The Continuation… The Offseason

I will do multiple posts regarding my thoughts on the off-season. I finally have some time and should hopefully keep things up to date to start and through this season. The big topic this off-season was the loss of Jason Bay. In my opinion, this was a big loss, no doubt. But overall, I think this teams offensive production might in fact be better and more consistent. Jason Bay while hitting 36 home runs, also struggled mightily hitting only .267 on the year. While he maintained a ..384 OBP, I like my number 4 hitter to have a little better contact then that. Here is how I project the season to start and the Avg/OBP/Slg % for the starting lineup to look something like this:

1) Jacoby Ellsbury .302/.360/,440

2) Dustin Pedroia .305/.385/.465

3) Kevin Youkilis .312/.408/.500

4) Victor Martinez .301/.365/.490

5) David Ortiz .276/.360/.520

6) JD Drew .268/.380/.470

7) Mike Cameron .280/.355/.470

8) Adrian Beltre .268/.355/.485

9) Marco Scutaro .270/.370/.400

Now if you ask me, the only teams that are as or more satisfied with that lineup are the Yankees and the Phillies, both of whom were in the World Series last year. Some may like to add St. Louis to that list, and I’d have a hard time arguing against that with the long term deal in place for Holliday (who I thought might find his way to NY as both teams lacked a LF and interest in Holliday was scarce).

So we are a top 4 lineup? I can’t be too disappointed with Theo. How did I get these numbers? Simple. For players in Boston, I looked at their past 3 seasons, their past health, their present health, and their age.
For new players, I also took hittrackeronline into consideration, and adjusted Cameron, Beltre and Scutaro’s numbers according to their power strokes as it relates to Fenway. I then took the slg % down a bit, for the purpose of taking outside factors into consideration, such as how every game has so much pressure in Boston.

Now of course some of these players, such as Cameron and Beltre may hit slightly less than the numbers posted, but Victor Martinez could wind up hitting more and as you can see, this lineup is one power stroke away from the best in baseball. I have full faith in Epstein that he can lock down a bat at the deadline. However, with that in mind, Should Beltre and Cameron both thrive at Fenway, who could we take out? Sure we could replace Scutaro with Hanley Ramerez, but that aint happening. No one would be much of an upgrade over what we’ve got already. Now don’t take that the wrong way, of course Grady Sizemore is an upgrade over Mike Cameron… However, what I’m saying is that is a Grady Sizemore enough of an upgrade over Cameron when he is playing well, to justify giving up multiple top teir prospects to acquire him (just talking in terms of 2010, as extensions are a whole different monster)? I don’t think so. Next we have Jeremy Hermida who after a grand slam in his first major league at bat, has yet to show why he was once a top prospect. Moving into a more competitive atmosphere and a ballpark that his swing was made for will most certainly not hurt his chances. Also he is on a team where he can become an everyday outfielder, but doesn’t have to be. He can take his time to get into the flow of Boston and just have some fun. All implications are that he will train as if he is a starter. With the health issues of JD Drew and the wrecklessness of Jacoby Ellsbury crashing into walls and diving for balls, he could find a home in the corners of Fenway very quickly.

