Sunday baseball notes

Good starting point for Sox is 200 innings

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / January 8, 2012
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The Red Sox were one of seven teams that didn’t have a pitcher log 200 innings last year. They were joined by the Royals, Nationals, Reds, Pirates, Rockies, and Padres. None of them made the playoffs, and only the Red Sox finished over .500.

We all know that 200 innings isn’t the be-all-end-all for pitching staffs, but a high innings total usually signifies some success by the starter, an ability to give the bullpen rest and foster an attitude that says, “I’m going deep into a game.’’

And if you ask any pitcher, 200 innings is a benchmark, a goal. Thirty-nine achieved it last season, with varying degrees of success. You had a wide range from Justin Verlander with a major league-high 251 innings (24 wins and a 0.92 WHIP) to Ryan Dempster, who logged 202 1/3 innings but had a 1.45 WHIP.

Five teams had as many as three pitchers with 200 innings: the Angels (Dan Haren, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana), the Brewers (Randy Wolf, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum), the Phillies (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels), Diamondbacks (Dan Hudson, Ian Kennedy, Joe Saunders) and the Giants (Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner). The Brewers, Diamondbacks, and Phillies made the playoffs.

The concept is simple: The more innings your starters log, the less pressure there is on your bullpen, which is usually made up of inferior pitchers.

The Red Sox, who missed the playoffs by one game, had an innings problem from their starters. While you’d love to get 1,000 innings out of your five starters, the Sox got only 663 1/3 innings from the five original starters (Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka).

Beckett’s 193 innings and Lester’s 191 2/3 were 1-2 on the staff. Buchholz gave them only 82 2/3 before going down with a back injury. Lackey gave them 160 horrible innings, and the Sox had to rely on Tim Wakefield to give them 137 1/3 starter innings. Fill-ins Wakefield, Andrew Miller, Alfredo Aceves, Erik Bedard, and Kyle Weiland accounted for 276 1/3 innings, a 15-17 record, and a 5.44 ERA. Ouch.

Looking ahead, the Sox could go into the season with a rotation of Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Daniel Bard, and Aceves. It’s difficult to see 1,000 innings there, especially if Bard spends his first season as a starter building up his innings.

Aceves also is relatively new to it, having made only nine career starts. He was 1-1 with a 5.14 ERA in four starts last season, though overall he did pitch a career-high 114 innings, so his buildup might not be as severe.

Nothing says either can’t give you respectable back-of-the-rotation innings, but it’s still a big “if.’’

Of course, the Red Sox aren’t completely through with player acquisition. And they have signed veteran Carlos Silva to a minor league deal.

Can they find another pitcher to give them an abundant number of mostly quality innings?

“It would be nice,’’ said general manager Ben Cherington. “But we may just buy low on some guys’’ - Paul Maholm? Rich Harden? - “and create a competition in camp.’’

Cherington has not given up on lefthander Felix Doubront, who he feels could be a starter on the major league team.

The GM has resisted spending the big money it would take to get Roy Oswalt, who had an injury-filled 2011. Same with Hiroki Kuroda, another 200-inning guy last season with the Dodgers. Saunders, 30, remains an option, but the Sox are leery of giving out a three-year deal.

Saunders is not a hard thrower, but he could provide a nice contrast to the hard throwers Boston has in its front three. For two straight seasons, he has pitched more than 200 innings, which at the back end of a rotation is pretty meaningful.

“You’d be afraid that he’d give up some homers at Fenway,’’ said a National League scout, “but on the other hand, when you’ve got a guy who can pitch 200 innings from the No. 4 spot in your rotation, I’m telling you, that is effective because that’s one of the bullpen spots in the rotation. I mean, that’s where you normally believe you have to use a lot of your pen, and if a guy like that saves you, that’s important.’’

Some feel that Saunders’s workload the past two years could work against him, that he eventually will tire or wear down.

Another scout suggested that Houston’s Brett Myers, who has thrown 200 innings two straight seasons, would benefit by being in a bigger market. Myers was involved in an ugly assault incident in Boston with his wife in 2006 (the case was eventually dismissed), and it might be difficult for the Sox to trade for him. But he is precisely the type of back-end innings-eater they need.

Free agent Edwin Jackson pitched 199 innings a year ago, but he is trying to get a three- or four-year deal at big money. The Cubs could deal Matt Garza, but the Red Sox haven’t been willing to part with three A-list prospects to obtain him. Houston is dangling lefty Wandy Rodriguez and is willing to pay some of the freight. The Orioles have made 200-inning guy Jeremy Guthrie available.

