Retooling the Red Sox

Retooling the Red Sox

The non-waiver trade deadline day was a bittersweet one for me, as a Red Sox fan.

It is time to admit that there will not be playoffs in Boston this season, but I can accept this “do poorly one year, make some smart moves, and compete every other year” concept that seems to be happening there over the past couple of seasons. There is no question that moves needed to be made this year, that the team assembled just wasn’t working out. There are significant gaps in that lineup, and some changes needed to be made.

The Red Sox ended up making the most moves on deadline day of any of the teams, getting back some good major league talent in exchange for some pretty central pieces of their championship team of a year ago.

And this is where the bittersweet feelings come in.

When the rumours surfaced that Jon Lester was on the trading block, I didn’t want it to be true. I know the way the Sox operate, that they don’t want to dole out massive contracts for aging players, but I wanted them to break their own rule for Lester. He is my favorite pitcher, and I have followed his career since he first started with the Sox and threw his improbably no-hitter right at the start of his career. I always figured that he would rack up a couple of Cy Youngs over his career, and while we still may be waiting for the awards, he has had some outstanding seasons and shown himself to be a great playoff pitcher in the Series wins in 2007 and 2013.

Oakland Athletics v Boston Red SoxFor me, Lester was the Red Sox, as much as Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are. He was the core, and despite him coming up on 30 years old, I wanted him to remain with the organization for his whole career. Sure, there is talk that he could re-sign with the Sox in the off-season, but let’s be honest. That almost never happens, and there will be plenty of teams that will offer him the term that the Red Sox won’t, given his age. I just pray that he won’t end up on the Angels or Yankees.

If he had to be traded, I wanted him to be traded to the Pirates or the A’s, teams that I like, and that do still have playoff aspirations this year. In the case of the A’s, he now can join the best team in baseball, in hopes of leading them to a championship that has eluded them for 25 years.

It was surprising that the Red Sox managed to get back an All-Star player for Lester, given that teams are often looking for top prospects when the big names are traded. Instead, we are treated to a big player-for-player trade, that rarely happens in the MLB anymore. It made for exciting discussions, and while the loss of one of the best left-handed pitchers is crushing for the Sox and their fans, it was no secret that their outfield needed a lot of help.

I will miss Jon Lester, and while I will still cheer feverishly for the Red Sox, I know that they are done for the year. I will cheer along the A’s as they try to make their way through the postseason, hopefully making it back to the World Series.

Some thoughts on the other moves the Sox made:

  • Despite my sadness in losing Lester, I was happy for the return. Cespedes will fit nicely in the outfield, and he should be able to mash in the small confines of Fenway.
  • Surprised they traded John Lackey as well as Lester, but content that they got a couple of big leaguers back in Kelly and Craig. They are both having down seasons, but are “needed a change of scenery” candidates.
  • Glad they traded Jake Peavey. I never liked the deal that got him in the first place, and never felt like he fit with the Sox. Sure, he contributed to the World Series last year, but it was frustrating to watch him this year, because you knew he was going to give up at least one home run every time. He will do much better with the Giants, and being back in the NL.
  • Good return on Andrew Miller, getting a quality prospect.
  • I like the whole idea that they were not gutting the team and rebuilding. They are more doing a retooling, changing things on the fly.
  • They are going to have to go after some pitchers in free agency this winter. They need to try and sign Lester back, and should probably make a play for someone like Max Scherzer. They will need a top of the rotation starter at least, to give the kids coming up some breathing room and some lowered expectations.

I understand that the Red Sox needed to make some moves, and despite so many quality pieces being sent out the door, I understand what they needed, and so I would definitely qualify them as winners on this trade deadline day.

2014 MLB Predictions

2014 MLB Predictions

Even though I will surely regret trying to pick the standings for the upcoming season, I might as well give it a shot. Last year, I was way off in my bold prediction of a Washington Nationals vs. Kansas City Royals World Series. I guess there is no harm in trying again! Except for my inevitable hurt pride in being so wrong about things.