Next we can look at starting pitching. The best in baseball. Don’t let anyone fool you. The Yankees staff is an incredible staff as well, no doubt. Vazquez will likely be more successful this time around, Sabbathia is a beast, Burnetts got lights out stuff if he can control it, Pettite gets a win more often than not every 5th day, however they are just one step behind. Last year was a fluke. Lester started the season awful as he experimented more with his changeup and other offspeed pitches. The return to the fastball along with his filthy sweeping curveball, and the eventual finding of the changeup yielded amazing results as from May till the end of the year, Jon Lester may have been the best pitcher in baseball not named Tim Lincecum. Yes, he was right there with Grienke and Hernandez. Somehow wins seemed to evade Lester last season, with the pen blowing a few and the Sox not giving him support. Not at all Lesters fault. Matsuzaka was injured the whole time, and I said it all season. Matsuzaka looked like he was landing in a standing position after his pitch and I’m sure he and Farrell discussed this. Hiding this from the team though was a bad move on Dice-K’s part but I understand his honor and I encourage Red Sox Nation to move on. He’s in the best shape he has ever been in, and he is healthy. I expect an ERA closer to the 3.00 mark this year and 15+ wins from Dice-K. Call me crazy, but I don’t think we have really seen this guy at his best yet, and I do think its coming. Even when he misses, he barely misses. He misses intentionally, however he just needs to work that first pitch strike a little more often to persuade the hitter to swing at those pitches just off the plate.
Lackey is just going to help this ball club. He and Beckett will share a bond the same way Beckett and Schilling did, because they are both bulldogs with winning mentalities. I think Buchholz may get into the mix with these guys too, which would only boost his confidence if he can keep up. Lackey has had winning seasons every year since his second full year in the majors. Even when he struggled, he kept the Angels in games and his offense usually fed off his intensity and picked him up. That’s exactly the type of pitcher we need with the clearly amazing defense we possess.
Beckett will rebound. He’s still young and approaching his big payday. Boston will give him an extension should he choose to give them a reasonable price tag and a healthy 2010. Theo made it very clear he did not bring in John Lackey to be Josh Beckett’s replacement. Beckett will still likely get the ball on opening day, and Jon Lester will likely follow, making Lackey the best #3 in baseball, by far. And again, not enough can be said about Lackey for not only taking it like a man, but asking to come to Boston for it? These are the guys (like Bay) that Francona loves to manage. Competitors who care more about winning than their payday or stats. Those are tough to find in Major League Baseball today.

The pen will return solid led by Papelbon (who I’m sure hasn’t put down his ball and glove since October), Okajima and Ramirez. They will be backed by Manny Delcarmen, Daniel Bard and new pitcher Ramon A. Ramirez (no relation). Perhaps some current minor league starters such as Michael Bowden and Junichi Tazawa will round out the pen later this year, with Tim Wakefield also likely to see time as a spot starter as well as a reliever. All that Wake will ask from the Sox this year, is that they give him the ball as often as they feel is possible for him to take a crack at the all-time Red Sox wins record, surpassing Roger Clemens. As most people can see, the loss of Wagner and Saito will not really haunt the Sox. The only thing they are definitely missing is that power lefty out of the pen, however Bard works a pretty solid cutter into his repertoire and could fair pretty well vs lefties and Okajima should be enough to get the job done. This is not to mention that if Dustin Richardson is as effective in 2010 as he was in 2009 and can keep the ball down, he could also be an effective lefty specialist. Richardson has a tendency to leave the ball up and over the plate when his command is not on however, and it results in a lot of extra base hit line drives and home runs. Richardson can be successful without painting the corners as much as other effective relievers because of his downward movement on his fastball and a plus slurve that keeps hitters off balance. The change-up still has a ways to go.

As is quite obvious, the Sox are in a position to have great success in 2010. They also avoided making any deals that would tie them down to anyone who could be ineffective. The over the top payroll will go back to normal next season when $48 million comes off the books, including Lowell, Ortiz, and Lugo, allowing the Sox to be in the wonderful position to decide next year if they have to spend to replace these guys, or if Beltre and Cameron will be enough in 2011 for the Sox to succeed. I think they will sign one big bat next off-season or at the trade deadline this year, and that’s about the only addition we will see next year. Perhaps Joe Mauer if he doesn’t sign an extension with the Twins? Carl Crawford? Barring a huge 2010, I don’t see Papi returning as the DH given the versatility of the rest of the infield/outfield. He just doesn’t fit the mold the Sox are looking for. They would like a DH who is still capable of safely playing at least one of the infield or outfield positions. Even if Papi has a huge 2010, for a similar price and much less risk, they can probably land a guy like Carl Crawford, shift JD Drew to the DH, and have 3 CF in the outfield continuing their excellent defense and good OBP/OPS model while not losing too much power, and acquiring speed much like the 2002 Angels. More on this to come later.

Coming up in the next few posts will be my thoughts on each of the acquisitions made by the Sox this offseason, and how I believe it will effect 2010 and beyond.  Stay tuned.

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