Here we are.
It’s mid-September, and we can no longer consider ourselves to be in the hunt for the division, nor are we realistically in the hunt for the wildcard. We’ve been blind-sided in the second half of the season, riddled by injuries and disappointments and embarrassments. All this comes as we watch some of our best young prospects perform admirable feats for other teams. And at this point, we have nothing but time on our hands.
So with this time that we have on our hands, perhaps it would be fitting to ask ourselves, what the hell went wrong? And if perhaps we can identify what went wrong, then what can we do to attempt to remedy it?
So many problems. So little time. Or to put that same sentiment another way, what is a team with a $120m payroll — a team that began the year with playoff aspirations — doing with Kevin Jarvis, Kyle Snyder, Julian Tavarez, and Kason Gabbard in its rotation?
And yet, on the other hand, to be fair, I think Red Sox fans have to admit that certain things have gone very, very right this season. Papi has continued to be the MVP-caliber player we’ve become used to seeing. Manny is having another dominant year. Jon Papelbon has been reliably spectacular. Youkilis has been a pleasant surprise, especially in the field, and Mike Lowell has been a revelation. Mark Loretta and Alex Gonzalez have been everything they were supposed to be. Curt Schilling has come back from an injury-plagued ’05 season and been solid for us this year.
So yeah, we’ve had a lot of things go badly wrong for us this year, but on the other hand, it would be dishonest to tell ourselves that luck has been completely against us. Which makes the current situation that much more depressing. This was a season in which we expected to be pretty darned good, and a season in which quite a few of our players were in fact pretty darned good, yet still we’re facing a deficit in the division that borders on double-digits.
Well, we’ve always got second place. Hooray for mediocrity.
Our needs are obvious. Pitching pitching and more pitching. We have the money to go get it, too. Trouble is, there will be very little high-end pitching on the FA market. We don’t need any more Matt Clements, thanks. And when I look at this year’s FA crop, I see a lot of Matt Clements.
We have no ace. At this point, we can assume nothing. Beckett is too big of a question mark. Schilling might be getting too old to be the ace he once was. Wakefield is a nice pitcher but nobody’s ace. Jon Lester? Not an ace, and not even guaranteed to be back on the field next year. Right now, it’s his job to concentrate on getting healthy again, period. So he’s out of the picture.
We have no ace. But we have to have an ace. Look, if we’re not trying to build a winner next year, I think you can legitimately point toward the ownership group and accuse them of not trying to win at all. We’ve got David Ortiz in his prime. Manny Ramirez remains an offensive force — one of the steadiest hitters in baseball history. We’ve got money to burn. Feel-good and coming-of-age stories aside, this season is a letdown. Because the bottom line is that we’re not in a situation where we can afford to punt. Manny Ramirez is a once-in-a-generation kind of hitter. If we can’t win with Manny, how are we going to win without him? David Ortiz is doing things that have never been done in a Red Sox uniform. If we can’t win with Ortiz, how are we going to win when he’s no longer able to play at the level he does now? These two men are irreplaceable. That’s individually. As a tandem, they’re one of the best one-two punches in history.
If we had a Miguel Cabrera or Mark Teixeira or Albert Pujols in the farm system, that might be one thing. But we don’t. And we have no prospects of drafting any such kind of player anytime soon.
We’ve got Manny & Papi now. If we’re not trying to win now … umm .. what are we doing? The Red Sox get some of the best fan support — and in the end, it all comes down to dollars & cents — in baseball.
Win. Just win.
And then too, with those two mashers in the fold, building the offense is the easy part. Of course, for Theo, building the offense has always been the easy part. I do think we’ll need a much stronger bench next year than we had this year, but it’s not the offense that concerns me.
The pitching has to improve. On Theo’s watch, the one year that we had something like a decent pitching staff was the year that we won it all.
Is Jon Papelbon the answer? Do we move him to the rotation? That might be the solution, and it’s a proposition that’s been bandied about all year. Then again, as the kid is probably done for the year with a tired arm, right now it seems like a really pertinent question to ask whether he can handle the workload. Maybe he can. I personally am of the opinion that relieving can be a great deal harder on the arm than starting — especially when we’re talking about the kind of relief work Papelbon has done for us this year, often coming into high-leverage situations and often closing games in multiple innings of work. All in all, I think his tired arm has a lot more to do with the type of relief work we’ve requested of him, and less to do with the innings themselves. Certainly, Papelbon has pitched more than 60 innings in a single season before in his career. In ’04 he threw 129.2 innings at Lowell. In ’05, he split 148.0 innings between Portland, Pawtucket, and Boston.
People point to Derek Lowe circa 2001/02 and say that we converted him from a closer to a starter: therefore, they say, we can do the same for Papelbon. True, but for one thing Derek Lowe was already 28 years old at the time we converted him: he was well past his developmental stage. And beyond that, Derek Lowe throws the sinker — a pitch most effective when the pitcher isn’t throwing it as hard as he can. The idea behind the sinker is to take something off it, in terms of velocity, let the movement do the work of getting the batter out. Papelbon, on the other hand, is throwing the 4-seamer. He’s trying to overpower the batters — blow away.
Can he handle the workload? Does he have the repertoire to be successful as a starting pitcher?
I don’t think we have any choice but to find out. Who closes games for us, then? Maybe we go the home-grown approach with Delcarmen.
Yeah. Right. I guess you haven’t been watching the last couple of nights. It’s OK. I can’t say I blame you if you can’t stomach the games anymore.
Or maybe we try to swing a trade for Brad Lidge, who was rumored to be available at the trade deadline. A package for Lidge would be expensive, probably costing us Wily Mo, plus prospects to boot.
Do all that. Buy out Keith Foulke for the measly $1.5 bucks. He had a great run in ’04 but I think this is a great time to admit to ourselves that the guy is, essentially, toast now. And plow that money back into the pitching. This is when you start to think about adding a guy like Schmidt or Zito. Or make a run after Clemens. Or try to swing a deal for Smoltz, assuming the Braves pick up his option.
And please, please, please, let’s stay out of the bargain basement. One more Rudy Seanez/Chad Fox/Bobby Howry/Ramiro Mendoza might kill me.
These are just suggestions from a passionate fan. There are several things that could be done to right the ship this offseason, and certainly the BrainTrust has a better feel for the pulse of the trade and FA markets than I do. . I don’t know what the Sox plan to do. And to be honest, I don’t really care what they do, either. As long as they do something. Something legitimate, that is. You can keep your Matt Clements and Julianne Tavarezes.
I know this, too: after the debacle the 2006 season came to be, it’s gonna be a long, cold winter in New England.