Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Looking toward 2008

Now that the 2007 season has ended in glorious celebration, it’s already time to look forward to next year. There are two key free agents about whom Theo will need to make a call. Curt Schilling will declare, and if I were the Sox, I would say “Thanks so much for everything you’ve done for us, Curt. You were a true warhorse. You gave us your talent, heart and soul, and those 2004 and 2007 flags wouldn’t have existed without you. We’ll never forget you. Good luck next year wherever you end up, and we’ll see you in Cooperstown. If you’d like to wear a Red Sox cap on your plaque, we’d be honored”. There are reports circulating that Schilling has already written goodbye notes to his teammates, so that makes his intentions clear. If I were Theo, I would send a very different message to Mike Lowell. Even though he’ll turn 34 at the end of February, he was the team MVP (and World Series MVP) in 2007. His bat and his glove were irreplaceable, not to mention his professionalism. I don’t believe there’s another 3B available who will be an adequate replacement (yes, I know about the guy who just left New York. Lowell remains superior because he’s a winner). Given what the Red Sox will be saving by not giving Schilling his $13 million and change, I’d try like hell to re-sign Lowell as soon possible, while the cheering from the parade is still fresh, and before the market develops and jacks up the price to JD Drew levels. Even if the price is already wacky, do it anyway. He’s proven he’s a pro’s pro, and he’s worth it. Just remember what ARod would cost, and count yourself lucky.

Assuming they can lock up Lowell, the lineup isn’t likely to change much from what you saw in 2007. It would be good to jettison Drew, but that isn’t happening, certainly at his bloated contract value and substandard performance level (at least before October). We’re stuck with him. Maybe he’ll play better in 2008, this time picking it up before Labor Day. Same for Julio Lugo. I’d still unashamedly rather have Alex Gonzalez or Orlando Cabrera back at short, but that’s the way it is. Lugo did well enough and had a terrific October, so we could clearly be in worse shape. Rookie of the Year Dustin Pedroia should be playing second base for the next 10-15 years. Ditto Youkilis at first. Captain Varitek is signed through 2008. We can worry about him in another year, or perhaps sign him to an extension now (yes yes, I know that’s not happening, but I can hope, can’t I?).

A month ago, I would have said that Jacoby Ellsbury should be ready to take over in center in 2009. However, everything changed when Terry Francona put him in the lineup in the ALCS and kept him there through the World Series. Now, Coco Crisp is likely out of a job. I think Theo is going to try to get what he can for Coco on the open market, in spite of Crisp’s likely Gold Glove award. Manny Ramirez will remain in left for one more year. This extends the remarkable lineage of Red Sox left fielders that started with Ted Williams in April of 1939 and has extended through Yaz (1961-1974 in left field), Jim Rice (1975-1987), Mike Greenwell (1987-1995) and Troy O’Leary (1996-2000) before Manny arrived in 2001. Only six full-time left fielders over almost 70 years. Amazing, isn’t it?

The rotation is probably close to set, as well. Assuming Wakefield doesn’t retire, next spring’s rotation should be Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholtz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Jon Lester. You could make the case that you never have sufficient pitching, and therefore Schilling should be brought back, but 6 doesn’t go into 5, so pick who’d you’d like to get rid of. I think it’s time to get younger, not older. There are bullpen questions, to be sure. It would not surprise me to see Mike Timlin retire. Eric Gagne should be shown the door. In fact, I’m relieved he didn’t accidentally guide his duckboat completely off the parade route. Other, smaller holes exist, but they don’t have to be solved in November. As long as Okajima, Delcarmen and Papelbon are there, the rest can be sorted out.


Anonymous said...

I agree with all your advice to Mr. Epstein.

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