October 23, 2008

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LONGSHOTS: No ray of hope as season closes in Tampa Bay
by Dave Long

That’s all she wrote for the Red Sox in 2008, and here are some closing thoughts on the season just concluded season and the off-season ahead.

A-plus for Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jon Lester. A for Jonathan Papelbon, Jason Bay and Mike Lowell — though Lowell gets it not for his production but for the effort he put in to play hurt for as long as he could. 

C-minus for Jason Varitek, Josh Beckett and David Ortiz. The big question is was it just injuries with Big Papi, or was it that he missed Manny hitting behind him in the playoffs, or is the big body breaking down? On the down side is the fact that he had a horrendous start before the injury hit. On the plus side, his 23 homers and 89 RBI in 109 games project to 33 and 122 over a full season, which ain’t bad.

F for Manny because of his disgraceful exit and so-so play while here.

Jacoby Ellsbury gets two grades. B-plus for hitting .280, being versatile enough to play all three outfield positions very well on a moment’s notice, and leading the AL in stolen bases as a rookie. However, when you factor in the expectations that came from his spectacular debut last fall, it drops to a C-plus — which I know is unfair.

In order, here are the four biggest needs for next year: a bopper to replace Manny at clean-up, a young catcher to share the job with Varitek next year and be the man in 2010, greater consistency in the bullpen and a full-time shortstop.

While Kevin Youkilis did a great job filling in after he left, and was the team MVP in my opinion, they still need a replacement for Manny at clean-up. They’re dangerous as constituted, but don’t strike fear as they did with Manny in the line-up and Ortiz at peak.  

Of course, outside of Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria and maybe Ryan Braun, who aren’t going anywhere, there’s no one else out there close to having Manny’s impact. There is free agent Mark Teixeira — but where would you play him unless you moved Youk to third permanently and traded Lowell, which doesn’t seem likely?

Well, there is one more option: Theo and the Trio could go after Manny in the free-agent market — which of course would be a really weird ending to the madness, wouldn’t it?

I could see Danny Ainge maybe doing something like that, but not Theo.

I’m betting he winds up with the Yankees as it gives them a guy to hit behind A-Rod and it’s like sticking a finger in the eye of their main rival. And since they’ve got almost $100 million coming off the books they’ve got a lot of money to spend. 

Yes, I said shortstop. While I love Jed Lowrie’s versatility and steadiness in the field, unless it was fatigue at the end of the year I’m not sure he’ll hit enough at short to give them the relentless line-up Theo craves. So he might be trade bait, or take over for Alex Cora.

Their top trade bait in order: Coco Crisp (who increased his trade value with a nice year), J.D. Drew (they’ll have to pay some of his salary), Lowrie, Manny Delcarmen and maybe Clay Buchholz?

The big question on Buchholz is, is he the guy who buzzed through the system and pitched a no-hitter in 2007, or the no-confidence kid who looked clueless, even for a rookie, for much of 2008? People will be asking for him in any deal and they need to know that answer first.

Personally, I’d stick with him. Though the difference between him and Jon Lester, who was a target last winter they refused to budge on, is that even when Lester was struggling with command and giving up a lot of homers he still was 13-4 lifetime coming into the season. Buchholz was 2-9 last year with a 6.75 ERA.

The best pre-season prediction made by vaunted crackpot computer geek Bill James was saying Beckett would follow up his sensational 20-6 season in ’07 with a so-so 14 wins. Instead he went just 12-10. I had him for 18 in my little competition with James.

His worst was predicting that Pedroia would score just 77 runs. Instead he led the AL with 118. And in case you’re interested, the Red Sox farm system also produced the NL leaders in runs too, as Hanley Ramirez led over there with 125.

Hanley also had 35 steals and 33 homers. I know he was key to getting Beckett and Lowell, but if they’d managed to keep him out of that deal imagine the speed and versatility they’d have had for years with him leading off, Pedroia hitting second and Ellsbury as the second lead-off hitter batting ninth.

Old-timers might get this. Every time I go to spell his name it reminds me of Harvey Korman in the movie Blazing Saddles telling every one his name was HEDLEY, not Hedi, Lamarr. Same thing here — it’s HANLEY, not Henley.

James also had Manny hitting .301, with 33 homers and 113 RBI. I had him at .296, 35 homers and knocking in 116. What did he actually do? The drum roll please ... 37, 121 and .332 after leaving Boston hitting just .299. Plus he stole three bases in three tries for L.A. So ... does he get the money he thought he would when he forced his way out of town?

Actually James was also waaaay off on Varitek at .253, 17 homers and 70 RBI instead of .220, 13 and 43. I was closer at .248, 15 and 60.

