One more idiot
Less than two months after Red Sox players declared themselves “idiots” during the team’s late-season run, the Sox made their first major acquisition of the offseason by signing veteran lefthander David Wells. Asked if he had any reluctance signing a player who has been known to rock the boat, GM Theo Epstein replied: “What, we don’t have guys like that already?”
Off to see the world
After electing to return to the Sox last season in a reserve role, outfielder Gabe Kapler left the team to sign a one-year deal worth an estimated $3 million with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. Said Kapler of his decision: “It's a learning experience. This will allow me to take the road less traveled.”
That’ll cost you
In the spring of 2003, Nomar Garciaparra rejected a contract extension worth $60 million over four years, from 2005-2008. In December, Garciaparra avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs worth a guaranteed $8 million.
In the middle of the batting order last season, outfielder Manny Ramirez and DH David Ortiz batted a combined .304 with 84 home runs and 269 RBIs. They also struck out 257 times and stole two bases, both by Ramirez. Ortiz led Ramirez in triples, 3–0.
What a waste
Following the 2003 season, the Red Sox signed troubled pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim to a two-year, $10 million contract. Kim pitched just 17.1 innings for the Sox in 2004 and will likely be traded before Opening Day. He is due $6 million in 2005.
Better to be lucky than good
After pitching coach Dave Wallace expressed concerns in spring training about the lack of pitching depth at Triple-A, Red Sox starters Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield and Bronson Arroyo did not miss a single start last season, going a combined 73–46 in 993.2 innings.
Now that’s clutch
Including the postseason, closer Keith Foulke finished his first season with the Red Sox 6–3 with 35 saves and a 1.95 ERA. Foulke allowed just one run in 14 postseason innings covering 11 appearances, during which the Red Sox went 9–2. Overall, including the postseason, the Red Sox were 68–15 in Foulke’s 83 outings, including 35–4 in his last 39.
The answer: 1916. The question: When was the last time the Red Sox repeated as world champions? For the first time in 86 years, the Red Sox will open a baseball season as the reigning world champions. The Sox won a major league record eight straight postseason games after falling behind the New York Yankees 3–0 in the American League Championship Series, and Boston returns most of a lineup that led the major leagues in runs scored for a second consecutive season. Yes, there were significant changes on the pitching staff, but the Red Sox once again appear to have one of the strongest teams in baseball entering 2005.
Can quantity replace quality? The Red Sox are about to find out. After getting a combined 102 victories from Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe from 2002-2004, Boston bade farewell to both pitchers following the 2004 season. In Martinez, especially, Boston lost an almost certain first-ballot Hall of Famer and perhaps the greatest pitcher of his era. Meanwhile, with Curt Schilling coming off ankle surgery, the Red Sox signed Matt Clement, Wade Miller and David Wells to join a group that also includes Tim Wakefield and Bronson Arroyo. Assuming everyone is healthy, that’s six starters for five spots. But for the Sox to think that their rotation will remain injury-free this season — as was the case in 2004 — is terribly naïve.
The Red Sox made some changes at the back end of their bullpen following a solid 2004 season, but the nucleus of their relief corps remains intact. Closer Keith Foulke, right-handed set-up man Mike Timlin and left-handed set-up man Alan Embree all return, giving Boston late-inning arms that have proven both effective and durable. While there is every chance that someone like the right-handed Arroyo also could end up in the pen, the Sox signed lefthander John Halama as a long man and specialist. But the most intriguing addition may be Matt Mantei, who the Sox are hoping can fill the departed Scott Williamson’s role as a power set-up man to Foulke. Two years ago, Mantei saved 29 games for the Diamondbacks and struck out 68 batters in 55 innings to go along with a 2.62 ERA.
A year ago at this time, Red Sox followers were dreaming of a middle infield featuring Nomar Garciaparra and Pokey Reese; by season’s end, they ended up with Orlando Cabrera and Mark Bellhorn. Now Cabrera, too, has moved on, replaced by the multi-talented Edgar Renteria, whom the Sox signed as a free agent for four years and $40 million. The obvious key remains Bellhorn, who finished among the major league leaders at his position last season in RBIs, on-base percentage, home runs, doubles and runs scored while playing a relative steady (if unspectacular) second base. Ramon Vazquez was acquired in a trade with San Diego to fill the utility role, effectively replacing the defensive-minded Reese, who signed with Seattle.
In a bygone era, teams would rely on the corners heavily for power and run production. Not so with the modern Red Sox, who got more RBIs last season from second base (101) than first base (94), where Kevin Millar played for much of the season before the Sox reinforced his defense with Doug Mientkiewicz, who was traded to the Mets this winer. Third base remains in the capable hands of Bill Mueller, who has a batting average of .343 in two seasons at Fenway Park. On the whole, the Sox get solid production from all four infield spots, which is something that few teams can claim.
While the personnel remains the same in the Boston outfield, the productivity may actually get better. Why? Because right fielder Trot Nixon missed almost all of last season with back and leg injuries, finishing with just six home runs and 23 RBIs in 149 at-bats. While Nixon is likely to bounce back to form in 2005 — he averaged 26 home runs and 90 RBIs from 2001-03 — the Sox also return Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. Ramirez finished second in the American League MVP voting, and Damon is coming off the best year of his career. He had career highs in HRs (20) and RBIs (94) and stole a respectable 19 bases. Damon might not be able to match that level of production, but Ramirez probably will.
Entering the offseason, the Red Sox faced the unusual dilemma of having two veteran catchers file for free agency — starter Jason Varitek and backup Doug Mirabelli. General manager Theo Epstein subsequently signed both players. Epstein’s reasons: Among the 30 major league clubs last season, the Red Sox finished first in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and home runs from the catcher position; only the Cleveland Indians had more RBIs. Once again, at a position where many teams struggle to find offense, the Red Sox are putting up big numbers. Varitek finished second in the American League Gold Glove award voting.
After David Ortiz batted .288 with 31 home runs and 101 RBI in 2003, many baseball pundits predicted that he would not put up the same totals. They were correct; he put up much better ones (41 homers, 139 RBIs). And Ortiz was at his absolute best in October, when he knocked in 19 runs in 14 postseason games, including 11 during the American League Championship Series in which he was named MVP. By that time, too, the Red Sox had a deep and versatile bench. And while the Sox have since replaced outfielder Gabe Kapler (off to Japan) with Jay Payton and Reese with Vazquez, there are still the makings of a group that will give manager Terry Francona both functionality and performance. That’s what a $130 million payroll will do.
Manager Terry Francona may have been a question mark last year, but here’s what he did in October: Head-to-head, he defeated Mike Scioscia, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, three of the most widely respected and acclaimed managers in the game. Meanwhile, young general manager Epstein proved fearless in trading away Garciaparra, and he has once again demonstrated a knack for making moves that are both aggressive and wise. Ownership remains committed to making the Red Sox a championship-caliber team year in and year out, not just for the short term.
The obvious questions for the Red Sox are centered around the starting rotation, where the greatest changes have taken place. Beyond that, though, the 2005 Red Sox look very much like the 2004 edition, which won 98 games, the American League wild card berth and, ultimately, the franchise’s first World Series title since 1918. There is no reason this club shouldn’t at least make the playoffs. Can they win it all again? Certainly, though that will depend largely on the performance of Miller and Clement, in particular. And if both fail, there is always the possibility that Epstein can make a key acquisition at the trading deadline now that the presence of Renteria allows him to trade prized prospect Hanley Ramirez.