While Beckett and Lester are certainly capable of getting over the 200-inning hump, the jury is out on Buchholz, whose high mark is 173 2/3 in 2010, when he went 17-7. Coming off a stress fracture in his back, can he extend himself to 200?

The Sox, more than any team, know that their starters have to be better in 2012. Cherington feels he has a good core of three and the other two spots will be open.

By midseason, Matsuzaka should be recovered from Tommy John surgery and could be back into the mix. Besides Bard, Aceves, and Doubront, there is also Junichi Tuzawa, and the possibility of Alex Wilson, who also could be a reliever. The Sox re-signed Miller, still in love with his potential even though the reality hasn’t been good. And Wakefield is on standby.


Apropos of nothing

1. Are the Red Sox and Yankees looking alike to you? Not a lot of spending going on. Both are trying to reset their luxury tax rates for 2013 or 2014, so they are being more frugal. The Sox believe they will be around $185 million in payroll for 2012, which would be about $7 million over the tax threshold. They paid $3.4 million in tax last season. The superpowers aren’t buying into Scott Boras’s notion that the luxury tax is a success tax, that teams paying it are making $300 million or more above expenses. Strange to think that the Marlins and Nationals have become the spendthrifts and the Sox and Yankees are being frugal. Looks like the luxury tax may soon be dead, because everyone is trying to avoid it, including two teams that never had a problem paying it.

2. The Red Sox don’t seem interested, but the Cubs should have a buyer for Alfonso Soriano, since they’re willing to pick up most of the $54 million he is owed. The Orioles and Cubs have had conversations.

3. Yes, there is a Groundskeepers Hall of Fame, and the legendary George Toma (Kansas City and many other venues) and the late Emil Brossard (Cleveland and other venues) are the first recipients of the Gary Vanden Berg Award, named after the longtime Brewers groundskeeper. It shouldn’t be long before longtime Sox groundskeeper Joe Mooney - who still comes to work at Fenway every morning to help Dave Mellor - is inducted.

4. Just wonder why Carl Crawford didn’t immediately return a call from his new manager, Bobby Valentine. Crawford has a history of going quiet in the offseason - his way of doing things in Tampa Bay. But when your new boss calls, you don’t answer? “Always got back to me, either later that day or the next day,’’ said Rays manager Joe Maddon. Sometimes people don’t answer the phone. When the Red Sox obtained Ivan Calderon in the winter of 1992 from the Expos, Lou Gorman couldn’t reach him. This was before cell phones were widespread. This correspondent went to Puerto Rico and found Calderon at a posh San Juan Beach high-rise. In his apartment, the phone was ringing off the hook. I said, “Ivan, I think you should answer the phone. It might be Lou Gorman trying to reach you.’’ Calderon, who tragically was shot to death at age 41, said, “I don’t like talking on the phone.’’

5. I think Theo Epstein is having fun dismantling and rebuilding the Cubs.

6. How is that compensation for Epstein coming? CEO Larry Lucchino still insists that the Red Sox are getting a quality player. “We fully believe we are entitled to such compensation,’’ he said. And when will this happen? “This offseason.’’

7. It was surprising to see Joe Torre leave his post as MLB vice president of field operations to head a group trying to buy the Dodgers. Many thought Torre was becoming the face of MLB. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale has suggested Tony La Russa as a successor. Good choice.

8. Players I expect to come back big in 2012: Crawford, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Bay, Ichiro Suzuki, Buster Posey, and Alex Rodriguez.

9. Sox senior adviser Jeremy Kapstein and Pawtucket publicist Bill Wanless were named new members of the Red Sox Hall of Fame Committee. Kapstein has also been asked to be chairman of the board of the Newport Gulls, a position previously held by the late Gorman.

10. Tal Smith, the former Astros CEO, lost his job when Jim Crane came in as owner. We know the story. He was told in a phone call at the Honolulu airport that after 35 years he was no longer CEO. He received a one-month bonus from former owner Drayton McLane but no severance package from Crane. Smith, the godfather of arbitration, has been involved in about 1,000 arbitration filings and has argued more than 150 cases, more than anyone. He will continue his arbitration practice.

11. Matt Stairs tells me he’s really calling it quits as a player, but we’ll see more of him, because he has signed on to be a NESN analyst.

12. Former Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash has ended his playing career, but he hooked on with the Blue Jays as their major league advance scout. Cash is one of those guys you always thought would wind up being a major league manager.

13. Kerry Wood is closing in on a one-year deal with the Cubs. He might have been a good fit for the Red Sox.

14. Speedy recovery to Heidi Watney, the former NESN reporter, who broke her collarbone playing Ultimate Frisbee.

15. Happy 60th birthday this week to Worcester Telegram baseball writer Bill Ballou, the Boston Baseball Writers Association chairman who is putting the finishing touches on the Jan. 19 dinner at the Westin Copley Place. And best wishes to Susan Goodenow, the former Red Sox vice president of public affairs, who has joined the Chicago Bulls front office.

