It started at about 8 p.m. Friday night, when word came down that the Yankees had found what every team in baseball loves to find -- a potential No. 1 starter, not even residing in the world of arbitration. This was in the form of 22-year-old Michael Pineda.
Two hours later came the next salvo: New York signed free agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda.
Now it is Wednesday and the Red Sox are still waiting for the glow of the Yankees' shock and awe to dim, doing so while hurdling such obstacles as Carl Crawford's wrist surgery and a round of arbitration-eligible dealings that could further define what the Sox will or won't do down the line.
Names such as Vicente Padilla and Jesus Montero have further shaped the landscape, while Bobby Valentine has once again managed to punctuate the manager's view of the American League East landscape.
Here are some thoughts on what has transpired over the past 120 or so hours.
CRAWFORD STILL SEARCHING FOR HAPPY PLACE
Crawford has kept to himself for the most part this offseason (see Valentine's quest for some conversation). But, by all accounts, the outfielder had remained driven and motivated heading toward the 2012 season. Even after he failed to make the catch on the Red Sox' final play of the '11 campaign, the consensus was that better things were ahead for the 30-year-old.
And even after some began grumbling regarding his perceived stiff-arm of his new manager, confirmation of a January conversation had set things down the right path. But then came the pain in the left wrist.
Right around New Year's, the discomfort Crawford had experienced toward the end of the '11 season was taken to a new level upon amping up his swinging regimen. That led the left fielder to Dr. Donald Sheridan, a specialist the player had seen before. An MRI was taken and a prognosis was hatched: There would be arthroscopic surgery on the left wrist, limiting Crawford to the point where a return by Opening Day may be in doubt.
“It was consistent with soreness he had periodically over the last several years, but more concerning to Carl given the time of year he was feeling it,” Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said of the injury, which is on the outside portion of Crawford’s left wrist.
One of the initial reactions from Red Sox followers was that of continued disappointment that the medical staff had waited too long to act on Crawford's injury. That may be. But what should be understood is that the lefty hitter went on one of his best runs of the season in the Sox' final 11 games -- hitting .318 with an .833 OPS -- and that he is expected to be on the field for most if not all of the coming year.
"Carl will be our everyday left fielder for the bulk of the 2012 season," Cherington said. "We're not ruling out Opening Day, but we're not going to put a timeline on it. Carl will be ready exactly when he's ready. There's no one who works harder than Carl. We're confident he'll be back and playing soon. We just don't know when."
WHERE THAT LEAVES THE OUTFIELD
Along with Jacoby Ellsbury, the names mentioned by Cherington when asked about the Red Sox' outfield situation: Ryan Sweeney, Darnell MacDonald, Mike Aviles. In '11, those three combined for 14 home runs and 88 RBIs. Those numbers are not the be-all, end-all of the group's value, but they do offer a reminder of the dose of uncertainty that may await.
The reality is that the maximum amount of time Crawford is expected to miss won't lead the Red Sox to have to rely on the fill-ins to an uncomfortable degree. Moreover, in case you forgot, Crawford hit .155 with a .431 OPS in April last season. The Red Sox suffered -- scoring the fifth-fewest runs in the American League while going 11-15 -- but any of aforementioned options would be expected to rise above the starting left fielder's worst month ever.
Still, another low-cost outfield option might be a wise investment to help stem the tide while offering some reassurance in right field. (Cody Ross might be the best bet to fit the profile, both financially and ability-wise.)
"We expect Carl to be back and recovered from this hopefully early in the season. We don’t think it changes much with regards to the outfield mix," Cherington said. "We’ll certainly keep our eyes open. If there are ways to protect ourselves and increase depth, we’ll look for that between now and spring training. But right now we feel like we have some options, even if Carl’s not quite ready for Opening Day. Certainly, Ellsbury will be in center. Sweeney will be a big part of our outfield mix. We still have Darnell on the roster, who’s done a very good job against left-handed pitching and played all three spots. As you guys know, we sent Aviles to Puerto Rico to play some outfield. He’ll see some time there during spring training. If there ware ways to build depth, add to that between now and spring training, we’ll certainly keep our eyes open for that. I don’t think this changes much in terms of the overall outfield mix of the 2012 season."
THE CURIOUS (ARBITRATION) CASE OF DAVID ORTIZ
Ortiz' agent, Fern Cuza, was in town over the weekend, in part to support his client Pedro Martinez, and in part to talk to Cherington about working out a deal for the Red Sox DH. But judging by the arbitration figures presented by each side Tuesday, this is going to be a tough nut to crack for both Cuza and the Sox.
Ortiz' side presented its dollar figure as to the slugger's worth: $16.5 million.
The Red Sox offered their number: $12.65 million.
Regardless of the decision if the sides do go to an arbitration hearing, Ortiz will be getting a raise from 2011. And if he is awarded his figure, then the DH will be collecting more in one year than the Sox were offering for two at one point in offseason negotiations.
The obvious disconnect between Ortiz and the Red Sox centers around the devaluing of the designated hitter position, which currently has a litany of candidates (Vlad Guerrero, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui) still on the open market primed to settle for relatively low dollar figures. Even when it comes to the one player who inked a significant deal to be a DH, the White Sox' Adam Dunn, the man who signed him (GM Kenny Williams) insists he wasn't brought in solely as a DH.
