Now that the Sox really know what it's like not to sing the blues, what will they do for an encore?
We asked the Batters Box roster for their opinions on some key Red Sox questions.
Q: In the off-season, the Red Sox added Matt Clement, David Wells, and perhaps Wade Miller, to their starting rotation, and lost Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe. Is that a net gain or a net loss or do they break even? What about Bronson Arroyo, who had a nice 90 IP, 87H, 6 HR, 19W, 75K second half-line?
Pepper Moffatt - Over 162 games I like the starting rotation of Schilling, Clement, Wells, Wakefield and Arroyo (with Miller as a spot starter) better than Schilling, Pedro, Lowe, Wakefield, Arroyo . The #3 spot is a lot stronger in 2005 and there's more depth.
In a 5 or 7 game series, I'm not so sure. If I get to throw Schilling and Pedro out there for 4 games and have Foulke in the 9th I'm pretty confident about my chances.
Rob - I don't value the short series factor very much, simply because Schilling didn't go 32-0 last year. Yes, you could have your best pitchers in 80% (LDS) or 71% (LCS) of the games, but even the best lose sometimes, and it's better to have someone halfway competent throwing in those other games. Lowe was fungible last year until Washburn gave up the homerun to Ortiz, so I don't see how one of Miller or Clement can't match his 180 innings of 5.42 ERA and his poor 5.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
Pedro is a tougher nut to crack, though. David Wells can easily fill in for Bad Pedro, Ow-My-Arm Pedro, or 110 ERA+ Pedro. But nobody can match Pedro.
Pistol- Based on replacing performance, I think Clement and Wells can match what Martinez and Lowe gave the Sox last year (at least in the regular season).
If the question is whether I'd rather have Martinez and Lowe or Wells, Clement and Miller I'd take the former, despite not really thinking too much of Lowe.
I'm not convinced that Clement is going to be a top of the rotation starter. His ERA hasn't been that strong, and he seemed to benefit from pitching day games at Wrigley. On top of that he's moving from the NL to the AL. I think he has a better chance to have a 5.00 ERA than a 3.75 ERA.
Wells is getting by by not walking anyone. Even with that, and pitching in Petco his ERA was 3.73 last year. I think moving to Fenway will hurt that. If he loses any effectiveness it could go even higher.
Wade Miller is a good risk to take, but I'm not sure you can count on him this year.
Martinez has still remained effective, and has been durable in 4 of his last 5 years. I'd take him over the three the Sox acquired (neglecting economics).
Lucas - Boston’s top five started 157 games last season. That won’t be easy to replace, but I do believe the 2005 rotation is better.
I agree with Pistol that Clement isn’t really a top-of-the-rotation starter. Still, he ought to be good for an ERA in the low to mid-fours and will be better than Lowe. Boston will pay Clement $25 million (plus performance bonuses) for three years, while LA has bestowed four years and $36 million upon Lowe. Which deal would you prefer?
Interestingly, Pedro started the most games since 1998 but also had by far his worst ERA+ since 1996. The Mets are paying him to be healthy and overpowering for the next four years. The odds are reasonable that he’ll be one or the other, but not both. For that amount of money, Boston was correct to let him go.
The Miller signing had fans of every other teams saying “Why didn’t we do this?” $1.5 million to sign, up to $3 million in incentives, no option year was necessary because Miller won’t have enough service time to walk away after the season.
Dave Till- The new rotation's upside is absolutely tremendous. If Miller makes a full recovery, Clement holds his own in Fenway, and Wells somehow defies Father Time for yet another year, the Sox could have six quality starting pitchers. Most teams don't even have half that many; some have none whatsoever.
Of course, pitching is unpredictable; Clement could implode in Fenway, Wells could suddenly lose it, and the surgeons might not successfully reattach Miller's arm to his body. But, at this point, I think that the Sox are the team to beat in the AL East this year.
Thomas- I agree that this year's rotation is improved over last year's, even if it maybe slightly inferior in a shorter series. You have to build for the long haul in baseball, and the Red Sox are well-equipped to handle injury in the second half if Miller returns. He was one of the bargains of the offseason, even with those incentives built into the contract. I think Theo did the right thing as I wouldn't have given Pedro that fourth year and Lowe was never coming back. Once that was set Theo had to rebuild the rotation and Clement and Wells were good choices to do that with. There isn't the upside that Pedro brings, but old Pedro was never coming back anyway.
Magpie - But there's a lot to worry about with that staff, and most of it involves age and injury. Schilling's ankle took an awful lot of abuse last October. The Sox apparently intend to hold back Wade Miller, and he may not be pitching for them before June. With the exception of his year in Chicago, David Wells has been durable and consistent and effective for the last eight years; but he will be 42 in May, and he's leaving a pitcher's park in the pitcher's league. Wakefield will be 38, Timlin will be 39, Embreee will be 35. A lot of things can go wrong.
