Lester Hit Hard, Rangers Practice Home Run Derby Cruising to 18-3 Victory

Jon Lester has been one of the most consistent pitchers for the Red Sox the past few seasons. The past two years have brought Opening Day honors to the lefty. While the team was off to a slow start, Lester turned in two solid outings, each good enough to deserve the win under normal circumstances. That Jon Lester did not take the mound against the Rangers. The Lester who did had trouble locating his pitches and finding the strike zone. By the third inning, Lester would give way to the bullpen and the damage would really start to accumulate as the Rangers scored 18 runs, including six home runs on the way to their fifth straight win.

The Rangers, one of the strongest offensive clubs in the American League, went to work early with leadoff man Ian Kinsler getting a hit to start the game. Lester would limit first inning damage to hits and watch Dustin Pedroia’s laser show in the bottom of the inning put his team up 2-0 over Colby Lewis. That would be about it for good news.

The Rangers would score 4 runs in the second inning and 3 more in the third, chasing Lester from the game. Scott Atchison allowed two baserunners of Lester’s to score and one of his own in the third inning, but went on to pitch three more clean frames and, along with Matt Albers, keeping the score at a reasonably close 8-2 through the seventh inning.

Mark Melancon would change all of that. In an effort that makes Alfredo Aceves’ first appearance look downright brilliant, Melancon faced six batters in the eighth inning and failed to record an out. What he did do was allow towering home runs to Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, and Nelson Cruz as part of an 8-run eighth for Texas. ESPN reports that “Melancon is just the 8th pitcher in last 90 years to allow 3 HR without recording an out.” Not quite the history the Red Sox wanted to celebrate at Fenway Park this week.

Adrian Gonzalez would chip in with a home run of his own in the bottom of the inning but that was the only sign of the Red Sox bats since Dustin Pedroia’s blast many innings earlier. To add final insult to injury, Mike Napoli added a two-run shot in the ninth off Vincente Padilla, who filled the role usually occupied by a position player in these types of blowouts.

Sox Stud of the Game: Dustin Pedroia

Laser show. La luna. It doesn’t matter. The second baseman hits the ball, catches it, and defends Kevin Youkilis in a single bound.

Sox Dud of the Game: Jon Lester

Lester didn’t have his best stuff tonight and against a powerful Rangers lineup it came back to bite him. Hard.

Game Notes:

W: Colby Lewis (2-0) L: Jon Lester (0-2)

The performance of Lewis lost in this story. Striking out seven while walking one and allowing just two runs to score early in the game, Lewis set the tone for the Rangers and the bats helped him to sail.

Adrian Gonzalez: The Padres’ Bargain

September started with Red Sox off-season acquisition Adrian Gonzalez as part of the AL MVP discussion, along with two of his teammates: 2008 MVP Dustin Pedroia and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.  While a substantial number of words were spilled this winter about Boston’s acquisition of the All-Star first baseman and his subsequent contract extension, his old team, the San Diego Padres, should be satisfied with the way things turned out for the team during Gonzalez’s tenure in Southern California.  

Gonzalez was originally selected first overall by the Florida Marlins during the 2000 amateur draft. Just three short years later the young first baseman was traded, along with Will Smith and Ryan Snare to the Texas Rangers for Ugueth Urbina.  The Rangers of course had their own stud first base prospect, Mark Teixeira, who made his major league debut on April of that year.  By hitting .259/.331/.480 while clubbing 26 home runs, Teixeira finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting and never looked back.  

The Marlins probable sold too early on Gonzalez considering his pedigree as a first overall pick and solid progression through the farm system including hitting .266/.344/.437 in AA Portland in 2002.  Off-season wrist surgery would put a damper on his 2003 numbers, both with the Marlins and then with the Rangers.  Across three teams in 2003, over 493 plate appearances, Gonzalez hit just .269/.327/.365 – good for a .692 OPS.  His home run total sat at just five.  Nonetheless the 2004 edition of Baseball Prospectus declared the first baseman as Rangers GM Jon Hart’s “crown jewel” of mid-season acquisitions and expected a full recovery along with Gonzalez forcing his way into the Rangers lineup by 2005 or sooner.