AL East

  1. Tampa Bay Rays
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. Baltimore Orioles
  4. Toronto Blue Jays
  5. New York Yankees
  • raysAlways the most difficult division to pick, because there are three very good teams in here, and two others that have great teams on paper but have yet to deliver it on the field. It’s hard to argue with the Rays’ success over the past years.
  • So much went right for the Red Sox last year, it will be difficult to duplicate that. But, they made some smart, low-cost moves over the summer, and should very much be in contention again. I like these guys, because they are tough and scrappy.
  • Yes, I’m picking the Yankees for last place. That rotation is just a huge question mark for me, and that starting infield is brutal. One injury to their old men roaming the shale, and they’re done. Their outfield is definitely improved, but that is only three of nine positions. Brian McCann is an upgrade at catcher, however.
  • I thought about going with the Orioles to win this division, but they are always such a tease. Third is where they belong.
  • Those poor Jays. Even if they put together a year that is injury-free, they will have too tough a time getting past the other monsters in the division. Too many questions in the rotation, as well.

AL Central

  1. Detroit Tigers
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Cleveland Indians
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Minnesota Twins
  • tigersHard to pick against the pitching of the Tigers. They can basically roll out three aces in a row, and the rest of the rotation is pretty solid, as well. I think their bullpen is improved.
  • This year, the Royals start to put it together. After a few seasons of expectations, they started to get it together in the second half of last year. They keep it going. Definitely a team trending upwards.
  • The Indians put together something special last year, making it to the one-game playoff. I don’t think they can do it again, but they are another fun, scrappy team. Love what Francona has done there.

 

AL West

  1. Oakland A’s
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. LA Angels
  5. Houston Astros
  • a'sNot much changing at the top. The Rangers have still more firepower, but there is something about this team that is lacking over the past couple of years, and doesn’t seem to be fixed. It’s finish. They lack finish. Prince Fielder could have a huge year there, if he doesn’t wilt in the Texas sun.
  • The A’s are just consistent. They are a good team, even if they seem to lack good players.
  • Finally, an off-season where the Angles don’t overpay someone. Trout is incredible, but the aging lineup around him won’t do much to help him out.

 

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Atlanta Braves
  3. NY Mets
  4. Philadelphia Phillies
  5. Miami Marlins
  • natsThe Mets will actually probably be the bottom of this division, because there is a lot to like about the young Marlins.
  • I feel that last year was a season-long mistake by the Nats. They are better than what they showed last year, after their success the year before. They pull it back together this year.
  • Is it just me, or does the Phillies just seem like a collection of dinosaurs at this point?

 

NL Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. Cincinnati Reds
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Chicago Cubs
  • cardsShould be the most interesting division race again this year.
  • Impossible to bet against the always-consistent Cardinals. That rotation is excellent, arguably the best in the NL.
  • I think the Pirates contend again. They had players last year, on their miracle run, that had off-years. If they get it going as well, they can be good. Exciting team to watch, as well.
  • The Reds just kind of stay the same. Pretty good. Not excellent.

 

NL West

  1. LA Dodgers
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks
  3. San Francisco Giants
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Colorado Rockies
  • dodgersThat LA payroll is crazy. As is their roster. Even with the inevitable injuries, they have bought the depth to stay competitive. Another very good stable of pitchers. Seems like they have a dozen starters to choose from.
  • Arizona is building, and this division always seems to have tons of movement in it.
  • The Giants are usually good every second year, and this would be their year again. Don’t count them out, but I feel there are a few too many gaps to oust the Dodgers here.

 

AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, Royals

NL Wild Cards: Braves, Pirates

AL Champion: A’s

NL Champion: Nationals

World Series Champion: Nationals

 

At the Ballpark: PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates)

At the Ballpark: PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates)

I want to visit every ballpark in the major leagues. And having been to a small handful already, I think I have found the one that will stand as the one to beat: PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

An incredible view.
An incredible view.

For 20 years, the Pirates have been an awful team, but they began to enjoy a rebirth over the past couple of seasons. They threatened a couple of times with solid first halves, before falling off the map in the home stretch.

Then, last year, finally, the Pirates returned to the playoffs. They won the 1-game playoff and eventually lost to the eventual National League champion St. Louis Cardinals, but the city was swept up in Pirates fever for the first time since the early 1990’s. That is a long time for a town to go between playoff appearances. Even longer to go without having a decent team.

