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Boston Red Sox
Has Boston restored power after the loss of Mo Vaughn? No way, Jose!
By Gerry Callahan
The truth is, it would have been a lot to ask of Bernie Williams or Rafael Palmeiro or Albert Belle. Even a guy with the ability to hit 40 homers, drive in 120 runs and add a few volts of star power to the Red Sox lineup would have had a hard time filling the prodigious void left by Maurice Samuel Vaughn, on the field and off.
To ask Jose Offerman to handle the job, then, is not only unrealistic, it's unfair. Poor Jose, who in his nine-year career has 22 home runs and 312 RBIs. He's Shemp Howard, Larry Holmes, Tim Floyd, Sammy Hagar. He doesn't stand a chance.
"I hope people don't compare me to [Vaughn]," says Offerman. "There's a lot of difference between us. I'm way behind him."
Last season Vaughn had 40 homers and 115 RBIs for the Red Sox, who earned the American League wild-card berth with 92 wins. Duquette said that Offerman (who hit a career-best .315 in '98) would replace Vaughn's "on-base capability," but the G.M. did nothing to replace Vaughn's other offensive capabilities. Unless shortstop Nomar Garciaparra can repeat or at least come close to last season's 35-homer performance -- a tall order, given that he won't have Vaughn batting behind him -- Boston could have no one hit 30 homers this year.
"Offerman is one of the better offensive players in the league," says Duquette. "He led the majors in triples  last season and can also steal bases [45 in 57 attempts]. What I find kind of humorous is that Offerman was the cheapest premier free agent that was signed in the off-season. Everyone made a big deal out of the kind of money we paid him. But we're basically paying him what we're paying [third baseman] John Valentin, which is the going rate for good offensive infielders." For all his touting of Offerman, Duquette did attempt to trade for Greg Vaughn (before the Padres sent him to the Reds) and inquired about the availability of White Sox slugger Frank Thomas but had to settle for a first base-DH combo of Offerman and Mike Stanley.
In a switch from team tradition, the Red Sox have emphasized pitching and defense since Jimy Williams took over as manager two years ago, and now, with Mo gone, they're singing that song louder than ever. The ace of the staff, of course, is righthander Pedro Martinez, who went 19-7 with a 2.89 ERA last year and finished second to Roger Clemens in the Cy Young voting. Duquette shored up the rotation with veterans Mark Portugal and Pat Rapp, but Martinez, 27, remains the only starter under 31. Pedro's older brother, former Dodger Ramon Martinez, signed with Boston in early March and hopes to return from right rotator-cuff surgery by the All-Star break.
On its way to a surprise playoff appearance last season, Boston saw many of its veterans -- such as closer Tom Gordon and outfielders Darren Lewis and Damon Buford -- enjoy their best seasons, and it may be too much to expect them to play to those levels again. Still, in Pedro Martinez and the 25-year-old Garciaparra, the Red Sox have two of baseball's best players, and, provided that an injury to Garciaparra's right elbow, which caused him to miss a few games late in spring training, heals, the club should at least have more wins than losses in '99.
There's also some question as to how Offerman will handle the pressure of playing in Boston, an intense baseball setting. Offerman spent the first four-plus seasons of his career at shortstop for the Dodgers, and he did not seem comfortable at the position (he led National League shortstops in errors three times) or in Los Angeles. Upon his arrival in Kansas City before the '96 season, he said the atmosphere in L.A. was simply no fun: "There was a lot of pressure on me. Every time I made a mistake, it was a big deal for everybody. It was a big deal for the manager, it was a big deal for the press. You can't enjoy yourself playing like that."
If Offerman makes a mistake in Boston, it's not just a big deal to the manager and the press. It's a big deal to everyone in New England. Mo Vaughn knew it well. Jose Offerman will soon find out.
Issue date: March 29, 1999
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