIs were three more than Mickey Mantle.’’ . . . Happy 27th birthday, Jed Lowrie.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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