Ortiz is solely a DH. But he is also one of the best hitters in the American League.
Extending the kind of commitment Ortiz is looking for will undoubtedly limit some corresponding moves by the Red Sox. But the fact is that, for this team, the investment is a necessary one. The Sox need Ortiz, especially now with the uncertainty surrounding early season offensive production from their outfield.
This is a player who had the fourth-best OPS in the American League in '11. When this player got at least one hit, the Red Sox were 59-38. This is a player this lineup needs, at whatever cost.
HOW IMPORTANT IS VICENTE PADILLA?
The Red Sox now have a stable of fifth-starter candidates, with Padilla joining Aaron Cook, Carlos Silva, Felix Doubront, Andrew Miller, Alfredo Aceves and Justin Germano. (This is, of course, assuming, Daniel Bard slides into the No. 4 spot.)
Is it good enough for now? Cherington seems to think so.
"I don’t want to rule anything out," the GM said when asked about any more starting pitching acquisitions. "If spring training opened tomorrow, we’d be comfortable where we are with our pitching depth. We have a number of options on the roster and off the roster, for the last spots in the rotation and in the bullpen, and also a very strong returning four to pitch at the front of the rotation and the back of the bullpen. If spring training opened tomorrow, we’d feel very good about where we are, but it doesn’t open tomorrow. We’ll keep our eyes open to possible upgrades, but there’s nothing on the front burner right now."
With the arbitration-eligible players most likely cranking up the payroll up past the luxury tax threshold, the opportunity to make serious runs at Kuroda and Roy Oswalt seemingly went out the window. It left the Red sox with the aforementioned group, all of which possess some level of intrigue.
But perhaps the most important member of the group is Padilla.
If the 34-year-old can show the kind of effectiveness he showed the Sox in the Nicaraguan winter league (a 90-94 mph fastball and complete arsenal of secondary pitches), than it opens up opportunities for the entire pitching staff. A good Padilla could be flip-flopped with Aceves, with both seemingly presenting value at two key spots, late-inning reliever and/or fifth starter. The other candidates don't possess the ability to actually be options in the eighth inning.
“He’s looked good," Cherington said of Padilla. "We saw him throw in Nicaragua a couple of different times. Stuff looked very similar to his time recently in Los Angeles before he went on the DL there. Velocity was good. He has an assortment of offspeed pitches. He probably spans the velocity range about as wide as anyone in the game today. He showed that in Nicaragua, as well. We had a chance to meet with him last week in Fort Myers and talk to him and take a look at him. We were pretty pleasantly surprised about how he looked physically, specifically as it relates to his recovery from the neck procedure he had last summer, and just generally looked pretty good. So we pursued a deal with him, and we’re happy to get him signed.
"He’s going to come to camp as a starter. He’ll be a part of that mix, competing for those last couple of spots. He’s pitched out of bullpen, too. He knows there’s a chance if he makes the team and we need him more in the 'pen, he may end up going to the 'pen. He’s focused on coming to camp as a starter and trying to make the team in one role or another, but he’ll come to camp as a starter."
SO WHAT SHOULD WE MAKE OF THESE YANKEES MOVES?
Valentine did his best Kevin Bacon in "Animal House" Saturday morning when dissecting New York's acquisitions. ("Nothing to see!")
"Pineda, when I saw him the first half, he looked unhittable. Second half, he looked OK," Valentine said. "Kuroda is a good pitcher. A year older than he was last year. Pitching in the American League and not the National League. Pitching in not a great pitcher's ballpark from a great pitcher's ballpark. They're probably an upgrade from Colon and Garcia. Probably, I don't know. It seems it.
"I think we have a good team. if we can continue to add to it as the season progresses when we see what the needs are and we see what the strengths and weaknesses are, then we'll be fine. When you have a core like we have, if that core is healthy, you know, I don't think there's any rush to do anything before we at least see the team in spring training and see the group, see the health, see how people are working together. See how the development of the young guys are. The health of the old guys."
Despite Valentine's tempering of the deals, it's hard not to suggest the Yankees instantly became the American League East favorites with the moves. CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Pineda, Kuroda and Freddy Garcia/Phil Hughes/A.J. Burnett is more of a certainty that what the Red Sox currently possess. And the player New York surrendered to find that security blanket, Montero, is expendable in the kind of lineup the Yanks possess. (Even if Red Sox outfielder Ryan Kalish calls him one of the top five hitters he witnessed coming up through the minor leagues.)
In regards to the concerns any might have about Pineda, who did have a 5.12 ERA after making the American League All-Star team, when you're that young, with that kind of stuff, first-season bumps in the road shouldn't derail opinions. (Look no further than the history of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz for proof.)
And while Valentine is correct in the sense that Kuroda will be a year older (36 to be exact), and has pitched solely in the National League, he has been nothing but good since coming over from Japan, a fact that the Red Sox were well aware of when firmly entrenching him on their radar for the last year.
The Red Sox remind us that January is not October. Winning the offseason doesn't always translate into winning World Series. There is one constant when comparing the months, however -- a healthy level of anxiety. This is what the last 120 hours have reminded Sox followers everywhere.