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Sunday Baseball Notes

Winners, losers emerge at MLB’s quarter point

Ben Cherington scores high grades on character improvement and good performances so far from Mike Napoli.

AP/File

Ben Cherington scores high grades on character improvement and good performances so far from Mike Napoli.

A little over the quarter mark of the season, let’s take a look at how general managers used the offseason to improve their teams’ outlook:

Thumbs up

1. Indians— A terrific all-around job by Chris Antonetti, who not only identified the right manager — Terry Francona — but brought in free agents Mark Reynolds, Jason Giambi, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and Rich Hill, and traded for Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles. Didn’t hit on Brett Myers. Result: around the top of the AL Central.

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2. Yankees — Nobody got more bang for his buck than Brian Cashman. He brought in Lyle Overbay to replace the injured Mark Teixeira, signed Kevin Youkilis to a one-year, $12 million deal, traded for Vernon Wells, using $7 million of the insurance money the team received when Teixeira got hurt at the World Baseball Classic, and signed Travis Hafner to a one-year, $5 million deal. Result: first place in the AL East.

3. Red Sox — Ben Cherington scores high grades on character improvement and good performances so far from Mike Napoli, who may be hit or miss. But Napoli has hit more than missed with a major league-high 18 doubles and 34 RBIs. Shane Victorino, a back injury notwithstanding, has done a good job defensively, offensively, and on the basepaths. David Ross has stabilized the catcher defense. Shortstop Stephen Drew has come on after a slow start with big hits. Ryan Dempster has had mostly good outings as Boston’s third starter. Reliever Koji Uehara has been excellent. Mike Carp, acquired from Seattle, had a nice run. The team hasn’t quite hit yet on Jonny Gomes, and the Joel Hanrahan deal yielded nothing. Result: near the top of the AL East.

4. Braves — After losing Chipper Jones, Frank Wren replaced the bat with Justin Upton in a big deal with Arizona. So far, it’s worked. They also signed B.J. Upton, who has started slowly. Result: first place in the NL East.

Continue reading it below

5. Royals — Dayton Moore decided to pick this season to go for it. He brought in James Shields to stabilize his staff, adding a bona fide No. 1 starter even if it meant dealing prospect Wil Myers to the Rays. He revamped the rest of the pitching staff with Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, and Wade Davis. Result: in contention in the AL Central.

6. Diamondbacks — Amazing how things work out. The D-Backs felt they needed to get rid of Justin Upton in the name of team chemistry and they seem better off for it, while the Braves have benefited from his production. Kevin Towers also added Brandon McCarthy to the rotation and acquired Heath Bell for the bullpen. Bell has now become the closer in place of J.J. Putz, who went on the DL. Result: in contention in the NL West.

7. Rangers — Jon Daniels took some heat for a quiet offseason, but perhaps it was addition by subtraction by eliminating Josh Hamilton and bringing in Lance Berkman to be the DH. Daniels also added A.J. Pierzynski, who has been an effective player for Texas both offensively and defensively. Result: first place in the AL West.

8. Pirates — Off to a good start, the Pirates did addition by subtraction on Hanrahan and gave Jason Grilli the closer job, who in tandem with Mark Melancon (acquired in the Hanrahan deal with Boston) has been pretty solid late in games. Catcher Russell Martin has also been a solid pickup. Result: in contention in the NL Central.

9. Nationals — Leadoff hitter Denard Span got off to a slow start, as did Dan Haren. Rafael Soriano has been pretty solid in the closer’s role, converting 12 of 13 save chances. Result: in contention in the NL East.

Thumbs down

1. Blue Jays — This hasn’t worked out, but not many among us thought it would be like this. Jose Reyes was having a nice year before he got hurt, but the rest of the acquisitions have underperformed — from Emilio Bonifacio to pitchers R.A. Dickey (though better lately), Mark Buehrle (better lately), and Josh Johnson (on the DL). Result: last place in the AL East.

2. Angels — Hamilton says he has an equilibrium problem, and we believe him. He’s too good a player for the poor start he’s had. The Angels have also gotten nothing from starter Joe Blanton (0-7, 6.46 ERA) or reliever Sean Burnett. Reliever Ryan Madson is still on the mend from Tommy John surgery. Jason Vargas, acquired in a deal with Seattle, hasn’t given them the stability they hoped they’d get in the rotation. Result: fourth place in the AL West.

