It felt very good, today, listening to the panel of gurus on MLB TV agree with Baseball Prospectus that the Red Sox are most likely to win the powerful AL East in a hard fought 3-way race. Their reasoning was sound, but due to time constraints they didn’t tell the whole story. For example, they didn’t mention that 13 starters are All-Stars or, in speaking of its excellent defense, that 4 infielders have Gold Gloves. Awards may have little impact on the game, but do demonstrate the caliber of players.
They understood and endorsed the FO strategy of building a well balanced team with remarkable rotation, pen, defense, to accompany a consistent lineup that, because it is no longer dependent on the long ball to win, will play like a team. Unsaid was the fact that this remains a relentless lineup, one of the best in 2008 (injured), and can hit 20+ HR from #2 – #8. The panel generally agreed that adding Saito, RRamirez, Masterson makes an already strong Pen the most dominant in baseball. They conceded that the Rotation is among the best, stating that each of Beckett, Daisuke and Lester would be the Ace on many other teams . . . that’s 3 Aces. Unsaid was that signing recent Aces from the Braves and Dodgers, plus Wake, Buchholz & Bowden, adds depth that makes them truly scary. They did say facing those 5 Aces in a series will not be fun for any team.
They also understood and endorsed the reality that after an injured player gets well, he has a high probability of returning +/- to form. They didn’t see signing Smoltz, Penny, Saito, Baldelli, Bard as gambling on the cheap, as some suggest, but rather as incentive laden deals that promise success, and leave cash for filling holes during the season. Not said was that signing them was carefully considered by the FO, just as Not signing Ben Sheets prior to his surgery was not a lucky accident . . . but bringing him aboard in Aug/Sept on a 1.5 year contract would be both consistent and wise.
The panel confirmed that the Sox have incredible depth, but with time could have explored this more deeply. Although they discussed Rocco, the impact of players like Youk, Kotsay, Bailey, JD, Bard, Wake, Zinc, Hansack, Littleton, Jones, could have been figured in. Also, somehow still concerned that the Sox won’t be as potent offensively as in 2008, Harold called Bay “a nice player” and told us to throw out his stats vs. Manny’s despite being so similar, because of Manchild’s huge impact vs. anyone else. In the context of the panel’s discussion, that’s just not so, Harold. No one person can replace Manny’s bat, you are correct. But a whole team stepping up like Bay, JD, Youk, Pedroia, Lowrie, Casey, Carter, Bailey did; and the additional 2009 bats of Baldelli, Bard, Kotsay, and a healthy Papi, Mike, Lowrie, Lugo, this TEAM will most certainly replace Manny’s bat and impact. Along this line, a left fielder, a teammate who can hit 290/30/100/100/15 AND run out ground balls, steal bases, field aggressively, take the Fenway pressure, is an upgrade.
The panel did an excellent job discussing the Sox emphasis on the farm and building from within, praising it from scouting to coaching to Bowden, and extolling the benefits of a home grown team, and the pride it brings. A quick count shows 10 starters, and 13 reserves, having come up or in through the Sox system, or spent years in it. The future impact of Lars Anderson was cited as a possible reason the Sox put a limit on their pursuit of Teixeira. Makes sense.
I want to thank MLB TV for making my day, my whole week. The offseason moves were, IMO, brilliant in every regard, and hearing them bashed and called picks off the trash heap in ill considered posts has gotten tiring. The Panel and Baseball Prospectus give cause to celebrate, which I did. If you will pardon an update of my “what the Sox need to win” mantra: with Saito, Rrammi, Monsterson, we have more than replaced the Gagne we never had; by Smoltz & Penny, and keeping Lester & Masterson, we have more than replaced the Santana we never got; and with Baldelli, Bard, Kotsay, Lugo, the Sox have upgraded the bench by adding some power, athleticism, D and speed to an already strong lineup. Just 29 more teams to analyze on MLB TV and the season begins. Great job MLB TV.