Spring Chickens

Two-thirds of a Paris Hilton jail sentence.

That’s how long we have until baseball, mercifully, is back in our lives.

You’ll have to excuse the terrible pun heading the title here, but it just works on so many levels. On the one hand, spring training has once again dredged up questions regarding Josh Beckett and John Lackey, specifically whether their level of Popeye’s consumption violated various animal cruelty laws. On the other, the clubhouse is now, officially, devoid of Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, thus lowering the average age on the 40-man roster from Steely Dan to Lil’ Wayne.

The team, needing a facelift from its frowney-faced end to last year, enters camp with three starting pitchers in the rotation. One other spot seems destined for Daniel Bard, the man long thought to be the heir-apparent to Jonathan Papelbon, who departed for a $50,000,058 contact with the Philadelphia Phillies.

(Repeating a mantra of “it was never about the money” is difficult to defend when you negotiate an extra $58 in you contact to match your uniform number, Jonathan).

The remaining spot is up for grabs, with stalwart names like Vincente Padilla, Aaron Cook, Andrew Miller and Alfredo “The Pastaman” Aceves vying to take the mound every fifth day. Though this rings, quite strongly, of the Smoltzian theory of Baseballnomics from a few years past, I’m willing to reserve judgement on new GM Ben Cherington’s first off-season until I can see the results sometime in July to bemoan his missteps.

When you’re very rarely right, hindsight is really all you’ve got. Cut me some slack here.

I don’t think, however, I’ll need hindsight to evaluate the move which netted our new closer, Andrew Bailey. Bailey, something of a glass arm with injuries, is nonetheless a two-time all-star, just two years removed from a Rookie of the Year campaign which saw him save 27 games for an abysmal team, while maintaining an ERA under two and a WHIP less than 1. Pap, undoubtedly, is a loss, but Bailey for $3.9 million is unquestionably a better value than Papelbon at $11,000,058.

Can you tell that extra $58 dollarsreally bugs me?

In order to pry Bailey from Oakland, we parted ways with Josh Reddick. While he was an adequate replacement in right for the emotionless vampire inhabiting J.D. Drew’s body, his glaring inability to hit a ball with some arced trajectory (scouts often refer to this as a “curve-ball”) was becoming something of an issue. In addition to Bailey, Ryan Sweeney was also included in the deal. Sweeney, sporting a 6’4” 225 lb frame, boasts 14 home runs in 1681 career plate appearances. If you’ve ever seen him stand in the batter’s box, you understand how what I just said makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

This move followed a trade which brought Mark Melancon to Boston, in exchange for the oft-injured Jed Lowrie and last year’s surprise, Kyle Weiland. The two departed pieces, though are a tale of two prospects: Lowrie, an offense-first utilityman, showed flashes of power and excellent contact skills, but struggled mightily to stay even remotely healthy. Weiland, who impressed with a solid early-season showing in AAA Pawtucket, didn’t do a whole lot to impress during his time in the majors. Consistently leaving an average fastball and below-average slider up in the zone doesn’t translate to a period of extended success at the big-league level.

Selling high on Weiland, selling low on Lowrie, Do the math, and we’re left with an established set-up man. The move makes a little less sense now, in the wake of Marco Scutaro’s salary dump to Colorado, but starting Mike Aviles in his stead shouldn’t have that pronounced an effect, either positively or negatively.

While the bullpen still has its question marks (most notably, people not named Melancon or Bailey), hopefully we can see the first-half Matt Albers for the whole year this year. Also, best wishes for a speedy recovery to Bobby Jenks. It turns out that after the surgery on his pulmonary embolism, he got spinal surgery. Only, the surgeon was a Yankees fan, and left a medical time-bomb in Jenks’ back, which exploded and almost killed the reliever. He won’t be available to pitch for the foreseeable future, though that’s really secondary to him, you know, having a functional back again.