During the John Henry ownership era in Boston, which began in 2002, the Red Sox have won three World Series championships. Before Henry took over, the franchise had not won a title since 1918. Since 2002, the Red Sox have done a lot more right than wrong.
Included during that time have been a lot of talented players. But if you had to distill the crucial core of Boston's starting nine, three players have risen to the top. Those three include a pair of Red Sox lifers -- second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who signed an eight-year, $110 million deal early in 2013, and designated hitter David Ortiz, who will likely stay with the Red Sox until the end of his MLB career through a series of revolving one-year contracts.
The third member of the crucial core, left-handed pitcher Jon Lester, is getting into the twilight of his career, and he is about to have tangible proof of how his employers value both his past contributions and his possible future contributions.
If the negotiations that started this spring are any indication, the two sides are going to have a Grand Canyon-like chasm between them as they try to find common ground. There is an old rule that it's important in negotiations to leave yourself some wiggle room, but not so much that the other side is insulted and becomes more and more entrenched in its position.
Four years and $70 million, while not chump change, seemed to do just that to Lester's side. Keep in mind this is a pitcher that has helped Henry's club win two of its three World Series, and has endeared himself to Bostonians -- winning his battle with cancer and pitching at a historic level during the postseason.
Compare Boston's four-year offer to Lester with the deal the smaller-market Cincinnati Reds worked out in March with their soon-to-be free-agent right-handed pitcher Homer Bailey -- six years and $105 million. It's easy to do the math and see the yearly average for both deals, plus the Lester offer still falls $35 million shy in terms of guaranteed money. In case you are doing some other math -- trying to calculate how many World Series Bailey has helped the Reds win -- the answer would be zero.
The 2014 season is just getting going, and there is an awful lot of runway before Lester and the Sox get so uncomfortable with one another that his legacy with the team would be at real risk. On May 3, Lester struck out 15 batters during a game versus the Oakland A's at Fenway Park, a career high and the first time a Sox starter had done that since Pedro Martinez in 2000. More importantly, Lester's performance aided the seemingly ever-increasing leverage he holds over the club.
Consider it just a shot across the bow. Lester seems to truly want to stay in Boston, but barring an injury, the deal would likely have to be closer to six years than the four the Red Sox's brain trust has in mind.
When I started doing these rankings, three weeks into the 2012 season, the Colorado Rockies, then managed by Jim Tracy, were 10-11, and I penciled them in as No. 16. Well, it's taken the Rockies a while, but they have gotten their first top 10 standing in my power rankings.
Under second-year manager Walt Weiss, the Rockies have, first and foremost, maintained a modicum of good health. That's been important at the shortstop position, where Troy Tulowitzki has held down the fort and posted big numbers. He's also been the leader this club has to have.
While leadership is important, there are also some pretty potent bats that are putting up some big numbers: Tulowitzki (seven home runs, 25 RBI, .400 batting average); Justin Morneau (seven, 25, .336); Charlie Blackmon (six, 22, .359); Michael Cuddyer (three, 10, .317); and Nolan Arenado (five, 20, .311), who is in the midst of a 24-game hitting streak.
MLB.com columnist Tracy Ringolsby brought some of Colorado's success this year into historical perspective when he said that the team's home record since Weiss took over was fueling its overriding confidence.
The last two seasons under Tracy, the club's records at Coors Field were 38-43 in 2011 and 35-46 in 2012. In 2013, Weiss' first as a manager, the Rockies were showing signs of life at home, posting a 45-36 record. This season, the Rockies' 19-14 overall record includes an 11-5 stretch at Coors Field.
You ever feel like something was yours, and you made a big mistake when you let it get away? Take the case of Toronto Blue Jays closer Sergio Santos, who has done a super job this season -- if you define super job as someone who pours kerosene on a late-inning fire. After Santos allowed three runs in .2 innings pitched May 2 in Pittsburgh, raising his season ERA to 10.61, Toronto manager John Gibbons announced that he was moving Santos out of high-leverage situations.
The Blue Jays traded for Santos after his breakout 2011 season as the White Sox's closer. In 2011, the White Sox started with Hector Santiago as their closer during the first 10 days of the season, and then handed the ball to Santos, who saved 30 games, pitching to an ERA of 3.55 in 63.1 innings pitched that year. He struck out 92 batters throughout the season, and his WHIP was 1.10.
Surprisingly -- no, shockingly -- the White Sox dealt him to the Blue Jays for 25-year-old Nestor Molina, a promising starting pitcher prospect. That fact that Molina has all but flamed out as a prospect isn't the story here. It's that this is the second, and presumably last, time Santos has broken the hearts of the Blue Jays.
Originally, the Arizona Diamondbacks signed Santos as a shortstop in 2002. After Santos spent three seasons in the D-backs' system, they traded him, along with Troy Glaus, as part of a deal for Miguel Batista and infielder Orlando Hudson. In May 2008, the Minnesota Twins plucked Santos on waivers, and he was still considered an infielder.
Santos wasn't finished on his strange journey. The White Sox grabbed him in December 2008, when he was a free agent. On March 20, 2009, the White Sox traded Santos to the Giants as part of a conditional deal. San Francisco sent Santos packing back to Chicago April 1, 2009. In essence, it sounds as if Santos may be the only player to be traded for himself in baseball history.
Being back with the White Sox was pivotal for Santos, because they saw his potential for greatness on the mound, and he realized that potential in 2011.
The most intriguing part of the story is answering the question of whether the White Sox saw something that scared them about his mechanics, and whether he'd be able to repeat them with time. Santos lasted just a couple of weeks during the 2012 season, because he had a season-ending injury in April 2012. He tossed 11.2 innings combined for three minor league affiliates in 2013 before he was deemed ready for the big leagues again.
By all appearances, his 29 games pitched in 2013 -- 25.2 innings and a 1.75 ERA -- proclaimed him ready for a big 2014 season. Blue Jays fans had high expectations for Santos, because 2013 closer Casey Janssen has been on the shelf dealing with a couple of minor injuries.
Santos, who quickly saved five games this season in his role as interim closer, has fallen apart lately. Toronto's bullpen has been bad every which way Gibbons looks. Of the 13 save opportunities the Blue Jays' relievers have had this year, Steve Delebar, Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup and Santos have blown the game six times. Last season, Janssen was successful 34 of 36 times.
Here's another story of redemption, with a twinge of overeating and cheating all rolled into one. It's the story of how great young pitching prospect Michael Pineda was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees for great young hitting prospect Jesus Montero. The trade took place Jan. 13, 2012, and was hailed as a high-risk, high-reward deal by both sides.
But when spring training started in 2012 in Tampa Fla., and Pineda showed up with about 10 miles per hour off his fastball, the rumors were that Seattle had known he was problematic, and that his numbers during the second half of his rookie season pointed to that fact.
The weakness in Pineda's shoulder that caused the decline in velocity led to an arthroscopic surgery to repair an anterior labral tear. Pineda failed to throw a pitch in the big leagues in 2012 or 2013. He did start 10 total games while making three stops on the road to recovery -- in Tampa, Fla; Trenton, N.J.; and Scranton, Pa.
As spring training 2014 started, Pineda was thought to be a dark-horse candidate for a spot in the Yankees' rotation. As he put the work in, and the innings and success followed, it became more of an expectation. After three impressive starts, it seemed a foregone conclusion that he'd make his mark in 2014. But then, pine tar was seen on his person during two high-profile starts this season. On April 23, pine tar was placed on his neck -- a clear-cut violation of the rule that states that a pitcher shall not apply any foreign substance to the baseball. Pineda was ejected from that game and suspended for 10 games. During his throwing regimen, Pineda began to feel some pain and soreness in his upper-back area. Now, instead of coming back this week from that suspension, Pineda will instead go from the active, but suspended, position on the roster to the disabled list.
Quite a wild ride by Pineda, right? But what if I told you that the other side of the deal may yet work out? You'd have thought I was crazy.
During spring training 2012 with the Mariners, Montero was looked upon as the kind of bat that would become a fixture in the Mariners' lineup for years to come. The only problem was that the longer the Mariners saw Montero, the less they liked him as a catcher. Still, it seemed they would find a position for him, because he could hit. During his first full season with Seattle, Montero hit 15 home runs and knocked in 62 RBIs.
His 2013 season spiraled out of control. The Mariners were convinced he couldn't make it as a catcher, so they set out to make him a first baseman. During the next 6-8 months, Montero had major knee injury that required surgery, and then received a 50-game PED suspension. Then, Montero was in a car accident this past offseason, and he showed up about 40 pounds overweight to spring training.
Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik publicly stated that Montero had shown little or no respect for his team. Now, six weeks after that rebuke, Montero is tearing things up with the Tacoma Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League. More important, he has lost some weight and gained relevance to the Mariners' big league lineup, which has been offensively starved this season. Through his first 23 games of 2014, Montero has flashed some power -- batting .273 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs.
