Planning for the future

Coming off of a pretty successful 2007 and stocked with minor league talent, the Red Sox have a lot of options going forward. This is the first post in series designed to look at the Sox and the issues they need to address this offseason.

Red Sox potential free agents

Eric Gagne, 31 yo RP. Any client of Scott Boras knows that free agency is your payday, and Gagne will hit the market, guaranteed. He’ll find a taker for 3/27 somewhere.

Mike Lowell, 33 yo 3B. Lowell has been professional, a great clubhouse presence and a team leader on and off the field, but he is getting up there in years. What happens to him depends on the course the front office chooses to take with the team’s future. It’s thought that he will command at least a 3/40 contract.

Curt Schilling, 40 yo SP. Schilling has offered to stay one more year at $13 million (twice), but Theo’s not returning his messages. With Lester and Buchholz looking like they’ve already arrived, Schil could be the odd man out next season.

Royce Clayton, 37 yo SS. Clayton is reaching the end of his career, but might be able to land a job with a small market team.

Matt Clement, 33 yo SP. Clement will get a shot somewhere, probably a one-year, non-guaranteed deal with a club in dire need of pitching.

Eric Hinske, 30 yo 1B/LF/RF. Hinske will be too expensive to retain in a utility role, and he deserves a chance to play every day. Look for him to sign a multi-year contract for $2-4 million a year.

Bobby Kielty, 31 yo OF. Would be a wonderful fourth outfielder, but I’d be incredibly surprised if he didn’t want to go for a starting job somewhere. Could work out a 3/12 or 3/15 deal in a small or mid-size market.

Doug Mirabelli, 36 yo C. I’ve been asking for him to be replaced the last two seasons, and it looks like it might finally happen. We might already have his replacement in Kevin Cash.

Julian Tavarez, 34 yo SP/RP. Despite a bad start, Tavarez has been a team player and endeared himself as a kooky teammate. That still won’t be enough for us to re-sign him, however. Will probably sign a 1-year deal in the NL.

Tim Wakefield, 41 yo SP. This is just a formality. The Red Sox have Wakefield on a perpetual $4 million mutual option, and there’s no reason to end the agreement after the year he’s had.

Brendan Donnelly, 35 yo RP. Donnelly’s one year deal runs out, but I don’t see the Sox re-signing him at his age, right after reconstructive surgery on his arm.

Mike Timlin, 41 yo RP. Timlin signed a one-year deal, and this could be the end for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he retired after this year. The Sox could extend him one year to see if he can come back healthy for one last hurrah.

Needs

The Red Sox are pretty set at the starting positions, even with the departure of several of the above players, but the reserves will be in a bit of disarray, checking the depth chart:

C Jason Varitek/(?)
1B Kevin Youkilis/(Chris Carter?)
2B Dustin Pedroia/Alex Cora
SS Julio Lugo/Alex Cora
3B (Mike Lowell)/(?)
RF J.D. Drew/(Jacoby Ellsbury or Brandon Moss?)
CF Coco Crisp/(Jacoby Ellsbury or Brandon Moss?)
LF Manny Ramirez/(Jacoby Ellsbury or Brandon Moss?)

SP Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz
RP Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, Javier Lopez, Kyle Snyder, (Craig Hansen?)
CL Jonathan Papelbon

There are a number of concerns that need to be addressed this offseason, which I would enumerate this way:

1. Upgrade the offense.
Everyone has been disappointed with the performance of the Red Sox offense this season. Two of their big acquisitions, Drew and Lugo, failed to live up to their career numbers, let alone expectations in Beantown, and David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez were uncharacteristically less productive in 2007.

It’s reasonable to think that most of these players will rebound in 2008, but it is by no means a certainty. Especially if Lowell leaves, the Sox will have to address the lineup with one more big bat. It’s nice that Youkilis could slide back over to third base, as big boppers are easier to find over at first base. We do have to start thinking about how to replace Manny’s production, whose contract runs out after 2009 (though we do hold two options on him for 2010 and 2011). Either the lineup has to get more balanced, or we need to target a premium young bat in the next couple of offseasons.

2. Acquire the successor to Varitek.
I’ve been calling for Theo to do this since late 2006. Jason Varitek is signed only through 2008, and at 36 years old his body is quickly wearing out. We need an understudy to get in here and learn the ropes, learn the staff before it’s too late. George Kottaras is just not cutting it in the minor leagues, unfortunately, so there’s no one in the system who will be ready for several years.

3. Improve the pitching depth.
As good as our rotation can potentially be, I wouldn’t mind having Schilling around for one more season, so that he can cover the transition of Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester into the rotation full time. Should one of them struggle or need more time to develop, we need some insurance. If both of them do arrive on schedule in 2008, we can always move Schilling later on.

The bullpen could also use one more quality arm to provide depth and continue the excellent results from this season. There are some interesting names on the potential free agents list. It is also possible that the Sox could find this person from within the system, as there are a lot of guys starting to run out of options at Pawtucket.

