Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

IS ELLSBURY THE ANSWER?

Former Oregon State star Jacoby Ellsbury, who was the Red Sox first round pick in this year's draft, could be ready for this big leagues in 2006. That's according to Pat Casey, his coach at OSU.

With the Sox in need of a center fielder, Casey thinks the Sox should give Ellsbury a shot in Spring Training.

“If I were the Red Sox, I’d take Jacoby to (major league) training camp in February,” says Casey. “If he’d get 50 at-bats during spring training, they’d find he is a lot closer to being big-league ready than they thought. He’d probably hit .250 and steal some bases and play well defensively and they’d go, ‘Wow.’ ”
    
Playing in 35 games for the Lowell Spinners this season, the 21-year-old Ellsbury hit .317 with a .418 on-base percentage. He arrived in Lowell after leading OSU to the Pac-10 title and the College World Series. Even though he missed 14 games due to a hamstring injury, he still led the team with 23 stolen bases and was second on the team in hitting and on-base percentage.

But with just one season of pro baseball experience, it's more likely that the Sox have Ellsbury start the 2006 season with either Class A Wilmington or Double-A Portland.

Wherever he's assigned, Ellsbury felt good about his progress in Lowell, and is quite confident in his abilities.
   
“You always feel like you can play better, but I was pleased with how it went,” says Ellsbury. “I was pretty solid defensively. There wasn’t much of a transition to make from the college game.”

Ellsbury's speed and hitting prowess have led to comparison with Johnny Damon. Perhaps the Sox had this in mind when they refused to make a contract offer of more than four years to their former center fielder.

Hopefully it won't be long before Ellsbury is able to show his readiness in filling Damon's rather sizable footprints in Boston. The Sox may have a more immediate solution in mind, but Ellsbury could be the long term answer that Sox fans are waiting for.

Monday, December 26, 2005

FOILED AGAIN

The Red Sox efforts to make a big post-Christmas splash in the free agent and trade markets were dealt simultaneous blows today when it was revealed that free agent pitcher Kevin Milwood will sign a 5-year, $60 million deal with Texas, while Toronto will land Troy Glaus in a trade with Arizona. In the aftermath of the Johnny Damon defection, the Sox had set both players squarely in their sights in an attempt to soften the blow. But they've been foiled again.

Apparently the Rangers didn't learn their lesson the last time they overpaid for a No. 1 starter. In December 2001 they bound themselves to a five-year, $65 million disaster with Chan Ho Park. Park made five trips to the disabled list, going 22-23 with a 5.79 ERA in 64 starts, before being traded to the Padres in July - with cash - for Phil Nevin. So the Rangers are still paying some of Park's salary while he pitches in San Diego.

Sure, Texas can void the fifth year of the contract if Millwood doesn't pitch a minimum number of innings in the first couple of years. But that's a huge commitment to a guy who spent six weeks on the DL with acute tendonitis in his right elbow in 2004, winning only two games upon his return to the Philadelphia rotation. Milwood finished the year at 9-6 with a 4.85 ERA. And in 2001, Milwood was limited to just 21 starts and went 7-7 after spending 2 1/2 months on the DL with an inflamed right labrum.

Apparently the Sox’ showed some restraint in only offering Millwood a three-year, $30 million guaranteed contract with a vesting option for a fourth season. They may be desperate, but at least they haven't lost their minds over at Fenway.

And any day now, Toronto will announce the acquisition of the power hitting Glaus and a prospect in exchange for reliever Miguel Batista and Gold Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson. Glaus led Arizona with 37 homers and 97 RBI last year and will replace the punch that the Jays offense lost last year when Carlos Delgado left as a free agent.

As it stands now, the Sox look like a third place team in the AL East. Toronto has been one of baseball's most active teams this offseason, expanding their payroll from $45 million to around $80 million. Before acquiring Glaus, the Blue Jays had already added starter A.J. Burnett, first baseman Lyle Overbay and closer B.J. Ryan, rewarding him with the richest contract ever given to a reliever - five-years and $47 million. They may have overpaid for both pitchers, but they will be a force to be reckoned with in 2006.

The free agent pool keeps getting thinner and the Sox are running out of the best available options. They need a center fielder, a shortstop, a left-handed hitting first baseman with power, one more solid starter, plus another lefty in the bullpen. With 2006 just days away, Red Sox management has their work cut out for them, and no matter how they try to spin it, they're in a rather unenviable situation.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

THE END OF AN ERA

What a turnaround Johnny Damon made in just a matter of months. In fact, you could call it a U-turn.

Damon's signing with the Yankees is a complete reversal from his position earlier in the season when he said he could never leave the Red Sox for New York.

"There's no way I can go play for the Yankees, but I know they're going to come after me hard," he told mlb.com last May. "It's definitely not the most important thing to go out there for the top dollar, which the Yankees are going to offer me. It's not what I need."

Well, that was then, this is now. Just seven months later, money seems to talk a lot louder than any sense of loyalty.

My, how times have changed. When the Brooklyn Dodgers traded Jackie Robinson to the New York Giants following the 1956 season, Robinson retired rather than put on the hated uniform of the team he'd been sworn to beat for a decade. Now that's the personification of loyalty.

But maybe it's more than just money. Apparently Damon believes that the Yankees, as currently structured, are more prepared to compete for another World Series title than the Red Sox are right now. He may be right. And Damon also seems to have been concerned about his legacy.

According to Damon's agent Scott Boras, the 32-year-old Damon, who has 1,789 hits in 11 major league seasons, also thought about career statistics in choosing the Yankees.

"He had a goal in this process, where he wanted to get to 3,000 hits. He'll be young enough."

So while Damon had his agenda, the Red Sox apparently had an agenda of their own.

Sources have indicated that, for various reasons, the Sox had a limit as to what they would offer Damon in terms of both length and value of contract. Among the Sox concerns: Damon's age (32), the wear his body has undergone due to his his all-out playing style, and particularly the deterioration of his right shoulder over the last few years. In fact, rumor has it that some in the Sox' hierarchy thought Damon's contract demands were unreasonable and therefore preferred simply letting him go in favor of pursuing a younger center fielder, such as Seattle's Jeremy Reed or Cleveland's Coco Crisp.

In a phone call to Red Sox owner John Henry on Tuesday evening, Boras told Henry that Damon had an offer on the table from another team, and that if the Red Sox had a five year offer to make, it was time to do it. Henry said he would have to "talk to his people," but Boras informed him that he was not calling to negotiate but simply to let him know that another deal was imminent.

Henry now says that the Red Sox weren't willing to make a five-year offer to Damon and figured that as long as one was available to him, there was no reason to increase the value of their four year offer. In the end, the Sox were surprised to learn that Damon had agreed to a four-year contract with New York.

For better or for worse, the fact that the Red Sox thought anything over $10 million was too high a price for Damon, while the Yankees didn't hesitate to make that offer, says a lot about the two organizations. The Yankees will have seven players in their everyday lineup making at least $10 million per year next season. As of now, the Red Sox have two - Jason Varitek and Manny Ramirez. And Damon will be the third lowest paid player in the Yankees lineup after Alex Rodriguez ($20.5m), Derek Jeter ($18.9m), and Jason Giambi ($17.1m), while Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield will match Damon's $13 million salary.

The end result is that the Sox could feel Damon's loss in multiple ways. He had great value as a patient hitter who usually sees a lot of pitches in each at bat. One of Damon's greatest strengths was his ability to make pitchers work, to foul off balls, and to really work the count.

Now that Damon is gone, the Sox will turn their attention to the considerable task of replacing him at the top of the batting order, as well as in the outfield. Their most likely bait will be either Matt Clement or, more likely, Bronson Arroyo. David Wells' trade request will surely be granted, so its reasonable to assume the Sox will lose two members of last season's rotation.

As a result, the Sox are said to be interested in signing free agent Kevin Milwood, the AL ERA leader (2.86) last season with Cleveland. Milwood, who will be 31 next season, owns a a career ERA of 3.76, to go along with a 107-75 career record. A.J. Burnett, who just signed a five year, $55 million deal with Toronto has an almost identical career ERA (3.73), but a significantly less impressive 49-50 career record. If Burnett warranted that type of deal, so will Milwood. The good news is that despite having an aversion to long term deals, the Sox can clearly afford Milwood now that Damon is gone. Let's hope they open the checkbook this time around.

And fortunately for the Sox, the leadoff hitter they now need may already be on their roster. New second baseman Mark Loretta has a higher career on-base percentage (.365) than Damon (.353), so they may not have to look very far after all.

That may be looking on the bright side, but right now we could use the view. As it stands, the 2006 Red Sox are going to have a very different look, and this is, indeed, the end of an era.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

So now we have it. The truth has been revealed. The Red Sox really were caught off guard by Johnny Damon's defection to the Yankees last night. Well, as much as a team can be caught off guard when its free agent center fielder has been known to have had contact with their very determined, very capable, enemy.

The Red Sox did not learn of Damon's decision until they were contacted by reporters last night. CEO Larry Lucchino, who has been a bulls eye for Red Sox Nation since Theo Epstein's sudden departure on Oct. 31, is sure to be the focus of even more intense hatred and scorn now that the "face of the franchise" has been lost to their arch rival. Lucchino, who declared himself in charge of the Damon negotiations, said last night he had not been told of the deal by either Damon or his agent, Scott Boras.

''We have received no such notification. We have not been notified of any such deal." Lucchino said in an e-mail.

The Yankees' 4-year, $52 million offer eclipsed the four-year, $40 million proposal Lucchino made to Boras during the winter meetings in Dallas two weeks ago. There were no further negotiations, no counter proposals, and no subsequent counter offers. The Yanks made their stealth offer, hidden from the media, and Johnny quickly said, "Thanks, I'll take it!"

The Yankees set a deadline of Tuesday's midnight arbitration deadline, and Damon accepted without giving the Sox an opportunity to counter offer.

Damon blames the Red Sox for not pursuing him "aggressively enough", but the truth is that after each side made its initial proposal, only the Red Sox made a counter proposal -- the offer which remained on the table until last night. Damon and Boras never formally responded to that offer as is customarily done. That's not negotiating in good faith.

The startling revelation of Damon's abrupt exit begs the question, why?

In an interview with New York Newsday, Damon expressed his concerns about the instability in the Sox front office and the departure of some of his favorite teammates, like free agents Bill Mueller, who signed with the Dodgers, and the unsigned Kevin Millar. No one should be surprised if Millar ends up in New York platooning at first with Jason Giambi.

Meanwhile, the Yankees lineup looks ever stable, and with Damon's addition, increasingly menacing to opponents -- like the Red Sox.

The Sox management turmoil has never appeared more evident than at this moment. With Christmas just days away, the Red Sox have no center fielder, no shortstop, and no bona fide first baseman. The Sox can call Kevin Youkilis their first base candidate or designate, but that's hardly assuring considering that he's never been a first baseman in the Majors, and has never played a full season at any position. Simply put, a third of the 2006 lineup is in question with just eight weeks remaining until the opening of Spring Training in Fort Meyers.

With Damon's departure, the only regular position players still remaining from the 2004 championship team are outfielders Trot Nixon and Manny Ramírez, catcher Jason Varitek, and DH David Ortiz. And as we all know, Manny has made his wishes quite clear.

