Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Day 2 of The Emirates Cup and Some Red Sox Thoughts

After a spectacular day at The Emirates Cup yesterday (see my recap here if you missed it), Arsenal are back at it today against Monaco. The unconventional scoring system of the two-day competition sees Arsenal in the lead by a large margin after the 5-1 rout of Benfica yesterday, so there might be a trophy (albeit not a real one) raised by the Gunners later today. With a real trophy up for grabs next weekend, another strong performance today could set the club up for a wonderful start to the 2014/2015 campaign.

This is essentially the last preseason game of the summer, and while we are all ready for the season to begin, I’m sure Arsene Wenger would have liked another game or at least a little more time with the late World Cup arrivals. The German contingent won’t see a single minute of preseason action, and Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny will only have today’s game. Many of the players look ready, but some are still a ways off fitness-wise.

Today’s match will be all about Alexis Sanchez, who will start and play the first half alongside Giroud up top. Given only a short time to form any sort of connection on the field, it will be pivotal that they learn how to play with one another quickly. The match will also be big for Jack Wilshere in the midfield, who will look to build on last week’s positive showing against the Red Bulls in his deeper role on the pitch.

It will also be the unofficial debut of Mathieu Debuchy at right back, who will have a hard time surpassing the performance of young Hector Bellerin yesterday. The defense in general has not looked particularly sound this preseason, but it’s hard to criticize when players are out of position and haven’t played with one another. Getting Koscielny and Debuchy on the same page today will be a start, but it will be down to work on the training ground once Per Mertesacker returns to get this defense ready to go.

The lineup I expect to see today at the start of the match is as follows: Wojciech Szczesny, Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny, Ignasi Miquel, Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud. There will be some cameos from players who started yesterday, and one of Monreal or Kieran Gibbs will start again at left back. I think it would only be fair to let Monreal play a game at his natural position, so I’d give him the nod. Expect Chuba Akpom to take over for Sanchez at the half.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to watch today’s match. With a spotty internet connection and only Spanish commentary to listen to, I think this is one I can miss. Had yesterday’s match not been so satisfying, I might have felt worse about missing it, but instead, I’ll be out on the links with my brother and a couple of his friends. I’ll have something to say after watching match highlights, but I won’t be able to do player ratings for this one. Best of luck to the team today.

Now to the Red Sox. For the first time in forever, I’ve been excited to turn on the games this series. While the team will be out of contention for the last two months, a mixture of new players and youth will make the Red Sox watchable the rest of the way. The lineup now contains players capable of getting hits, and while we might lose games 8-5, we’ll still score more runs than the team did when A.J. Pierzynski was batting sixth. At least this style of bad baseball will be more enjoyable. And an outfield with both Yoenis Cespedes and Jackie Bradley Jr. will be fun to watch every time out.

Allen Webster was on the mound yesterday and once again he failed to impress. In my eyes, he’s a poor man’s Daisuke Matsuzaka right now – a player who doesn’t want to challenge hitters in the strike zone. Webster has the stuff of a major league pitcher, but he looks like he’s afraid to throw strikes this year. The memories of throwing too many strikes and getting destroyed on the mound last year must be clear as day in his mind, because it’s evident that he’s shying away from contact. When a pitcher hasn’t established himself, pitches off the strike zone are always going to be called balls. The walks will quickly pile up like they did yesterday. Even if you don’t get hit hard, walking the bases loaded will lead to disaster more often than not.

I think Webster needs to try attacking hitters again at the major league level. He’s a better pitcher now than he was a year ago, and he can’t shy away from hitters any longer. If he wants to keep his spot in the starting rotation for the rest of the season, he’ll need to prove his stuff can translate to this level. Otherwise, Anthony Renaudo showed himself to be more than capable on Friday.

 

 

 

 


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When Baseball Is About More Than Just Baseball – Saying Goodbye

Today was one of the toughest days I’ve experienced as a sports fan. It wasn’t that today’s fire sale was unexpected at this point – I wasn’t blindsided by any means. And it wasn’t that I was upset with the overall return from the various trades. Today was about losing role models and people I’ve looked up to for years. It reinforced the notion that being a fan is as much about forming relationships with the players as it is about merely rooting for a group of individuals. Much like when the Celtics traded away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, I felt a tremendous personal loss seeing players that will define certain parts of my life go.

I’ll proceed chronologically with my reaction to the trades. Early this morning came the news that Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes were traded to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes. From a baseball standpoint, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that Cespedes was coming to Boston. He is exactly the type of player this team was missing- a right-handed hitting outfielder with a lot of pop who can provide excitement day in and day out. There aren’t many players that are objectively exciting in baseball, but Cespedes is one of that rare breed. And while he becomes a free agent after the 2015 season, he does have a favorable contract until then. He’s not your typical Red Sox player with a high on-base percentage, but I think the fans will love him for his power bat and his rifle of a throw from the outfield.