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2007 World Series Game 2: Sox win a pitching duel, 2-1

It was another disheartening loss for the Rockies tonight, though in a different way this time. So close. In what could be his last start for the Boston Red Sox, Curt Schilling turned in an outing to remember against the Colorado Rockies. After hitting Willy Taveras and allowing an infield hit to Matt Holliday, a throwing error by Mike Lowell allowed the runners to move up to second and third. Todd Helton grounded out to his counterpart Kevin Youkilis, scoring the Rockies’ only run of the night. Schilling proceeded to go 5 1/3 innings, scattering 4 hits and 2 walks on 82 pitches. He was hittable, allowing the leadoff hitters on board in 4 of 5 innings; but he was effective, getting key outs on guys all night.

On the other side, starter Ubaldo Jimenez used his 98 mph fastball and and good breaking ball to good effect. With the Sox coming out very aggresive, Jimenez held the Sox hitless for three innings. I think the logic was that maybe he would start out trying to get first-pitch strikes, and maybe Jimenez would leave something over the plate. After the first time through the lineup, however, Boston turned the patience back on and drew 5 walks off the wild righty. Jimenez threw two pitches behind the heads of Youkilis and Julio Lugo, and had numerous balls in the dirt or way outside. Give credit to Yorvit Torrealba for preventing several wild pitches during this one.

Lowell rounding second baseThe offensive hero of the game was Lowell, with two key plays that produced both runs for Boston. With the Sox behind 1-0, he was able to to take third on a single by J.D. Drew because he caught Brad Hawpe napping over in right field. As Hawpe sidled over to the ball, not charging it, Lowell turned it on going around second, and beat a hurried throw. Huge heads up play. That allowed Jason Varitek to score him with a sacrifice fly, tying it at one apiece.

Lowell’s GW doubleThe next time up, Lowell had Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz at first and second, and he cranked a 2-strike, 2-out breaking ball through the left side of the infield for a double and the game-winning RBI. What a player. Did you see Manny almost get thrown out at third on that one? What’s he doing?

Schilling was able to command the ball just enough, but got into a jam in the 6th inning. After Kazuo Matsui popped out, he allowed a single to Holliday and walked Helton. Call to the bullpen. Hideki Okajima comes in and defuses an important situation, getting Garrett Atkins to ground out and then fanning Brad Hawpe on three pitches. He keeps going and pitches 2 1/3 on the night, keeping the Rox quiet. No runs, no hits and four K’s for Okajima, what an outing!

Jonathan Papelbon in, top of the 8th. One of the most heads up play of the game was the pickoff of Holliday at first base. It prevents Helton from hitting as the winning run. In the ninth, Paps comes back out throwing 97-98 mph fastballs, and he strikes out Helton to start. HELTON. Atkins flies out to centerfield, and Hawpe swings and misses from the heels to end it. I swear I see smoke trailing off the ball as it zips by these guys.

And just like that, the Red Sox are up 2 games to none on the Colorado Rockies. I just don’t see Josh Fogg and Aaron Cook, who hasn’t pitched for over a month, able to even it up, so there will be some real pressure on Colorado these next few games (remember the last guy who tried to come off the DL for the playoffs? Clemens or somebody?).

Since we won’t have the luxury of a DH in Colorado, there is some debate about who should sit; in my mind, it’s not that complicated. We want to protect Papi’s knee, so we will sit him for one game. First base should not see much action when (if) Josh Beckett starts Game 5; however, that’s lefty Jeff Francis. Cook is an extreme groundball pitcher, so Papi would likely have to run the bases a little more in Game 4 vs Game 3, so here’s what I’d suggest:

Game 3: Ortiz/Lowell
Game 4: Youkilis/Lowell
Game 5: Ortiz/Lowell (Youkilis)

If Papi’s knee acts up, Youkilis could always play Game 5 as well. As for the third baseman for Game 5, Lowell should definitely get first dibs for his defense at the hot corner.

The Rockies bullpen also did a good job, and I was impressed with the way Brian Fuentes threw the ball. But they had to use four pitchers in relief again, because of Jimenez’s short outing. They really need innings from their Game 3 guy, Fogg.

One thing that bothers me. Why does Eric Byrnes look so disheveled after the game? He’s in jeans and a flannel shirt and casual coat, while everyone else is in a suit. And his hair looks like he has yet to shower since the NLDS.

2007 World Series Game 1: Sox, Beckett dominate 13-1

Pedroia slams a leadoff HRMake that 21 of 23 games, thank you very much. Josh Beckett and the Red Sox came out wanting to make a bold statement, but it came out more like an air raid siren. And it had the Rockies running for cover. Beckett struck out the side in the top of the first on 15 pitches, and Dustin Pedroia kicked off the bottom of the frame with another Monster shot, his 2nd HR in as many games. You could see the dread and the fear on the Rockies’ faces even then. I think Jeff Francis must have been pretty nervous, because he proceeded to allow four more hits, making it 3-0 after just one inning. Not to be outdone, Beckett comes out and strikes out Todd Helton before giving up a long double to Garrett Atkins. Then he strikes out Brad Hawpe, making him look very, very bad. In fact, Hawpe went 0-4 on the night with four strikeouts. Looks like somebody needs to spend more time in the batting cage. Beckett does leave a fastball over the plate to Troy Tulowitski, allowing a run, but it’s all clear sailing from here. He almost doesn’t need anything but fastballs until around the fourth inning to mow down the Rockies one by one.

