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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.