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Cleaning out the mailbox

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  March 13, 2009 09:32 AM

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At this point, the e-mailbox is virtually overflowing. So much time has passed, in fact, that many of your questions have since answered themselves, though there were nonetheless plenty left to compose a long-overdue mailbag.

So with no further delays . . .

Tony, who's Josh Reddick? I saw his name penciled in the starting lineup (recently) and I read that he made a phenomenal catch. How old is he? Any major league experience? Thanks.

A: Mark, Reddick was a 17th round selection in the 2006 draft and just turned 22. He made it to Double A at the end of last season and has a career .309 average in the minors, though the large majority of that was produced in Single A. He hit just .214 in 34 games at Portland last year, but that was his first real exposure to Double A. Baseball America ranks him as the fifth-best prospect in the organization. Developmentally, this is a big year for him.

Is it me, or are the Yankees hugely overrated? With out A-Fraud, they have only two players who hit more than 17 homers. They lost Giambi and Abreu, who hit 52 combined homers, and I don't think Teixeira will hit that alone. And who knows what they will get from Posada, Nady, Damon, etc. Plus their bullpen is weak, and there starters are overrated. They lost their best starter, Joba has been terrible this spring, and Wang is coming off injury. And how much does Pettite have left in the tank? And AJ always is in the revolving injury door.

A: John, sounds like you've got them pegged for the basement, eh? Obviously, every team has issues. We could just as easily rattle off a string of concerns for the Red Sox –- Wakefield is 42, Beckett has been injured, Matsuzaka is overrated -- blah, blah, blah – to make them sound awful, too. There's a lot of talent in New York. It looks like a good team. Does that mean it will be? Of course not. But if you think they're going to stink, you're overlooking them.

I've read where Lars Anderson could come up as an outfielder this season. If Drew keeps getting hurt, could it be possible that Lars fills that spot in LF and they move Bay to right?

A: I generally rule out nothing, but that would make the Red Sox an infinitely worse defensive team in the outfield. Bay is probably an above-average fielder in left field at Fenway, but right field in Boston is gigantic. That is why, going back to the Jimy Williams days, the Sox often have employed someone there who has been capable of playing center field, at least on a short-term basis. There is every chance we will see Anderson at some point this year. He comes with questions defensively, both at first base and, thus, the outfield. (The latter is new for him.) Ideally, he would replace David Ortiz as DH in 2011. This is why the Sox wanted both Anderson (as DH) and Mark Teixeira (at 1B) for the long haul.

I submitted this question a couple times in your chat, but it didn't get answered. Have you heard any encouraging news on Jacoby Ellsbury's swing? Has he fixed the hole in his swing from last year on inside pitches?

A: James, Ellsbury's swing is a work in progress. Early in camp, I noticed that he is still working on minimizing his stride, which allows him to move his hands earlier. With a high leg kick, his swing was starting a little too late, which is why he was especially vulnerable to the inside fastball. Will that translate into games? Hard to say. In the Angels series last October, Ellsbury handled the inside pitch quite well. Unfortunately, when he gets too focused on the inside part of the plate, he becomes quite vulnerable away. We all know this is a big year for him. We'll have a much better read once the season starts.

Quick question for you: Marbury to the Celtics. WHY? What am I missing here? What is his contribution going to be and what does he give them that they didn't have last year? I just don't get it.

A: Bob, last year isn't really the issue. The issue is this year. Once again, backup point guard was an obvious concern and the second unit deteriorated as the year went on. They need some scoring off the bench and someone to spell Rajon Rondo. Marbury obviously has not played well so far, but he hasn't been here long. The Celtics have about another month to get him up to speed. I'm eager to see how he's playing in April because that may dictate just how useful (or not) he will be in May. In terms of the risk, the Celtics have relatively little here. No harm in trying this.

Why is the beat press (not) taking more of a hit for (steroids)? Bonds? Sosa? It seems so obvious. Why no investigative journalism? No one knew for sure? OK. But you can't say no one suspected, and a suspicious journalist usually starts digging. I cannot recall one time when one player was asked a direct question until BALCO, which was way too late. Shouldn't sports media (and general media for that matter) be more than a little self-critical right about now?

