Friday, April 29, 2016

Season in Review: 2015

For the third time in the last four years, Boston finished in last place in 2015.  Much of the reason was the disappointing performances of three expensive acquisitions.  There was a glimmer of hope though as the team continued to bring up exciting young players from the minors.

FIVE FAVORITE PLAYERS
David Ortiz
At age 39, David Ortiz put together one of his best seasons in years.  Ortiz hit .273/.360/.553 with 37 home runs and 108 RBIs.  Ortiz played in 146 games, his most since 2011, and had his most home runs in a season since he hit 54 way back in 2005.


Xander Bogaerts
After a disappointing first full season in 2014 that did see him improve as the season went on, Bogaerts proved why he was Boston's top prospect prior to that season.  He won the Silver Slugger Award after finishing second in the batting race at .320 and drove in 81 runs.  Bogaerts was a little lacking in home run power, but did contribute 35 doubles.


Mookie Betts
Mookie emerged as one of the best all-around players in the league in 2015 by hitting .291/.341/.479 while blasting 18 home runs and stealing 21 bases.  He also racked up 42 doubles and eight triples while mostly hitting out of the leadoff spot for Boston.  He was also an excellent defensive outfielder and made one of the best catches of the year nearly tumbling over the bullpen fence to catch the last out of a win for Rich Hill.


Dustin Pedroia
Despite playing in just 93 games, Pedroia proved that he still had something left in 2015 by hitting 12 home runs, his most since 2012.  He did not steal many bases, but his slash line was a good .291/.356/.441.


Koji Uehara
Koji was in his third season with the Red Sox in 2015.  At 40 years old, Koji was still very impressive, though he slipped a bit toward the end of the season and had to be shut down for the season.  He was 2-4 with a 2.23 ERA and saved 25 games.  He walked nine and struck out 47 in 40.1 innings.

HONORABLE MENTIONS
Clay Buchholz
It was another injury-plagued year for Buchholz, but when he was healthy, he was very good.  Unfortunately Buchholz is either good but unhealthy, or healthy and bad.  Buchholz was 7-7, but with a 3.26 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 113.1 innings.


Jackie Bradley Jr.
For about two months, Bradley was one of the best hitters in the game.  He was a terrific defensive player, and finally began to prove his worth with the bat.  For the season he hit .249/.335/.498 with 10 home runs and 43 RBIs in 74 games.


Brock Holt
Holt was Boston's lone All Star in 2015.  The utility man extraordinaire played every position except pitcher and catcher for the Red Sox in 2015.  Holt was a decent hitter, without much power, and a very good defensive player no matter where he played.  Holt hit .280/.349/.379 with just two home runs.  One of those home runs though came on a day when Holt hit for the cycle.

FAVORITE ACQUISITION
Wade Miley
One of the few new acquisitions who actually performed to expectations, Miley led the team in wins and innings pitched.  Miley was not a great pitcher, but he was not expected to be.  He was brought in to be an inning eater, and he performed that function admirably.  He finished 11-11 with a 4.46 ERA and 147 strikeouts in 193.2 innings.

FAVORITE MIDSEASON ACQUISITION
Alejandro De Aza
The Red Sox outfield got a little bit of a boost when De Aza was brought in.  He started off hot but did eventually cool down and was traded away.  But Boston did not make a lot of deals during the season, so De Aza kind of wins this by default.  He hit .292/.347/.484 and hit five triples in short work.

FAVORITE ROOKIES
Eduardo Rodriguez
In 2014, Boston traded lefty reliever Andrew Miller to Baltimore.  Their return was Eduardo Rodriguez, who was a highly touted southpaw.  Rodriguez was called up to Boston for the first time in 2015 and performed well.  He finished the season at 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA.  He looks like a terrific bet to be a solid number two in Boston.


Blake Swihart
After Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan went down with injuries, Boston was forced to rush top prospect Swihart to the Majors to catch.  He experienced growing pains, but ultimately put together a pretty decent season, hitting .274/.319/.392 with five home runs and 31 RBIs in 84 games.