Beckett Delivers in Game 1Welcome to the American League, boys. You see, the last time the Red Sox ace faced the Rockies on June 14, he was 9-0 and on the way to setting some serious records. A couple of weeks after coming back off of a finger avulsion (read: blister-like thingy) and trip to the DL, he gave up a grand slam to Atkins and another HR to Matt Holliday in his first loss of the year. 5 innings, 6 runs, and only one strikeout (Willy Taveras). Some players get intimidated by stuff like that. Not Beckett; he feeds off that, and grows stronger. He wants to show you who you’re dealing with. And last night, he did, going 7 really strong innings, striking out 9, and walking just one.

The Red Sox offense battered starter Francis for 6 runs on 10 hits and 3 walks over four innings, and continued the punishment on rookie reliever Franklin Morales, who balked once and gave up seven runs in just 2/3 of an inning. To be fair, big righty Ryan Speier walked in three of those runs with the bases loaded; that was painful to watch. Everyone contributed in some way, with all the regulars getting at least one hit, save Jacoby Ellsbury, who still walked in a run and also scored. David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Julio Lugo had three hits each, and accounted for 5 runs and 5 RBI combined. It was that kind of night. In all, Boston scored in four of the first five innings, and left 17 men on base in this game. They set a World Series record for a Game 1 blowout, and are the first team to score 10+ runs in three consecutive postseason games. The Rockies have a pretty good offense, but they will have some trouble coming back if the Sox get another big lead in this Series. They need to string hits together to win, because the HR power is somewhat lacking.

The Colorado bullpen did a good job the rest of the way, but with a cushion like that, you know the Sox hitters must have let up just a bit. Clint Hurdle had to use five of his seven relievers last night, which should lead to interesting results, should rookie starter Ubaldo Jimenez leave early tonight. The Red Sox just need to be patient and take a lot of pitches with him, as control has been an issue for him in the past.

Mike Timlin and Eric Gagne each provided an inning of scoreless relief, striking out three batters between them. It was nice to see Gagne go out there and throw strikes (8 of 11 pitches) and work an easy inning.

As expected, Coco Crisp came into the game as a defensive replacement, Manny sat down and Ellsbury shifted to left. Good to see that the catch to end the ALCS didn’t cause an injury.

I don’t think that we should necessarily consider this Series to be in the bag yet, but this game should inspire a lot of confidence. The Sox players are saying all the right things in their interviews, and I don’t see them getting too cocky and letting this one slip away. Like I said, I think confidence is a huge factor for a young team like the Rockies. If they think they can, they could actually pull it off, given the right circumstances. But take away their hope early, and it ain’t gonna happen. If Curt Schilling dazzles them tonight, I do believe that it’s all but done, with Josh Fogg taking the mound in Game 3. The Rox will need him to pull a Jake Westbrook if they are going to survive.

I’ve heard some people wondering why the Red Sox went with Kyle Snyder on the roster rather than Julian Tavarez. While Tavarez is more of a groundball pitcher, which seems more suitable for a place like Mile High Stadium, it’s important to note that batters hit only .223 against Snyder this year, while they hit Tavarez at a .281 clip. Neither of them had a good second half, it’s true (Snyder 5.24 ERA and Tavarez 5.48 ERA), but Snyder’s BAA was actually even better post-ASB (.207) than the first half (.233). His problem was the longball; he gave up 5 of his 7 HR in August and September. While Mile High is a great hitter’s park, the HRs are not as much of an issue as they used to be, thanks to the Humidor. I think what the Sox want to do is minimize the number of balls in play, and rely more on strikeouts and softly hit balls.

2007 World Series Preview: The Colorado Rockies

Schedule of games:

Game 1: Wed Oct 24 8:35PM (@BOS); Jeff Francis vs Josh Beckett
Game 2: Thu Oct 25 8:30PM (@BOS); TBA
Game 3: Sat Oct 27 (@COL)
Game 4: Sun Oct 28 (@COL)
Game 5: Mon Oct 29 (@COL)
Game 6: Wed Oct 31 (@BOS)
Game 7: Thu Nov  1 (@BOS)

The Red Sox have yet to announce the starting rotation for the Series, because they have to decide whether it’ll be Curt Schilling or Tim Wakefield in Game 2, with the other pitcher likely starting in Game 4 in Colorado. Schilling is 4-4 with a 5.51 ERA lifetime in Colorado, and Wakefield is 0-2 with a 9.31 ERA in two career starts there, not a fun choice to be making. Should he start a mile high, the thin air at Invesco should cause his knuckleball to lose a little bit of its movement. The Rockies could be taking batting practice on Wake if that happens. On the other hand, Wakefield dazzled the Colorado lineup at Fenway back in June, and could do it again.

There is a little more story line between these teams. Apparently, the rumored deal of Todd Helton for Mike Lowell and Julian Tavarez earlier this year was a done deal, but the Sox balked at the last minute when Dan O’Dowd asked for one of Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz or Manny Delcarmen to be included in the deal. What a different season that would have been.

