Picking up the Pace: Red Sox moves, Kevin Millar, Curt Schilling

If you haven’t heard by now, you live under a rock or have just somehow avoided electronics all day. Ramon Vazquez, embatted middle infielder (embattled, why I’ll never know) was sent to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for middle infielder Alex Cora. Cora is signed to a contract worth $1.3 this year and has a player option for next year at $1.4 that is automatically triggered if he reaches 400 plate appearances. Which he won’t. Cora so far is hitting .205/.250/.288, which is not pretty, but acceptable for a backup middle infielder. He has essentially been starting for his career and last year with the Dodgers in 405 AB had a .264/.364/.380 line so while his power is near nonexistent, he still has some offensive prowess in there. Perhaps Ron Jackson and Fenway Park can bring it out.
Cora is also well known for his defense and is an above-average baserunner. If Adam Stern had not been called up, he would have been the best pinch-running option and not Kevin Freaking Youkilis. He has gold glove ability at defense, and will do a fine job backing up Renteria and Bellhorn. He is no Pokey Reese, but he will drastically shore up the infield and I won’t mind if Cora vests his option because he is a more than adequate utility middle infielder and frankly, I’m ready for some stability in that position.
The title of Best Pinch-Runner now belongs to Adam Stern, who also has the best outfield arm in the organization. Stern was called up and must remain on the 25-man roster the rest of the season unless he is injured again. Stern started last night and went 0-2 (got jobbed on a strike call I think) with a hit by pitch and a stolen base. Some people whisper that Stern may not be good enough to be the fourth outfielder for the Red Sox and that Chip Ambres should have it. That is quite possible, but he is more than adequate as a fifth outfielder and could even be as a fourth outfielder. For AAA Pawtucket, he hit .303/.365/.404. Even if Chip Ambres doesn’t get called up, he could eventually move into a fifth outfielder/Dave Roberts role if Gabe Kapler (as expected) returns to the Red Sox.
To make room for Alex Cora, Lenny DiNardo was optioned to Triple-A, a curious move for me because Scott Cassidy is still on the roster, which a sobering thought. Adam Stern was called up when Jay Payton was designated for assignment. An odd move at first, as I felt the Red Sox should have kept playing him and benefiting from his offense until he was traded, but then I found out he had a fit on the team plane heading to Baltimore. Why I don’t know, but good riddance. While I don’t know how Ramon Vazquez was a clubhouse cancer, Payton seems to have been, and so the clubhouse seems like it will be upgraded with these two departures, so that is always a plus. The clubhouse doesn’t look so hot right now. You’d think after a World Championship, that the players wouldn’t be sniping at each other, the fans, the management, and the media. I’m sure the pressures of the season have something to do with it, but I’m not liking what I see at all from the clubhouse, and right now a repeat of last year’s end result is in doubt to me.
As the Guild of Red Sox Nation (gorsn.com) e-mails, Kevin Millar and a prospect (more than likely Kelly Shoppach) was dangled to Seattle for Eddie Guardado. Bret Boone apparently has no interest in any place other than the West Coast and should end up in San Diego. One problem with the Eddie Guardado theory is that he has a limited no-trade clause and cannot be traded to ten teams without his consent. The Red Sox are one of those ten. No, not because he hates Boston, but because he has incentives in his contract that can only be triggered if he closes. Ladies and gentlemen, it is always about the money. Let’s not kid ourselves. We can’t understand how someone could be about the money when they’re playing the game they love and get boatloads of cash to do it. Bottom line is that baseball is played to make money. But this isn’t a column about money, so essentially, Guardado looks like a dead end.
The Guild also dangles a teaser that if Curt Schilling can get healthy, there is a much bigger trade in the works. He is not revealing said trade until he gets confirmation, but take that for what it is worth, and let’s all sit tight. I have an e-mail into him to see if he will reveal the trade minus confirmation, we shall see how that works out. Either way, trades are on Theo’s horizon, and if you keep reading, we’ll speculate on some.
By the way, when we traded Dave Roberts for Jay Payton, Ramon Vazquez, and David Pauley, we hailed the trade at the time, and while I’m still hailing it, funny how things have changed and even upgraded. In the end, we will have traded Dave Roberts for Alex Cora, David Pauley, Adam Stern, and a bullpen arm, which we desperately need. As Andrew noted in the comments, if we acquired Justin Duchscherer (who we traded to Texas in 2001 for Doug Mirabelli, still one of the best trades I have witnessed) we will have in essence traded Dave Roberts for Doug Mirabelli, Alex Cora, David Pauley, Adam Stern, and a bullpen arm. Wow!
The rumors right now are that Jay Payton is headed west. The young man to either Oakland or Los Angeles. Los Angeles makes the most sense, because they’ve had injuries up the wazoo and we could get some relievers from them. Giovanni Carrara and Duaner Sanchez are the most palatable. As for Oakland, their interest is curious, but if they acquire Jay Payton, it is a big neon sign pointing at Mark Kotsay with “DESTINATION: NEW YORK, AND NOT VIA THE 7 TRAIN.” Either that or Bobby Kielty, but Kotsay has been involved in all the trade talks and thus makes the most sense to be moved. We, of course, would want Justin Duchscherer but that is quite highly unlikely. As Christian posited in the same comments as Andrew, it would more than likely be Chad Bradford.
Well, whaddya know, Jerry Remy said last night that the rumor was that Jay Payton has already been traded for someone currently on the disabled list for his team. In case you did not know, people on the disabled list are not allowed to be traded, which is a reason why a current player injured can be known as a “player to be named later”. So, that narrows the field quite a bit, and since we already know the position, it makes sense that it would be an injured reliever. I went through the current MLB injuries and picked out a few reasonable names. They are:
Damaso Marte – more a pipe dream than anything because the White Sox do not need Payton.
Kelly Wunsch – of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wunsch is a lefty but does not really have a great track record in the majors as of late, as he has been injured quite a bit. A very long shot, as that would be a steal by the Dodgers. (I just found out Wunsch was activated, but check that! He was warming up in the bullpen and went down with an ankle injury.)
Mike Gonzalez – pipe dream, the Pirates would never trade him… but I love this guy.
Zach Day and TJ Tucker, both of the Nationals – Jim Bowden has an infatuation with outfielders and this is not out of the realm of possibility. Day is a starter but can pitch out of the bullpen and while he has had a terrible year so far has always been highly regarded. Tucker is a very real possibility, but it’s a stretch because the Nationals have a good outfield … but then again, are looking to improve.
That brings us to the guy I’m 99 percent sure we are getting. Chad Bradford of the Athletics. Bradford is a submariner who has a history of back problems. The Athletics would be interested in trading him because according to the Oakland Athletics Salaries page (and told to me by the author of said page) he is making “bling”. Bling as in money, bling as in $1.4 million dollars, and arbitration for 2006. In addition, the A’s don’t have much room.
Bradford is a guy who gets righties out, as he has a .220 Batting Average Against and a 0.94 Walks and Hits Per Inning. Against lefties, these numbers rest at .313 and 1.94. Last year for the Athletics, Bradford had 59 innings pitched with a 4.48 ERA. The year before, he checked in at a 3.04 ERA in 77 IP. In 2002 he had a 3.11 ERA and 2001 a 2.70 ERA. Not bad at all, and would upgrade our bullpen. Bradford has quite a history of back troubles though, and his most recent one is quite well documented. Some blurbs:

