Sunday, November 27, 2005

Nine innings 11.27.05

Playing nine innings while wondering if Keith Foulke ever returned the truck . . .

1) If you don't like the Josh Beckett deal, then I'm guessing you were one of those Sox fans who was too crushed by the Aaron Boone Experience to watch his star turn in the 2003 World Series. Or maybe you just don't follow the National League. Or perhaps you are Brian Cashman and your life is back to that old familiar hell since the GM-free Red Sox somehow heisted this 25-year old fireballer from the Marlins (along with third baseman Mike Lowell and reliever Guillermo Mota) for a couple of prospects and some magic beans. Those are reasonable justifications. Otherwise, there's no excuse for not being jacked and pumped about this trade.

One of our main concerns about the Red Sox at the end of the season was the state of their starting rotation. There was no ace, no real No. 2 starter even, and as promising as Jonathan Papelbon's future appears, it was a foolish leap of faith to suggest he's ready to anchor a big-league staff. It was apparent that the Sox desperately needed a young, proven potential ace. Yeah, and good luck getting one, right? Quality starting pitching is the scarcest commodity in baseball. Pitchers of great skill and success aren't available often, which is how perennial teases such as A.J. Burnett end up commanding $50 million in the open market.

So what did the Sox do? They went out and got Beckett, a five-year proven veteran with - and this is not hyperbole - as much ability as any pitcher in the game. He's fantastically talented, has low mileage on his arm (the blisters are a blessing in this sense), is younger than many current so-called prospects (such as the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang), and rose to the occasion in the biggest starts of his career, establishing himself as a Yankee killer. His best years are ahead, and the ones behind him are pretty damned good. To put it another way: If I were to draw up a list of pitchers I'd love to see on the Red Sox, his name would be second, right below Johan Santana's. I still can't believe he's actually on the Red Sox. When do pitchers and catchers report again?

Much has been made about Beckett's cockiness, as if it's is a bad thing. I'm all for the brashness so long as he can back it up. I want a pitcher who thinks he's good and acts like it. Someone who'll knock Jeter on his ass when he dangles out over the plate. Someone who'll yell at Giambi to "Sit the bleep down" after striking him out. Someone who believes he can win Game 6 of the World Series in Yankee Stadium, then goes out and does it, throwing a shutout on three days' rest.

The Red Sox have that someone now. And make no mistake, Beckett is cocky. He likes to talk, especially when the topic is Josh Beckett. In terms of eloquence, he can make Roger Clemens sound like Winston Churchill, yet he possesses the affable, aw-shucks Texas charm to pull it off. You'll rarely hear anyone describe him as unlikable, except for maybe the guy dusting himself off in the batter's box. A beat writer buddy of mine who dealt with Beckett frequently in the minors had this to say in an email after the deal went down:

"One of the times I talked to him at length, I'm pretty sure he set the Eastern League record for F-bombs in one interview. The record was previously held, from what I hear, by Lenny Dykstra of the 1984 Binghamton Mets. I was impressed. You guys in Boston are going to love him and he's going to love Boston. He's like Clemens and vintage Eckersley rolled into one."

The Rocket and the Eck? Okay, maybe that's hyperbole. But given Beckett's youth, his ability, his track record, and the sense that this is one of those perfect confluence of Right Player/Right Team/Right Time . . . maybe not. I know this much: I can't wait to find out.

2) If you're a regular (or even irregular) reader of this site, you're likely aware that I'm a charter member of the Hanley Ramirez Fan Club. I saw the kid play a handful of times, probably a dozen, during the year-and-half he spent in Portland, and every damn time he did something that reminded you that he had the brightest future of everyone on the field. The kid was absolutely electric, all grace and style and raw athleticism, whether he was sprinting down the line at Ichiro speed to leg out an infield chopper, or springing skyward as if launched off a trampoline in order to snare a liner to short, or sizzling a homer over the Plywood Monster, Hadlock's shoddy replica of the Green Monster. Everything I saw suggested the hype was justified, which is why it was so perplexing that his statistics (.271, six homers) were so pedestrian this season. Maybe he was bored and felt he belonged at a higher level, or maybe his fantastic physical ability masked fundamental flaws, or maybe he's still got some maturing to do in order to stay focused over the long season. Hell, it seems like we've been hearing about Ramirez since Lou Gorman was the GM; it's to forget he's still just 21. Ultimately, though, I think this was the appropriate time to deal him. Prospects are nothing but promises, and one more statistically mediocre season would have taken some of the sheen off Ramirez's superprospect status. I hope and believe that he will live up to his vast and varied talents with the Marlins. But by bringing Beckett to Boston, Ramirez has already helped the immediate future of the Red Sox more than he would have by playing for them.

3) Lost in all the hubbub surrounding the deal is the realization that Mike Lowell's arrival spells the end of Bill Mueller's steady three-year tenure in Boston. While the timing is probably appropriate - the adage tells us it's better to part ways with a player a year too early than a year too late, and Mueller is 35 years old with knees that need constant oiling - we're still sad to see him go. With exception of David Ortiz, he might have been the most universally liked player among Sox fans. He played a Gold Glove-caliber third base, seemed to save his hits for the moments when they were the most necessary, and constantly exuded professionalism in a rowdy clubhouse that occasionally surged past goofy and went straight for tasteless. The ledger says he hit 41 homers, drove in 205 runs, and batted .303 as a member of the Boston Red Sox. His legacy will be much greater than numbers.

