Posted by: nhfalcon | November 25, 2009

Ah, the Hot Stove…

aka, “So, What Do the Red Sox Do to Try to Win Next Year?”

Like most of Red Sox Nation, I was disappointed with the way the home team faltered out of the gate after the All Star Game and were then unceremoniously dumped by the Angels in three straight games  in the first round of the playoffs. That being said, despite having to share the division with the mighty Yankees, I like Boston’s chances for next year.

Quick aside – notice how I didn’t make any snide remarks about the Yankees buying their World Series title? There’s a reason for that. No, not because I deny the only reason they won is because they have the biggest payroll in baseball. Rather, it’s because the Sox have the second-biggest payroll in baseball, and while it may not be the behemothian (hey! I just made up a word (I think)! And a damn good one, now that I look at it!) wad of cash that the Yanks toss out every year, it still dwarfs what any other team puts out beside the Yankees. So, to make a snide remark about New York’s payroll would be just a tad hypocritical, and I try to avoid being that way.

Anyway (gee, that aside wasn’t really all that quick, was it? Oh well, it couldn’t have been too bad. You’re still reading, after all, aren’t you?), while I’m optimistic about Beantown’s chances for next year, I’m not such a homer that I can’t realize they do have some obstacles to overcome.

The pitching really doesn’t worry me at all. The starting rotation will likely be Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Bucholz, and Tim Wakefield, and if all five of them are healthy all year and live up to expectations, then they’re good for 15 – 20 wins each. That being said, the Sox are still expected to kick the tires of some big name (John Lackey) and not-so-big name (Ben Sheets, Rich Harden) free agent starters. They might even try to swing a trade for Blue Jats ace Roy Halladay. Why? Because: a) they are firm believers in the theory that there is no such thing as too much good pitching and b) the more pitching they have, the more ammunition they have to try to make a trade for a big bat in their lineup.

The bullpen is also solid. Despite his meltdown against the Angels in Game Three of the first round of the playoffs, Jonathan Papelbon is still one of the premier closers in the game. Hideki Okajima and Daniel Bard are excellent set-up men. Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez, and Takashi Saito are reliable short- to middle-relievers. Either Wakefield or Michael Bowden can be used in long relief, and Bowden could be a spot starter.

The real issue for the Red Sox lies in their offensive capabilities. Jason Varitek is a liability as a hitter at the catcher spot. Big Papi isn’t so big anymore. Jason Bay is a free agent. Mike Lowell gets injured a lot and isn’t getting any younger. J. D. Drew has never lived up to the expectations set by his contract, even on the rare occassion when he’s been healthy. Finally, the Sox haven’t had any consistent offensive production from the shortstop posistion since they traded No-mah back in 2004.

The two catchers for the Red Sox in 2010 look to be Varitek and mid-season trade acquisition Victor Martinez. Martinez is far superior to Varitek offensively, and will benefit greatly from Varitek’s presence in terms of learning how to improve defensively, how to handle a pitching staff, and how to manage a game. Martinez adds versatility as well, being able to play first base and be a DH when necessary.

The regular first basemen will likely be Kevin Youkilis and Casey Kotchman. Youk is a major attribute to this team, being a dangerous hitter, superb defender, and capable of playing third if need be. Kotchman is a good late-inning defensive replacement.

Second base is in the extremely capable hands of Dustin Pedroia. When healthy, third will be manned by Lowell. However, Beantown is rumored to be extremely interested in current San Diego Padre first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. If Gonzalez comes here, that likely moves Youk to third and makes Lowell the odd man out.

Shortstop is a quandary. Since the dealing of Garciaparra, the Red Sox have gone through the likes of Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie, Nick Green, and Alex Gonzalez. For whetever reason, the Sox elected to let Gonzalez go test free agency. The guy may not hit much (though he batted a surprising .284 after he came here from the Reds), but he’s flawless in the field. I would’ve kept him, plugged him in the 9-hole in the lineup and viewed anything he did offensively as gravy, but apparently that’s just me. Apparently what the team wants to do is see if Lowrie can be a full-time major league shortstop. Time will tell…

Two of the three starting outfield spots will be manned by Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury. Drew may be disappointing, but he’s not exactly an automatic out. I’d just like to see him stay as healthy as he did this past season. Rocco Baldelli, Jeremy Hermida, and Joey Gathwright are decent fourth, fifth, and sixth outfielders. The big hole is in left, where Bay is a free agent and reportedly has already turned down a four year, $60 milliion offer from the team. There’s still hope to re-sign him, but Boston may have to look at alternative options, such as Matt Holliday (who is a couple of years younger than Bay.

The downside to any attempts the Red Sox make to improve themselves is twofold: 1) the free agent crop is slim on blue-chip talent, especially young blue-chip talent, and 2) the Sox don’t have the young prospects they used to have to use as ammo in potentia ltrade offers. Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez went to Florida for Beckett and Lowell. Justin Masterson went to Cleveland for Martinez. Bucholz and Bard are now in the majors. Now, if a Lackey and/or Sheets and/or Harden are added to the rotation, Bucholz, Bard, Bowden, and possibly even Papelbon become available to use to bring in somebody like Gonzalez.

When it’s all said and done, I can see the lineup, rotation, and bullpen looking something like this:

1) Ellsbury CF

2) Pedroia 2B

3) Youkilis 3B

4) Gonzalez 1B

5) Holliday LF

6) Martinez C

7) Ortiz DH (yes, Ortiz was a disappointment for much of last year, but he did start to come alive towards the end. Besides, name me a more dangerous #7 in all of MLB)

8) Drew RF

9) Lowrie SS

Rotation – Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka, Sheets, Wakefield

Bullpen – Papelbon (closer), Okajima (setup man), Delcarmen (7th-inning guy), Saito (short relief), Ramirez (left-handed specialist), Bowden (long relief)

Thoughts?

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Responses

  1. My only thought is more directly related to my embarrassment as an Angels fan. I actually expected more of a fight against the Yankees.

    But I don’t suppose that’s what you wanted to hear, eh? 🙂


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