Saturday, December 10, 2016

Koji Leaves and Rutledge Returns (I Had No Idea He was Gone)

The highest profile free agent Boston had this offseason recently signed a contract to join the Cubs.  Koji was one of the most fun players to watch in recent Red Sox history, due to his excitement after doing something good.  His energy and enthusiasm are infectious.

In a lot of ways, Koji was the player that most represented the Red Sox in 2013.  He was a low-risk, high-reward free agent signing who exceeded expectations.  He started the season as a middle reliever, but due to injuries to closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey and ineffectiveness of Junichi Tazawa, Uehara became the closer and had one of the greatest seasons of any Red Sox closer ever.  He ended up 4-1 with a 1.09 ERA and 21 saves.  He struck out 101 and walked just nine batters in 74.1 innings.  He ended up winning the ALCS MVP and was a big part of the World Series Championship, striking out Matt Carpenter to end the Series.

The next season, Uehara declined a little, but still made his first All Star team.  The Red Sox were not nearly as good, but Uehara was 6-5 with a 2.52 ERA and 26 saves.  He struck out 80 while walking eight in 64.1 innings.  2015 saw Koji decline more, but he was still 2-4 with a 2.23 ERA and 25 saves.  He suffered some injuries and was ineffective late in the season.

2016 saw Uehara became a setup man, but he did pick up seven saves.  For his Red Sox career, Koji was 14-13 with a 2.19 ERA and 79 saves.  He struck out 291 batters, while walking a mind-boggling 37 in 226 innings.  Uehara will go down as one of my absolute favorite relief pitchers of all time and one of the most fun pitchers to watch, period.  Good luck, Koji.  Cubs fans, enjoy.
In other news, the Rule 5 Draft occurred today.  While Boston did not pick up Luis Torrens from the Yankees (sorry Zippy Zappy), they did re-acquire utility infielder Josh Rutledge.  Which was weird, because I had no idea he was gone.  Apparently Colorado signed him after the season.  Rutledge is a right-handed hitter (versus the left-handed Brock Holt) who can actually swing a bat (unlike Deven Marrero).  Rutledge has been with Boston for parts of two seasons and has hit .276/.338/.358 with seven doubles and a home run in 123 at-bats.  He stands a decent chance of being a backup infielder for the Red Sox in 2017 along with Holt.  Though he would have to beat out Marco Hernandez for the job.

Boston lost two players in the Draft: Justin Haley and Aneury Tavarez.  Haley stands the best chance of sticking in the Majors as he pitched in 15 games in Pawtucket and looked to be on the verge of making it to the Majors.  I would expect Tavarez to come back.

Boston also added Junior Lake as a minor league free agent.  Lake last played a full season with the Cubs in 2014.  He has bounced between the Majors and Minors ever since, playing for three teams in the last two years.  This is mostly just an outfield depth move.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A Medallion from Nolan's Dugout

Here is a one-card mailday from Kyle of Nolan's Dugout.  He posted some Topps Debut Medallions as tradebait recently.  I had a bunch of his set wants so I made an offer for a trade for this awesome Hanley Ramirez Medallion.  Hanley Ramirez was a prospect that I collected a lot when he was coming up through the minor league system.  I found almost all of the Topps 205 mini variations, some autos, bat cards, and printing plates.  He made his Major League debut in late 2005 and played in just two games, had two at-bats and struck out both times.  After the season, he was traded to the Marlins in a deal that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston.  He turned into a star with the Marlins, winning the Rookie of the Year in 2006, winning a batting title, and going to three All Star games, while being a 30/30 player.  He spent several years in Florida, then moved to Los Angeles, then returned to Boston.  He had a rough first season in Boston in 2015, but in 2016 he hit .286/.361/.505 with 30 home runs and 111 RBIs.

I am seeing a lot of parallels with Yoan Moncada who was just recently traded for Chris Sale.  And I am reminded of why I don't spend a lot of time chasing after prospects.  Hanley Ramirez was the first prospect that I really got attached to.  And it was a lesson.  I did not get that big into Yoan Moncada's stuff, and I am glad I did not.  Who knows?  Maybe Moncada will be back some day too.  Hanley was.