Where a team in such disarray goes from here is unclear, but what is clear is just how much work the organization has to do. Replacing a star like Damon, with all of the offensive and defensive attributes that he brought to the table, is not an easy task at this late stage in an already thin free agent market. And any trade partner will know that the Sox are bargaining from a position of desperation, and therefore weakness. Yes Damon had a famously weak arm, but he was a run scoring machine who was constantly on base, rarely hit into inning killing double plays, and perhaps most importantly could bat leadoff. His will big some mighty big shoes to fill.

Boston likes stars, and most of the candidates that have been mentioned as replacements are anything but. Almost all of them will come cheaper than Damon, but none can match his production or his intangible assets as a clubhouse leader.

Minnesota's Torri Hunter is an interesting possibility. Hunter is entering the final season of his contract with the Twins, and is known to be unhappy there. He becomes a free agent at the end of next season and will not resign with the Twins. Knowing this, the Twins are expected to try to move him by the July trade deadline to get some compensation in return. They might be persuaded to move him even sooner if the right offer is presented.

Hunter is a natural center fielder who had 100 hits in 98 games last season. His year was cut short when he broke his ankle while tracking a fly ball in center at Fenway, of all places. Playing in just 60% of the games on the 2005 schedule, Hunter still swatted 14 homers and 56 RBI while scoring 63 runs. The 30-year-old had 23 stolen bases, and his speed makes him one of the outstanding defensive outfielders in the game today. For four consecutive years leading up to last season, Hunter was awarded with the Gold Glove. The seven-year veteran made $8 million last season, and would likely accept a trade only with the guarantee of an extension in the range of $10 million annually.

Known as a enthusiastic player, Hunter would help soften the loss of Damon more than most of the other candidates, but as the Sox are likely to find out next season, Johnny Damon will be very difficult, if not impossible, to replace in the short term.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

JOHNNY B. GONE

So Johnny Damon has officially defected to the Evil Empire. A four-year $40 million offer just wasn't enough to get the deal done between Johnny and the Sox. The question I'm left asking - other than who will bat leadoff and who will play center - is whether the Sox were caught flat footed and were blind sided by this, or whether they were aware of the Yankees offer and made an organizational decision that four years and $52 million was just too much for Damon's services.

The Sox knew that the Yankees were interested. Heck, anyone who was paying even modest attention knew that the Yanks would pursue Damon. It was widely reported that Yankee manager Joe Torre called Damon to solicit him last week. As we all know, Torre's boss usually gets what he wants. And once again, he did,

Incredibly, it was only earlier in the day that Co-GM Jed Hoyer said. "Our absolute priority is to bring Johnny back."

So either the Sox were blind sided, or their "absolute priority" just wasn't that important after all.

Now the attention turns to other alternatives.

Jeremy Reed, while speedy and possessing decent defensive skills, was rather pathetic with a bat in his hands last season. In 141 games, Reed managed just 3 homers, 45 RBI, and a paltry .254 average. Reed's OBP was just .322, largely because he only recorded 124 hits. And his 61 runs will hardly make up for Damon's loss.

The Yankees shied away from Preston Wilson because of injury problems, so the Sox are likely to be equally wary. And Juan Pierre became a Cub while the Sox were trying to retain Damon.

One option could be Devil Rays speedster Joey Gathright since the D-Rays have a glut of outfielders at present. In limited action that allowed him just 76 games, Gathright stole 20 bases but didn't manage to hit a single home run. A left-handed hitter, Gathright hit .276 with a .316 OBP. It's hard to tell how well he'd perform as an everyday player, but his numbers don't look like they would even come close to softerning the blow of Damon's loss.

The Sox have spoken to free agent Juan Encarnacion's representative about possibly coming to Boston. Encarnacion's numbers are certainly better than Reed's, but hardly inspiring. Also appearing in 141 games, Encarnacion totaled 16 homers, 76 RBI and a .287 average. The former Marlin's OBP was .349, but he scored just 59 runs while striking out 104 times. His six stolen bases won't exactly intimidate AL pitchers either. If that's not bad enough, he's a career .268 hitter who owns a career OBP of just .316. By his standards, last year was a good year. Encarnacion will be 30 on Opening Day.

If the Sox can make it happen, acquiring Cleveland outfielder Coco Crisp appears to be the best available option. But like everyone else, the Indians now know that they Sox are desperate, and will try to exact the heaviest price for sending Crisp to Boston.

The 26-year-old Crisp hit .300 this past season, to go along with 16 home runs and 69 RBI. Crisp managed 178 hits and 44 walks for a .345 OBP. He also possesses good speed, hitting 43 doubles and stealing 15 bases. Crisp can play all three outfield positions and, perhaps most importantly, can bat leadoff. Compare his numbers to Damon's last season, and the results are surprisingly pleasing. The two match up quite well.

Best of all, Crisp made just $365K last season and through arbitration will probably just double his salary, making him an incredibly affordable replacement. What will appeal to the Sox is that he won't be eligible for free agency for another four years. Incredibly, Crisp will likely cost about 6% of what Damon will cost the Yankees. That's very appealing indeed.

The Sox have important work to do. There's a gaping hole to make up for in the outfield, as well as in in the batting order. Let's just hope they have someone like Coco Crisp in mind, and not Jeremy Reed. God help us if that's the best they can do. If re-signing Damon was the Sox "absolute priority" leading up to today, that doesn't inspire confidence in any of us now that their new priority is to replace him.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

GIVE TONY G. A SHOT AT SHORT

Free agent infielder Tony Graffanino, who was offered arbitration by the Red Sox earlier this month, has officially accepted it, making him a signed player for 2006.

Graffanino's decision likely surprised the Sox because he'd been seeking a multi-year deal, but found no takers in the free agent market. The Sox offered him arbitration with the expectation that they'd receive a compensatory draft pick when another team signed him. If the Sox had known that Graffanino was willing to accept arbitration, which means a one-year deal at a reasonable cost, it's unclear if they still would have made the deal for second baseman Mark Loretta.

The 33-year-old Graffanino made $1.1 million last season in the final year of a two-year, $2.2 million deal, and will likely see his salary double next season - to roughly $2 million - through the arbitration process.

Graffanino hit safely in 41 of 51 games, totaling 60 hits - many of them clutch - for the Red Sox. That resulted in a .319 average with the Sox and .309 overall, including his time in Kansas City. He also scored 39 runs for the Sox, showing strong base running instincts.

In the absence of a shortstop, since Error Renteria was traded to Atlanta, Graffanino would seem to be an ideal in house solution. The Sox don't have to commit to a long-term deal, and the cost would be quite affordable. Furthermore, Graffanino was immediately embraced by his teammates upon arrival in July and was popular with the fans as well. Good team chemistry and consistency are important, especially in a year in which there has been quite a bit of turnover.

In 83 career games at short, Graffanino owns a .962 fielding percentage, and that would likely improve with regular playing time.

In short, Graffanino seems to have earned a shot at short, and his numbers, his determination, and workman-like attitude seem to back that up.

Give Tony G. a shot.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

SOX CONSIDER LIFE AFTER JOHNNY

Like most others in Red Sox Nation, I love Johnny Damon and all he's done for the Sox both on and off the field. Damon is the team's catalyst and gets on base with an impressive regularity. As a leadoff hitter, Damon's 197 hits and 53 walks resulted in a .316 average and a .366 on base percentage last season. And after he reaches base, Damon has a tremendous knack for scoring, as he did on 117 occasions in the 2005 campaign.

Damon is also an enthusiastic clubhouse leader who is well-liked by his teammates. His fondness for the camera and the microphone, coupled with his unique quotability, not only make him a perfect spokesman for the team, but also relieve some of that burden from his more reticent teammates.

But Johnny wants a lot of money to return all those attributes to Boston next season -- seven years and $84 million to be exact.

The Red Sox, being of sound mind and sound resources, have determined that Damon is no more valuable than team captain Jason Varitek. After an original three-year, $29 million offer to Damon, the Red Sox reportedly came up to a four-year offer in the $40 million range. So far, Damon and his agent, Scott Boras, aren't biting. They're playing hardball, and appear willing to drag these negotiations out for as long as possible -- well into the first week of 2006, if need be.

So, as would reasonably be expected, the Red Sox have started making contingency plans in the event that Damon sees greener pastures elsewhere. They've started looking at the rather limited list of potential leadoff hitters who can play center field and make up for some of Damon's production, should he be lost to free agency.

Cleveland's Covelli "Coco" Crisp would be just that sort of player, and the Red Sox seem to be well aware of that.

Believe it or not, Crisp's numbers match up quite nicely with Damon's, with one glaring exception. He's a whole lot cheaper.

Crisp made about $365,000 last season, and won't be eligible for free agency for another four years. So even if his salary is doubled through arbitration, he'll only cost about six percent of Damon's asking price - $12 million annually. And though no one has stepped up to the plate to make that kind of offer to Damon yet, he could still get one. It's been a crazy free agent period, with lots of absurd signings. Average, or even unproven, players have gotten long term contracts worth tens of millions. Anything, it appears, is possible.

So is Damon worth the money? At four years, $40 million it seems so. He's got to be as valuable as Varitek, and more so than Renteria, who the Sox remorsefully granted the same deal. Anything beyond that is asking for trouble. Just look at the Bernie Williams contract that had the Yankees paying him $15 million this past season when he was well past his prime. Good for Bernie, bad for the Yankees. Not that any Red Sox fan is bemoaning bloated, undeserved contracts given to Yankee players. But let that just be a lesson to the Sox.

Yet, after comparing Damon's numbers with those of Coco Crisp, even the Sox initial offer seems a bit high. Let's compare the two players:

Damon - Crisp
Age: 32 26
AVG. .316 .300
OBP: .366 .345
HR: 10 16
RBI: 75 69
SB: 18 15
Hits: 197 178
BB: 53 44
2B: 35 43

Surprisingly, the numbers match up quite evenly. At 32, Damon is as good as he'll ever be. In other words, this is as good as it gets. However, at just 26, Crisp is still developing and likely has his best years still ahead of him. Damon also had the luxury of being a part of baseball's best offense the last three seasons. Plug Crisp into that lineup, and watch his numbers grow. And with a little more plate discipline, his average and on base percentage will surely go up. It's easy to imagine Crisp standing on second base quite frequently if he played 81 games a season at Fenway. Crisp also hit 48 points higher away from Jacobs Field, so he'd likely find hitting in the friendly confines of Fenway quite satisfactory and equally rewarding.

To be sure, the Red Sox are one of baseball's richest franchises, and as such one of the few who are truly capable of giving Damon the contract he desires. The question is whether the Sox think he deserves that contract, and whether they think they can find a suitable replacement if another team loses its collective mind and grants Damon the ridiculous deal he's demanding.

The point is, the Sox are rightfully exploring alternative options, and in the case of Crisp, there is at least one significantly cheaper possibility. Cleveland knows this, and will try to extract as much as possible in the deal if it's to happen. Both Matt Clement's and Bronson Arroyo's names have come up. But with Nomar Garciaparra having just shunned the Indians in favor of the Dodgers, Cleveland may not be able to part with their starting center fielder.

