Saturday, December 02, 2006

My Take -- The Red Sox

12/02/2006


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
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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…
Yes.

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…

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