Thanks Kyle!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A&G Mini Buybacks

Not a ton to show off today.  Just a couple of A&G Mini Buybacks, both from 2008:
1.  Jed Lowrie.  Lowrie was a supplemental first round pick by the Red Sox in 2005.  He spent a few years with Boston, but injuries (and other things) kept derailing his career.  He had a very good year in 2010 when he hit .287/.381/.526 with nine home runs in 55 games.  But Lowrie was even better after being traded to the Astros for Mark Melancon.

2.  J.D. Drew.  I was a J.D. Drew defender.  He was a much better player than a lot of fans gave him credit for, and he was not the bust that people believed him to be.  His seasons in 2008 and 2009 were particularly good as he hit .279/.399/.521 with 43 home runs and 132 RBIs those two seasons.  He was the All Star Game MVP in 2008 and hit a huge grand slam home run in the 2007 ALCS.  Drew was also a terrific defensive right-fielder.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Red Sox Were Busy Tuesday

So, we have to say goodbye to a number of players whose cards I have been accumulating in my Red Sox collection.  So that is where we will start.

Only two players with Major League experience were traded:
Travis Shaw has been with the Red Sox for two years.  He came up part way through the season in 2015 and helped solidify first base.  He showed he had some big power as he hit 13 home runs with a .487 slugging percentage in 63 games down the stretch.  In 2016, he was anointed the starting third-baseman and started the year off hot.  But he was freezing cold from June forward and ended the season with 16 home runs and a slash line of .242/.306/.421.  Shaw's hold on third base was somewhat tenuous going into 2017.  Pablo Sandoval is returning from injury and he has gotten into the best shape of his career.  Brock Holt is still out there as well.  So there was some concern about his place.  Well that has been answered.

Yoan Moncada was Boston's top prospect (or #2 depending on which source you check).  He was a huge international signing from Cuba.  He has had some huge numbers in the minors (.287/.395/.480, 23 home runs, 100 RBIs, 94 stolen bases in two seasons in the minors) and has been climbing the ladder to the Majors.  He made a brief appearance in Boston toward the end of the 2016 season, playing in eight games.  He had a double out of four hits, but struck out 12 times in 20 plate appearances.  Moncada was expected to start the 2017 season in Pawtucket and possibly contend for the third base job.  That will not happen now.

There were five other minor leaguers traded Tuesday, three of whom appear in my Red Sox collection:
Dubon had a breakthrough season in 2016.  He hit .323/.379/.461 with six home runs, 69 RBIs, and 30 stolen bases as a middle infielder.  He had an outside shot at making the Majors at some point in 2017, though it was far more likely that he would start at Pawtucket.

Michael Kopech had emerged as one of the top pitching prospects in the game.  He has the ability to hit over 100 mph on the radar gun and has had the stamina to remain a starting pitcher to this point in his career.  Kopech had an abbreviated season and pitched in just 12 games in 2016, but he was 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA and struck out 86 in 56.1 innings.  He blew away the competition in the Arizona Fall League.  Kopech looked to start the season in Double A in 2017.

Josh Pennington was just emerging as a prospect in 2016.  He was a 29th round pick in the 2014 draft and pitched to a 5-3 record with a 2.86 ERA.  He looks like a future relief pitcher.  He pitched in short-season A ball in 2016 and was likely headed to full-season A ball in 2017.

Finally, Luis Basabe and Victor Diaz were also traded.  I have no cards of Basabe, but he looked like an interesting outfield prospect.  He hit .264/.328/.452 with 12 home runs and 53 RBIs.  Diaz was 2-5 with a 3.88 ERA in Greenville.

Boston traded Shaw, Dubon, and Pennington to the Milwaukee Brewers for Tyler Thornburg.
Tyler Thornburg emerged as a top-flight setup man in 2016 and had a little bit of closing experience.  He ended up 8-5 with a 2.15 ERA and struck out 90 batters while walking 25 in 67 innings.  He picked up 13 saves.  Thornburg joins a bullpen with closer Craig Kimbrel and steps in as the primary setup man.  The bullpen has become a strength with Joe Kelly, Robbie Ross Jr., Heath Hembree, and Matt Barnes all coming back.

