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In conditioning area, Sox need to shape up

By Nick Cafardo
September 25, 2011

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You only have to look at the variety of injuries late in the season to realize one thing: The Red Sox aren’t the best-conditioned team in the league.

It’s not completely the fault of the medical or training staff. It is the fault of the individual players. If your employer is paying you $15 million a year, shouldn’t the minimum requirement be that you get yourself in the best possible shape to compete through a 162-game season?

If you want to start pointing fingers at management, the manager, the trainers, the doctors, even the strength and conditioning coach, go ahead. But the fact is, if you don’t have enough pride as a professional athlete to keep your body in shape, then you’re shortchanging not only yourself but your employer and the fans who pay a lot to watch you.

It doesn’t seem to bother a CC Sabathia, for instance. But it’s the type of thing that can come back and hurt you.

“You just don’t see many guys running anymore,’’ said a former Sox player. “We ran all the time when I played. Remember Roger [Clemens]? He’d run, what, 5 or 6 miles a day.

“Guys just aren’t in shape, and with all the offseason conditioning programs out there that their agents have in place for them, there’s no reason for it.’’

Red Sox chairman Tom Werner brought up the subject of conditioning on a recent NESN appearance, referencing the training methods of the Liverpool soccer team he and John Henry own.

Asked about it Friday, Werner seemed intrigued by the soccer team’s training methods and how they could be applied to baseball. He said general manager Theo Epstein is going to explore that possibility.

“We just want to employ the best possible techniques to get our conditioning the best it can be,’’ Werner said. “While we understand there are workouts that are specific to a sport, there are also things that are universal in terms of a well-conditioned athlete. We just want to make sure we’re exploring everything we can in that area.

“There’s nothing you can do about a sports hernia or a pulmonary embolism like Bobby Jenks has, but the last couple of seasons, we’ve had a lot of injuries at the end of the season and we need to explore why this is happening.’’

To be clear, Werner is not calling anyone out, saying they are fat or out of shape. But some conditioning is lacking. And maybe, just maybe, if the conditioning were better, the injuries could be prevented. Or at least there would be less time missed.

Teams have been trying for years to figure this out. But the fundamental issue is that 25 guys have to be well-conditioned. If things happen after that, then at least you know the preventative aspect of it was done right.

But when you start with a laissez-faire approach . . .

Sides not even in September What other sport allows rosters to expand in the final month of the season?

Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin takes it a step further.

“What other sport allows the rosters to expand to uneven numbers?’’ he asked. “When you exchange the lineup cards, shouldn’t both teams have the same number of players available to them? Why should a team with 30 players play a team with 37 players? It’s never made sense to me.

“I think it really hurts the integrity of the game.’’

Melvin doesn’t mind if the rosters expand, he just wants them to expand evenly. Pick a number.

Most teams do not expand to the full 40 because it wouldn’t be cost-effective or practical. Players are promoted in September based on a number of factors, most importantly the player’s ability to help the team. Another reason is to be rewarded for a good season.

Melvin’s Brewers, who Friday night won the National League Central, have a 30-man roster.

“I’ve just never understood why this has gone on this long,’’ Melvin said.

On the other side of the coin, former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi sees no problem with expanded rosters.

“You just can’t consider the teams in contention here,’’ Ricciardi said. “You also have to consider the other teams. At this time of the year, it allows them the opportunity to look at young players and evaluate them.

“Baseball is different than other sports in that the season is longer, it’s a grueling, day-to-day grind for players, and to have the ability to bring in a younger, fresh player can often spark a team in September. I think that’s the benefit of it.’’

Showalter’s work cut out The Orioles are in an interesting situation. There appears to be a shift in power going on. President Andy MacPhail will either move on or become a true president/CEO, as he was with the Cubs, and hand over baseball matters to someone else.

That someone else could be manager Buck Showalter (above), who would not necessarily be the GM, but a de facto GM, with another person - John Hart has been mentioned - holding that title and working in tandem with him.

Showalter has a close relationship with owner Peter Angelos, and it appears that the manager will have influence in matters, like Mike Scioscia with the Angels and Tony La Russa in St. Louis.

