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Sports Illustrated's 1999 Baseball Preview
 
  No longer protected in the order, Garciaparra will have to muster most of the firepower in Boston's popgun attack while anchoring the team in the field. Damian Strohmeyer

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.

 
Manager
Jimy Williams
(third season with Boston)
1998 Record
92-70 (second in AL East)
Prediction
Fourth in AL East
Batting Order
CFDarren Lewis
3BJohn Valentin
1B Jose Offerman
SSNomar Garciaparra
LF Troy O'Leary
DH Mike Stanley
C Scott Hatteberg
RF Trot Nixon
2B Jeff Frye
Starters
RH Pedro Martinez
RH Bret Saberhagen
RH Tim Wakefield
RH Mark Portugal
RH Pat Rapp
Bullpen
RH Tom Gordon
RH Derek Lowe
RH Jim Corsi
RH Mark Guthrie
RH John Wasdin
RH Ramon Martinez
Next Up...
Six years after Trot Nixon, a star high school quarterback, passed up a football scholarship to North Carolina State to sign with the Red Sox, Boston fans will learn whether the hoopla over the seventh player picked in the 1993 draft was justified. Last year, after hitting .310 with 23 homers and 26 steals at Triple A Pawtucket, Nixon shone in the Division Series against the Indians. He singled, walked and played well in rightfield, helping himself win a job in '99. "I was always the top dog in high school," says Nixon. "But I had a lot to learn. If I struck out twice, I'd let it get in my brain too much. I've learned to put it behind me."
Boston general manager Dan Duquette is quick to point out that he signed Offerman (four years, $26 million) as a free agent before Vaughn bolted for Anaheim and a six-year, $80 million contract. So, says Duquette, the 30-year-old slap-hitter should not be viewed as a successor to Vaughn, the 1995 American League MVP and the most popular Red Sox player of his time. But as of March 22, Duquette had not added a high-caliber slugger to the power-challenged Boston lineup, and it looks as though Offerman may even hit third, Vaughn's old spot in the order. How can the Fenway faithful not view Offerman as the Man Who Would Be Mo?

"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 [13] 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.


  • Boston Red Sox
  •  
    Throughout the summer, though, the heat will be on Offerman. In Kansas City the past three seasons he played mostly second base. But Boston had a busload of second basemen in camp, including Jeff Frye, who as the starter and the leadoff man in '97 hit .312 but then suffered a torn ligament in his left knee last spring and was sidelined for the entire '98 season. Jimy Williams and a few players have made no secret that they prefer Frye at second over Offerman.

    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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