And since I’m not above patting myself on the back, especially when it’s in competition with an overrated follow-the-leader new trend in baseball, the bottom line is that the guy (me) using a method perfected in the fifth grade beat the vaunted computer geek handily in our competition for predicting who’d do what in ’08. My best was Lester winning 15 in saying he’d take the next step up.

Mike Timlin won’t be back, but he earned tip of the cap for some great years in Boston — especially in 2004 and 2003, when if Grady Little went to him in the eighth in lieu of Pedro things might have been different because he was lights-out in that playoff.

Dan Shaughnessy’s prediction streak remains intact, as he said after Game 1 and again on Sunday, “They’re in the Series.”

Finally, do you think any of those ungrateful people who booed Varitek at Fenway for not coming through with people aboard in the ALCS are feeling even a little guilty after he won Game 6 with a home run? They should, because to do that to a guy who has done as much for the Sox as he has makes them dogs, not fans, in my book.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billy’s Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.


10/16/2008 Going to the nines a thing of the past

10/9/2008 C-eeing some interesting stories unfold this week
10/2/2008 "How come?" is the main question of the day
9/25/2008 Observations on baseball in 2008
9/18/2008 If I were a QB, a DB, a stat geek or a soccer mom ...
9/11/2008 After disaster Brady's bunch won't pass on season
9/4/2008 Pats start off with high expectation and some concerns
8/28/2008 A race to the finish to take all month long
8/21/2008 National news items of interest for local folks
8/14/2008 A little of this and that from the good side of sports pile
8/7/2008 Manny happy returns from the Evil Empire
7/31/2008 Manny being Manny - the sequel Part XXXII
7/24/2008 Open the mail bag for some Red Sox questions
7/17/2008 Hall-worthy or not the latest question on Schilling
7/10/2008 Baseball season has actually started
7/03/2008 UL editorial in denial — stop the presses
6/26/2008 Boston turnaround makes NBA green with envy
6/19/2008 Letters from the NBA finals
6/12/2008 A Father's Day letter to dad
6/5/2008 Twenty-one and six are the lucky numbers for the Cs
5/29/2008 Sometimes a bat is just a bat
5/22/2008 Some questions for folks right up there in the front row
5/15/2008 Numbers don't add up to supposed Fenway
5/8/2008 Cavalier attitude nearly derails first meeting with LeBron
5/1/2008 I'm so old,I remember ...
4/24/2008 Sox Line-ups, Celtics and ESPN investigations are in the mail bag
4/17/2008 Show me the way to that All-Star Game
4/10/2008 For C'ing a great time ahead as playoffs arrive this spring
4/3/2008 Bill James and the stats for 2008 — Take Two
3/27/2008 Drowning in the NCAA office pool
3/20/2008 Whether forecast is right or not is the question
3/13/2008 Comment sparks wonder over just what I did
3/6/2008 New hires, new trades in pro sports
2/28/2008 Celtics issues far from black and white in the early days
2/21/2008 Congressional ineptitude muscles in on steroid hearings
2/14/2008 Basketball rounds into form under the cover of Pats football
2/7/2008 A giant win leaves Patriots fans feeling blue
1/31/2008 Foxboro lads earn pats on the back, and old Celtics mystique makes sense
1/24/2008 Mail bag asks about Rice, the hall and wild-eyed liberals
1/17/2008 Peyton manning the fort back home as Pats take on Chargers
1/10/2008 Grumpy old Dolphins are lost at sea on this one
1/3/2008 The primary concern is getting a clear picture
12/27/2007 The annual sports awards close out 2007
12/20/2007 Holiday gifts for the deserving and not so deserving
12/13/2007 Jets land in Foxboro as pat go number 14
12/06/2007 To include or not to include Ellsbury — that is the questione
11/29/2007 Yanked from the sports pages in the Big Apple
11/22/2007 Here's what I'm thankful for at Thanksgiving
11/15/2007 Waiting game leads to a series of random thoughts
11/8/2007 OK — it's week nine and I'm ready to talk
11/1/2007 Finally a little shut-eye for a sleep deprived nation
10/25/2007 A rocky mountain high for Red Sox Nation
10/18/2007 Time to go to the mailbag
10/112007 Who'd more popular, Patriots or Red Sox
10/4/2007 IA weekend chock full of nuts, chokes and great moments
9/27/2007 I hate to say I told you so...
9/20/2007 Media and fan bias shades the severity of sports crime
9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders
9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
7/12/2007 Masse still a honeymooner in local baseball culture
7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
5/24/2007 Down 2-0 M’s for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Hero’s death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat