This is one of a series of posts in which we grade each team’s wily hot stove maneuvers and tragic offseason blunders.
Is there a better team to lead off this year’s HOA series than the team that won last year’s World Series?
Last year, I gave the Red Sox a B+ for their roster reshuffling, which included blockbuster deals signing Daisuke Matsuzaka, J.D. Drew, and Julio Lugo. A year ago, the Red Sox were still planning on making Jonathan Papelbon into a starter, and the question of who would replace him as closer loomed large heading into Spring Training. While we expected J.D. Drew to provide protection for Manny in the lineup, we weren’t sure he’d stay healthy, and we were disgusted at his price tag. I thought Lugo might just solve the problems that the Sox have had in the leadoff spot since the loss of Johnny Damon, but I was unimpressed with his defensive abilities—and again, slightly nauseated by his salary. I also predicted that rookie 2B Dustin Pedroia would be solid around the bag, but not pull his weight offensively. I was very stoked about the Matsuzaka signing, $152 million be damned.
Clearly, I was right about some things and wrong—way wrong—about others. Little did I realize that Pedroia, hilariously listed at 180 lbs (apparently, he was weighed while wearing his special uniform woven from the residue of a collapsed star) had little weight to pull. All the same, the rookie finished in the top 10 in AL batting average. One of those rare times I really enjoyed being wrong. I didn’t enjoy being wrong about Lugo, who brought leadoff hitting to new lows with an OBP of .294. And though J.D. Drew stayed healthy and contributed defensively, offensively he was barely replacement-level. As for Matsuzaka, the jury is still out. Looking at his hefty price tag and his less-than-lights-out year, many national pundits wrote him off as a disappointment. Locally, we’ve been content to wait ’til next year and see what happens. We figure, it took Josh Beckett a season to adjust to the difference between the AL and the NL. Let’s see what Dice-K can do after he’s had time to adjust to a new continent, a new language, a new league, a new strike zone, even a new ball. And until then, hey, 15 wins and 201 K’s ain’t bad.
After a 2007 season with so many new pieces, the Red Sox are heading into 2008 having done remarkably little this offseason. Their biggest move was to bring back free-agent third baseman (and World Series MVP) Mike Lowell. They also re-signed aging ace Curt Schilling, set-up man Mike Timlin, and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, as well as Wake’s official binky, back-up catcher Doug Mirabelli. They’re currently trying to come to terms with catcher Jason Varitek on a contract extension. Both sides would like to get something done before Spring Training, and I have faith that they will (after all, though Tek is represented by Scott Boras, and though Boras is known for always taking his clients to free agency, the Captain has bucked his agent to re-up with the Red Sox before). After much speculation about a blockbuster deal to acquire Johan Santana, as of this writing Santana remains a Twin.
But don’t be fooled: the 2008 Red Sox will look different than the 2007 edition. And so far, they look even better.
The Red Sox don’t need to get a bunch of free agents this year, because they’ve got a crop of homegrown talent that is major-league ready. We saw these youngsters give the team a necessary boost down the stretch last year, and this year, they’ll be there from Day 1:
- Jacoby Ellsbury (age 24) should be Boston’s starting centerfielder this year, and in case you didn’t notice, “Tacoby Bellsbury” is pretty fast. He still has a ways to go before he learns all the nooks and crannies of Fenway’s outfield, but it looks like—fingers crossed—the Red Sox have finally found themselves their leadoff hitter.
- Clay Buchholz (age 23) will add some welcome youth to the starting rotation. He’s got a fastball, a changeup, and the biggest curveball I’ve seen in a long time. He’s sure to be on a strict pitch count and an even stricter innings limit, but Red Sox fans are eager to see more of the kid who threw the no-no last September.
- Jon Lester (age 24) may finally show us what he’s really got. After two seasons shortened by cancer, in which baseball observers wondered just why this kid was being compared to Papelbon all through the minor leagues, Jon Lester got his mojo back at exactly the right time: the playoffs. Forced into the bullpen, a role in which he sometimes seemed set up to fail, he clawed his way back into the starting rotation to get the win in Game 4 of the World Series. 2008 may finally be the season in which a healthy Jon Lester shows Boston what he’s really made of.
