In the words of Mark McGwuire: “I’m not here to talk about the past.”
Let’s, for a moment, forget that ALDS with the Angels ever happened. Instead, let’s bring hope back to Red Sox Nation and talk about the future . . . unless the Sox fail to bring back Jason Bay. Then forget about hope and save yourselves, cuz this ship is sinking. So, let’s take a look at issues the Sox face this winter.
JASON BAY – The Red Sox absolutely, positively NEED to bring back Jason Bay. Rarely will I say the Sox “need” anybody. But the fact is the team’s weakest link this year was its offense. If the Sox lose their best offensive player (Bay), they likely won’t be able to make the offensive upgrades they need next season. The free agent market for bats this season is especially thin (forget Matt Holliday, the most overrated bat out there). And if the Sox land a good bat in a trade – like Adrian Gonzalez – but lose Bay, they’ll be swapping bats rather than making a significant offensive improvement next year (which would be keeping Bay and getting a Gonzalez). What scares me to death is there is no reason the Yankees won’t let Johnny Damon walk and instead throw a ton of money at Bay – which improves the Yankees offense AND hurts the Red Sox. This scares me.
JONATHON PAPELBON – I’ve been shocked at the number of people clammering to trade Paps since his blown save the other day. Sox Nation needs to get a grip. As I’ve said before, every great closer has blown big games (Rivera, Eck, Hoffman, Gossage). What makes them great is their ability to brush it off and come back. Papelbon has shown he can do it. Why would you mess with that? Did we learn nothing from the Closer By Committee fiasco that started the Theo administration in early 2003? It takes a certain type of mentality (or craziness) to be a closer, and Paps has that. Bard has great stuff, but we don’t know if he has the mental toughness to be a closer. He could instead be the next Billy Koch. That being said, the promise of Bard does give the Sox flexibility should it take dealing a Papelbon to bring a bigtime bat like Adrian Gonzalez in return.
ADRIAN GONZALEZ – In case you haven’t yet noticed, I want the Sox to back the truck up to land San Diego firstbaseman Adrian Gonzalez. He is a young, dynamic bat that could help this offense. And San Diego will be hiring a new GM (Jed Hoyer?) soon who will likely be looking to stock up on young talent. Slot A-Gonz into first, move Youk to third and . . .
MIKE LOWELL – He’s been a great player for the Sox for these past few seasons, but his best years are well-behind him. Injuries make him unreliable and limit his mobility in the field. If the Sox can find a better bat, they need to move on. The only way I see Lowell staying in that situation is if he was a platoon DH with . . .
DAVID ORTIZ – Undoubtedly my favorite baseball player of all-time. So it pains me to say this. I know he came back big in the second-half, and had impressive numbers as a result. Still, how many meaningful times did Papi come through this year against good pitching. Not many. He wasn’t a factor in the playoffs, and didn’t look like there was any hope he could be. Papi will never again be the great hitter he once was, and I’d say it was time for the Sox to move on, EXCEPT . . . tell me where the Sox are going to get another DH to replace him given how weak the free-agent market is. Assuming they keep Bay, the Sox are going to need to find a home for a new bat, and that will be in either Lowell’s or Ortiz’s slot. Given Lowell’s health issues, I wouldn’t be surprised if they dump Lowell, keep Ortiz at DH this year, and then try to replace him after next season.
JASON VARITEK – It’s hard to watch cornerstones of the 2004 championship team like Papi and Tek age and have their skills diminish. At this point, everyone has to accept that Tek is done. Even, probably, Tek. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him retire this offseason (but in some way that keeps that $3 mill option). At this point, I’m not sure the Sox offense can afford to have him as the backup catcher.
Is it me, or are the clouds beginning to break?
I don’t want to do this. After the way this rollercoaster season has gone, after all the streaks of joy followed by streaks of gut-wrenching disappointment, my brain warns not to get too invested in this team again. But my heart . . .
The fact is, however you want to slice it, as we stand here today things are starting to look mighty good for these Boston Red Sox. After most of us wrote off his 2009 season as a bust (and many wrote him off all-together), Daisuke Matsuzaka last night turned in the most dominant performance of his Red Sox career . . . and against the team Boston will face to start October. That was the Daisuke we had expected to come to Boston a few years ago (minus a 96-mph fastball, which looks like it will never come). And it’s a performance that comes at a time when Boston’s ace – Josh Beckett – looks like he’s starting to gets his legs under him again, and two other pitchers – Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz – are now pitching like aces. I know it’s just one start, but if the Daisuke we get the rest of the year is anything close to the one we saw last night, a rotation with that guy, Beckett, Lester and Buchholz will be untouchable.
