Checklist

A while back, at the start of the ’05 offseason, I put together a checklist that addressed the Sox’ needs over the winter (Ironically, I did this in the same post in which I helpfully announced that Theo was returning with a new contract – they can’t all be winners). With the winter meeting now over, and following a flurry of activity both on Yawkey Way and throughout the majors, I wanted to look back at that list and see how – if at all – we’ve addressed each hole.
Offseason Priority #1, at the time of the writing, was ‘resign Theo’, a priority that I thought complete while writing. Of course, we know how that turned out; only now, after a month and a half, have we filled that gaping hole in the FO, reportedly promoting Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington to the posts of co-GM’s. Much of the bad taste left by Theo’s departure has since been washed away by a series of astute transactions that may improve the team in 2006 and certainly improve it in the long run. But beyond the GM spot, let’s take a look at the other items on our wishlist.
2) Find a center fielder
With Johnny Damon heading to free agency, the Sox had a number of potential directions for one of the most important defensive positions on the diamond. The first, which also appears to be the current FO’s top choice (over my strenuous objection which, stunningly, they have not yet asked me for), is to re-sign Damon; the outrageous demands set down by agent Scott Boras seem now to be vastly overstated, as Damon seems to be listening to offers of around 3 years and slightly over $10 mil per season. The Sox have been involved in negotiations with Damon, and despite the vacancy, center fielders have not to this point been a major topic of discussion in the flurry of trades that have been discussed so far. Other options include Brad Wilkerson, who recently came back to Texas in exchange for Alfonso Soriano, Milton Bradley or J.D. Drew from the Dodgers, old friend Dave Roberts from the Padres, or Darin Erstad, whose name has been connected to Manny rumors for some time now. As yet, the Sox seem committed to resigning Damon; should they fail, center field will almost have to be addressed via trade or extremely low-budget signing, as the free agent market for CF’s drops off a cliff after Johnny Jesus.
2a) Find a leadoff hitter
Damon’s free agency has left an offensive hole as well as a defensive one; for four years, Damon has served as the spark plug of the Sox’ record-setting offense as the leadoff hitter. There’s no guarantee that the CF also has to have his name announced first on a lineup card, though the other positions from which leadoff hitters traditionally come are not high on the Sox needs list. Mark Loretta, the recently acquired 2B, is certainly one option in the top spot in the lineup; for a team that doesn’t value speed, he is at least a high OBP hitter with enough speed and versatility to appease both statheads and traditionalists, while providing good value in the 1 spot. The SS opening left by the trade of Edgar Renteria could also provide a leadoff hitter, though the best option – new Dodger SS Rafael Furcal – is off the table. Another intriguing option is Kevin Youkilis; not exactly a speed demon, he would get on base enough to score a tremendous number of runs in this offense. The only hitch is that he seems to lack a position.
3) Figure out who will play first (Ortiz? Nixon? Konerko? Youkilis? A trade?)
Of those options, one is off the table, two of the others are position switches that seem like last resorts, and the final – while intriguing – is ultimately a poor use of value. Of course, recent trades have given us other options; third baseman Mike Lowell could conceivably move across the diamond, as could new Sox top prospect Andy Marte. With the Sox current cabal of 3B’s, it seems certain that one or more will have to either find a new home on the diamond or find a new home in another city. Other options include Dodger 1B Hee Sop Choi, Angels 1B Casey Kotchman, or Texas 1B Adrian Gonzalez; all three have been rumored to be available, and two have been linked to the Sox in Manny trade rumors.
3a) Figure out who plays third
Several of the options for third were discussed above, and I still believe that the likeliest outcome will see one of our 3B’s switching gloves in coming months. Whoever is left will be the answer to the above; one position that the Sox certainly do not need to look for at the moment is the hot corner. With Lowell, Youkilis, and Mart jockeying for a starting job, 3B could be an interesting wild card for other holes in the lineup. At the moment, my money is on Mars as the everyday 3B, with Lowell dealt and Youkilis either at first or as a super-sub.
