Thursday, December 21, 2006

Radke Retires

Tuesday marked the end of an era for Twins fans when Brad Radke officially announced his retirement.

Radke has long been the face of the Twins organization and a pillar in an often unstable rotation. His presence guided a young team through lean years and helped anchor the more polished teams the Twins have put on the field in the past five years.

The past two seasons Radke endured pain in his pitching shoulder but continued to pitch through the pain. The pain is a torn labrum. Radke also developed a stress fracture in the joint which added to the pain. Surgery would have been required to continue, and he wasn't interested in a lengthy rehabilitation.

Radke may not have Hall of Fame numbers; his career record is 148-139 with a 4.22 ERA and he reached 20 wins only once, in 1997, and his lone All-Star game appearance came in 1998. His statistics, however, aren’t why Radke is such a large part of the Twins organization; it is and always has been his quiet leadership and his contributions in the community.

This past season Radke showed his toughness and his desire to help the team when he dug deep and blocked out the pain to go on an amazing run from June through September, where he went 8-3 with a 2.68 ERA in 17 starts.

Twins fans everywhere can appreciate what a momentous decision this is as Radke was one of the few remaining holdovers from the Tom Kelly era and has been the one constant for this team for the past 12 seasons.

Radke’s presence in the clubhouse, on the field and in the community will be missed—not only by the Twins organization, but by his thousands of fans as well.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Bags Bids Farwell

December 15, 2006 will be remembered for years to come as the day an entire generation of Astros fans—in Houston and around the world—watched their hero step away from the limelight and into retirement. It didn’t come without warning; the writing has been on the wall since 2005 when a degenerative shoulder condition limited first baseman Jeff Bagwell to a mere 39 games.

During his tenure in Houston Bagwell represented everything that was right about the sport of baseball. He was a hard-worker on and off the field. He, along with Killer B stable-mate Craig Biggio, was always one of the first to welcome new players to the ball club and help them feel at home. He was a tremendous athlete who always seemed humble about his accomplishments. He was a humanitarian with numerous foundations and charities benefiting form his good nature over the years. And now, with his playing days officially behind him, he is a man who can take a step back and examine the legacy he left behind, not only in Houston, but in baseball as a whole.
The first question many people will ask when a player like Bagwell retires is whether or not he is a Hall of Famer. Based solely on the numbers one might say it could go either way. He didn’t reach either of the two “automatic entry” milestones, 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. However, the speculation is that had he remained healthy he surely would have. He finished his career with 449 home runs and 2,314 hits. It probably would have taken him two healthy seasons to reach the 500 homer plateau and perhaps another five or better to top 3,000 hits, at 38-years-old the latter would seem unlikely but not impossible.

Bagwell also falls just shy of a career .300 average, another milestone that receives heavy focus from the Hall of Fame voters. Although any Hall voter worth his salt will agree that a .297 average ain’t too shabby. His 1,401 walks rank 24th all-time, right behind Hank Aaron and he is 33rd all-time in home runs, just three behind one of his idols, Carl Yastrzemski.

Stats aside, much of Bagwell’s Hall of Fame worthiness comes not from his impact on the record books, but his impact on the city of Houston and the Astros franchise. Much like two players on the ballot this year—Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr.—Bagwell spent his entire big league career with one team and helped turnaround a franchise that had become lackluster at best. Alongside Craig Biggio, Ken Caminiti, Jeff Kent, Carlos Beltran and a whole host of others over the last 15 years Bagwell led the Astros to four division titles and the team's first NL pennant in 2005. His efforts also helped to increase attendance and urge the financing of a newer, much more modern stadium.

Debate his statistics and debate his overall impact on the game all you want, but in this fan’s eyes Jeff Bagwell—without question—belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Buy Low Bargains

As the Winter Meetings come to a close many teams are still missing a piece or two of the puzzle for 2007. For many teams a big part of that puzzle is offense and this market has shown that if a team wants to add a potent bat to the lineup its going to cost big bucks, but for those who are savvy enough and—more importantly—gutsy enough, there is another option.

Last season both the Athletics and Padres took gambles that paid big dividends. Those gambles came in the forms of Frank Thomas and Mike Piazza, two veteran sluggers on the downhill slope of their careers, struggling to latch on with a new ballclub. Both teams paid well below “market value” and allowed both sluggers to reestablish themselves as superstars. In return both ballclubs received offensive performances that helped power their squads to division titles and both players were able to prove themselves and considerably increase their value on this year’s market.

With these two prototypes in mind, here are potential buy low candidates of this off-season:

Sammy Sosa – Outfielder/DH

-Fresh off a year of relaxing and working to get himself healthy, Sosa is reinvigorated to continue his professional career so that he can go out on his own terms. He is hoping to latch on with some team willing to take a flyer on a 38 year-old whose career is shrouded in controversy. In an interview on “Outside the Lines” Sosa said that he’s been speaking with his agent to see if there is any interest. He also gave this sales pitch: "I'm only 38 years old. ... I'm an exciting player and I'm looking for a chance, and if I get that chance, you never know. I might hit you 40 or 50 [home runs], you never know."

Although 40 or 50 homers might be a bit unrealistic for Sosa at this stage in his career, it’s still not impossible. Although Sosa’s injury-filled 2005 may have left a bad taste in the collective mouths of baseball general managers, his pre-2005 numbers speak for themselves. Sosa is the only player in Major League Baseball to hit 60 home runs in three seasons, he has 588 career home runs, he is a career .274 hitter and, as he proved in Chicago, he can draw fans—especially if he’s crushing the ball.

Best Fits: Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Washington, Pittsburgh

Dimitri Young – Outfielder/Infielder/DH

-Having completely fallen off the radar since his release from the Tigers, one has to wonder…why? Young has proven that—in addition to being a bit unruly and unpredictable on and off the field—he can really rake when he’s healthy. The latter has been an issue through much of Young’s career, but his numbers don’t lie. In seasons where Young has remained healthy and in the lineup his average is often right around .300 and both his home run and RBI numbers warrant penciling his name on a lineup card.

The one thing keeping this switch-hitter from a stellar payday is his personal inconsistency. Some times he is a model citizen and clubhouse leader and other times he is on probation and grumbling about playing time. At this stage in his career Young is probably best-suited to be a full-time DH on a club with a strong manager to handle his equally strong personality. Much like Frank Thomas prior to last season, Young hasn’t been really healthy since 2003, when he hit .297 with 29 HRs, but if there is a team willing to take a gamble Young could be the missing piece, just as Thomas was the missing piece for the A’s in 2006.

Best Fits: Minnesota, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Kansas City

Rondell White – Outfielder/DH

-White is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career. He was signed by the Twins to be their answer to the designated hitter question that has plagued them since Paul Moliter’s retirement. Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan. White, who had undergone off-season shoulder surgery, couldn’t hit for average, he could hit for power, he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. To make matters worse he spent much of the season plagued with hamstring injuries that sent him to the disabled list and held him back when he was in the line-up.

It was during a midseason consultation that White discovered the cause for his missing abilities at the plate. Apparently, the muscles in his shoulder had been pulled too tight during the surgery and it was hindering his ability to get around on pitches. During the second half White implemented a rigorous stretching regimen to regain his stroke at the plate and it worked. White who had hit just .182 without a single home run before the All-Star Break, rebounded to hit .321 with seven home runs in the second half. During that time, he played mostly left field, as opposed to DH, the slot the Twins had originally signed him for. It makes one wonder what White could do if given a full, healthy season to build on the strides he made at the end of 2006.

Best Fits: Minnesota, Seattle, Philadelphia, San Diego

Cliff Floyd – Outfielder

-Cut from the same mold as White, Cliff Floyd is an enticing option to teams looking to add not only a bat, but some speed as well. This of course is assuming that Floyd recovers well from his off-season surgery on his Achilles tendon. If he is healthy, Floyd is a major difference-maker, when he’s hurt….not so much. It would probably be best to implement him as a designated hitter most of the time, maybe letting him play the field a few games a week to rest a regular starter.

