Start Me Up

Baseball season is finally back, and although the offseason for the Boston Red Sox didn’t go the way I’d hope it would, I’m still optimistic for a successful 2009 campaign.

It’s becoming more and more obvious that Theo Epstein and Terry Francona don’t read thefoulline.com. If they had, we’d be watching Mark Texiera and Derek Lowe gearing up for the season in Fort Myers, while watching the enigmatic Julio Lugo and overrated Jason Varitek packing their bags to destination Anywhere But Boston.

But after my initial disappointment with the lack of big name signings, I’m starting to really like the additions of Brad Penny, Takashi Saito and especially future Hall of Famer John Smoltz. These guys are low cost, with potential huge rewards for Boston. Even though Smoltz won’t be ready until June, he could be the big addition to the lineup that usually takes place at the trade deadline. If Boston makes the postseason, a lineup with Josh Beckett and John Smoltz would be scary.

Before we can talk about the playoffs, there are a lot of questions about this team that could severely affect their post season chances. Will Josh Beckett, David Ortiz, and Mike Lowell rebound from their 2008 injury-plagued season? With Coco Crisp shipped off to Kansas City, is Jacoby Ellsbury ready to be the everyday centerfielder and leadoff hitter? Can a full season of Jason Bay make up for the loss of Manny? Who will be the Red Sox catcher of the future?

To make matters worse, rivals Tampa Bay and New York revamped their already dangerous lineups. The Yankees decided to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on big-game choker CC Sabathia, the oft-injured A.J. Burnett, and current thefoulline.com public enemy #2 Mark Texiera. Will this high priced talent lead to a return to the postseason for the Bronx Bombers? Or will these guys wilt under the pressure of playing in the Big Apple like Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown and Carl Pavano? Let’s hope for the latter.

As for the Rays, I really like the additions of Pat Burrell and Matt Joyce to fill the right field and designated hitter spots. This is a big upgrade of the Gabe Gross/Cliff Floyd combo. I’m interested in seeing whether Evan Longoria can duplicate his rookie season, and if the Rays can repeat their success with their closer-by-committee bullpen.

The good news is baseball is back.
The competition  for the AL East crown promises to be fierce.
Let the games begin!

Changes

Well, it’s been almost a month since the Red Sox lost game 7 of the ALCS to the damn Tampa Bay Rays. I think it’s finally time to come out from the dark recesses of thefoulline.com headquarters, dust myself off, and talk about what I think Boston needs to do to improve their team.

This is a pivotal offseason for the Red Sox. There are some glaring holes in the Sox lineup that need to be filled. If this team remains unchanged, they’ll be watching the playoffs on television in 2009.

There’s going to be a lot of Hot Stove activity going on in the next couple of weeks. The damn Yankees have $90 million coming off their books and are eager spend to improve their poor pitching, and like it or not, the Rays are going to be here for a while. If Tampa acquires a legitimate closer and a quality right fielder they’re going to be dangerous. The American League East is no longer a two-horse race.

So if I were Theo Epstein, this is what I would do, in order of importance.

1. Sign Mark Texiera.

Tex would tear up Fenway Park offensively and play Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base. This MUST be done! A switch-hitting. perennial All-Star first baseman does not become available very often. As an added bonus, Tex is a free agent, so it wouldn’t cost Boston any of its young talent to acquire him.

Of course, this means Kevin Youkilis is moved to third base, and Mike Lowell is odd man out. I would try to convince a healthy Lowell to learn how to play first base and become Boston’s super-sub. With Lowell playing a mix of first, third and DH, he could prove to the rest of the league that he is healthy, and improve his stock for a trade. (Minnesota and the White Sox need a third baseman). It wouldn’t be the most popular move in Boston, since Lowell is such a class act, but we are here to win ball games. Get out your checkbook, Theo, and make it happen.

2. Derek Lowe makes his triumphant return to Boston.

Lowe is the type of sinker-ball-throwing, ground-ball-inducing pitcher that is tailor-made for Fenway Park. He’s proven to come up huge in big games, as in the 2004 playoffs, when he won the deciding game in all three playoff series. Not to mention, he wants to pitch in Boston again. He may even give Theo a discount.

