Countdown to Spring Training: A look at Non-Roster Invitees

Lyle Overbay will try to make the team out of Spring Training.

Lyle Overbay will try to make the team out of Spring Training.

Just like Domino’s Pizza had to completely change their pizza recipe a few years ago, the Red Sox had to completely reshape their 40-man roster.

As much of the roster news has revolved around some tasty trades (Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt) and the new fantastic free agent signings (Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara, and Ryan Dempster), the Red Sox always bring in some extra complements to add a different flavor

Not that many though. Only 5 Non-roster Invitees are scheduled to come to Fort Meyers. Usually these invitees matter as much as adding salt on pepperoni, but sometimes, these toppings can pan out to make the whole pizza taste better.

What might have the biggest pungency is Lyle Overbay. The 36-year-old first baseman was more of a bench player last year with the Diamondbacks and the Braves. It’s been said before, but he is currently ticketed to be a back-up to Napoli. His deal, however, has an opt-out clause at the end of Spring Training, according to MLB.com, which provides security for both him and the Red Sox.

The less appetizing name is Mark Hamilton, a 28-year-old first baseman who is another luscious left-handed first baseman. His résumé is not too impressive (.231 average in AAA Memphis last year), but he does walk a lot (14.4 percent of the time) and has decent power (12 doubles, 15 home runs). He has an outside shot of making the 40-man, but odds are certainly not on his side.

Drew Sutton is the only complement the Red Sox are trying again. The 29-year-old utility player got 54 at bats with the Red Sox in 2011 before spending time with Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, his chances of making the 40-man roster is as much of a chance that Dominoes will put peanut butter on their pizza instead of tomato sauce.

Jonathan Diaz, meanwhile, is a flavor nobody has tried before, as he has spent his entire career in the minors. Diaz, a 27-year old middle infielder who signed in December, has never made it past AAA Las Vegas for the Toronto Blue Jays. He is really caught in a depth game, with Pedro Ciriaco, Brock Holt, and Jose Iglesias keeping him off the 40-man. Considering he’s never hit for average (.226 in his Minor League Career), his only really contributions would be speed (career-high 18 steals last year) or on-base ability (.358 OBP for his career).

The only pitcher invited to the pizza party is Anthony Carter, someone who has also not made it to the majors. Converted to a reliever in 2010, Carter keeps the ball in the yard (.86 HR/9 at AAA), but gives up a lot of hits (.282 opponent batting average). Considering that the Red Sox just cut Chris Carpenter, reliever spots seem to be pretty full, so it is unlikely he’ll be put in this batch.

Also remember, the Red Sox are likely to give fresh ingredients a crack – Xander Bogaerts, Bryce Brentz, Blake Swihart, Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley – so that will be fun to watch. But who knows? Non-roster Invitees have become successes in the past (Al Reyes with the Tampa Bay Rays to name one), so maybe one of these guys will add a nice complement.

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The Toronto-Miami Trade: The Side No One is Talking About

Henderson Alvarez joins two other pitchers in their early 20’s in the new-look Marlins rotation

Wow. Did this trade ever blow up.

Even ESPN First Take, who only talk about the NFL and the NBA, took a few minutes of their time in order to talk about this trade.

The Blue Jays appear to a contender in the AL East, and the Miami Marlins look like a team that appears to have a new slogan, according to Dan Lebatard of the Miami Herald, “WE’LL LOSE CHEAPER”

But let’s slow down, take a little step back here. Let’s look at what this trade has done for the Marlins.

The payroll is obvious, and the Marlins are shedding $160 million in committed contracts from their payroll. It’s also obvious that they get marginal major league players in Yunel Escobar and Jeff Mathis.

What’s not so obvious? They are adding Henderson Alvarez, who is only 22-years-old. He’s joining Nathan Eovaldi, 22, and Jacob Turner, 21, two very young pitching prospects that they collected in other deals with the Dodgers and Tigers respectively. That could be a rotation that the Marlins can build around, and all three are very cheap.

Alvarez also is a pretty good pitcher. Everyone highlights the 4.85 ERA, but that was in the AL East on a fast, turf field. Alvarez is going to move into the Marlins’ beautiful new ballpark, and will get to pitch in spacious Citi Field and cavernous Turner Field. Also, this is a guy that doesn’t walk anybody. This year was the only year that he has had a walk rate over 2.0 BB/9 IP.