When healthy and getting over 500 at bats in a season Floyd’s average line looks like this: .291 avg, 164 hits, 37 doubles, 29 home runs, 97 RBI, 19 stolen bases and 98 runs scored. In seasons were he doesn’t get 500 at-bats his averages are as follows: .254 avg, 76 hits, 19 doubles, 12 home runs, 45 RBI, 8 stolen bases and 37 runs scored. Needless to say Floyd’s health and production go hand-in-hand, if the stars are aligned and his tendon is attached, Floyd could be in for a repeat of his 2005 performance.

Best Fits: Minnesota, Philadelphia, Chicago (NL), Los Angeles (AL)

Any of these players could break-out in 2007 and become this year’s Frank Thomas or they could revert back to their injured ways and turn out to be a total bust. But if the price is right and the risk is low any of these players has the chance to right in the ship in 2007, if someone is willing to roll the dice.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Is McGwire Hall-Worthy?

Personally, this is something I've been waiting for since Canseco's book came out in 2005. I've been sitting back, patiently waiting to see what type of public outcry we'd see when someone from the "Steroid Era" made his way onto the Hall of Fame ballot. As I'd anticipated, it has brought out passionate debate amongst baseball fans young and old.

First and foremost I want to make three things perfectly clear:

One, I think that no matter what decision is made the most important thing is that Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. don't get lost in the shuffle. These are two players who were heroes to an entire generation of fans and who are immediate first-ballot HOFers.

Two, I think it's about time Bert Blyleven got some Hall of Fame love from the sports writers.

Three, I think—based on stats and importance to the game of baseball—McGwire has earned the right to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

My Defense:

Of the 21 first basemen currently in the Hall of Fame nine of them would be known by the causal baseball fan. Those nine are Orlando Cepeda, Eddie Murray, Hank Greenberg, Lou Gehrig, Tony Perez, Johnny Mize, Jimmie Foxx, Willie McCovey and Harmon Killebrew.

Of all the players on that list McGwire's career numbers are most comparable to Killebrew's.

MM = 16
HK = 21

MM = 1626
HK = 2086

MM = 252
HK = 290

MM = 583
HK = 573

MM = 1414
HK = 1584

MM = .394
HK = .376

MM = .263
HK = .256

If anyone wants to try to deny McGwire based on statistics, it's a no go. Was he the greatest first-baseman of all-time? No, he far from it. Was he a prolific power-hitter and easily one of the most influential players of his generation? Yes and no one can question that.

During his playing days as a man McGwire was excellent for the game of baseball. He was the proverbial "All-American" guy. If he wasn't out swinging at baseballs he is the type of guy you could have pictured carrying a lunch pail with him on his way to lay concrete.

Steroids are the issue here, not statistics. The Hall of Fame is not to be a place where men are elected based on their moral fiber. The Hall of Fame is a place to honor players for the on the field accomplishments. Whether or not McGwire used steroids is for him to know and the rest of the world to wonder.

Some people want to say that Jose Canseco's book is proof enough. Well, I'd beg to differ. Canseco can't even keep the color of his daughter's eyes straight in the book. There is no doubt in my mind that Canseco was merely using the book as a way to get himself back into the public light in an attempt to boost his chance at gaining pity votes for a Hall of Fame berth (he is also on the ballot for the first time this year). If you need further proof, that Canseco is the exact-opposite of a reliable news source go out and purchase the Surreal Life on DVD.

The other argument against McGwire has been his lack of public appearances since his retirement. Is it so hard to blame a guy for wanting to be retired? McGwire was on the road for 16 seasons. He is still relatively young (give or take the years playing baseball adds) and wants to enjoy life with his family, tell me what's wrong with that? Are we going to chastise a player and neglect him entry into baseball immortality because he has stepped away from the game gracefully?

Finally, the argument that comes up most often relates to McGwire's testimony and/or lack of testimony in March 2005. McGwire didn't directly answer the question posed to him. Now there are a hundred valid reasons why he wouldn't answer the question directly. Perhaps he used in high school or college and then stopped. For him to say he never used would be a lie, but if he didn't use during his career then it didn't effect him in the pros.

