Posted: Tuesday January 24, 2006 12:18PM; Updated: Tuesday January 24, 2006 1:37PM
That said, how well did Boston emerge from its winter saga? Let's suppose the Philadelphia-Cleveland-Boston deal goes through. (That's not automatic, as pending physicals may be troublesome, especially for Boston reliever Guillermo Mota.) Here's how the Sox grade out:
GM:Theo Epstein is back, though the Red Sox are so P.R.-obsessed that they held a news conference when they did not sign a player (Johnny Damon). Because that event was considered a flop, they did not hold a news conference when they re-signed a GM (Epstein). Epstein is one of the sharpest in the business, and you don't need to qualify that by citing his age. Now if owner John Henry makes good on his promise to impose his will and direction more so than in the past, Boston will be even better positioned. Grade: A.
Left field: Manny Ramirez is happy (for now) to remain with the club. Boston could not pull the trigger to trade him to the Mets for Lastings Milledge, Mike Cameron, Aaron Heilman and Yusmeiro Petit during a small window at the trading deadline last year. There was another window this winter when a lesser version of the deal was revisited (Cameron was gone to San Diego), but Ramirez's on-again, off-again willingness to accept a trade to New York was off then.
Ramirez once hinted to Red Sox officials that he might not report to Spring Training if he wasn't traded, but they smartly waited until he simply changed his mind again. That's Manny being Manny, as they say. So is driving in 140 runs. Grade: A.
Shortstop: Epstein admittedly made a mistake on Edgar Renteria, who looked old, slow and out of shape after signing a four-year, $40 million deal last winter. The Red Sox were ready to see if sure-handed rookie Dustin Pedroia was ready to play the position, but former Marlin Alex Gonzalez has become too cheap an insurance policy to turn down after the market ignored him. The Sox will get Gonzalez on a one-year, low-seven figure deal. They think he is one of the five best defensive shortstops in baseball. That may be an overstatement, but there is no denying his lack of offense. He's a poor hitter who will bat ninth and often be yanked for a pinch-hitter. Grade: C.
Times on Base
Center field: The Red Sox have wanted Crisp for so long that they weren't thrilled to see him have a big second half in a pennant race last year. It only raised his price. He was the league's best defensive left fielder last year and should transition well to full-time duty in center, even without a big time arm. Offensively, he's in the same class as Johnny Damon, as reflected by the numbers last year for total bases, times on base, on-base percentage and on-base plus slugging.
Crisp is a reasonable facsimile of Damon -- only a lot cheaper and six years younger. However, he will cost Boston blue-chip prospect Andy Marte. Grade: B+
Pitching: Curt Schilling has been telling manager Terry Francona that he has lost weight and will be ready to reassume his role as the ace of the staff. Closer Keith Foulke, after surgery on both knees, also lost weight, the first necessary step toward getting himself back in the shape and frame of mind to be an effective late-inning pitcher. What do these two mean to the Red Sox? Here's what Schilling and Foulke gave Boston in 2004 and '05, postseason included (above).
Imagine how strong Boston can be if it gets those 200 lost innings from Schilling and Foulke. Then again, Schilling is 39 and Foulke 33. Look for something midway between their 2004 and '05 production. Grade: Incomplete.
Bottom line: The Red Sox may have lost ground to New York, and Toronto has improved, but on paper they still are a force in the AL East.