There has been discussion about the Orioles bringing in someone on Showalter’s recommendation who has the same philosophy. Showalter also appears to have great say in organizational aspects such as the farm system and scouting.

The Orioles have been criticized for not producing major league-ready players. Some of that can be seen in the pitchers and their mechanics - things that should have been straightened out in the lower levels.

This is a team that used to promote the “Oriole Way,’’ with a tremendous farm system that produced players like a machine. That’s long gone, and Showalter would love to get it back.

The Orioles are expected to spend money to achieve some goals in the offseason. That could mean going after a No. 1 starting pitcher in free agency - someone like C.J. Wilson - and definitely adding pieces to the lineup such as a first baseman (with Mark Reynolds shifting back to third), a second baseman (though Robert Andino is making a case for himself), and another corner outfielder. The names on their radar could include Prince Fielder and Michael Cuddyer.

Nobody knows more than Showalter what it takes to compete in the AL East, and nobody feels worse about this Orioles team, which could finish 30 games behind the Yankees.

Sox, Yankees use calculators The Red Sox never completely fit the Moneyball model, since they were a big-market team, but they did adopt the component of finding undervalued players through their pioneering statistical analysis.

The movie “Moneyball,’’ which opened last week, is very complimentary to Theo Epstein and John Henry for their part in contributing to the philosophy.

Old-school baseball people still resist it, and even new-wave GMs such as Epstein understand that it’s not the be-all, end-all for evaluation - but that it has its place. The trained eyes of scouts are a far more important tool, because you can’t measure a player’s heart or dedication.

Exactly what calculations are made by the Sox are top secret, and though they have been a useful tool, you can argue that they didn’t work in the case of free agents such as John Lackey, Carl Crawford, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and J.D. Drew. The approach did work for the brief appearances by Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez, and, in large part, Jason Bay (who was acquired in the Manny Ramirez trade).

The Sox have their own defensive stats that measure players against the average player at their position, and it was those calculations that led them to acquire Doug Mientkiewicz, Orlando Cabrera, and Dave Roberts.

The Sox are also big on ballpark projections - how much better a player would be at Fenway. That came into play, for instance, with Adrian Gonzalez.

The Sox formula inspired Yankees GM Brian Cashman to copy them, which is why he plucked players such as Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon and put them in key situations. Good players cheap.

“I just brought us up to speed,’’ Cashman said. “I saw they had some players with not quite the ability of others and they made them useful, productive players.

“What they did made sense to us as an organization, and we went out and tried the same thing. I think we had to do that to keep up with the times we’re in.’’

Cashman has the highest payroll in baseball, but even he knows he needs to get lucky with players like Garcia and Colon to survive. So far, he’s done that.

Apropos of nothing 1. Andrew Friedman gets a lot of credit for the Rays’ success with limited dollars, but when does Gerry Hunsicker - the real baseball man in the operation - get the credit for picking the right players? 2. Get well, my friend Sam Mele; 3. Yes, there should have been repercussions from John Lackey staring down Terry Francona when the manager came out to remove Lackey in his last start; 4. Hearing Bobby Valentine’s name if Terry Francona goes. 5. Leaning toward the Rays for the World Series next season.

Updates on nine 1. C.J. Wilson, LHP, Rangers - As the top free agent pitcher out there, he will have no shortage of offers. The Rangers have the funds to help him break the bank, but who else? One would think the Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees, Twins, Tigers, and Cardinals will make very competitive bids. The Royals are also contemplating a move. Wilson will be Texas’s Game 1 starter in the playoffs, and could earn himself a few extra shekels with a masterful performance in the postseason.

2. Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers - He will go back to center field for the playoffs, giving Texas a little bit more firepower in the lineup. David Murphy will play left and Nelson Cruz right. Hamilton is considered a superb center fielder, but he moved to left to preserve his body. Once the playoffs hit, manager Ron Washington is going to play his best.