My prediction? Sox in 6.

Setting the Roster

I don’t expect any changes to the roster for the World Series. Personally, I wouldn’t mind swapping out Javier Lopez with Tavarez, but it’s tough to remove a guy at this point, when he’s contributed to the team’s success. Taking away his shot to play in a World Series is a tough one. Call me crazy, but I actually think Eric Gagne could prove useful against a National League team, though I wouldn’t ask him to hold a pressure situation any time soon.

Keys to the Series

The Rockies come in as hot as humanly possible. Everyone knows about them winning 21 of their last 22 games; that’s an amazing streak, especially to continue that in the playoffs is unheard of. And if you thought Cleveland was a young team, get ready for a shock. You might not recognize a good 3/4 of their team, unless you follow fantasy baseball. So how are they doing it? As a team, they scored the second most runs, led the NL in batting average at .280, tied for the league lead with a .354 OBP. The Rockies boast a very young rotation that has just come together in the last months of the season, and a solid bullpen with a lot of power arms. They came in 8th in the NL with a team ERA of 4.32, which is not bad, considering they play at altitude, where balls tend to carry well. They have taken to storing all of their baseballs in a Humidor, which ensures that the balls do not dry out and carry even further in the thin mountain air. While they do have good stuff, their pitching staff is not a strikeout staff; they rely on getting ground balls from their sinkerball pitchers. Having swept the NLCS about a week ago, Colorado is very well-rested, and we have to count on them having gotten a little rusty in the mean time.

Rotation
This young rotation has been on fire in the playoffs, with everyone contributing. Jeff Francis is a really tough lefty who I predict will give Sox hitters fits. He’s got great command of a low 90s fastball and a biting curve that’s tough to gauge. Their #2, Aaron Cook is a fireballer, and he throws perhaps the heaviest sinker in the majors right now. Then there’s 23-year old Ubaldo Jimenez, who throws high-90s and has a nasty curveball to go with it. He also throws a pretty decent changeup. Josh Fogg is a journeyman, really, and a control/finesse pitcher who we should be able to hit well, should they use him. Franklin Morales is a quality lefty that they will likely move to the bullpen, with the return of Cook.

The Colorado pitchers are used to facing NL lineups, not David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. You can not get past a good AL lineup with just a good fastball, as Josh Beckett learned in 2006. They do have a lot of young arms with very good stuff, but with youth comes control problems and inconsistency. The Rockies pitchers need to be able to throw their secondary pitches for strikes, or else this patient lineup will take them apart. We have to rely on their youth and inexperience to work against them; if they get into trouble, I think their youngest pitchers will fall apart pretty quickly. Advantage Boston.

Bullpen
The Rockies feature a pretty deep bullpen, hard throwers with good stuff. They are inexperienced also, but I don’t think it matters here as much as it does in the rotation. Their closer, Manny Corpas, has had a phenomenal rookie campaign, and tough lefty Brian Fuentes is also there to back him up. Look for them to bring him in to face Big Papi in key at-bats. Jeremy Affeldt and LaTroy Hawkins are hard throwers. They have some big guys here. Jason Hirsh and Darren Clarke are both 6’8″, and Ryan Speier is 6’7″. Apart from the closer, I’d say these two bullpens are about even.

Lineup
The Rockies offense is led by All-Star Matt Holliday. Holliday is the real deal, a very dangerous hitter who can make contact, drive the ball, and even run a little on the basepaths. Besides him, there is Todd Helton, who is an on-base and doubles machine, and Garrett Atkins, a good hitter with a great power stroke. Troy Tulowitski and Brad Hawpe both hit .291 and had at least 24 HR this season. The Rockies have a couple of pesky hitters in Kazuo Matsui and Willy Taveras, who between the two of them stole 65 bases in 2007. Their bench is stocked with good depth at every position. Like the Indians, they feature a nice balanced lineup. Still, they lacked the power numbers you’d expect of a team that plays at Mile High Stadium. If they’re going to succeed against Boston, they’re going to have to do it by manufacturing runs and getting key hits. Boston has a slight edge here.

Defense
This Rockies defense is very good. Their infield is led by shortstop Tulowitski, who as a rookie already has filled the highlight reels with his goodies. Tavarez covers a lot of ground in center, and Hawpe is pretty good in right. One pitfall for the Sox is that when we play in Colorado, Ortiz is going to be manning first base. That’s the only way to keep his bat in the lineup. Ortiz took some practice there before the last series, so hopefully he’ll be up to the task. Look for Kevin Youkilis to come in as a defensive replacement late in these games. Also, the outfield at Mile High is a mile wide. Manny will have to really pay attention not to mess it up there. Getting Ellsbury in left late in games would be a very good idea.

Coaching
Terry Francona and the Boston team gets an edge here just because of playoff experience. This team knows how to rally once we’re down; the Rockies have had yet to face a serious challenge in the postseason. What if they go down 0-2 games? I think it’s over at that point.

