LONGSHOTS: Is hot stove turning into hot seat for Theo?
by Dave Long
Baseball’s hot stove season is under way, and to me it’s the most interesting part of the entire baseball calendar year. Just love seeing how the pieces come together. And with what’s been going on with Theo and the Red Sox, this looks to be the most interesting one in quite a while.
At this moment they have no proven shortstop, no left fielder, no clear (take your pick) clean-up or fifth hitter and the right fielder who’s never had even a 70-RBI season in Boston just had surgery on his balky left shoulder. There are also injury questions and rumors flying about Mike Lowell; the “Was it just a bad start or a sign of things to come?” question about the DH is fair. Ditto for Dice-K after a lost year. So there are a number of pressing issues to be addressed before pitchers and catchers report.
On the good side, after getting Victor Martinez they’re set at catcher, second base, center field and depending where Kevin Youkilis winds up first or third. Plus one through three in the rotation is solid as is most of the bullpen. So with that as background, here’s a synopsis of the question marks faced by Theo and my thoughts on each.
Issue #1: While most won’t agree, the biggest issue is what’s the long term with Jonathan Papelbon? Most say he had a “sub par” year and his ERA was still below 2.00 so he’s pretty good. Was it an off year or have hitters figured out how to deal with him? If it’s the latter, his value probably will never be higher. If it’s the former, then are they planning to sign when he gets to free agency — which will be expensive? If they’re thinking he’ll be gone at some point, do it now. Make Daniel Bard the closer and live with the growing pains as it would make Pap the biggest chip they have to deal and create options that don’t exist at the moment.
Actually This is #1: Before I decide on Papelbon, I want to know if Bard can start. He was a starter in college before switching after struggling in the low minors. So the question is was it because he’s better being a short guy, or because he just took a little longer to adjust? While you do need good pitching in the seventh and eighth, with that fastball and fluid delivery he has the highest ceiling among the young pitchers. So he might be a dynamic starter to team with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz in what could be a young trio in the making to rival what the Braves had in the early ’90s as Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery developed. Plus since they don’t have much service time, they’ll be inexpensive, which lets Theo invest the big bucks needed to keep Pap.
Rumor Mill: Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez and Blue Jays hurler Roy Halladay keep coming up. Both are great fits, but I suspect they can only get one because the trading partners want inexpensive, major-league-ready kids and there are only so many of them to go around. If it’s one or the other, even though I don’t like dealing with a GM (Jed Hoyer) who knows my farm system as well as I do, I go for the hitter because...
The Rotation: In Josh Beckett, Lester and Buchholz they’ve got three solid starters. Dice-K should bounce back to between 13 and 16 wins and Tim Wakefield mans the fifth spot until his annual breakdown. So they’re solid. Buchholz may be a leap of faith, but I’m back to thinking he could be better than Lester. He showed real poise in both his solid playoff start and while giving up just two runs in an out-for-blood Yankee Stadium during the August slide. And in six September starts he gave up one run or less four times in going 4-1 with a 2.87 ERA. He may still have some growing pains, but I think he’s figured it out.
Untouchable Except in Extreme Cases: Anyone is available if a godfather deal comes along, but it would have to be REALLY good to give up Bard, Jacoby Ellsbury, Pedroia, Lester (because he’s lefty) or Youk.
Free Agency: They can go after John Lackey to let them use Buchholz in a big deal. While that makes sense, I’m not a big Lackey fan. And I’ve got the same feeling about Buc as I did about Lester and Ellsbury in the proposed Johan Santana deal.
Shortstop: Sorry, Marco Scutaro doesn’t do it for me. Theo is to shortstops what Larry Brown is to point guards — never satisfied and probably unsure of exactly what he wants. Is it offense — hence Julio Lugo and Edgar Renteria? But Nomar was an offensive star and he went for the better defensively Orlando Cabrera. To me defense is the priority and offense the luxury, especially with Dustin Pedroia at second base. So after the entire infield picture turned around when he arrived, letting Alex Gonzalez walk AGAIN is pretty maddening. Especially with Jed Lowry around to cover his durability issues. And how is the Scutaro option an upgrade? He’s older, not the defender Gonzalez is and his “career -12 homers, 282 average – year” is what Gonzalez’s Boston numbers project to over a full season. Right now they’re worse here, unless something happens in a big deal.
Left Field: Jason Bay probably is gone despite being offered $60 million over four years. That makes the priority Matt Holliday, who’s represented by — you guessed it — Scott (don’t) Boras, who’ll have Theo over a barrel. While his numbers are impressive, are they inflated by mile-high Denver? And how will he do here after struggling in Oakland? While Bay did come from Pittsburgh himself, I prefer him because you know what you’re getting and with Holliday there are questions.
The 4th or 5th Hitter: This assumes David Ortiz continues to trek down, rather than put up the numbers he did after June 1. Even if it’s the latter, he still didn’t look quick against the good pitchers, and that’s what you see in the playoffs. So for the right deal I’d move Papi. If he stays, I mix in Lowell at DH against lefties.
The Pipe Dream: Reportedly Theo wants to get Hanley Ramirez back, which I’m all for. He takes care of two issues: he plays short (at least for now) and will hit in the middle of the order. But what would the cost be? I’d back up the truck for him, but could this be helped along by the need for economic relief brought on by the downturn? Probably not going to happen, but it would get Theo out of the shortstop doghouse if it did.
He’s got his work cut out for him, so this should be interesting.
Dave Long can be reached at email@example.com. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.