Years of penny pinching and trading away their best players seemed to work out for the team, as a stellar bullpen and young players playing their best and coming together at the right time brought the fans back to the park.

And PNC is one hell of a place to watch baseball.

I was lucky enough to get to do a park tour the day before the game, and it is a wonderful place. The details that went into building it, down to the original rivulets, is truly impressive. Wandering through the suites, and the pressbox was really cool, a way to see how the other half lives. Then we got to go down in to the depths of the stadium, where the dressing rooms are, the batting cage, and eventually, wandering into the dugout and onto the majestic field itself. Standing on a major league ball diamond is something truly amazing, to see the field in the same way that the players see it, and to feel the shale crunch beneath your feet. This was something unforgettable for me.

As far as the game itself went, it was extremely exciting. The fans were great, all clad in black and yellow, and they were there, fired up for their team. This was during the 2012 season, and the Pirates were still very much in the hunt when I saw them. The people of Pittsburgh were fired up. The park is beautiful, and after so many losing years, the prices was right. A $40 ticket got me fifth row seats behind the visitors dugout (they were playing the Arizona Diamondbacks), on the first base side. Couldn’t ask for better seats, and as I arrived, I was even surprised by how good they were. I wasn’t expecting them to be that close.

Standing room only for the young, exciting team.
Standing room only for the young, exciting team.

On my trip, I had lived off junk for too long, so I didn’t have a hot dog at the park, but I did indulge in a few beers with the friendly people in my section. They were nice people, and they made the game that much more entertaining, as we cheered for the Bucs together, dove for foul balls at the same time (made it on the big screen and on the local broadcast!), and roared as the Jolly Roger was raised at the end of the game, to signify a Pirates victory.

I loved everything about my experience at PNC. Great employees, very friendly ushers, a mascot that was fun and not obnoxious, and a young, exciting product on the field all made for a great night. The weather was absolutely perfect, and the view…

Looking in from the river.
Looking in from the river.

Looking into the outfield of PNC Park is one of the best sights in the majors. Downtown Pittsburgh sits across the Allegheny River, and a couple of the yellow bridges that cross the river sit in the beautiful view. It is something beautiful to behold, yet another city that has done it right with the location of their ball park.

The whole area around PNC is also perfectly done, as there is a long cluster of nearby bars and restaurants ready to handle the pre- and post-game crowds. A short walking distance away is Heinz Field, home of the legendary Steelers. The setup is similar to that of Seattle, with the Mariners and Seahawks stadiums being right next door to one another.

Pittsburgh is a surprisingly awesome town, and I was glad that I had the chance to visit there. It was even better having a hotel across the street from the ballpark, but that was an indulgence I would not be able to afford every time.

PNC Park, in my opinion, is my favorite ball park I have visited so far, and it is one that I would truly love to go back to in the future.

At the Ballpark: Miller Park (Milwaukee Brewers)

At the Ballpark: Miller Park (Milwaukee Brewers)

The Milwaukee Brewers are one of those major league teams that people tend to forget exists. They are rarely brutally bad, but not often really good, and they are just kind of…forgettable. Their most frequent headlines tend to be about trading away a really good, too-expensive player, or lately, too many things about the cheater MVP Ryan Braun and his failed drug tests.

But the Brewers have a great home park, and one that is so close to Chicago that it should not be overlooked if you are traveling in the area.

Milwaukee itself is a pretty quiet, but nice place to visit. It doesn’t have the bells, whistles, and culture of a place like Chicago, but has a lot more of that down home feel, a place where you can be really comfortable for a couple of days while exploring what the city has to offer.

Miller Park is another of the new-ish stadiums across the league, this one opening its doors in 2001. And it is a very fun place to see a ballgame.

miller park2First off, Miller Park looks really cool from the outside. It has a spaceship appearance to it, mainly due to the interesting look of the retractable roof. The rest of the facade is brick arches, and it is a very attractive stadium from the outside.

On the inside, nothing changes. They did it up right when they built this place for the Brewers. Throughout the ballpark, everything is nice, clean, and modern. They didn’t seem to spare any money or cut any corners when they put the park together. The field is beautiful, the cool slide in the outfield adds an interesting feature, once where the mascot slides down after a home run.