I look forward to a rotation of Beckett, Lester, Dice K, Lowe, and Wakefield. This would keep Justin Masterson in the bullpen to help solidify the 7th and 8th innings before turning it over to Papelbon.

3. Deal a solid pitching prospect, namely Michael Bowden or Clay Buchholz, for either of Texas’s catchers, Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Taylor Teagarden.

They each have different strengths: Salty is still a raw talent that hits pretty well but needs to improve defensively. Teagarden is a solid defensive catcher with a laser-rocket arm, and he has the potential to put up some big power numbers. What they have in common is that they both are ready to be a starting catcher in the majors.

I’m starting to lean towards a  Buchholz for Teagarden deal, but either way it’s an upgrade of the aging Varitek. Thanks for all of your hard work, ‘Tek. We’ll see you at Jason Varitek Appreciation day.

4. Trade Julio Lugo for a bucket of used baseballs.

Jed Lowrie is ready to be the everyday shortstop. Lugo sucks. Find some sucker GM to take him off our hands.

…..
It almost seems too easy to improve this team. If Boston makes these moves, you can go and get the champagne on ice. If not, it may be a long season.

How Bizarre

Strange week for the World Champs. First, they received their second World Series ring in four years, and then they welcomed the biggest goat in their storied history back to Fenway Park. Meanwhile, the enigmatic J.D. Drew is crushing the ball, and Big Papi couldn’t hit a fastball if he were swinging a boat oar. Finally, their 2007 team M.V.P. went on the disabled list… and the team got better. Not to mention, the damn Yankees are in town for three games. Welcome back to the U.S.

Quick hits:

  • I can’t turn away from the television when Jonathan Papelbon is in the game. He’s always fun to watch. He reminds me of a mix between Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky and Nuke LaLoosh from Bull Durham.
  • Breaking News! Julian Tavarez sucks. I wish they had kept Kyle Snyder as their long reliever, and dumped Julian. But who would babysit Manny if he was gone?
  • Speaking of Man-Ram… 10 games into the season, and he’s already ignoring the third base coach and running through the stop sign. He was lucky to score this time. If he pulls this crap again, he should be benched.
  • Manny, please get a damn haircut.
  • Did you see the Sox fan that was building the new and improved Yankee Stadium and buried a Red Sox shirt in the concrete hoping to curse the Yankees? Take that, Hank Steinbrenner. Red Sox Nation is everywhere. Enjoy your new cursed stadium.
  • While I’m on the subject of the Yankees, New York struggled against the mighty Rays and the formidable Royals this week. Let’s see how they do against a real team.
  • I have a feeling Clay Buchholz will bring his A-game tonight. He seems to relish the big stage.

Enjoy the games this weekend.

Go Sox!

Let’s make a deal

Am I the only one getting tired of the New York Yankees dominating another offseason of headlines? Every day it’s something new. If it’s not A-Rod opting out of his contract, only to go back and beg for his old job back, it’s Jorge Posada signing a ridiculous 5 year/$50 million contract. (For the record, Posada will be 53 when the contract expires.)

Now I hear that the Yankees have an offer on the table to bring in Mike Lowell as their new first baseman. You read that right, the Red Sox MVP and World Series hero may be joining the Evil Empire. I just vomited a little in my mouth.

It’s common knowledge that Boston is willing to give Lowell a three year deal. It’s also common knowledge that Lowell is insisting on a minimum of four years. I don’t see either side budging. Now, I don’t begrudge Mike Lowell for trying to get as much money as he can. This is the first time that he has been a free agent and he should explore every opportunity. He’ll be 34 when the season starts and has already won two World Series titles, so this will probably be his last contract in the Major Leagues. But Lowell is a career .280 hitter who had a monster season at the most opportune time. His swing is tailor-made for Fenway, and if he goes elsewhere, he won’t match the offensive output he had in 2007 – no matter where he goes. Lowell is a class act, but I agree with Boston on not going to four years on the contract.

