Now that I have pulled myself away from the edge of the Zakim Bridge, it is time to begin off-season fodder.
I knew the Red Sox would not win the series against the Angels. I was optimistic in thinking that they would at least make it to a Game Five, but the truth is this team was as good as done once they went 8-13 in their first 21 games post-All Star Game. The issues against the Angels (a spotty bullpen, no hitting, shaky starting rotation) were all problems that every Red Sox fan saw throughout the season. The Angels were a better team and had more drive last week. The Red Sox looked dead.
Boston.com, in an attempt to get Bostonians past Papelbon’s blown save, posted a survey about hot issues for Red Sox management in the off season. I voted on them there and I’ll explain them here.
Jason Bay: The Red Sox can either re-sign Bay or pursue a different free agent.
The Red Sox’s top priority this season should be finding a way to re-sign Bay. Though not often reflected in statistics, Bay was a catalyst for the Sox this year. When he was hitting well, the Red Sox were hitting well. He has a great arm and is adapting to the Monster very well. The Red Sox would also be hard-pressed to find a teammate of his caliber elsewhere. Bay is relatively quiet, never causing controversy and never having problems with teammates. He strikes out pretty frequently, but I would much rather take a player who strikes out all the time than a player who grounds into double plays. If the Red Sox do not re-sign Bay, they will miss out on a great chance to get a quality, well-rounded player who will definitely help the team make the postseason next year.
Alex Gonzalez: The Red Sox can pick up Gonzalez’s $6 million option for next year, try to re-sign him for less money or pursue a different option at shortstop either internally (Lowrie, Green) or externally.
I think it was a mistake to let Gonzalez leave Boston in the first place. Gonzalez is not anything great at the plate, but his defense more than makes up for his offensive deficiencies. Gonzalez is a sure-handed shortstop and performed well. Theo Epstein does not have a great history with shortstops, so with any new shortstop, there will be a lot of question marks entering the season. The Red Sox should attempt to sign Gonzalez for less money if at all possible, but should not get hung up on that avenue. Pick up his option if he refuses to take less money for more years.
Tim Wakefield: Wakefield is schedules to have back surgery this postseason. The Red Sox have infinite one-year options for him. Wakefield could also retire or join a different team.
I think the Red Sox need to wait it out on Wake. Unless his back problems completely disappear for at least a few months, they should not re-sign Wakefield. There are a few starting pitchers in the minor leagues (work on Bowden) and some quality pitchers the Red Sox could pursue trades for that are more dependable and less injury prone than Wakefield.
Jason Varitek: The Red Sox can pick up his $5 million team option, welcome him back under his $3 million player option, watch him go elsewhere or invite him back as a coach.
I love Jason Varitek and he has been my favorite player for years now. That said, he is in the midst of a steady decline. Catchers have shorter careers, and at 38 years old by the start of next season, there is no reason to believe that Varitek will improve or even maintain his status quo. He has been abysmal at throwing runners out at second and cannot hit consistently well anymore. Varitek is, however, fantastic with pitching staffs and fellow catchers. Victor Martinez has done nothing but talk about how helpful Varitek has been for him. The Red Sox should encourage him to retire and return to the Red Sox as either a pitching or catching coach for next season.
Rocco Baldelli: The Red Sox can either sign him to a one-year deal, multi-year deal or let him walk as a free agent.
Baldelli is a great story, but not a great baseball player. His mitochondrial disease forces him to take a lot of time of to recover from strenuous activity. The Red Sox need a more durable fourth outfielder who can maybe spend some time platooning with J.D. Drew and adds more speed on the bases.
David Ortiz: Ortiz has $12.5 million left on his contract. The Sox can either keep him as the DH, platoon him with a first or third baseman, or release/trade him.
The Red Sox should keep Ortiz as is. The fact that he was able to reach 28 home runs and 99 RBIs is incredible after his horrific first three months of the season. Ortiz is not the same hitter as he was in 2004/2005, but he is still a difference maker for this team. There is no reason to change anything when the team has more pressing issues to deal with.
The Red Sox should maintain the status quo with Lowell as well. His range is not as good as it has been, but he is still capable of making Sports Center worthy
plays and is a double machine. Lowell can get on base and drive in runs for the Red Sox, a glaring failure for the team in the ALDS. The Red Sox need to focus on pitching, not players like Lowell who are still very effective.
Billy Wagner: The Red Sox could theoretically pick up an $8 million option for next year for Wagner, but they promised the reliever they would not do so before trading for him. They could re-sign him in a different contract or send him on his way.