It's as simple as this – you can either hit a baseball or you can't. I could take all the steroids I want and I'd never jack a homer out of Busch stadium. For those of you who are taking your cuts at McGwire now and those of you who are taking shots at Bonds and others from the "Steroid Era", remember this these men are professional athletes. They were/are the best of the best at what they do. They got there based on talent and that's a fact. You can't fake your way into professional baseball. You can't fake 583 home runs. You can't fake 16 seasons of grinding it out on the road, away from your family, just to play a game you love. You can't fake that.

If people want to talk performance enhancers, they have to look at everything. Batting gloves are a performance enhancer. New fielding gloves are a performance enhancer, how many hot line drives would Derek Jeter scoop up using those old leather gloves from the thirties? Video to scout your opponents is a performance enhancer, hell Gatorade is a performance enhancer.

Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" let the whole world know about "greenies" which essentially got players hopped up for games, sounds like a performance enhancer to me. I'm sure it sounded like a performance enhancer to the sluggish outfielders who didn't have access to them. There is no proof, no matter how far back you go, that all athletes haven't used some method to get ahead in the game. So rather than chastise one player during an era where supposedly "everyone" was doing it, let's do what we're supposed to do as baseball fans and go by the numbers.

Let the numbers be judge, jury and executioner for McGwire.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

One of My Favorite Baseball Moments...

It's Game 6 of the 1993 World Series and you're a fan watching the game at home. You see Joe Carter step to the plate and you can just feel the electricity in the air. The Jays have one of their best against the Phillies tough-as-nails closer. The ultimate battle. Man vs. Man. Then it happened....

The 1993 Toronto Blue Jays were a powerful team with the likes of John Olerud, Paul Moliter, Rickey Henderson, Robby Alomar, Devon White, Dave Stewart, Juan Guzman, David Cone and one man whose name is forever synonymous with the 1993 World Series—Joe Carter.

Joe Carter is what many refer to as a journeyman. His career took him to six different teams over a span of 15 years. He only hit over .300 for a full season once in his career and he only hit 35 home runs in a season once. Not your prototypical slugger or the guy you'd want holding a bat with the game on the line, or was he?

What Carter did do was play solid defense (career fielding percentage .981) and show up every day with a smile on his face and a desire to play the game. The same could be said during the 1993 season. Carter anchored the Blue Jays outfield and put up a line of .254/33/121. Solid numbers for a power-hitting, free-swinging outfielder with, at the time, ten years of big league service.

But Joe Carter will not be remembered for any of his career stats. He won’t be remembered for his 396 career home runs. He won’t be remembered for his lifetime .259 batting average or his anemic .306 career on-base percentage. What Carter will be remembered for is Game 6 of the 1993 World Series.

Let me set the scene. The Blue Jays held a three games to two edge over the Phillies and the Series was headed back to “The Great White North” and the cozy confines of Toronto’s Skydome. Paul Molitor (who finished with a .500 avg and won the MVP) tripled home a run in Toronto's three-run first inning that basically set the pace for Game 6. Moliter would add a bases-empty homer in the fifth that moved the Jays ahead of Philly 5-1. The Phillies charged back with a 5-run seventh inning capped off by a three-run homer from centerfielder Lenny Dykstra. The mammoth seventh inning coupled with a Jim Eisenreich RBI in the fourth gave the Phillies a 6-5 advantage going into the bottom of the 9th.

The Phillies stud closer Mitch Williams was given the call from the bullpen and proceeded to walk the first batter he faced (Rickey Henderson) on four pitches. White flied out to left field, but Molitor followed with a clutch single to center. Joe Carter then stepped up to the plate for what would be the defining moment of his career and one of the greatest moments in World Series history. He battled Williams to a 2-2 count and then sent an elbow-high fastball over the left-field fence for the game and the Jays second title in as many years.

Carter proceeded to run around the bases with his arms extended and jumping up and down, as anyone in the right mind would do. I consider this one of the single greatest moments in the history of the game simply because to this day I remember sitting on my couch and watching Carter rip the ball out of the park and the second he made connection, it was gone. It is the moment we all dream of when we sit in bed at night, stand alone on a baseball field after a game when the field lights have long-since been turned down or when we step into the batting cage for the first time.

