The Obstruction of Potential: The Play That Derailed Two Careers

Even with unrivaled success this millennia, Boston fans do not often forget those times that did not go right for them. They never forget that which went horribly wrong, even if it was corrected in the end.

The 2013 World Series championship was unforgettable for Boston and the city’s baseballObstruction fans. When seemingly everything went right for the Red Sox that year, there was a moment in that World Series where it looked like it would all fall apart. There was one moment where Red Sox nation felt like Raiders fans after the Tuck Rule in 2001. That one moment did not necessarily damn the series, but it could have damned two once-promising MLB careers.

Late in Game Three, St. Louis’s Allen Craig came around third after an overthrow. After tripping over third baseman Will Middlebrooks, he came around to score the winning run via an obstruction call. If not for the call, Craig would have been out by five feet, but alas the Cardinals suddenly had a 2-1 series lead.  While the call had Bostonians up in arms, the Red Sox won the next three games to claim their eighth world championship. The obstruction could be seen; the downward spiral of the two players’ careers could not.

Allen Craig’s Downfall

At the 2014 trade deadline, these two teams were heading in opposite directions. With St. Louis making a playoff push, they traded Craig along with Joe Kelly to Boston in exchange for John Lackey. Craig was under team control for three and a half more years with a club option for 2018. He was definitely one of the hardest hitters in the Cardinals’ lineup. The only thing Craig hit in Boston (and Pawtucket) was a wall.

In 29 games with Boston in 2014, he hit a brutal .128 with a whopping two RBI, enough to send the biggest optimists into a fit of pure rage. 2015 was not much better. He hit .152 in 36 games, but surpassed his RBI total of 2014, churning out three. Since then, he’s gotten to know Pawtucket better than their own mayor. This past season, he appeared in 22 games for the Pawtucket Red Sox, raking to the tune of a .173 average and slugging .250 along with his one homer and six RBI.

In 2013, Craig had 97 RBI for the Cardinals. In the two and a half seasons since that he’s been with the Red Sox, he has 41 split between his time in Boston and Pawtucket. The Red Sox will undoubtedly not pick up his option after this year and will owe him 13 million dollars in 2018. To call Craig a disappointment would be an insult to all the disappointments who never got a hug from their dad. Craig was a catastrophic failure.

The Drop-Off of Will Middlebrooks

The road for Will Middlebrooks since earning a ring has not been much friendlier. He broke out in 2012 where he hit 15 homers in his first big league season. His average subsequently dipped from .288 to .227 in 2013. Middlebrooks made it through the 2014 season with Boston, hitting .191 with two homers in 63 games. In December of that year, he was traded to San Diego for Ryan Hanigan. As bad as Hanigan was the past two seasons, it is really tough to decipher who won that deal.

In 2015, Middlebrooks appeared in 83 games for the Padres when he hit .212 with a .224 OBP. That production on a last place team earned him a trip to Milwaukee in free agency. On a Brewers team that went 73-89, Middlebrooks only earned 27 at-bats in 10 games, hitting .111. This offseason, he signed a minor-league deal with the Texas Rangers, making him a member of four different organizations in the four years since the 2013 World Series title.

Postlude

As bad as those two guys have been since then, there are still people involved in this infamous play who have been nearly as disappointing. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who threw the ball away to allow Craig to score, has been with three teams since then. His highest batting average since has been .225. Jim Joyce, the umpire who made the call, is most famous for that and blowing Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. He retired unceremoniously this offseason.

Times like these remind us there is nothing promised in this game. Craig was the x-factor of the 2013 World Series and now he’s struggling for playing time in Pawtucket. Middlebrooks was a budding slugger who has been in and out of the minors. While the obstruction call ended up not having a huge impact on the series, it drastically altered not just a runner’s path to home plate, but also two once-promising MLB careers.

Is Pablo Sandoval Ready to Start Over?

Seemingly every time I unlock my iPhone, I see Pablo Sandoval. I’m not sure if that excites me, or merely worries me.

It’s all over social media. I’ll simply be scrolling through my Snapchat feed  when a story will popPablo Sandoval up and he will be working out with Miguel Cabrera. The next time I check my phone, Sandoval is live streaming his batting-practice on Instagram. There is reason to be enthusiastic, but I’m not sold yet.