A: I couldn't agree with you more. There is plenty of blame to go around with regard to the steroid abuse in baseball, and you are right to say that reporters similarly turned a blind eye. If it appeared as though any of us were making the media exempt from responsibility here, that is unfortunate. No excuses. We could have -- and should have -- done more.

Do all the yammering from A-Rod and last year's hysterics from Roger
Clemens make Mark McGwire look a little better? Sure, Big Mac clammed up and didn't come across all that well in front of Congress four years ago, but at least he hasn't made things worse since then. And on top of everything else, he DID NOT LIE. Just wondering your opinion.


A: Technically, I suppose you're right, but doesn't this come down to semantics? I mean, at what point does withholding the truth become an asset? The bottom line is that nobody ever steps and says: "I did steroids because I thought they would help me compete and, at the very least, keep up. I don't have any specific knowledge of other people using, but, like many, I suspected it. In retrospect, I sold out and joined the mob when I should have taken a stand against it. I can't apologize enough for that." At the end of the day, Clemens, A-Rod and McGwire are equally guilty with regard to the game, if not our laws. But I agree with your point that A-Rod's apology could have been more earnest.

How is A-Rod going to help educate kids on the dangers of PEDs? "If you take PEDs, you can lie about it, inflate your numbers and be rewarded with the biggest salary in history." Seems to me that if kids are going to learn anything, his salary needs to be the first thing that is reviewed. How about a PED rule where if players test positive, they don't miss games, but their salary goes to the major league minimum for the rest of the year?

A: Interesting idea there. As for A-Rod's plan to "educate,'' there are plenty of people who have overcome things like addiction, then gone on to help addicts. Does that make them hypocrites? Or does that make them living proof than things can change? I don't have a problem with A-Rod's vow to help. But I also agree that his contract needs to be reviewed at some point -- particularly those clauses that will reward him with big bonuses if and when he breaks the home run record. Thanks for the note.

What exactly is the function of a bench coach?

A: Tony, this can actually vary from team-to-team,but the bench is essentially the manager's primary adviser and right-hand man. (Think of him as the chief of staff.) Depending on the manager's specific requests, he might handle duties like filling out and posting the lineup card (not to be confused with making the lineup), communicating with players, etc. He also serves as an in-game consultant on strategy.Generally speaking, Brad Mills serves all of those roles for Terry Francona. Francona likes to communicate with many of his players directly, however, though Mills also plays a role in that regard. Here are a couple of examples: When the Red Sox picked off Matt Holliday at first base during the 2007 World Series? The pick-off toss was Mills's call from the dugout. Also, Mills frequently will check in with players regarding scheduled days off, etc. And, finally, Mills prints and posts the lineup every night, then delivers it to home plate. He also plays a significant role in making sure spring training workouts run smoothly, as I wrote about here.

A little disingenuous for you not to note Alex Rodriguez's denial of steroid or HGH use on national television -- statements which, while not under oath, do put him in the same category as Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, et al.

A: I understand your point, but I do believe that there is a major difference between lying in an interview and lying under oath. Unfortunately, in this day and age, people regard the media solely as a public relations tool, which means they will lie to promote their agenda. But to do that before Congress, under oath? Good heavens. Does the arrogance and audacity of some people have no bounds?

Fairly or not, the perception of your columns often seems to be that you see the glass as half empty. It could be argued that your column, "Not So Super,'' is a case in point from at least one angle. To wit: the Patriots appeared to be coming together -- especially Cassel and the offense were jelling -- at just the right time, the end of the season, given their play in the last four games (just like the Giants last year?). The loss to San Diego was early in the season, the loss to the Jets on the flip of a coin, and so on. Now, given that the Patriots failed to make the playoffs in accordance with the rules in play, there can be no griping, save that perhaps the system does need to be tweaked -- an 8-8 team not only gets in, but gets to the Super Bowl, etc. But as you imply in your column there is no dominant team in the NFL this year and as it is undeniable that the Patriots were playing their best at the end of the year, it is not totally a stretch to say that had they made the playoffs . . . anything was possible.
Robert Kelley

A: I guess my point is this: Isn't it obvious that anything is possible? At the end of the day, most of us try to base decisions and opinions on probability. I just didn't see the same type of team you did at the end of the year given the weak schedule and issues on defense. I have tremendous respect for fans and I admire their loyalty, but I also believe that failing to acknowledge your own flaws and weakness (or that or your team) serves no purpose. The best relationships are the honest ones. This requires introspection, self-criticism, etc. If we could all just admit that we're not perfect, people might not be as sensitive. Thanks for your note – and for the candor.

I was reading a transcript of (a recent) chat, and I noticed something. The Shaughnessy piece about Brady "going soft'' also caused some people to get upset or concerned. Similarly, a few days earlier, the Charlie Pierce piece about bringing back Manny caused some readers to respond with outrage. So, here's the question: When did people lose the ability to discern a sarcastic tone in written material -- and does it make sportswriters' jobs more difficult when they have to write for an audience which includes a significant number of people who might be far too simple and/or literal-minded to understand anything humorous? Do these people watch "The Colbert Report" and think he's a conservative? Do they understand any of the humorous ESPN ads? Is this a phenomenon which plagues sports audiences to a greater extent than those people with other interests?

A: I, too, was stunned to see so many people take that Dan Shaughnessy column so literally. I laughed throughout it. Maybe many of us have been doing this too long, but sports were intended to be a diversion and an escape. Some issues are worth getting worked up about and others are not. To answer your question: yes, this can sometimes make the job harder than it needs to be. At the same time, you don't get that kind of passion in most other cities. In this business, I'll take Boston over any other place any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

What kind of cut does an agent like Scott Boras make on a typical deal? How are deals usually structured?

A: Nobody knows this for sure, but we believe that most sports agents claim somewhere in the range of 4-5 percent on negotiated deals. That money is paid as the player is paid. For example, let's say the number is 5 percent. On Alex Rodriguez's $275 million deal with the Yankees, that translates into $13.75 million for Scott Boras. Every time Rodriguez gets a check, 5 percent is taken out and paid to Boras, just like the removal of taxes, etc.

With the Sox putting Nomar's No. 5 back in rotation (to Baldelli), do you see them issuing Clemens's No. 21 in the near future? It seems doubtful that Clemens will either make the Hall of Fame and/or restore his good public image again. They've still withheld Pedro's No. 45 for good reason, but no one could have predicted the precipitous dropoff in Clemens's career the past few years.

A: Geoff, Nomar was here for 7 1/2 years and is not going to the Hall of Fame, no matter what. Clemens was here for 13 and still might. I suspect the Red Sox will act conservatively here and withhold Clemens's number so long as there is a chance that he ends in Cooperstown, though it's worth noting that in the Esquire piece on Jonathan Papelbon, writer Chris Jones notes that the Red Sox offered him No. 21 when they were planning on converting him back to a starter. That said, you're right in suggesting that his legacy in Boston -- or anywhere else -- will be severely affected if it has not been already.

Why do baseball teams backload players contracts, it seems to me that they are paying higher salaries as the players get older and their production levels off.

A: In most cases, it's strictly an issue of cash flow. Some teams are overcommitted in the short term, so they prefer to back load money and pay later. In other cases, it's a question of where a player stands in his career. For example: In Dustin Pedroia's case, he would not have been eligible for free agency until after the 2012 season. As such, the Red Sox structured his deal so that Pedroia's salary goes up every year (as it would have through arbitration) up to and including his free agent years. That way, he helps them manage their payroll now while becoming a roster centerpiece (in terms of payroll) later (after J.D. Drew, David Ortiz, etc.) have moved on. One note about the deals signed by Pedroia and, soon, Lester.Those players were going to be with the Red Sox through at least 2012 no matter what. By signing these contracts, the players get guaranteed earnings over that time while the Red Sox are able to fix costs and plan for the future. The Sox also get the right to buy free agent years (2013, 2014, etc.) now, which affords the team some discount, so to speak. That's why the deal works for both sides.

Tony's Top 5

Favorite blog entries

The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
You’ve got to believe June 15, 2011. On the morning of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we all had reason to believe.
Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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