Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A New York Newspaper Lauds The Sox.

***I had to print this, because praise from a New York based paper about our team, the Red Sox, is rare. And the writer makes some good points, so many that I printed the article here, in its entirety.**** Red Sox In Excellent Shape Despite Front-Office Turmoil
February 1, 2006
With yesterday's reports that they had signed shortstop Alex Gonazalez to a one-year deal worth $3 million, the Red Sox' off-season is more or less over. They may deal disgruntled starter David Wells (who would make an awful lot of sense for the Mets), and it's even conceivable they could put together a late blockbuster to ship flaky slugger Manny Ramirez out of town, but big moves would be a surprise, and the team the Red Sox have now is pretty much the one they're going to run out on Opening Day.

It's a very good team, and particularly a very good offense. The Sox are now younger, deeper, and better than they were last season, when they won 95 games and scored the most runs of any team in the majors. Their only significant loss was center fielder Johnny Damon; his replacement, Coco Crisp, is an excellent bet to perform at least as well as Damon in 2006.

The other departures, like infielders Bill Mueller, Tony Graffanino, and Kevin Millar, are aging veterans who are likely to be outplayed by their replacements - Mike Lowell, Mark Loretta, and Kevin Youkilis. Even Gonzalez, a .245 career hitter who never walks but plays a solid shortstop, will probably do about as well next season as departed incumbent Edgar Renteria did last season - that's a low bar, but any time a 95-win team holds its ground, it's a good thing.

Looking the team over position by position, it's easy to see why improvement is in the offing. Catcher Jason Varitek is getting to that age (he'll be 34 in April) at which the daily pounding begins to exact its price, but he's hit about as well as he did last year four of the last five seasons, and he should remain a presence in the lineup.

At first and second base, the Sox ran out bizarre, hydra-like platoons made up of basically useless players last year. This year, Youkilis and Loretta will provide high on-base averages and, if not much power, at least more than last year's crew did. Shortstop should be a wash. At third base, Lowell will provide fewer on-base skills, but likely more power, defense, and durability than Mueller did, making the exchange a push.

In the outfield, Crisp was every bit the hitter Damon was last year, and is six years younger. There's no reason to think the right field platoon of Trot Nixon and whichever random right-handed bum the team scares up will be any worse this year than it has been over the last several, and no one's worried about the heart of the offense - Ramirez and the terrifying David Ortiz.

Continuedo, despite the caterwauling and smug scoffing heard in various quarters (including this one) about the Sox' center field and shortstop situations, it looks like the team not only hasn't shot itself in the foot, but has consolidated its strengths - an unhappy thought for the Yankees and Blue Jays.

What should make them more unhappy is that the Sox are in some ways retrenching their position, easing off the yearly battle with the Yankees for dominance and clearing space for younger players. You see this in particular in the middle infield, where Loretta and Gonzalez are stop-gaps. Should things go right, Dustin Pedroia, a 22-year-old shortstop prospect who profiles as something of a cross between Marcus Giles and David Eckstein and has hit .310 BA/.398 OBA/.473 SLG in 159 minor league games despite playing a third of them with a serious hand injury, will be up in Fenway by mid-summer.

Among Pedroia, Crisp, Youkilis (who's 27), and Ortiz (29), the Sox should end the year with four key offensive players approaching or in their primes. On the pitching side, with Josh Beckett, stud closer-in-waiting Craig Hansen, and prospects like Jonathan Papelbon and Jon Lester, the tendency is even more pronounced. This is not only evidence of good planning and a laudable willingness to make tough decisions, it's evidence that the team's soap opera-like off-season has had nowhere near as much an effect on morale as you might think.

The danger for the Sox going forward isn't that they've gotten rid of much of the team that won the 2004 World Series. That team's time had passed, and whatever chemistry there may have been among the lot of them, it wasn't going to make up for their diminished skills on the ballfield. Rather, it's that their strategy of shuffling useful role players with specific, discernible skills into and out of the lineup is highly dependent on Ramirez and Ortiz, awesome offensive performers who carry a disproportionate amount of the team's load.

Should one or both of them be injured, this team is going to have problems, and looking toward the future, should one or both of them depart the team and Sox management prove unable to acquire suitable replacements, the team is going to have much more serious ones. It's not a concern for right now, but it's the one glimmer of hope for Sox-bashers, who shouldn't be gloating anywhere near so much as they are. ******Well, what do you think?? I think the writer nailed many points with insight and knowlege. Sure is different than reading Murray Ch(ass) from the Times. I'll be back with that 10 most hated atheletes list from Gentleman's Quarterly. Thanks for reading.


At 2/04/2006 4:13 PM, Blogger Michael Leggett said...

Peter, when I can get the NY Sun, it is a most-intelligent read.


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