Travis Shaw
Shaw quietly put together an impressive power display in Boston, hitting 13 home runs in just 65 games.  He was one of Boston's best hitters down the stretch and ensured that he would be in the mix for a role in Boston in 2016.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS
Hanley Ramirez
One of two high-priced free agent signings, Ramirez was moved from the infield to left field to accommodate fellow new signee Pablo Sandoval and young shortstop Xander Bogaerts.  For the first month, he was hitting well, but then he crashed into a wall making a play and he was never the same.  He was a disaster in the field and only hit .249/.291/.426 with 19 home runs.  Almost all of that production occurred in April.


Pablo Sandoval
As bad as Ramirez was, Sandoval was worse.  He was also terrible in the field and pretty much useless at the plate,  He hit just .245/.292/.366 with just ten home runs and 47 RBIs.


Rick Porcello
The Red Sox traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Tigers for Porcello after signing Ramirez and Sandoval.  They might have been better off keeping Cespedes.  Porcello, despite occasional flashes of brilliance, was inconsistent and subject to getting hit hard.  He was better after an injury and a brief stint in the minors and finished the season 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Harry Agganis (And Some 2016 Topps)

Some time ago I added Harry Agganis's only Topps card to my wantlist.  I don't know why it took so long to make that decision, but I finally did.  And just recently I picked it up for just a few dollars.  Here is the card:
It is not in the best condition, but for a 1955 card, that is to be expected somewhat.

Nicknamed "The Golden Greek", Agganis was a local product who was a big two-sport star before becoming a professional baseball player.  He was a terrific athlete in college at Boston University who passed up an offer from the Cleveland Browns to join the Boston Red Sox.  Agganis played just one full season in 1954, hitting .251/.321/.394 with 11 home runs and 57 RBIs, but he was just 24 years old.  He looked like he would be the starting first-baseman and a rising young star for Boston and was hitting .313 through 25 games when he became ill with pneumonia.  He was hospitalized and came back for a week before being re-hospitalized with a viral infection.  He looked like he was improving, but then suffered a pulmonary embolism and died at the age of 25.  Agganis is one of the most tragic stories in Red Sox history.

And now for some happier things.  Here is most of the remaining cards I needed from 2016 Topps.
I still need one card, but this helped quite a bit.  I finally got the Ryan Hanigan.  Hanigan is the last remaining card I need for 2015.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Opening Day and Gypsy Queen Breaks

Here are my Red Sox cards that came in my latest blaster boxes of Opening Day and Gypsy Queen.  Needless to say, the Opening Day break was better than the Gypsy Queen break:
I really like the Eduardo Rodriguez card, but that is probably due to the fact that I have not seen the base Topps card yet.  The Ortiz insert is probably the best card I picked up and celebrates the fact that Ortiz is just 16 doubles shy of 600.  Ortiz is currently #17 on the all-time doubles list.  It is very possible that he could settle in at #11.  The Top 10 seems just out of reach, unless he can hit more than 40 doubles.  He has two as of the time I am writing this.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What's a Gronk?

According to the back of the Mo Vaughn card in the above scan, "Gronk" is the name given to power hitters by former Twins and Dodgers shortstop Greg Gagne.  How anyone else heard about that and thought that it should be the subject of an insert set, I have no idea.  He explains that power hitters look like lumbering cavemen with big sticks.  Credit for originality I guess.  There are also cards of Tim Wakefield, Travis Shaw, and Daniel Bard in there.  I guess the best part of the package is the term "Gronk".  I might just start using that, although I doubt it is still a favored term by anyone.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Red Sox With No Cards: 1996

1996 was more of the same as 1995.  Boston used a ton of players in 1996 and a lot of them spent only a short amount of time with the Red Sox, particularly with regard to the pitchers.  Most sets were still smaller and focused on the big stars.  Role players, short-term call-ups, utility players, and middle relievers were in short supply in sets.

