LONGSHOTS: Sox spring back into action on Monday
by Dave Long
It was an eventful winter for the Red Sox, who spent like drunken sailors on leave from the USS Steinbrenner. It let them acquire a bevy of set-up relievers, pricey outfielder J. D. Drew, Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka and their fourth shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra was shipped to Chicago for the 2004 World Championship.
The $200 million spending spree was brought on by the teamís ó pick your word: disappointing, deflating, damaged, disgraceful ó collapse after being swept by you-know-who in a historic five-game series at Fenway Park! And it worked. All seems forgotten in The Nation, as it prepares for an exciting season, even though it comes in the same Yankee-like fashion so many have been whining about lo these many years.
And that one kind of sticks in my craw. Itís like presidential candidate (insert laugh track) Newt Gingrich once railing on about Bill Clintonís infidelities while he was knocking off his assistant at the same time. Havenít heard the family values crowd or Joe Levasseur howling about Newt or Mark Foley, have you? Why ó because somehow itís different when itís one of them. In my neighborhood thatís called being a major-league hypocrite. It seems the same with the Sox spending, but I digress.
Iím just saying you canít have it both ways. Personally, I prefer following a club with the creativity to use a Troy Brown on defense to get depth without adding a new body, build through the farm and fill holes with selected free agents. But I suppose watching them open the vault to re-load is better than whatís faced in KC, Pittsburgh and Tampa. And thereís also something to be said for an owner whoís willing to lay out the bucks to have a contender instead of packing away the money. So low talker John Henry gets a thumbs up to for doing that as IĎm loving Jeremy Jacobs getting his after doing the opposite with the Bruins for so long.
Having said this, if I were Henry, this would be a big year for Theo Epstein. The young GM has struggled recently despite having baseballís second-highest payroll. On his side is David Ortiz becoming baseballís best clutch hitter after pulling him off the scrap heap, drafting Jonathan Papelbon and the aforementioned brilliant and gutsy Nomar trade in 2004. On the ďit makes you wonderĒ side is a spotty record finding quality pitching, the revolving door at short where letting Orlando Cabrera go was a blunder heís been trying to spend his way out of for two years and (at least for me) waving the white flag by trading his healthiest pitcher, David Wells, in August when they were fewer games out than Minnesota, which went on to win its division.
Now while I have a less rose-colored view than many as the season beckons on the horizon, it doesnít mean I donít think if all goes right the Curse of Cabrera could end after three short years. I do, and here are some factors that will come into play:
Curt Schilling: Heís 40 and gave up more hits than innings the last two years. He hadnít done that since 1994. Plus he ran out of gas last year and broke down the three previous seasons, including 2004 where gallantly fighting through a postseason ankle injury cost him 2005. So the mission should be having him rested for the stretch run, when heís tremendous. Even if it means giving him a few Pedro-like long Dominican weekends to make sure heís ready. So Iím happy with 15 wins.
The real number one: Maybe Dice-K beats the cultural transition and better AL hitters to burst on the scene as Ichiro did in 2001. But that would be a pleasant surprise. Iíll take 15 wins here too. Thus, Josh Beckett has to win 18 or more, which heíll do. And with Julio Lugo costing $8 million per, heíd better when theyíd have saved $7.7 million at short by keeping rising alumni star Hanley Ramirez.
The fifth starter: Julian Tavarez earned a shot with a strong finish as an emergency starter in 2006, though some prefer Kyle Snyder. Iím hoping itís Jon Lester come crunch time, because with Schillingís departure looming heíll need to be ready by then.
J. D. Drew: He hit over .400 this spring and like David Ortiz in 2003 heíll get better hitting behind Manny (and Ortiz). But talentís not the issue. Itís durability and desire, so we wonít know until October. One thing is certain, though: even if his numbers match Ortiz, they overpaid, since heíll incredibly make more than Papi. Wonder how the big lug feels about that.
The shortstop: I donít expect Lugo to bust, but I donít get the wanton lust either. If it were Miguel (you say tomato, I say) Tejada, Iíd get it, but Lugo? Especially when the average yearly career numbers of Alex Gonzales ó 12.8 homers, 26 doubles, 16 errors and .246 average ó are better than Lugoís eight, 20, 25 (on a carpet) and .277. Plus Lugoís two years older and more expensive. The recent shortstop merry-go-round is what makes me wonder about what Theo is thinking.
The other Ramirez: The great e-Bay grill excursion is latest Manny being Manny moment that will make you chuckle long after heís gone. Beyond that Iíll take the bi-annual dimwitted distractions for the 35 and 120 heíll put on the board again in 2007.
The closer: The best move of the entire off season was moving Paplebon back to closer last week. He was Mariano Rivera-like in a dominating 2006, with the talent to be so for 10 years. And since Rivera and Derek Jeter were vital to eight straight division titles, thatís a pretty good guy to be like.
The division: Itís tougher, but. Yes, the Yanks are younger with Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, Chien Ming Wang and phenom Philip Hughes, but the Soxí top three starters will probably be better and Papelbon is close to Rivera. And even though theyíll hit better, Iím not sold on Toronto, as AJ Burnett is a pricier version of the Matt Clement .500 express and Sox killer Ted Lilly walked.
The bottom line: With Dice-K mania, Beckett better, Pap in the bullpen and Big Papi and Manny bobbing again, not to mention a few Manny-being-Manny moments, it will be a very interesting year ahead as the Sox (barely) win the AL East.
Dave Long is host of Home Team Saturday with Dave Long and Company, 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday morning on WGAM (1250 AM in Manchester and 900 AM in Nashua).