If the Red Sox weren’t going to re-sign Jon Lester, which I think is a mistake, it was the right move trading him now, as the value of Cespedes and the conditional draft pick received surpassed the value of the compensatory pick they would have gotten had he signed elsewhere. Cespedes’s arrival also signals the intent to compete next year, rather than waiting on any prospects to develop over time. With him only committed through next year, it will force the Red Sox to reload this offseason. And I think that’s a good thing.

For the A’s, this trade puts them in a great position for October. They get one of the best postseason pitchers ever in Lester to join an already loaded rotation, and they add a veteran presence in Gomes who is simply a winner. Whether he plays five times a week or five times a month, Gomes will be ready to produce in October, and he’ll be a spark in the clubhouse.

But as much sense as this trade made given the circumstances, I am still devastated to see two of my favorite Red Sox ever traded. I’ll expand on this in another post soon, but Lester and Gomes meant a whole lot to me. I watched Lester grow on the mound as I grew up as a person, and he will always be an inspiration to me. I can tell you exactly where I was when he announced that he had cancer, and I remember being near to tears. But I can also remember where I was when he returned to the mound triumphantly the next year in Cleveland. And I will never forget being at Fenway for his no-hitter the next year. That will always be my favorite Fenway memory. He was a hero, a role model and a true champion.

And then there’s Gomes. For all of last year, Gomes lived just a few houses from me. He was a connection to the team like I hadn’t had before. And of course he also did wonders for the team and the city during last season’s April hardships. In many ways, although he just played here for a season and a half, Gomes was the ultimate Red Sox. I’ll miss his wild style dearly. I am glad these two are going to Oakland, because I will have no problem rooting for the A’s. Wherever Lester and Gomes go from here, be it a return to Boston or a move anywhere else, I will be their biggest fan.

Before I had begun to get over my sadness about the first trade, John Lackey was traded to the Cardinals for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. I am not sure about this one, but I do think it could have its long term benefits. Craig would seem to have no place on the field at this particular moment, and unless Mike Napoli goes anywhere on a waiver deal, I don’t see how Craig will find his stroke this year if he’s on the bench. And even next year, where would he play? He’s a standout hitter when he’s going well, but I’m not sure how he fits into the Red Sox’s puzzle. But I like that Kelly is coming to Boston. If Lackey and Lester are gone, there needed to be someone with some level of experience and talent on the roster not named Clay Buchholz. Kelly has had a down year, but he has a great sinker and pitched quite well against us in the World Series last year. He’s one to watch in the coming years.

While I always thought Lackey would retire rather than playing for the league minimum next year, it appears he will honor that with the Cardinals. It’s incredible how quickly Lackey turned his image around in Boston. Two years ago, everyone would have given him away for nothing. That the Red Sox were able to help turn his career back around to even get this kind of deal in return is remarkable. But if he would have played next year for only 500K, I don’t quite understand why the Red Sox didn’t want to keep him around. He’s a solid number two at this point of his career, and I think he would have had a valuable place on next year’s team. But I guess this was a deal made for beyond 2015, when Kelly should be better than Lackey.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m really going to miss Lackey. He was a work horse on the mound and a true professional in his approach to pitching. He leaves a winner, and he’ll always be remembered around these parts for winning the final game of the World Series. Best wishes in St. Louis, Lack.

Then there was the Andrew Miller trade to the Orioles for 21 year old pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez. This trade didn’t feel nearly as significant as the previous two, but even so, the Red Sox lost a true star in the bullpen. I’m sure many in the organization will be disappointed they couldn’t receive a better prospect in return, but this is still a good deal considering he will be a free agent this winter. Rodriguez has struggled this year, but he’s still only 21, and quite recently the Orioles rated him very highly. I’m sure we’ll learn more about him soon, but he sounds like he could be decent in a few years.

Miller was never flashy on the mound, but he was always there to get the job done. And when things didn’t go his way, he handled everything expertly, never one to give up on himself or his teammates. He had the stuff of a top of the line starter, but never complained about having to be the 7th inning man. I met Miller at a dinner back in early 2013 and he made a positive impression on me. I hope the Red Sox make a serious effort to bring him back this winter, because he’s a real winner. The Orioles will benefit greatly from his presence in their bullpen.