Boston signed Mitch Moreland as a free agent.
Moreland had a bit of a down year with the bat in 2016, but he has hit at least 20 home runs in three of the last four seasons.  He also won a Gold Glove for his work at first base.  Moreland likely becomes the Red Sox first-baseman, and can be counted on to replace the productivity of the traded Travis Shaw.  Moreland is a similar hitter, with a little bit more of a track record.  His signing likely pushes Hanley Ramirez into being the primary designated hitter, which is just fine.

Finally, Moncada, Kopech, Basabe, and Diaz were traded to the Chicago White Sox for Chris Sale.
What is there to say about Chris Sale?  The southpaw is one of the top pitchers in the league.  He has been an All Star every season since 2012 and will be just 28 next season.  Last season, he was 17-10 with a 3.34 ERA and 233 strikeouts.  He has finished in the Top 5 in the Cy Young vote in each of the last two seasons.  He joins a rotation already featuring the 2016 Cy Young Award Winner Rick Porcello and 2012 Cy Young Winner David Price.  The rotation could also feature up-and-comer Eduardo Rodriguez, or former All Stars Steven Wright, Drew Pomeranz, and Clay Buchholz.  It is likely that someone will be traded.  But they will potentially have the best starting rotation in the game, no matter who gets traded.  I have already identified the starting rotation as my primary focus in my collection in 2017.

All told, it hurts to trade Moncada, Dubon, and Kopech, and to a lesser extent, Shaw.  I am not a huge prospect collector, but I like the idea of Boston developing their own players.  Seeing them trade homegrown players stings, but that pitching staff is going to be tough and the bullpen should be a strength.  Moreland is not going to replace David Ortiz's production, but he should be decent.  I am excited for the season.  Can we just start now?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

'Teks from Tek and More

I was rather surprised when I looked at the checklist for the then-upcoming Topps High Tek set.  My all-time favorite Red Sox player, a player who did not have many cards even when he played, much less after he retired, was in the set.  I am talking of course, about Jason Varitek.  As much as I collect Sandy Alomar Jr., my Jason Varitek collection is perhaps even more impressive (you can see most of it here, although I have added several more cards since this post that are not here).  I have said it before, I may have the greatest Jason Varitek collection of anyone.  And I do not think that I am being arrogant when I say that.  I spent several years after my graduation from law school, when I had virtually no bills and was single, almost solely collecting Jason Varitek cards.  I have multiple 1/1s, patches, autographs, buttons, MLB logo patches, printing plates, and even a bat barrel.  There are only a couple of cards that I can recall losing out on that I was not able to add later (2008 Topps Allen & Ginter Mini Wood was the biggest one).  This was at the height of his career.  And none of those cards have gone anywhere else.  I have more Jason Varitek cards than any other player in my Red Sox collection (I do have more Sandy Alomar Jr. cards but he actually has more cards, on account of Varitek not having any Topps cards until 2007).  More than Nomar Garciaparra.  More than Pedro Martinez.  More than David Ortiz.  More than Manny Ramirez.  So I was excited that Varitek appears to be getting cards again.  It did not take me long to add some.

Of course there are a couple of other cards to show off from the day's mail too:
1.  Adrian Gonzalez.  From my wantlist and the utterly bizarre Donruss Back to the Future relic set.  This set featured Red Sox relic cards of Gonzalez, Yoenis Cespedes, and Jon Lester.  I was disappointed with the brevity of Gonzalez's Red Sox career.  After years and years of hearing his name connected to being traded to the Red Sox, they finally had him in 2011.  He was good, but not quite what was expected.  Then, at the trading deadline of his second year in Boston, he was gone.  It was frustrating.

2-4.  And here are the Tek Variteks.  I have the Green Rainbow parallel, the base card, and the base autograph card.  I don't see myself going hardcore after all of the variations of this, but if I add several for reasonable prices, I will be perfectly happy.

