David Ortiz may be on his farewell tour, but it’s not too early to start considering potential replacements for 2017.
After all, replacing a perennial 30/100 player isn’t that easy. That type of hitter isn’t usually so readily available. But two potential candidates are on the same team, a Red Sox rival.
Blue Jays Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion would be worthy replacements for Ortiz.
They are both righthanded hitters, and what’s wrong with that at Fenway Park? Absolutely nothing. Bautista and Encarnacion are pretty ferocious hitters at Rogers Centre, but Fenway would likely benefit them as well. Both like Boston and its ballpark.
The problem, of course, would be salary.
Both sluggers, on the verge of free agency, are understandbly looking for huge, long-term deals.
They both are familiar with John Farrell, Torey Lovullo, and Brian Butterfield from their time together in Toronto. Farrell has enjoyed an excellent relationship with both players.
So there’s a lot of things pulling them toward Boston.
Bautista said he enjoys hitting at Fenway because “I hit a lot of fly balls that get caught in other places but that get to the wall or over it at Fenway.”
There’s no doubt Bautista loves Fenway, and Fenway would love him.
The Red Sox would be taking away a heart-and-soul player from the Blue Jays, just as they did when they landed David Price in free agency.
Which player is better suited to be the DH?
Encarnacion has certainly served in the role more often, with nearly 1,500 plate appearances (.285 average, 81 homers, .905 OPS). In 40 games at Fenway, he’s hit .283 with 10 homers and 32 RBIs.
Bautista has had just 313 plate appearances as a DH (.282 average, 13 homers, .926 OPS). He still loves to play the outfield and has one of the game’s best arms. The Sox could use him in left and keep Mookie Betts in right.
“I’ve played third base extensively in my career. I think first base is an option. I’m not as limited even at my age . I had versatility early in my career,” Bautista said.
But “Joey Bats” is known for his prodigious homers. He hit 40 homers last season and knocked in 114 runs. He led the league with 110 walks. He’s hit as many as 54 homers, in 2010, and then had 43 in 2011. In 56 games at Fenway, he’s hit .278 with 21 homers and 48 RBIs.
Bautista has floated that he’s looking for a five- or six-year deal. This is his fifth straight season making $14 million, and you can make the case that’s he’s been underpaid. While Bautista missed extensive time earlier in his career, he’s missed just 16 games the last two seasons and is considered among the best conditioned players in the game.
“There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to play in the field for a long time,” Bautista said. “I take care of my body. I have limits and I don’t exceed them. I respect my body. I eat smart and know what I put in my body. If I was surgeon I’d take care of my hands and my brain. I’m a baseball player so I take care of my body. I look for the cutting-edge workout methods to get my body in maximum shape without hurting myself.”
Both players will earn north of $20 million per season. And the Red Sox would have to take that leap.
Bautista has never complained about his current contract. “I’m not underpaid,” he said. “I signed the contact when I signed it. I’m happy to play it out.
“Normally in all industries, if an employee, especially in sports, exceeds his contract and contributions, there’s normally a renegotiation. I’ve never demanded it. I’m still here. I’m still not bringing it up. You asked me the question and I’m giving you an honest response of what I think.
“Do I want to stay here? Yes. Do I wish it comes to free agency? Absolutely not. When you enjoy success and you enjoy the people, why would you want to leave? Especially when you contribute not only to the field product but the impact on the team in the market and the revenue-generating and to the revenue capabilities of the franchise. But it takes two to tango.”
Would he be against negotiating during the season?
“I’m not against anything,” Bautista said. “It’s not the right thing to do on my end to be concerned or worried about numbers and possibilities in my head. Injury risk is always there. I don’t want to start getting concerned about things that might take away from aggressiveness on the playing field.
“I just have to go out there and play. Not reckless, but I have to feel free without toning myself down consciously.”
Another potential replacement for Ortiz is Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, a free agent after this season. But scouts are concerned that Teixeira, who turns 36 on Monday, could break down and miss time with injuries.
Said one AL special adviser, “Don’t know if he can handle the DH role but he can still play first base. He’s a guy you have to look at and see how he responds this year. If he responds with the type of year he had in 2015, he’ll draw a good amount of interest [in free agency].”
