Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Center of attention

Catching up on the news from Camp Tranquility (better known to much of the media as Camp Ohhowwewishformelodrama) . . .

Coco Crisp says he'd rather start elsewhere than be a backup in Boston: Can't say I blame him, can you? He's in the heart of what should be his prime at 28, he's coming off the best defensive season a Red Sox center fielder has had in who knows how long, and has proven he can be a valuable contributor to a winning ball club even when he struggles at the plate. He is completely justified in wanting to play, and the suspicion is that he will be accommodated before the Sox head north . . . er, make that to the Far East. And I think that is a mistake. Crisp will not be divisive force here (let's stop the comparison to the reprehensible Jay Payton now), he's one injury to Manny or J.D. Drew from playing just about every day, and the argument can be made that he's still the best center field option on the roster, at least at the moment.

In praising Crisp, the intent is not to make a case against Ellsbury, to suggest he's some combination of Ted Cox and Dave Stapleton, a rookie tease destined to fail. The job will be his soon enough, and it may still be his a decade from now. I happen to believe Ellsbury will become a borderline star, play in an All-Star game or two, ultimately enjoy a Brett Butler-type career. But his star turn in October has already made him an idol here, particularly among the Pink Hats and Men's Vogue readers, and while the Bill James Handbook (somewhat more credible on baseball matters than Vogue) projects him to hit .320 with an .810 OPS and 42 steals, I'm not quite convinced he's ready for center stage. His minor league slugging percentage (.425) is only slightly higher than Crisp's as a big leaguer (.409), and it appeared to these untrained eyes that the book was out on Ellsbury last September: get two strikes on him and he'll hack at anything. The Rockies evidently didn't have a copy of said book, but it's cause for at least mild concern. The kid still has some adjustments to make.

Again, my point here is that it's not necessary for this to be an either/or deal. I like both players a lot, and the Sox are a better team with both players. And until Ellsbury proves beyond a doubt that he can lay off a low, inside breaking ball and make the center field job his own - or at least until the Sox get a more than fair offer for Crisp - the status quo is the way to go.


Terry Francona signs a three-year contract extension with club options through the 2013 season: I think we've made it clear how we here at TATB feel about Tito: He's far and away the best manager the Red Sox have had in the 30 years we've been watching, and there's no current manager we'd rather have running this team. He's the right man at the right moment with the right team, and we were incredibly . . . well, relieved to realize that the Red Sox front office appreciates him as much as we do. Francona is the rare manager who is adept at both game management and people management. Part of what makes him so effective in relating to the personalities in his remarkably diverse clubhouse is that he has seen baseball from so many perspectives: he's been a phenom (he and some Ripken kid were the hot shot rookies of '82), a journeyman (after injuries sapped his talent), a minor-league manager, a big-league coach, and front office assistant (for Mark Shapiro in Cleveland). It's almost as if everything in his career - including his failed managerial stint in Philadelphia - was preparation for his present job, and he makes the absolute most out of all the knowledge he has gathered along the way. The Red Sox are fortunate to have him.

Former AL Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon agrees to a minor-league contract: As long as they're not paying him in Ring Dings and (delicious) Yodels, I can't see a downside to this. Colon, who at age 34 (he turns 35 in May) is just three years removed from a 21-8, 3.48 season, is exactly the kind of low-risk, high-reward chance the Red Sox can - and should - take. Sure, he's got a lot of miles on his surgically repaired right shoulder, and there's a chance he arrives at camp looking like he swallowed Curt Schilling in two bites. But there's also a decent chance he gives the Sox the 120-150 innings they were expecting Schilling to eat (ahem) at the back of the rotation. Better yet, his arrival means he's reunited with two of his best buddies from his baseball youth in Cleveland, Manny Ramirez and Julian Tavarez, and the potential for comedy there is endless. Come to think of it, NESN really ought to give those three goofy amigos their own show.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Mike Greenwell, Mo Vaughn, and Bill Lee in the same year? The Red Sox Hall of Fame banquet just got a whole lot more fun . . . and the after-party should really be something.

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