Feb. 28 The Contra Costa Times reports that Chad Bradford injured his back on Saturday. He was bothered by a back problem last spring and late during last season, though an evaluation of this injury won’t be made until the spasms die down.
Mar. 5 Chad Bradford will have back surgery Monday and is expected to be out until late June, according to the AP. He’s been plagued by lower-back soreness and spasms for years, and the problems flared up again early in spring training. His back locked up with spasms last week, and days of rehabilitation haven’t fixed the problem.
April 2 The A’s officially placed Chad Bradford on the 15-day disabled list. Bradford is recovering from back surgery and is expected to be out until late June.
June 21 A’s head trainer Larry Davis said Chad Bradford remains on course to return to the team after the All-Star break, according to the Contra Costa Times. Bradford is working out at the team’s minor-league facility in Phoenix, and Davis said his program has been a mixture of rehab work and spring training.
July 1 Chad Bradford will pitch one inning for Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday night as part of his recovery from back surgery in March, according to the AP. Bradford will alternate relief appearances between Sacramento and Single-A Stockton so he doesn’t have to travel with the minor league clubs
July 3 Chad Bradford, who is recovering from back surgery, was set to pitch one inning for Triple-A Sacramento Saturday in his first rehab outing. The next step for Bradford is to have his workload increased. “We’re going to do enough things with Chad the next two weeks so when he comes back here he can do everything demanded of a major league pitcher,” trainer Larry Davis said.

Bradford has pitched a total of five innings this year in the minor leagues. For the AZL Athletics, from June 24 to August 2nd, he pitched three times, one inning per. Total, he had a 0.00 ERA, three hits, and two strikeouts. He saw an inning with the Sacramento River Cats where he had three hits and one earned run. Most recently, he pitched an inning for the Stockton Ports, two games and one inning total. One hit, one earned run (not a homerun), and a strikeout. He had a one-batter appearance last night for the Ports. He allowed a single to that batter, but earlier this week, on Monday, he had fifteen pitches to three hitters, striking out one. (Thanks to Jared Buck for the final sentence I just wrote.)
The scouting report on Bradford says that:

2004 Season
Following two-plus solid years in a setup role, Chad Bradford hit a bump in 2004. He struggled at times, both with injuries and the consistency issues that impacted the entire Athletics pitching staff. Bradford was bothered by a sore back off and on, and his ERA and hits allowed per nine were way up, while his innings pitched dipped for the first time in three seasons.
Pitching & Defense
Relying heavily on his submarine delivery, Bradford delivers a fastball that tops out at 88-89 MPH. It is not uncommon for Bradford to scrape his knuckles on the mound during that delivery, and from that angle, pitches in the high 80s jump on hitters quickly. Bradford also has a change and a curve, but it is that combination of delivery and control that fuel his success. While Bradford is primarily a groundball pitcher, his glove work is not that solid in support of his pitching style. He does hold runners fairly well.
2005 Outlook
Odds are Bradford will be back in 2005, and both Bradford and Oakland management will be looking for a return to the form that made the righthander one of the more reliable setup men over the past couple of seasons.

Danny Kolb is also a possibility, the Braves could use Payton. However, Kolb is not on the DL, so Remy would be wrong if we acquired Kolb and in addition, Kolb is having an ineffective year.
Time will tell what occurs. The Red Sox have until July 17 to trade Jay Payton, and since Chad Bradford was set to be activated after the All-Star break, Payton could be hanging in purgatory until after the All-Star break.
Shifting gears, Kevin Millar has reportedly requested a trade.
So, let me get this straight.
You are making $3.5 million, you are starting on the defending World Series Champions team, which by the way, you LOVE playing for, you’re batting sixth, and you want a trade.
Look, Kevin, I like you, and I’d regret your loss. But you’re still getting the majority of bats since John Olerud has arrived. Olerud arrived and had his first at-bat on May 28th. You have 84 at-bats, Olerud 46. In addition, it is hard to not play Olerud when he is hitting .348/.392/.522 and while you are hitting .321/.366/.476 which is, in its own right, pretty good, but the cumulative numbers don’t lie, which are .273/.351/382. Besides, wasn’t it you who said you had no problem giving playing time to Olerud?
The two of you together make a pretty good tandem at first base. But if you want to be traded, I’m sorry, but let the door hit you on the way out. (The guy I just linked to, Roberto Petagine, to is currently hitting .324/.441/.665 in 182 AB for Triple-A.) But I think that this trade demand will die down with Jay Payton out. Now that Payton is gone and Tito can choose who platoons with Trot Nixon against lefties and doesn’t feel the need to get Adam Stern in as much as possible as he did with Payton, Kevin Millar could move to the outfield on times when Manny or Ortiz need a rest (as we saw last night) or when a lefty is on the hill, which gives more at bats to Olerud as well, who is currently shades of 2001.
I’ve kept you long enough, but a few notes. Johnny Damon and Tim Wakefield are not happy with Curt Schilling closing. First of all, I’d think that the front office would have earned your trust now. Second off, why would you prefer Arroyo in the bullpen? Is that some kind of jab? Do you not realize that Schilling offered to start out in the bullpen? Second off, and please everyone, send this into ESPN… SCHILLING IS NOT CLOSING. He is not “THE CLOSER”. He is just one of a number of candidates who will be pitching at the end of the game. He will not be “The Closer”. He is someone who is easing into returning as a starter, which has been done many times and at the same time helping fix our bullpen issues. You know that I am a proponent of this and I’m not going to beat a dead horse to death, but everyone who is referring to Schilling as the closer – stop it! He’s not! He’s just going into the bullpen to get ready. There’s all this whining about how Schilling shouldn’t be closing, he should be starting. Agreed on that point, and point which is moot because he’s not closing. He will pitch in the late innings as someone with his talent should, but he won’t be the full-time closer. He needs to have time to warm up, so will generally only come in at the beginning of an inning, not in the middle.
Also, I keep hearing about how we hope Schilling won’t remain in the bullpen and we don’t want him to. For goodness sakes, he’s only starting out in the bullpen to get his rhythm back. Come on, give him a break. This technique has been used again and again. Does Matt Morris ring a bell? And look how well he is doing this year. Second, and perhaps very sobering for you guys, is that maybe Schilling just doesn’t have the endurance anymore. Would you rather he become a dominant force out of the bullpen or throw four innings for the Red Sox of excellence, tire out and not go past the fifth or of he does, be bombed and end the season in disgrace with an ERA north of 5.00? I thought so. So think of it this way. Think of it as a normal progression back from injury that is done quite often, and even if that progression never reaches the starting rotation … there is a reason for that.
On lighter news, the final start at Portland for Jon Papelbon (which I attended) gave way to his first start for Pawtucket last night, and what a beauty it was.
[UPDATE] The Providence Journal agrees with me saying that Payton is headed to Oakland for Bradford. Or rather, they beat me to the Bradford conclusion, as I started working on this entry during the game last night and put it all together for publication at 2:30 AM. They ran the story at 1 AM. We both like to burn the midnight oil.