Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Official 3,079 Miles... 2006 Boston Red Sox Preview

Boston Red Sox
2005 Record: 95-67; Position 1st

Major Off-season Moves:
Add - INF JT Snow, INF Mark Loretta, INF Alex Gonzalez, INF Mike Lowell, OF Coco Crisp, OF Wily Mo Pena, SP Josh Beckett, RP David Riske, RP Rudy Seanez, RP Julian Tavarez
Minus - C Doug Mirabelli, INF Kevin Millar, INF Edgar Renteria, INF Bill Mueller, OF Johnny Damon, SP Bronson Arroyo

That is a lot of turnover for a team that were tied for the AL East last year - and really does signal the end of the 2004 team, with only 9 of the 25 remaining following Arroyo's trade to the Reds. And while it is sad that so much of that special team (reinforced by watching my Red Sox WS DVD last night) is gone, it really reinforces the belief that the 2004 team was a win it all, win it now group.

Like Neil M with his aging, over-priced gang in the Bronx, I think this team has the potential to win it all, but it also has a significant number of question marks that mean I will not be overly surprised (disappointed, but not surprised) to be sitting here in October dissecting a 3rd place finish.

What would need to go wrong for that to happen? Well, in order, the key issues would be the health / effectiveness of Schilling and Foulke, Beckett's ability to pitch 200 innings, the form of Mike Lowell at the hot corner and... possibly most importantly - how will the revamped bullpen perform?

Well the team won 95 games in 2005 with effectively no useful contribution from either of Schill or Foulke - so anything from them will be a bonus. The signs seem to be that both have looked ok in Spring Training - Foulke gave up his first runs of Spring against the Phillies yesterday, and Schill has had good peripherals, but not so great results, pitching mostly against minor league teams. Beckett has well documented blister issues - which I am not concerned about - and less well documented shoulder issues that apparently led the Sox to consider pulling out of the deal - that I am concerned about, mostly because of its' ability to affect his contribution to our 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons. If one of the three isn't effective (or won't be in the longer term rather than a spot start), the Sox do have Papelbon in the pen, and depending on his progress, Lester in the minors.

Lowell is more of a concern - his decline last year was precipitous, but a reasonable Spring has me thinking he could be at least serviceable. And here is a strength of the 2006 Sox, if he is terrible, the Sox can move Youkilis back to 3rd and play Choi at 1b, or trade for a 1b /3b using the chips they have.

The thing that stood between the Sox and winning (outright) the AL East last year was our pen - looking at the pen at the start of the season, it looked good (though it is hard not to gulp with the benefit of hindsight) on paper - Embree, Timlin, Myers, Mantei, Neal, Halama, Foulke - but on the field - yugh. And we never really caught up. This year the Sox go with DiNardo, Riske, Seanez, Tavarez (when he isn't punching Devil Rays), Timlin, Papelbon and Foulke - much, much better on paper, with reasonable depth at Pawtucket. But building bullpens is a real crap-shoot, and we will just need to wait and see how they do on the field (and again, let's hope that spring training isn't a true indicator, because it hasn't been pretty at times).

So after all that - I genuinely believe that the Sox will win the AL East in 2006 - I think that some of the risks set out above can happen, and they will still win the East as they have the depth to cope with Schilling or Foulke or Beckett not performing to plan - if all three are ineffective, ok, problem time, but if any team lost the equivalent players, they would struggle just as much.

This team will continue to score runs at a very high pace, and has the resources, and chips, to make mid season moves as required. The Youkilis / Snow combo can only be as bad as Miller / Olerud, with significant upside, Loretta can be as bad as 2005, and be better than the combo that the Sox ran out there last year. Gonzalez may well be an offensive downgrade on Renteria, but will help defensively, while Lowell has upside, and the ability to be replaced at short notice if all goes wrong. Crisp will be a great replacement for Damon in CF, and having seen him in a few spring starts, looks to have a speed that will help us in the field and on the base paths - we will never set him free to run at will, but first to third, and scoring from first will show off that speed.

I managed to score tickets for the new seats in the Home Plate Pavillion Club for (my first) opening day, which should be Beckett's home debut, and I can't wait to see how the 2006 season plays out.

2006 Projection: 98-64; Position - 1st
Red Sox blog link - The Joy of Sox

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