MARK BRANDENBURG
A sidearm relief pitcher, Brandenburg was acquired at the 1996 trading deadline along with fellow No Red Sox card member Kerry Lacy for lefty reliever Mike Stanton.  He made his Major League debut with the Rangers earlier in the year.  Brandenburg pitched in 29 games down the stretch after being acquired by the Red Sox and was a very effective pitcher, with an ERA of 3.81 and a 4-2 record.  He struck out 29 in 28.1 innings and only walked eight.  Brandenburg was part of a reformed bullpen that helped Boston get back into contention down the stretch.  Brandenburg had no cards made of him after 1996, despite being a big part of the Red Sox bullpen in 1996 and 1997.  Brandenburg was traded back to the Rangers along with Aaron Sele and Bill Haselman for Jim Leyritz and Damon Buford, though he did not pitch in the Major Leagues again.

PHIL CLARK
Despite coming up through the minor leagues as a catcher, Clark only played a handful of games at the position, likely due to defensive deficiencies.  Clark had a little bit of pop in his bat and the ability to play a number of positions.  He made his Major League debut in 1992 with the Tigers, then spent a couple of years with the Padres before joining the Red Sox in 1996.  He spent most of the year with the Pawtucket team and even appeared in a Pawtucket Red Sox team set.  He played in just three games for the Red Sox at the end of April picking up just three at-bats without a hit, while playing first, third, and DH.  Clark played in Japan after 1996.

ALEX COLE
Alex Cole is frustrating from a card standpoint.  He has cards issued with the Cardinals, Padres, Indians, Rockies, and Twins, even though he never actually played for the Cardinals or Padres.  He did play for the Red Sox though, yet has no cards issued of him with them, though he does appear in a Red Sox minor league set.  Cole was known for his speed as he stole 40 bases in his debut season, then had three other seasons of more than 25.  Cole started the 1996 season with the Red Sox and played in 24 games with them, hitting just .222.  He did steal five bases, but if he could not get on base, it was not worth keeping him around.  He spent most of the season in Pawtucket and never made it back to the Major Leagues.  Cole has had some legal issues since his playing career ended.  

MILT CUYLER
Once one of Detroit's top prospects, Cuyler was never really able to make it all click.  Cuyler's rookie season in 1991 was reasonably impressive as he stole 41 bases and finished third in the Rookie of the Year vote.  Unfortunately that was the last season that he played in 90 games or more.  The Tigers eventually grew tired of waiting and released him.  The Red Sox picked him up prior to the 1996 season and he appeared in 50 games for them.  But like Alex Cole, Milt Cuyler really did not hit for the Red Sox, batting just .200 in 134 at-bats.  He hit two home runs and stole seven bases.  Cuyler did not play in 1997, but did re-emerge in 1998 with the Rangers. 

JOHN DOHERTY
John Doherty was once a promising young pitcher with the Tigers.  He was a 14 game winner for a decent Tigers team in 1993, but he struggled in 1994 and found a place in the bullpen in 1995.  He was placed on waivers by the Tigers just prior to the season in 1996 and was picked up by the Red Sox.  Doherty spent most of the season in the minor leagues and did have a couple of cards for Red Sox minor league teams.  He pitched in three games for Boston in April, throwing 6.1 underwhelming innings.  That was it for his Major League career.

KEN GRUNDT
This one kind of makes sense.  Grundt was in the Major Leagues for such a short period of time that his Baseball Reference page shows the headshot from the card above.  Grundt came up through the Giants system and also spent some time in the Rockies system, but he did not make his Major League debut until 1996 with the Red Sox.  He pitched one-third of an inning and gave up a run for a 27.00 ERA.  And that was it for 1996.  Grundt did pitch three innings over two games in 1997, but that was it for his Major League career.  Grundt does have some minor league cards in the Red Sox system, but never had a Major League card issued.