Final Thoughts
Boston has the edge here, and is expected to win. The Rockies have a big advantage when were playing in Denver, but we also have a big advantage when we play here in Beantown. The Rockies are definitely talented, but they are just a bad play away from losing their confidence in themselves. Just as Cleveland clearly buckled in the last three games, Colorado runs the same risk because of their collective inexperience. If they get off to a great start, the Sox could be in trouble; but if we start well, it is over.

The Best and Worst of Theo Epstein, part 2

Considering that my former post on this topic is getting some attention, I’ll post a followup:

Drafting
This has been consistently Theo’s strongest area. No one can argue with the depth that Epstein has built in our farm system, especially compared with the Dan Duquette era. He’s been incredible at using free agent compensation to our advantage, and his scouting team always hits at least once a year. We have a lot of good, up-and-coming pitchers, and some good depth overall. We do lack power bats in the system, especially in the outfield.

2003
Jonathan Papelbon (++) Taken with the 114th pick. Amazing.
Matt Murton (+) Now a solid outfielder for the Cubs.
David Murphy (-) Not a great return for a first-rounder.
Abe Alvarez (-) Second-round pick hasn’t really panned out.

2004
Dustin Pedroia (++) Was their first pick at 65. And what a pick.
Andrew Dobies (-) Who?

2005
Jacoby Ellsbury (++) From what we’ve seen so far, he’s awesome.
Clay Buchholz (++) More than enough compensation for Pedro.
Michael Bowden (+) A very good pitching prospect in our system.
Jed Lowrie (+) A pretty good midle infield candidate.
Craig Hansen (0) Could still pan out, but we’re still waiting.

2006
Lars Anderson (++) A steal for where he was drafted.
Jason Place (+) A little early to say, but he’s one of the few power-hitting outfielders in our system.
Daniel Bard (+) A fireballer in our farm system.
Justin Masterson (+) Shown signs of being a good one.
Aaron Bates (+) Gives us good depth at 1B.
Bryce Cox (+) Another power arm for the pen.
Caleb Clay (0) Played well in his first short year.
Kris Johnson (0) A great first year followed by a bad one in Lancaster.

2007
Nick Hagadone (+) Has looked good thus far.

Free agents
Free agent signings are notoriously difficult, and probably the part where Epstein has faltered most often. What enrages many fans is that many players sign for big bucks, then come here and struggle (at least initially).

2002-2003
David Ortiz (++) No one could have guessed what he’d become, not even Theo.
Mike Timlin (++) Has been a mainstay in our bullpen ever since.
Bill Mueller (+) He won a batting title and was very solid when healthy.
Kevin Millar (+) Claimed off of waivers, the original cowboy contributed pretty well.
Bronson Arroyo (+) Claimed off of waivers and was a great teammate.
Chad Fox (0) Not expensive, and he pitched like it. Released in July.
Ramiro Mendoza (-) Terrible first year, released in his second year.

2003-2004
Keith Foulke (+) Only the way things ended keep this from being two pluses.
Pokey Reese (0) Personally don’t think his defense was so great, but he didn’t hurt.
Ellis Burks (-) Earned $750k for 33 major league ABs.
Curtis Leskanic (-) Blech.

2004-2005
John Olerud (+) I’m a fan, what can I say?
David Wells (0) Love him or hate him, he was okay.
Edgar Renteria (-) One of the most controversial signings, we was traded in one year.
Wade Miller (-) Low risk contract, but didn’t work out.
John Halama (-) Didn’t provide much.
Matt Mantei (-) Never worked out.
Matt Clement (- -) Probably the worst of the signings.

2005-2006
J.T. Snow (+) I thought he was a great signing.
Julian Tavarez (+) As much as I disliked him, he deserves a lot of credit for this year.
Alex Gonzalez (0) His defense dazzled, and he (sometimes) wasn’t abysmal at the plate.
Tony Graffanino (0) Even.

2006-2007
Hideki Okajima (++) This “hero in the dark” surprised everyone.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (+) Was in line for RoY until fall collapse; will bounce back.
Bobby Kielty (+) This pissed off Brady Clark, but Kielty’s been a great role player for us.
Julio Lugo (-) Another year, another struggling shortstop. He could still make it up.
J.D. Drew (- -) 5 years, $70 million. Probably the biggest disappointment on this year’s team.
J.C. Romero (- -) Maybe we should just avoid guys with double initials from now on.
Joel Pineiro (- -) The most expensive mopup guy of 2007.

Extensions
Kind of similar to free agent signings, only you know more what you’re getting. So you’d better be on the ball with these. And Theo has been, for the most part. He also has never gone to arbitration with ANYONE in his time with the Red Sox, which shows some of his diplomacy with the young players.

2004-2005
Jason Varitek (+) 4 years, $40M and worth every penny.

2005-2006
David Ortiz (++) 4 year extension WAY below market value.
Josh Beckett (++) 3 year extension below his worth as well.
Tim Wakefield (++) His perpetual $4M team option is a thing of beauty for the team.
Coco Crisp (+) 3 years at $15.5M makes him very tradeable, just watch this offseason.

2006-2007
Alex Cora (+) Is a very good utility infielder and mentor for other players.
Mike Timlin (+) Having him here another year, even hurt, was satisfying to a lot of fans and players.
Doug Mirabelli (0) He needs to go next season, sorry.