3. Dodgers — The Dodgers’ problem has been mostly injuries. Big offseason acquisition Zack Greinke is now back after breaking his left collarbone. Brandon League signed a three-year, $22 million deal and has an ERA over 5.00. Result: last place in the NL West.

4. Mariners — Deals with Washington for Michael Morse and the Angels for Kendrys Morales didn’t work out early, though both have begun to hit. Joe Saunders has a 5.51 ERA and Aaron Harang, acquired from the Dodgers, has an ERA over 7.00. Result: well back of Rangers in the AL West.

5. White Sox — Their big offseason acquisition, infielder Jeff Keppinger, has hit a disappointing .183. Result: last place in the AL Central.

DIFFICULT TIMES

Strike players paid their dues

Once in a while we write about the replacement players of 1995, a fascinating topic of the players who made the decision to cross the line and play professional baseball during the strike. Some became very good major league players, such as Kevin Millar, Ron Mahay (a Red Sox outfielder who became a successful lefty reliever), catcher Damian Miller, first baseman Brian Daubach, among many others.

There’s a misconception out there that the Players Association denied these players pensions, which according to MLBPA spokesman Greg Bouris is not true. They were precluded from participating in the group licensing program. They were not featured in sets of trading cards, in video games, etc., and therefore received no annual group licensing money.

One former Red Sox replacement player was Victor Rodriguez. The Red Sox assistant hitting coach was an infielder for the Sox who crossed the line after, as he put it, “I had been asked by the Expos to be a replacement player and I refused. I went home and sat and sat for weeks. I had a wife and two small children and no money. Luis Aguayo called from the Red Sox and I said yes. It’s something I never wanted to do, but with what I was faced with, I decided to play.”

Rodriguez was eventually sent to Pawtucket, where he played until he retired in May 1995.

Bob Schaefer, then the minor league coordinator with the Red Sox, offered Rodriguez a coaching job in the organization and Rodriguez has remained with the Sox since. He was Boston’s minor league hitting coordinator before becoming the team’s assistant hitting coach this past offseason.

“It was an interesting time,” Rodriguez recalled of his replacement days. “A lot of young kids were offered the money [$5,000 to report and $5,000 if they made the major league roster]. And for those kids this was a lot of money and they took it. I’m not sure anyone explained the consequences of what they were doing. For those guys who had long major league careers, they paid the price.”

Because Millar was a replacement player, his likeness was not on any commemorative item displayed in the 2004 Sox championship season.

Rodriguez is just pleased he was able to get to the major leagues and wear the uniform. It was his goal for many years when he toiled in the minors. He made a tough decision some 18 years ago.

“It’s not something I’ve talked about or even thought about all these years,” said Rodriguez. “Nobody really brings it up.”

Apropos of nothing

1. David Ortiz is right. The league is pitching Jacoby Ellsbury pretty tough. He’s not seeing as many fastballs, and he’s hitting under .200 vs. offspeed stuff. This is the adjustment that Ellsbury is trying to figure out.

2. I love the Joe Maddon quote about the quiet, calm James Loney. “There’s a real nice fire burning within and I’ve seen it,” Maddon said. “He’s demonstrated it in different moments where I’ve been really impressed. He’s a totally misconstrued individual from a distance. I think he really fits this team. I don’t know if he can sustain .380, but he’s going to hit for a really good average for most of the season.”

3. While the Red Sox were playing the Rays, Kevin Youkilis, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira were rehabbing down the road at the Yankees’ complex.

4. One reason you’re not seeing too much of the GMs right about now, according to one American League adviser: “The GMs are taking a more personal interest in the draft because it’s become so important to pick the right guy under the new rules. Just a few years ago, the GM would just let his scouting director make the call. But now a bad draft and it’s on the GM.”

5. The Red Sox have seen a decrease in attendance of 5,084 per game from last season. Only Miami (10,719), Philadelphia (7,486), and Milwaukee (5,385) have suffered more at the gate. This is a huge revenue loss for the Red Sox, though chief operating officer Sam Kennedy said it appears there will be better days ahead as the weather warms and the kids get out of school. Still, the Red Sox haven’t gone through this in about 10 years, before the sellout streak. The biggest increase for 2013 comes in Washington (6,732), while Toronto is second (5,842) — obviously tickets that were sold before the Blue Jays’ poor start.