There’s always the possibility that the Jays will re-sign Bautista or Encarnacion, or both, but early talks haven’t led to optimism. Blue Jays ownership ranks among the richest in baseball, and losing both players wouldn’t sit well with the fans.
Bautista can’t come out and say that he’d love to be with the Red Sox. So I’ll say it for him.
He’d be a worthy successor to David Ortiz.
IS REST THE ANSWER?
Japanese imports fall out of routine
Some Japanese starting pitchers have adapted well to the major leagues, but others haven’t and have gotten hurt.
While there’s no tangible proof that going from pitching every seven days in Japan to every five days in America has caused the injuries, common sense tells you that’s likely the case.
Do teams that invest in Japanese starters need to put them on a once-a-week or every-six-days schedule? Having them adapt to the five-day rotation of the majors seems to take a toll. We’ve seen injuries to the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), the Rangers’ Yu Darvish (Tommy John), and Daisuke Matsuzaka (shoulder) with the Red Sox.
Wouldn’t all teams benefit from a six-man rotation anyway? Those opposed say it would inconvenience the starters and throw them off their routines. True, but wouldn’t everyone benefit from extra rest to lessen the wear and tear over the course of a season, especially at a time when pitchers are getting hurt so much and the number making 30-plus starts and throwing 200-plus innings is decreasing?
If you’re investing millions in a Japanese pitcher, it seems it would make sense to accommodate their needs instead of forcing them to pitch with less rest than they’re accustomed to.
John Farrell, who was Matsuzaka’s pitching coach with the Red Sox, was asked about the perceived injury risk for Japanese pitchers in the majors.
“You wonder how much pitching prior to coming to the States had pre-exposed them to injury,” he said. “I’m not sure we can say whether the American rotation is causing that much more stress, but with the exception of [Hideo] Nomo, there’s been an average of 2½ to 3 years [shelf life] for Japanese starters. That’s been across the board. Nomo and [Hiroki Kuroda] were the outliers of the group.
“There are so many things that are different. One would think there’s higher stress pitching here, the lineups up and down are tougher. They don’t have time-zone changes there, so how does the travel affect the body? The mound is different, the ball is different. So there are many things they have to adapt to. I’m not saying those are the root cause, but a combined effect is part of the reason.”
As for Farrell’s experience with Matsuzaka, “Even compared to Japanese pitchers, his volume of throwing was much more than the norm there,” Farrell said. “Bullpen sessions were long but the norm for him. Once every seven days might have given him that extra recovery time as opposed to a five-day rotation.”
Is the solution a six-man rotation?
“It’s hard to change a team for one guy but it’s a worthy discussion if that pitcher is the prime guy on your pitching staff,” Farrell said.
Apropos of nothing
1. David Price never ices his arm after pitching. “I don’t like the way it makes my arm feel,” he said. He’d rather go to the weight room and get the blood flowing that way. He also says he’s rarely sore the day after he pitches. The day after his six-inning, 10-strikeout performance on Opening Day, Price said he wasn’t sore at all. When told Koji Uehara was seen with 10 ice packs — an exaggeration, more like three — after his one inning on Opening Day, Price quipped, “I don’t think I’ve had 10 ice packs my entire career.”
2. Pablo Sandoval’s agent, Rick Thurman, had an interesting line last week regarding his client’s benching: “If you’re going to win, why keep the Ferrari in the garage?” It was interesting because Sandoval has told me, “I don’t like Ferraris.”
3. There were 492 players on Opening Day rosters making at least $1 million this season.
4. Twenty-five current managers played in the majors. The five who did not are Terry Collins, Fredi Gonzalez, Joe Maddon, Bryan Price, and Buck Showalter.
5. The Brewers featured a major league-high nine rookies on their Opening Day roster, followed by the Rockies’ eight and seven for the Reds and Dodgers. The White Sox and Nationals had none.
6. One of the underpublicized rule changes: Amended Rule 3.05 increases the length of the first baseman’s glove or mitt to a maximum of 13 inches.
7. What a mistake the Mets made selling Mike Piazza’s jersey from the first post-9/11 game vs. Atlanta. It was such an emotional night at Shea Stadium and Piazza won the game with a late home run. The Mets are trying to buy back the jersey from the auction house and then donate it to the Hall of Fame. Nobody will admit to how this happened, but Piazza and his father, Vince, are really irritated, and rightfully so.
