One week before Thanksgiving, and the hot stove is ready to cook. You can expect a flurry of offers, rumors and speculation up until Turkey Day; then a flurry of signings the week after.
WHAT I LIKE SO FAR
The Coco deal: Scoring Ramon Ramirez – a 27-year-old strikeout reliever with a sub-3.00 ERA in the American League last year – is about as much as you could expect to get for Crisp. Thankfully, Coco performed great the last two months of the season to up his trade value. If you’re not a big fan of this deal, you should be. Don’t look at the last two months of the season and think it is a sign of things to come for Coco. He played in Boston three years, and we’ve seen the player he is: A guy who is an excellent outfielder but most of the time is excruciatingly frustrating at the plate with the exception of brief flukes (August & September). Crisp will be an excellent addition to a team like the Royals, and he could very likely find himself contributing on a team that surprises people next year. Meanwhile, you can never stockpile enough relief pitching, and hopefully Ramirez can be a solid contributor out of the pen in ’09.
Texeira Rumors: Although I still don’t count the Yankees out completely from the Mark Texeira race, I’m glad to read that most people seem to think them acquiring Nick Swisher signals they aren’t in it. But I’ll believe that once Texeira is in a Red Sox uniform. I’m happy that the Sox are considered the front-runners alongside the Angels in this race, and sound like they are positioning themselves for an aggressive run at the hitter with the most upside in this free agent class. Acquiring Texeira would give them one mighty lineup next season.
Catcher Rumors: Regardless of whether they bring back Jason Varitek, the Sox need to get themselves their catcher of the future. And it sounds like even if they do bring back Tek, the Sox are determined to get one of the young catchers from the Rangers, possibly even offensively-gifted Jason Saltalamacchia. This bodes well.
Lugo To Tigers: There’s a rumor that the Tigers might be interested in acquiring Julio Lugo and sending the Sox either Nate Robertson or Dontrelle Willis. I’d trade Lugo for a bag of balls, as I don’t think he has any trade value, so I’d love to see them get a pitcher. My one concern here is Dontrelle Willis’ contract, which I haven’t looked up. If I remember right, the Tigers signed him to a rich, long-term contract. If that’s the case, I might be scared. Maybe they take on each others’ bad contracts. And while Willis has been undependable and was downright terrible last year, his age and stuff means he still has a lot of potential upside. But at what price?
Yankees Are Still Rich But Stupid: The Yankees are poised to offer an oil tanker full of money and long-term years to C.C. (or LB) Sabathia this winter. Sabathia is a great pitcher, and he **dominated in Milwaukee this season (**=facing National League hitters). But he can be beat (see 2007 ALCS), and he can’t singlehandedly take a team to October. Plus, that kind of long-term contract for a pitcher — especially one with the girth of Sabathia — is a huge risk (Where Are They Now: Bartolo Colon). Tack on the fact that they also plan to payout big cash to get A.J. Burnett — a guy whose entire career has been marked by underachieving, injury-plagued seasons — and Derek Lowe — who last time he was seen in the American League was a headcase sporting an ERA north of 5.00 — and the Yankees could be putting themselves in a bad position for years to come. Sure, they are rich beyond belief, but even the Yankees aren’t immune from suffering the effects of numerous bad contracts. And, let’s face it, this is the same management team that thought they could win last year with three unproven rookies in Hughes, Kennedy and Chamberlain, and who brought in broken-down pitchers in Kevin Brown, Jared Wright and Randy Johnson.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
Sox In On Burnett: As I already stated, I am not a big fan of A.J. Burnett. But I know Sox owner John Henry is. So it is with a lot of concern that I’ve read the Sox are genuinely interested in Burnett. Hopefully they are just upping the price for the Yankees. If that’s the case, you can refile this in the above section. But if it isn’t, consider me even more worried about this than I was about the Sox chasing JD Drew. And you saw how that worked out . . . . . Oh, wait. Never mind.