This year’s projected rotation and lineup (and I’m including all six pitchers because you never know when ol’ Curt or Tim is going to need a few days off to rest the ol’ back, or the ol’ knee, or the ol’ shoulder) with last year’s stats:
1. Josh Beckett (QS) 20 (W-L) 20-7 (IP) 200.2 (K/9) 8.70 (K/BB) 4.85 (WHIP) 1.14 (ERA) 3.27
2. Daisuke Matsuzaka (QS) 18 (W-L) 15-12 (IP) 204.2 (K/9) 8.84 (K/BB) 2.51 (WHIP)1.32 (ERA) 4.40
3A Curt Schilling (QS) 14 (W-L) 9-8 (IP) 151.0 (K/9) 6.02 (K/BB) 4.39 (WHIP) 1.25 (ERA) 3.87
3B Tim Wakefield (QS) 15 (W-L) 17-12 (IP) 189.0 (K/9) 5.24 (K/BB) 1.72 (WHIP) 1.35 (ERA) 4.76
4. Clay Buchholz (QS) 2 (W-L) 3-1 (IP) 22.2 (K/9) 8.74 (K/BB) 2.20 (WHIP) 1.06 (ERA) 1.59
5. Jon Lester (QS) 5 (W-L) 4-0 (IP) 63.0 (K/9) 7.14 (K/BB) 1.49 (WHIP) 1.46 (ERA) 4.57
Bullpen: Mike Timlin (R, 3.42), Manny Delcarmen (R, 2.05), Hideki Okajima (L, 2.22), Bryan Corey (R, 1.93), Kyle Snyder (R, 3.81), Julian Tavarez (R, 5.15), Jonathan Papelbon (closer, R, 1.85).
1. Jacoby Ellsbury (G) 33 (PA) 127 (BA) .353 (OBP) .394 (SLG) .509 (OPS) .902 (HR) 3 (2B) 7 (SB) 9 (SB%) 1.00 (BB/SO) 0.53 (P/PA) 3.67 (RC) 25
2. Dustin Pedroia (G) 139 (PA) 581 (BA) .317 (OBP) .380 (SLG) .442 (OPS) .823 (HR) 8 (2B) 39 (SB) 7 (SB%) .88 (BB/SO) 1.12 (P/PA) 3.80 (RC) 91
3. David Ortiz (G) 149 (PA) 667 (BA) .332 (OBP) .445 (SLG) .621 (OPS) 1.066 (HR) 35 (2B) 52 (SB) 3 (SB%) .75 (BB/SO) 1.08 (P/PA) 4.10 (RC) 156
4. Manny Ramirez (G) 133 (PA) 569 (BA) .296 (OBP) .388 (SLG) .493 (OPS) .881 (HR) 20 (2B) 33 (SB) 0 (SB%) N/A (BB/SO) 0.77 (P/PA) 3.86 (RC) 91
5. Mike Lowell (G) 154 (PA) 653 (BA) .324 (OBP) .378 (SLG) .501 (OPS) .879 (HR) 21 (2B) 37 (SB) 3 (SB%) .60 (BB/SO) 0.75 (P/PA) 3.80 (RC) 109
6. Kevin Youkilis (G) 154 (PA) 625 (BA) .288 (OBP) .390 (SLG) .453 (OPS) .843 (HR) 16 (2B) 35 (SB) 4 (SB%) .60 (BB/SO) 0.74 (P/PA) 4.40 (RC) 100
7. J. D. Drew (G) 140 (PA) 552 (BA) .270 (OBP) .373 (SLG) .423 (OPS) .796 (HR) 11 (2B) 30 (SB) 4 (SB%) .67 (BB/SO) 0.79 (P/PA) 3.86 (RC) 77
8. Jason Varitek (G) 131 (PA) 518 (BA) .255 (OBP) .367 (SLG) .421 (OPS) .787 (HR) 17 (2B) 15 (SB) 1 (SB%) .33 (BB/SO) 0.53 (P/PA) 4.12 (RC) 70
9. Julio Lugo (G) 147 (PA) 630 (BA) .237 (OBP) .294 (SLG) .349 (OPS) .643 (HR) 8 (2B) 36 (SB) 33 (SB%) .85 (BB/SO) 0.59 (P/PA) 3.88 (RC) 63
Bench: Coco Crisp OF, Alex Cora INF, Doug Mirabelli C, Brandon Moss, OF/INF
Losses: Matt Clement SP, Eric Gagne RP, Eric Hinske, INF, Brendan Donnelly RP, Bobby Kielty, OF
Acquisitions: Sean Casey INF, David Aardsma RP
The Red Sox had three main goals this offseason: sign Mike Lowell, let Eric Gagne walk, and don’t do anything stupid. And as always, there’s the secondary goal of keeping the Yankees from getting their pinstriped mitts on anyone awesome. So far, the Red Sox have accomplished all three main objectives, and have thus far outmaneuvered the Yanks in the Johan Santana sweepstakes. As of right now, sure, they could use a few things like another lefty reliever, or another piece or two for the bench. For mid-January, however, that’s not a long shopping list. The lineup has power, speed, and patience. Defensively, I see no gaping holes and only a couple of weak spots (Manny, who does okay in Fenway’s shallow left field, and Lugo at short). The pitching staff looks solid.
Boston is heading into 2008 with a strong, balanced roster and in an excellent position to repeat last year’s success.