Sure enough, Gonzalez mashed AAA pitching to the tune of .304/.364/.457 in 2004 and .338/.399/.561 in 2005.  Unfortunately the success did not translate to his first exposure in the majors.  Making his Major League debut in April 2004, the top prospect hit just .238/.273/.381 in a cup of coffee with the team.  In more than three times the plate appearances in 2005 (still just 162), Gonzalez again struggled with a line of .227/.272/.407.  Unfortunately it was at this point that the Rangers, with Mark Teixeira now well established at first base and still under their control through the 2008 season, decided to trade from their position of strength, first basemen, for pitching help.

In January 2006, Adrian Gonzalez, Terrmel Sledge, and the pitching version of Chris Young were sent to the NL West San Diego Padres for major league pitchers Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka and minor league catching prospect Billy Killian.  Things did not go well in the Ballpark at Arlington.

Adam Eaton, brought in to solidify the starting rotation, was limited to just 65 innings in 2006 and left as a free agent at the end of the season.  After winning eleven games in back-to-back seasons before arriving in Texas, despite ERAs of 4.61 and 4.29, Eaton tallied just seven victories in his limited time on the mound with a bloated 5.12 ERA and WHIP of 1.57.  His 5.95 K/9 was a career worst and part of a downward trend for the hurler since his 2001 season where he recorded 8.41 strikeouts per nine innings.  Eaton was a better at home (.281/.346/.459) than away (.322/.391/.513) and subject to a reverse split with lefties hitting just .279/.340/.382 while watching their right handed counterparts tee off against Eaton: .320/.393/.592.

Right-handed reliever Akinori Otsuka fared somewhat better.  In two seasons with Texas, one as their primary closer, the Japanese righty tossed 92 innings of 2.25 ERA.  He averaged just under seven K/9 but registered a superb 3.50 KK/BB during his time in Arlington.  Unfortunately, injuries limited Otsuka in 2007 and that concluded his tenure with the Rangers.  While he did provide some value out of the ‘pen, it was not the difference making impact the Rangers should have gotten in return for a perfectly good player ho had the misfortune to be blocked at his position.

As for Killian, he spent two seasons in the minors with Texas before moving to the White Sox farm system.  He has never appeared in the Major Leagues.

When it comes down to it, this was simply not a good trade for the Rangers.  At worst, Gonzalez could have been a designated hitter for a team with a very potent lineup.  According to the Fangraphs’ version of WAR, Adrian Gonzalez alone worth 21.8 WAR.  Adam Eaton just 0.6 and Akinori Otuska 3.0 over his two seasons with the team.  Chirs Young, even battling injuries brought with him an additional 4.9 WAR.  Terrmel Sledge was worth -0.3 WAR.  

All things considered, the Rangers may have misread the market, trading too good a hitter for pitchers who were not young kids yet to break in or established top-shelf veterans.  The Rangers traded a future superstar for commodities that just did not match up in value.

Did the Padres get a better haul for their prize?  Gonzalez was certainly worth even more last winter than in 2006 and San Diego managed to snag several of Boston’s top prospects.  If they pan out, the value might look good in a few years.  If not, the Padres at least got promising young players in return.  

Missing Nomar: The Red Sox Shortstop Search Continues

Fourteen players have started at shortstop since the beginning of the 2004 season: Nomar Garciaparra, Pokey Reese, Cesar Crespo, Ricky Gutierrez, Mark Bellhorn, Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Royce Clayton, Alex Cora, Alex Gonzalez, Julio Lugo, Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie and Nick Green. Only Gonzalez, Cora, Lugo and Renteria made more than 100 starts at the position in a Red Sox uniform.Derek Jeter started 907 of 972 games for the New York Yankees over this time period.

In his six years before the trade, Nomar started 871 of 972 games with the Red Sox. See the problem here?

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Red Sox three most prominent shortstop acquisitions over the last six seasons were hailed with great expectations: Orlando Cabrera, the Expos player Theo had been coveting; Edgar Renteria, the apparent best free agent shortstop in 2004; and Julio Lugo, the Tampa Bay Devil Ray who fell apart with the Dodgers.

  Total With Boston Home Away
Orlando Cabrera .294/.320/.465/.785 .266/.298/.376/.674 .319/.341/.546/.887
Edgar Renteria .276/.327/.385/.721 .266/.325/.382/.707 .285/.345/.389/.733
Julio Lugo .251/.319/.346/.664 .286/.350/.395/.745 .190/.241/.306/.547

During his time with the Red Sox, Cabrera was a machine away from Fenway Park. He hit that amazing ball off the top of the scoreboard and played the best defense the Red Sox had seen in years, but didn’t have what the Red Sox were looking for as (at that time) the bridge to Hanley Ramirez.

Looking back at the numbers, it is almost puzzling how quickly “Rent-a-Wreck” was moved out of town. However, Edgar did have his problems defensively and was promptly moved back to the National League.  For all the grief he received, Renteria could have played much worse before he deserved all of it.

Julio Lugo’s home and away splits above are from the 2007 season, his only full season as the starting shortstop. In 2008, his splits are similar to 2007 but in 2009, in limited at bats with the Red Sox, the numbers were reversed; struggling at home (.205/.225/.2359/.584) while thriving on the road (.329/.415/.371/.786). Overall, being acquired as an offense-first shortstop who had twice clubbed 15 home runs and had not posted an on-base percentage lower than .322 or slugging less than .372 in any full season, Lugo was a bust.

Bargain Basement Find

When the Red Sox signed Alex Gonzalez in 2006, both the team and the player were desperate. In a fantastic deal for the Sox, Gonzalez dazzled Red Sox Nation with his defense. And more amazingly, he didn’t stack up that poorly to the high-profile guys. While 2009 was certainly a limited sample size, just 44 games, the Red Sox seem to have found another player who can succeed in Fenway Park, under the Boston media microscope, or some combination of the two.

  Total With Boston Home Away
Alex Gonzalez ‘06 .255/.299/.2397/.695 .279/.306/.419/.725 .234/.293/.378/.671
Alex Gonzalez ‘09 .284/.316/.453/.769 .306/.316/.453/.769 .263/.282/.342/.624

The Once King

The elephant in the room in any shortstop conversation is Hanley Ramirez.  His emergence as one of the game’s best players hasn’t quite taken people by surprise, but he certainly deserved the considerable hype surrounding him in the minors. Since arriving in Florida on the other end of the Josh Beckett/Mike Lowell trade, Ramirez has been nothing but terrific:

2006 .292/.353/.480/.833
2007 .332/.386/.562/.948
2008 .301/.400/.540/.940
2009 .342/.410/.543/.954

Costello: I said I don’t give a darn! Abbott: Oh, that’s our shortstop.

Without an everyday shortstop on the roster, Theo once again will need to be creative to fill out the roster. Jed Lowrie is the guy the front office would like to see there, but injury troubles have made him a question mark. The $6 million option on Alex Gonzalez was declined, though they could bring him back on a smaller deal as a free agent. A “Hanley Returns” blockbuster trade is unlikely; even if the Marlins wanted to trade him, as the cost in prospects would be monumental and probably higher than the Red Sox would consider.

Top prospect Casey Kelly, who spent half of 2009 at short and half as a pitcher, is likely going to work on the latter full time. That leaves Jose Iglesias as the heir apparent at SS. In very limited time in the Arizona Fall League, he has ten hits in 45 at bats over 12 games. Only 19, Iglesias is more upside than anything at this point, though soxprospects describes him as having “the makings of a gold glove shortstop” with “average to above average speed” similar to Orlando Cabrera.