Until Damon looks around and sees how few suiters are courting him at his asking price, the Sox will surely continue weighing their options and considering life after Johnny. It's not only reasonable, but entirely plausible.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A LOW R.O.I. CAN LEAD TO PANICKED SELLING

I guess it should be considered a vote of no confidence.

The Sox traded Edgar "the Error" Renteria to the Braves last week, and had to assume millions in salary, signing bonuses and trade bonuses to make it happen. When it was all said and done, the Sox paid $23 million for exactly one year of Renteria's services. The Braves, meanwhile, get a former All Star, and two-time Gold Glove winner, for just $18 million over three years. Yeah, that 's just $6 million per season -- well below market value for front-line shortstops. Consider this: the Braves previous shortstop, Rafael Furcal, just signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Dodgers.

Well, maybe Sox fans don't consider Renteria a front-line shortstop anymore after witnessing his Major League leading 30 error nightmare in Boston this season. And it seems that Red Sox management didn't either. The club clearly expected much more than the .276 average, 8 HR, 70 RBI, and 100 strike outs they got for their $40 million investment.

But put the errors aside -- if you can manage to do that -- and Renteria's numbers weren't all that bad. The only truly horrible number was his exorbitant price tag. If Renteria had made, say, $5 million last season, then his 172 hits, 100 runs, and 36 doubles (second on the team behind Ortiz's 40) would have seemed like a great deal. But since he made twice that, there were much higher expectations of him as a result. So, after not meeting those expectations he was unceremoniously ushered out of town, and now the Braves appear to have gotten themselves quite a bargain in return.

The deal was clearly a vote of no confidence in Renteria. However it's rationalized -- he's old, he couldn't handle AL pitching, he couldn't handle the pressure and scrutiny of the Boston media and fans -- no one could justify the Sox paying Renteria that much money to play in Boston for what they got in return. The problem is that the Sox are paying him millions not to play in Boston, and they don't even have a replacement for him yet. They entered the off season needing a first baseman and a third baseman, and now, with the conclusion of the Winter Meetings, they still need a first baseman, plus a shortstop to boot. Well, hopefully not to boot -- Renteria did enough of that. So it's hard to tell whether this has been a productive off season, or not. Some questions may have been answered, but an equal number have been raised.

But the trade of Renteria could also be viewed as a vote of no confidence in Theo Epstein. Renteria was his boy, his grand off season acquisition just a year ago. And his other big signing after the 2004 campaign - Matt Clement - is another guy who arrived with a lot hype, but who seriously underperformed and is also grossly overpaid.

The Sox have made it clear to anyone who's listening that Clement, and the $19 million that is owed to him over the next two years, is very available. That's the thing with three and four year deals; you don't get much time to prove yourself and there's no room for "off years." One bad year is a quarter to a third of the contract, and that's just not acceptable. So the Sox want to cut bait and run.

But just think about what they're willing to accept in return. It seems kind of desperate. The Sox took Andy Marte who is entirely unproven at the big league level -- unless of course you count his dismal performance when he was called up to Atlanta this year. Undoubtedly, Marte could realize his great potential and develop into a future star for the Sox, but that isn't guaranteed. He'll likely start the year at Pawtucket while the Sox are paying some of Renteria's salary to help the Braves compete for another NL East title.

And now, while planning for the possible departure of Johnny Damon, the Red Sox have apparently discussed a deal with the Mariners that would send Clement to Seattle for 24-year-old center fielder Jeremy Reed. Yes, that's right, the great Jeremy Reed who hit .254 with 3 homers, 45 RBIs, and a .322 on-base percentage last season. Woo hoo! Let's try to contain ourselves. In truth, that's nothing but a contract dump -- unless the Sox get screwed again and have to ante up some of Clement's salary in order to get Seattle to take him.

What's going on here? Theo's two big free agent pick-ups being kicked to the curb after just one year? Wow. That hardly seems like a ringing endorsement of Theo's strategy - what ever that was. But the Sox could also be seen as quite sensibly cutting their losses and moving on. And perhaps Theo has endorsed, or even orchestrated, these moves from behind the scenes. Maybe he realizes his mistakes and wants to put them behind him, and the team. After all, there's no getting around the fact that Clement faltered miserably in the season's second half (5.72 ERA), and imploded in his only playoff start. In that game he allowed more earned runs than any Sox pitcher in postseason history. Ouch.

So are these good moves, or desperate moves? At this point it's hard to say, but I'm leaning toward desperate. Perhaps Marte will pan out, and we may even get a chance to find out next year. But Jeremy Reed in return for Matt Clement? Give me a break. Lyle Overbay, a proven commodity, would have been a reasonable return if the Brewers had been willing to pick up all of Clement's remaining salary. But unfortunately they weren't. If the Sox are willing to accept so little in return for a starting pitcher -- and no matter how bad Clement was, starting pitching is still hard to come by -- then someone else better be picking up the tab on what remains of his contract.

If that happens, and the Sox are able to go out and land a better starting pitcher -- like AL ERA king Kevin Milwood -- who would improve their rotation, then I'm all for it. Otherwise, why get screwed twice? Once for overpaying these guys in the first place, and a second time for paying them to play for someone else while getting no proven commodities in return.

The problem with Renteria and Clement wasn't their respective performances, it's how little return the Red Sox got for their investments. The least the Sox can do now is try to get something decent in return for Clement to make up for his losses -- both literal and figurative. Yes, pun intended.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

NOMAR ONCE MORE?

For the first time this off-season, a member of the Red Sox organization spoke publicly about the possibility of re-signing one of the most popular players in recent Sox history. Sox senior advisor Bill Lajoie said today that the team has considered bringing back Nomar Garciaparra -- but not as a shortstop.

The question is, then, for what position?

TEJADA IN RED SOX?

The Sox are need of a shortstop, and coincidentally, Miguel Tejada wants out of Baltimore. A match made in heaven?

Speaking from the Dominican Republic today, the Orioles shortstop said he's unhappy with the team's direction and wants to be traded.

"I've been with the Orioles for two years and things haven't gone in the direction that we were expecting, so I think the best thing will be a change of scenery," Tejada said during a telephone interview in his native country.

The demonstrative, clubhouse leader, who won the 2002 AL MVP with Oakland, signed a $72 million, six-year contract with the Baltimore before the 2004 season.

A durable gamer, Tejada played in all 162 contests this year, hitting .304 with 26 home runs and 98 RBI. But the underperforming Orioles finished 21 games behind the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East.

"I've done many things with this team and I haven't seen results, and the other teams are getting stronger while the Orioles have not made any signings to strengthen the club," said Tejada.

Most tantalizingly, Tejada specifically mentioned the possibility of coming to Boston to play for the Sox.

The Sox will likely examine any and all possibilities for obtaining Tejada, but trading players of his caliber within a division is uncommon. The Orioles would hate to see him come back to haunt them 19 times a year.

But there's always hope. He'd certainly look good in Red Sox.

YOU WANT CHANGE? YOU GOT IT!

The Red Sox continued remaking their infield today, a day after acquiring second baseman Mark Loretta from the Padres, and just weeks after picking up third baseman Mike Lowell from Florida.

Yes, the Sox finally pulled the trigger on the deal that sends Error Renteria to Atlanta, for 22-year-old Andy Marte, one of the Braves’ top prospects the last few years. With Chipper Jones having a contractual agreement to man third base for the Braves for the foreseeable future, Marte was deemed expendable by Atlanta. One Braves executive called him "probably the best player we've ever traded."

Though he'll likely begin the year in Triple A, the Red Sox hope to have Marte on the big league roster at some point next season. Because he's rated as an average defensive third baseman, the Sox expect to try him out at first base at Pawtuckett. Marte's strength is as a run producer, where he has considerable upside.

Some had speculated that the Sox might turn around and flip Marte in another deal, perhaps to the Devil Rays for Julio Lugo, but that is not the case. Red Sox senior adviser Bill Lajoie was quick to dispel that rumor.

"We want to keep that player. ... He's ready to have a good year," said Lajoie. "He would be one of the five players you would want to start a ballclub with."

Lajoie said he expected to see Marte play for the Red Sox this year -- either in the outfield or first base -- because of his great offensive potential. He projects Marte as a 25-30 home run player in the near future. Last season, Marte batted .275 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs in 109 games in Triple-A, and .140 with no homers and four RBIs in 24 games with the Braves. So he's yet to prove that he can match his minor league numbers at the big league level.

Unfortunately, the Red Sox agreed to pay $11 million of the remaining $32 million left on Renteria’s contract ($29 million over three years plus a $3 million buyout -- his deal has a club option for 2009). It's strange that the Sox capitulated to the Braves demand considering that owner John Henry has gone on the record as being opposed to paying former Red Sox to play for other teams. Furthermore, the Sox reportedly lost out on Milwaukee first baseman Lyle Overbay because they would not pick up enough of the $19 million that remains on Matt Clement’s contract over the next two seasons.

The upside to all these moves is that the Sox have thus far managed to pull off all their acquisitions without trading a single everyday player. Instead, they gave up some minor league prospects -- meaning players with "potential" but no evidence of Major League effectiveness -- and a back-up catcher, Doug Mirabelli.

The 35-year-old Mirabelli is a career .241 hitter, but in 4 1/2 years with the Sox he hit just .228. However Mirabelli's strength is his defensive prowess, particularly his ability to catch knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. The two had developed a strong working relationship in their years together. Now that needs to be replaced.

The Sox will weigh Wakefield’s input before signing a new backup catcher. The most likely scenario would be a free agent, such as Ken Huckaby, who played for Toronto last season and was the MVP on the 2001 silver-medal Team USA managed by Terry Francona. The Sox will also consider Kelly Shoppach for the role but the young backstop may well be part of a future trade. He's got to be given a chance to prove his big league readiness somewhere, or else his stock will drop. Apparently Sox special assistant Craig Shipley thinks that time is now.

“When you talk about Kelly Shoppach, you’re talking about someone with 20-plus home runs the last two years in Triple-A,” Shipley said. “He’s a good commodity to have and he’s ready for the big leagues.”

There is, however, some potential downside. Though the Sox have addressed some urgent needs in the starting rotation, bullpen, plus second and third bases, they still have questions remaining at first and short -- not to mention center field becasue Johnny Damon remains unsigned. The team that takes the field next April will barely resemble the one that ended this past season, much less the one that won the World Series in 2004. For starters, their entire infield will have been remade - all four positions. That's a remarkable off season transformation, and the Sox can only hope that the new players find a chemistry amongst them that makes all of this work out for the best.

Though Lowell and Loretta have great histories, Lowell is coming off a career-worst season, and Loretta will be returning from thumb surgery. The Sox could be playing Kevin Youkilis at first, a position at which he's never been a regular. In fact, Youkilis has yet to play a full season as a starter at any position. And the Sox are at least considering the idea of platooning him and Marte at first. You'd have to think that the Sox still have their eye on a veteran first baseman with power, but they're hard to come by this year. Got any ideas? The Rangers' Adrian Gonzalez, who's name has come up in trade talks, has never played a full season in the bigs either, and as such is still an unproven talent himself.