4) And speaking of legacies, I hope the rumors that the Sox are considering bringing back Dave Roberts are simply Hot Stove conjecture. His place in history here is spotless and secure - he'll be forever revered here for The Steal, and if you need further explanation as to its relevance, there will probably be statue commemorating it outside of Fenway at some point. But should he return to Boston as a replacement for Johnny Damon, his legacy could be tarnished ever so slightly by the realization that as an everyday center fielder, he makes a heck of a pinch runner. Roberts just isn't much above average as an everyday ballplayer, and the Sox can do better, The Sox should re-sign Damon (hey, it ain't my money), hang on to Boomer Wells (as a 15-game-winning lefty, he should fetch more than Roberts), and let the practitioner of the most important steal we'll ever witness remain a hero in our hearts. There's no need to have all his flaws exposed over the long season.

5) Just heard on "SportsCenter" that the Dodgers are interrupting Grady Little's annual possum huntin' expedition in order to bring him in for an to interview for their managerial opening. Now, I know there are no new ideas in Hollywood anymore, but is it really necessary to re-make the "Beverly Hillbillies" yet again?

6) The joke is so weary now, even the wind-bloated morons WEEI have picked up on it: If we knew the Sox were going to make trades like this, they should have gotten rid of Theo sooner! HARHARHARHARHARHARHAR! (Good one, Big O! You da man! We're not No. 1 for nothin'!) Recycled one-liners aside, this trade does make the post-Theo front office look splendid . . . so why do I have this tiny little nagging concern about the motivation behind the whole thing? Is it because I suspect Larry Lucchino, his approval rating somewhere below our president's at the moment, is fully capable of doing something/anything drastic to make the Sox look better, even if it comes at the expense of making them better in the long run? Perhaps. My biggest fear was that the Sox would try to make a huge splash after Theo left - say, something truly ridiculous, like throwing $57 million at B.J. Ryan - just to prove life goes on without him. I'm not trying to be contradictory here - again, I was giddy when I heard about the trade, I think it was necessary by all measures that don't involve the makeup of the 2006 PawSox, and it was a no-brainer no matter what Lucchino's true motivations. It's just that I'd feel 100 percent certain about the whole thing given more details regarding Gordon Edes's oh-by-the-way revelation that Theo had put in time at the Fenway offices five days in a row recently. What was he doing? Was he involved in this? Is he still the de facto GM? Is there a chance for reconciliation? Or was he just there to gather his leftover Pearl Jam CDs and tattered copies of old Bill James Baseball Abstracts? Until I get confirmation that Theo was cool with this, I'll continue to wonder: What Would Theo Do?

7) The acquisition of slugger Carlos Delgado during the Marlins' liquidation sale won't keep Mets GM Omar Minaya from pursuing Manny Ramirez - in fact, Minaya may have his heart set on Manny more than ever, if this story is to be believed. While TATB is on record as believing the best thing for you, me and David Ortiz is Manny's continued employment as the No. 4 hitter for the Boston Red Sox, I hope Minaya continues his pursuit right up the point of desperation. And that's when the Red Sox should say, "Why sure we'll deal you Manny, Omar . . . how's David Wright sound?" Unreasonable? Hell, yeah. Wright's the second coming of Scott Rolen, a mortal-lock superstar for the next decade - he should be one of the most untouchable commodities in baseball, and I imagine even Minaya realizes as much. But . . . but what if he doesn't? Minaya was mocked in "Moneyball" for his lack of knowledge regarding his own farm system, which explains why he'd deal the likes of Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips for Bartolo Colon, then turn around and deal Colon for a heap of junk that included Rocky Biddle, Jeff Liefer, and a broken-down El Duque. Is it possible that he has disdain for young players in general, that in a moment of dreaming of a Delgado/Manny combo, he'd give up Wright's future for Manny's present? As I said, I doubt it - even a dummy, nimrod, or Joe Morgan would know enough to deem Wright untouchable. But I sure hope the Sox try to find out. (One other quick rant regarding Manny: WEEI's Steve Buckley and Pete Sheppard were discussing the hypothetical merits of a Manny for Ichiro swap the other night. While such a deal might be the best return the Sox could get for Manny, it is far from the no-brainer that Buckley and Sheppard so condescendingly suggested it was. Ichiro has devolved into a one-dimensional singles hitter, and one who had a lower on base percentage than Kevin Millar this season. In making his feeble argument, Buckley went out on a limb and suggested that Ichiro would be a Hall of Famer someday, completely ignoring the fact that Manny would be a lock for Cooperstown if he quit the game tomorrow. I usually respect Buckley's baseball knowledge - I've been reading his work since I was 13, when he was the Portland Press Herald's beat writer for my beloved Maine Guides - so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here. But Sheppard? The only thing he's an expert on is what dipping sauces go best with chicken fingers. To paraphrase Mo Vaughn: Stupid Boston radio hosts! They stupid! Okay, end of rant.)

8) I suppose I'd give the thumbs-up to that rumored Matt Clement-for-Lyle Overbay swap. But all things considered, I'd prefer the Sox continue pursuing Texas's Adrian Gonzalez, a 23-year-old former No. 1 overall pick (and yes, one of my pet former Sea Dogs) who's buried behind Mark Teixeira. Gonzalez remains an unrefined gem, and paired with Kevin Youkilis could make a pleasantly productive righty-lefty platoon at first base. I might even suggest that Gonzalez would outproduce the overvalued Overbay given equal playing time. Besides, Clement's presence in the rotation is much more tolerable now that Beckett's arrival has bumped him back to the fourth or fifth slot, rather than being miscast as a No. 2 starter. If the Sox can somehow convince him to crawl back out of the hole he dug behind the Cellular Field mound during his somewhat less than gutsy playoff performance, he might be a useful member of the Boston staff in '06.

9) As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

"Now batting for Pedro Borbon . . . Manny . . . Mota." (I have no idea if Manny Mota is related to Sox newcomer Guillermo Mota. But anytime you can work a reference to "Airplane! into everyday conversation, you're doing the work of the Comedic Gods as far as I'm concerned.)