Jordan - Bronson Arroyo turns 28 this month, and he's the baby of this rotation. Rounding out the starting staff, Matt Clement will turn 31 during the season, Curt Schilling will be 38, Tim Wakefield will turn 39 and David Wells will turn forty-freakin' two. Those latter three combined to throw 609 innings last year; I would not bet the Grammy that they'll pull it off again in 2005.
The Red Sox have legitimate stability concerns in their rotation, but their primary backup plan, Wade Miller, is himself being held together with thread and staples. The Sox, like the Yankees, have the resources to go and buy their way out of a rotation problem in mid-season -- but, also like the Yanks, their minor-league wherewithal to entice teams into trading reliable veterans is rapidly thinning. There are very few pure salary dumps anymore, and Boston has few jewels left in its farm system to acquire even a Freddy Garcia down the stretch. It's worth noting that Pedro Martinez, generally viewed as fragile, averaged 200 IP each of the last three seasons.
It's also worth noting this about the two new Red Sox starters: Matt Clement is an extreme groundballer in the Derek Lowe vein, while David Wells gives up a lot of balls in play (not many Ks, hardly any BBs). Clement's BABIP was a relatively low .279, while Wells' was .274; their dERAs were, respectively, 28 and 44 points higher than their ERAs. They'll now ply their trade in front of Boston's Mientkiewicz-less infield. In short, starting pitching has to be considered at least a little worrisome for the Sox.
Q: The Sox added Mantei to Timlin, Embree and Foulke. I guess the bullpen should be a plus again this year. Any doubters?
Mick Doherty - Yes, the Boston rotation stands to actually be improved from a depth standpoint, even after losing Pedro, which can only help the bullpen. But, I don't think the bullpen itself is all that much of a sure thing unless you're sure Wakefield is sitting down there. Timlin and Embree are a nice enough R/L short team, but each one had a 2004 ER+ of 118, good but unspectacular -- and they ARE a combined 74 years old this year. Mantei is an injury waiting to happen -- again. He threw in exactly 12 games last year and had an ERA+ of 38. Foulke iw as good of a closer as exists outside of the Bronx but the long-term shelf life of the closer has always been fickle. If all four put it all together, then sure, it's one of the best bullpens since Cincinnati's 1990 Nasty Boys. But the odds of that seems extremely long.
Q: So, the pitching should be fine. How about the defence?
Mike Green - Kevin Youkilis showed us that he not only has a keen eye, but also that he is ready to be among the very best defensive third basemen in the league. With Mueller being 34, Youkilis might very well get 400-450 PAs this year. I'd call Renteria for Cabrera/Garciaparra a wash defensively.
Q: Curiously, the one irreplaceable part on the club seems to me to be Johnny Damon. The Sox are definitely a middle-aged club in baseball terms. Damon is over 30 (and therefore can no longer be trusted), but he anchors an otherwise suspect outfield defence, as well as being a fine leadoff hitter. So, who can the Sox least afford to lose?
Lucas - Damon would be a big loss but one I think the Sox can overcome. Jay Payton is a solid defender (according to BP and tangotiger's UZR) and could man center field effectively and not be a total loss at the plate.
I'll pick Schilling. With Pedro gone, the gap between him and the other starters is pretty large. (I wouldn't count on Clement or Wells posting a sub-four ERA.) The difference between Schilling and a league-average replacement could translate to four wins or so, potentially the difference between making the playoffs and staying home.
Mike Green - It's true. Payton is all right, but he is 32 and Manny leaves a lot of space for his centerfielders. I have, I suppose, assumed some decline in Schilling's durability and performance after his 2004 WS experience, and that Wade Miller could take over without the team suffering a 4 win loss. That assumption is certainly debatable.
Q: On offence, which starters are poised for a significant decline? Jason Varitek had the best season of his career, and he's 32, but he has caught under 800 games in his career. He should be good for only a modest decline from last year's stellar performance. Any other candidates?
Thomas - An interesting thing to look at is the SS switch, from Nomar to Cabrera to Renteria, who had a subpar 2004. ZIPS predicts a .324/.384/.467, which is just off his career year of 2003. That sort of production would likely make him the 2nd to 4th best offensive SS in the league (Tejada and Jeter/Young) and would be a step forwards from Cabrera/Reese/Nomar. I wonder what the system sees that make them so sure Renteria will make a huge step forwards this year, as opposed to returning to the above-average level he had established prior to 2003. Regardless, the Red Sox should be looking at an improved offence in 2003 as the only player I can see dropping noticably might be Bellhorn, whereas a healthy Trot Nixon will be a big improvement in the outfield and Youkilis getting more playing time should help, as well.