And lastly, there was the news that Stephen Drew was traded to the Yankees for Kelly Johnson. I doubt Johnson will ever get much of a shot in Boston, but this trade was clearly made to get Xander Bogaerts back to shortstop. It also opens a spot back up for Will Middlebrooks, who could really use a morale boost after a tough year and a half of baseball. Giving Drew away right now makes a lot of sense baseball wise, and it’s not like we’re competing directly with the Yankees the rest of the way.

I’ve said it before on this blog, and I’ll say it again. I really liked Stephen Drew. Boston fans never gave him a chance this year, and I felt his defense never got the praise it deserved. Stephen wasn’t J.D. by any means, but fans here weren’t going to see that. Stephen cared a lot, and like it or not, he was the starting shortstop on our championship team. He wasn’t great at the plate in his time here, but he contributed elsewhere, and was a model professional. Re-signing Drew in May wasn’t the best move in hindsight, but he shouldn’t be blamed. Blame the Red Sox management. If Drew gets booed tomorrow when he plays for the Yankees, I will be extremely disappointed. Count me as one who appreciated all he did here.

I would imagine the roster movement won’t stop here. More players will be designated for assignment in the coming days, and we’ll see a dramatically different Red Sox lineup the rest of the way. It won’t be pretty, but signs point to a renewal for next season. Overall, I think we are in good shape if and only if management is willing to commit money to a front-line starter in free agency this winter (I’m still holding out the faintest of hopes that they have a plan to re-sign Lester). But for now, let’s all take a few days to appreciate what this group of players did for the team and for all of us. Lester, Gomes, Lackey, Miller and Drew all leave Boston as World Series winners. They leave behind amazing memories that I’ll cherish as long as I live. In sixty years, I’ll be telling my grandkids stories about the 2013 Sox, about my crazy neighbor and about the player who beat cancer. And while it was an incredibly sad day, it might not be all bad.


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So Long, Doubront

This is my 100th post on the blog. For a few days, I’ve thought about writing a special piece to mark the occasion, but I ultimately decided to save any fanfare for later given the Red Sox drama that is going on. I’m sure there will be a lot more to write by tomorrow afternoon, so I didn’t think I had the energy to expend on a long post about the meaning of being a fan or something like that. I’ll save that for number 200.

While all the big trade talk in Boston has been around Jon Lester, John Lackey and Andrew Miller in the last 24 hours or so, the only trade made today was a deal that sent Felix Doubront to the Chicago Cubs. Having witnessed Doubront’s worst performance in a Red Sox uniform on Monday night, I wrote some pretty negative stuff about him yesterday morning. He looked like he no longer cared on the mound, and for me, that was the final straw. No matter how much you dislike your role, you can never mail in a performance.

So when I saw the news that Doubront was heading out of town, I felt it was the right move even without knowing the return. When a player gives up on his own role, he gives up on the team. A player who has given up quickly can send the clubhouse into a negative spiral, so getting him out of there was necessary, even if the return ending up being only a low-level prospect to be named later.

Doubront was tantalizingly talented on the mound, so much so that many believed he could develop into a top of the line starter in Boston. He showed up at Spring Training this year more in shape than ever before, and it appeared he was on the verge of taking the final step toward becoming that star left hander. But instead, he struggled from the start this year, never finding his rhythm in his return to the rotation following a stint in the bullpen last postseason. Eventually he was demoted to long-reliever as a result of his poor pitching. And he sure didn’t like it.

It’s easy to recall how effective he was at times last year, both as a starter and in the pen. He could always be counted on for 6 innings and 2 or 3 runs, always pitching games that left his team in a position to win. At his best, his plus-stuff left hitters off balance at the plate, and he earned a lot of weak swings. One particular start last June that I attended stands out in my mind as the best Doubront ever pitched – 8 shutout innings on only 93 pitches, 6 strikeouts and 3 hits allowed against a good Rays team – but that game will be more likely remembered for Jonny Gomes’s first Red Sox walkoff home run (i.e. the helmet punt game). And in the World Series, Doubront was excellent as a middle reliever, particularly in Games 3 and 4.

Doubront did some good on the mound in Boston, and he earned himself a World Series ring. But he wasn’t cut out to be a long term starter for the Red Sox, and he drove himself out of town with his poor attitude. Given that he is such a talented pitcher, the Red Sox will be disappointed to be forced to give up on him for next to nothing in return. But GM Ben Cherington had no choice at this point. He had to get Doubront out of the clubhouse. It’s a shame it didn’t work out here in the long run, but I wish him luck going forward. I’ll remember him fondly for that start against the Rays and for his World Series performance. A change of scenery should do him a lot of good.

