The other day I got to asking myself, what would have happened if the Red Sox had somehow matched the Yankees’ offer and resigned Johnny Damon in the fall of 2005? So I did a little thought experiment and here is what I came up with…
I am assuming the the Red Sox would not have been willing to increase payroll above what they eventually did pay in 2006 simply to accomodate Damon’s salary. This means that the Sox would not have been able to take on the salaries of Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, whose combined 2006 salaries with the Sox are exactly equal to Damon’s 2006 salary with the Yankees. Instead, having traded Edgar Renteria to the Braves, the Red Sox would have started Hanley Ramirez and Andy Marte on the left side of the infield. They would have also had to keep Bronson Arroyo to pitch in the rotation, and would have had Anibel Sanchez to pitch in the rotation when the injuries started piling up at the end of 2006.
Without any need for Coco Crisp in centerfield and an opening at third base, the Sox would never have traded away Marte or acquired Josh Bard. Instead, they would have had Kelly Shoppach as their backup catcher. This means that they would not have panicked and traded away Cla Meredith to get back Doug Mirabelli.
There is the famous fable of the butterfly that flaps its wings in China and causes a hurricane to strike in the Carribean, or somesuch. Well, if the Red Sox had decided to do whatever it took to resign Johnny Damon, and then had the vision to give Ramirez and Marte a chance instead of trading away for injury and suckiness-prone Josh Beckett, their projected 2007 lineup and rotation would look like this:
CF Johnny Damon
SS Hanley Ramirez
DH David Ortiz
LF Manny Ramirez
RF JD Drew
1B Kevin Youkilis
2B Julio Lugo
C Jason Varitek
3B Andy Marte
P Curt Schilling
P Bronson Arroyo
P Daisuke Matsuzaka
P Jonathan Papelbon
P Anibel Sanchez/Tim Wakefield
What the Red Sox would have, then, is a team that would be significantly better than the one which they are going to be putting on the field in 2007. Instead of marginal prospect Dustin Pedroia batting ninth, the Red Sox would have super prospect Andy Marte, and mediocre Coco Crisp and Mike Lowell would be replaced by legitimate stars Johnny Damon and Hanley Ramirez. The rotation would also be significantly stronger, with Arroyo replacing Beckett, and Sanchez allowing Wakefield to move back into the sixth man/swing role. As an added bonus, the Sox would still have extremely useful pieces in Kelly Shoppach and Cla Meredith on the bench and in the bullpen. And most amazing of all, the Sox payroll would be several million dollars less than what it is going to be in 2007.
Plus, the Red Sox would almost certainly have done better in 2006 with Sanchez ready to step into the rotation when Wakefield went down, and Shoppach available to step in when Varitek got hurt.
Overall, I am quite pleased with this little thought experiment. My only real regret is that I wasn’t able to magically wish away JD Drew and Julio Lugo in the process. Alas, even if the Sox had re-signed Damon, they still would have seen a need to sign Drew and Lugo…