David Wells is sure to be dealt, and either Matt Clement or Bronson Arroyo could join him on the way out the door.

And then there's the outfield. The Damon situation remains fluid, though I believe the Sox will eventually resign him. Manny's wife wants him out of Boston -- though I think that he too will be back next season -- and Trot Nixon's name keeps coming up in trade rumors. If any of the three change uniforms that would just add to the incredible amount of change already begun. As it stands, half the everyday position players will be newcomers when the season gets underway in April.

Let's hope that the new guys can help rekindle some of the old magic and spark from 2004. And let's also hope that there's enough of the core players left from that Championship season to show them how.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

GIRL TROUBLE SAID TO FUEL MANNY'S TRADE WISHSES

First Tuesday's Providence Journal reported, "it appears agent Greg Genske has communicated to management that Ramirez is so intent on being dealt that he will accept a trade almost anywhere."

Then Gordon Edes reported that Manny's agents, Genske and Gene Mato, "threw out is the possibility that Manny's contract will be extended, or restructured, to make a deal happen."

With Manny having given his reps a mandate to do whatever they can to get him out of town, one has to ask, why? What would make Manny so desperate to get out of Boston?

In a recent interview, David Ortiz said that there were private issues that Manny and his wife were dealing with that were driving his determination to leave.

The question is, what kind of issues?

A source with knowledge of the situation tells me that Manny's considerable desire to get out of Boston stems from some serious girl trouble. Though the source wouldn't elaborate, it seems that Manny may have been having an affair and his wife found out. Now she wants him out of Beantown and away from his paramour.

Of course neither the Red Sox nor Manny Ramirez - or his representatives - will ever confirm this, but it gives his trade demand perspective and makes this issue a whole lot clearer.

CLEMENT & NIXON ON THE MOVE?

The word in Dallas is that Sox starter Matt Clement is eminently available. One intriguing rumor has him going to Philadelphia, along with Trot Nixon, in exchange for Bobby Abreu. However, the Philadelphia Enquirer reports that the Phillies are "cool on Clement." Another rumor, which has been floating around for at least a week, has Clement headed to Milwaukee for first baseman Lyle Overbay. Stay tuned...things could develop rapidly.

According to the Hartford Courant, the Sox have also spoken to the Pirates about dealing Nixon for one of two pitchers, either Kip Wells or Mark Redman. That could mean that another deal for a replacement right fielder is imminent, or at least necessary. It's hard to imagine the Sox letting Adam Stern inherit that position at this point. Stern showed excellent defensive prowess in his few opportunities in right last season, but he struggled at the plate. He'll also be returning from off-season shoulder surgery.

Most recently, the Sox spoke with Seattle about a trade involving Nixon, who are interested in the Sox longest tenured position player. Nixon is the only everyday player to have come up through the Sox minor league system. There is no word on what that would mean for the Mariners' All Star right fielder, Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro has expressed frustration with playing for a continually losing franchise, but the Mariners have said he is not on the trading block. In some ways it's hard to imagine the M's trading Ichiro, but then again, in the past they traded Ken Griffey Jr,. Alex Rodriguez, and Randy Johnson in succession. I guess that would indicate that no one is truly untouchable in Seattle.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

CASEY & OLERUD REMOVED FROM SOX LIST

The Red Sox can remove first baseman Sean Casey from their wish list because the Reds have dealt him to the Pittsburgh Pirates for left-hander Dave Williams.

Casey, who grew up in a Pittsburgh suburb, will be going back home. In making the move, the Reds dumped $8.5 million in salary for next season.

At first glance, the Sox would seem to have lost out on a fine opportunity - Casey is a lifetime .305 hitter - but they had conversations with the Reds and must have decided to move in a different direction. You'd have to figure that the Red Sox could have made the Reds a better offer than Williams, who finished the season with a losing 10-11 record, a 4.41 ERA, and struck out just 88 batters in 138 2/3 innings. Hardly the kind of return that a trade of Casey, a three-time All-Star, would seem to warrant.

So the Sox will turn their attention to Lyle Overbay, Adrian Gonzalez, or some other first baseman -- likely a left handed hitter.

But John Olerud will no longer be an option either. The Red Sox announced today that Olerud is retiring after 16 Major League seasons.

The 37-year-old was a two-time All-Star ('93 & '01) a three-time Gold Glove winner ('00, '02 and '03) and won the AL batting title in 1993 with a .363 average that helped Toronto win its second consecutive World Series title.

A .295 career hitter with 255 home runs and 1,230 RBI in 2,234 games, Olerud played for Toronto (1989-96), the New York Mets (1997-99), Seattle (2000-04) and the Yankees (2004) before coming to Boston last season.

After having surgery last November to repair torn ligaments in his foot, he signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox on May 1 and went from extended spring training to a minor-league rehab. In 87 games of limited action, he batted .289 and played excellent defense for the Sox.

Widely regarded as a true class act, wherever Olerud played his teammates considered to be him one of the nicest guys in the game. His quiet, steady presence will surely be missed in the Sox clubhouse next season.

HOT STOVE HEATING UP

The biggest question in Red Sox Nation this week is if the Sox will really trade All Star Manny Ramirez, and if they can ever possibly get equal value in return. The Sox aren't a team of the future and aren't in a rebuilding phase. They need players that can help them win next year, as they are otherwise constructed to do. Prospects won't help in 2006.

Although he batted under .300 for the first time since 1998, Ramirez nevertheless finished third in the American League with 45 home runs and tied for second with 144 RBI. After batting .358 with runners in scoring position, Manny cemented his reputation as a nearly-unstoppable force in clutch situations.

But Manny's lack of focus has become legendary. Though he batted .346 with runners on last season, his average plummeted to just .237 with the bases empty. Then there was his problem with hustle -- whether it was to first base on an infield grounder, or when chasing fly balls in the outfield.

Whether the Sox want to keep their disgruntled slugger or not, Manny seems determined to leave. Tuesday's Providence Journal reported that "it appears agent Greg Genske has communicated to management that Ramirez is so intent on being dealt that he will accept a trade almost anywhere."

At least that what he says today. But the Sox aren't obligated to trade their left fielder. Manny is under contract for the next three years to the tune of $57 million. Does anybody really think he'll sit out and forfeit that cash? I don't. Manny has never been a clubhouse cancer, and he could come around. Money is very motivational.

As to the potential of trading Manny Ramirez, special assistant Craig Shipley indicated both the challenges and the risks of such a deal.

"That's a lot of offense. He's an outstanding hitter. To replace him would be difficult. I think a lot of time and energy has been spent on Manny, trying to come up with a deal that is good for us and a place he would like to go."

Senior advisor Bill Lajoie also warned that a fair deal for Ramirez may not materialize in Dallas.

"First of all, you're not going to get fair value in any way, shape or form. This is an A-1 hitter and you're not going to find an A-1 player that someone is going to give you. So, if you trade him, you will not get the value man for man. And sometimes three or four pieces don't add up to that one man. It just depends."

But Lajoie, who is serving as the point person in Boston's GM-by-committee, also said "There's different values that we place on players that are different than other clubs."

That is a very interesting point of view. The Sox may be looking at more than just home runs and RBIs in return for any trade that involves Manny. Leadership and clubhouse chemistry are clearly important to management, not to mention on base percentage..

Time will tell, but any trade involving Manny would be especially complicated. It could involve multiple players and multiple teams. The taker would need to have the resources to afford Manny's salary, not just the desire. Though the Sox might like to get out from under the weight of his hefty contract in order to address other needs, the truth is they are one of the few teams that can truly afford him, and they'll need to make up his offensive production somehow. And then there's the fact that Manny can veto any trade. The capricious All Star is quite hard to figure out, and even though he's rumored to willing to go "almost anywhere," that just can't be true. Boston just isn't that bad, and neither is being so beloved in a genuine baseball town.

In other matters, don't be surprised if the Sox trade Mike Lowell before he ever formally puts on a Red Sox uniform. The Twins have been interested in him since he was a Marlin. They still need a third baseman and Bill Meuller appears to be headed out West.

The Sox want another starter and would love to jettison Matt Clement and his undeserved contract to make room for one. He could be bait for any fool who's willing to assume the remaining two years on his deal. The Sox also want a slugger to man first base because, even with Manny, they still need more offense. They're also in the market for a second baseman who will assume that role for at least one season.

With that in mind, the Sox are talking to the D-Rays about both OF/1B Aubrey Huff, who they've long coveted, and shortstop Julio Lugo, who they would move to second.

This is an exciting time in Hot Stove baseball, and the Sox are likely to make some dynamic moves this week that will improve the club, even if Manny Ramirez isn't involved in any of them.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

YANKS LOST $50 million - $85 million!!

The Yankees quiet restraint in the free agent market this off-season has been quite a curiosity. We may now have an answer as to why.

According to the New York Daily News, the Yankees lost between $50 million and $85 million for the 2005 season.

The paper reveals that despite drawing more than four million fans, an inflated payroll of $200 million plus an additional $110 million in revenue sharing and luxury taxes has put the Yankees in the red.

"Yes, even George has his limits," one source told the Daily News.

The paper also reports that the Yankees might go further into debt if an MLB consultant determines that the team undervalued their television rights.

The Yankees currently charge the YES Network about $60 million for annual broadcast rights, but if it's found to be undervalued, the Yankees will have to make up the difference by putting more money into the revenue-sharing fund.

The exact numbers won't be known for a few months, but it's believed that the figure will amount to roughly $80 million when the final tally is added up.

"They're going to owe us money," one MLB source predicted to the paper.

This isn't the first time that Steinbrenner and co. have run into a deficit. According to Forbes magazine, the Yankees also lost $37.1 million in 2004.

Reality bites.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

AN EXCITING WEEK AHEAD

With the opening of the Winter Meetings, the Red Sox top priorities are to re-sign Johnny Damon and listen to all offers for the disgruntled Manny Ramirez. The Sox also have slots to fill at first and second base.

Allegedly, the Sox were contacted by the Rangers about a trade for Ramirez that would include second baseman Alfonso Soriano. But the Sox might move Soriano to left to replace Ramirez should that deal pan out. That would still leave second base in play since some in the organization doubt Dustin Pedroia's readiness to start regularly. With that in mind, the Sox have spoken to the representatives of free agent Tony Graffanino about returning to the club in 2006. However, Graffanino is said to be looking for a three year deal.

If the those conversations don't pan out, the Sox are also said to be interested in free agent second baseman, Mark Grudzielanek, who played for the Cardinals last year. Nomar Garciaparra could also be an inexpensive option. That would a strange turnabout since Nomar rejected a four-year $60 million dollar offer from the Sox just two years ago.

Another rumor has the Padres offering second baseman Mark Loretta to the Sox for David Wells and Doug Mirabelli, who could become the Padres everyday catcher. The 34-year-old Loretta had a career year in 2004, batting .335 with 16 home runs and 76 RBIs, all personal bests. Previously, the Padres have offered a variety of players, including pitcher Woody Williams, outfielder Dave Roberts, and reliever Akinori Otsuka, in return for Wells.

