Tom Verducci

Tom Verducci on MFB: 'I don't think [the Red Sox] are a playoff team'

July 14, 2015 - 9:20 am
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Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci joined Middays with MFB on Tuesday to discuss the Red Sox' strategy at the trade deadline and the strength of their young players. To hear the full interview, go to the Middays with MFB audio on demand page. With the trade deadline just around the corner after the All-Star break, Verducci doesn't know which way the Red Sox are leaning, but he does have a benchmark for them to reach before buying. "It's really an interesting question isn't it?" Verducci said. "It's a critical time for the Red Sox, with [Clay] Buchholz going down it makes it even more critical and who knows how long it will be, but he won't be coming out for the next two weeks. I'm not sure which direction they would go. I don't take a team seriously until they're .500 and they still have to get there. But Kansas City last year was 50-50 after 100 games and they wound up with the tying run on third base in Game 7 of the World Series. Being around .500 is OK but you've got to get there. "Coming out of the break it's a tough trip to begin with, the schedule's not in their favor, but they've got to come out with a winning record these next couple of weeks and probably a few games over [.500] before we can say, 'We need to go out there and trade for the one piece that's going to get us into the postseason.' Otherwise, it's fool's gold." Though Verducci does not think that John Henry micromanages the player personnel of the Red Sox, he believes Henry got involved in free agency. "If you're talking about complementary pieces on the club I don't think [he's involved]," Verducci said, "but when you're talking about guys like [Pablo] Sandoval and [Hanley] Ramirez, of course. Those were big decisions. ... You're supposed to have those three amigos [David Ortiz, Ramirez and Sandoval] in the middle of the lineup just creating havoc. "Now, you've got Sandoval, whose OPS has gone down four straight years. You signed him to be a switch-hitter -- I understand he hasn't been great right-handed but it's not a good sign to abandon one side of the plate. And with Ramirez, you look at someone playing the outfield and I know it's a transition, you give somebody time and all those things, but you want to see something that makes you believe that that learning curve is not going to be that long. I thought from day one of spring training, there was no indication that he was going to get left field quickly." As young players like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts come into their own, Verducci believes the Red Sox will be one of the strongest teams in the AL East for years to come. "I look at the Red Sox as we sit here today and I don't think they're a playoff team," Verducci said. "They could change my mind if they go crazy these next few weeks, but I don't see it. You alluded to [Brian] Johnson and [Eduardo] Rodriguez, you're going to have to take your foot off the pedal with those guys at some point in the second half of the season. ... I love Rodriguez. I was really impressed with the way he beat the Yankees, it was actually with his fastball and I know he's got a great changeup. "The strength up the middle with Betts and Bogaerts, I mean Mookie Betts right now is probably one of the 20 best players in the game and he's getting better and just learning center field. The upside is really good ... and they're very, very close to being a good team. If it's not this year, they're certainly right back in the mix next year and I do love the young core of the team." Verducci commented on Rick Porcello's struggles, citing them as a function of a rotation without a veteran presence. "Rick is really a student of the game," Verducci said. "He was famous in Detroit for sitting next to Max Scherzer on the bench, who's another really analytical mind on the mound. [He's] always looking at what needs to get better. I think one of the biggest things not just with Rick but with the entire staff has been the lack of an experienced catcher and the injury to Ryan Hanigan. I can't underestimate how big that has been. I know when we did the game Saturday on Fox, the Red Sox were 14-9 with Hanigan behind the plate, probably well below .500 otherwise. "In today's day and age, with all the information that's out there, you really need somebody to distill that information, come up with a game plan and call the game. I asked Rick about it, and he said, 'No offense to any of the younger catchers because we all love them, but there's no substitute for experience. With runners on base, when the difference in a ballgame is those one or two pitches that you have to execute and what those pitches are and the conviction the catcher has with those pitches. There's just no substitute for a guy that's been back there before.'" Following are more highlights from the interview. For more Red Sox news, visit the team page at weei.com/redsox. On the catching situation: "Well I love [Christian] Vazquez. Watching him behind the plate is almost like watching Jose Iglesias play shortstop. There's nobody like him. He's got the fastest hands of any catcher I've seen since Pudge [Ivan] Rodriguez, so I think you have to make room for him. What I think you also need to do is have someone like Hanigan there as a caddy to show a young catcher the ropes. The defensive skills of Vazquez for me are just too good to ignore. I don't know if that makes [Blake] Swihart more tradeable -- I don't want to give up on him either. You're talking about a guy who could be your catcher for the next 10 years also. It's a nice problem to have, but for the time being for the first half of the season, experience behind the plate is something that really has hurt Boston." On Jonathan Papelbon's landing spot: "I still think he's a really good fit for Toronto. ... They need an arm at least in the rotation or the bullpen and Papelbon is a guy that's for them."

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