Buster Olney

Buster Olney on MFB: 'At some point the Red Sox have to move on' from Mike Napoli

June 24, 2015 - 9:52 am

ESPN baseball analyst Buster Olney made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Wednesday afternoon to talk about the struggles of Joe Kelly and Mike Napoli in addition to other topics. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page. On Tuesday night, Kelly posted his seventh start of 14 this season in which he allowed at least four earned runs, finishing the evening with five in 3 2/3 innings. The abbreviated outing was his third of the year that he had to be yanked from before five full frames. "You keep hearing the speculation from people of other teams that, at some point, maybe the Red Sox make the adjustment and move him to the bullpen because that's where I know evaluators with some other teams believe his stuff best translates," Olney said. He also added that, though he's not close enough to the situation to say whether or not it's the issue for sure, Boston's catching situation could have an effect on Kelly's troubles on the hill. "Joe is an active guy on the mound," Olney said. "He's into every pitch, and there's so much energy there. And then watching him earlier this year, and this is total speculation on my part, I wondered him working with a younger catcher, is that something different? Do you feel like when [Ryan] Hanigan comes back, Ryan with more experience would be potentially a better match for Joe and trying to draw what everybody sees out of him. And I know that a lot of the scouts I talk to about him say that they feel like he still doesn't have a great feel for what pitches to throw in various situations, and maybe if he develops a relationship with a catcher where he just defers to a guy like Hanigan, maybe that's part of what gets him back." Mike Napoli also has been in somewhat of a slump with five hits in his last 38 at-bats, including an 0-for-4 performance Tuesday with four K's, and a season batting average of .199. Olney said it's getting to the point where the Red Sox are going to have to make a decision regarding the first baseman and his future with the team. "They're 30th out of 30 teams in OPS for first basemen," he said. "Last night was probably about as tough a night as Mike's had in the big leagues, and it's just not working. And at some point, as they look try to take their last shot before the trade deadline and see if they can get back into this thing, they need to get some sort of production at that position. I kind of wonder if it's just one of those situations where he got off to a slow start and he's kind of spinning himself deeper and deeper because these guys, they put pressure on themselves, and I have no doubt that if the Red Sox were to try to trade him or to move him along, and they'd probably have to eat money because of his offensive performance this year, that other teams would certainly be willing to give him a shot. Because he's got that history, and he's got a history of coming out of slumps and bouncing back, but at some point the Red Sox have to move on." One of the potential solutions could be having third baseman Pablo Sandoval shift across the diamond to take Napoli's place while Brock Holt fills in for Sandoval. Olney said that's an option, but that there's another way the Sox could solve the problem as well. "I think the first question you'd have to ask is, realistically, what are they still looking to do?" he said. "And I got to believe that, given all the money they have invested in this year's team, they're not ready to raise the white flag and start rebuilding and changing things. And if you're going to still try to make this work this year, then you at least have to have a conversation about giving Allen Craig a shot and seeing if the numbers that he's putting up in Triple-A at some point could translate again [to] the big leagues. Is he back? Because he's certainly had success in the past, and that's the other option is moving Sandoval over. I would say this, I do wonder about doing that sort of move in-season for a player who doesn't have a lot of experience over there. I think that if it's all about winning today or tomorrow, then that probably would be one of the first two options that they'd look at." Part of the trouble with making drastic changes to the lineup that way is that John Farrell might not have the option to field the exact roster he wants each night because of guys with certain contracts, or "statures," as Olney put it. "I think that, and maybe you take the Padres, maybe you take the Red Sox as a lesson that something that's really valuable to cling to [is the] flexibility to adjust and be in a position to adjust as players go up and down," he noted. "And the reason I think the Giants and the Rays, to me, are the two best examples of that, and they're two different sets of circumstances in terms of payroll, we know the Rays can be flexible because besides Evan Longoria, they really don't have long-term investment in these guys. So it's a very simple standard for [manager] Kevin Cash as he makes out his lineup every day. Who's the hottest player that I have, and what's the best matchup for us? And I can tell you, and I wrote about this the other day after being around the Giants last weekend, their culture is amazing because basically they all understand that, if you play well, you're going to play more and in a more prominent role, and if you don't play well, you're going to play less. And it's the best merit-based veteran team I've ever seen, and the players understand. "Tim Lincecum was a Cy Young Award-winner," Olney continued. "He didn't pitch well last year, he had dropped out of the rotation, got dropped to the back end of the bullpen. He may be dropped out of the rotation this week. And you think about John Farrell and his situation, and he's got to navigate through who's got which contract and who has which stature, and is moving a guy up and down in a lineup a problem, and is it a big deal? I think more and more, the teams that have the ability to simply play who's playing best and respond to that, they're in a great spot, and those are two examples of that." Following are more highlights from the conversation. For more Red Sox news, visit the team page at weei.com/redsox. On Rusney Castillo: "I thought back to when he signed, conversations with other teams, they viewed him as being a guy who's really talented, and you wonder if it's a case of a young player who got overwhelmed and he's got to reset and get himself back. But I know this, that other teams during the wintertime when they saw him and before he signed, they were saying, 'He's a really dynamic player and we think he's going to be pretty good,' and the Red Sox, based on their offer, they just put a little bit more into it then some of the other teams did." On the continuing strike zone complaints: "No doubt about it, it's the loudest set of complaints that I've ever heard, and I think it probably is directly related to the technology that's available. Guys after an at-bat in the past, when I first became a beat writer, the hitter could turn to the umpire and say, 'I thought that was a [ball],' and the umpire would say, 'No it wasn't,' and the hitter would have to go back to the dugout and mope where now, what happens is, if they get called out on a pitch that they perceive to be outside, they go right into the clubhouse, they look at the replay, they look at what we have on Sunday Night Baseball, K Zone, and they relate sometimes what they see on that back to the umpire, and that's fueling all these conversations. What you're hearing from hitters, from coaches, from managers is it has become a horizontal strike zone now and they're really upset about it now where they feel like umpires, more and more, are calling pitches off the outside edge, off the inside, the way the Atlanta Braves used to have it called in the 1990s, and I actually had one major league manager stop me and said, 'The is the worst I have ever seen,' and I can't tell you if that's true or not, but I can tell you that that perception is absolutely at a boiling point with teams."