Loretta underwent surgery last season to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb. Appearing in just 105 games, he batted .280 with three home runs and 38 RBIs. Loretta is said to be expendable because the Padres have an interest in signing Garciaparra to play second. Loretta is in the last year of his Padres deal and is due just $3 million in 2006. If Mirabelli is to be included in the deal, the Sox are expected to ask for another player, possibly Otsuka.

The Sox are also said to have an interest in several left-handed hitting first baseman, such as Milwaukee’s Lyle Overbay, Cincinnati’s Sean Casey, and the Ranger's Adrian Gonzalez. The club is also considering making an offer to free agent John Olerud. Olerud would be an inexpensive option and would likely accept a one-year offer. Arizona's Troy Glaus would be another intriguing, though quite expensive, possibility at first. Glaus is owed $33 million over the next three years, but his big bat could still arrive in Boston if Manny is dealt.

The Sox may use any combination of Manny Ramirez, David Wells, Matt Clement, Bronson Arryo, Kevin Youkilis, and Kelly Shoppach as bargaining chips. Don't be surprised if any of them are gone before the season starts.

This should be an interesting week, as a lot could happen. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 02, 2005

SOX ACQUIRE CUBS TRIPLE A PITCHER OF THE YEAR

On Thursday, the Red Sox acquired 25-year-old right-hander Jermaine Van Buren from the Cubs for either a player to be named later, or cash.

Van Buren was the Cubs' Pitcher of the Year at Triple A Iowa last season, going 2-3 with a 1.98 ERA and setting a franchise record with 25 saves. He held batters to a lowly .181 average and had a phenomenal 65 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings.

Since becoming a reliever in 2004, Van Buren has excelled, posting a 1.92 ERA with 47 saves in 109 minor league games.

Making his major league debut Aug. 31, the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder held opponents to a .118 batting average, allowing two earned runs in six relief appearances. Over six innings he surrendered just two hits. If he continues that trend, the youngster should bolster the Sox bullpen next season, and potentially for years to come.

It's quite curious that the Cubs would part with the their Triple A Pitcher of the Year for an undetermined player or cash. It's hard to figure what would provoke such a move, but let's just hope that the Cubs loss is the Sox gain. It seems like yet another smart off-season move by the Red Sox GM by committee.

FROM THE RUMOR MILL

There are rumors that the Sox have engaged in trade talks with the Reds for outfielder Adam Dunn, just the third player in Reds history to hit 40 homers in consecutive seasons. For a while now, similar rumors have also circulated about the Sox interest in Reds first baseman Sean Casey, who led the Reds with a .312 average last year. The left-handed hitter has a lifetime .305 average, striking out in less than 12% of his at-bats. The Sox might be particularly impressed by Casey's .371 on-base percentage in 2005.

There have also been reports that the Sox are interested in Diamondbacks third baseman Troy Glaus. Perhaps the Sox would contemplate moving Glaus to first, considering that they've just committed the next two years to Gold Glove winner Mike Lowell. Glaus is said to be expendable because the D-Backs believe he has lazy work habits.

With the Sox unsure of Dustin Pedroia's ability to step in right away and take over second base on a full time basis this spring, would they consider Nomar Garciaparra for the job? The two-time batting champion is looking for work and made it clear that he he would switch positions.

"I played third last year. You do what you can do when you're on a team," he recently said.

Nomar batted .283 in 62 games with the Cubs last season and played 34 games at third base because of an injury to Aramis Ramirez.

Friday, November 25, 2005

CLEMENT FOR OVERBAY?

Even in the aftermath of the Josh Beckett acquisition, there's been speculation that the Red Sox may not yet be done in their attempts to overhaul their 2005 rotation. Assuming that David Wells will be traded, the Sox opening day staff could include Beckett, Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, Bronson Arroyo, Matt Clement, and likely Jonathan Papelbon. That means there are already six starters on the staff before another pitcher is acquired.

As I've written in the past, Arroyo would seem like the most likely trade option because of his low cost and durability. While not exceptional, Arroyo's numbers last year were good enough to make him a solid back of the rotation starter, and many teams might be interested in the right deal.

But Red Sox Nation might be much happier to see the Sox part company with Matt Clement and his large contract instead. Clement faded miserably in the season's second half - for the second year in a row. See a pattern developing here? But it seemed that Clement's $8 million plus annual salary would scare away any potential trade partners. The Sox overbid on a mediocre pitcher, and it seemed they were stuck with him for two more years. Or, maybe not.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Red Sox have inquired about Brewers first baseman Lyle Overbay. The paper claims that a rumor is "circulating" that the Sox have offered Clement as compensation. Overbay's production took a dip last year when he hit .276 for the Brewers with 19 home runs and 72 runs-batted in, along with a .367 on-base percentage and a .449 slugging percentage. But in 2004, the left-handed Overbay, who turns 29 in January, hit .301/.385/.478, with 16 homers, 53 doubles and 87 RBI. After earning $446,000 last season he is arbitration eligible and could potentially triple his salary in 2006. That would still be a deal. The Blue Jays are also said to interested in Overbay's services.

If the Sox can dump Clement, they can make a run at free agent Kevin Millwood, who led the AL with a 2.86 ERA last season in Cleveland. Millwood will only be 31 next season. AJ Burnett may be too pricey, considering the 5-year $50 million offer that the Blue Jays recently tendered, while Matt Morris and Jarrod Washburn (3.20 ERA) remain other possibilities. All of them had better ERA's than Clement's 4.57. Clement also gave up more than a hit an inning, so if the Sox could lose him and upgrade, particularly with Millwood, they would have a much better staff next season.

That's something to look forward to.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

WOULDN'T IT BE NICE?

The Red Sox have been searching for an answer at first base since the end of the season. Heck, they were searching for an answer during the season as well. Kevin Millar seemed to get old overnight, and John Olerud is even older. Did you see him run the bases last year after off-season foot surgery? Sure, Olerud can still play some excellent defense and still hits well too. But he is not a long term solution. He could be a temporary fix and would make a fine veteran back-up next season.

Paul Konerko has proclaimed his desire to stay in Chicago or go to the West Coast. The Angels would happy to oblige him. The Mets just picked up Carlos Delgado in a trade, which removes him from the market and could put Manny Ramirez out of the Mets price range too. The Angels won't pay Manny $20 million to DH, and if they land Konerko, Manny would be removed from their wish list anyway.

So the Sox will likely (hopefully) end up with Manny playing left field again next year. Johnny Damon will cost them if they hope to keep him, and they've just committed $18 million to Mike Lowell over the next two years. What this all adds up to is the Sox needing an affordable, young first baseman, who can provide some much needed punch from the position.

Adrian Gonzalez just might be that guy.

Two major league sources have revealed that the Sox and the Texas Rangers have spoken about a trade that would send the first baseman, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 draft, to Boston. A lefthanded hitter, the 23-year-old Gonzalez, tore up Triple A Oklahoma last year, hitting .338 with 18 homers and 65 RBIs. When he was called up to Texas at the end of the season he cooled off considerably. In 150 at-bats for the Rangers, he hit .227 with 6 homers and 17 RBIs. So he didn't exactly light up big league pitching, but how often does a team get a chance to snag a 23-year-old former No. 1 pick? Not often. The Rangers like Gonzalez, but he's become expendable due to the emergence of All Star Mark Texiera.

Hopefully the Rangers can be persuaded to swap Gonzalez for Triple A catcher Kelly Shoppach, a Texas native. The Sox will have no use for Shoppach for at least the next couple of seasons, and they are known to have shopped him last summer.

If the Sox acquire Gonzalez, they could platoon him at first-base with the righthanded-hitting Kevin Youkilis. That might be good for Youk because he's not a natural first baseman. Both players are young and hungry, and they could push each other to be their very best.

The Sox need to continue their youth movement, blending those youngsters with their seasoned veterans. That'll make for a very nice compliment of players, and the young guys come cheap. Perhaps Adrian Gonzalez could be one of them. A young, inexpensive infield comprised, for the foreseeable future, by the likes of Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Gonzalez. Wouldn't it be nice?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A MATTER OF PROOF OVER POTENTIAL

Josh Beckett and MIke Lowell for Hanley Ramirez, Anibel Sanchez, and Jesus Delgado.

I like this move. It shows that, even without a GM, the Red Sox organization isn't asleep at the wheel. The Sox had plenty of offense last season, but pitching was their Achilles heel. Their 4.74 team ERA ranked 24th out of 30 teams. They were 15th in complete games (6), 18th in shut outs (8), and 21st in strike out per game (5.9). They needed to get better if they genuinely hoped to repeat as World Series Champions. This trade shows just how genuine those aspirations are.

Sure, there are risks, but there is also the significant likelihood of great reward. The Sox starting rotation was old last year and getting older this year. Everyone knew that changes had to be made. The additions of Josh Beckett and Jon Papelbon to the rotation will make the staff younger in a hurry. And the Sox may not be done yet. They could still pursue someone like Kevin Millwood. The Blue Jays 5-year, $50 million offer to AJ Burnett may have priced him right out of the market, considering that he's a game under .500 lifetime.

Yes, there are some worries about Beckett's reliability. In four big league seasons, he's struggled with nine trips to the DL -- but six were for blisters on the middle finger of his throwing hand. That can be overcome. It's important to remember that in those four years, Beckett averaged 150 K's per season. Though he's struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, he is coming off a year in which he notched career highs in wins (15), starts (29), innings (178 2/3) and strikeouts (166).

The Marlins were concerned enough about Beckett's shoulder to have him undergo two MRIs at the end of the season. If there are any problems, they should be revealed in his pending physical. There probably won't be. If there were any significant issues, they would have been disclosed during trade talks and if so, the Sox would have balked. The good news is that Beckett's shoulder likely didn't suffer from overuse. The 25-year-old righty has yet to make as many as 30 starts or pitch as many as 180 innings in a season. You could say he has low miles.

Beckett proved himself to be a big game performer during the 2003 postseason. At just the tender age of 23, he pitched a complete-game shutout against the Cubs in Game 5 of the NLCS, and then only three days later pitched four innings of relief in Game 7, allowing just one run. He followed up those incredible performances with another complete-game shutout -- a Game 6 World Series clincher against the Yankees -- again on just three days' rest.

In all, he made six postseason appearances that year, going 2-2 with a 2.11 ERA, 47 strike outs, and only 12 walks in 42 2/3 innings. He has proven himself big-game ready, and he is a Yankee killer. Need I say more?

One major league executive said of Beckett, "Everybody in the game would love to have him. He's got a plus fastball, a plus breaking ball, and a plus changeup, and he comes right at you. He's a horse. He's a legitimate No. 1, and I don't know how many of those exist anymore. He's special. He wanted the ball in New York in Game 6. He's a special guy."

The Marlins were so desperate to rid themselves of third baseman Mike Lowell's burdensome contract that they were willing to part with one of the game's finest young arms to make it happen. They weren't trying to get rid of Beckett; they were trying to get rid of Lowell and had to toss in Beckett to make it happen. The Marlins have attendance issues down in Miami and can't afford a competitive big league payroll. They ranked 28 out of 30 teams in home attendance despite three straight winning seasons, including a World Series championship. They deal with oppressive heat plus constant rain outs / delays in South Florida, and the club is threatening to relocate if they don't get a baseball-only stadium with a retractable roof. The Marlins have issues, but Beckett wasn't one of them.