Gerry - Will Jason Varitek hit as well as 2004 after signing the big contract?
Can David Ortiz continue to be the big masher?
Will Mark Bellhorn still carry a big stick?
The Red Sox hitting lineup is primarily seasoned veterans with relatively predictable levels of performance so the answer to all of the above questions appears to be yes.
Q: I guess the greater worry is creeping middle age (all the starters are over 27 and most are in their early 30s), with possible modest declines across the board. On the plus side, they will have Trot Nixon for a full season in 2005, and the bench seems to be even better than it was in 2004. The Sox scored 961 runs in 2003 and 949 in 2004; I see no reason they shouldn't score 920+ in 2005. What says the roster?
Magpie - They still have the best offence in the world, and it might actually be better this year - swapping Cabrera for Renteria obviously isn't going to hurt. Trot Nixon had fewer ABs last year than Gabe Kapler, Pokey Reese, and Dave McCarty; if he's able to play 120 games, that helps too.
Thomas -I also really like the bench Boston is assembling. They'll have Jay Payton in the outfield and Youkilis in the infield, which are two good players right there and Mirabelli is one of the best backup catchers in the league. The other two (or three) spots will likely go to some combination of Roberto Petagine, Dave McCarthy, Ramon Vazquez, Dave Berg, Adam Hyzdu, Adam Stern and Simon Pond. That's a pretty good list of bench players. A bench of: Mirabelli, Petagine, Vazquez, Youkilis, Payton and McCarthy would be one of the best in the majors, and I think McCarthy's versatility could allow him to pitch about 20 really low leverage innings, eliminating the need for a 6th man in the pen. And with that roster the Red Sox would still have Berg, Hyzdu, Stern and Pond, plus some others I've surely forgotten, in Pawtucket as backups. Looking at it like this, Boston could quite easily see improvements in their pitching, lineup and bench.
Q: Then, there's the Epstein factor. When I tote up his balance sheet, I see many, many assets and very few, if any, liabilities. His multi-season record of shrewd acquistions, with very few mis-steps, leads me to believe that if there is a small missing part needed in mid-season, he's a good bet to find it (and without breaking the budget). Thoughts?
Jonny German - Prior to this offseason, I wasn't sold on Epstein. He soured relations with his sour star hitter by putting Manny Ramirez on waivers last October. He bungled the potential trade for Alex Rodriguez not just in not getting it done (despite offering a better package than what the Yankees ultimately succeeded with) but in alienating Nomar Garciaparra in the process. The Kevin Millar acquisition in February 2003 was similarly mishandled - why the Sox didn't just work out a deal with the Marlins before Millar was sold to Japan is a mystery. His good acquistions mostly involved no-brainer cash expenditures: Keith Foulke and Curt Schilling, for example.
But this offseason, I'm impressed with how Epstein has leveraged Boston's position of reigning champs with a lot of cash. Probably 20 or more teams would have liked to have signed the deals given to Wade Miller and Matt Mantei; they went to Boston. Billy Traber and John Halama are great low-risk potentially high-reward acquisitions. When it came time to spend, Epstein overspent on star players (Jason Varitek, Edgar Renteria) rather than medicorities who had good years (Jaret Wright, Russ Ortiz). Further, he didn't fall prey to the illogic that says you need to bring back all the major peices of a championship team, as Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Orlando Cabrera all walked away to inflated contracts elsewhere. The trade for Jay Payton was pure robbery, to the tune of $2.65M from the small market Padres. The Sox go to Spring Training with six solid starting pitchers, which is how it should be for a team of their resources.
As to midseason upgrades, Theo has a ways to go be a mid-season accelerator of the Billy Beane class, but everything he did last July came up roses & World Series rings. Dave Roberts was a pinch runner extraordinaire, Doug Mientkiewicz made for a fine defence/offence platoon with Dave Ortiz, and Cabrera actually hit close to his inflated reputation for a change.
Oh, but then there was that trade for Terry Adams...
Gitz - I'll quibble with Jonny's analysis of Epstein. Miller, as Craig B. has pointed out elsewhere, is not exactly cheap, nor is he undervalued in the sense that Ortiz was when the Bo Sox signed him. And if Mantei stays healthy for 30 innings, I'll eat my shorts. Maybe the reasons those 20 teams stayed away was because they felt the risk wasn't worth it, even for a minimal salary infusion. The reason Boston is able to take such risks is due in large part to their financial advantage. But I'm not sure other teams wanted Miller or, especially, Mantei, because of a fairly significant risk that they will literally get zero back on their investment.