Jake Peavy: There’s a few things I don’t like here. First, as I stated when rumors first surfaced that the Padres were dangling Peavy, I said the Sox should try to make this deal. Peavy has proven himself to be one of the game’s elite pitchers. His stuff, his track record, and his age make him a prime target to be among the game’s best for the next several years. And he doesn’t have the, ahem, “baggage” that Sabathia has. The Sox should be willing to move one of their top pitching prospects, as prospects are unproven and often don’t work out. And you always — ALWAYS — deal a prospect for an elite proven player. So I am concerned that the Sox are not involved in the Peavy bidding. Peavy can veto the trade, and right now doesn’t list the Sox as a candidate of his, but that could always be made to change, especially by the Red Sox. The other thing I really, really don’t like about this is I am now hearing the Yankees may be getting in on Peavy. Sabathia, Burnett and Lowe don’t scare me; the Yankees getting Peavy does.
Congratulations to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, your 2008 American League East Champions.
Yes, I know it isn’t official yet. But, c’mon, their magic number is one. Even if they don’t win another game, don’t think the Sox are going to sweep the Yanks in the season series finale. Yes, winning the division is important this year (as I’ve said many times). I’m not flip-flopping; just realizing that while it would have been great to win the division, Terry Francona isn’t going to burn out his players when he already has a playoff birth clinched. So, expect him to rest plenty of guys from here on out. And, you can expect the Yankees will take pleasure in trying to sink the Sox, a nice finishing-touch to an otherwise horribly disappointing season for The Bombers.
So congratulations to the Devil Rays. What they’ve accomplished in 2008 has been an amazing feat. For years I’ve wondered who would break the Yankee/Red Sox hold on the top of the division. The Jays squeezed into third twice since 1998, so I thought they had a chance (especially with their payroll). Also, I figured the once-mighty Orioles would eventually return to life. But the Devil Rays? Their talented-team has suddenly vaulted from a decade of futility to become an actual powerhouse in the American League.
So, today I will take the high-road and congratulate the Devil Rays. I will resist pointing out that despite having the most exciting, remarkable team of this baseball season, they can scarcely cobble together 20,000 fans to come see them play. I won’t mention that the hole they call a stadium is by far the worst place to play in baseball, or that it isn’t fit for a Class A franchise. I won’t say that Iwamura, Crawford and Gomes are punks or cheap-shot sissies for throwing haymakers at Coco Crisp while Dionner Navarro held him down. And I won’t even say anything about the weak, bush-league (even Angelsesque) move they made removing “Devil” from their team name. I might even refer to them as their appropriate name, the just Rays . . . . .
As I bask in the glow of last night’s victory over the Devil Rays, and wait to attend tonight’s huge game (if it rains, I am gonna introduce Mother Nature to the backside of my hand), I just keep thinking about how much I intensely and passionately dislike (I am not using ‘hate’; setting a good example) the Devil Rays. Why? For instance, witness the below photo of one Johnny Gomes loading up to take a shot at Coco Crisp while Crisp is being pinned by Dionner Navarro. Lucky for Crisp, while the .182-hitting Gomes bats like a pitcher, he punches like Mariah Carey.
So, I have not posted in a while. Truth be told, it has been hard to get excited during the first half of the baseball season the past few years. To this baseball fan, the first half has become the most boring part of the calendar year. Even when there is no baseball, it is still more exciting to be a baseball fan than during the first half. From Halloween through just after New Year’s, you have the Hot Stove, which, let’s face it, if your team is a player is the most exciting time of year outside of September and October. Then, after New Year’s, you have the excitement of pondering your team’s offseason moves, comparing them with the rest of the league, making predictions, and — most exciting of all — scouting for your fantasy team. But the first half? Like a straight-to-video Shannon Tweed flick, I just want to fast forward to the good parts.
I haven’t always viewed the first half like this; it is more the product of the Red Sox recent success. Back before the Sox started winning championships, a successful first half was reason to celebrate. In 1999, I was actually dancing with glee by Memorial Day. And who could forget First Half MVP Carl Everett’s Sox of 2000?
But nowadays, the Sox are supposed to be playoff contenders. You know they’ll be in the thick of it come September, so we often spend the rest of the season now thinking “just get there already.” I almost envy fans in Milwaukee, St. Louis, or Florida (if they had fans), who must be amped at where their team is right now. (Notice I didn’t mention Tampa in that last sentence? F them.)
But here we are finally at the midway point of the season. And now it gets good. Despite an unsensational performance over the first half, the Sox are right where they should be: In the thick of it. They have a ton of young talent to play with come the trade deadline, and are poised to make The Run in the second half. So, while I wait for that to happen, here are some thoughts about recent events:
- When the Sox got swept in Tampa Bay and left for New York, I said I still feared the Yankees more then the Devil Rays. And then yesterday I noticed the Sox were five games back. Today it is four games, but take a look at the loss column (six games back). I still don’t think Tampa will be there come late September, and I still fear the Yanks more, but if we continue to dig ourselves a hole . . .
- The game the Sox lost to the Yanks, when — down by one — they loaded the bases with no outs, and then had Crisp, Varitek and Lugo squander the game, was one of the most disappointing games in recent memory. I didn’t even watch Lugo’s at-bat.
- How good must the fans in Milwaukee be feeling right now? Plagued by injuries and a disappointing start, six weeks ago everyone was writing their obituary. Now, despite all of that, they find themselves just four games behind the first-place Cubs, who have enjoyed a great first half, and they just acquired C.C. Sabathia. And here’s a little secret: The Cubs aren’t as good as everyone is making them out to be. Pass it on. I am really looking forward to the Brewers winning that division.
The Sox and Rays just had their fight . . .
- With Navarro pinning Coco Crisp down, Johnny Gomes runs over and starts reigning down haymakers on Coco. The Sox need to throw at Gomes’ head every time they see him this season. That was outrageous. He needs to be suspended and fined . . . but he also needs to take one off the helmet. I know that’s pretty serious, but it is certainly justified after that.
- Sure, Coco should have just gone to first. No doubt. But Gomes’ sucker punches were nuts.
- Coco’s dad was a boxer. You could see that. Beautiful how he slid away from Shields’ right and came back with a counterpunch. Didn’t land, but nice technique.
- Just saw the replays with Crawford punching Coco while Navarro, Gomes and Crawford where all on him. Instead of stopping the fight, they dropped bombs with three guys on one. Crawford needs to take a fastball in the kisser.
- Yes, I am less than rational right now, and I think my wife has stopped talking to me.
All of a sudden, Julio Lugo is finally hitting the ball like that offensively-above-average shortstop he was billed as when Theo signed him. Think it has anything to do with a certain prospect call-up who has been hitting great and just happens to also play shortstop? Hmmm.
But before we all get too excited, let me rain on your parade. First, this has been a minor stretch, and Lugo just isn’t this good. He’ll soon revert back to that guy who makes you physically ill to watch him at the plate (and occassionally in the field, too). And before you start having sugar plum visions of the Sox dumping Lugo and playing Jed Lowry at short this year, it just ain’t gonna happen. As well as Lowry has been playing, this Sox brass is notorious among some fans for sticking with struggling veterans instead of rushing prized prospects to the bigs. The Sox have no plans to make Lowry their starting shortstop this year, no matter how well he plays. But next year, don’t be surprised to see a situation similar to Ellsbury and Crisp, with the Sox looking to deal Lugo’s contract (yeah, good luck) in the offseason to make room for Lowry.
On another note, after being screwed out of a Sox game recently by my local Planning Board, my brother did something right and came into some tickets for tonight. So, I finally get to Fenway tonight. Weather is warm, beer should be cold, and with a win it will be a great night.