These Sox have now won 6 in a row, and they’ve put 5 1/2 games between them and the Rangers now, all but wrapping up the Wild Card with last night’s win. Meanwhile, Papi is doing his best to make us all believe that he really is Papi again. And, with the addition of Wagner, the Sox now have superior arms to close out opponents for the last three innings of the game. In fact, as Tito makes out his playoff roster, his biggest challenge will be squeezing all that bullpen talent onto the team. Some will be left off, but it’s a nice problem to have.
The bottom line is, as we wake up this morning, the Boston Red Sox all of a sudden look like the best team in all of baseball again. And, being the middle of September, they got here just in time.
Maybe you’re feeling really good right now. Heck, the Sox beat Chicago last night. They still lead the wild card. They just picked up Billy Wagner. You think there’s a lot to feel good about. If this is you, and you don’t want to be brought down by a tsunami of negativity, you should click away right about now.
I have a lot of anger and frustration built up by the way the Sox have played these last few weeks. And it’s high time I let it out. Consider yourself warned.
-In Game 6 of the 2007 ALCS, I said if J.D. Drew did something big, I’d never bad-mouth him again. Of course, he hit that grand slam. And since then I’ve tried. I’ve REALLY tried. But how much can one Red Sox fan take?!?! The highest paid player on the team is our $15 million a year NUMBER EIGHT HITTER!!!! A gutless, pathetic underachiever his entire career, Drew is proving right all the people who said he’d be a terrible signing for the Sox . . . and that includes his old teammates and managers with the Cardinals and Dodgers who said he was gutless. If his recent .235 average and slot as the Number 8 hitter isn’t enough to enrage you, how about the fact he asked out of a game against the Texas Rangers — the same Rangers in a dogfight with the Sox for the wildcard — in the ninth inning of a game in which CLAY BUCHHOLZ WAS USED AS A FRIGGIN’ PINCH RUNNER!!!! And we have TWO MORE YEARS on his horrible contract!!! AARRRGGHHH!!!
–Jonathon Papelbon is a whiny, high-maintenance diva. Recently asked about the possibility of Billy Wagner coming to Boston, Paps said he is the closer and doesn’t see any reason for another closer. That the bullpen is fine and doesn’t need fixing. Maybe it has to do with speculation the Sox would bring back Wagner as a set up man to Daniel Bard next year, and deal Paps in this offseason. Don’t like that, Paps? Well, you’re the one who has been saying you are going to free agency to cash in with the highest bidder, even if it is the Yankees. So suite yourself. And, in case you haven’t noticed lately, you’ve been doing a great Calvin Shiraldi impression. I hope we do deal you.
-In June, were you among the chorus of fans saying how we just couldn’t possibly deal Brad Penny. How you feel about that now? His recent appearances have even made us long for the days of John Smoltz. And how about Smoltzie’s debut with the Cards. What a nice little kick in the stones for Sox fans.
-So much for the theory that Josh Beckett just needed to be caught by Jason Varitek. If this is a sign of things to come, we’re screwed.
-Hey look: The offense finally woke up. Sorry, but I’m not buying it. These team has problems, and we actually might be best served in the long run by not making the playoffs this season. You see, if we do get there and have a decent run, the feeling that the team needs serious changes might be dulled. That would be bad. Let’s face it, Mike Lowell and Big Papi are breaking down right before our eyes. They aren’t going to get better. If Theo is going to rejuvenate this team, he needs to replace them this offseason. And while he’s at it, how much longer til it’s time to admit J.D. Drew was a mistake and find ourselves a new rightfielder?
-I friggin’ hate the Yankees.
-I need a drink.
Count me as one of the ones who thought Big Papi was done. Given not just how he looked the first two months of this season, but also most of last season, Papi just looked like a guy whose career had fallen off the table. Like Jim Rice after his near-MVP season of 1986 suddenly losing his skills, it was as if someone had slipped kryptonite into Superman’s tights.
It wasn’t an easy conclusion to reach. Like much (if not most) of Red Sox Nation, Papi is my favorite player. Not just because of all the clutch hits, including Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, which I was at (and you can see me and my low-life brother in the stands as the homer sails over the wall). But also because of his memorable team speeches prior to legendary Red Sox comebacks, like when he told his teammates before that Game 4 that as he’d driven to Fenway he’d seen all the signs and billboards from Sox fans who had suffered for so long, and he just wanted to do something to put smiles on their faces. Or how about his “you’re a bad m#therf#cker” speech to teammates when they were down 3-1 to the Indians in 2007? Papi is just an easy guy to like.
So it was painful to watch him struggle. And while we all looked for signs of life, they just weren’t there. It was obvious Papi was done, and those who didn’t want to admit it were just in denial.