5.  Steven Wright.  And my most recent single-player Red Sox focus checks in with the pink parallel of his All Star card.  I am curious to see how he does next year.  He should be given a spot.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Christian Vazquez In Action

Just a one-card mailday from Saturday.  But it was a pretty good one.  This is the action image variation of the Christian Vazquez card.  The regular version is just a profile shot with a bat over one shoulder.  Vazquez is a terrific defensive catcher, but his hitting has yet to come around.  Catching is a concern going into 2017.  As things currently stand, breakout player Sandy Leon will be the starter and Vazquez the backup.  But no one knows quite what to expect out of him.  He slumped badly down the stretch and he has never played anything close to as well as he did coming out of the minors last year.  Vazquez needs work on his hitting.  And of course Blake Swihart is still around.  I suspect by the end of the year, Swihart will be the starter with Vazquez as backup.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Lot of Wantlist Hits

One very large package and one one-card package arrived in my mailbox Friday.  The large package was a big trade that I made that knocked off a ton of cards from my new Ultra Tradelist.  And a lot of those cards were vintage Topps cards, big plus.

But first, the higher-end cards:
1.  Xander Bogaerts.  This was the one-card package.  The X-Man is now six cards off the pace of both Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. to be the first to 100.  Bogaerts has been coming on strong lately, but he is at 91 whereas the other two are both at 97.

2.  Jimmy Piersall.  This was almost an afterthought to the huge trade below, but I am glad I held out to get this.  I love the old Red Sox logo and Piersall was an entertaining player and a terrific defensive outfielder.
3.  Manny Ramirez.  This is the white parallel.  Not technically on my wantlist, but I still needed it.

4.  Jermaine Van Buren.  Van Buren was one of those players that I really liked, somewhat irrationally.  His ERA was an unsightly 11.77 and he walked almost twice as many hitters as he struck out, but I still liked him.

5.  Jonathan Papelbon.  Boston's all-time saves leader with 219, far and away higher than #2 Bob Stanley.

6.  Jon Lester.  Lester was one of the greatest southpaws Boston has ever had.  I am reading the Terry Francona book right now and Francona thought of Lester as almost another son.  It's a shame his Red Sox career ended the way it did.  They should never have traded him, but they basically got Rick Porcello as a direct result of trading him, so it evened out.

7.  Don Zimmer/Team.  I used to try to identify everyone on each team card to figure into my player counts.  I don't do that anymore.  Too difficult.  But this one does count as a Zimmer card.

8.  Mike Torrez.  Unfortunately Torrez is remembered best for giving up the Bucky Dent home run in the one game playoff in 1978.  That's a shame because Torrez had some decent seasons with Boston.

9.  Jerry Remy.  Remy really should show up in one of the Topps Archives Fan Favorites sets.  Get on that Topps.

10.  Tom Poquette.  I was shocked that this is just my second Poquette card.  Granted, he doesn't have that many, but I have not gotten a Poquette card since the first one I got back in the second or third year I was collecting.

11.  Fred Lynn.  Lynn won the batting title in 1979, which was an incredible season, even better than the year he won the Rookie of the Year and MVP.  It is about time a Red Sox player won the batting title again.  Bill Mueller was the last one in 2003.  I'm thinking Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, or Xander Bogaerts are contenders.
12.  Butch Hobson.  Injuries basically ruined Hobson's career.  In his first season as a full-time player, he hit 30 home runs.  He had a ton of power but was washed up by 28.

13.  Joel Finch/Mike O'Berry/Chuck Rainey.  Ah Future Stars cards.  Joel Finch pitched in 15 games in the Majors and was 0-3 with a 4.87 ERA.  O'Berry was never more than a backup in seven seasons in the Majors, with six different teams.  Rainey came closest to being a star with a couple of 8-win seasons with the Red Sox and was 14-13 one year with the Cubs.  Yep, very prophetic Topps.

14.  Jim Dwyer.  Dwyer played for 18 years in the season but only appeared in more than 100 games in a season four times.

15.  Tom Burgmeier.  I did a post about Burgmeier recently.  He was an All Star in 1980 as Boston's closer.

16.  Jack Brohamer.  Brohamer was a backup infielder in the late 1970's.  And with this card, I am down to needing just two cards for the 1980 Topps team set.

17.  Don Zimmer.  I really liked these manager cards.  I also like getting cards of The Gerbil, even though he was not the best manager for the Red Sox and caused a lot of dissension which led to the losses of Bill Lee, Bernie Carbo, Ferguson Jenkins, and others.

18.  Jim Willoughby.  How is it possible to be 3-12 in relief when you have a 2.82 ERA as Willoughby did in 1976?

19.  Team Card.  I may consider doing something with the team cards and listing the players that appear in bubbles like on this card.

20.  Bob Montgomery.  I was not born yet when Montgomery was playing but I suspect I would have liked him as much as I liked Doug Mirabelli.  He was a similar player.  A backup catcher with some power.
21.  Bill Lee.  I need to track down the books he has written.  It looks like there are three.

22.  Dick Drago.  Drago was a pretty good reliever that had two stints with the Red Sox and an awesome last name.

23.  Denny Doyle.  He made a couple of critical errors in the 1975 World Series, but he was a pretty good hitter and solidified second base for Boston.  And with that card, I need five more 1978 Topps cards.

24.  Carl Yastrzemski.  I liked this All Star design.  I have had the Rico Petrocelli for quite some time.

25.  Lee Stange.  You can always tell when a player was new to a team because they would appear hatless on a Topps card.  But Stange pitched in 28 games for Boston the year before this card, granted he came in midseason, but you would think Topps could get a picture of him in a Red Sox uniform.

26.  Jose Santiago.  Boston's #2 starter in the Impossible Dream season.  Santiago's biggest moment was hitting a home run in his first World Series at-bat.  Dustin Pedroia later matched the feat.

27.  Mike Ryan.  Apparently there is a variation of this card, one which does not have a dot above the "i" in his signature.  This is the dot version.

28.  Joe Foy.  Airbrushed hat for some reason.  Foy never played for any team before Boston.

29.  Hank Fischer.  Fischer had some decent numbers in short work with Boston.  He was 3-5 with a 2.65 ERA and 44 strikeouts versus 19 walks in 57.2 innings.
30.  Galen Cisco.  I remember Cisco as the pitching coach for the Blue Jays in the early 1990's.  He had two stints as a pitcher for the Red Sox in the 1960's.

31.  Darrell Brandon.  Nicknamed "Bucky", Brandon was a talented pitcher who could never put things together.  He was 8-8 with a 3.31 ERA in his rookie season in 1966, but it was all downhill from there.

32.  Vic Wertz.  Wertz hit the famous fly ball that Willie Mays tracked down and caught over his shoulder in the World Series.  But he was a pretty good hitter.  His best year in Boston was 1960 when he hit .282 with 19 home runs and 103 RBIs.

33.  Mike Fornieles.  Fornieles was a pretty good reliever before relievers were crucial to a team's success.  His best year was 1960 when he was 10-5 with a 2.64 ERA.

34.  Jerry Casale.  He looked promising in his rookie season in 1959 when he was 13-8 with a 4.31 ERA.  He also hit three home runs.  But he never came close to those numbers again.  This is a frequent problem with Boston pitching.

35.  Pete Daley.  Boston's backup catcher to Sammy White in the late 1950's had some power, but could never unseat White, who was a good hitter and a great defensive catcher.

36.  Billy Klaus.  Klaus had a decent season in his first year with Boston, hitting .283 and walking more than he struck out.  He was a pretty decent, underrated player who finished second in the Rookie of the Year vote that year.

37.  Frank Sullivan.  The ace of the Red Sox staff in the late 1950's was a two-time All Star and led the league in wins and innings pitched in 1955.

So I am very close to the team set in 1980 and 1978, and made some big progress in 1967.  The cards from 1970, 1960, and 1958 helped, but I am still a ways away.