Wednesday October 26, 2011
MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen: The Boston Red Sox announced this week that starting pitching John Lackey would be undergoing Tommy John surgery, ending his 2012 season before it began. In a twist of irony, this move actually comes as relief to Red Sox nation as Lackey has been anything but stellar since coming to Boston.
In 8 seasons with the Angels, Lackey had a 102-71 record, good for a 3.81 ERA and 1.306 WHIP. In his past 2 seasons with the Red Sox, Lackey’s numbers ballooned to a 26-23 record, with an unsightly 5.26 ERA and 1.504 WHIP. Lackey’s winning record in Boston is attributable more to the Red Sox strong offense, rather than Lackey’s own production. 2011 was a miserable season statistically for Lackey with 2012 not looking much promising either.
In hindsight, John Lackey’s contract is one of the worst in baseball. Lackey is signed to a 5-year, $82.5 million deal running through 2014. For the final 3 years (2012-14), Lackey will get paid $15,250,000 per season. The one bit of relief to the Red Sox is that the injury kicks in a 2015 vesting option, whereby Lackey will only be paid $500K for that season. A small consolation given the magnitude of the money and disappointing numbers from Lackey to-date.
For whatever reason(s), the relationship between John Lackey and the Boston Red Sox is not working out. Lackey has battled personal issues while in Boston, including his wife’s health and battle with Cancer. While clearly we can all sympathize with Lackey’s difficulties in playing while dealing with personal issues, the reports from the end of the season of his involvement with drinking in the clubhouse and eating fried chicken during games brings into question Lackey’s commitment and focus to the team and game. Before news of his surgery, many outlets were reported that the Red Sox were actively shopping Lackey in the hopes of removing him from the team. A strong rumor was a swap with the Padres and reuniting Lackey with his old pitching coach from his Angels’ days, Bud Black. The Padres and Petco would have been an ideal environment for Lackey, provided that the Red Sox would have picked up the majority of his contract in the deal.
But the reconstructive elbow surgery has brough the Lackey rumors to a halt. He will be staying in Boston for the foreseeable future. The Red Sox have faced bad luck this year with Tommy John, as pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Rich Hill both underwent the same procedure in 2011. Theo Epstein was wise to include the injury provision in the Lackey contract; but then again, he may have been better off avoiding the pitcher all-together. News of the Lackey injury was the first announcement by Ben Cherington as the new Red Sox GM. From all the offseason transactions and news that will follow in Boston, this one will be taken as one of the more positive moves.
The Red Sox have many decisions facing them this offseason. The re-signing of David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon. The integration and structure of the organization with a new GM. The hiring of a new manager. The departure of J.D. Drew and possibly Marco Scutaro. The comeback of Carl Crawford. These are surely hectic times in Boston. The team will need to make many roster changes for 2012, including the signing of 1-2 new starting pitchers. The injury to Lackey could prove to be a blessing in disguise. The surgery may pinpoint that his terrible numbers in Boston were based more on declining health than eroding skills. With a year-off to rehabilitate and re-energize, the Red Sox may see a new and focused John Lackey. The team would have had to eat most of his contract to trade him; perhaps they are better off paying and playing him.
In the worst case scenario, the Red Sox will need to either trade or release John Lackey between now and 2014, if they do not believe that he can rebound and be a useful asset for the team. There is always the chance that Lackey is not able to recapture the form he displayed back in his Angels days. Also, there may be enough bad feelings between the player and organization that a fresh start will be in order. At this point, the Red Sox are best off to take a “break” so to speak for a year from John Lackey. Come to 2013, the team may find that they have a new valuable asset that they never counted on. John Lackey at the end of the day is a classic example of the risk involved handing a 30 something year-old pitcher a 4+ years contract for big dollars. The Red Sox in this case gambled and lost. But at least the decision can be put off for a year whether to write John Lackey off completely or try to recover pennies on the dollar. I wish John Lackey a successful surgery and healthy recovery. While I don’t expect to see him emerge as a MLB ace upon his return, my sense is that we will see an older and wiser John Lackey on the mound. The talent has always been there. Now he just needs to find the health and heart to fulfill the remainder of his potential.
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Saturday September 3, 2011
Rob Bland (Intern- MLB reports): Stephen Strasburg burst onto the MLB scene with the Washington Nationals in his first start on June 8, 2010 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his 7 inning gem, he struck out 14 batters with 0 walks, and only 4 hits allowed. Throughout the rest of the 2010 season, he relied on a fastball that averaged 97.3 mph. Strasburg also possesses a hard biting, 82 mph curveball and a 90 mph changeup. His 2010 season came to a grinding halt on August 21st that year, when he left a game against the Philadelphia Phillies in which he was dominating with elbow tightness. The Nationals’ front office and coaches all held their breath until after Strasburg’s MRI, which revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Stephen Strasburg required Tommy John Surgery and would be on the shelf for a year.
Strasburg had been previously dubbed as the best pitching prospect ever. Strasburg was drafted #1 overall out of San Diego State University in 2009 after what is arguably one of the best college careers for a pitcher of all time. Strasburg signed a $15.1 million dollar bonus just 77 seconds before the deadline that year. In the 2009 season leading up to the draft, Strasburg was pretty much unhittable. In 109 innings, he gave up only 59 hits and 19 walks, compared to 195 strikeouts.
Strasburg’s 2011 season has seen him start off with his rehab in Viera, Florida at the Nationals’ spring training facility. His first official appearance on his rehab stint was for the Hagerstown Suns of the South Atlantic League in Single-A. Strasburg pitched 1 2/3 innings as he was under a strict pitch limit, and gave up one run with 4 strikeouts. Every 5th day the phenom has taken the mound for Hagerstown, then Potomac in the Advanced A-ball Carolina League. He also pitched in AAA with the Syracuse Chiefs and for the Harrisburg Senators in AA. His last start was the most impressive of all. On September 1st, Strasburg toed the rubber for Harrisburg against the Portland Sea Dogs, Boston’s AA affiliate. Through 6 innings, he faced one batter over the minimum, with only one hit and 4 strikeouts. He also hit 99 mph on the radar gun a number of times.
Strasburg is expected to be called up to start on September 6th at home. He is actually tentatively scheduled to start 4 home games in the month, in part so that the Nationals can reap the benefits of increased gate revenue as well as being able to control game time starts in case of inclement weather.
The fact that Strasburg took less than 12 months to be back on a mound is a testament to: a) the advances in the surgery, allowing for less rehab time; b) Strasburg’s work ethic; and c) Strasburg’s freakish body healing so quickly. Strasburg will surely be handled with kid gloves, as he has his entire professional career, never throwing over 100 pitches in a single start.
Strasburg seems to be healthy, and will be looking to be as dominant as his early career has shown. With ultra prospect Bryce Harper and young phenoms like Strasburg, Drew Storen and Ryan Zimmerman, including recently drafted Anthony Rendon and Matt Purke, the future actually looks bright for a franchise that has been hurting for a winner. With a growing fan base (and likely taking fans from the lowly Orioles), this young crop of players look to take the Nationals franchise from laughingstock to a true contender in the tough NL East.
Look for Strasburg’s first start of the season on September 6 against the LA Dodgers. Strasburg is a true rare talent that only comes around once a generation. So if you ever get a chance to see him live, I highly recommend you do so, because you could be a witness to history.
***Today’s feature was prepared by our Intern, Rob Bland. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Rob on Twitter.***
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