Jake Marisnick, 21, won’t need too much more seasoning before coming up to the show

Meanwhile, Adeiny Hechavarria has the reputation of a rangy defender up the middle, that will pair nicely with Escobar, an all-Cuban middle infield. He may be limited offensively, but so was Elvis Andrus and look where he is now with the Texas Rangers. He is still young at 23 and could be the future of the Marlins at shortstop.

And then there are the prospects, Jake Marisnick and Justin Nicolino. Marisnick is a guy who had 22 hits in 19 games in the Arizona Fall League this year, along with three doubles, two triples, and a home run. He still strikes out a lot (28 percent of his at bats), but he is still only 21 and could be a great outfielder in two years.

Justin Nicolino, meanwhile, has already shown a 5.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio in Class A (in 124.1 innings to boot). He still has to make the all-important jump to AA, but the left hander turns 21 in a week, and could join the young rotation already in place in two to three years.

To say the Marlins got nothing back is definitely blasphemous. They got a lot of quality back for a bunch of bad contracts that they might not be able to afford in a few years anyways. This team may have gotten blown up, but what springs from the ashes could be something pretty special.

Napoli vs. Salty

Mike Napoli or Jarrod Saltalamacchia? To me, they are very similar players.

Both Steve Buckley and Nick Cafardo, baseball writers for the Boston Herald and Boston Globe respectively, have talked about going after free agent catcher, Mike Napoli.

Now last summer, I wrote about how Jarrod Saltalamacchia was the catcher of the future. He is still young, and catchers peak later than most players.

If you compare the two on paper (or on fangraphs.com), their wins over replacement were the exact same last year, both being 2.0. They both are catchers that have played a lot of first base in the past, and they are both catchers with questionable defense.

So what is the difference between the two? Well one big one is age, where Napoli is going to be 31 on Opening Day and Saltalamacchia will be 28. But let’s look a little deeper.

Offensively it’s very clear. Napoli walked 13.4 percent of the time last season, Saltalamacchia walked 8.5 percent of the time last season.

Defensively, it is not as clear. Based on Fangraphs value metrics, Napoli’s defensive runs above replacement was -4.3, while Saltalamacchia’s was -0.3. But, if you look at Catcher ERA (in my opinion, the best metric to see how a catcher handles a pitching staff), Napoli’s was 4.32 and Saltalamacchia’s was 4.84.

So overall, the biggest difference is Napoli’s ability to get on base and the fact that Napoli only hits right handed. Now let’s get to what everyone concerns themselves with, money.

Saltalamacchia made $2.5 million in 2012, and Napoli made $9.4 million. Napoli, now a free agent, will probably want a multi-year deal worth in the $10 million-per-year range, while Saltalamacchia will be going into arbitration again and probably get a huge pay bump to the $6 million-$7 million range.

Also consider, if the Red Sox get Napoli and trade Saltalamacchia, the Red Sox surrender their 2nd round pick and get B-level prospects (if that) in return.

To be honest, don’t be surprised if the Red Sox keep Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and don’t be surprised if they get Mike Napoli. In my mind, they are similar players, and the Sox are paying extra for Napoli’s on-base ability.

Post Season Awards, VanOpdorp Edition

One by one, the post season awards will finally be revealed next week. I never understood why Major League Baseball waits as long as they do. I mean, are they really going to try and extend how relevant baseball is? It’s already relevant in the middle of February and ends at the end of October, not to mention, um, a little thing called free agency.

But regardless, they are finally here, and here is who I think will win each award:

American League:

Rookie of the Year: I mean, come on, this one is the most obvious one of them all. When Mike Trout made his 2012 debut, the lackluster Los Angeles Angles were 24-28. The Angels finished just outside of a playoff spot, and if they were in the AL Central, they would have blown the 88-74 Detroit Tigers out of the water. A lot of that was thanks to Mike Trout, who has an even 10.0 wins over replacement in his first full year. He already got robbed of a golden glove. I don’t think he’ll get robbed of the Rookie of the Year.

Manager of the Year: This one is closer than one would think. Two great stories on two opposite coasts, the Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles skippers both have an argument. However, just take a peak at the Sports Illustrated baseball preview. The A’s were picked to finish third in the AL West, and the O’s were picked to finish last. LAST. Therefore, Buck Schowalter has the best case for me, especially what he did with the Orioles bullpen.

Cy Young Award: This award is traditionally a surface stats award, so this could go to David Price, who finished first in ERA and Wins. However, if you look a little beyond the surface numbers, Justin Verlander once again has a tremendous case. Games started is very underrated, especially during a 162 game season, and Verlander made 33 starts to David Price’s 31. A big difference? Well, no, but also Verlander pitched 27 1/3 more innings than Price did. Going that extra inning is very valuable as a manager, and to me, that breaks the tie. Verlander for the second year in a row.

Most Valuable Player: And here…we…go. Speed vs. Power. New School vs. Old School. Raw Talent vs. Established Talent. The Miguel Cabrera-Mike Trout debate will be resolved here. Here is what I’m going to say. These two players are two close to break the tie. What is not close enough? Cabrera won the Triple Crown. His team made it to the playoffs. He hit .333 in September/October, Trout hit .289. Trout will be a great player in this league, but this year, my vote goes to Miguel Cabrera.

National League:

Rookie of the Year: conventional wisdom will say Bryce Harper, and to be honest, I think that his name value will give him an edge. However, look at what Todd Frazier did this year. If .273-19-67 in 422 at bats isn’t enough, let’s go a little qualitative. He came in to fill the shoes of Joey Votto, and it seemed like the Cincinnati Reds didn’t skip a beat. Frazier filled a huge void, and I think he deserves the hardware to go with that.

Manager of the Year: My uncle is a huge Yankees fan, but since he lives in Virginia and works in Washington, D.C., the Nationals have grown on him. When Jim Riggleman was fired, my uncle was really bummed, because the Nationals were finally showing some signs of life. Then Davey Johnson took over, and look what happened. Gio Gonzalez broke out, Jayson Werth wasn’t as terrible as seasons past, Jordan Zimmerman showed what he could do after Tommy John surgery, and Adam LaRoche squeezed another 30 home run season out of that bat of his. Most of all, Johnson was able to squeeze every last drop out of Stephen Strasburg before he got shut down. Can anyone else compete with that?

Cy Young Award: As you can see from my background, I am a Red Sox fan. Tim Wakefield is my dad’s favorite players, and thus I have a little affection towards knuckle-ballers. R.A. Dickey showed how dangerous that knuckle ball is. A 20-6 record with the New York Mets, a miniscule 2.73 ERA, a whopping 230 strikeouts, and a consistent brown goatee in 2012. Any objections?

Most Valuable Player: You can and look at someone like Ryan Braun and say that he has a great case to be the MVP with similar numbers to his MVP last year. But when the voters look at Ryan Braun, I anticipate that they will see a big, dark cloud over his head from his PED case over last off-season. Is it fair to disqualify him for that? Probably not, but these are guys that probably won’t vote Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, and Alex Rodriguez into the Hall of Fame either. Therefore, Buster Posey now has a chance to be the first person to win an MVP and a World Series in the same year since Pitcher Willie Hernandez in 1984 with the Detroit Tigers.

Some Spare Parts for the Red Sox

With the World Series now over, the morning bell for Major League free agent is about to ring.

Soon, general managers will be waving their hands like the New York Stock Exchange floor, hoping that their bid is the winning bid for the available free agents.

The market is fresh with Red Sox alums old and new, like Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, and Cody Ross. A lot of Red Sox fanatics want to see general manager Ben Cherrington get the band back together – an ESPN Sports Nation poll said that 75% of voters wants to see the Youk back in Boston.

After a tumultuous season, where Cherrington waved goodbye to Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox are at a major crossroads in strategy for the first time in years. The two polarizing options are for the Red Sox to either push the gas pedal and make a run at a championship, or to restructure completely how the car is put together.

However, neither option is too appealing, but the car may need just a few tweaks, and maybe it could still be good enough to collect the checkered flag.

The win now, all in approach has not brought them to the promise land. Management went all in on Adrian Gonzalez, and ended up unloading his contract the very next year. Management went all in on John Lackey, and after two years with an ERA over 4.00, he sat out an entire year after Tommy John surgery.

Besides, there is not a lot high-profile free agents on the market this year. The only players that is on the show room floor that might be worth taking for a test drive is Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke.

Should the Red Sox take a chance on either of them though? Josh Hamilton is a 31-year-old outfielder who will be demanding a deal in the five-year range. If the Red Sox are considering paying an outfielder in his late 30’s a substantial amount of money, just rewind the clock back a year and look how J.D. Drew turned out.

Meanwhile, Zack Greinke, despite his post season experience and a Cy Young, has a history of anxiety issues. That makes the Boston market a little unappealing for the right-handed pitcher, one of the toughest media markets in all of sports.

Thus, the free agent market is too cold for the Red Sox to make a big splash, making a win now approach seem like something not worth dipping a toe into. However, they can still swim in the big boys, and don’t need to put the floaties back on.

Despite all the turmoil that saw the Red Sox miss the playoffs three consecutive years, many of the players from the last World Series Championship run are still there. Thus, to completely rebuild now would be a waste of the core that Theo Epstein built through the 2000s It may be hard to believe, but the window for the Red Sox is not completely closed.

There are two things that propping the window open, even if it is by mere inches. Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury are still in their prime years, and Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are both 28 years old.

Who knows? A complete reconstruction might take as long as a Fenway Park renovation project. In that case, the younger, established talent that is already on the team might go to waste.

So what’s left? Well, look at what the Red Sox have been successful with in the past, the mid level market. After all, the Red Sox offered a one-year deal to Adrian Beltre, and he smaked 28 home runs in his only year in Boston. They did the same thing with Ross last year, giving a one-year deal as well, and he hit 22 round trippers himself.

A player in a similar position this year is Grady Sizemore, a talented player who has had trouble staying healthy with the Cleveland Indians. Although the left handed hitting outfielder has only played 104 games in the past two seasons, this is a player who had four straight seasons of at least five wins over replacement players. The Red Sox have openings in their outfield, especially if Ross chooses not to resign.

Meanwhile, the left handed hitter that needs to stay in Boston is David Ortiz. Despite the mileage on the designated hitter, he is like a Toyota that refuses to fall apart. Big Papi hit 23 home runs before he got hurt, so even though father time is knocking on his window, he deserves the two years that he is looking for.

The Red Sox engine may have stalled in 2012, but that doesn’t mean that the entire car should be ripped apart. It also is not wise to push the pedal to the metal, for that might make the car fall apart completely.

But a few spare parts might do the Red Sox wonders, and that’s what they should be waving their hands high for when the bell sounds.

Sweeping Away…

The Tigers swept in ’06 and ’12 in the LCS, and lost the first game of the World Series after the layoff.

The Detroit Tigers, after sweeping away the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, were a very attractive World Series pick just three days ago.

The San Francisco Giants had other ideas, taking the first to games against the Motor City at home by scores of 8-3 and 2-0.

What happened? Justin Verlander imploded in Game 1, the Tigers have scored 3 runs in two games, and the Tigers, who have gotten out to at least a 2-0 lead in each series this post season, are now down by the the same margin.

A thought has to pop into everyone’s head. Is time off bad for teams in the post season? The Tigers took care of the Yankees so quickly, and basically chilled out, played some pick up baseball, and waited for the National League Championship Series to go seven games.

As I usually bring up in blog posts, let’s look at some history. In 2006, the Detroit Tigers did the exact same thing, taking care of the Oakland Athletics in quick fashion in the ALCS so they could let the Cardinals and New York Mets fight to the death in the NLCS. The Tigers then lost the first game of the Series at home, and lost three straight games on the road in the World Series.

Let’s look at another team. Remember how the Colorodo Rockies steam rolled the National League in September and October in 2007? They won 21 of 22 games to cruise into the World Series, waiting for the ALCS between the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians to go seven games. The Red Sox then blew out the Rockies out of Fenway Park in Game 1, and then before going back to Denver, they were out-pitched in Game 2.

In fact, since the LCS expanded to seven games in 1985, only one team has swept their opponent in the LCS and went on to win the World Series. Who was that team? The 1995 Braves, when Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz were all in their prime.

Now, there is a caveat. The Giants won the first to games at home. According to the 2-3-2 format of the World Series, they were supposed to. This series is exactly where the series should be considering the home field advantage factor.

Can the Tigers still win the World Series? Of course they can. However, the odds seem a little stacked against them, making them less attractive as a World Series pick.

Ray Allen: Good Riddens

No one would ever think the Ray Allen saga with the Celtics would resemble Charlie Sheen’s conclusion with Two and a Half Men. But think about it for a second. Isn’t Allen’s departure from the basketball club kind of like Sheen’s departure from the show?

Forget the drugs, forget the character issues of Sheen for a second. Once Charlie Harper’s engagement ended with Chelsea at the end of season six, the Charlie’s character dwindled to irrelevance. By the time Sheen left, Charlie’s role became second fiddle to his brother Alan.

Along the same lines, after Allen injured his ankle last year, his role with the team diminished on the Celtics. It got to the point where Avery Bradley began to overshadow him, which stuck him in a bench role near the end of the regular season and the playoffs.

When the divorce happened between Sheen and the show, the sitcom got new life. Chuck Lorre brought in Ashton Kutcher to play a young and studly billionare named Walden Schmidt, essentially the same role of Charlie Harper. All of a sudden, the show has new life.

With the money that the Celtics saved when Allen turned down a two-year, $12 million deal, the Celtics brought in a shooting guard 10 years younger in Courtney Lee, with $1 million to spare on minimum contract players.

Are Kutcher and Lee good replacements for Sheen and Allen? Well, maybe they cannot live up to the same legacy that their predecessors left behind. However, with suitable replacements well in the fold, Chuck Lorre and Danny Ainge can say the same thing: good riddens.

First of all, it is no secret that Allen as dropped off defensively. After all, the Celtics allowed 5.2 more points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. That could be more to do with his age though, for father time slowly takes away what gifts a player may have had in his prime years one by one.

By the same token, it currently is to the point where he was the third worst defender on the Celtics in terms of defensive rating, according to basketballdata.com. The Celtics had a 10.23 higher defensive rating when Allen is off the court. By comparison, the Celtics had a 12.60 worse rating when Avery Bradley was off the court.

Offensively, Ray Allen also takes the role of a player in the twilight of his career, not a surprise from a 37-year-old baller. Yes, his true shooting percentage (a shooting percentage that takes into account three-pointers and free throws) was right where it always was last season, 60.7 percent to be exact. However, his points per 40 minutes has dropped like the edge of a water fall over the last four years, hitting an all-time low of 16.7.

The Playoffs only magnified his drop in production. His points per 40 minutes dipped even further to a pedestrian 12.5 off the bench. It was not like he was watching a lot from the sidelines either, averaging 34.2 minutes off the bench.

Now overall, his slip in production could be because of his usage, as his usage rate (possessions he used per 40 minutes) has dwindled steadily from 21.63 to 18.59 over the past five years. But remember, with age comes the withering ability to stay on the court. It is hard for Rivers to use some one that is not healthy enough to play.

That’s the other downside of being 37 years old. Allen missed half the games (literally, 16 of 32) in March and April, and was limited to under 30 minutes of floor time in a quarter of those 16 games he played. The Celtics cannot rely on a guy getting starting minutes that misses half of the games down the stretch. It speaks volumes that Ainge pushed to acquire Lee, and even Jason Terry – two players younger than Allen.

Then there is the issue between Allen and Rondo. The extent of the strife between the two players is unclear. Therefore, nobody knows what impact the resulting tension had on the locker room as a whole. But the good news? Whatever tension there was is gone, because Allen is not in Boston anymore.

Will the Celtics, or Two and a Half men, be as good as they were in the past? Maybe not. Both companies know though that they have jumped the shark, especially since Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are near the ends of their own careers.

There is no question that Allen will be extremely useful for the Miami Heat, just like Sheen is thriving with his new show Anger Management, which is going into it’s second season on FX. But just like Two and a Half Men without Sheen, the Celtics will be better off without Allen on their roster.