ERIC GUNDERSON
Eric Gunderson was covered in the last post.  He spent two years with the Red Sox and pitched in 28 games for Boston in 1996.  Unfortunately he was not very impressive and went 0-1 with an 8.31 ERA.  Despite pitching in 28 games, Gunderson had just 17.1 innings since he was primarily used against just one left-handed batter.  Gunderson would have a successful season for the Rangers in 1997.

REGGIE HARRIS
The former first-round draft pick of the Red Sox in 1987, Harris was plucked away by the Athletics in the Rule V Draft before the 1990 season.  As such, he was required to be kept on the Major League roster all year and thus made his Major League debut that year.  He did only pitch in 16 games that year, but he had some success.  He made it back to Boston in 1996, just his third season in the Majors despite making his debut in 1990.  Harris only made it into four games though, with a 12.46 ERA.  He did strike out four in his four and a third innings, but walked five.  He was let go after the season and then pitched in 50 games as a reliever for the Phillies in 1997.  He would not pitch in nearly as many games again.  Harris does have a number of minor league cards with the Red Sox, he was after all a first round pick by the team.

JOE HUDSON
Like Gunderson, Hudson was in his second year with the Red Sox in 1996.  He came up through the minor leagues with the Red Sox and has a number of cards in the organization.  Hudson was one of the major arms in the Red Sox' bullpen, pitching in 36 games, but with a 5.40 ERA.  He did pick up a save but walked 32 while striking out just 19 in 45 innings.  Not a great year.

KEVIN KENNEDY
His second year as Boston manager was not nearly as successful as his first year as the Red Sox failed to make it to the postseason.  They started out terribly, going 6-19 in their first 25 games.  But the Red Sox heated up down the stretch and made it back into contention but fell short.  It was not enough to save Kennedy's job.  No sets included managers for several years in the mid to late 1990's so Kennedy has just one Major League manager card to his name.  Even that, he has to share with Jim Riggleman of the Padres.

BRENT KNACKERT
Brent Knackert only played parts of two seasons in the Majors.  He pitched in 24 games with the Mariners in 1990, but had a 6.51 ERA.  He did not make it back into the Majors again until 1996, when Boston tried him out of the bullpen.  Lefty relievers often have long careers, but only if they can actually get someone out.  He pitched in eight games for Boston with a 9.00 ERA.  Knackert does have a Pawtucket Red Sox card, but all of his Major League cards are from 1990 and 1991 with the Mariners.

KERRY LACY
Acquired along with Mark Brandenburg from the Rangers for Mike Stanton, Kerry Lacy was another reasonably impressive arm out of the bullpen for stretches.  Lacy pitched in 11 games for the Red Sox in 1996, but had a 3.38 ERA and a 2-0 record for the Red Sox.  He would make it back to Boston in 1997 and even spent a little bit of time as a closer option, but would not pitch for anyone else in the Majors.

PAT MAHOMES
Once one of the Twins' top prospects, Pat Mahomes had some trouble putting it together in the Major Leagues.  He spent a few seasons moving up and down between the Twins and their AAA team.  After 20 games with a 7.20 ERA with the Twins in 1996, Mahomes was traded to the Red Sox for 1995 No Red Sox Card Member Brian Looney.  Mahomes was 2-0 with a 5.84 ERA for the Red Sox in 11 games.  Mahomes would return to Boston in 1997, but struggled again.  He would resurrect his career in 1999 with the Mets.

JEFF MANTO
Just one year after hitting 17 home runs with the Orioles, Jeff Manto found himself starting the season in Japan in 1996.  He was signed by the Red Sox in May to provide a little bit of pop in the infield.  He played 10 games with Boston before being traded to the Mariners for Arquimedez Pozo.  He did hit two home runs in those 10 games.  Manto was then re-acquired by Boston after Seattle placed him on waivers after 21 unimpressive games.  Manto played 12 more games for Boston, but continued to struggle at the plate.  Manto did play every infield position for the Red Sox over his 22 games in two stints for them.  Manto became quite the journeyman over the next few years, playing for the Indians, Tigers, Yankees, and Rockies.