Sandoval has hit a mere .242 in the American league thus far, and his on-base-percentage is under .300. He has not been spectacular defensively either, with 16 errors made in the field in just 129 games. The Red Sox should not be having issues at third-base, and Sandoval has under produced. He has been a disappointment so far, especially for a player who is still guaranteed some $40 million dollars.

Travis Shaw had potential in Boston. In his first full season in the big leagues, he showed promise in his somewhat limited role in Boston’s rotation of infielders. He hit 16 homers, 34 doubles and drove in 43 runs. Shaw only hit .242 last year, but what he did show was the capability to improve a clean swing that can drive balls to the pull side and gaps. Also, his ripe age of 26 made him even more appealing to me, personally.

Pablo Sandoval’s Role Moving Forward

Trading for Tyler Thornburg makes sense. We picked up a guy who has established himself as a dominant reliever in baseball for a player who may or may not have fit our system. Travis Shaw will now have a chance to flourish in Milwaukee, while Thornburg sets up Kimbrel in our bullpen. The Red Sox will now be forced to go ‘all-in’ on Pablo Sandoval because Shaw and Moncada are gone.

The numbers have not lied about Pablo Sandoval yet, as analysts have not projected him to be heavily productive at third base for this roster. Who knows what could happen? This is a guy who carried San Francisco on his back to a World Series title back in 2012. Watching him crush home-runs out of AT&T Park and seeing the pandamonium (yes, I went there) take place was an unbelievable experience for me, as a young baseball fan. Pablo Sandoval was the driving force of a World-Series-winning team just five years ago. It doesn’t sound like a risk at all when you put it that way, right?

Bagwell for Andersen: The Worst Trade in Red Sox History

In 2005, Steve Jobs famously told Stanford’s graduating class that you can not connect the dots of your life as they are happening. Upon Jeff Bagwell’s induction into the Hall of Fame last month, Red Sox fans find themselves doing the same dot-connecting. In the dog days of the 1990 season, the Red Sox gambled and lost out on a future Hall of Famer. But why would they do such a thing?

The Red Sox were neck and neck with Toronto for the AL East race in 1990 before they Bagwelldiscovered a problem in the bullpen. Like the 2016 team, Boston needed a reliable, late-inning reliever. Even with Jeff Reardon closing out games, they were struggling with getting him to save situations. Since Lee Smith was traded that May, the Sox needed to look to the trading block to wipe their face for the mess they made. When Lou Gorman flooded the phone lines, the Houston Astros picked up. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Astros agreed to send their 37-year old journeyman reliever, Larry Andersen, to Boston. Andersen had plenty of experience closing out games, so it seemed like a perfect fit for the Red Sox. Since they only had to give up a prospect, it seemed a match made in heaven. Andersen was a quirky, quizzical Bill Lee/Bill Walton wannabe. He brought his philosophical crises to every plane, locker room, or field he had ever been to. Even a positive man like him could have seen the signs that Boston was not the place for him.

Upon landing at Logan Airport for the first time, Andersen’s luggage was lost. On TV, the great Peter Gammons was seemingly the only one ripping the Red Sox for trading away such a bright prospect. Andersen came in and appeared in 15 games for the Red Sox with just one save. Even with those numbers, the Red Sox clinched the division, but were swept out of the playoffs. That off-season, fans could have seen the trade purely as a success. This, however, was the Red Sox, so the optimism didn’t last long.

Bagwell’s Storied Career

In August 1990, Jeff Bagwell was just a third baseman in Double-A, log-jammed behind Tim Naehring and a guy named Wade Boggs. The 22-year old Bagwell, a Connecticut native, was a ways away from playing for his childhood team. Gorman agreed to send Bagwell to Houston without a second thought. Bagwell’s manager, Butch Hobson, was the only one in the organization publicly against the trade. Houston already had Ken Caminiti at third, so they moved Bagwell across the diamond to first base.

In 1991, Bagwell took the league by storm, winning National League Rookie of the Year honors. Three years later, he won league MVP. Over the course of his career, Bagwell left his Boston doubters gasping for air. He retired in 2006 with 449 home runs, 1,529 RBIs, and his own plaque in Cooperstown come July. The Astros, in return, were one of the league’s best teams in the 90’s, while the Sox struggled to find their footing after the trade.

How Did the Bagwell Trade Hurt the Red Sox?

Larry Andersen was a Padre in 1991, and only had 15 more career saves in just two more seasons in the big leagues. Hobson, Bagwell’s minor league manager, was hired to manage the big club in 1992. He was right about Bagwell, but not much else. In three years as manager, Hobson’s Red Sox won just 207 games. The mediocrity earned them the nickname “The Sons of Butches.” 1992 was also Boggs’ last season in Boston. Had the trade never happened, Red Sox fans of the late 90’s could have seen Bagwell, Nomar Garciaparra and Mo Vaughn all patrolling the same infield. If Bagwell had not been traded, however, the Red Sox may have never had use for the duties of one David Ortiz.

Over a quarter-century later, it is no argument as to whose franchise has seen more success since then. The Red Sox have won three titles while the Astros still search for their first. What is indisputable, though, is that the trade for Larry Andersen wrecked the Red Sox for the next several years. On the flip side, it propelled the Astros to four division titles in five seasons from 1997-2001. In 2005, Bagwell even led the Astros to the World Series. If we look purely at the players in the transaction, there is no doubt: Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell is the worst trade the Red Sox ever made.

John Farrell’s Next Move

Bill Belichick is the greatest professional football coach of all time. Hands down. There isn’t much of a debate anymore since the man has won five Super Bowls. He has created a dynasty that not many organizations will be able to top. Meanwhile, the Bruins relieved Claude Julien of his coaching duties on the day of the Patriots’ championship parade. They have actually played quite well since the move, winning four straight games. Brad Stevens is paving a path for a young Celtics team towards a top seed in the Eastern Conference come playoff time; Stevens coached the East in the NBA All-Star Game. With John FarrellSpring Training officially underway, Boston sports fans look toward John Farrell and wonder what his impact will be this year on the Red Sox.

The Red Sox exercised John Farrell’s 2017 option following their first round defeat to the Cleveland Indians. Dave Dombrowski, President of Baseball Operations, told the media he is not sure of a 2018 extension yet. Dombrowski said he would have to sit down with the front-office if there were a long-term decision to be made.

John Farrell’s Resume

John Farrell can get the job done—that has already been proven. The man has two World Series rings with Boston, (one as a head coach in 2013 and one as a pitching coach in 2007) and Boston sports fans know better than anyone else that rings talk. 

On the other hand, the Red Sox finished 25 games back of the Baltimore Orioles in 2014, and 15 games out in 2015 behind the Toronto Blue Jays. Just this past year, the Red Sox won the AL East, but were swept out of the first round. A lot can come from analyzing Farrell’s first four seasons as our head coach. 2013 was a magical year for the organization, and it was one of redemption for the city of Boston. Is the manager capable of getting his team back to the promised land?

Farrell has the talent on his roster to do it. The addition of Chris Sale gives the Red Sox one of the deepest starting rotations in baseball. Trading for Tyler Thornburg will give Craig Kimbrel a consistent set-up man to work behind. Since the Sox sent Travis Shaw to Milwaukee, Mitch Moreland has the opportunity to play first-base. This leaves Hanley Ramirez the DH job he has been waiting for. Red Sox fans have plenty to be excited about, and John Farrell also has plenty to look forward to. 

Personally, I think John Farrell is a legit manager in this league. He fits in nicely in Boston, given his experience. Don’t forget though, a disappointing finish could mean the end of the road for any manager in the MLB. This is especially possible in the City of Champions.

Red Sox Land Chris Sale in Blockbuster Deal

And then the stove got hotter.

The Red Sox pulled off a nice deal Tuesday morning. They shook the baseball world Tuesday afternoon. In the morning, they acquired a hard-throwing set-up man in Tyler Thornburg, parting ways with Travis Shaw. Then, the rumors Red Sox fans have heard forChris Sale over a year now have come to fruition and Chris Sale is a Boston Red Sock. The best part of the deal is: they didn’t break the bank.

Don’t get it twisted: Chris Sale is the best pitcher in the American League. That is an indisputable fact. Since 2012, Sale leads the AL in ERA, WHIP, complete games, shutouts, and OPS against. In his sevens seasons, he has made the All-Star team six times and he led the league in ERA and strikeouts in 2015 and complete games in 2016. He has also never been outside the top six in Cy Young voting the last five seasons. Sale led the league in strikeouts per nine innings twice in his career and is the active leader among all AL pitchers.

Dave Dombrowski has now made his starting rotation nearly obsolete. They now have two of the top pitchers in the American League this decade in Sale and David Price along with the AL Cy Young winner in Rick Porcello. They also have Eduardo Rodriguez, who was lethal after coming off the DL and Drew Pomeranz, their best pitcher in the postseason. That being said, Pomeranz is clearly the weakest link in the rotation and that’s a good position to be in. If Steven Wright is as healthy as the management says he is, he could even return to All-Star form.