Everyone wants to be the guy who steps up in the bottom of the ninth and hits the game-winning homerun. Anyone who says they don’t is a liar or simply doesn’t love the game of baseball as much as they should. That moment still stands clear in my mind and, as a baseball fan, sticks out as one of the defining moments of my love for the game.

My Take -- The Cubs

As the winter weather starts to roll in up north, the hot stove is only getting warmer down south...Orlando to be specific. Rumors are swirling right now regarding the various free agents still on the market and the potential trading scenarios floating around as well. I'm going to hit on a few of these and see if I can get some feedback from the sporting community.

First and foremost, let's start off with everyone's favorite big spenders--The Cubs. The South-Side's "Lovable Losers" are doing their best to dispell that image in 2007 by assembling a pennant contender in a matter of a few weeks. Whether or not this gamble will pay off is yet to be seen, but with likes of Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Cesar Izturis in the lineup it's hard to argue with the likehood of the Cubbies make a push for October.

The one thing that could stand in their way, however, is a lack of pitching depth. The starting rotation behind Carlos Zambrano (entering a walk year) isn't to daunting for opposing teams. The Cubs would like to acquire a front-line starter such as Jason Schmidt but with Schmidt's preference to stay on the West Coast they may be forced to settle for second-tier starters. If they want to make a splash, however, they better move fast as many second-tier darlings like Randy Wolf, Adam Eaton and Woody Williams have already signed on elsewhere. Right now the three front-runners to join the Cubs rotation are Jason Marquis, Gil Meche and Ted Lilly.

I think it would be wise for the Cubbies to acquire at least two solid second-tier inning-eater types to round out the rotation. I think the bullpen could be very solid this season, especially if Kerry Wood can remain healthy. He would become the ultimate X-Factor late in a game. Imagine trying to adjust from Glendon Rusch to Wood...good luck with that one.

Right now the offense is set--or it sure as hell should be, anyway--if Jim Hendry feels he needs to blow more money on what is easily the best offense in the NL Central, he is probably going to doom the team before the pitchers and catchers report (it's only 76 days away!).

As I've said...and reiterated, multiple times...the Cubs need to add pitching depth. Zambrano will be solid. If healthy Prior will be solid. Sean Marshall showed plenty of potential last season and *shutter* Glendon Rusch will always be there. Whether or not the Cubs can lock in one or two solid pitchers to accompany what should be a very good bullpen and a solid front of the rotation will ultimately decide the fate of the Cubs in 2007.


My Take -- The Red Sox


I'm gonna tell you a story
I'm gonna tell you about my town
I'm gonna tell you a big bad story, baby
Aww, it's all about my town

Yeah, down by the river
Down by the banks of the river Charles
That's where you'll find me
Along with lovers, muggers, and thieves
Well I love that dirty water
Oh, Boston, you're my home

"Dirty Water" -The Standells

Three short months ago I moved across the country from a tiny town in Northwest Iowa to Boston. Prior to this my biggest move had been to Minnesota to go to college. Upon graduation my girlfriend was accepted into graduate school at UMASS Boston and my options were to join her on the east coast and live within 15 minutes of the Mecca that is Fenway Park...or I could move back into my parents house, even further from the monstrosity that is the Metrodome and work construction with Dad until I found a job. I chose option A.

As soon as I got to Boston, I fell in love with this city. Sure it's a bit dirty and hard, but that's why I love it. I also happened to get here just in time to watch the Sox take a complete nose-dive in the AL East, which worked out well for me because it made tickets to Fenway dirty, dirt cheap for the remainder of the season. In that time I got to watch my boys, the Twins, come in and mop up on the Sox and I got to watch the D-Rays come in and pound the piss out of the Sox as well.

Then as the season came to a close I realized a few things about my new “hometown” team:

1) This stadium is absolutely gorgeous.

2) The Red Sox really suck right now.

3) This team needs Manny Ramirez in the lineup.

That brings us to the here and now. The Red Sox are in a quasi-rebuilding mode as they try to rebuild in the matter of a few months. Thus far the golden-boy, Theo Epstein, has been awfully quiet on which moves he is or isn't plotting. In fact, after making a huge splash by posting $51 million to negotiate with hired-gun from Japan, Daisuke Matsuzaka the Red Sox as whole have seemingly been very preoccupied with Matsuzaka and little else. However, if you're going to throw the gross domestic product of Haiti down for the right to talk to a player, it only makes sense that you want to hash out some kind of deal, even if it means dealing with Scott Boras.

