Blame easy to find in April, solutions less so
Time remains for early-season scapegoats to become heroes
When things go wrong, someone has to be take the blame, for Michael Pineda, for Carl Crawford, for Ryan Madson, hey, even for Joe Mauer.
"It's the nature of the business, something we all have to accept in these jobs," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.
When he traded Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Pineda and Jose Campos, Cashman was regaled as a genius. Two young power arms, one Major League tested, one throwing 100 mph in Venezuela, to go with Manny Banuelos, the Yankees' top prospect. With the inflationary costs of free-agent pitching, it seemed a brilliant, logical move for the day when CC Sabathia, the Bronx Rock, was two years further down the line and Hiroki Kuroda and Freddy Garcia would be finished.
Now, Pineda faces a torn labrum in his right shoulder, Campos is in the Class A South Atlantic League and Banuelos has a lat pull and a 21/17 baserunners/outs ratio in Triple-A, and the call to arms is out for Andy Pettitte and David Phelps.
Hence, Cashman stepped up and said of the Montero deal: "Right now, this is a massive decision gone wrong."
Crawford is a talk-show villain in Boston, the $142-million investment who spent last season adjusting to the expectations of Boston. His wrist required several cortisone shots last year and eventually required November surgery. In working through an extended spring camp this year, he suffered a sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament that could keep him sidelined until late June.
Boston has played 183 games since signing Crawford. He has appeared in 130, many of them injured, with a .289 on-base percentage and a .255 batting average, a far cry from his career numbers.
While owner John Henry this offseason questioned the Crawford signing because of the makeup of the lineup, Boston GM Ben Cherington has steadfastly maintained that he was very much a part of the decision to sign Crawford, which has been posted to the head of the departed Theo Epstein. There has been speculation that the Crawford signing could cost the Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury when he becomes a free agent at the end of the 2014 season, since that might require more than $40 million per year tied up in center and left field. Baseball operations folks look back to September 2009, when Epstein claimed Jose Bautista on waivers from Toronto and had the deal set, only to have ownership kill it because what remained on Bautista's one-year deal would have put Boston above the luxury-tax threshold. Fifteen months later, when the Nationals signed Jayson Werth, the Red Sox signed Crawford.
The Yankees-Red Sox juxtaposition is a constant. This season, the Yankees were believed to have too much starting pitching, and on the last day of April, Red Sox starters have 11 quality starts, the Yankees six, and four of five members of the Boston rotation are homegrown.
"We will figure things out," said Cashman, and in time, Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Phelps, Banuelos and whoever they get in a trade will make for a decent (at worst) rotation in front of a very good bullpen and a terrific positional team.
Boston is different, although the Red Sox are in good shape if Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront continue their run of quality starts that reflect their repertoires; Aaron Cook and Daisuke Matsuzaka come out of the Minors; the team brings in Rich Hill and Alex Wilson as further bullpen depth; and Alfredo Aceves can remain calm and allow his 94-98-mph, four-pitch mix to close. They need Clay Buchholz -- who gave up more homers (five) to the Yankees in his April 20 start than the Pirates starters have allowed all season (four) -- to pitch as he did two years ago, when he had the second-best ERA in the league. They need to get Crawford and Ellsbury back by July and have Kevin Youkilis healthy.
"Carl Crawford has worked his tail off," said one Red Sox official. "When he's healthy, he'll have a huge impact on our team."
If anything, players believe that Crawford works too hard, which affected his wrist and thus his elbow.
"When the season is over," said hitting coach Dave Magadan, "Carl will impact the race."
By midseason, the Red Sox will also be able to dip into their system for catcher Ryan Lavarnway, third baseman Will Middlebrooks and outfielder Ryan Kalish, all of whom can add considerable depth.
The Reds had enough problems trying to get innings out of their starters when Madson required Tommy John surgery, and Nick Masset and Bill Bray weren't ready to start the season. But manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price put Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen for development and assurance that he would have no innings limits come September, and in turn have survived with Chapman, Sean Marshall, Logan Ondrusek and Jose Arredondo. In time, the 'pen may be in place, and they may have Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Chapman and Bronson Arroyo in the rotation come September, while Madson is working toward a comeback.
When Indians ace Justin Masterson pitched brilliantly against the Angels on Friday, it left the Indians awaiting Ubaldo Jimenez, their 2011 gamble. Cleveland's starters have as many quality starts as the Rays.
We even heard Mauer and Justin Morneau booed in Minnesota. Now, the latter is still trying to come back after issues with concussions. Mauer has had several physical problems, starting with his back, since signing his contract, but while the Twins may lack the starting pitching or power to seriously contend, the boos are misdirected at Mauer. Through Sunday, he'd played every inning of every Twins game and had more walks than strikeouts.
In San Francisco, where many wanted left-hander Barry Zito released, the contract is irrelevant when he has a 1.67 ERA. In Arizona, where folks rallied to non-tender Joe Saunders, he happens to lead the league in ERA, especially important with Daniel Hudson sidelined.
If you're Brian Cashman or Walt Jocketty, Kevin Towers or Ben Cherington, you're singing along with Robin Lane & the Chartbusters ("I don't know how to do any more for you"), trying to figure how they can pull a Jason Motte out of a hat. When things go wrong in April, blame is inevitable; solutions are not, but the 140 remaining games represent a long, hard road that can turn Michael Pineda from a "massive decision gone wrong" to the promise of next year. Carl Crawford can be an October hero, and Ubaldo Jimenez can narrow the gap between Cleveland and Detroit.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.