Chicago’s Side of the Sale Deal

On the other side of the deal, the Red Sox did also give up two of their top five prospects. They parted ways with the Minor League Player of the Year in Yoan Moncada and their top pitching prospect, Michael Kopech. Moncada has every chance to be an All-Star and Kopech has hit triple digits on the radar gun. Moncada still has some work to do as we saw at the end of the season, but he should be a good player. Kopech didn’t get above Single-A last year and injured himself punching a teammate. The other two prospects were Luis Basabe and Victor Diaz. In the end, you got a perennial Cy Young candidate without touching your Major League roster. That is a deal any GM would be dumb to turn down.

The Red Sox have attacked this season the right way. They have gone for the arms. They added a top-of-the-line starter and a dynamite set-up man in front of Craig Kimbrel. Also, Red Sox fans should know one more Chris Sale stat before they question this trade again. Against the Yankees, Sale has a 1.17 ERA, the lowest in the live ball era (1920) against the Bronx Bombers in a minimum of 50 innings. Finally, it’s very team friendly. Boston will have him under control for three years with an average of just over 12 million a year. In comparison, Rick Porcello gets about 21 million and David Price gets about 34 million. The Red Sox were a contender already. With Sale added to their rotation, they are a favorite…if they have discarded their throwback uniforms of course.

Sox Trade For Tyler Thornburg

The Red Sox, amid plenty of rumors for deals and signings, finally made a move Tuesday. The move was not earth-shattering, but it certainly tells a lot about the 2017 team. The Red Sox acquired Tyler Thornburg, a late-inning reliever from the Milwaukee Brewers. In return, they sent two prospects, IF Mauricio Dubon and P Josh Pennington to Milwaukee. The final piece to the deal was fan-favorite Travis Shaw, whose offensive numbers declined every month of the 2016 season.

Dave Dombrowski added some bullpen depth, but this also raises plenty of questions. ThornburgFirst off, who is Tyler Thornburg and what is his role? Thornburg is fireballer who was both a set-up man and closer for the Brewers last season. In 2016, he earned 13 saves after Jeremy Jeffress was traded and had a 2.15 ERA and a WHIP of 0.94 in 67 innings. With Dombrowski wanting a closer-type to set-up Craig Kimbrel, Thornburg fits the mold. That almost certainly sends free agents Koji Uehara and Brad Ziegler packing.

With the acquisition of Thornburg, Carson Smith may be the odd man out. After undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, the long-awaited return to Boston may never come. Smith has had an injury history in the past and Thornburg seems like a carbon copy. He fills the same role as Smith with the same arsenal. Coincidentally, Thornburg has also had elbow problems like Smith as well.

This trade can also shake up the future of the starting rotation. Not that Josh Pennington was a serious pitching prospect, but he’s gone now. That means they will probably pursue a big-time starter in free agency next year. The 2018 free-agent class is star-studded, with the likes of Kershaw, Bumgarner, Arrieta, Darvish, Tanaka, Sale (tentatively), Tillman and Cueto on the market. The Red Sox will hope to make a big splash there, as their pitching prospects are fading fast.

Thornburg Trade’s Impact on Third Base

Finally, this leave’s Travis Shaw’s position open. The Red Sox are now faced with two options. The first is Yoan Moncada. The Minor League Player of the Year just is not ready for the big leagues as he showed in September, needing to strike out like he needed air to breathe. Moncada may be a nice option at some point, not Opening Day. That leaves Pablo Sandoval. Looking lean and fit in his recent trip to Barcelona, Sandoval looks like a new man. Assuming he didn’t gain a pound a day there, he looks ready to play third base again. Whether he can hit will be a totally different story. Right now, the Red Sox look like they are going to trust Sandoval here. Knowing Brock Holt is not an every day player, it looks like it’s Sandoval’s job once again.

So yes, this trade tells a lot about next year’s Red Sox. Dombrowski has put emphasis on a playoff caliber bullpen this year. He has now acquired a guy who was dominant in 2016 while getting rid of an empty bat in Travis Shaw. They also get him for cheap money at $513,900 and with team control through 2019. Tyler Thornburg may officially usher in the Kung-Fu Panda Era back to Boston, and isn’t that glorious news to wake up to?