The Red Sox have signed Carl Crawford, and you’d have to be a lobotomy patient or a Yankee fan not to like this deal.
Just days after trading for Adrian Gonzalez, the Sox signed the best position player on the market. And, just like that, inserted themselves as favorites heading into this season. In case you forgot, this is the team that won 89 games last year . . . without Gonzalez and Crawford, and without Youkilus, Pedroia and Ellsbury. AND, with Beckett and Lackey having sub-par years.
Forget losting Beltre and Martinez. Beltre’s entire miserable career has been a classic case of monumental underachievement. His best two seasons: Free agent years. Some poor sucker is going to sign him and condemn his team to mediocrity. Victor Martinez? A very good hitter, but a sub-par catcher whose best days are already behind him.
Forget the money. The Sox aren’t suddenly jacking up their payroll. In fact, with the money they had coming off the books, the price they’re paying for Gonzalez and Crawford is essentially a wash. And they have more money – including JD Drew’s ridiculous contract – coming off next season. This isn’t a case of the Sox suddenly spending a lot. This is a case of good fiscal management.
Forget that this team is lefty-heavy. Yeah, they have a lot of lefties. But, both Gonzalez and Crawford have good numbers against lefties. And, as mentioned earlier, the Sox have two right-handed MVP candidates coming back into their lineup in Youkilus and Pedroia.
Forget about the Yankees signing Cliff Lee. The Crawford deal appears to have made the Yankees overreact, and go up to a seven-year offer for Lee, which they stated they didn’t want to do. Seven-year deals for position players are one thing, as they are historically much more durable and consistent. Pitchers, on the other hand, are much less predictable, even when they are healthy. And they are always one-pitch away from a blown-rotator cuff. AND, while Lee has enjoyed an excellent couple of years, he’s also been plagued by injuries during his career. Seven years is too much for any pitcher. Don’t be surprised if Lee is good for the first two or three years of this contract, then is an anchor for the rest of it. And, even with a good Lee, you still have to like how the Red Sox starting rotation matches up with the Yankees, especially if Lackey and Beckett return to form.
Forget about the bullpen. Like it or not, it’s always a crapshoot. How often in recent years have we seen the Sox and other teams stock up on great relievers in the offseason, only to have them struggle in the season. Middle-relief is almost impossible to predict. You do your best, then make adjustments along the way. Throughout his tenure as Sox GM, Theo has had his issues with the bullpen, but he’s also shown a knack for being able to improve it during the season (last year not withstanding). The starting core is great, the back end with Paps and Bard is very good, and the middle WILL come together.
Considering how much better this 89-win Red Sox team looks, is it crazy to dream of a 100-win season already?
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.
ON THE ALCS VERSUS THE RAYS:
Get ready for some serious hate on the Sox. Get ready for them to be painted as the big, evil Goliaths — the New Yankees — by Sportscenter himbos. Get ready to hear the audible disdain for the Sox by Fox broadcasters as they get excited and root-on every Tampa run. Get ready to be overrun by news articles about those spunky Rays, those underdog kids from Tampa (maybe more coverage than the prez race . . . at least the issues). And get ready for the rest of the country to root against your team.
And, unfortunately, get ready for a long, difficult series, because these Devil Rays — even though they have no fans, even though they play in a tomb, even though they’re managed by a nitwit, even though they are a bunch of dinks who gang-up three-on-one and throw haymakers at a guy who is already pinned down (luckily they punch like flowers), and even though they have cheerleaders (yes, cheerleaders in baseball) who hop on top of the dugout when they hit a home run — are a good team.
All the pressure is on the Sox. And the Rays have all the advantage of being the underdog. I like our pitching, but our offense needs to start driving in runs.
ON BEATING THE ANGELS
I’m going to resist pointing out that I was at last night’s Red Sox game, that they are 5-0 in playoff games I attend, or asserting that their success has something to do with me (which seems pretty obvious). Instead, let’s actually talk about the game.
What an amazingly painful and wonderful rollercoaster ride of a game to be at. We got to appreciate seven shutout innings from Jon Lester. But, just when it looked like the Sox had it won, our anemic offense combined with a few walks and a wild pitch to make it look like we were on our way back to Los Angeles (or Anaheim?) to face certain series defeat. And when the Angels got a runner to third with just one out in the top of the ninth, the dread in Fenway was palpable.
I don’t know what Mike Scoscia was thinking calling a squeeze. I can appreciate aggressive baserunning. But when you have a runner on third with just one out, and you are staring playoff elimination in the face, you take the chance that your next batter will hit a sac fly, or one of your next two batters will get a base hit; You don’t take a big gamble with a squeeze . . . otherwise chances are you lose big. Gamble like that in July, not in October, in the ninth, facing elimination.
Given that we were looking at almost certain defeat, the volume at Fenway when we won it in the bottom of the ninth was explosive. The reaction was reminiscent of when Trot Nixon hit a walk-off to beat the Athetics in Game 3 of the 2003 ALDS. High-fiving and hugging the strangers who surround you — equally passionate and insane fans — make you appreciate being a Boston fan instead of what they call fandom in places like Anaheim (or LA?) or Tampa.
ON OUR OFFENSE AND PAPI:
You have to expect our offense will come alive at some point. Pedroia and Ortiz will start to hit. And Varitek has to do something big at some point. He will. But, if they don’t . . .
I love Ortiz as much as anyone. But he looks terrible at the plate right now. He’s a shell of himself right now, and he is almost an automatic out in that three-hole. Give him two games to snap out of it. But, if not, Francona should maybe entertain moving him down (although there is no way — NO WAY — he will). The Sox have a deep lineup. And Youk, Drew and Bay are hitting well. A combo of those three in the 3-4-5 spot is mighty good, and, behind Ellsbury and Pedroia, would likely produce more runs than having an almost automatic out in Ortiz.
I know this is dangerous territory. I know this is close to herecy. Ortiz is my favorite Sox of all-time. I was there at Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. He’s the greatest clutch hitter of all-time, bar none. He should never be booed, no matter what. And, no matter what happens from here on out, his number should be retired. But we’re trying to win a championship. And, by Ortiz’s own admission, he’s not himself. Hopefully he goes 2-for-4 with a double (or maybe a HR) in Game 1, and this talk goes out the window. But, right now, he looks bad . . . and, as a result, the Sox offense looks bad. They need to be better, or Tampa is going to the World Series (a sure sign of the apocalypse).