Lowell, an eight-year veteran, was an All-Star for three consecutive seasons prior to 2005, a year in which he still won a Gold Glove. Though he struggled with a .236 average last season, he hit .293 the previous year and is a lifetime .272 hitter. There are baseball scouts and executives who believe that he simply had an off year and will thrive in the friendly confines of Fenway Park - the epitome of a hitter's park. The Monster is only 310 feet from home, and he should take ample advantage of it. There is a reason that Lowell has such a big contract -- he earned it. In 2003, he belted 32 homers and 105 RBI. He followed that up in '04 by hitting 27 homers and driving in 85 runs.

Hanley Ramirez, long hailed for his impressive skills, has been described as a five tool player. But he's yet to develop into a productive offensive force in the Minors. In 2005, Ramirez hit .271 with six homers and 52 RBIs at Double-A Portland. If that's the best he could do in AA, he's clearly not ready for the Bigs. Perhaps Ramirez was the victim of unrealistic hype or excessive pressure, but it wouldn't have gotten any easier if he ever made it to Fenway. He's been in the organization for four years, and at the age of 22 he still isn't ready for prime time. Perhaps he'll thrive in the low-pressure environment of Miami, but if he repeats his 2005 performance his stock will fall considerably by this time next year. That would make a trade like this impossible.

Sanchez, who missed the entire 2003 season due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, came back strong the last two years. He opened the 2005 season at Class A Wilmington, going 6-1 with a 2.40 ERA in 14 starts. He was then promoted to Double-A Portland, going 3-5 with a 3.45 ERA in 11 starts. His performance clearly diminished with the promotion, and he obviously isn't even ready for Pawtuckett yet. He's made only 11 starts above Single A, and one high-ranking Sox executive projected him as a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher when he's finally major league-ready. The Sox didn't expect that to be until approximately 2007.

This was the right move for the Red Sox at the right time. Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell are proven big league players. Hanley Ramirez and Anibel Sanchez have proven only that they have potential. I'll take proof over potential any day.

Monday, November 21, 2005

BECKETT AND LOWELL TO SOX

The Red Sox and Marlins have reached a tentative agreement on a trade that will send Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston for two prospects, shortstop Hanley Ramirez and right-hander Anibal Sanchez, plus another minor-league pitcher.

According to Peter Gammons, the deal is contingent on the completion of paperwork and all players passing physicals. Gammons said an official announcement is not expected until at least Tuesday, meaning that the deal could still fall apart.

Jayson Stark said the deal appears to be held up only by last-minute haggling over dollars. Florida will pick up an undetermined portion of the $18 million owed to Lowell over the next two seasons.

In return, the Red Sox will send their much heralded shortstop prospect Ramirez, as well as the highly touted Sanchez. According to Stark, the Marlins had originally sought left-hander Jon Lester, but the Sox balked at including him in the trade. Instead, Boston agreed to add a second, as yet unnamed, minor leaguer if Florida agreed to take Sanchez instead.

Lowell, who will be 32 next season, won the NL Gold Glove at third base last season. Though he had an uncharacteristically off year at the plate, hitting just .236 with eight homers and 58 RBI, it's worth noting that he averaged 24 homers and 94 RBI in the five previous seasons.

RUMOR HAS IT...

In an effort to clear payroll and make room for long-term contract offers to Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera, the Florida Marlins are said to be deep in trade discussions involving Josh Beckett and Carlos Delgado.

The Red Sox are said to be one of the teams negotiating with Florida to get Beckett. As part of the deal, the Sox would have to take on Mike Lowell's bloated contract, which has nearly $18 million remaining over the next two seasons. The Marlins also want shortstop Hanley Ramirez and a young pitcher, either Jon Lester or Anibel Sanchez, in return.

The Sox already balked at taking Lowell as part of the AJ Burnett trade package at July's trade deadline, so it's hard to imagine what would persuade them at this point. Perhaps it's simply the opportunity to get a very talented 25-year-old starting pitcher, which the team could desperately use. Beckett was the 2003 World Series MVP for the Marlins.

A 6'5" righty, Beckett is a four-year arbitration-eligible player who made $2.4 million in 2005. Last season he went 15-8 for the Marlins with a 3.38 ERA, and is 41-34 lifetime with a very respectable 3.46 ERA.

The Rangers are also said to be in the hunt for Beckett and are willing to deal third baseman Hank Blalock.

THE GM SEARCH (OR SAGA) CONTINUES

I was wrong. Though I said that Dayton Moore was likely to become the Red Sox next GM, Moore took himself out of consideration and opted to remain with the Braves organization. Moore joined the long list of candidates - Kevin Towers, Doug Melvin, J.P. Ricciardi, Brian Sabean, Terry Ryan, Chris Antonetti, and Tony LaCava - who've told the Red Sox that they're not interested.

The Red Sox are now the only team in baseball without a GM. They are clearly one of the best franchises in baseball, and their GM position is generally considered one of the plum jobs in the sport. They have excellent revenue streams, a top-end payroll, a very dedicated fan base, ownership that has proven itself committed to winning, and a rich history to boot. And yet none of the Sox top choices wanted the job. It now appears that whoever ownership eventually chooses, they'll be settling.

Though some of the candidates declined due to family reasons, many assume that none of them wanted to work with Larry Lucchino. Rightly or wrongly, Lucchino seems to have earned himself a bad reputation, and that could hurt the club in its search for the best candidate.

While Lucchino denies that the Sox are currently in turmoil, it's hard to see how not currently having a GM isn't hurting the team during this free agent period, and with the Winter Meetings just weeks away. No one will be surprised if the club is beaten to the punch in the free agent or trade markets because they are unprepared.

This is a very unfortunate position for the club to be in right now, and it won't just suddenly get better with the selection of a new GM. That person will have to get up to speed very quickly with things such as the team's off season needs, its player personnel, its minor league rosters, and its payroll to name a few.

It shouldn't have come to this. None of this should have ever happened. Theo Epstein told the club back in Spring Training that he wanted to negotiate his contract then so that the organization wouldn't be distracted during a critical free agent period, when there would be other very important decisions to be made. But ownership wouldn't listen, and this is where they find themselves now as a result. That's very unfortunate. And now all we can do is hope for the best.

Monday, November 14, 2005

IS MOORE THE NEXT GM?

Braves assistant general manager Dayton Moore, 38, may have become the front runner in the Red Sox quest to find a new GM. At this point, Moore is the only candidate to have been granted a second interview by the club.

One aspect of Moore's resume that appeals to the Sox brass is that he has coached, managed and scouted at various levels of the game. And under his guidance, Atlanta developed one of the best farm systems in baseball. The Sox like that record and hope to mimic the Braves success in breeding young talent.

Trot Nixon is the only everyday position player to have come up through the Sox farm system, and the club wants to get away from having to continually go after pricey free agents in an effort to fill holes each year. Clearly, Moore shares their way of thinking.

''My philosophy is you should have three or four kids a year competing with your 25-man roster every season. If you don't have that, I think you're going to run into trouble as an organization," he said.

Moore has declined other offers in the past because of his affinity for the Braves organization, the deep minor league talent pool that has kept the club so competitive every year, and because indications are that he'll eventually succeed current Braves GM, John Schuerholz. But Moore has described the Boston job as ''very special." Having already gone through two interviews, it's obvious he genuinely thinks so.

Moore is one candidate to keep your eye on, and his proven track record in Atlanta may, in fact, make him the ideal candidate to succeed Theo Epstein and continue the Red Sox winning tradition.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

THE WRITING'S ON THE WALL

Let's hope that Red Sox management had a contingency plan in place to deal with the loss of GM Theo Epstein. But gauging by the remarks of owner John Henry at Wednesday's highly anticipated Fenway Park press conference, we shouldn't count on it. The organization clearly seems to have been caught flat footed.

Discussing Epstein's surprise resignation, Henry faulted himself for the breakdown in negotiations.

"I hold myself wholly responsible," Henry lamented before a packed conference room. ''This is a great, great loss, to lose Theo. What could I have done? There's plenty I could have done. I have to ask myself, maybe I'm not fit to be principal owner of the Boston Red Sox."

That revelation was starkly revealing, and Henry seemed genuinely shocked and saddened by Epstein's departure.

''Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would ever happen. I had this romantic notion that Theo's going to be our general manager for the rest of my life. We have the best relationship imaginable. We still have the best relationship. I can't imagine having a better relationship with a human being than I have with Theo."

''This is a great loss. It's a great personal loss."

In claiming personal responsibility, Henry was careful to defend CEO Larry Luchino from the sharp criticism that's been leveled at him by the fans and the Boston media.

"I am much more responsible for this than Larry Luchino is," Henry said. ''Did I blow it? Yeah, I feel that way."

''You may notice Larry Lucchino is not here today. He's been maligned and blamed for this situation over the last couple of days. I think that's wrong. I think that's inaccurate."

"Larry Lucchino is not the root of the problem here. He's going to do what he did before, and build a baseball organization."

Building the team, or more specifically rebuilding it, will be the work of the next general manager - Kevin Towers or whoever else it may be.

And perhaps that is just exactly the task that Epstein wanted to avoid. After careful examination, Epstein may have concluded that, at least for the for time being, the Red Sox have reached the pinnacle of their success and have begun a slow process of decline. Perhaps he sees the last three seasons as a remarkable run that cannot be matched with the personnel that will take the field next spring, including available free agents. Maybe he thinks the Sox have been as good as they'll be for quite a while.

Doubt it? It's not that inconceivable. If ownership is determined to trade Manny Ramirez - no matter what they get in return - and Johnny Damon decides to leave due to a combination of Manny's departure and a better offer from another club, two central components of the vaunted Red Sox offense will have been lost.

And in assessing next year's likely roster, things don't look much better from there. First base remains a mystery, and the top prize, Paul Konerko will likely re-sign with the White Sox. If Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis are the starting second and third basemen, respectively, the infield will be quite inexperienced. Youkilis has never played a full season in the majors, and hasn't had the opportunity to prove himself over the long haul. As for Pedroia, he's never even played a single game in the majors, and yet he may inherit second anyway.

Edgar (Error) Renteria's contract is an albatross slung tightly around the team's collective neck. That signing appears to be one of the glaring errors of Epstein's tenure. Perhaps ER will rebound and have a better all-around performance next year, but he'll never be worth $10 million per season, no matter what.

And then there's the pitching staff. David Wells reportedly wants to be traded back to the West Coast to finish his career. With his 15 wins, he was one of the Sox best pitchers last season - for whatever that's worth. His trade availability may garner some interest this off-season and perhaps a decent player in return. Another pitcher would be nice, but the team certainly has no shortage of of holes to fill. The addition of Jonathan Papelbon to the rotation will help, but it won't be enough to get them back to the World Series, much less win it. The team needs an ace - someone who is consistent and who they can count on at every start. At present that pitcher is not on their staff, and that is their Achilles heal. Or at least one of them.