The Red Sox did announce on Thursday that they had signed 30-year-old Hideki Okajima, a left-handed reliever who could fill multiple roles in the club's bullpen in 2007. He was signed to a two-year deal with a club option for 2009. This signing does two things for the Sox. First, it shows further interest in expanding relations in Asia. Second, it may offer some incentive for Matsuzaka to have a countryman by his side if he signs with the Sox. Third, it gives the Sox an interesting asset in the 'pen. Especially for a bullpen that will have the face the Yankees lefty-heavy lineup, multiple times in 2007.

It was also announced that the Red Sox did not offer arbitration to Trot Nixon, meaning that the original dirt dog may be moving on from the only team he's ever known. Trot, while a huge fan-favorite, has spent much of his career battling injuries and largely underachieving as the starting right-fielder for the Red Sox. The most likely candidate to replace Nixon is the much maligned JD Drew, another of super-agent Scott Boras' "Stud Stable." Although Drew has been a chronic underachiever and has often had his passion questioned he still would be viewed as an upgrade over Nixon as he is more or less an on-base machine who has the potential to steal bases and can play all three outfield positions if necessary.

Acquiring Drew also brings about the obvious question: does adding Drew to the outfield and the lineup give the Sox the freedom to finally trade Manny?

In theory…

In reality…
Hell no!

No team and I do mean, NO TEAM can afford to let a player, the caliber of Manny Ramirez go elsewhere. Manny is one of the greatest right-handed hitters of this, or any, generation. The Sox traded away a pretty good hitter a few years back, what was his name…I think it was something Ruth…how did that work out?

Many teams are putting together some hellacious packages, but thus far nothing has worked for both sides.

**The Rangers are supposedly offering some of their best young arms, but the Sox want Michael Young and that’s not going to happen.

**The Dodgers are in the mix, but could be reluctant to part with the plethora of young talent they have, especially with most of them being Major League ready right now.

**The Giants pretty much lack the overall talent necessary to make a deal work. They would almost have to offer one of their two young phenoms Matt Cain or recent draftee Tim Lincecum. The good news is the Giants could afford Ramirez financially, and his signing might mean the end of Bonds' tenure.

**The Padres have also thrown their hat into the ring as well. Although recent reports suggested the Red Sox asking price of team ace, Jake Peavy might be more than the Padres are willing to give up for the enigmatic Ramirez.

One has to wonder whether any of these NL teams would want to offer long-term money to Ramirez given that his defensive shortcomings are well-documented and there is no DH in the NL.

The ultimate question comes down to whether or not Manny would accept a trade to any of these teams. Personally, I think it’s best for both Manny and the Red Sox if he stays right here in Boston and continues to rake behind David Ortiz. Manny is a Hall of Famer and his Hall of Fame statistics will only look better if he stays in Boston where his defensive liabilities are somewhat shaded by the small left-field and he is a cult icon. If the Sox sign Drew that could make for a 3-4-5 combination of Ortiz, Ramirez, Drew and follow that up with Mike Lowell and you have a very potent heart of the order. Manny may be Manny, but he is also a ballplayer who wants to win and right now, at this stage in his career I think Boston is the best place for him to do so. So let’s move on to more pressing matters.

As Epstein heads into the winter meetings this Monday his shopping list is still quite lengthy. Assuming that JD Drew is going to be with the Sox next season Epstein's next objective is to find a closer. Jonathan Papelbon was dominant in that role last year, but he is moving to the starting rotation. One name thrown around early in the off-season was Danys Baez, but he recently signed with the Orioles. It seems that Epstein doesn’t believe the Sox have an internal option—as they did last year with Papelbon—and by letting Keith Foulke walk the team showed it didn’t believe he could handle the roll any longer.

