Adam LaRoche, we hardly knew ye. Seriously. Six games into his Sox career, the veteran first baseman was traded again Friday, July 31 to Atlanta — his second stint there — and in exchange for fellow lefty first baseman Casey Kotchman. The Sox front office phones were dialing and ringing furiously during the final hours and minutes of last Friday’s 4 pm non-waiver trade deadline, pursuing everyone from Seattle’s Felix Hernandez and San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez to the eventual big score, Cleveland’s three-time All-Star Victor Martinez.
I’m sure Theo Epstein thought there was little chance of getting this dream acquisition in the days and weeks leading up to last Friday, otherwise Adam LaRoche wouldn’t have been traded to Boston a couple of weeks ago. But once Epstein offered up swingman Justin Masterson and younger pitching prospects Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price to Cleveland last Friday, it was apparently enough to get one of the best hitting and versatile catchers in the game.
On games he catches, Martinez immediately adds more power and a better throwing arm than Jason Varitek (who calls a great game but can’t throw out runners) and George Kottaras (now on the DL), has a better average and comparable power to Ortiz when he DHs, and a comparable average, power, and run production to Kevin Youkilis when starting at first. Plus, like ‘Tek, he’s a switch-hitter.
In this regard, V-Mart is the perfect fit for the Sox offense and is steady defensively as well, though it remains to be seen if he can catch Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball, something he was actually willing to do during the ’09 All-Star game if asked. True, he still has to learn a new pitching staff and call games as brilliantly as Varitek. Not an easy task but remember, V-Mart did catch Cliff Lee, the reigning Cy Young Award winner from last year, and CC Sabathia before him.
Though I thought he was a good fit for Boston, I didn’t think the Sox would get the most of out LaRoche as a part-time player, something’s he’s not used to being. Therefore it was wise to get the younger (but sometimes injury-prone) Kotchman for that role. Plus, the fact that Martinez is a better all-around player than LaRoche made the latter expendable.
With LaRoche now back in the National League and V-Mart helping a contending Red Sox team, it’s a win-win for both camps. Cleveland, I’m not so sure, though the Sox will surely miss the versatility of Masterson as a reliable reliever and spot starter. So will Hall of Famer and current Sox analyst Dennis Eckersley, for reasons best seen and heard here.
One other Red Sox trade of note from last week was OF/1B Mark Kotsay, who was designated for assignment upon LaRoche’s arrival, going to the Chicago White Sox for light-hitting outfielder Brian Anderson.
Red Sox Record for the Week of July 27: 5-2
Speaking of last week, while the currently rehabbing Dice-K was mouthing off to a Japanese newspaper about not being able to train for ’09 his way, the Sox split two games with Oakland at home and swept Baltimore on the road to close within one-half game behind the Yankees going into Tuesday’s games. And they did it with a resurgent offense. After batting .192 through the first six games of the second half, the Sox batted .380 in its last four, and got into double digits in hits in seven of its last 10 games going into tonight’s action.
Kevin Youkilis in particular has been on fire as he went 10-for-12 in the Baltimore series and reached base safely 13 times in a row on Sunday, a feat last accomplished by San Diego’s Brian Giles in 2005. Victor Martinez tied his career-high of five hits on Sunday in his second game with the Sox and first catching, as part of a season-high 23-hit, 18-run explosion vs. Baltimore.
Rookie OF Josh Reddick started in place of ailing Jason Bay this weekend, and surprisingly batted .400 in two starts and hit his first big league HR on Sunday. Unfortunately for these three, their success is being overshadowed in the sports world by a recent discovery involving superstar teammate David Ortiz.
Last Thursday afternoon, I, along with the rest of Red Sox Nation, felt sick to my stomach upon the New York Times’ revelation that David Ortiz was in the same class of 2003 steroid cheats as Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, and others. Manny Ramirez is on that list too, but this did not surprise me given his earlier 50-game suspension for illegal drug use. But the lovable Big Papi? It’s a bummer alright, but not the end of the story.
On Saturday, August 1, The Boston Globe said pro players (including Ortiz) were notified in September 2004 about the 2003 PED test list, but not the test results themselves, by the MLBPA after federal authorities had seized them as part of its inquiry into illegal steroid use in April 2004 (the BALCO case). Interestingly, according to commissioner Bud Selig’s spokesman Rich Levin, “Our office never knew who was on the list,” and has never seen it. That sounds plausible since the tests themselves were supposed to be anonymous and that the government has held them for over five years now.
But those players who were notified — and this must certainly include A-Rod and Manny Ramirez, as well as Ortiz — aren’t stupid and presumably know that once made aware they were on a federally seized doping list that they did something suspicious and perhaps, illegal. The question is, since 96 of the 104 names on “The List” were steroid-injected players, according to the New York Daily News, could Ortiz be one of the eight players who got caught using an illegal supplement instead of sticking a needle in his ass? That would make news of his illegal drug use much easier to swallow, and look more like J.C. Romero than Jose Canseco (who, for what it's worth correctly predicted months ago that Manny would be on “The List”).
Big Papi is a player with immense integrity. But now it is in question. Therefore, if Ortiz truly has nothing to hide, as he said a few days ago, he will come clean with what exactly it was he tested positive for in 2003. It may be a struggle getting his individual test result from the feds since “The List” is in its (and not the MLBPA’s) hands, but he needs to either find a way to get it soon or give the public his best memory of what he took that put him on a doping list with 100 other players.
And, he certainly has to explain his connection to Felix Leopoldo Marquez, a reportedly “close friend and [formerly] personal assistant” to him who openly discussed and admitted steroid use with Jared Remy. He is the son of the beloved former Sox second baseman and NESN broadcaster Jerry Remy who was one of two security guards fired by the Sox last summer because of steroid use.
Whatever the truth about Ortiz's past turns out to be, the longer he waits to explain himself, the more of a distraction this whole issue will become for him and his teammates in this, the heart of a tight playoff race. He, and the Red Sox can ill afford such an off-the-field controversy to linger on and on.