Playing Out the String Theory
You have to ask yourself why you're still turning on NESN (or MLB.com) to watch the Red Sox. David Ortiz has assured that Jimmy Foxx's record has left the building, and the battle for second place in the AL East has all the intensity of watching your lawn grow. So why tune in? Because you're part of the Matt Clement watch? Because you can't get enough Bobblehead and brown tee-shirt talk from Don and Jerry?
Play the kids the rest of the way. Can David Murphy generate enough to become a fourth outfielder? Would looking at Brandon Moss (Eastern League playoff MVP) be such a bad thing?
Playing out the season leads into the Hot Stove League, and the Red Sox have plenty of work to do. An author in the Red Sox newsgroup noted that the Red Sox have only three players with above average OPS, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Kevin Youkilis, with Wily Mo Pena qualifying with limited at bats. Conversely, the AL East Champion had seven. And all media people can talk about is jettisoning Ramirez. His disappearing act down the stretch has been a non-factor.
Sox fans have to ask a lot of questions, like was this just an off-year for Jason Varitek, or has the odometer (over 1000 games catching) turned over? In the hitting rich AL, was a defense rich team capable of competing? Will the Red Sox again try to move Manny, their protection for David Ortiz? Can Wily Mo Pena become protection for Manny, and be a thirty homer guy? Did Coco Crisp fail because of ability, pressure, injuries, or some combination? Can he do better? What caused Trot Nixon's play to fall off the cliff?
Will Jon Papelbon be healthy, and if so, does he go into the rotation? Which Josh Beckett will show up? Can the Sox find another closer, or is Keith Foulke the bargain solution? Can aging Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield pitch effectively as Father Time gains on them? Does Mike Timlin have anything left in the tank? Do Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen have the physical and mental makeup to succeed? Can Jon Lester overcome cancer and become a factor?
Can Dustin Pedroia play? The hyped second base prospect came up with an oversized swing, AND shows no ability to play with the backhand. He tries to play everything in front of him, which affects his ability to go to his right and turn the double play. Witness last night's fiasco when he tried to play the Lowell throw without backhanding it, forcing him off the base. They teach you that in Infield 101.
There's the old saw about 'money can't play' and 'on paper'. What is plain as the tip of your nose is that the Red Sox are old, mostly not very athletic, and as 'Moneyball' devotees, they've got to see the obvious. The Sox have question marks everywhere on the pitching staff, the infield, and the outfield. The talk of trading one of their two legitimate offensive stars without adequate replacement borders on insanity, unless Boston scribes want to write about a seventy-two and ninety team, and thinking that the Sox have to 'blow it up' because this year's team 'blew it' isn't crazy. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", but it's hurtin' for certain.
With Bill James among the Baseball Operations team, let's presume that James' creation, Win Shares, actually has meaning. The Hardball Times has a searchable Win Shares database. The two AL leaders in Win Shares are Derek Jeter (31) and Joe Mauer (29). For simplicity, 30 is usually the level of an MVP season, and 20 is about All-Star caliber. Manny Ramirez clocks in third at 28, Ortiz fourth at 27 (Ortiz gets no defensive Win Shares, Ramirez had 2), and Youkilis had 22. Papelbon had 16 before injury forced him to shut it down.
In addition to Jeter, the Bombers hold positions 14, 16, 17, and 21, courtesy of A-Rod, Damon, Giambi, and Posada. One would expect if Bobby Abreu played a full season for New York, that he'd be a top twenty guy, as would Matsui and Sheffield. The top pitcher is Johan Santana at number 9.
Maybe what's worse is that Freddy Sanchez (14) has 24 win shares for Pittsburgh, Hanely Ramirez (19) had 23 for Florida, Bronson Arroyo (35) had 19 for Cincy, Dave Roberts (36) has 19 for the Padres, and Edgar Renteria (19) has 18 for Atlanta. Heck, Nomar has 16 for the Dodgers, Derek Lowe 13, and even Cla Meredith has 8 for San Diego. I guess the good news is that Pedro has 7 win shares for 13 million dollars (still going to the playoffs) and Bill Mueller has 3 for the Dodgers.
I guess I'm a Soxaholic, and I can't help myself from watching. But Fenway has become the House of Pain. What's your excuse?
-- Ron Sen, Boston Dirt Dogs contributor and founder of Red Sox Reality Check