WALT MCKEEL
McKeel was a third-round draft pick by the Red Sox in 1990.  He could hit a little bit in the minors but never really distinguished himself as a prospect.  I personally do not remember knowing much about him at all when he was called up.  He played in just one game in 1996 with the Red Sox, and even that game was just as a defensive replacement at catcher.  He did not get an at-bat.  He played a bit more in 1997, making it into three games, and actually had three at-bats for Boston.  He does not have any Major League cards at all.

BRAD PENNINGTON
Yet another lefty reliever that Boston tried out in 1996, Pennington was actually fairly successful in his role.  He was 0-2 in 14 games, but with a terrific 2.77 ERA and struck out 13 in 13 innings.  Unfortunately, he also walked 15.  Pennington had come up with the Orioles and also pitched briefly for the Reds.  The Red Sox tried to pass him through waivers and he was picked up by the Angels.  He struggled with them and did not make it back to the Majors until 1998.  He pitched for the Rays then and failed to get an out in his one appearance while giving up a run for an infinite ERA.  That was it for Pennington in the Majors.

GREG PIRKL
Pirkl was a power-hitting prospect with the Mariners for a few years that could never quite make the next step to full-time Major Leaguer.  He did hit six home runs in 19 games with the Mariners in 1994.  After seven games with the Mariners in which he failed to make an impact, the team tried to pass him through waivers, but the Red Sox picked him up.  Pirkl made it into just two games with Boston, both times as a pinch-hitter and did not get a hit either time.  He never made it back to the Major Leagues.

TONY RODRIGUEZ
There were a number of players with the surname Rodriguez that played for the Red Sox between 1994 and 1996.  Carlos, Steve, Frankie, and Tony were not related, but did all play for Boston and Pawtucket during those three years.  Tony is the only one to not have a Major League card with the Red Sox, though he did have a number of minor league cards.  Tony Rodriguez played in 27 games, mostly as a late-inning defensive replacement.  He was a pretty steady defensive player, mostly at shortstop.  Rodriguez did hit a home run, but ended with a slash line of only .239/.292/.299 and never made it back to the Majors.

JIM TATUM
A professional pinch hitter for the Rockies in 1993, Tatum led the league in hits off the bench.  Tatum did not play in the Majors at all in 1994 but came back to the Rockies in 1995.  Tatum was picked up by the Red Sox in 1996, but only played in two games with Boston.  He played third base in both games for the Red Sox and had eight at-bats.  He did get a hit, a single, and scored a run.  The Padres purchased him from the Red Sox later in the summer and he played a few more games with them.  He ended up with the Mets in 1998 and played in a handful of games.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Possible One-Card Wonder and Some Heritage Help

Here we have a couple more packages, one of which includes a new player for my collection, and the other including a bunch of Heritage cards I needed and one vintage card that I am very excited about.
1.  Dalier Hinojosa.  I must have missed the fact that this card was released last year.  Hinojosa is a Cuban pitcher who signed with the Red Sox in 2013 as a free agent.  Unfortunately he had some trouble cracking the Red Sox roster until he made his Major League debut in May of last year.  He pitched in one game, encompassing 1.2 innings, giving up no runs while walking three and striking out two.  Boston was not terribly impressed and tried to pass him through waivers, but he was selected by the Phillies and had some success.  So I was shocked that he received a card at all, much less an autograph.

2.  Sammy White.  One of the more general items on my wantlist is cards of catchers from before 1970.  Well, this card certainly qualifies.  Sammy White was a pretty good catcher for his time and made an All Star team in 1953.  He was a pretty good defensive catcher, but was at the end of his Red Sox career when this card was released.