6. Dave O’Brien brought this up on a Mets-Cardinals telecast on ESPN and it bears mention. When Chris Carpenter was warming up in the Cardinals’ bullpen, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist brought the entire Cardinal staff to watch him. It was almost like a class, and he wants participation from all the pitchers on what they saw. This was started by former Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan as a way to get everyone involved in the process of trying to help a pitcher straighten himself out. Lilliquist has continued it. See who’s the best pitching team in the majors? It’s no fluke that it’s the Cardinals.

7. Bill Chuck made the suggestion that Mariano Rivera, 16 for 16 in save chances, start the All-Star Game at Citi Field. Rivera told the New York Post’s Kevin Kernan that he’d rather not.

ETC.

Updates on 9

1. Jose Bautista, RF, Blue Jays — File this under “way too early” because who knows if the Jays will get back in the race. But teams like Texas are already looking at a potential power bat for the second half of the season, and Bautista and fellow Toronto basher Edwin Encarnacion certainly fit the mold. The Jays certainly don’t want to give up on what they started, but at some point, do they try to get the most for these guys?

2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Red Sox — This is going to be an interesting call for the Red Sox. Salty is a free agent. At 28, he’s had a lot of time in the league. So much depends on how he finishes the year here. “He’ll get signed somewhere because of his power,” said one veteran scout. “He’s improved defensively, but by how much? At this point, is he what he is?”

3. Matt Garza, RHP, Cubs — Garza may return to an active role with the Cubs as early as next week after spending much of the season rehabbing. At that point he’ll have to show he can stay healthy, and if he does he becomes major trade bait at the deadline. The Cubs will surely showcase him in the rotation and move Carlos Villanueva to the bullpen.

4. Carlos Zambrano, RHP, Phillies — For all of his foibles and bluster, Zambrano is still only 31 years old. If he can control his emotions “he can still pitch and get hitters out at this level,” said one American League scout who watched Zambrano during the winter and in the WBC. With Roy Halladay out for the next couple of months at least, the Phillies are looking for a reinforcement or two.

5. Brendan Ryan, SS, Mariners — So, do the Mariners sacrifice a very good defensive shortstop because he can’t hit? That may be on the horizon. The job has been split between Ryan (.163) and Robert Andino (.167). The replacement could be Nick Franklin, who was hitting .339 with a .982 OPS for Triple A Tacoma. This is a tough decision. The Red Sox made theirs with Jose Iglesias.

6. Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, Phillies — Would it be far-fetched to see a return of Papelbon to the Red Sox? “Not far-fetched,” said one National League GM. “The Red Sox lost [Joel] Hanrahan, and [Andrew] Bailey is not a sure thing. If they feel they’re going to be in contention and they’re having trouble in that area, why not?” Of course, the Phillies would have to come to the conclusion they’re out of it. Papelbon is still really good — 8 for 8 in save chances, a 1.02 ERA, and 0.62 WHIP. He’s 32 years old, making $13 million through 2015 with a vesting option for 2016.

7. Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles — The Red Sox are one of a few teams closely watching the latest Japanese phenom. The Rangers, Yankees, and A’s are three more teams who have interest in the 24-year-old, who pitches in the Japan Pacific League. As of this writing, he’s 6-0 with a 2.07 ERA and has won his last 10 decisions.

8. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies — Utley’s time in Philadelphia could be coming to an end — not only because of his impending free agency, but the fact that the Phillies could deal him. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. talks about the fact that he can’t blow the team up because, like the Red Sox, they need to be competitive. Utley is having a decent year (.273/7/24) and his chronic bad knees have held up, but at age 34, the Phillies may have to make a tough decision on the fan favorite. The Phillies certainly have a few players who could be available, including Cliff Lee and Michael Young.

9. Carl Pavano, RHP, free agent — Pavano likely won’t try return to the major leagues this season, according to agent Dave Pepe, who said that Pavano needs to give his body time to heal from the horrible household accident he had in Vermont over the winter, which resulted in internal bleeding and having his spleen removed.

Extra innings

From the Bill Chuck files: “The record, since 1916, for games in which a team did not hit a single is five, held by the 1963 Senators, the 1964 A’s, and the 1972 Phillies. The Red Sox already have had three games without a single.” . . . Happy birthday to Rick Cerone (59).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. 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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