Red Sox Grapefruit League Preview

Go Sox!Now that everyone’s in camp (with one excused absence), here’s the Frenchie’s-eye view of the way the Sox look heading into grapefruit season. Lotta turnover from last year, an inevitability with all the contracts that expired last year. Let’s go around the horn, shall we:

C: Tek seems to still be at the top of his game (as promised by his über-agent in last winter’s negotiations), altho he’s not giving himself a lot of learning time with the new pitchers (particularly Beckett) by playing in the WBC (which, btw, I am all for). Also slumped down the stretch last year, so let’s hope that was just a bump in the road. On the bright side, maybe catching the Rocket in the WBC will give the Sox an inside track on the latter’s 2nd-half services (more on that later). Wake’s new boy is likely to be Flaherty, who the Sox plucked from the Yanks. The fact that he was the Big Eunuch’s personal backstop last year is reason enough to keep him around — to give tips on how to get to Johnson and also to keep him from going back to the Bronx, where Johnson’s numbers improved significantly after Flaherty took over for Posada.

3B: An expensive new guy at the hot corner, Lowell, comes in as baggage in the Beckett deal. Gold glover and big clubhouse guy but mysteriously lost the bat that got him such a fat contract in the first place (coincidence that it happened in the first year of serious steroid testing? I’d say yes, based on what people say about his integrity). Mueller had by far his best years in the Fens, but I think they let him go at the right time v/v his creaky knees — plus, as part of the price for landing Beckett, Lowell just needs to not suck to be worth our while. If he can find his stroke again (I’d call that an 2.5 on the 1-10 Doc B probability scale with 10 being quite likely), it could be Lowe and Tek for Slocumb all over again. More likely to flash more leather than lumber but he should find or clear the Monster from time to time with his righty pull. Should become favorite of the bullpen set, tho.

SS: Gonzalez is another all-glove, no-bat guy but I’ll take that at short and so will the guys on the mound. Considering what we got last year at SS, at least there should be improvement in one phase of the game. Anyway, there’s gotta be someone batting 9th. Might hot prospect Pedroia challenge for playing time before the end of the year? He seemed well on his way last year before hurting his wrist.

2B: Last year’s best 2B was Graffanino and he even became something of a fan fave with his clutch hitting. I guess the brass weren’t so impressed, tho (particularly with his big-time boot in the playoffs). Loretta is another big clubhouse guy who was recently voted by players around the majors as the most likely to become a manager in the future (Tek was 2nd). The hope, of course is that he’s still got enough left to put that on hold for the next year or three. Slumped last year with non-career-threatening injuries after a couple few years as one of baseball’s most productive 2Bs. If he can get back on track at the plate (let’s say 6 on the Doc B scale) and hold his own around the bag, getting him straight up for Mirabelli could become quite a steal. Graffanino likely gets traded before Opening Day (8 on the Doc B scale) with Cora backing up both middle-infield spots.

1B: Youk gets his shot and he’s in the enviable position of having his expectations lowered by following the train wreck that was Millar in the first year of serious steroid testing (coincidence? better not go there). The new designated late-inning fielder (Snow) is a step up from Olerud in the field (which, as scarred Sox fans know, is highly underrated), although not likely to provide as many big hits (such as the two dongs Olerud hit last Sept. 1 vs. the Rays with yers truly in attendence). Good clubhouse guy too. OM emailed me when the Snow to Sox rumors started buzzing, saying that Sox fans are gonna like him. Fair enough. They already like Youk and if Youk just keeps doing what he’s been doing while showing improvement from getting more consistent ABs, we won’t have Delgado or Pujols but we could certainly have a guy who keeps opposing pitchers working and gets on enough to keep innings going and runs coming. I’ll give that another 6 on the probabl-o-meter.

LF: Manny will be Manny. God love him.

CF: I don’t care what anyone else says. Coco will be the next Johnny and maybe better (maybe even with an Oscar Gamble ‘fro). The time to get Johnny was four years ago and that’s when the Duke went out and got him. Many said he overpaid but that turned out to be one of his better (and final) moves. The time to get Coco is now and we get him in his prime. Also, while Johnny had a huge ’04 and a solid, gritty ’05, his first two years with the Sox weren’t exactly blockbusters, so I’m not one to get carried away in all the Johnny-to-Yanks angst. The Sox have Coco for at least four years and could try to lock him up longer if he jumps out of the blocks quickly. The Yanks have Johnny for the next four years and if he stays healthy for all of them, he could be worth the $13M per that they’ve promised him (that’s a fat 2.5 on the probabl-a-tron).