3.  Jon Lester.  This card shows the 2010 league leaders in wins.  Lester was third.

4.  Clay Buchholz.  This card shows the 2010 league leaders in ERA.  Buchholz was second.

5.  Darrell Brandon.  "Bucky" Brandon was a pitcher for the Red Sox in the late 1960's.  He had a decent year in 1966 and followed that up with a tough season in the Impossible Dream season.  He pitched mostly in relief.  He was left unprotected and was taken in the expansion draft by the Seattle Pilots after the season.

6.  Ryan Dempster.  Dempster was signed to be a back-of-the-rotation starter for Boston prior to the 2013 season on a two-year deal.  He had a rough season, but managed to come through a little in the postseason.  However, the next year he was hurt and retired.

7.  David Ortiz.  Geez, how do you pick just one walkoff moment from David Ortiz's career?  He had been a truly great player for Boston and will be missed.

8.  Jacoby Ellsbury.  His first hit was him beating out a routine ground ball.  He once scored from second on a wild pitch.  He stole home straight while Andy Pettitte was on the mound.  He broke Boston's single-season stolen bases record.  He became Boston's first ever 30/30 man.  Ellsbury was one of my favorite players, but I am glad that he will be declining for the next many years over with the Yankees.

9.  Brock Holt.  The super-utility man has seemingly found a full-time position this year.  We will see what happens, but Holt is one of my favorite players.    
10.  Pablo Sandoval.  After a terrible season for Boston in 2015, Sandoval is going to be watched very closely to determine if he can come back.

11.  Joe Kelly.  Kelly has been likened to a pre-Cy Young Jake Arrieta.  I guess we can only hope he turns out like Arrieta.

12.  Mookie Betts/Brock Holt/Jackie Bradley Jr.  This is Boston's starting outfield on Opening Day.  Time will tell if it is the outfield that keeps going throughout the year.

13.  Rick Porcello.  Another player who needs to come back from a bad season last year.  Porcello had some moments where he looked like he was getting better.  I am not as worried about him as I am Sandoval.

14.  Blake Swihart.

15.  Xander Bogaerts.

16.  Hanley Ramirez.  Hanley has looked good in Spring Training at first base.  He could surprise.  And if he is confident on defense, he could hit again.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

One-Year Wonder Pt. 25: Luis Alicea

Every once in awhile, the Red Sox pick up a veteran player for a year, or just the stretch run that was a star at one point that I become fascinated with. It's a player that is basically only a role player at that point in their career, but may show flashes of their old brilliance. It's so unusual to see them as a member of the Red Sox, that I try to find as many of their cards as possible. This series will be about some of those players.
Boston needed a second-baseman coming into the 1995 season as Scott Fletcher struggled in 1994 and Tim Naehring was expected to take over at third base.  So Boston acquired the switch-hitting Alicea from the Cardinals for Jeff McNeely and Nate Minchey, two players who were basically spare parts at the time.

Alicea was an underrated part of the 1995 team that won their division.  He did a lot of the little things to help the team win.  He hit .270/.367/.375 for the season and hit six home runs.  In one game he hit home runs from both sides of the plate.  Alicea also stole 13 bases and came in second in the league for sacrifice hits and sixth for sacrifice flies, showing a willingness to sacrifice himself for the good of the team.
Defensively, Alicea had his best season yet, finishing in the top five AL second-basemen in a number of categories, including assists, putouts, and led the league in double plays turned.  It was a sparkling defensive season that was overlooked because of the presence of Roberto Alomar at the position in the AL.

In the postseason, Alicea was one of the few players that played well in the three game sweep at the hands of the Indians.  He had six hits in the three games and hit a home run, a double and stole a base.
Unfortunately Boston wanted more offense in 1996 and declined to bring Alicea back.  He returned to the Cardinals as a free agent and Boston acquired Wil Cordero to play second.  Cordero could hit, but was forced to move to left field in 1997 due to his defensive inadequacies.
Alicea did eventually return to Boston, as a first-base coach in 2007 and 2008.