While I was away in Oregon, Nick Cafardo published yet another worthless pile of shit masquerading as an insightful column. It's both scary and sad that this is what the once-great Globe sports section accepts from its national baseball writer.
Red Sox Need To Have That Hunger They Had In 2013
By Nick Cafardo, Globe Staff
March 2, 2016
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Let's chat about hunger, and not the Pablo Sandoval kind.
Hi-yo! Nothing signals the beginning of a strong, hot-take sports column than a fat joke. The only thing better than that is a wisecrack about a pop culture event of 30 years ago in an attempt to sound hip.
It's the hunger that players feel, or should feel, after they've had a poor season — the hunger to reconnect with their fans and build goodwill, the kind of goodwill Sandoval used to have with Giants fans.
Why do I have the feeling that my stomach is going to be growling as I read this column?
For even though he had the same weight issues in San Francisco that he's having in Boston, Sandoval played exceptionally well in the World Series, and the fan base absolutely adored him for it. So in the lean years (I mean performance, not physical appearance), Sandoval had that reservoir to get him through.
Two fat jokes in the first three paragraphs? Go, Nick! ... Notice that Cafardo admits that Sandoval had the "same weight issues" when he played with the Giants and yet was a beloved World Series hero on the left coast. Could it be that his expanded size wasn't the reason for his poor play in Boston in 2015? With Nick, we'll never find out.
So here we are in 2016.
You can't slip a calendar change past Cafardo. He knows they happen about once every 10-14 months.
You have players on the Red Sox who need to build up some goodwill.
Because I and the other members of the local media have been shitting on them for the last two years. (Cafardo loves using "you" to pretend he is speaking for all fans. Personally, I have exactly zero players on the Red Sox.)
Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Rick Porcello, Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, and to some degree Dustin Pedroia all have a hunger to be better. Throw in Allen Craig, once a devastating hitter in the National League. How about David Ortiz wanting to end his career on top?
Players want to do well? To improve over past performances? Hmmmmm. Interesting take, Nick. Tell us more.
These are players who should feel the hunger, and this desire — to prove themselves or reboot their careers — should serve the team well. If the Red Sox are indeed moving away from analytics, then this intangible thing called hunger could be very important to this team.
A joyful Cafardo undoubtedly had to change his undershorts after John Henry said the team had "perhaps overly relied on numbers". Nick has been urging the Red Sox to move away from in-depth information and knowledge for years. It's obvious that he pines for the days when major league teams embraced nothing but gut feelings, impulse decisions, and reading chicken entrails. In a similar vein, his columns suggesting that all defensive shifts should be illegal - as if players in the field have always been stationary until a few years ago - are high comedy.
In 2013, Ben Cherington created that hunger here. He brought in veteran players who had come off subpar seasons but had the pride and the hunger to get back to being productive.
Cafardo is quickly losing what little coherence he had mustered so far. First, the Red Sox players should feel the hunger. Then we are told that the General Manager created the hunger. Then Cafardo switches back and says the players arrived in Boston with their hunger intact.
We saw it with Shane Victorino, who had been traded from Philadelphia, where he helped win a championship, to the Dodgers. His overall 2012 season wasn't great, but Boston gave him a three-year, $39 million deal. And Victorino became a big part of the Red Sox lineup.
I can almost guarantee that Cafardo was against the money and years given to Victorino. He also engages in some Monday morning quarterbacking, regarding the contract as a good deal because Shane did well.
They did likewise with Mike Napoli, who had good years in Texas, though 2012 wasn't one of them. His three-year deal was renegotiated to a one-year deal because of a health concern, but Napoli became their righthanded middle-of-the-order hitter and was a very good defensive first baseman.
Cafardo tells us things we already know - indeed what any casual fan knows. Victorino played with the Phillies. Napoli was with Texas. They both came to Boston and did well. No special insight.
Koji Uehara, Ryan Dempster, David Ross, Jonny Gomes, and Stephen Drew all played significant roles on that 2013 team.
Yes, they did. but we have no idea if any of them were hungry, though. Why is this sentence even in this article?
In addition to Sandoval, Ramirez is the other target here, but if there's a defense for him, it's that he had to change his position from shortstop to left field and he got hurt. You can call him out for work ethic issues; he didn't apply himself to left field while trying to navigate a shoulder injury he suffered in May after a very productive April.
It's interesting that Cafardo labels Ramirez as a "target". A target for who? Incompetent sportswriters who cannot resist low-hanging fruit?
Sandoval simply made a poor impression in his first season with his new team. He went from World Series hero to a guy who wasn't in shape, played poorly at third base, and was a shadow of himself as a hitter. He even gave up switch hitting.
Hey, Nick, a few paragraphs ago you said that Sandoval succeeded in San Francisco with the same weight issues. Now you are claiming the exact opposite.
Porcello had won 15 games for Dave Dombrowski's Tigers in 2014, but the future Sox president of baseball operations traded him to Boston for Yoenis Cespedes. Porcello didn't live up to the four-year, $80 million extension he signed. The weight of the world seemed to be on his shoulders as he went from a middle-of-the-rotation starter to a No. 1, which he had never been with the Tigers.
Cafardo again recaps a news story. I'll agree that Porcello did not light the world on fire, but charging that he did not live up to an $80 million deal in one season is moronic.
With David Price on board, Porcello should have the pressure lifted from him, yet he should be hungry to show the fan base that he can be depended on.
Price may now be a fat cat, but is he hungry?
Even though he's been with the Red Sox for seven years, Buchholz has never been a pitcher that fans feel they can depend on. Buchholz is extremely talented, but he's never been able to perform for a full season at that highest level.
He did win 17 games in his one semi-healthy season, 2010, when he made 28 starts. He has one more option year on his contract, for $13.5 million in 2017. But this time he needs to perform and stay healthy.
Who should be hungrier than Buchholz?
Again, Cafardo states the obvious and gives us some numbers any fan could get from Baseball Reference. ... But he also shows us that this is why ignorant fans like us need insiders like Cafardo, guys who are plugged into the day-to-day experience of MLB life. To tell us that starting pitchers need to "perform and stay healthy". I do admit that Buchholz is someone who could stand to eat an extra plate of pasta or two.
Pedroia is a different kind of hungry. He does have the reservoir of goodwill, because he has been part of two championships and has won an AL MVP award. He has been one of the best defensive second basemen in the game for a long time.
So there are different kinds of hungry. I had assumed there were only degrees, like a slight rumbling in one's stomach to fainting or having actual hallucinations. Sadly, Nick doesn't take the time to explain the distinctions.
But in recent times, the injury bug has bitten hard. His offense slipped each of the last four seasons, and his defensive metrics were down last season. You can tell Pedroia is irked by it. He refuses to acknowledge any defensive decline based on the metrics and has vowed to have a monster season.
Boo to defensive metrics, which measure a players's actual on-field performance, but cannot measure the depth of a player's hunger.
Pedroia has always had a chip on his shoulder over his size and what he's had to overcome. Now he's hungry to get back to being an elite overall player.
The thing about Pedroia is that he's always been hungry. That has never waned, so "hunger" may not be the right word to characterize his mind-set. But that proving-people-wrong attitude still lives within him, and that's good for the team.
While I just used the word "hunger" three times in relation to Pedroia, I am now saying it might not be the best word. But instead of editing what I previously typed, I'll simply ignore it and move on to another hungry player
Kelly is a 27-year-old pitcher who wants to be great. When he said around this time a year ago that he would win the Cy Young Award, he wasn't kidding. He knows he has the stuff to make that happen.
Pay attention, class. Kelly is that rare bird - "a pitcher who wants to be great". The big leagues are apparently filled with pitchers who desperately want to be shitty and get booed and be cut from rosters and miss out on multi-million dollar paydays. Thank God that Boston has pitchers who want to be good at their jobs.
He also has developed the wisdom. He understands pitching and that he can't always blow his 97-m.p.h. fastball past hitters. He now has confidence in a nasty changeup, a slider, and a curveball. So Kelly has all the hunger to finally take his career to a level of excellence.
Cafardo may eschew advanced stats, but he loves simple arithmetic. Wisdom + understanding + confidence = hunger.
Craig is an enigma to all, and probably to himself. How could someone lose it that quickly? The hope is that Craig will wake up one day and it will all come back. Whether he gets the opportunity is another story.
I have no doubt that the Red Sox hope Craig will become a decent hitter again. But that possibility seems highly unlikely and they have made other plans. Meanwhile, Craig is pocketing some serious coin while playing for Pawtucket. (Strangely, unlike Victorino and Napoli, Craig's hunger has not increased with his paycheck or his proximity to Massauchusetts.)
All in all, the Red Sox are in a good place with so many players who have something to prove.
So: As long as the Red Sox players have something to prove, they are a solid team. The desire to do well = wins. ... But really, is there a player in baseball that doesn't have something to prove? Bad players are under pressure to be better and great players are under pressure to stay great.
Sprinkle in young players such as Blake Swihart, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Jackie Bradley Jr., all trying to get to the next level of their careers. There's incentive.
Now Cafardo is just reading down the probably Opening Day roster. Is incentive the same as hunger?
And Ortiz has said that he doesn't want to go out as an old man who can't produce.
You can even extend it to John Farrell, who has produced two last-place finishes here. You can say Dombrowski is hungry to prove he can turn around a struggling franchise in one year.
Look out, buffet tables in Fort Myers! Even the manager and GM are a-hankerin' for ... something.
There is lots of hunger on this Red Sox team. Will it be channeled in the direction it was in 2013? It is food for thought.
Actually, we don't know if there exists a lot of hunger on the 2016 Red Sox team. All we know is that Cafardo has said there should be widespread hunger. And after all his useless blather and non-information - including 17 mentions of "hungry" - Cafardo does what he does so often: he ends his column by asking "Who can really say?", thus undercutting everything he has written.
Here's a shorter take from SoSH's John Marzano Olympic Hero:
I can guarantee that Cafardo's thought process on writing this piece went something like this, "OH MY GOD! It's 3:30 and I'm starving. Too late for lunch, too early for dinner and linner doesn't exist ... YET! What should I do? I'll bang out a quick story about something stupid and then grab a snack. But what should I write about? I'm so hungry, this isn't fair. UGH! Why do I make deals with my self? I know that I'm no JP Riccardi, I'm just hungry. Curses! Wait a minute ... I've got it! What if the 2016 Red Sox were as hungry as me? That's a great premise but I have to change 'me' to something else? Hmmmm. But what? What should I change it to? Damn this brain, it always has the start of a grand thought but never the finish. Just like that Twix bar I ate here in 2013. I mean that was good, but it had so much promise. Ugh. Hey wait I second, did I say 2013? Hey! Hey! I did! Now I got something! What if the 2016 Red Sox were as hungry as the 2013 Red Sox? Huh? That's pretty freaking good. I bet I can bang out this column in 15 minutes, not research anything, write gobbledeegook that I've written a billion times in the past and be first in line at the Red Lobster! Cafardo, you magnificent bastard! I can taste those peel-n-eat shrimp now!"