RF: If Trot can stay away from the injuries, he’ll once again give us the above-average RF play necessary in Fenway, a decent bat vs. righties, and the hard-nosed, football attitude that the faithful have come to love in him. Call it a 3 on the Doc B scale. And if he can start hitting lefties, he might finally become a bona fide everyday player. We have our first perfect 0 on the iffy-meter. Looks like young Stern might get some more chances to prove he’s not the next Hyzdu, at least until they welcome Gabe back in midseason. Lotta talk around free-agent Mohr (a non-roster invitee in camp) that puts him in the race for the platoon slot vs. lefties, altho I also like the versatile Harris’s chances as an IF/OF utility guy. Stern must stay on the roster for the first three weeks of the season (due to Rule 5 leftovers from last year) and will prolly subsequently go down to Pawtucket unless he completely catches fire and forces himself onto the big club (using his speed on the basepaths wouldn’t hurt him there). There’s our second goose-egg on the Doc B likelihood scale.

DH: For the first year in recent memory, the Sox are going into the season without multiple contingency plans for the DH slot. I guess that’s what happens when yer DH hits .300 with 47 dongs and 148 ribeyes, was runner-up in MVP balloting, and hit lefties about as well as righties. Go Big Papi!

Rotation: Schilling is talking like he’s ready to rebound big-time from last year. If he’s right (call it a 5), we could go far. If Beckett can stay healthy (6.5) he could give us the second ace that we missed last year. Arroyo, Wake are known quantities (about 25 wins and 350 innings between them). If Clement puts together two consistent half-seasons (1.5) will that be enough for us to trust him in October? I would harken back to when Wake got shelled in his early playoff experiences with the Sox in the 90s. Got left off the playoff roster one year because of it but he’s worked past it. The biggest if is if the Sox can lure the Rocket back for a victory lap (2.5). The way he pitched last year, it would be hard to turn him away. And if he doesn’t come here, he’ll prolly wind up in the Bronx to help the Scumbags address their biggest weakness. That would suck. It wouldn’t shock me if the Sox packaged Clement in with Wells’s effort to get out of town, since they’re not likely to get much value for Wells as a one-year rental. That would open up some room for Clemens to move in. In the meantime, Papelbon could get some starts under his belt.

Bullpen: The Sox pen sucked last year. As we all know, in the bullpen it starts at the end and goes back from there. Foulke refused surgery last year in spring training, stunk out the joint in the first half, finally got surgery at midseason and was done. He’s had the surgery, recovered, and is throwing hard in Ft. Myers now. If he’s is really back to his ’04 self (6.5), this could be a special season. Otherwise, we might see Hansen rushed into the breach earlier than we’d prolly like. Either that or Papelbon would have to defer his starting dreams and go back to closing. In the 6th,7th, and 8th, the Olde Towne Team hasn’t looked this good since Embree could actually pitch. The Sox brass zeroed in on middle relief this winter. Recent acquisitions Tavarez, Seanez, and Riske are all solid set-up guys (altho the two former may face adjustments to the AL) and if DiNardo finally blossoms (5), we could even have a lefty on the staff. Last year, the lefty-lefty guy (Myers) was one of the few bright spots (but he’s gone over to the Dark Side to try to neutralize Big Papi), whereas the righties included Jeremi somebody and a couple loose Chads. This year, the Sox’ remarkable stable of young pitchers on the cusp of primetime (e.g. Alvarez, Lester, Delcarmen to go along with Hansen & Papelbon) will provide insurance in case of injuries or washouts. One kink in the works could be the Rule 5 flavor of the month, a tall drink of water called Jamie Vermilyea. Last year they managed to keep Rule 5 OF Stern on the roster all year (granted he spent a good chunk of time on the DL), so it’ll be interesting to see how far they’re willing to go with this kid.