Updates on nine
1. James Loney, 1B, Padres — The Padres may have ended their scoring drought Friday, but in recognizing long-term offensive needs they signed Loney and will pay him the minimum salary (while Tampa Bay pays the rest). The Rays may have made a big mistake in letting Loney go and deciding a Logan Morrison/Steve Pearce platoon will be more productive. The Rays are losing a top defender and a guy who had a ton of clutch hits.
2. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Red Sox — It’s obvious the Padres need some reinforcement in their lineup, and they had interest in Sandoval the last two years. The Red Sox said Sandoval can win the starting job back, but it’s difficult to envision that scenario, or even a scenario (outside of injury) where Sandoval gets a lot of playing time. The Red Sox would entertain any deal in which they can unload some or all of his money and also get a player in return.
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Dodgers — The former Red Sox thinks the Dodgers’ owners will spend more to get the team to the World Series, even after reducing payroll by $50 million this season. “I know what our owners want,” he said. “Our owners want to win the title.” Gonzalez feels the Dodgers have the depth to withstand injuries. “Everybody in baseball has acknowledged we have the best [40-man roster] and the best farm system in baseball. That puts us in prime position to sustain any major injury.”
4. Randal Grichuk, CF, Cardinals — Grichuk fanned five times in his first two games and was responsible for six of the Cardinals’ 37 strikeouts as they got swept in three games in Pittsburgh. The Cardinals did not trail in their division by three games at any point last season, when they were in sole first place from April 17 onward.
5. Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies — Howard is now a platoon player, sitting against lefthanders behind Darin Ruf. The Phillies hold a $23 million option on Howard next season (with a $10 million buyout), and are still hoping they can move him somewhere. “I just have to be ready for when my name is called,” Howard said. “The competitor in me wants to be out there, but I understand the situation. The only thing you can do is stay positive and take advantage of your opportunities when you get them.”
6. Chris Tillman, RHP, Orioles — The Orioles are pleased with Tillman’s velocity as he averaged 93.1 miles per hour on his fastball in his first outing. Last year, Tillman averaged just 91.5. Orioles officials are keeping their fingers crossed as Tillman looks to regain the title of staff ace.
7. Hyun Soo Kim, LF, Orioles — Can we put him in the same outfield with Rusney Castillo on the all-bust team among international free agents? The Orioles don’t know what to do with him. One scout who watched Kim in Korea is shocked by how slow he’s been to adapt to the majors. “It may take him a while, just as it took [Jung Ho] Kang a while to adapt,” said the scout. “The Orioles would be smart to exercise patience because he’s a very good hitter.”
8. Jorge Soler, LF, Cubs — So much for trying to find him playing time. Kyle Schwarber is out for the season with a torn ACL/LCL, so Soler now gets his chance to show his full talent. The Cubs are also considering moving third baseman Kris Bryant to left, but Soler should get ample opportunity to show off his power.
9. David Murphy, OF, free agent — Surprisingly, Murphy remains unsigned. The Orioles may have been interested but because they need to carry Kim they don’t have the roster space. Murphy said he would retire if he didn’t get picked up by a major league team.
Courtesy of Bill Arnold: David Ortiz, after hitting a home run and a double on Opening Day, raised his extra-base hit rate to 11.69 per 100 plate appearances, which puts him seventh all time (minimum 5,000 plate appearances) behind Hank Greenberg (12.81), Babe Ruth (12.77), Lou Gehrig (12.32), Albert Belle (11.85), Juan Gonzalez (11.84), and Albert Pujols (11.70) . . . Happy birthday on Monday to Trot Nixon (42) and Jason Varitek (44).
Ready on Day 1
Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw were both trying to keep their unbeaten streaks on Opening Day alive last week, but only Kershaw succeeded. Hernandez dropped to 6-1 in nine Opening Day starts despite allowing only one hit and one earned run in six innings in a 3-2 loss to Texas. Kershaw improved to 4-0, throwing seven one-hit innings in a rout of San Diego. Some of the best — and worst — on Opening Day, according to Baseball-Reference.com: