When Jacoby Ellsbury hurts, we all hurt (US Presswire)
They've already lived through and killed off The Curse of the Bambino, the 2004 storybook that you know by heart. But for 2012 and beyond, the Red Sox have to deal with The Curse of the Andino. It might be a long season on Yawkey Way. Forget playoff contention; this could easily be a team that stumbles around in third or fourth place.
Sorry, Jacoby Ellsbury owners. You're caught in the collateral damage here. We'll try to help you get through it.
You remember how Boston's season ended in 2011, a September choke job for the ages punctuated by a bunch of losses to Buck Showalter's plucky Orioles. Robert Andino was the signature player for Baltimore's late-season run, a nondescript, high-energy infielder who was yapping constantly during the final series of the year. He had the game-wining hit in Game 162, a soft liner to that eluded the grasp of Carl Crawford (you try covering left field while a sack of $142 million holds you down).
Okay, so a flawed team missed the playoffs, big deal. But consider what's happened to the Red Sox since then:
-- The "chicken and beer" controversy came out in the Boston Globe shortly after last season season ended, describing how John Lackey, Josh Beckett and others would often blow off a game in progress, settling in for food and drink in the clubhouse. Maybe this is a puff piece and not that important to play on the field, but it certainly made the club an easy punchline.
-- Terry Francona moved on, a mutual divorce between organization and manager. An anonymous team source shamelessly leaked personal details of Francona's personal life as the parties were separating.
-- General Manager Theo Epstein also left, eventually landing with the Cubs. The Red Sox botched the compensation process (why not decide that before Theo leaves), getting a scrub minor leaguer who's already hurt (the other Chris Carpenter) and a player to be named later.
-- Jonathan Papelbon left for Philadelphia. Okay, his crazy contract was probably something Boston didn't want to match, but replacing Papelbon with the injury-prone Andrew Bailey has already proven to be a suspect move. Bailey hurt his thumb in spring training and will be out 3-4 months. (Yes, it was a fluke injury that hit Bailey — his track record isn't the reason he busted his thumb. But anyone who projected a full season from Bailey back in March is an absolute fool.)
-- Bobby Valentine was hired to replace Francona, a self-promoting fellow who hasn't managed in the majors since 2002.
-- Crawford's dealing with a wrist injury and probably won't return until May.
-- The club started off 1-5 in 2012, including a 13-12 defeat in Detroit that was given away several times.
And now the Ellsbury hit comes to the forefront. Friday's home opener was going to be a smashing success for the Red Sox, as the offense pushed 16 hits and 12 runs at David Price and company and rolled to a blowout victory. Beckett rebounded nicely from his opening-week meltdown (five homers in Detroit), and the Fenway fateful got to feel good for just the second time in 2012.
But Ellsbury's fluke injury in the fourth inning hung over the crowd like a black cloud. He separated his right shoulder on an odd collision at second base, and although the Red Sox have yet to release a specific timetable on Ellsbury, it's commonly thought he's probably going to miss 6-8 weeks.
The hits just keep on coming. Ellsbury was only the best position player in the AL last year.
The eternal Boston optimist (yeah, like they exist) can at least point to a couple of positive spins. Boston's outfield depth isn't bad, and Ryan Sweeney should be a solid regular while Ellsbury is out. In deeper mixed leagues (13 teams and up), I can get behind Sweeney as a possible David DeJesus type. He'll never be a star, but he can contribute as a low-level option (decent average, tied to a good lineup, a homer here, a steal there). Matty Buser quickly grabbed Sweeney in the Yahoo! Friends & Family League.
And the Ellsbury injury also might be good for Crawford's short-term value; the lineup will probably feature Crawford near the top of the order when he returns, as opposed to the No. 6 slot he appeared ticketed for a month ago. Anything that gets Crawford engaged and feeling good about himself is a good thing. He's expected to start extended spring training games shortly.
As for other outfield pickup candidates for the mixed-league Yahoo! nation, that's what I'm here for. I understand that fantasy advice can never be a one-size-fits-all exercise, so I'll try to give options at a variety of price levels. We'll look shallow (no snarkiness, please), we'll look medium and we'll look deep. There's a wide range of league styles; let's accept that and be respectful to everyone. Time to audit a few options:
• Lucas Duda (70 percent) really is too good to mention in this type of column — I know he's long gone in the leagues that our regular readers play in — but I wanted to give a quick suggestion to anyone who plays in a very thin format. Duda only has three hits in the first week but two have left the park, and obviously Citi Field is less of a hurdle now that the fences have been moved in. I figure he'll end the year hitting .280 or better with 20 or more homers.
• Brennan Boesch's ownership tag is a mere 63 percent? Too many people are overreacting to his slow opening week. Go look at that lineup again: retooled Austin Jackson, Boesch, Miguel Cabrera, import Prince Fielder. The sweet-swinging Boesch is clearly in the catbird seat of what might be the AL's best lineup. (I know, I know, he's long gone in your league — we'll aim at more widely-available commodities with the rest of this exercise.).
• Alejandro De Aza's hot finish to 2011 went largely unappreciated; he was cheap in most markets this spring. Robin Ventura has De Aza parked in the leadoff spot, and we could easily get a 10-homer, 30-steal, 100-run season out of this. Don't be thrown by De Aza's batting eye thus far in 2012; he had 17 walks in 152 at-bats last year. He's unowned in 58 percent of Yahoo! leagues right now.
• Nolan Reimold (seven percent owned, shockingly low) is settling in as Baltimore's leadoff man and he's off to a .308 start. He had a homer and a steal in Friday's comeback victory at Toronto. Reimold was another Oriole that drove Boston crazy last September; he posted a .281-16-5-17-6 line over the final 22 games (extrapolation from a short sample is a loser's game, but that is a zesty run). This is a post-hype play all the way, as Reimold had some buzz tied to him back in 2009 and 2010.
• Someone might have dropped Bryan LaHair (22 percent) in your league after his early-season back issue, but he's returned and is mashing nicely, thank you (7-for-20, including two homers). He dropped a bomb on Adam Wainwright in Friday's matinee, an opposite-field grand slam into the bullpen. LaHair, off a minor league MVP, qualifies at first and the outfield. It's interesting that the Cubs basically handed the first-base job to LaHair all spring, making it clear that touted prospect Anthony Rizzo would be returning to the minors.
• While Dexter Fowler (52 percent) hasn't been electric through the opening week, he does have a homer and a steal, along with a .478 slugging percentage. He just turned 26, good time for a breakout, and he'll bat second every day. When in doubt, bet on gravity.
• David Murphy (17 percent) never seems to have both hands on a full-time gig, but he's in there most of the time. He's off to a 8-for-21 push with a homer, and you know any investment in Arlington's offense is a fun thing. And with the injury concerns Texas faces in the outfield (hiya, Hamilton and Cruz), Murphy is more important than you might think.
• Pittsburgh's offense has been a joke but Alex Presley (14 percent) hasn't been the biggest problem. He's at .269 with a steal, and he has double-digit power potential.
• Denard Span (11 percent) is settled as Minnesota's leadoff man, and consider what he did in 2010, his last full season (85 runs, 26 steals in 30 attempts). Span has a .333 average and .400 OBP through one week.
Others receiving votes : Johnny Damon, Aubrey Huff (the maddening Giants want to bury Brandon Belt for some reason), Dayan Viciedo, Will Venable, Allen Craig (thanks to reader YYZ Baller), Jose Tabata, Cody Ross (until Crawford comes back), Jason Bourgeois or Jarrod Dyson (thanks for nothing, Ned Yost), Jon Jay. There's something out there for everybody; your mileage will vary.
Let's catch our breath after that extensive bullpen lap. Time for a quick look at the rest of the sandlot leftovers from Friday:
• The Padres and Dodgers gave us a little bit of everything in LA's 9-8 victory. Aaron Harang started off with a crazy strikeout streak (nine whiffs in three innings, what planet is this?), but eventually the Friars started pushing him around. Most of Harang's strikeouts were coming off a straight heater in the high 80s or low 90s; it's amazing the Padres didn't hit him right away. This goes straight into the fluke file.
Kenley Jansen's ninth inning was a carnival ride that turned into a blown save (two walks, three strikeouts, one Chase Headley homer allowed, one near-homer allowed), but the Dodgers laughed last in the bottom of the ninth, with four walks plating a gift run (Andrew Cashner handed out three of the walks and simply didn't have it). And as usual, it was walk-off king Andre Ethier with the final scene (I just wish Vin Scully had been around to describe it; I'll be crushed if his cold turns out to be something more serious). Javy Guerra's leash was already substantial, but he gets an extra boost of security on his day off.
• We talked about the anemic Pittsburgh offense in the previous Closing Time and then we watched Matt Cain toy with it Friday. Without a doubt this was the most dominant game anyone's pitched this year (one-hitter, no walks, 11 strikeouts, 73 of 106 pitches were strikes). Pirates pitcher James McDonald had the only hit, and only six batted balls flew to the outfield. I've decided to stream Barry Zito against these Bucs for Saturday, and I'd use Ryan Vogelsong on Sunday if it weren't his first turn off a DL stint. Maybe Joe Saunders (on Monday) or Lance Lynn (see you Friday) will pick on the Pirates next week.
• Joel Peralta was just getting some work in the middle of the Boston blowout but it didn't go well; two hits, two walks, four runs, no one retired. Like Guerra in LA, Fernando Rodney sees his security extended because his primary backup couldn't get the job done. As for Price's outing, write it off; that's what he's doing. He had decent velocity but less than ideal command, and he was squeezed on a few tight pitches.
Jeff Samardzija recorded the win on the other side, though he had to dodge 10 hits and five runs through five pitch-gobbling innings. I like that he's walked just one batter through 13.2 innings, against a snappy 13 strikeouts. This is the perfect upside gamble to make in a medium mixer; this looks like someone who could outgrow streaming. Samardzija is learning how to put batters away once he gets ahead in the count, and his diving fastball (looked like a splitter) is getting swings and misses. He works at Miami next week, a recommended spot.
• Jed Lowrie's Houston debut was a useful one: two hits, two walks, one steal, one RBI. The Astros slotted him second in the order. It's never been a case of talent with Lowrie, it's just a matter of staying on the field. His swing should be a terrific fit for Minute Maid Park, too. You can add Lowrie right now in about 90 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Ricky Nolasco took a no-decision in this game, lasting five ordinary innings (4 H, 2, R, 3 BB, 3 K). That's the best you can do, captain? Nolasco and Brandon Morrow shouldn't be allowed to pitch on the same night. One tease at a time.
• Joe Nathan needed a day off, so Alexi Ogando went handshake surfing in Minnesota. He got the job done but it wasn't pretty; he walked one batter and hit another. I have no long-term faith in Nathan keeping this gig (maybe health will do him in, maybe it will be ineffectiveness) but I don't see one clear hedge in the Texas bullpen. Ron Washington has an embarrassment of riches here, a stable of power arms. And the Rangers aren't afraid to make unconventional moves with respect to player usage.
And with that, the Weekend Update desk is now (temporarily) closed. If you like your roto nuggets in a 24-7 cycle, feel free to follow me on Twitter.
- Sports & Recreation
- Jacoby Ellsbury
- Carl Crawford
- Terry Francona
- Andrew Bailey