Many other players will say goodbye to Boston tomorrow, and I’ll have full coverage on all of the goings on with the Trading Deadline. Stay tuned. It could be a sad one.

 


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A Brutal Performance at Fenway and Chambers’s Arrival at The Emirates

Good morning, all. This will be a brief post, as I didn’t get much sleep last night coming back late from the Red Sox game. The game itself was pretty horrible, as the Red Sox trailed 2-0 before registering an out, and proceeded to surrender nine runs in the 6th inning. While I had fun at the game with my friends nonetheless, it was noticeable that the mood has changed at Fenway in recent weeks.

As recently as a week ago, the players still believed in themselves. So even though they lost a lot of games, it was evident that they were frustrated because they knew they could and should have been doing better. But last night, the players seemed to acknowledge that this is a lost season. There was no energy anywhere on the field. Players were taking weak swings and heading to the dugout with their heads down. And after Clay Buchholz struggled once again, Felix Doubront came into the game and promptly allowed 6 ER on 6 hits without getting through the inning.

I don’t normally boo any Red Sox, but I booed Doubront a little bit when he came out of the game. He more than anyone else has taken the I feel sorry for myself approach to the losing. Having lost his starting spot, he should have focused on stringing together quality relief appearances in hope that he’d earn his place back. But instead, he has whined and moped. When called upon, he hasn’t been ready to do his job. And that is unacceptable. This dreadful outing may well have earned him a permanent mop-up job, as he continues to prove he isn’t cut out to be a top of the line starting pitcher. He also might have pitched his way out of any other team’s plans on the trade market.

The crowd also had a different feel than it normally does in late July. The seats were impressively full all game given the Red Sox’s poor record and the threat of inclement weather. Even when the Blue Jays were up double digits, the fans were still there. However, it was the Blue Jays fans that were the ones getting their team fired up. The Sox faithful didn’t have much to cheer about, but they were all content to stand and sing about how good things are in the 8th inning down 13 runs. Nobody was starting chants or getting into the game much at all. It’s good that crowds are coming to Fenway, but they need to be more involved in the game. And for the record, I think “Sweet Caroline” should only be played when we are winning.

Once the game got out of hand, I started thinking about how it was probably my last time seeing a bunch of these guys in a Red Sox uniform, so I made sure to give big hands to Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava when they batted in the late innings. While it’s now inevitable that drastic trades will be made, I’ll be sad to see some of my favorites go.

Now to Arsenal news. Depending on who you believe, Arsenal have either signed 19 year old Southampton right back Calum Chambers for 12 million pounds or for up to 20. His value on the market will have been driven up because he is English, but overall I think this a good signing for the future. He sure didn’t come cheap, but given his obvious talent and versatility, he should prove valuable quickly.

There is no telling when the spending will stop for Arsene Wenger this summer. Who would have thought he’d have bought four quality players before the end of July? Chambers will be labeled as a right back, but I think Wenger envisions him as a future holding midfielder or center back. For now, I assume he’ll be the backup right back, but I expect him to challenge for time in the middle by next year. I haven’t watched him play much, but I was quite impressed with his play against Arsenal last January.

He is a big guy, big enough to play center back, and I think he makes a good extra option at the position. While I still would like to hold on to Thomas Vermaelen at least until Per Mertesacker is fit again, Chambers could be an adequate option alongside Laurent Kosciely in the opener against Crystal Palace if need be. Because he’s only 19, he could still be filling out his body, and in a year or two, he could become a much more physical specimen.

This transfer also has a huge impact on current Arsenal right back Carl Jenkinson. Everybody loves Carl because of his love for his boyhood club, but he needs regular playing time in the Premier League to reach his potential. With now two other legitimate options at his position, Wenger will surely be looking to shop Jenkinson. I would love to see him loaned out with the idea of bringing him back next year if he impresses, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sold. For me, it will depend on where Wenger believes Chambers’s potential lies. Should he believe it is at right back, Jenkinson should be sold permanently. But should it be somewhere else, Jenkinson must be loaned out so he can come back a better player.

The acquisition of Chambers is very much a buy for the future, but he has a place in the squad immediately due to his versatility in the back. I am excited to see him play for Arsenal. Hopefully there’s one last signing coming, but if not, it has been a terrifically executed transfer window by the boss. And lastly, I offer my condolences to Southampton fans. It can’t have been an easy summer.


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Red Sox Trading Deadline Preview – Which Players Would I Be Sad to See Go?

With only four days left before the Trading Deadline to fully acknowledge the season’s premature end, the Red Sox will be fielding hundreds of phone calls about many of their players. Here, I will go through a list of the nine most likely players to be traded in my opinion, commenting on their respective values and how I would feel about seeing them go. It is in no particular order.