As for Halama and Traber ... meh. Epstein's track record of signing cheap, low-risk/high-reward players is mixed. Ortiz and Mueller were fantastic, obviously, but I maintain that Mueller's 2003 season was one of the bigger flukes of our era, and that he was brought aboard not with high reward in mind but with "Hey, this Hillenbrand is a butcher, let's get somebody who can catch the ball" in the front of Epstein's mind. Jeremy Giambi and Bruce Chen were tagged as low-risk/high reward players, and both players, somewhat predictably, stunk. Then there was the fairly terrible acquisition of Byung Hyun Kim.
On the Web, amongst the various analysts, the paid ones and the hobbyists, like our humble group, Epstein is impossible to judge fairly. To me it seems that he's like many other GMs: some of his moves work very well, others not so well. The difference is that when Kim flops as the closer, it's no sweat: there's always $32 million to throw at Keith Foulke.
Jonny German - It's a good point about Miller not being as cheap as many would have you believe, something that I've actually pointed out myself a couple times - Miller will cost $1.5M if he absolutely stinks, $4.5M if he's simply healthy enough to stay in the rotation.
But that said, he'll also cost $4.5M if he's a rock star, and I would have been happy to see the Jays sign him to that contract. Or yes, Mantei to the contract he got. I'll allow that I was stretching on Traber and Halama, and that Varitek & Renteria are no more inspired than Schilling & Foulke. But hey, at least it wasn't Glaus & Russ Ortiz or Percival & Ordonez.
Bruce Chen? At last count, 23 Major League teams have "tagged him as a low-risk/high reward player". The Orioles are currently counting on Bruce's 48 good innings in 2004 to carry over to a full season as staff ace in 2005.
Magpie - they also have the brains and the imagination and the resources to deal with all of these problems. And unlike the Yankees, they have a lot more flexibility.
Q: Any gems in the minors?
Mike Green - We'll start with two shortstops- Hanley Ramirez and the fresh-faced Dustin Pedroia. They're both 21 years old, and Ramirez is considered to have the better tools. Pedroia has marvellous control of the strike zone and some doubles power. With Renteria locked in for several years and Bellhorn getting a little older, it's my guess that Dustin Pedroia will be playing second base for the Sox at some point in 2006, and that Hanley Ramirez will be with another organization. He'd make a nice trading chip.
There are a few other hot prospects, notably starting pitcher Jon Papelbon and outfielder Brandon Moss, in the pipeline, but they're a couple of years away. Lefty Abe Alvarez will probably start the season in Pawtucket, and should be available to help out if the pitching staff is beset by injuries. Overall, it seems to me that the Sox system is nowhere near as barren as the Yankees.
Q: Roberto Petagine was a hot Astros' prospect in the early 90s, who was blocked when the Sox traded Bagwell to the 'Stros for Larry Anderson. He makes his return with the Sox in 2005, after playing in Japan for a while. He'll be another useful cog, I think. Rosterites?
Mick Doherty - Petagine is going to be a massive failure. He's been out of "prospect" territory for about 10 years and his numbers overseas recently have been way down. I worry that this will be held up as another "see, you stupid Bill James disciples have no idea what you're talking about" example when Roberto hits .188 with no power.
Magpie - Petagine's numbers were definitely down in 2004, but the five years prior to that are all essentially identical, and are very comparable to how Hideki Matsui was hitting over there. In fact, it's very hard to say which year was better than another. There was certainly nothing wrong with his hitting in 2003 (.323, .457, .683); it was his best year in terms of slugging percentage. So what we all want to know is whether 2004 was just a random off year, or whether the inevitable decline is taking hold. He's 33 years old, turns 34 in June.
Q: Moment of truth. What will the Sox record and finish be this year? I've marked them down for 95 wins and a 1st place finish.
Rob - Boston will have 98 wins and win the division.
How's that for long-winded analysis? ;)
Pistol - I could see anywhere between 92-102 wins. I'll take the middle and say 97 and a playoff spot.
Jonny German - 96 wins, first in the East. Schilling, Clement, and Wells all regress from what they did in 2004, but Arroyo and Wakefield step it up when the Sox need it most. Renteria immediately looks like a great signing; Varitek not so much. Jay Payton gets 400 AB, and plays well.
Thomas - I'll say 96 wins. A slight drop from last year even though I'm convinced they've not decreased the quality of their team, and if anything have improved it. It'll be good enough for first in the division, as well.
Magpie - I think they slip a little, to 93-69. Except this year, that'll be good enough for first place.
The last word goes to Jordan:
I wrote the Red Sox preview last year, so I hope you'll indulge this excerpt from the final paragraph last spring,
"You’re only as good as you think you are. This truism applies in spades to the Boston Red Sox, a team and a franchise that might only lose its shackles and break into the light of redemption when every player, executive and fan associated with the club is finally ready to admit that the Curse of the Bambino is a pile of crap, and that their destiny has always been in their own hands."