3. Chris Capuano, LHP, Mets - Nobody has a real answer as to why a Capuano-Red Sox deal couldn’t be consummated. Capuano was at the end of a one-year deal, and the Sox wanted to pick up the rest of the contract to give him a start.

4. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies - When it comes to accountability for Colorado’s miserable season, the shortstop wants it to fall on him. “This is my team,’’ he said. “I need to take these young guys under my wing. I have done it, but I need to do more of it. If that means traveling around this offseason to see them, that’s fine. I need to be more approachable when I am not playing my best. That’s hard for me, because I don’t feel like I deserve to teach or give advice when I [stink]. I can’t get so frustrated, though. Guys who look up to me see that, and it brings the mood of the club down.’’ The Rockies have been a disaster. GM Dan O’Dowd called it “embarrassing.’’ It’ll be interesting to see what changes O’Dowd makes in the offseason.

5. Prince Fielder, 1B, Milwaukee - GM Doug Melvin wouldn’t comment, but major league sources said the Brewers may make a bid to keep him after all. And when it comes to my longtime theory that the Nationals will be his team because of the Scott Boras tie-ins, I reserve the right to change my mind. The Nationals do have a logjam at first base, where Michael Morse will likely end up because he’s not a very good left fielder. They probably will deal Adam LaRoche. They also have Chris Marrero, one of the organization’s top prospects, who has looked good during his September call-up.

6. Matt Moore, LHP, Rays - A lot of hype preceded him, but he lived up to it, striking out 11 Yankees over five shutout innings Thursday in the Bronx. Interesting place and time for his first start. Moore struck out Derek Jeter to start the game and fanned at least two in each of his innings, mixing a blazing upper-90s fastball with a curve and changeup that left several hitters looking bad. He allowed four hits and walked just one. Of Moore’s 84 pitches, 59 were strikes, including 18 swings and misses. Suffice to say, the Yankees aren’t looking forward to facing Moore for the next 10 years. Meanwhile, the Sox are trotting out Kyle Weiland.

7. Joey Gathright, OF, Red Sox - The Sox signed him from the independent Yuma team - a team managed by Jose Canseco. “He was very entertaining,’’ said Gathright. “I had a blast. I had never been in the independent league and there were a lot of challenges with the team trying to meet payroll, but Jose made it fun.’’ Gathright, who even caught a couple of innings in a game, wouldn’t confirm it, but Canseco reportedly got thrown out of a couple of games so he could leave and do something else. He also tried to get ownership to spring for better meals at a time when it could barely pay the bills.

8. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers - Would Jim Leyland think about using him at third base if Detroit got to the World Series? You bet. Cabrera has been taking grounders at third, and playing him there would allow Leyland to use Victor Martinez, the usual DH, at first base. Martinez’s bat would be a big one to lose from the lineup. Alex Avila is also a very good hitter, and you wouldn’t want to take him out from behind the plate and have V-Mart catch. Cabrera has started 383 big-league games at third, but none since 2008, when Leyland moved him to first base early in the season.

9. Manny Ramirez, OF, free agent - The stuff with this guy gets better and better. The suggestion here is that he go play for Canseco in the independent league. Ramirez wants to play for a Dominican team, but Bud Selig has the approval on that one, and it’s not likely to happen. Ramirez also has mentioned playing in Japan. Really? Are the Japanese leagues oblivious to what he’s done? Does he think a Japanese team would take on a two-time PED user? Don’t think so.

Short hops From the Bill Chuck files: “Jaime Garcia has 151 strikeouts, making him the first Cardinals lefty to reach 150 since current Nationals outfielder Rick Ankiel fanned 194 in 2000.’’ Also, “It’s one thing to acknowledge that at .239 AL catchers have the lowest batting average of any positional player, but the fact that the Angels catchers are hitting .196, Tampa catchers are hitting .192, and the Twins’ catchers, primarily absent of Joe Mauer, are hitting just .180, is pretty amazing.’’ . . . Happy birthday to Lars Anderson (24), Rocco Baldelli (30), Joel Pineiro (33), Reggie Jefferson (43), and Eric Hetzel (48).

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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