Coaches: Wave goodbye to Dale Sveum, who will be waving them in for his former team in Milwaukee this year. Maybe Brewers fans will be more understanding of his aggressive (some would say reckless) style than Sox fans were. The new guy with his back to the visitors’ dugout will be DeMarlo Hale, a former minor-league-manager-of-the-year for the Sox who spent the last couple years on the Rangers’ staff. He’s frequently mentioned as being a step away from a big league manager’s job and if he sticks with the Sox for a few years (and doesn’t get every other guy cut down at the plate like Sveum did), he could become Tito’s heir apparent. Tito may be young and has earned a bit of immunity, but I’d be a bit surprised if he stayed in the job more than three or four more years. The job of arguing bang-bang calls at first, whispering in baserunners’ ears, and hollering for balks falls to Bill Hasselman, a former Sox backstop who steps up from bullpen coach. It also looks like his replacement, old friend Al “Nip” Nipper, will fill in as pitching coach for Dave “Wally” Wallace, who is in the midst of a hip replacement ordeal as the Sox unpack the vans down on the Gulf.

Despite a tumultuous off-season in the front-office, the brass seem to have acquitted themselves well this winter and may be able to reload rather than rebuild. Doc B sez this is the year that the Sox finally wrest the AL East crown back from the Yanks.

The order of finish:
Sox – More balance of pitching & D to go along with their offense. Took the wild-card in an off year last year. Addressed most of their shortcomings this winter and still figure to help themselves in spring trades (e.g. Wells, Graffanino). This could be The Year (again)!
Jays – Sorry US dollar meant Canadians could spend big in free agency this year. Unfortunately for them this was one of the sorriest free-agent years in recent memory. They still helped themselves a lot.
Yanks – When the foundation of yer team is older than the foundation of yer stadium, yer season is just a train wreck waiting to happen. Could contend if all the right people stay healthy and Doc B gives that a big 3 on the if-o-meter. A brief list of their stars who are either past their prime or have injury histories includes Johnson, Mussina, Pavano, Wright, Jeter, Sheffield, Williams, Giambi, Posada, Damon. Did I miss anyone? If anything happens to either Rivera or A-Rod, it could get ugly.
O’s – This is a train wreck that’s already happened as they still haven’t improved their pitching in five years. Luckily for O’s fans, there’s a new team in DC.
Rays – Rookie manager and GM inherit team full of rookies. If everything clicks, they might be able to climb out of the cellar past the pathetic birds.


3 thoughts on “Red Sox Grapefruit League Preview

  1. A thorough update to the NATION. Would have been nice if you could have included names as well as monikors, but that would have disrupted the flow.


  2. The keys to the Sox’s 2006 season will be whether Manny pouts, or is productively traded, because that’s a lot of potential ribbies, and Papi gets a lot fewer hittable balls if Manny isn’t Manny batting behind him (just look at his lower productivity when he batted fourth in the beginning of the 2005 season). Likewise, if Schilling and Beckett stay healthy, we have a chance, otherwise the pen will get run into the ground, and Foulke doesn’t help the Sox if we don’t have a lead to protect in the ninth…and Clemens will NEVER rejoin the Sox, so we can stop hoping for that.

    I fear that Johnny contributed more than leadoff and D for the Sox, and I’m not sure Trot alone will be able to keep guys like Schilling from fracturing the clubhouse. I’ll be curious, however, to see if Johnny’s joie has a negative effect in the already uptight pinstripe dugout…’hey A-Rod, join me for some naked pull-ups???’ Right. SI already reported that Johnny grew back his hair and beard after his triumphat tour de Evil Empire right after he signed…I believe he will not hesitate to push some some of Steinbrenner’s buttons.


  3. Re: Farmer E’s comments: The Rocket had apparently warmed up quite a bit to the idea of a Sox swan song — he’s still got friends in the Hub, the team has a chance to compete, and the Sox brass are ready and willing to do what it takes. His animous toward the Olde Towne Team was mainly aimed at the Duke and he’s long gone. Sox fans can say what they want (and many prominent ones have already weighed in) but any grudges would soon pass as soon as the Yanks came to town and the Rocket was on the hill throwing filthy splits. Either way, it looks like the question is moot, as Rocket couldn’t keep his poker-face long enough to stay away from the Astros’ camp.

    As for the clubhouse missing JD, I’m not worried. I foresee a much different, but just as forthright, clubhouse dynamic this year. There will be an emphasis on professionalism with a dash of “we’ve been there before, so we know what we’re getting into” bravado from the leftovers of ’04 (as well as from the Florida guys that got rings in ’03). Theo has established a reputation for figuring chemistry into his player-acquisition equation and the latest pick ups (ostensibly acquired in Theo’s absence), notably Loretta, Lowell, and Snow, are serious this-is-how-we-play-the-game veterans. I think Schilling will fall right in line and I also think it will be good for the plethora of young pitchers (and fielders) coming up.


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