This is not even a question. Wagner is gone. He was not overly impressive, he is getting old, and he even admitted that he would probably retire. I hope he enjoys retirement and I wish him well.
Issue not addressed by Boston.com
picture from boston.com
Jonathan Papelbon: After Papelbon blew a save to end the Red Sox’s postseason, many people in Red Sox Nation suggested that perhaps it was time for him to become a Yankee and for Daniel Bard to step into the closer’s role. The Red Sox own Papelbon’s rights through the 2011 season. They could sign him to either a one-year or multi-year deal or go to arbitration.
Unfortunately, one of Papelbon’s worst outings the season ended the season. Papelbon had a very good year, par for the course for him. He made 38 saves in 41 opportunities, improving over last season’s 41 saves in 46 opportunities. He ended the season with a 1.85 ERA. The Red Sox would be making a huge mistake by letting him get away. Papelbon is one of the elite closers of his generation and is still in his prime. Daniel Bard is still inexperienced and could use another year of study under Papelbon in order to become even close to a Papelbon-caliber pitcher. There is nobody in the Red Sox bullpen I would rather give the ball to, and I would have given Papelbon the ball every time in a Game 3 elimination save. Pitchers lose. Unfortunately, Papelbon lost at the wrong time. That, however, is no justification for trading him. It is important to look at the whole picture, not just one outing.
If I were Theo Epstein, I would keep Bay, Gonzalez, Ortiz, Lowell and Papelbon. I would say goodbye to Varitek, Wakefield, Wagner, Baldelli and half of the bullpen. I would be willing to trade Michael Bowden, but definitely would not trade Daniel Bard. I would also see that Daisuke shows up ready to pitch or else I would release him in Spring Training. The Red Sox really need to focus on pitching this off season, and it would be great if they could add one more solid bat to the lineup.
Alright. This is finally unavoidable. David Ortiz is in one of the worst power slumps of his career, and the uproar is getting worse with each passing day.
I personally do not put too much weight into his batting average right now. He was actually worse through April of last season, when he finished the month batting .184. He is batting .200 right now. It is not a fantastic number, but the more attention people pay to slumps, the worse the slump will be. There is no reason, historically, to be concerned about Papi’s average.
The real problem here is the home run total. In 2009, whenever a clutch home run hitter goes into a deep drought, steroids enter the picture. Did David Ortiz take steroids? I cannot say for sure either way, and it is not my place to infer anything. The bottom line is that the ball is not leaving the park for Papi. He’s been robbed a couple of times at Fenway by the Monster, and he’s been able to drive the ball deep, but luck is not on his side right now. Nevertheless, some of Papi’s doubles off of the monster and his fly balls on the road show that Papi does still have the power to hit homeruns.
For Terry Francona, when Julio Lugo has more home runs than your DH, something must be done, no matter who the DH is. He has no choice here but to bench Ortiz, give Papi a bit of time to clear his head and then start all over again on Tuesday. Luckily for Francona, this is the best time and the best choice to make here.
The media has to stop this intense focus on Papi. The benefit of benching Papi for a series plus a day off means that Papi has a couple of days where people should be relatively quiet on ESPN and talk shows about his slump, and this should help to let him just relax and swing naturally. Perhaps Papi will not even come back on Tuesday. I wouldn’t mind, at this point, giving him a week in the cages to just hit, hit, hit and see what happens.
In reality, the Red Sox have to be more worried right now about their starting pitching than the state of their lineup. Ellsbury is lighting things up, Bailey is hitting well, and Lugo was the Red Sox player of the week this week, so they do not need a DH right now to carry them. Francona can put Baldelli or Lugo/Green in the lineup right now while giving the team an equal or better chance of winning.
This break is a great thing for Papi. He needs to milk it for all the time he can and just get back into a form where he feels comfortable before returning. Will he ever be the Ortiz of 2003 or 2004 again? I doubt it. He’s older now, and for whatver reason he is not that hitter anymore. However, Ortiz will still be able to hit, and he will still be able to hit home runs. He will never, however, hit 54 homers in a season again.
There is no need to panic right now. If anything, fans and the media alike should concern themselves with the state of the Red Sox starting pitching or perhaps the Celtics and just leave Papi alone for a few days. By July, we’ll be watching Papi go yard once more.
Although I haven’t been here every day, blogging about how my Red Sox are doing in Ft. Myers, I have been paying attention to everything going on south of the Snow Border and have compiled a list of the 10 things I love about Spring Training. Here goes.