Red Sox

Mike Trout: Someone worth watching

855027.jpg

Mike Trout: Someone worth watching

There was a time not so long ago when going to a Celtics game, or even watching the Celtics on TV, had nothing to do with the guys in green. This was back in the mid-90s (OK, maybe that is so long ago), in the days of Todd Day, Marty Conlon and Blue Edwards. When Boston was suddenly the most snake-bitten and depressing franchise in the NBA and M.L. Carr ruled over it all with a barely-formed fist.

As each new season began, there was very little to get excited about, especially for 14-16 year old kid like myself. We werent sitting around the lunch table swapping stories about Eric Montross "jump" hook or Brett Szabos rec-specs. Instead, each day and night of the NBA season revolved around whom the Celtics were playing; around the players we actually liked and looked up to. Players who inspired us. Who we were dying to watch on TV or, if we were lucky enough, actually see in person.

Of course, there was MJ and the Bulls. But more than the established stars, I remember being mesmerized by the younger generation. The next superstars. There was Shaq, Penny and the Magic, Jason Kidd and the Mavs, Shawn Kemp and the Sonics, Chris Webber and the Bullets and you know what? Ill stop now because this isnt about the NBA or even basketball in general.

Its about Mike Trout, and a reason to be excited about the Red Sox.

By now, youve heard about Trout, the 21-year-old Angels center fielder who's taken baseball by storm, and will finally! make his Fenway Park debut tonight against Aaron Cook and the Sox.
If you're somehow unfamiliar with the Trout phenomenon, here's a very quick refresher:

Despite not being called up to the big leagues until April 28, Trouts currently the Major League-leader in runs (96) and stolen bases (39). Hes second in slugging percentage by one-hundredth of a percentage point and in OPS by .11. He's also running away with the AL batting title (.343).

For good measure, Trout has 24 homers, 70 RBI, owns two of the top five web gems of the 2012 season.
Your browser does not support iframes.

Trouts not only having one of the greatest rookie years in Major League history, but as Jonah Keri recently argued on Grantland, he might be delivering one of the greatest years, period. Now seems like a good time to remind everyone that Trout's a full three years younger than Will Middlebrooks.

My first run-in with Mike Trout came in May of 2011. At the time, my fantasy team was already in the basement and a series of ridiculous injuries had rendered a comeback impossible. It was time to look to the future, and from everything I read, the future of baseball had only two faces: Bryce Harper and Trout.

I already knew about Harper, who'd been in the spotlight since hitting a 400-foot home run as a 6-foot, 200-pound three-year-old, but there was something about Trout that really caught my eye. Actually, more than something, it was this thing.

"Mike Trout has been compared to a young Mickey Mantle."

Now obviously, comparing a 19-year-old in AA to Mantle doesn't guarantee greatness. (I still remember flipping through program at the 1999 Futures Game at Fenway and reading about how Rick Ankiel was the next Sandy Koufax.) But the more I read about Trout, the more I bought in, and within 25 minutes, Bryce Harper wasn't even a consideration.

I picked up Trout, stashed him on the bench, and crossed my fingers for the future.

Fast-forward to today, and that last place team is now comfortably in first, thanks in large part to the undisputed best fantasy player in the game. A 21-year-old kid who's one Miguel Cabrera slump away from becoming the youngest MVP in American League history. A rookie who's changing the game every time he takes the field; who came into the league with the most unfair expectations you can imagine, yet has exceeded them at every turn.

A player who baseball fans can get behind and excited about regardless of who he plays for.

And let's be honest. That's just what we need around here.

Sure, things with the Sox might not be quite as desperate as they were with those ML Carr teams of the mid-90s, but Trout's arrival at Fenway provides a similar sense of relief to those nights of watching a young Jason Kidd run the break, Shawn Kemp fly through the air and Chris Webber dunk on every one in sight. A reminder, during the dark days, that following sports should be fun and exciting. Mesmerizing and inspirational.

Then again, with the way this season's gone for Sox fans, Trout will probably pull a hamstring in batting practice.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

pat-neshek-mike-minor-112217.jpg

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

MORE RED SOX:

Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel. 

HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

cincinnati-reds-joe-morgan-hall-of-fame.jpg

HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is urging voters to keep “known steroid users” out of Cooperstown.

A day after the Hall revealed its 33-man ballot for the 2018 class, the 74-year-old Morgan argued against the inclusion of players implicated during baseball’s steroid era in a letter to voters with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The letter from the vice chairman of the Hall’s board of directors was sent Tuesday using a Hall email address.

Read the full text of Morgan's letter here. 

“Steroid users don’t belong here,” Morgan wrote. “What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change for the worse.”

Hall voters have been wrestling with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for several years. Baseball held a survey drug test in 2003 and the sport began testing for banned steroids the following year with penalties. Accusations connected to some of the candidates for the Hall vary in strength from allegations with no evidence to positive tests that caused suspensions.

About 430 ballots are being sent to voters, who must have been members of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years, and a player needs at least 75 percent for election. Ballots are due by Dec. 31 and results will be announced Jan. 24.

Writers who had not been covering the game for more than a decade were eliminated from the rolls in 2015, creating a younger electorate that has shown more willingness to vote for players tainted by accusations of steroid use. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each received a majority of votes for the first time in 2017 in their fifth year on the ballot.

Morgan said he isn’t speaking for every Hall of Famer, but many of them feel the same way that he does.

“Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in,” Morgan wrote. “Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.”

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were inducted into the Hall of Fame in July. They were joined by former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta executive John Schuerholz, who were voted in by a veterans committee.

Some baseball writers said the election of Selig, who presided over the steroids era, influenced their view of whether tainted stars should gain entry to the Hall.

Morgan praised BBWAA voters and acknowledged they are facing a “tricky issue,” but he also warned some Hall of Famers might not make the trip to Cooperstown if steroid users are elected.

“The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too,” he wrote. “The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.”

© 2017 by The Associated Press