And then came June. Papi is suddenly Papi again. He’s hitting bombs, and if he really is back to his old self (or even 85 percent of his old self), you can plan the parade now.
Still, I’m unconvinced. I’m cautiously optimistic, but he’s just been down for so long it’s hard to imagine he can return to Papi form for an extended period of time. It happens with all batters at some point. The decline is inevitable. It WILL happen eventually.
I just hope it’s not yet.
Step away from the ledge, Red Sox fans. It is April 15. I know the Sox are 2 and 6, and Papi and co. are struggling. But take a deep breath and consider these points:
- Two Aprils ago, people wanted to ship Pedroia back to Pawtucket.
- Two Aprils ago, people thought J.D. Drew was the second-coming of Carl Yastremski.
- Nine Aprils ago it looked like Carl Everett was the next Ken Griffey Jr.
- Nine Aprils ago we thought Wilton Veras was the Sox thirdbaseman of the future. Remember him?
- During their 86-year championship drought, how many April championships did the Red Sox win? Lots.
Sure, all 162 games mean the same. But if the Sox went through this same stretch in June or July, nobody would be too concerned. Every year, fans magnify the importance of what happens in April, and by Memorial Day people don’t even remember what happened in April. This is a good Sox team with a ton of depth. So talk to me come Memorial Day.
Meanwhile, Daisuke’s health woes have to be cause for concern. But this is where the depth of the Sox could play a huge role in their success this season. If he needs to be out for any length of time, the Sox can turn to Clay Bucholz, who looked like a world-beater this Spring. They also have Michael Bowden in the minors, and, if things get bad, their bullpen is so good they could slide Justin Masterson into the rotation without missing a beat.
BTW, the Beckett suspension is bogus.
Anyone looking for proof that you can do something to curse your team look no further than this blog last night.
At 10:27 p.m., I posted an entry on how the Red Sox had a done deal with Mark Teixeira, and talked about how to move forward. Not 20 minutes later, John Henry sent out an e-mail stating the Sox were out of the Teixeira sweepstakes.
We still don’t know what happened yet. Maybe the Angels’ desperation got the better of them and they went to 10 years. They certainly were looking at a dark place if they missed out on Tex, and needed him more than the Sox. Maybe the foolish Nationals made a desperate insane offer. It wouldn’t be the first time a franchise that couldn’t afford a superstar bid out of their league (Texas/ARod). If that’s the case, expect them to look to deal him within three years . . . and expect Tex’s complaining about the franchise not winning to begin in two.
Still, all hope is not lost . . . yet. This is Scott Boras and the Red Sox . . . two entities who have said deals were dead in the past, only to have them be revived later on. So, until a deal is announced and a physical has taken place, this thing isn’t over. But it doesn’t look good.
If the Sox don’t get Tex, you have to start to wonder about next year. They have a good team in place, and, if everyone is healthy, they should be fine. But, given the age of Lowell and Tek, and given the fragility of JD Drew, and the uncertainty of Papi’s wrist, there will still be a lot to worry about heading into the season.
As we look toward 2009 with visions of Mark Teixeira at first base, fans might be forgetting about another star who’ll be playing his first full season swinging at the Green Monster next year: Jason Bay.
Ever since he arrived in Boston at the trade deadline, Bay has kind of slid under the radar. Maybe it’s because he wasn’t hitting clean-up; maybe it’s because he wasn’t a nationally-known figure, having played for the Pirates and all. But for the last few years Bay has been one of the very best position players in the game. He consistently put up great numbers in Pittsburgh, even though most of the time he was the lone bat in the lineup. When he first came to Boston, I predicted that he’ll put up better numbers overall than Manny will during the next two seasons (the would-be option years in Manny’s contract). We got a glimpse of how good he is during the second half last year and the playoffs. And we saw how good he is defensively. Now, with half a season in Fenway under his belt, there’s every reason to expect he’ll be even better in 2009. Especially if he’s slides under the radar in this line-up.
If we do sign Teixeira (which looks like a real possibility right now), consider our Opening Day lineup for 2009 compared with last year. Considering Manny’s decline and Bay being in the prime of his career, I expected a net offensive gain having Bay in our lineup rather than Manny. (Not to mention the huge defensive upgrade.) Now consider having Teixeira versus Lowell. While Lowell’s been good, given his age and injury risk — not to mention previous levels of production — the net gain with Teixeira is huge. While everyone has been comparing Teixeira’s production with Manny, it’s important not to forget how good Bay is.
Now let’s imagine Youkilus and Pedroia have years similar to last year . . . and that J.D. Drew plays 150 games . . . and that Papi’s wrist feels better . . . . . Ooh, this is fun.