Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The X Factor

As we prepare for yet another exciting season of Red Sox baseball, it is important to consider the various intangibles and potential outcomes that could make or break the season. No I am not referring to if or when Manny Ramirez decides to show up to camp, but to the players who need to show the Nation that they can be difference makers - and not just in one series, or even the playoffs, but the whole season long. Theses players are the "X Factors" for the 2006 Red Sox and their success may very likely determine the success of the team.

Keep in mind that a designated "X Factor" is not always the highest paid, most athletic, or biggest off-season signing. In fact we expect the best from those guys, and if they don't deliver we ship them off to Atlanta. No I am talking about the guys just off the IR, the player in a contract year, of the former star with only a few more years left and wants nothing more than to go out shining. So here are my top picks for 2006 X-Factor:

#1 Keith Foulke
There is no question that the Red Sox can not win another World Series without a closer. Foulke's physical and mental strength have been questioned, and despite an amazing 2004 post season, his numbers have not lived up to the benchmarks he set in 2003. I believe that he can overcome his injuries, and the word is that he is in good health. My concern is his head. You can't blame the late inning homers and grand slams in 2005 on poor knees alone. His head was never in the game, and his relationship with the fans, media, and even the clubhouse was a mess. In 2006 we need atleast 38 saves and an ERA under 2.25 from Foulke. He needs to go out there and play for his next contract, which undoubtedly will not be with the Red Sox. If he fails to do so, we can't do it with Timlin alone and Hansen and company are just too green. If he fails we will be shipping off Bronson or Clement by mid season - and let's just hope its for something a little better than Byung-Hyun Kim!

#2 Mike Lowell
Pitching wins championships - and with that in mind the primary "X Factor" for any contender will always be pitching. However for the 2006 Red Sox and their revamped line-up, I believe that Mike Lowell is one of the biggest intangibles. For most of his career he's put up solid numbers - with 2002-2004 bringing three All-Star appearances, an average of 27 HRs, and a batting average of 2.82. After a disappointing 2005 (esp. at the plate) Lowell has a lot to prove. He needs to prove he's worth his salary, that he's still a Gold Glover, and that he can be an All-Start Slugger once again. I think this year will be big for Lowell - and for the Sox sake I sure hope so.

#3 Trot Nixon (Honorable Mention)
As Bucky pointed out in his starter and bench analysis, this is a make it or break it year for Nixon. It is not what he could possibly do, but what he has to do. Nixon must stay healthy, must dominate righties, and perhaps even get some hits off of a few southpaws. If he goes down the Sox have basically no one to fill his shoes, and if he gets hurt we may also be seeing the end of the Nixon era. He's homegrown, a hustler, and a guy that has given it all for the past nine years. Trot turns 32 this year on opening day (April 11th), and hopefully it won't be his last birthday in Fenway Park.

That's my two cents... who's your 2006 "X Factor"?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Truckin..... (and more late breaking news)

Hey driver, move that truck! Yes it is finally that time of year as the Red Sox Spring Training caravan headed down to Fort Myers on Monday. In fact the season is upon us as the Yanks and Mets pitchers and catchers reported today - while the Sox will soon follow on Sunday. Gotta love Spring Training!

So as the season officially begins in just a few days, what's the buzz in Red Sox Nation?

  • Looks like there is only a slim chance of David Wells being shipped out to his home town of San Diego (is it just me, or is it odd to have the words "slim" and David Wells in the same sentence?)
  • The Rocket is rumored to be considering retirement as his #1 option.
  • Keith "Rather Watch The Bruins Than A Sox Playoff Game" Foulke has decided not to talk to the media until Sunday (this from a guy who once had his own show - mistake it may have been).
  • On the CT front: Yankee Carl "Overpaid like Damon" Pavano is reportedly hurt again... (looks like Al Leiter might still be a starter in the bigs) and 2) Trumbull native and former BU Terrier (who won yet another Beanpot on Monday) Chris Drury and the US Hockey team tied - yes tied - Latvia... I say send BU to Torino!

46 Days until Opening Day!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Sorry I've been away for a week or so. I've been battling the obligatory mid-February sinus-throat illness, but when I saw those pictures of the equipment truck leaving Fenway Park yesterday, the sniffles began to dry up and I could smell spring training right around the corner.

I promised a look at Boston's bench next, so that's where I'm headed in the ensuing paragraphs. It's pretty safe to say that my list below will change, perhaps significantly, by opening day. So instead of solely looking at players, I'm going to break the backup slots down by position and look at some of the candidates. Though some teams go with 12 in the beginning days of April, I'm figuring the Sox will break camp with 11 pitchers. That leaves us with 5 backup slots for position players.

Backup First Baseman: I start here because this one is easy. The Sox signed J.T. Snow to backup/platoon with Kevin Youkilis and I do think he'll wind up with a lot of playing time. Snow is a good addition to the Sox, a 5 time gold glover who has the ability to hit a little bit. I touched on my doubts about Youkilis' offensive ability in my last post, but he's a better hitter than Snow, so Youks isn't going to lose AB's based on the bat. Tito will play some lefty/righty to get Snow in there, and he'll also have Snow doing his best Dave Stapleton impersonation (except for Game 6, of course. We don't mention Game 6), coming in late in games to hold leads.
There are no other firstbaseman on the 40-man roster, so barring a trade, what you see is what the Sox will get.

Backup Catcher: Does it matter if this is Josh Bard, Ken Huckaby or John Flaherty? All three are good-glove, no-hit backstops who have had indistinguished major league careers. Hey, that's not a slap in the face. I would kill for an indistinguished career in pro ball. How to pick one of them? If it were up to me, I'd isolate them each with Wakefield for a couple days, then let Timmy pick. Either that or tell them whoever has the least passed balls out of 1000 knuckleballs makes the team automatically. They could televise it on NESN like some sort of reality show. I know I'd watch.

Flaherty most likely gets the nod based just on experience. Extra nostalgia points for him since he cameo'd for the '92-'93 Red Sox, and fought current Cleveland manager Eric Wedge for the right to backup Tony Pena. Personally, I think Bard has the most upside. He had 8 HR and 36 RBI in 2003 when he amassed 300 AB's. Not great, or even good, numbers by any means. But he's known for his defense, and that stick won't kill you.

Let me also take just a second on one other idea. The Sox still need to trade an arm, and San Diego no longer needs Doug Mirabelli after acquiring Mike Piazza. Wells wants to go to San Diego. The Sox would like their backup catcher, well, back. Now, I wouldn't deal Wells straight up for Mirabelli, but building some sort of larger deal around those two just seems to make sense, doesn't it?

4th Outfielder: Here is where things get a little shallow. Sox Nation better pray Trot Nixon's back and Manny's hammy can hold up for 162 games because the options to back them up in the outfield seem pretty slim. We all know Trot needs a right-handed platoon partner, and since RF in Fenway is pretty spacious, it would help if the guy could flash the leather. The candidates right now are Dustan Mohr, Adam Stern and Willie Harris, with Gabe Kapler hoping to get in the mix once he's healthy. Mohr is probably the best hitter of the bunch, and he hit .214 last year. The Sox could always keep Stern or Harris and have them double as the prerequisite "speedy guy off the bench" but I'd be very surprised if Theo doesn't add another OF before camp is done.

Utility Infielder: From famine to feast, as the Sox have too many candidates for the last infield slot. Everyone seems to love Alex Cora (well, except for the fans, who just can't get excited about a guy who hits .230 with no pop no matter how many times we hear what a mind for baseball the guy has).

Then there's last year's late-season hero turned playoff goat Tony Graffanino, who stymied the Sox when he actually accepted their arbitration offer to stick around. Most people expect Graffanino to get traded during spring training (Hmm, does San Diego need a replacement for Mark Loretta?), and Cora to stick as the backup infielder.

In addition to these two veterans, much of Sox Nation was ready to turn shortstop over to diminutive prospect, Dustin Pedroia, just a couple months ago, and with a good spring, he could complicate things. Figure only one of them makes the squad though, and Pedroia seems ticketed for that little ballpark in Rhode Island.

Speedy Guy: There's actually some flexibility with this last roster spot, but I say "speedy guy" because ever since Dave Roberts saved the Nation with one stolen base, the Sox have tried to keep a late-game pinch runner on their bench. Last year they tried Adam Stern, who despite his supposed speed had a knack for getting picked off in the big spots, and Alex Machado, a fleet-footed jack of all trades who does everything but hit. Both are candidates for the slot again. However, with the Sox lack of bats on the bench, a good pinch hitter would do wonders in this slot if Theo and co. can acquire one. And don't rule out a youngster like Brandon Moss or David Murphy playing their way onto the team this spring.

Let me use this last bit of space to rant just briefly about Matt Murton, who would look great as a 4th outfielder right now. Now, despite what many of you may think, I'm not privy to exact trade discussions, but I can't for the life of me figure out why Theo had to throw in a decent prospect like Murton just to get the Cubs to "take" Nomar Garciaparra. (This is pre-groin injury, remember, when he could still play big league ball).

I can't get carried away with this, since any deal that helped us win the World Series in 2004 gets automatic "can't bitch about it" status, but it's hard for me to keep quiet on this one. I've been a Murton fan since they drafted him out of Georgia Tech, and everytime I see him suit up for the Cubbies my mood gets a little bit sour.

That's it for now. Next, I'll take a look at the 18 (okay, 7) candidates for a starting spot in the rotation.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Game Six

A new movie will be coming out in March starring Michael Keaton. The movie centers on the turmoil in Keaton's life and his love affair with the Red Sox. It takes place on October 25th 1986, that Shakespearian day in baseball history when well you know happened! Link is attached below where fans are encouraged to comment on where they were on that infamous night. After 2004, Sox fans can surely feel better about discussing these matters!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Bode and the Sox

In the spirit of the 2006 winter Olympics its nice to know our best skier is a Sox fan!

MR Crisp

Lost in the hoopla surrounding Mr Damon's exit to NY are the sound capabilities of his replacement. Sure Mr Crisp is named after a cereal and sure he's only had a few good years under his belt, but a comparison shows remarkably similar statistics.

2005stats AB H 2B HR RBI AVG SLG
Mr Crisp 594 178 42 16 69 .300 .465
J Damon 624 197 35 10 75 .316 .439

Not to mention the 8 million in annual savings.
Now that's good management!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Oh my Clemens Time?

After 21 years, over 4,700 innings pitched, and a career ERA of 3.12 could the Rocket's red glare be shining down on Fenway Park one more time? Of all the off-season moves, predicaments, and "what if" scenarios we have endured, this could be the one that tugs most at the ole' heart strings.

Red Sox Nation will never forget Roger Clemen's and the mark he left on the franchise during his 13 years with the club. However, after 11 seasons the Rocket sputtered; recording only twenty combined wins in 95-96. That's when some people started to wonder if the Clemens had run out of gas. Maybe the fans (more likely the media) were too harsh, and obviously Danny D. was too green (and too dumb), but in the end the Rocket headed north to Toronto. Embracing the yet to be over exploited world of free agency, Roger followed the 96 season by two 20 games+ seasons and back-to-back Cy Youngs. Translated: our bad.

We all know what happened next (it still burns today). The Boss made the move, the Rocket scorned the Nation, and the folks on Jerome Ave. had a freak'n field day. Clemens got his ring, achieved milestones that will ensure his place in history, and then pulled a Michael Jordan on the dreaded Yanks (after watching them fall to the Fish, nothing could have been sweeter - except us signing Schilling the same year).

In the end, I think we all thought in our "heart of hearts" that Clemens would finish his career in Texas. I mean come on, he never liked the snow, couldn't pronounce Worcester, and tell me there isn't a better movie backdrop for a riding off into the sunset. However, no one could have ever predicted the $18MM deal or the 1.87 ERA in 2005 - but then again no one ever thought the Sox could come back down 3-0 in 2004.

So now Sox brass are in the studio making a video - likely with the North Shoooorrah chicks from "Still We Believe" and Dennis Leary (but please God no more Ben Affleck!) It think it will be good for Roger to hear from the fans, and hell it beats a personal letter from Tom Hicks telling him how much the Rangers LOVE him. In the end maybe it will work, but if it does... Do we really want and/or need Roger Clemens?

Think about it: if we add Clemens, the top of the Sox rotation could have an average age of 40.75 (1-4 assuming Shilling 39, Clemens 43, Wells* 39, Wakefield 39) *Latest word from San Diego is a no-go for Wells. Besides that, think about the money. Will it be another $18MM payday for the Rocket? On one hand his numbers say he's worth it, on the other hand next summer Roger will be invited to his 26th high school reunion! (note: Beckett just went to his 5 year in 2004). Granted we netted a savings of between $6-$8MM with the Crisp/Damon realignment, but where is the other $10MM going to come from? It isn't going to be from yet another increase to my season tickets, and I don't think we can put $1000 seats in behind the pitchers mound in time for opening day.

So what does Roger have to say? Here is the latest....

"Clemens still isn't sure if he wants to pitch again, the Houston Chronicle reports. "One week I get up and feel like I can do it again, and the next week I don't want to get out here in the outfield and start running those poles and doing those things," Clemens told the newspaper. "If last year's World Series was it for me, I'm more than happy. We didn't reach our ultimate goal, but it was a lot of fun."

If he comes back the Yanks believe it will be a two team bidding war between them and the Astros, while Tom Hicks is writing love letters and building financial models that forecast how much money the Rocket will bring to Arlington (word of advice Tom, don't use the same one you used for A-Rod). In Boston, Hollywood Henry and Theovision are in the studio making the must see movie of the off season....

Who knows what will happen. My gut says the Rocket retires or plays one more in Houston. My heart says he should seriously consider a Fenway Farewell. Don't get me wrong, if the stakes get too high I say walk away from the table so that we can afford to keep Beckett, Papelbon, Hansen, Lester until after atleast their 10 year high school reunions (hopefully longer if they pan out). And if the Yanks over pay (like Damon) and land him in the Bronx, then oh well. At least it will give Sully's Tees a new idea for yet another creative line of apparel!

What is your opinion on the Rocket?
Share your comments and vote using our online poll!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Sox Roster

So it looks like everything has finally come together for 2006. Oh, Theo and company still have a few more moves up their sleeves, I'd guess - Somehow I doubt Trot will be platooning with Dustin Mohr or Willie Harris once we break camp. But after a tumultuous off-season that had many Red Sox fans threatening to jump off the "Lovers Leap" Bridge (located in New Milford - gotta keep this CT-centric), John Henry's front office crew (Theo? No Theo? Ah, yes Theo!) again distinguished themselves with an overall productive off-season that I think will wind up ranking as one of team's best.

Lets take a look at the starting lineup as we stand now. I'll examine the bench, rotation and bullpen in the coming days.

Lineup -

CF - Coco Crisp: Months ago when the Sox began talking about the possibility of losing Johnny Damon, Crisp was the only name that excited me. I cringed every time I heard Jeremy Reed or Joey Gathwright's name, and at the end of the day, the Sox did not disappoint me. There's a lot of bitter vitriol about Damon leaving the Sox and being a "traitor", but when all was said and done, this was Boston's choice, and in my mind it will wind up being a solid one.

Not only was Crisp's OPS (On base percentage plus slugging percentage - the best way to rate the overall offensive abilities of a player) slightly higher than Damon's last year, Crisp has steadily improved over the last three seasons. Don't let the diehards fool you, Damon is still a better player - for now - but he's clearly not $10 million per year better. The Sox will miss Damon's grit and his ability to have long, tough at-bats and wear down pitchers most of all, but if Crisp can learn some patience at the plate (he already has better power than Damon), he should trend upwards over the next couple years while Damon declines. Overall, a very good long-term decision by the Sox to go in this direction.

2B - Mark Loretta: I have to wonder why San Diego would trade Loretta for Mirabelli then go out and sign Piazza to be their (mostly) full-time catcher, but I'm not complaining. We all fell in love with Tony G last year, but the truth is Graffanino has been around for awhile and there's nothing in his 10 year career that suggests he can hit like he did in the last few months of 05 over a full season.

Enter Loretta - perenially one of the better hitting second basemen in the NL. Like a couple other bats in this lineup, he's coming off an injury and a year where his numbers weren't spectacular, but if he's healthy, the Sox have added a capable number 2 hitter who also plays solid defense.

DH - David Ortiz: As long as he and Manny are together in this lineup, the team will score runs. Big Papi broke out with a career year in 2005, and I have to wonder if he can possibly match those numbers in 06, but even a slight decline would mean a certain All-Star season. His ability to hit in the clutch is like nothing I've seen before - you fans of other teams really need to watch the Sox day in and day out to get the full grasp of it - and if he can do that again in 06, he'll win 5-10 games for this team by himself. Gets extra points for his big smile and the personality he brings to the team as well.

LF - Manny Ramirez: Warrants his own entire article at some point, but the Sox wisely (to this point at least - and I'd be shocked if anything changes) decided to hang on to their best slugger. The best part is they can just tell Manny they traded him and he'd probably just jog out to LF in Fenway Park none the wiser. He's one of the most consistent offensive forces in baseball, and should have another stellar season with a few fun "blips" along the way. Why can he play with a water bottle in his back pocket and the fans still love him? 45 HR and 140 RBI per year, that's why.

C - Jason Varitek: Varitek put everything together in 05, having probably the best offensive AND defensive year of any catcher in the AL, perhaps in the majors. He does tend to wear down late in the year, and he's not ideally suited to the 5-spot, as he can be a streaky hitter.

That said, everytime I watch him play I thank Seattle for including him as a throw in in the Heathcliff Slocumb for Derek Lowe deal. 'Tek is one of those guys who plays the game hard and plays it right, the type of player you want your kids to emulate (except his penchance for chasing fastballs around his eyes - but you can't have everything). He's getting older, so I doubt he matches his 2005 numbers, but if Lowell or Trot can rebound and take away the No. 5 slot, he's a huge asset lower in the order and behind the dish.

RF - Trot Nixon: I wonder if Trot's best days are behind him. From 01-03 he averaged about 27 HR and 90 RBI, but injuries have slowed him down the last two seasons. He's 32 now, playing for a new contract, and only hit 13 HR in over 400 AB last year. He's always been a dead fastball hitter, so pehaps he's seeing less of them, and the entire league knows he can't hit lefties.

This is a big year for Trot. If he can stay healthy and produce, he'll get another multi-year deal somewhere and could play well into his 30's. If he repeats 05, he could be out of baseball in the next two or three years. I don't think a return to Trot's glory days are likely, though we'll all be rooting for the original "dirt-dog." If he stays healthy (a BIG if), 20 HR and 75 RBI are likely.

3B - Mike Lowell: To me, Lowell is the key to this lineup. He's the only one who literally could be an All-Star, or lose his job by June. The scary thing is that he wasn't injured last year, had over 500 AB, and couldn't hit a beachball. Some people have mentioned a possible eyesight issue.

If, like Ricky Vaughn in Major League, he can really solve things with a pair of spectacles, we're in for a treat. I don't buy the rumors of steroid use that some have brought up. I just can't see someone who beat cancer being that careless with his body. Either way, he's a gold glover who can certainly man the hot corner, so Sox fans shouldn't miss Billy Mueller's glove.

1B - Kevin Youkilis: Unlike many Sox fans who like the "Greek God of Walks", the idea of Youkilis being our every day first baseman actually terrorizes me. First of all, he's played third most of his career, so he's no Doug Mienk49djf6hwichz with the glove at first. Secondly, he doesn't have a lot of power at a position that normally requires it.

J.T. Snow is a good platoon partner for him, and will see a lot of late game action with the glove, but it seems odd to me that the Sox would put so much emphasis on Youkilis' ability to get on base and then bat him in front of the biggest free-swinger in the major leagues. I foresee a lot of 6-4-3's coming out of the 8-9 spots, but we'll see what Francona does about that.

And I don't buy the "He'll give you more than Millar" argument. I mean, he'll give you more than Bugs Bunny (one-two-three strikes you're out) too, but that doesn't necessarily mean I want him playing full time for my team. Hopefully I'm pleasantly surprised on this one.

SS - Alex Gonzalez: Gonzalez was one of the worst offensive players in the big leagues last year, yet I loved this signing. First of all, the Sox got him for one year at short money. That means no long-term commitment, and with a young prospect (Pedroia) and several free agent options (Lugo?) available next year, this is akin to taking a "pass" on shortstop in 06.

That said, its not like you can't win with Gonzalez. He has been an all-star (albeit, maybe not a very deserving one), and does have some pop. He's a wild free swinger, but before 05 when his power dried up, he used to hit the ball a long way in the few instances when he actually made solid contact. Either way, everyone raves about his glove, and the Sox don't need to score 900 runs to win if their pitching and defense are improved (and they should be). Whatever he gives you on offense is a plus, and perhaps the patient Sox hitters will rub off on him a bit.


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Now starring in "Cry Baby II", Johnny Damon!

Forget Johnny Depp, the newest star of his own "Cry Baby" blockbuster is Johnny Damon! Here's what bostondirtdogs is reporting he said on a recent radio interview:
"'My kids had a hard time dealing with it,' he said. 'I kinda told them [I was leaving the Red Sox]and they cried, and I cried with them. And I said, 'Hey, this team really just did not want me as much as I wanted them.'" -- Former Red Sox Center Fielder Johnny Damon

Are you kidding me? I think this statement is missing a few choice words....

'Hey, this team really just did not want me as much as I wanted them.... to pay me more money than I am worth!"

I will be the first to admit that losing Johnny hurt, but not for that kind of money. Also, be a man Damon.... Your kids could go to college for 20 extra years with the $12MM premium the Yanks paid to cut your hair. Bottom line is that your kids cried because like the rest of Red Sox Nation you stabbed them in the back... But in the end I am sure you cried all the way to the bank (the Bank of New York that is).

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Selling Out

Alex Gonzalez

With the signing of Alex Gonzalez to a 1yr 3mm dollar deal the sox have solved their shortstop dilemma. He is definitely an improvement on the defensive side though is offense is lacking compared to Rentaria. One wonders if there is a reason for the recent drop off in his home run production, but his average did improve to an acceptable .264 last year. I would still argue that they need a second baseman but there does not appear to be that much talk on that right now.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Welcome Back "Gabe"

After a little vacation in the far east, and an unfortunate trip around second, it is nice to see Boston is welcoming back Gabe Kapler! Not sure why Wilson gets the invite - other than to help convince Manny to show up to spring training....

Kapler among 20 non-roster players invited
February 1, 2006
BOSTON (AP) -- Outfielder Gabe Kapler, who ruptured his left Achilles' tendon less than five months ago, was among 20 non-roster players invited to spring training by the Boston Red Sox. Former New York Yankees infielder Enrique Wilson also was in the group announced on Wednesday.

Welcome to Red Sox Rants & Raves!

Welcome to the first Red Sox blog dedicated to Connecticut-based fans of greatest team in baseball!

It goes without saying that living in the shadow of the Evil Empire is not something that we enjoy. However Connecticut is a great place to live and the Red Sox fans that call the "Constitution State" home are some of the best in the country. It takes great fans to deal with no NESN (esp. in Fairfield County), YES blackouts, and the always annoying presence of some guy who thinks overpaying for Johnny Damon is the best thing since overpaying for Jeff Weaver, Carl Pavano, and Jose Contreras. No one can deny that they have more rings and more money to spend. However, we have the greatest fans in all of sport - especially those of us that defend the front lines between Boston and the Bronx!

Our mission is simple: create a community where all Red Sox fans can share their thoughts, comments, and opinions. However we also hope to provide a unique place for Sox fans "south of the border" to share stories, information, and CT-related "rants and raves" about their beloved team. So visit often, spread the word, and help us remind our neighbors in pinstripes that Red Sox Nation is alive and well in Connecticut! Go Sox!