At the beginning of the year, I thought the Red Sox made the right move by holding off on re-signing Curt Schilling. After all, this was supposed to be his final year on the diamond. His fastball is no longer fast. And his waistline is wee a bit, shall we say, Papi-esque.
Based on his regular season stats, the Sox should just let him walk away: for $13 million, you expect better than a 9-8 record and a 3.87 ERA. Contrary to what some in Boston have written, his transition from a power pitcher to a wily, finesse pitcher was not seamless.
But there are at least eight compelling reasons that the Red Sox should let Curt retire in a Red Sox uniform:
1. The old guy’s still got it. This season he came his closest ever to pitching a no-hitter, in June against the A’s. With two outs already recorded in the 9th, he was one good pitch away. (Random aside: In his successful no-no, Clay Buchholz didn’t shake of Varitek once. Curt shook Tek off on that last pitch, certain that the batter, Shannon Stewart, was taking. I will defend Varitek’s pitch-calling to my grave! TO MY GRAVE!)
2. And he can dial it up a notch in the postseason. In four playoff starts, Curt gave up 2 or fewer earned runs in three of them, getting through a full seven innings work in two. His only rough start (5 earned runs in 4.2 innings) came in Game 2 of the ALCS.
3. He makes those around him better. By all accounts, having Curt Schilling in your rotation is like having a second pitching coach on the staff. After Daisuke Matsuzaka’s sub-par start in Game 3 of the ALCS, Curt Schilling took the young hurler aside and gave him some tips on locating his fastball. Can it really be coincidence that Dice-K was much improved in his last two starts in the postseason? With younguns Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz (both 23) joining the rotation next year, Schilling’s wisdom could be a real asset.
4. He’s good in the clubhouse, too. Before Game 5 of the ALCS, when Boston was down 3-1 in the series and was facing the prospect of winning three in a row to keep their season alive, Schilling and David Ortiz called a players-only meeting. Their advice? Take it one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. Simple enough. But it was coming from two guys who could say, “We did one better than this in 2004; we were there; we know what to do.” To the press, Curt Schilling may always be a bit of a blowhard. To the fans, he may always be something of an enigma. But to his teammates, he’s The Guy.
5. You can never have too much pitching. In Boston, we call this the Bronson Arroyo Corollary. Moreover, with another 40+ pitcher almost certainly returning (17-game winner Tim Wakefield, who has a unique contract with Boston where each side mutually decides to re-up his $4 million recurring option), we could very well see a situation in which Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling alternate brief DL stints. As long as the young guys can stay healthy and as long as Curt has enough left when October rolls around, I don’t really care how much time he misses during the regular season.
6. Boston can afford it. The Red Sox have a healthy revenue stream, thanks not only to the deep pockets of the ownership group, but to their 80% ownership of NESN (on which almost all Red Sox and Bruins games are broadcast, as well as popular pregame and postgame shows, and even a reality dating show called Sox Appeal). And let’s face it, Fenway Park is a cash cow—it sells out every game despite having the highest ticket prices in baseball (by far) and every night there isn’t a game, the Red Sox rent it out as the most popular event venue in Boston. When I attended a Scotch nosing (I kid you not) there in September, there were two other events taking place at the same time, and a park official told me they were booked solid straight through the Christmas season.
7. Free agent pitching is scarce this year. Including Schilling, who filed yesterday, the other starting pitchers on the market are Matt Clement (whom Boston will almost certainly not retain), Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, Joe Kennedy, Bob Wickman, Eric Milton, Elmer Dessens, Jason Jennings, Tony Armas, Kip Wells, and Russ Ortiz. Then there’s Bartolo Colon, the 2005 AL Cy Young winner, who is coming off two very rough years. There’s Livan Hernandez and Jon Lieber, but neither are what they once were. David Wells is on the market again, but if you’re going to sign an old, chubby guy, why would you pick Wells over Schilling?
8. The Bloody Sock. Need I say more? This man has to end his career with Boston. Lest you doubt his Boston bonafides, consider this: he’s already released a list of teams he’d be willing to go to if Boston doesn’t re-sign him; that list contains every team to make the playoffs this year, except one; and the single, solitary team that Curt doesn’t want to play for is…drum roll please…the New York Yankees. Why? Because, as he’s said in the past, it would mean that everything he did in Boston was a lie.
Curt Schilling is a probable Hall of Famer. And he must go to Cooperstown wearing a Red Sox cap. The Red Sox should cough up the dough.