Even is he's physically healthy, Keith Foulke's mental and emotional problems may continue, and at this point the team should expect that likelihood. Mike Timlin's pending return is the one positive in an off-season that has otherwise gotten off to a rather ominous start. He'll resume his role as the team's top set up man, but a front line closer is needed. Billy Wagner anyone?

The question is money. If ownership is determined to shrink payroll, despite the potential subtraction of Manny's contract, Epstein may have seen the writing on the wall and known that they wouldn't cough up the money needed to fill all the holes, replace all the parts, and make this team a World Series Champion again next year.

Perhaps, in Epstein's view, this Red Sox team was as good as it gets and saw their glory years come and go. As a result, he may have concluded that this was the perfect time to get out of Dodge. Nothing less than greatness is expected in Boston now, and Epstein may see those expectations as being completely unrealistic for the 2006 Red Sox. He's always been praised for his intellect and his youthful wisdom, so who's to doubt that this was his estimation? And perhaps he's right. It certainly doesn't require a leap of logic to come to that conclusion.

When you've seen the top of the mountain at such a young age, and in only your second season, you enjoy the view while it lasts. But deep down inside, you know you can't stay there forever, and that the only place to go is back down.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Monday, October 31, 2005

THEO WALKS

Rather than share authority on baseball decisions with, much less defer to, team President Larry Luchino, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein surprised the baseball world with his sudden resignation today.

Losing Epstein may or may not be a blow to the Sox in the long run - time will tell - but losing their GM right at the start of the free agency period could prove to be disastrous.

The contracts of Johnny Damon and possibly Bill Mueller, John Olerud and Mike Meyers have yet to be negotiated, not to mention those of the outside players the Sox will turn to in an effort to fill holes in their pitching staff as well as first base.

To have rejected a three-year deal worth $1.5 million per year, Epstein was clearly concerned about issues other than money. The offer would have made him one of the most highly compensated GM's in baseball. After initially declining offers of $850,000 and $1.2 million per year, it seemed that the most recent Sox offer would seal the deal. No such luck.

According to Curt Schilling, Theo's departure won't go over well in the clubhouse. "It's obviously going to be an incredibly unpopular decision with the players."

Look for Padres GM Kevin Towers, and old friend and confidant of Larry Luchino's from his San Diego days, to replace Epstein. Towers has been unhappy with his lack of authority in the Padres organization - sound familiar? - and is looking for a change. He interviewed for the Diamondbacks GM spot, which was recently assumed by Epstein’s top assistant, Josh Byrnes.

Whoever the Sox choose to replace Epstein, they will likely move quickly to fill that vacancy. There is no time to waste. Most free agent deals will be consummated by the end of November, which doesn't leave the club much time to act. So the timing of Epstein's announcement could hardly have come at a less opportune moment.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

MONEY TALKS

Will the Red Sox give Johnny D. the contract he desires? Considering that $20M is earmarked for Manny, $13M for Schilling, $10M each for Renteria and Varitek, $8M for Clement, $7M for Foulke, $6.5M each for Ortiz, and Nixon, the Sox have $81M committed to just seven players, and if they give Damon a contact worth only $10M per season, that's $91M going to eight players on a 25 man roster. They'll still have 17 other players to pay.

It's conceivable that the Sox might chose a less expensive option like Torri Hunter or Juan Pierre in center for the short term, while Jacoby Ellsbury, David Murphy, and Brandon Moss continue developing in the minors.

Damon wants to return, saying that he fell in love with Boston and it's fans, but he is in his prime and this will be the last long-term, big-money contract he'll ever sign. With that in mind, he wants to get paid - big time.

One important consideration that Damon should, and likely will, keep in mind are his marketing opportunities as a member of the Red Sox. Boston is a large market where Damon has become a sort of folk hero. He's had numerous endorsement deals in Boston that he wouldn't have gotten elsewhere. New York and LA are filled with stars - athletes being just one of a variety. Damon is a standout in Boston, and not simply one among many. Those endorsement and marketing deals as a member of the Red Sox will push his earning potential upward by millions of dollars over the life of the contract. And playing for such a consistently competitive team with such a large national following also gives Damon tremendous national marketability that he wouldn't receive in many other cities throughout the country. That creates a peripheral, or even integrated value that is worthy of consideration.

There's a good chance that we'll have our answers within a month, or certainly by Thanksgiving. If Damon and the Sox can reach a mutually satisfying agreement, then everyone will have something to give thanks for.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

LET THE CHANGES BEGIN

The Red Sox season both began and ended with pitching problems. They had all the offense in the world, but what they lacked was first rate patching to back it up. Without the necessary changes to the starting rotation this off-season, the Red Sox will be on vacation again at this time next year.

In 2005, the Red Sox led the league in runs (910), team batting (.281), hits (1,579), doubles (339), walks (653), on-base percentage (.357), and on-base-plus slugging percentage (.811). Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz accounted for nearly a third of the runs scored by themselves. Even so, the Red Sox were bounced by Chicago's American League entrant in the first round of the playoffs.

The Red Sox relied too heavily on Ramirez, Ortiz, and their offense in general, to win games. The Sox came from behind to win 46 times in 2005, tying Cleveland for most comeback wins in the majors. Six times they overcame a deficit of four or more runs to win. Essentially, half of their wins were come from behind. The point is that their pitching often let them down and didn't keep them in games. The offense had to bail them out all too often.

The Red Sox pitching staff registered a 4.74 ERA this season, 11th in the AL. And their bullpen ranked last in the league with a 5.15 ERA - but that's another story, for another entry. The White Sox and Angels, the two teams that battled for the AL Pennant, shared the best ERA in the league, 3.75. Coincidence? Nope.

Of the 35 World Series winners since 1969, 26 had pitching ranked in the top three in the league. If the Sox want to get back to the World Series and win again, they need to improve their pitching staff, as well as their bullpen. Losing Pedro Martinez was a huge blow that the Sox didn't prepare well enough for, or recover from. Matt Clement, David Wells, and Wade MIller could not replace Pedro and Curt. They couldn't even soften the blow.

With an Opening Day average age of 36, the starting rotation clearly needs to get younger. Age and experience are important to a staff, and for those reasons, as well as for their service to the club, pencil in Curt Schilling (39 on Opening Day) and Tim Wakefield (39) for two spots in the 2006 rotation. Jonathan (don't call me Jon!) Papelbon, who will be just 25 next year, has also earned himself a spot. Wells, big game experience aside, has seen his best years come and go. Boomer, who turns 43 in May, gave the Sox a good effort every time out, but this rotation needs changes and he is the odd man out. The Sox cannot enter next season with three 40ish pitchers in their starting rotation.

That leaves Bronson Arroyo and Matt Clement; the two youngest, healthiest and therefore most tradable assets. The free agent market is thin, so a trade may be in order. And the team will likely have to give up something if they expect to get something good in return. Clement's contract, and tendency to falter in the second half, will hurt his value. But the Sox have to do something. At just 28, and after leading the club with 20 quality starts, Arroyo may have more value. The six starters from the 2005 squad - Wade Miller included - couldn't, and will not, get it done. They will not return the Sox to the promised land that is the World Series. Aside from Papelbon, the rotation still needs one other new arm.

If the Sox do go the free agency route, Kevin Millwood will garner consideration. Millwood's 2.86 ERA led the the American League. What's more, he'll be just 31 at the start of the season. Jarrod Washburn posted an impressive 3.20 ERA, also particularly good for the AL, and far better than any Red Sox starter this year. Matt Morris will be 30 next year, and his considerable post-season experience (14 appearances) might interest the Sox brass. The Giants won't let Jason Schmidt get away, and Kenny Rogers and Jeff Weaver aren't worth whatever they'll be asking for.

That leaves A.J. Burnett, the man the Red Sox considered trading for at the All-Star break, and would have pulled the trigger on if Mike Lowell and his ridiculous contract weren't part of the equation. Burnett is expected to be the most sought after free agent starter, which is odd considering that he's a game under .500 for his career (49-50). At least he consistent; he went 12-12 this year. Another major concern is the fact that Burnett had Tommy John surgery and missed a lot of action as a result. His 3.44 ERA, while respectable, would likely jump with a transition to the AL. Still, it was considerably better than the Sox best pitcher this year, Tim Wakefield, and his 4.15 ERA.

Changes must be made for the Sox to succeed. Who knows how much Schilling still has in his tank? His gutsy 2004 post-season performances may have jeopardized his future. It certainly jeopardized his performance this season, resulting in the highest ERA (5.69) he's posted since the '88-'89 seasons in Baltimore. At the time he was a kid who made a mere five starts, and a total of just nine appearances during that span. He was young, he was green, unseasoned and untested. Soon after, Schilling established himself as one of the better pitchers of his generation, posting a 2.85 ERA over the course of his next 15 seasons. Then there was this year. We can only hope, if ever so cautiously, that he will be more like the old Curt - the one who reigned from 1990-2004. But we can't count on it. Age and injury may have taken their toll. Let's hope the Sox don't naively count on him as much next year as they did in this year. At this point, all bets are off.

The Sox have plenty of depth at the back end of the rotation,. They have a number of guys who'd make great 3,4 and 5 starters. As of now, they have no ace, and no number two either. David Wells (4.45 ERA), Bronson Arroyo (4.51 ERA), and Matt Clement (4.57 ERA) could not fill out the front three spots in the rotation, and until that is addressed, the Sox won't see another World Series title for a while. And we waited long enough for the last one.

Let's just hope they address their pitching deficiencies in a more meaningful way this winter than they did last year. If they do, and they keep the heart of their offense intact while making improvements at the corners, we may just be watching the right kind of Sox in next year's World Series.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR

Once again, the battle cry is raised. Wait until next year! The triumph of 2004 makes the disappointment of this year so much easier to deal with. Remember the sting of 2003? This is nothing like that. Back then the Sox went further and had greater, though reasonable, expectations. Back then, they had a guy named Pedro.

But the 2005 version of the Boston Red Sox may have done as well as any of us could've realistically expected them to. During the off season they lost Pedro Martinez, arguably the best pitcher of his generation, and a bona fide first ballot Hall of Famer. And from the outset they were missing the customary Curt Schilling, the big game pitcher that Major League Baseball has come to know over the course of the past decade. Two number one pitchers were gone from the start. They also lost Derek Lowe who, though inconsistent, proved his value in big games during the 2004 World Series run. In their place the Sox signed Matt Clement, David Wells, and Wade Miller. We were all a hopeful bunch, and we thought they'd make up the slack. That was simply a case of optimism overcoming pragmatism.

Once again, Clement faded down the stretch, just as he'd done the year before in Chicago. After starting 10-1 with a 3.33 ERA, which earned him an All Star spot, Clement proceeded to fall apart in the season's second half, managing only a 3-4 record and a 5.72 ERA. In two previous post-season starts prior to this year, Clement had wilted under pressure in one of them. And true to form, he did so again this year, going just 3 1/3 innings while yielding 8 earned runs in Game 1 against the White Sox.

Clement was simply the victim of overly optimistic and highly unrealistic expectations. He was, and still is, nothing more than a competent number three starter. Pedro's shoes he will never fill. Yet the Sox committed more than $25 million over three years to him. If he'd simply been expected to solidify the middle of the order, then by that account he would have been acceptable. But he was forced into the position of being a number one or number two starter, and 13 wins and an ERA of more than four-and-a-half just doesn't cut it at that price.