Trades
Trades take years to figure out if they were good or not, but here’s what we can say.

2002-2003
Josh Thigpen and Tony Blanco for Todd Walker (+) Produced well in his one season for the Sox.
Rene Miniel for Lou Merloni (+) At least Lou was a fan favorite.
Javier Lopez for Ryan Cameron (0) Not an impact trade.
Tyler Pelland for Scott Williamson (0) Even Steven.
Shea Hillenbrand for Byung-Hyun Kim (0) I’ll call it even, since Kim contributed a little, and so did Shea.
Josh Hancock for Jeremy Giambi (-) Hardly played and wasn’t good when he did.
Luis Cruz for Cesar Crespo (-) Yuck. Good thing he wasn’t expensive.
Freddy Sanchez, Mike Gonzalez for Jeff Suppan, Brandon Lyon, Anastacio Martinez (- -) Lost two very good youngsters and didn’t gain much back.

2003-2004
Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, Jorge de la Rosa and Michael Goss for Curt Schilling (++) A bloody good steal for the Sox.
Nomar Garciaparra and Matt Murton for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz (++) Took a lot of guts, but it paid off big time.
Henri Stanley for Dave Roberts (+) You don’t do this deal, you don’t beat the Yankees in the ALCS.
for Mark Bellhorn (+) A key cog for that magical postseason.
for Mike Myers (+) Without him, the bullpen is lefty-less.
John Hatti for Terry Adams (0) You gotta give something to get something.

2004-2005
Ramon Vazquez for Alex Cora (++) Never was there a more unbalanced swap of utility players.
Dave Roberts for Jay Payton, Ramon Vazquez and David Pauley (+) A very good deal for the Sox.
Doug Mientkiewicz for Ian Bladergroen (+) Flipping a defenseman for a pretty decent prospect is a nice move.
Carlos de la Cruz and Kevin Ool for Mike Myers (0) We keep wanting you back.
Byung-Hyun Kim for Chris Narveson and Charles Johnson (0) One of those 0 + 0 = 0 deals.
Chip Ambres and Juan Cedeno for Tony Graffanino (0) Graf was okay for a while.
Jay Payton for Chad Bradford (-) Never was there a more unbalanced one of these.
Olivo Astacio for Mike Remlinger (-) Shudder.

2005-2006
Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado and Harvey Garcia for Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota (++) Would’ve been nice to keep Hanley, but this was still worth it.*
Doug Mirabelli for Mark Loretta (++) A steal and a half.
Guillermo Mota, Andy Marte and Kelly Shoppach for Coco Crisp, David Riske and Josh Bard (+) This deal is still evolving, but seems to swing in our favor now.
Luis Mendoza for Bryan Corey (+) He’s been a good soldier and September callup for us.
David Wells for George Kottaras (0) Still waiting on this prospect to show up (figuratively, not literally).
PTBNL for Eric Hinske (0) Hinske’s been a solid veteran to have on the bench, but hasn’t contributed much.
David Riske for Javier Lopez (0) Which would I rather have? Neither, really.
Adam Stern for Javy Lopez (-) A desperate move which didn’t pay off.
Edgar Renteria for Andy Marte (- -) We’re still paying for this one, literally.
Bronson Arroyo for Wily Mo Pena (- -) It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Cla Meredith, Josh Bard and a PTBNL for Doug Mirabelli (- -) The Padres get even.
PTBNL for Jason Johnson (- -) The Indians should have been paying us to take him off their hands.
PTBNL for Jermaine Van Buren (- -) Seems to be a lot of these junk signings this year.

* not Theo’s call

2006-2007
Wily Mo Pena for Chris Carter (+) Not a terrible return for a player we didn’t need.
Phil Siebel for Brendan Donnelly (+) Provided necessary bullpen depth early on.
Joel Pineiro for a PTBNL (0) We’ll leave this one neutral until we see who we get in return.
Kason Gabbard, David Murphy and Engel Beltre for Eric Gagne (- -) There was no way to predict this trainwreck, really, but somehow Scott Boras always benefits.

Players Kept/Lost
One important aspect of a big market GM is knowing when to walk away from the negotiating table. You don’t sign a player because of his name, but based on what he can offer you for the length of the contract to come. Free agents who leave also have a nice side effect- compensatory draft picks.

2002-2003
Cliff Floyd (+) He went on to have an injury plagued 4 years with the Mets, but he was good when he played. Sox drafted Matt Murton and Abe Alvarez with the compensation picks.
Ugueth Urbina (+) No more All-Star years for Ugie, but he did sign for less money in Texas.
2003-2004
Todd Walker (+) An average hitter and pretty bad with the leather.
Brian Daubach (+) Essentially a replacement level player.

2004-2005
Pedro Martinez (++) People thought Theo was crazy. They thought wrong. This decision turned into Clay Buchholz and Jonathan Egan, so it’s real hard to argue against this.
Derek Lowe (+) Lowe has been pretty successful in the NL, where he belongs. Plus we got Craig Hansen and Michael Bowden out of it.
Kevin Millar (+) Can still get on base, but after some stopgap players, Youkilis has been an excellent replacement.
Orlando Cabrera (o) People still can’t figure out why we let him walk. At least we got Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie with the comp picks.