Mike Lowell has earned the right to try and maximize a deal. But dear lord, sign with a team like the Phillies. Not the damn Yankees.

This brings me to the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. It’s time for the Sox to make a big splash. These guys are the world champs, let’s start acting like it instead of sitting back watching the Yankees dictate the market. The Sox need to be proactive and land the biggest player out there. I’m talking about Johan Santana.

If I’m Theo Epstein, I would call the Minnesota Twins and offer a deal of Coco Crisp, Jon Lester and Craig Hansen. Heck, I would even throw in Red Sox Minor League Offensive Player of the Year Jed Lowrie in the deal. I would do any deal possible to land Santana. This would give the Sox two #1 pitchers on the staff. A double-headed monster of Beckett and Santana would dominate the American League for several years. Boston needs to do whatever it takes to make a Santana deal happen.

With the big name settled, it’s time to look at Mike Lowell’s replacement at third. My buddy and loyal thefoulline.com reader Fergie proposed making a deal for Scott Rolen of the St. Louis Cardinals. My initial thought was that this guy is too injury prone and struggled offensively last year. But as I have thought more about it, the idea is starting to grow on me. Rolen is great defensively, and with hitting coach Dave Magadan’s influence, he could regain his offensive prowess. At only $12 million a season, the Sox would have the chance to buy low, and it might only cost a decent minor leaguer or draft pick.

This is not the time for Boston to bask in the glory of their World Series Championship. This team is going to need to make improvements if they hope to challenge for the title again next season.

On to more important matters
Here’s this week’s softball update from Dylan.

“Get your sunglasses on and buy your tickets to the Gatorz Laser Show”

In a game that was a lot closer then the 24-0 score implies, the young lads from Gatorz Bar and Grill improved to 14-2 on the year to close out the regular season in first place, with the claim that they beat every team in the league at least once by over 20 runs. More impressive was that the Gatorz team for the first time in four weeks didn’t get into a fight during the game with the opposing team.

Thefoullline.com’s own Dylan Hamilton had an off night at the plate, going 3-6 with three singles and four RBIs. “The crew at 84 decided to shred my abs to pieces in a workout on Tuesday night,” Hamilton said. “I had no bat speed without a crushing pain. No pain, no gain, I guess.”

Hamilton led the team in average this year, batting .725 for the season, and on paper was tied for home runs, although Dylan feels the team stat keeper may have missed a dinger or two. “I hit a monster shot against D/M Construction, but I think Allison was talking to her husband when the ball was hit. She may be on the trading block this offseason if that keeps up.” But the offseason speculations will have to wait, as Gatorz Bar and Grill starts the postseason this coming week in a grueling two-losses-and-you’re-out tournament. The Gatorz Boys should be the overwhelming favorite to win the title.

~Dylan “I wonder if my softball team can open next season in Japan too” Hamilton

TheFoulLine.com Hot Stove Report

I love watching Major League Baseball. Some people complain that the 162-game season is too long, but not me. I think they should make it 200 games a year. Baseball is the one sport that can deliver for seven months straight. People say that baseball is boring, but turn on ESPN during the baseball season and you will consistently see the best highlights in all of sports. Huge home runs, acrobatic catches, collisions at the plate.

Think about it: the NFL is fun to watch, but if they were to add more games to the schedule, teams would be so beat up when the playoffs started that nobody would want to watch. Not to mention, everyone already knew the Patriots were going to win the Super Bowl in week one.

This brings me to the other “major”sport, the NBA. Remember when basketball was must-see TV? Back when Jordan, Bird, Magic, Barkley and the Mailman were playing, basketball was worth watching. Now the NBA has turned into which team can dunk the most, or who can shoot the most three-pointers. Bring back some bounce passes and some quality team defense and I might tune in.

There used to be another major sport involving pucks and sticks that I really enjoyed. But then came the lockout, the stupid Versus Network contract, and the Anaheim Ducks vs. Ottawa Senators Stanley Cup final. And just like that, hockey became irrelevant.

The other thing that makes baseball a year-long sport is the Hot Stove League. The World Series ended 10 days ago and we are still reading about MLB in the papers. Why is this? Because every baseball fan in the offseason channels their inner George Costanza and thinks that they can be the General Manager for their favorite team. I certainly do. I have already worked out deals in my head that would add Johan Santana, Alex Rodriguez, and Torii Hunter to the Red Sox. Of course, the Sox payroll would be $300 million a year, but it’s not my money, so who cares. Speculating which players are going where and what your team is going to look like for the upcoming season makes following baseball fun year round.

Which brings me to some quick Red Sox Hot Stove Notes:

  • It looks like Curt Schilling will be signing a one-year deal with Boston. I am really happy about this for a couple of reasons. First of all, Schilling was a solid pitcher once he got himself in shape. Secondly, this gives him another year to tutor Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Finally, after being a big part of two Red Sox World Series Championship teams, he should retire as a Red Sox.
  • We all know that Jacoby Ellsbury will be the starting centerfielder for Boston next year. I would like to see the Red Sox get a good, young backup catcher for Coco Crisp.
  • I think that there is a 50/50 chance of Mike Lowell coming back. I don’t see the Sox giving him a four-year deal. I think it’s going to be either 3 years/$40 million for Lowell or the Sox make a trade for Miguel Cabrera from the Florida Marlins.
  • There are rumors that Boston is looking into acquiring Johan Santana. If there is any chance to get this guy, give the Twins anyone they want. Beckett and Santana heading up a rotation would be scary.
  • Also, Dylan “Just Call Me Jacoby Ellsbury” Hamilton went 4 for 4 in his men’s softball league game last night and was one single away from hitting for the cycle. If he keeps this up, Boston will have to seriously consider inviting him to Spring Training.

Fair or Foul results are in!

What started out as a close competition on who was the team MVP has turned into a commanding defeat by Mike Lowell. First a career year, then a World Series MVP award, and now most importantly Mike Lowell has won the Fair or Foul question of the week as voted on by thefoulline.com readers.

This was a really tough decision, as both players played great this season and were the backbone to the team’s success. But like he has done all year, Lowell came through in the clutch to win this prestigious award.

All year long, Mike Lowell has been a great clubhouse guy and a team leader. He is universally respected by the Red Sox players and management, which was reinforced during the World Series parade when several Sox players held up signs to Re-Sign Lowell!! Lowell is also active in the community and has proved to be a great influence on the younger Red Sox players. Mike Lowell is a great player, but I’m starting to think that M.V.P. might stand for Most Valuable Person.

2007 Red Sox year in review

Coming into spring training in 2007 the Boston Red Sox were a very different team than the one that finished in third place in the AL East. After a very disappointing 2006 season, the Sox made a huge splash in the free agency market, landing notable players Julio Lugo, J.D. Drew, and the biggest prize, Dice K Matsuzaka. Boston had set a few goals in the offseason to improve team speed and starting pitching and bolster an inconsistent bullpen.

With a bunch of new players added to the roster, there were a lot of questions concerning the 2007 Red Sox in spring training. With Jonathan Papelbon set to join the starting rotation, the Red Sox had open tryouts for the closer position. Guys like Joel Piniero, J.C. Romero, and Mike Timlin all took their turns trying to close, all with out success. Curt Schilling came in to camp looking heavy and out of shape after an offseason of promoting his video game company. Josh Beckett was a question mark after his disappointing first season in the American League. Boston gave the starting second base job to an untested rookie in Dustin Pedroia, even after he failed miserably during his 2006 September call-up. Of course Manny was being Manny, going back and forth on wanting to play for the Red Sox. And it seemed like David Ortiz had something hurting from day one. It was hard to predict how this team would do. This was a team that had the potential the play in the World Series or suffer the same fate as the 2006 team.

We all know what happened next. The Red Sox jumped out to huge lead in the AL East behind some great early season pitching by their starters, and Jonathan Papelbon jumped back into his closer role. Even though new starters Lugo, Pedroia and Drew were struggling miserably the first months of the season, Terry Francona kept running these guys out there, giving them every chance to turn things around. Despite the poor performances by these players, the Sox kept winning, eventually increasing their lead in the AL East to a whopping 14 1/2 games over the New York Yankees.