David Wells is 42 and will require off-season knee surgery. Wells battled admirably, dealing with knee and foot injuries, but his best years are clearly behind him. Sure, he can still pitch at the Big League level, but just not like he used to. He deserved better than what he got in Game 2 (in the form of Tony Graffanino's error), but his effort just wasn't enough. Wells still possesses remarkable control, having walked just 21 batters all year - by far the fewest of any Red Sox starter who pitched as many innings. While he's considering hanging up his cleats and finally retiring, Theo Epstien has said he'd like to have Wells back next year.

The problem is that the Sox are in desperate need of a few changes in the rotation this off season, and they particularly need to get younger. Come Opening Day, Arroyo will be 29, Clement 31, Schilling 39, Wakefield 39, and Wells 42. They have no idea if Schilling will ever return to form, and in the absence of that they have neither a number one, nor a number two pitcher. At best, they have a bunch of threes and fours. Johnny Damon stated the obvious when he said, ''We didn't really have a No. 1 starter all year, or even a No. 2." As we've seen, that won't win a Pennant, much less a World Series. This group didn't get it done and changes are clearly needed.

The question is, where will the changes begin? All of these pitchers are still under contract, and none of them has great trade value at this point. The team would like to let both Schilling and Wakefield retire as Red Sox, and both of them deserve that honor considering their contributions to the club.

Bronson Arroyo, the club's youngest starter, led the team with 20 quality starts. After making $1.85 million this year, he is arbitration eligible and will surely get a raise. But he'll still come comparatively cheap. After pitching over 200 innings this year without injury, while earning 14 victories, Arroyo has proven that he is a quality number four or five starter.

Jon Papelbon proved that he's is worthy of a spot in the rotation, and he'd certainly help the staff get younger. But that's just one change for a staff that needs at least two. Assuming he takes Wells spot in the rotation, the Sox will come back with essentially the same group that wasn't good enough this year. The answer might be to see what value Clement has on the open market. He might be the only valuable bait in a rotation that needs to be remade.

Management could make a run at free agent A.J. Burnett, but his final month skid, coupled with his loud mouth, may have depreciated his value. Both he and his agent have acknowledged as much. The rest of the free agent market is said to be thin, so a trade may be in order. An opening day rotation of Schilling, Papelbon, Clement, Wakefield, and Arroyo (in that order) likely won't get it done.

Then there's the issue of the bullpen. The Sox pen had the American League's worst ERA (5.19). Of the seven pitchers sitting in the pen on Opening Day, only Mike Timlin and Mike Myers remained at season's end. The 39-year-old Timlin made a team-record, and league-leading, 81 appearances this year. He's now pitched more than 1,000 innings in career. He'd still make a quality set-up man next year, but at this point he's not a top flight closer.

With an ERA of 3 in non-save chances this year, and an ERA of 10 in save opportunities, I've always believed that Keith Foulke's troubles were more mental than physical. Why he was mentally tougher in 2004 we'll never know. But with public comments like "I never asked to be the closer", Foulke sounds pathetic, weak, and out of touch with reality. He's due $7.5 million next season, with player and team options for 2007. Yet the team may explore the possibility dealing him. He's now had surgery on both knees and that, coupled with his lackluster performance this year, will surely hurt his value. Craig Hansen and Manny Del Carmen will surely get opportunities to prove themselves for an entire season. By that virtue alone, the pen will get younger, and less experienced.

Prior to the ALDS, the Sox hadn't lost three straight games since July 16-18 (two to the Yankees and one to Tampa Bay), and had been swept in only one three-game series all season, in May against Toronto.

But pitching aside, the three-game Division Series sweep at the hands of the White Sox revealed another fatal flaw. The Red Sox were outscored 24-9 in the three games, and as had been the case too many times during the regular season, the team relied too heavily - almost exclusively - on David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez to carry them.

The Sox became the first team since 1951-54 Brooklyn Dodgers to lead the majors in runs for three consecutive seasons, and became the first American League team since the 1936-39 Yankees to score at least 900 runs in at least three consecutive seasons. They knocked in 910 this year, and Ortiz and Ramirez were responsible for nearly a third of them (292 RBI). That's what you'd call a very unbalanced attack. After Ramirez's 45 home runs, the next closest player had less than half that total - Varitek with 22 - and after that it fell of by almost half again to Nixon's 13 homers. There was no parity. After Ortiz's and Ramirez's totals of 148 and 144 RBi respectively, the next closest player was Damon with 75, and he's the leadoff hitter. Those issues need to be addressed if the team hopes to win another World Series title.

There is talk that the club may try to move Ramirez and the $58 million he's owed over the next three years. The size of that contract will limit the number of suitors, as could the concern about his attitude. The Sox will have a lot of difficulty in finding equal value in a trade for him, and could end up eating some of the contract. That said, Ramirez is a 10-5 player (10 years of service, five consecutive with the same club) and can veto any trade.

Manny may complain about the media attention and fan scrutiny in Boston, but he's a beloved figure in the city. He plays for an organization that has shown a commitment to winning, so let's hope that he doesn't seek a trade. If he's really looking into signing on with Scott Boras, that would indicate he wants out, but most teams don't like to deal with the hard-nosed agent.

As for the Sox, why would they ever seek to break up up the modern day equivalent of Ruth/Gehrig. Red Sox fans have become accustomed to the fairy tale combo, the likes of which we may never see again in our lifetimes. Barring injury or retirement, who in their right mind would willingly break them up? It's almost unimaginable. They not only add punch to the lineup, but cache as well. They increase interest from free agents who might like to play in Boston, like Johnny Damon for instance.

Will Damon come back and play for Boston next year? That's the question on the mind's of many Sox fans now that the season has come to a sudden end. By all indications, Damon hopes to return to the Sox. Reflecting on his four seasons with the team he said, ''I fell in love with Boston."

"It's been amazing. The players, the city, how the city loves us. It was different from the moment I became a Red Sox. The joy of the game and the way it's respected. You're proud to wear a Red Sox uniform, you play hard and the fans like that.''

Speaking of the virtues of playing at Fenway, Damon said, ''It's pretty magical. The fact is, you go out there and play hard and the fans always respect that, they cheer you. They welcome the Red Sox into their homes every single night. You just don't do that. Boston fans, from kids to grandparents and housewives, we're a part of their family. That they welcome us like that is pretty awesome."

The Sox have genuine concerns about the state of Damon's right shoulder, and his lack of power and accuracy from the outfield was a real liability. It was so bad that a Tampa player scored from second on a sacrifice fly to center. I'd never even heard of such a thing before. They're also concerned about the size and length of the contract that Damon will be seeking. Management doesn't want to get into a five-year deal with a 32-year-old outfielder who has a bum shoulder.

But this year, just as last year, Damon was the straw that stirred the Red Sox drink. He was the table setter who was seemingly always on base for Ortiz and Ramirez. In fact, he scored 117 times, good for fourth in the AL.

Though Damon says he'd like to return, he has his own concerns. "There are some issues we need to look at," he said. ''Manny being here is very important. Francona being here is very important. And I can't imagine this team without Mike Timlin on the mound. He is the backbone of our pitching staff, the one guy who was solid all the time. And Bill Mueller, you can't get a guy like that for that kind of money anywhere. No one can understand how great a player he is until they see him for 162 games. He is, to me, the prototypical ballplayer."

Mueller coming back may be asking too much. The Sox may offer him arbitration, but it's more likely that they'll finally give Kevin Youkilis his turn. Youk is 27, he's cheap, and it's just time. He can't continue to ride the bench or get sent back and forth between Boston and Pawtuckett indefinitely. Mueller will be 35 at the start of the season, so it's about age as much as it's about money.

Tony Graffanino was the best in-season pick-up, and despite his Game 3 error, played solid defense for the Sox while hitting over .300. But the Dustin Pedroia era may be about to begin, and Graffaninio could be squeezed out. That would be unfortunate. Like many Sox fans, I'd love to see Tony return. He was a great presence both on and off the field.

The Sox may be saddled with Error Renteria's ridiculous contract. Renteria simply didn't earn his pay this year after leading the majors with a career high 30 errors. And he never made up for his defensive failures at the plate either. Worst of all, his contract has thrown out of whack all other contract values in this off-season negotiating period. What's Damon worth now? ER will surely get an encore next year, if only because his value has slipped. Everyone knows he's not worth the money. But it's also because Hanley Ramirez doesn't yet appear ready for the Bigs.

There will surely be a change at first. Kevin Millar is out, Aubrey Huff could be in. Hopefully the Sox will offer, and John Olerud accept, an offer to be the backup first baseman. A real professional, he's one of the truly good guys in baseball. Olerud proved he can still hit and field, but it's hard to say if any team will offer the 37-year-old a better opportunity as a starter.

That leaves right field. Trot Nixon is the longest tenured position player on the Sox roster, having come up through their farm system. The team values that, just as they value his hard-nosed style of play, and quiet, determined demeanor. Nixon never mouths off or causes any off-field distractions. He's another true professional who works hard at everything he does. The fans and his teammates value him and his blue-collar work ethic.

Nixon averaged 145 games, 26 home runs, and 90 RBIs from 2001 to 2003. But like last year, this season was another disappointment. In 127 games (104 starts), he hit .275, with 13 home runs, and 67 RBIs. After missing a month with a strained oblique muscle, he struggled upon his return. Dealing with nagging injuries, over the last two seasons, he's played in a total of only 172 games, hitting 19 home runs and driving in 90 runs. And it may be difficult for the club to justify having a starting outfielder who has difficulty hitting lefties, and has to platoon on those occasions.

This year, the Sox had a total power outage at positions from which they should have been getting some significant output; first, third, and right field. First and third will be addressed, but the question remains in right. Hopefully Nixon will return to the player he was between 2001-2003. Though he'll only be 32 next year, it's also possible that his injuries have gotten the best of him and he's now a fading player who's been relegated to a shadow of his former self. Let's hope not.

So management has their work cut out for them, not the least of which is resigning Theo Epstein and Terry Francona. There is a rotation and a bullpen to remake, infield and outfield positions to be determined, and free agents to be signed. One thing that the ownership should know for certain, and never take for granted; Red Sox Nation has come to expect an exceptional team to take the field each Spring. Nothing less will do. The fans expect a team that will compete, and that will win. A high calibre team has become the norm at Fenway, and it can't be done on the cheap. The Sox have finished in second place behind the Yankees for eight consecutive seasons, and it's unlikely that the Bombers will start dumping payroll in any significant manner.

The Sox established a home attendance record for the third consecutive season, drawing 2,8847,888 fans. The team joined the Indians (1996-2000) as the only team ever to sell out all 81 games in consecutive seasons. The fans have proven their dedication time and time again, for many years. And the Sox keep putting a good product on the field.

The Sox won at least 95 games in each of the last three seasons for the first time in team history. They finished the season 54-27 (.667) at Fenway, clinching the best home record in all of baseball for the first time since 1978, when they compiled a .720 winning percentage (59-23).

Let's hope this sort of synergy continues, and that next year results in an ending like 2004, instead of one like this year.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.