Buster Olney of ESPN joined Mut & Merloni on Wednesday to talk about perspectives on Will Middlebrooks and Jarrod Saltalamacchia from outside Boston, the rest of the AL East, and the state of the Red Sox in general.
From what he’s heard from scouts, Olney said most believe Middlebrooks will be fine if he can be more patient at the plate, but that the Sox might be looking to improve their catching situation.
“From scouts, I’m hearing on Middlebrooks that he simply has to put himself in a better position when it comes to counts and not be as anxious at the plate,” Olney said. “That sounds simple, but Josh Hamilton‘s dealing with the exact same thing, where the fact that he’s anxious is something pitchers are going to take advantage of. I’m sure that that’s in the reports that are being sent back to teams, because I’m hearing it from some of the advance guys. They’re saying that [Middlebrooks] just simply is really pumped up at the plate, and he needs to reduce that level of adrenaline that he has in his at-bats and be a little bit more relaxed.
“With Saltalamacchia, I’ve heard this from executives of other teams: They say they think that the Red Sox will be looking for an upgrade at that position, possibly even before the trade deadline at some point. They feel like, given the money that they’re paying him, he’s got to perform better than how he’s been performing at the beginning of this year.
“It was an interesting moment last night where that happens — he gets interfered with by the umpire and doesn’t say a word about it. Having heard a lot of things from a lot of players through the years, [not knowing the rule] isn’t as much of a surprise to me. What’s surprising to me is that there isn’t that instinct there, where he doesn’t immediately turn around and say, ‘Hey, you hit my hand.’ I can’t say that I know every rule in the rule book, but in that situation, you say, ‘Wait a minute, you interfered with me, you bumped me.’ And you at least put your coaches and your manager — who were in the dugout and probably aren’t aware of it — in a position where they at least come out and ask the question. You do wonder where the dominoes would have fallen if they say something to the home plate umpire.”
In general, Olney said he believes the Sox players have come to trust John Farrell and his coaching staff, and that that’s reflected in they way Joel Hanrahan has responded to having to work to get his closing role back.
“He’s got a lot at stake as a prospective free agent, to step out of that role,” Olney said. “But one of the things the Red Sox have been talking about internally with their relievers is, don’t worry about role. Just worry about what you do when the phone rings. That’s exactly the conversation that’s been taking place with the Rays in recent seasons. That’s a hard thing sometimes to sell the players, but the fact that Hanrahan has bought into it and supportive of it, I think, is a great sign for where this team is.”
On the Blue Jays: “The one thing that really concerns you is the pure stuff we’re seeing out of the rotation. Is Josh Johnson going to get back to what he’s been in the past, because he certainly hasn’t looked the same for the last year and a half. Is Mark Buehrle going to be different facing American League teams than what he’s been during the course of his career? Is R.A. Dickey going to become more consistent?
“The idea of throwing together so many people for the first time — you have John Gibbons who is the manager there, yes, but it’s a whole different cast of players. How does he deal with Colby Rasmus, who’s not viewed as someone who takes instruction well? Or Brett Lawrie, Jose Bautista — right away there were questions about, is he going to talk to him about how he deals with umpires. We’ve kind of learned that when you throw a bunch of guys together like that, sometimes if takes longer than we expect, but the most important thing is they’ve got to get better stuff out of that rotation.”
On the Yankees: “Mark [Teixeira]‘s progress has been steady, but it has certainly been slower than I think maybe they had hoped initially. He is taking some swings now. The big thing with him is, if he has any kind of a setback, he’s probably going to face season-ending surgery. … Curtis Granderson‘s making a lot of progress and he could be sent out for a game sometime in the next week. I think the Yankees feel really good about their start, but I think they’re also aware of how fragile it is, considering the names that they’re throwing in the lineup every day. It’s really an amazing job where they pulled nickels out of their couch cushions to get some of these guys, and these guys are playing well.”
On the possibility of a gay baseball player coming out: “In 1993-94 I covered Billy Bean, who came out after he retired, and I talked to Billy since Jason Collins‘ announcement, and we looked back at that team and would it have been a good time [to come out]. And it’s Billy’s opinion that it would be tougher in baseball than in a lot of other sports, because of just the nature of the sport. You’re out on the field every day, there’s a lot of standing around time. The culture of it just feels different. I think the players are progressing a lot of the way society is. It mirrors society with this growing feeling of, you know what, who cares?
“For years there was fear for someone like Billy Bean to come out because of the reaction. We saw it this week: Now the fear is on the other side. If you say something about it out loud, the backlash you’re going to face is enormous. Look what happened to Mike Wallace, the wide receiver from the NFL. When he tweeted something out, he got hammered. Even if you’re not comfortable with it, it’s probably smarter to keep that to yourself. If you’re a player now, you’re not going to come out and say, ‘I’m not comfortable playing with someone who’s black. I’m not comfortable playing with someone who’s white, or is Latin.’ You’re going to shut your mouth even if you feel that way. and I think going forward, that’s how players are going to be with playing with someone who’s gay.”
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