4) Find a bullpen
Like third base, the bullpen entered the offseason filed under ‘questionable’. All of a sudden, however, we have found ourselves with no shortage of viable options; the Beckett acquisition leaves the Sox with 7 Sp’s, two of whom – unless, as predicted, David Wells and/or Matt Clement are dealt – will start the year in the pen. Keith Foulke is under contract and working towards a return, though his status is unknown and his eventual efficacy uncertain. Mike Timlin was re-signed for pennies on the dollar in this market, and though a decline from his stellar – though slightly misleading – 2005 is predictable, he should remain a top relief option. Joining those four are Guillermo Mota, acquired as part of the Beckett deal; Lenny DiNardo, who emerged as a viable MLB pitcher at the end of last year after an excellent season as a starter at AAA, Jermaine Van Buren, who was acquired from the Cubs for an as-yet-undetermined PTNBL; youngsters Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen, who showed signs of excellence but clearly needed some experience at the end of 2005; and ROOGY Chad Bradford, who remains under contract. Despite that glut of relief pitching, it remains entirely possible that the Sox will continue to acquire BP help, which would leave some of the younger players in AAA to mature.
5) Pick a 2B
The Sox entered the offseason with 3 in-house options, all of whom came attached to question marks. Tony Graffanino, who thrived as the Sox starter in late 2005, is a free agent and is looking for more guaranteed playing time than the Sox are willing to offer. Alex Cora, acquired at midseason for Ramon Vazquez, has the defensive skills, but is perhaps better suited to a backup role. Prospect Dustin Pedroia was all but anointed the Sox Opening Day 2006 2B… but many conveniently overlooked his shaky finish in Pawtucket, which could suggest that the 21 year old needs more time to develop his skills against higher-caliber pitching. Instead of these options, the Sox decided to acquire veteran Mark Loretta from San Diego, in exchange for backup C Doug Mirabelli; Loretta will get the vast majority of PT at second, at least to begin the year.
6) Trade David Wells
Though his name has come up in connection with as many teams as Manny has, the Sox have not yet pulled the trigger on a Wells deal; doing so would answer a lot of rotation questions, and could give us the players to fill a number of remaining holes. Wells is fairly affordable, but quite old; it remains to be seen what kind of value we can realistically expect for him. It appears that Wells will be dealt one way or another, but having him back for 2006 would not be the worst thing in the world.
7) Decide on a course for Papelbon
At the moment, it looks like Paps’ course has been decided for him; unless the Sox shed two starters – probably not a great idea considering the health concerns in the current rotation – Papelbon will open 2006 in the bullpen. This may very well be the right move; as good as he was in limited starts in 2005, it should be noted that he clearly tired early in each game, and that to a certain degree hitters were able to adjust to his fastball. His secondary pitches were simply not up to the challenge. As a reliever, his splitter was a fantastic out pitch; if he can develop his slider or curve in a similar manner and build up stamina, he could become a very effective SP. Until then, Sox fans can settle for him being an excellent frontline reliever.
8) Be very very careful who you protect and who you don’t on the 40-man roster
Apparently the Sox handled this question quite well, as no Sox prospect was selected in the Rule 5 draft on the 8th. In the end, the only real possibilities were Portland OF Chris Durbin and knuckleballer Charlie Zink; neither would have been a massive loss, and the Sox were able to find room on the roster for the real untouchables (Jon Lester, David Murphy, Brandon Moss).
So, that’s the state of the November 1st checklist. Since then, we’ve added a couple points. First, of course, is the new gaping hole at SS; simply transfer the comments about Alex Cora from above. While rumors of Miguel Tejada seem outlandish, I won’t underestimate the front office that gave us Beckett and Marte; otherwise, it appears the Sox will fill the hole on the cheap, perhaps with former Florida SS Alex Gonzalez. In addition, as Manny rumors persist, the question of whether we need OF help become important; there remain several cheap but viable OF candidates on the market, and Andy Mars could conceivably be converted to an OF for a season. Finally, from a sparse pen to a full one; the Sox now must decide who to send back to AAA or trade away in order to cap the bullpen at 11 hurlers. My choice in the current configuration – and I’ll assume we lose one starter between now and Opening Day – would be: Foulke, Timlin, Mota, Papelbon, Hansen, DiNardo. Evan will disagree with me regarding the lack of a lefty specialist, but I’m on record despising handedness specialists in a pen, so I’ll stick to my guns. Finally, we now have an opening for a backup catcher; the choices are essentially Shoppach or whoever. It seems as though the Sox are leaning towards the latter; Shoppach is likely more valuable as trade bait than as a backup C, especially with Tek signed for three more years.
That about wraps it up. Did I miss anything?