2005-2006
Johnny Damon (++) It hurt for a year, but in retrospect a good call. We also drafted Daniel Bard and Kris Johnson with the comp picks.
Bill Mueller (++) He’s retired now, and we got Caleb Clay and Aaron Bates using the compensatory draft picks.

2006-2007
Keith Foulke (++) Good thing we let him go when we did, though he is planning a comeback. Netted us shortstop Ryan Dent.
Mark Loretta (+) No one remembers the stir it caused when we let him go because of Pedroia.
Trot Nixon (+) Not healthy enough to be a regular, and we have enough lefty outfield bats.
Lenny DiNardo (0) A fan fav, DiNardo was not going to do much here. He did have a good start against Boston this year.
Carlos Pena (-) Pena hit a lot of home runs this year for the Devil Rays. Who’d a thunk it? Not me.
Alex Gonzalez (-) Lugo did provide a little more offense, but not much. And he costs a lot more. We did get Nick Hagadone as compensation.

You can get a pretty comprehensive list of moves from Theo’s early years here.

Summary
I’d definitely say that Epstein struggled some early on, as he was learning the rules of the game. His free agent signings didn’t account for player makeup, or he projected players incorrectly, and that has cost the organization a lot of cash. But his team handles the business aspects very well, and drafts as well as anyone. Theo does have problems engineering trades sometimes, but who wants to trade with the big powerhouse team? It’s a tough task. Epstein has also made the right calls about when to let players go, except when it comes to acquiring one of his “dream” players (Renteria, Drew, Lugo, etc). Those have usually turned out to be nightmarish.

I think Epstein and Co. are getting smarter about the way they do business, and they are only getting better with experience. They’ll need everything they can muster, with the rest of the AL gunning for us from now on. That’s what happens when you win the AL championship.

ALCS Game 7: Another late blowout, Sox going to the big show

Papelbon's Riverdance, part 2Let the good times roll. Our Boston Red Sox advanced to the World Series last night with an 11-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians. It looks like an easy victory from the final, but it was a LOT closer than that, and Sox fans did get to sweat it out in the middle innings before the lineup finally put it away in the 8th.

It all started out with bad flashes of games 2, 3 and 4. The lineup was putting a lot of people on, but the Sox were not cashing in on their opportunities. Bottom of the 1st, Manny Ramirez hits a grounder that hits the lip of the infield and goes over Jhonny Peralta‘s head, scoring Dustin Pedroia from second. Mike Lowell singles, and J.D. Drew comes up with one out and the bases loaded. Anticipation grips Fenway for the man who hit the early grand slam the night before. Is he finally over the hump? Is he locked in? The result? Double play.

In the 2nd, a Jason Varitek double and a Jacoby Ellsbury single put men on the corners. Julio Lugo hits into a double play, which scores Tek, but crushes any rally we could have mustered. 2-0.

Bottom of the 4th, Varitek singles, Ellsbury hits into a fielder’s choice, Lugo singles, and Pedroia hits into yet another double play. The score should have been 6-0 by now; instead, it’s 3-0. Look, I know Jake Westbrook is a groundball pitcher, but this is a little ridiculous. In all, the Red Sox hit into 14 double plays in this series, a new LCS record. By four. And look who’s still standing.

Meanwhile, Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched very well to start. After retiring the first eight hitters, he allowed a single to Casey Blake, then threw a pitch in the dirt to allow him to move up to second base. I swear, that if that guy weren’t in baseball, he’d be a lumberjack or something. He just looks it. Anyway, with Grady Sizemore at the plate, I start to worry a little, but Dice-K rings him up to end the inning. Top of the 4th, it starts up again. Travis Hafner bangs a long one off the Monster for a double, then Ryan Garko doubles with two out to score him. Matsuzaka overthrows a couple of pitches, getting out of his delivery. I worry more, but Peralta grounds out to end it. Top of the 5th, Kenny Lofton bangs yet another one off of the Monster, then gets thrown out at second (called incorrectly, BTW). Two more singles ensue, and I am checking the Sox bullpen. Finally, Hideki Okajima gets up, but is not needed, as Sizemore produces a sac fly and Asdrubal Cabrera whiffs on a nasty letter-high changeup. Matsuzaka’s final line? 88 pitches, 5 IP, 6 hits, 2 runs, no walks and 3 Ks. He can do better, but this was good enough tonight.

Westbrook gets himself into a groove and makes it through six innings. The Sox manage absolutely zero at the plate in the 5th and 6th, striking out 4 times in the process. Blech. I am just perplexed by these offensive outages the Sox go through, but I guess as long as they don’t last too long…

Top of the 7th, Okajima is cruising, things seem in control, and then.. Lugo makes one of the most disgusting defensive gaffes I’ve ever seen. On a pop fly to left, he ranges way out of the infield, waves off Manny, then promptly drops the ball. I understand there is some apprehension about Ramirez as a fielder, but I think he can catch a fly ball. Every little leaguer is taught that you let the guy coming forward have it if you have to backpedal. With a one-run lead, I’m thinking, oh no; this could be the game. And surely enough, Franklin Gutierrez smacks a grounder right over the third base bag that goes into foul territory and bounces back into shallow left. The speedy Lofton should score easily from second, except that he doesn’t. The Indians third base coach, Joel Skinner, holds him up, and Okajima gets a double play out of Blake to end the frame. Huge mistake by the Indians to cancel out Lugo’s huge mistake. Still 3-2, and I think that play really weighed on the Cleveland players for the rest of the game.

