This is part of a series of posts in which we call out all 30 teams for their wily offseason moves and tragic offseason blunders.
The Red Sox had a true blockbuster of an offseason, acquiring the prize player on the market, one of the biggest celebrities in Japan, and one of the best pitchers in the world. And that was just one dude.
They also acquired J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo—news that fans did not exactly greet with excitement, given the fragility of Drew, the marital relations of Lugo, and the egos of both. However, it is impossible to deny that Lugo is an offensive upgrade for the Red Sox at short, while Drew will only have to stay marginally healthy to be an upgrade from the beloved-but-broken Trot Nixon in right.
The Red Sox still have some question marks heading into Spring Training, most notably who will fill the massive spikes of righty Jonathan Papelbon, who, having mastered the closer position in his rookie season, spent the offseason preparing for the starting rotation. (For those of you with short memories, Pap was originally supposed to start for the Red Sox in 2006, but became the closer after Keith Foulke failed to improve from his dismal 2005 season. A transient subluxation in Jonathan’s shoulder at the end of the season sidelined the fireballer, and his doctors feel that a starter’s schedule will be easier on the arm than a reliever’s schedule.)
The big question now is who will get the ball in the 9th inning—possibilities include Craig Hansen, a rookie the Sox had actually envisioned as a closer but who has seemed unprepared for the spotlight thus far, and a number of journeymen. Julian Tavarez, who had some good outings at the end of last season after struggling earlier, is one possibility, as is Joel Piniero, whom the Sox acquired this offseason in the hopes that he’d be better at relieving than he is at starting. Mike Timlin’s name is being bandied about as another possible candidate, but I don’t see that happening. It’s a big enough question whether he will be able to recover from last season, when he pitched like crap as a setup man and middle reliever (possibly due to participating the World Baseball Classic, or possibly due to the fact that he’s older than the Appalachians). Hansen, for his part, might still be too young—some in Boston are saying the Sox would be better off letting him get regular work in Pawtucket until the final month or two of the season, when they will probably need a fresh arm anyway. Also up for consideration is…pretty much all of Boston’s other relievers. So before we get too far ahead of ourselves, Theo Epstein may soon be forced to trade for a real closer.
Clearly, with the bullpen up in the air, the Sox are going to need to get some solid outings from their starters. Well, then, it’s fortunate that they have such awesome, awesome starters heading into camp! Right now they’ve got Matsuzaka (above), Papelbon, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, and Tim Wakefield. Then there’s Jon Lester, who arrived way early in Fort Myers this week. Last season, the rookie won his first five decisions (the first time any lefty has done that for the Sox) before receiving a sudden diagnosis of cancer. However, he is now done with chemo and determined to regain his spot in the rotation. If the Sox really need bullpen help, look for Tim Wakefield to relinquish his spot in the rotation to Lester. If the Sox truly get stuck with no closer, Pap may be asked to shoulder (pun intended) that burden again as well. The Sox also have a number of interesting pitchers to choose from if they need some extra arms. Last year’s rotation became more like a rotisserie, as random pitcher after random pitcher showed up on the mound. But the upshot is that now some of these guys—Kason Gabbard, Kyle Snyder, Devern Hansack, David Pauley—aren’t unknown quantities.
Then there’s the offense. Drew has the potential to bring something important to the Sox lineup—protection for Manny. We all saw what happened to David Ortiz when Manny sat out the last month or so of the season. It was walk after walk. But that was something that Manny himself had struggled with all season. Though defensively the best in the majors last season, the Sox did not have the lineup to get to the playoffs. Part of the reason is that the bottom half of their order was downright unimpressive. Now they’ll have more power in the middle of the lineup and some more pop at the top. Lugo will be a better leadoff man than Crisp, who last year routinely hit better the lower he was in the batting order. (Crisp, if he is finally over that broken finger, may surprise the Fenway Faithful by living up to his hype.) As for the second baseman’s job, the Sox are betting on Dustin Pedroia stepping up to replace Mark Loretta. We will see–I predict he does okay around the bag, but doesn’t pull his weight offensively.
One problem I forsee is depth. The Sox had a ton of injuries last year, and if that happens again this year, I don’t know who they will run up the flagpole. In previous years, the Sox have had backup players who were good enough to be starters in their own right, such as Jay Payton and Dave “The Steal” Roberts. Problem is, those players then left to start on other teams. Now our backups are….Wily Mo Pena (currently in arbitration) for the outfield and Alex Cora for the infield. Oh, and lest I forget, David Murphy and Eric Hinske. Whoopee.
In sum, the Sox addressed the weaknesses that bit them in the tuchus last season (non-Papi offense, pitching) but still have a couple of holes to fill (closer, second base). They did pretty good, but they had to spend a pretty penny. And they’re not done yet.
Offseason Grade: B+
Acquisitions: Daisuka Matzusaka, J.D. Drew, Julio Lugo, Joel Pineiro, Brendan Donnelly, Hideki Okajima, J.C. Romero
Losses: Mark Loretta, Alex Gonzalez, Keith Foulke, Trot Nixon, Lenny DiNardo (just claimed off waivers), and possibly Matt Clement, since he has not been heard of in months. I think he might actually have been kidnapped by fearful Sox fans, trying to prevent him from ever pitching again.
Projected Lineup, Rotation, and Closer
SS Julio Lugo – .278, 37 RBI, 12 HR (24 SB)
1B Kevin Youkilis – . 279 (.381 OBP), 72 RBI, 13 HR (91 BB)
DH David Ortiz – .287 (.636 SLG), 137 RBI, 54 HR
LF Manny Ramirez – .321 (.439 OBP), 102 RBI, 35 HR
RF J.D. Drew – .283 (.498 SLG), 100 RBI, 20 HR
3B Mike Lowell – .284, 80 RBI, 20 HR (47 2B)
C Jason Varitek – .238, 55 RBI, 12 HR
CF Coco Crisp – .264, 36 RBI, 8 HR (22 SB)
2B Dustin Pedroia – .191, 7 RBI, 2 HR (31 games)
RHP Curt Schilling – 15-7, 3.97
RHP Josh Beckett – 16-11, 5.01
RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka – NA
RHP Jonathan Papelbon – 4-2, 0.92
RHP Tim Wakefield – 7-11, 4.63
CL Wally the Green Monster