With the list of free agent closers dwindling, the best possible option for the Sox is to take a gamble and sign Eric Gagne. Sure he has been injured the past two seasons, but he was also unstoppable the two seasons before that. Recent reports say that Gagne feels better than he has in years. (Although don’t ALL free agents feel better than ever?) It might be worth it for the Sox to take a risk and offer Gagne a three-year, incentive-laden deal with a respectable base salary and a buy-out option after the first-year. Worst case scenario he blows up and they have to use a patch-work closer for awhile or *shudder* allow Mike Timlin to close games again. Best case scenario the Gagne from 2003-2004 returns and the Red Sox suddenly have one of the best closers in all of baseball.

In my mind, if the team can spend $51 million just to talk to a guy who has never pitched in the Major Leagues, than they can afford to drop $15 million on a guy who has won a Cy Young and been absolutely dominant in the past.

Next on Epstein’s list will be finding a second-baseman, however, the hole left by Mark Loretta’s departure may already be filled. Loretta was steady for the Sox at second last season, but it appears as though the club is willing to give the job to prospect Dustin Pedroia and hope the experiment works out as well as it did for the Yankees with Robinson Cano. If Epstein decides to change his mind the crop of potential second-basemen is fairly plentiful this off-season. Although names like Adam Kennedy, Ray Durham, Mark DeRosa and Craig Counsell are already off the board, many good role-players such as Ronnie Belliard and Miguel Cairo are still available as well as former Sox Loretta, Todd Walker and Mark Bellhorn.

The departure of shortstop Alex Gonzalez to the Reds means that the Red Sox lost an incredible glove up the middle, but now have the option to add someone with a little more offensive ability at baseball’s marquee position. As has been the case for the past couple of years the Red Sox are inquiring about Julio Lugo and may finally be able to snag him. A three-year deal worth roughly $6-7 million a year doesn’t seem too far out of line in this market and Lugo has consistently showed an interest in playing for the Sox. He is, however, still being pursued by the Mets, Dodgers and Cubs. Although it seems only the Red Sox would be willing to let him serve as a starting shortstop. There have also been rumors that the Sox are considering trying to bring Orlando Cabrera back in a trade with the Angels, although the Angels would most likely covet Wily Mo Pena or Manny Ramirez and currently the Angels have an influx of outfielders, all signed to big contracts, thus furthering hindering the deal.

If and when Epstein is able to fill all of those holes he’ll still need to add a few arms to a bullpen that proved itself vulnerable last season. It is possible that many of the youngsters who struggled last season will rebound in ’07, but as everyone knows in Major League baseball you either live or die by pitching and the Sox would much rather live by it, especially in what is sure to be a very tight AL East.

The starting rotation, if Matsuzaka is signed, will be quite formidable when compared to the current rotations in the division. Any combination of Schilling, Beckett, Matsuzaka, Wakefield, Papelbon and, potentially, young, lefty Jon Lester would stack up against any other rotation in the Division, if not the League. Throw in guys like Kyle Snyder, Lenny DiNardo, Craig Hansen and Julian Tavarez who can serve many functions both in the bullpen and as stopgap starters and the Red Sox pitching staff look pretty solid. It may only take one or two more solid arms to round out the staff and put the Red Sox in good shape to plow through the East.

The Red Sox should proceed with some caution in the deals they do pull off from here on out. Committing too much money to the wrong player could haunt them next year as Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones all become free agents. Call me crazy, but any one of those three would look pretty good roaming centerfield at Fenway. Personally, I though the Red Sox should have made some sort of offer to Aramis Ramirez. His right-handed bat would have offered subsequent protection to Ortiz in the event that Manny is traded and acquiring him would allow the Sox to shift Lowell to the right-side of the infield and take pressure off Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.

Whatever happens the rest of the way out I know I’m excited. Having spent all of my previous winters in Iowa and Minnesota waiting to see what big moves the Twins wouldn’t make, I find it enthralling to be in a city where the ownership is willing to make the big move and write the big check to ensure instant success.

Can’t wait to see what happens next…


Well for anyone who doesn't know me...

This is me, more or less anyway. I am a huge baseball fan who recently moved to Boston. I grew up in Iowa and went to college in Minnesota so naturally my team is the Minnesota Twins.

I am loving Boston and I love writing and talking about baseball. With no further ado...THESE are The Cheap Seat Chronicles...