I'm sure neither Yankees general manager Brian Cashman nor Zduriencik is counting on Pineda or Montero, but I'd also bet that neither wants to be the one who gave up on a special talent just before he was ready to blossom.
When Earl Weaver managed the Orioles, no matter how his team got out of the gate during any season, you could count on him to shape the debate by asking for the definition of a start. Was it the first 15 games, the first 30 games or the first 50 games? Most pundits, in fact, used to point to Memorial Day to take a meaningful look at where clubs stood and what they needed to better themselves for a race at a pennant.
In the case of the 2014 Orioles, they are not off to a hot start -- sitting at 15-14. But the good news is that nobody in the American League East has pulled a Milwaukee and jumped out by five games. The Orioles stand just a half game behind the Yankees, who are in first place, and just two games in front of last-place Toronto.
Obviously, the O's are getting production beyond belief from Nelson Cruz, who has hit nine home runs and 29 RBIs. Catcher Matt Wieters has exceeded expectations with a .337 batting average, while slugging five home runs and 18 RBIs.
Aside from Wieters, the only other offensive player who is exceeding expectations is outfielder Nick Markakis, who has a .361 on-base percentage.
Outfielder Adam Jones has been so-so, with just one home run and 14 RBIs. Then, there are a number of players just starting to put their seasons in focus.
First baseman Chris Davis' injury is huge, especially if he needs a full 6-8 weeks to recover from his oblique strain. Shortstop J.J. Hardy has missed some time, but is back and looks primed for a solid campaign. Third baseman Manny Machado is back and in midseason form defensively, but at the plate, he has looked a bit rusty through his first four games.
Closer Tommy Hunter has come in and done a fairly decent impersonation of 2013 closer Jim Johnson, without quite the hiccup action. But the starting pitchers and the long relievers have been subpar. The O's are going to score runs, but the starters beyond Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez -- Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris -- have to be more productive.
Elsewhere on the staff, relievers Evan Meek and Josh Stinson have been sent to Triple-A Norfolk, replaced by Troy Patton and Brad Brach. Raise your hands if those names offer you much comfort. I can't see any hands raised. I thought so. Those names figure to be shuffled in and out, up and down.
The Washington Nationals are in a similar state as the Orioles. They, too, are just a half game out of first place, with their 17-14 record putting them behind the 17-13 Braves. The Nats have the odd situation of playing in a division in which all five teams are better than .500.
The Nationals' success comes despite the injury bug hitting catcher Wilson Ramos, right-handed pitcher Doug Fister, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and outfielder Bryce Harper.
Manager Matt Williams' current position is not too shabby. Fister may make his first appearance during one of the team's next two series -- May 5-7 against the Dodgers and May 9-11 against Oakland. Ramos should also be able to rejoin the club by the end of those series, as he appears healed from his broken hamate bone.
Both Zimmerman and Harper, two vitally important pieces tied to a pennant run, will not be back until at least June 10.
Here are this week's MLB power rankings.
- Milwaukee Brewers (21-11 overall record, No. 1 ranking last week)
- Detroit Tigers (17-9, No. 3)
- San Francisco Giants (20-11, No. 5)
- Los Angeles Dodgers (18-14, No. 4)
- Oakland Athletics (19-12, No. 6)
- Atlanta Braves (17-13, No. 2)
- Washington Nationals (17-14, No. 7)
- New York Yankees (16-14, No. 9)
- Colorado Rockies (19-14, No. 14)
- Texas Rangers (17-14, No. 8)
- Baltimore Orioles (15-14, No. 12)
- St. Louis Cardinals (16-16, No. 10)
- Tampa Bay Rays (15-17, No. 11)
- Boston Red Sox (15-17, No. 13)
- Cincinnati Reds (15-16, No. 15)
- Los Angeles Angels (15-15, No. 18)
- Seattle Mariners (14-15, No. 20)
- New York Mets (16-14, No. 17)
- Kansas City Royals (14-16, No. 21)
- Minnesota Twins (14-15, No. 16)
- Toronto Blue Jays (14-17, No. 19)
- Miami Marlins (16-15, No. 25)
- Philadelphia Phillies (15-14, No. 23)
- Pittsburgh Pirates (12-19, No. 22)
- Cleveland Indians (13-18, No. 24)
- Chicago White Sox (15-17, No. 26)
- San Diego Padres (14-18, No. 27)
- Chicago Cubs (11-18, No. 30)
- Arizona Diamondbacks (11-23, No. 28)
- Houston Astros (10-21, No. 29)