The Indians bring on Rafael Betancourt, and I am salivating. I have been wanting the Sox to get one more shot at him. My prediction of him being the losing pitcher didn’t come true (I missed it by one run), but he did get lit up pretty good. My guess is that he had to be overused this series (this was his 5th appearance against us), and our guys got to know his stuff a little bit. That home run by Pedroia was the backbreaker, and I named him my player of the game.

Still a little drama left. Okajima gives up a bunt hit to Sizemore to lead it off, and there’s almost a three-way collision at first with him and Pedroia both trying to cover the base. Then Cabrera singles, and it’s getting mildly stressful. Bring on Jonathan Papelbon, who simply annihilates Hafner with a 98 mph fastball, then gets a grounder from Victor Martinez and a long, long, long fly out from Garko. That one hit in almost any other direction makes it a game again.

Bottom of the 8th, the late-night fireworks we’ve come to expect recently. It is just a dogpile, with a Drew RBI single up the middle, a bases loaded, two-out double by Pedey, and the rude greeting to rookie Jensen Lewis by Kevin Youkilis off the Coke bottles way, way up there. Varitek has a popfly fall between Peralta and Lofton, and that bounces out for a ground rule double. Ugly.

The top of the 9th is anti-climactic, except for the final drive by Blake into the triangle, which ends with Coco Crisp crashing into the wall and making the catch. Coco limped off the field afterwards, but today’s reports say that he’s okay. Congrats to Paps on both his first postseason and first two-inning save.

There’s a nice article about how many Boston fans very sportingly clapped for the Indians as they left Fenway at about 1AM last night.

And that’s the story of how the Sox overcame a 3-1 deficit and are now World Series-bound. Despite what a certain player said earlier, the Sox are the better team. So there. See you again Wednesday.

BTW, Josh Beckett was awarded the ALCS MVP. No argument here.

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ALCS Game 6: Schilling, Drew come through

Curt Schilling just seems to be on his game when the season is on the line. The wily 40-year old veteran showed that he’s still capable of pitching with what he has. He used his split-finger fastball and his changeup pretty effectively over seven innings, allowing six hits and two runs, walking no one. He worked his way through a LOT of leadoff hits (he surrendered hits to begin 5 of his 7 innings of work). There were some long fly balls, but the Sox ran them all down. He needed only 90 pitches in this outing, and he even struck out five batters.

Schilling was handed a four-run lead after one frame by an unlikely hero. After two infield singles by Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis and a walk of David Ortiz loaded the bases, Manny Ramirez struck out on a nasty sinker and Mike Lowell flied out. With J.D. Drew at the plate, the best outcome I was hoping for was that he could walk in a run. But he took a 3-1 fastball by Fausto Carmona for a pretty good ride, and just cleared the fence to the right of the Green Monster. I’m very happy for the much-maligned Drew, and hope this becomes a turning point for him in his Boston career.

The Indians didn’t help matters, stumbling and bumbling their way through a 6-run bottom of the 3rd inning. Carmona walked Manny and Lowell to lead off the inning, and props to Drew for singling to keep the pressure on. Out comes Rafael Perez, the Red Sox favorite Tribe bullpen punching bag this series, now with a 45.00 ERA (why didn’t Wedge bring him in to face Drew at least???). Jason Varitek flied out to right, and then Jacoby Ellsbury had a key opposite-field single. Then he scored from first on Julio Lugo‘s double down the line.

Then the real fun begins. Obviously flustered, Perez walks Pedey, and Youkilis bangs a long one off the Green Monster. Kenny Lofton finally manages to play the carom right (he got a lot of practice last night), and they trap Youk off of first. Rookie Asdrubal Cabrera is chasing him back to first, and somehow manages to throw it off a ducking Youk’s helmet. Safe. The Indians bring in lefty Aaron Laffey, who gets Papi to ground hard to first base. An easy double play, right? It is unless your first baseman (Ryan Garko) throws it a good 10 feet short into the ground. After a Manny walk, the massacre finally ends with a Lowell fly ball. 10-1, Sox after three. Hello Game 7!

Ellsbury played well in his first postseason start, and didn’t shatter anything (except maybe Cleveland’s hopes). Hey, even Eric Gagne did well in this one.

You get the feeling that you’re watching a young, inexperienced team just unravel. After two straight poundings, I don’t expect them to put up much of a fight tonight. Those Cleveland fans will be sorry for calling one of our players “Rice-K” (I won’t tell you who). Despite the loss in Game 3, it’s still my opinion that Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched better Jake Westbrook last time, and I fully expect it to happen again in tonight’s game. Well, Cleveland, you guys can always donate those World Series T-shirts to the homeless.