Jonny Gomes – Despite his .241 batting average and .365 slugging percentage, I would imagine just about every team would love to have Gomes for the stretch run. He brings all the intangibles of a proven winner to a clubhouse, and he can be a clutch right-handed hitter off the bench. He should command a mid-level prospect or two. Personally, I would be deeply saddened to see Gomes traded because he became my favorite player on the team, but I think he’s the one it would seem most obvious to trade given his value and the logjam in the outfield.

Mike Carp – Carp has had a poor year, with a .215 average and 0 home runs. But he still has some value on the market as he is a left-handed bat with some pop, capable of playing a few different positions. He proved last season that he can pinch hit in pressure-filled situations, so any team looking for left-handed options should be licking its lips. Given his poor production and lack of a clear spot on the team, I doubt Carp will garner more than a low-level prospect in return, but I think he could be the next one to go. I appreciated what he did a year ago, but I won’t be upset when Carp is gone.

Stephen Drew – It’s hard to know what kind of value Drew has right now given his poor offensive performance since re-signing with the Red Sox in late May. Of course though, he would bring one of the steadiest gloves in the league to any team he goes, and I can only imagine he’d start to hit a little better. I’ve always liked Drew, and I want to see him succeed. So if he’s traded to a contender, while I’d be sad to see him go, I’d be happy for the shortstop to get another chance at the postseason.

Andrew Miller – The lanky lefty apparently has been the subject of a lot of attention from opposing scouts. He has always had eye-catching stuff, and he’s looked quite good recently. He could conceivably get the Red Sox a top-level prospect given the value of left-handed relievers at this time of year. Miller has been around a long time, yet never quite lived up to his potential, having had various control and injury problems over the years. So if the Sox sell high on him, I think it would be a smart move. I don’t want to see him go, but I’d be okay with it.

Craig Breslow – Breslow hasn’t been very good this year, and he wasn’t very good in the World Series. But for much of last season, he was excellent as a late-inning left-handed reliever. A change of scenery could help Breslow rediscover his best stuff. When the Red Sox acquired him at the deadline a few years ago, they surrendered two major-league type players. I doubt the Red Sox will get a similar return, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a higher return than many would expect given his production this year. I’m pretty indifferent to Breslow at this point, so a trade wouldn’t leave me in tears.

Burke Badenhop – Badenhop has been consistent in the later innings for the Red Sox this year. His right-handed arm would look good for contenders as a sixth or seventh inning man. He should have relatively high value given his success this year, but don’t expect a huge return for a slightly above average middle reliever. Because he wasn’t on last year’s team, most Red Sox fans won’t have trouble saying goodbye to Badenhop.

Daniel Nava – I think it’s unlikely Nava will be traded, but due to his recent surge in production and his versatility across the diamond, Nava could be an attractive option for a National League team looking for a fourth outfielder/backup first baseman. His story is one of the great ones in baseball, and Red Sox nation has fallen in love with Nava in the last 18 months. Trading Nava wouldn’t have a huge impact on the current Red Sox team or future ones, but personally, I’d be quite sad to see him go.

Koji Uehara – As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Uehara’s situation is unique given his contract and his age. Trading him in many ways would make a lot of sense. And obviously, as one of the game’s best closers, he would have tremendous value. The Red Sox would certainly demand a top prospect or two. If Jake Peavy could garner two top-ten prospects, a deal for Uehara should get the Sox two top-five prospects at least. Obviously, given his postseason heroics and his lovable personality on the field, everybody, myself included, would be devastated to let go of him. But for the right deal, I think I could understand it were he traded.

Jon Lester – Lester has been nothing short of an ace this year. And with a gigantic payday on the immediate horizon, the Red Sox will be fearing the worst. While he’s said he would consider a return via free agency an option were he traded, I think it would be unlikely. So for the Red Sox to trade him now, they’d need to get the equivalent of a first-round pick in return at the very least, as that would be the compensation for losing him in Free Agency. I’d imagine the Red Sox will be holding out for an offer that will blow them off their feet, and I don’t know how likely that is. But should Lester get traded, it would be five times as sad as the day Nomar Garciaparra was traded. Lester has been everything for the franchise, on the field and off, bringing us two championships, a no-hitter and an incredible story of courage. I really hope his time in Boston is not coming to an end anytime soon. But if he is traded, it will be a sad day.

Over the next few days, we’ll see a few of these names leave Boston, and I’ll have much more to say on the subject. Check back for more Red Sox coverage as the week continues.

Who will you be sad to let go? Please comment below