Updates on nine

1. Bryan LaHair, 1B, Cubs - After years of being told that he lacked something for the big leagues, the 29-year-old Worcester native is going to get his chance to be the Cubs starting first baseman, according to GM Theo Epstein.

“I’m under the impression I’m going to get a chance to play every day,’’ said LaHair. “It’s been a long journey to get to this point, but when you get there, you don’t want to give it back.’’

LaHair hit .331 with 38 homers and 109 RBIs at Triple A Iowa last season and was Pacific Coast League MVP.

On Friday, Epstein and Jed Hoyer reacquired their old Red Sox first base prospect Anthony Rizzo (from the Padres for righthander Andrew Cashner), and he will start the year at Iowa. Rizzo hit .331 with 26 homers and 101 RBIs in 93 Triple A games last season, but in his 153 major league plate appearances, he hit only .141.

“It’s the right time for our organization to give [LaHair] the opportunity,’’ Epstein said.

2. Fernando Rodney, RP, Rays - The Rays have started their roster acquisitions. Rodney was a heart attack for Angels manager Mike Scioscia, but he has always had a great arm, and the Rays are willing to take the chance that he rebounds. The Rays are usually right.

3. Ryan Lavarnway, C, Red Sox - Interesting that Lavarnway has not worked with catching guru Gary Tuck to this point. Could that be a sign that the Sox brass doesn’t think he’s quite ready to make the major league roster?

4. Ron Mahay, LHP, free agent - The former Red Sox center fielder/lefty specialist tells me he’s not through pitching, even at age 40. Mahay was set back with injury issues last season, but he reports, “I feel great. I’m doing my bullpens and throwing and just waiting for a call.’’ Mahay has spent 14 seasons in the majors with eight teams. He last pitched in the majors with the Twins in 2010. With the Memphis Redbirds last year, he had a 1.64 ERA with a 1.00 WHIP in 12 appearances.

5. Ryan Westmoreland, OF, Red Sox - He had what was termed a successful week in the Dominican facing live pitching and is now in Fort Myers to continue getting ready. The Red Sox are not rushing anything with Westmoreland, who had brain surgery in March 2010. The goal is to get him back in the full swing of minor league baseball, but at his own pace. The signs have been very encouraging.

6. Paul Maholm, LHP, free agent - Though he is coming off shoulder surgery, he is the type of pitcher the Red Sox would seek to sign. Maholm went 6-14 with a 1.29 WHIP last year for the Pirates before the surgery. He is a ground-ball pitcher, which obviously plays well at Fenway, and he’s only 29. He would likely get a one-year, incentive-filled deal. The Pirates declined an option that would have paid him almost $10 million.

7. Magglio Ordonez, RF/DH - The jury is split on whether he can still be a platoon right fielder, but the 37-year-old former Tiger is likely to land in a platoon situation with someone because his bat speed is still very good and he hits lefthanded pitching at a .327 career clip. “He can still hit,’’ said an American League executive. “Staying healthy and limiting his outfield play would be important at his age, but he’s always been a dangerous hitter.’’

8. Manny Ramirez, DH/LF, free agent - Reports are out there that Ramirez wants to hold a workout. It will be interesting to see how many teams show up and whether anyone would sign him, considering his 50-game suspension would start on day one of the season. Ramirez has twice been busted for performance-enhancing substances, but he retired after the second time. MLB and the Players Association agreed that half of his 100-game suspension for the second offense would be waived for the time he spent in retirement. Interesting to see whether the Rays would take a second look.

9. Ryan Madson, RP, free agent - Doubtful that any team will give him the four years and $44 million he originally wanted from the Phillies, but he becomes a pretty good bargain if he is still looking for something later this month or into February. The Angels say they’re not interested, but I just don’t see how they can entrust their superb rotation to Jordan Walden, who blew 10 saves last season. When and if the price goes down, a lot of teams - including the Red Sox, Rays, and Cardinals - will be interested.

Short hops

From the Bill Chuck files: “In his career, Daniel Bard has thrown 3,120 pitches, including 2,202 fastballs and 606 sliders. Batters have hit .220 against the fastball and .095 against the slider.’’ Also, “After 14 big league seasons, third baseman Aramis Ramirez has a .284 lifetime average with 315 homers and 1,122 RBIs, and third baseman Adrian Beltre has a .276 lifetime average with 310 homers and 1,113 RBIs.’’ . . . Happy birthdays to Carl Pavano (36) and Mike Cameron (39).

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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