For a park named for a beer company (and a beer-named team, as well), I thought Miller Park was going to be a glorious haven of millions of beers, flowing freely and cheaply. Not entirely the case. There are some decent drink options, but the prices remain the same as any other park in the league. There is some good, greasy food there as well, and our focus was on the cheesy fries that came in a miniature Brewers helmet. Good. Waffle fries are pretty much the best thing ever.

The prices were reasonable, as we sat directly behind home plate in Row 3, for about $100 per ticket. Definitely pricey for a ball game, but those seats in any other stadium would cost double that price. Plus, we had the bonus of being on ESPN for the majority of the highlights that evening.

During the May game, the weather was not being terribly polite, and it ended up being a pretty spectacular thunderstorm during the game. Thankfully, they thought of that retractable roof. Having it closed took away a little bit from the outdoor ball experience (where, as I stated in a previous post, doesn’t really happen as much in Seattle’s home park), but it didn’t dampen the atmosphere inside enough to be truly problematic (I can picture a place like the Rogers Center, home of the Blue Jays, where having the roof closed would completely change the feeling of the game).

miller parkThe best part about seeing the Brewers was for their fans. Fun, friendly, outgoing people. The group of people in our section were all great, loved baseball, loved the Brewers, and loved chirping the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates (who ended up losing, as they always did in those days). It was easy to strike up conversations with the people around us, to discuss matters of the game, and the season to that point. It was fun and laid back. People were all drinking beers and enjoying the food, but it was a well-controlled crowd, and nothing out of control happened, as it sometimes does at games. For the fans only, I would go to Miller Park again. It speaks to the blue collar people of Milwaukee, and how great they are.

One of the most memorable moments of the game was seeing then-Brewer Prince Fielder chugging around the bases and getting a triple, one of the more rare events of his strong hitting career. A man of that size does not usually travel so well, but he got it done, and the crowd went wild. They absolutely loved his hustle. It was a fun moment to experience. That, along with the traditional sausage race that takes place between innings during the game. I got pretty fired up over that.

I have never had an affinity for the Brewers one way or the other, and even though I won’t outwardly cheer for them now, they definitely have a soft spot because of my chance to see them live. Miller Park is a great place, one that is probably underrated in the league. Definitely worth the visit, in a cool little town.

Review: MLB.tv Premium

Review: MLB.tv Premium

I love baseball. During the season, it seems I can’t get enough of it. I’ll have days where I want to watch an inning or two, days when I want to see a whole game, and days where I will watch three straight games. I crave it. This time of year, I will watch a bunch of rookies and far-less talented guys play spring training games. I need to see baseball.

mlb-choosing-a-gameThis was one of my biggest things when I decided to no longer pay for cable. I would be losing baseball. Rogers Sportsnet broadcasts every Blue Jays game (our de facto home team, since they are in Canada, even if Toronto is thousands of kilometers from Edmonton), WGN Chicago gave me some Cubs games, there was the occasional national broadcast on Fox, and of course, Sunday night baseball, which was shown on TSN in Canada. All of this would be gone.

For the past three seasons, I have subscribed to MLB.tv, and last year was the first one I made a massive use out of it.

And I absolutely loved it.

Some of the benefits I found from the subscription, which cost $129.99 per year:

  • You get every game. Like, every single one. You want to watch all the Marlins games? You can.
  • For each game, you have the choice between the home or away feed. This was more important than I thought, because there are some truly awesome broadcast teams out there, and some that are far less engaging. You can be truly into an Orioles game, and snooze through the same game watching the Twins broadcast.
  • Highlights. I didn’t use this as much, since I was watching so many games, but you can get condensed games and highlights of every one.
  • The playoffs. I actually didn’t know that I would get to see the playoffs on MLB.tv. But I didn’t miss a single pitch of the Red Sox run to the World Series last year (they are my team).
  • Seeing teams you won’t usually see. I became a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates over the past few years, and even more so since I had the chance to visit their stadium and see a game at the incredible PNC Park. It’s not like many others were paying attention to the Pirates to start the year, so it was nice to watch about 30 of their games, and really get to know the team.
  • Increase in knowledge. If there is a team you cheer for, this is the way to know them inside and out. Seeing all of their games, you can see that new rookie, that old veteran, or the highly-touted injury replacement. You become far more knowledgeable about the team that you love.
  • HD. All of the games are shown in HD, which is great. There is the occasional lapse into standard definition, but I noticed last year that the whole thing lagged a lot less than in previous years.
  • Viewing on devices. I think a lot of people don’t get MLB.tv because they think they will be stuck watching games on their phone. But by buying the package, I have watched games on my phone, iPad, laptop, and most frequently, on my TV, by running it through my PlayStation 3. This was my favorite option, because I am not tethered to a device. It is on TV, the way it should be. On the PS3, it is easy to use, as the menus and schedules are very user-friendly.
  • Even though the cost seems high, I watched about 100 ball games last season. For me, that was well worth it. I would watch tons of Red Sox and Pirates, but now and then, I would scroll around and take a look at some teams that I wasn’t too familiar with, or other teams that I have a soft spot for.
  • Radio broadcasts. This was something I would use more on my phone. Sometimes on a hot summer day, there is not much better than listening to a ball game on the radio.
  • Viewing modes. You can watch a single game, or multiple games at the same time. You can call up in-game stats if you like, or have a scoreboard from around the league. There are tons and tons of options.

There is little to complain about this service. I would call it a must-have for any big baseball fan. Get it, it will be worth it in the end. Once you figure out how much baseball you can devour, you will understand how useful this can be.

The Boys of Spring

The Boys of Spring

Ah, spring training. Thank you for being back. The return of baseball in Arizona and Florida means more than simply the return of my favorite game. It means that spring is near, that the seemingly endless winter will finally be wrapping itself up, with possibly a few more deep freezes and dumps of snow. But, since baseball is back, we know that it will be one of the last deep freezes, one of the last dumps of snow.

Phillies Braves Spring BaseballThere are many things to love about spring training. The countdown to the appearances of pitchers and catchers, and the discussion among fans about how a certain pitcher seems to be getting healthier, as he was throwing from 200 feet today. Mundane facts, but a great time to see baseball played by people who love to play baseball, and are fighting for their lives to make their teams. Even to make it to the high minors, this is their chance to shine.

No, you aren’t going to see tons of the superstars. They will play sparingly for the majority of training. Their roster spots are assured, and they are only here to shake off the rust, get the timing back down, and get ready for the marathon season that they are about ready to embark on.

It was not so long ago that the Boston Red Sox were hoisting another World Series trophy. At the same time, it has been far too long since the thrilling nights in October.

New teammates will bond. Men will watch a child’s game from the dugout, chewing on their spits and tobacco, enjoying the sun shining down on them, as they can look forward to another summer spent in the most glorious of summer locations: the ballpark.

Spring training brings about everything that is new in the year. New players, new teams, new stories. There will be controversy, and there will be a rookie who turns a ton of heads. There will probably be a significant free agent signing, as there are still a couple of strong players out there. A veteran who is about to embark on one final season, another who has held on too long, but is playing for love of the game.

At this point in the year, and in a major league landscape where parity is more common, every team has a chance. Well, okay, the Astros do not have a chance, but there is always that optimism that each and every team can overachieve, that they can be like the miracle Rays team that goes all the way to the World Series. That they can be like the Cleveland Indians last year, making a huge turnaround, truly gel as a team and make it to the playoffs. Can there be another story this season like the Pittsburgh Pirates rising from the ashed of 20 years of futility? Can they even repeat their own story?

With the coming of the spring, there is hope. There is hope that this summer will be better than the last, that you accomplish everything that you want to. You will go camping, and you will go on a road trip, and you will have beers on the patio into the night because the weather is beautiful. And you will again get to the ballpark. To sit, and enjoy, and eat a hotdog, drink a beer. To feel the waning heat of a summer’s day warming your flesh, giving way to the warm evening of summer. Hearing the crack of the bat as the sun sets over right field, watching the smoke of the shale as someone slides into home.

Baseball is summer. And summer is on its way back.