There were times during this season that I really thought I was in Bizzaro World. Big Papi went from a home-run crushing powerhouse to an on-base percentage machine. Manny Ramirez stopped hitting home runs and seemed to ground into a thousand double plays. Mike Lowell went from a career .280 hitter to the Red Sox MVP and team leader in clutch hits and RBIs. Kevin Youkilis turned into the best defensive first baseman in the American League, committing zero errors at the position all year. And Japanese import Hideki Okajima went from Dice K’s security blanket to an All-Star set-up man.

Going into the All-Star break, the Sox had finally started to get some production from Pedroia and Lugo. Beckett was pitching the best baseball of his career and Boston was holding the best record in the major leagues. Then things began to change for the worse. Schilling’s lack of offseason conditioning finally caught up to him, landing him on the disabled list for six weeks. Manny strained his oblique muscle and began the longest oblique-muscle rehab in the history of baseball. The New York Yankees started playing great baseball, eventually cutting the Red Sox lead to 1 1/2 games.

All these things turned into a blessing in disguise. Without the injuries to Schilling and Ramirez, we may have had to wait another year before seeing rookies Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury take the league by storm. If the Sox didn’t get beat up by the Yankees at the end of the season, they may not have learned the resilience to never give up when the playoffs rolled around. With this team, it seemed like they seized every opportunity and dictated their own fate.

The Sox eventually won the AL East and with a healthy roster and the playoffs starting, the Red Sox looked to be a team of destiny. They buzzed through the L.A. Angels of Anaheim, sweeping them in three games behind the pitching of Beckett and the offensive rebirth of Big Papi and Man-Ram. In the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians, it was time to jump on Beckett’s back again. It was also time to put our faith in the future as Pedroia, Ellsbury, and Youkilis carried the offense, helping Boston to rally from a 3-games-to-1 deficit and advance to the World Series.

In the World Series against the Colorado Rockies, it was men against boys. Boston got solid contributions from every player in the lineup. Every game someone new stepped up to be the hero for the Red Sox, eventually leading to a four-game sweep and the second World Series title in four years.

The Boston Red Sox came into the 2007 season full of question marks. Would Manny be back? Who would be the closer? Will Dice K live up to expectations? Could Boston finally dethrone the Yankees? As these questions were eventually answered, a new one popped up.

How many World Series can the Red Sox win in a row?

Fair or Foul Question of the Week

With the ALCS still a day away, I thought that it would be a good time for the always popular Fair of Foul Question of the Week.

Last week I gave you guys a no-brainer. Everyone knew the Red Sox were going to sweep the Angels. This week, I’m hoping you get your thinking caps on and make a tough choice.

So without further adieu, the Fair or Foul Question of the Week: Who was the Boston Red Sox MVP this season?

This is really a two-horse race, Beckett or Lowell. Both of these guys had monster seasons. I can also appreciate the irony that they both came to Boston in the Hanley Ramirez/Anibel Sanchez trade. After a decent season from both of these guys last year, they have turned it on, and have played unbelievable baseball. Do you think the Florida Marlins are looking for a do-over?

In this corner… Josh Beckett. 20-7, 3.27 ERA, 194 strikeouts, AL All-Star game, 4-hitter in the ALDS. This guy was the ace of the staff. He was the guy that consistently won the big game, and will be the guy the Red Sox look to to lead the team going into the World Series.

In the other corner… Mike Lowell. .324 batting average, 21 home runs, team-leading 120 RBIs. During a season where Manny was an offensive no-show and Big Papi had injured knees and shoulder, someone had to step up and carry this team. Who would have thought it would be Lowell? This guy has always been a great defender and had above average offensive numbers. It’s like he found the fountain of youth, and he may have played his way into a new contract with Boston.

This is a good spot for Sox fans to be in… a team with two legitimate MVPs.