Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Hazy shade of winter

Let's just make sure our scorecard is correct here. As the Red Sox descend on the winter meetings in Dallas, a four-day wheelin' and dealin' whirlwind that will require difficult decisions to shape the long-term direction of the franchise, they still have no Replacement For Theo, but instead will unleash four front office "representatives" with varying degrees of clout who will work on deals, pool their knowledge, and ultimately answer to the grand poo-bah, Larry Lucchino. That's how it works, right? Sure seems to be the Sox' plan, and while it's hardly the perfect situation considering all that's at stake, I suppose it beats the hell out of having an uninspiring retread like Jim Beattie or Jim Bowden running the show. Bill Lajoie, Jed Hoyer, Ben Cherrington and Craig Shipley - a.k.a. the Gang of Four - seem entirely competent, and you almost hope one of them ultimately gets Theo's old gig, for the sake of continuity if nothing else. But just in case they're feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, we at TATB are here to help. No, no, don't applaud - helping is what we do. And with that bit of silliness, here is our must-list of four priorities for the Gang of Four:

1. Re-sign Johnny Damon. His agent, the deplorable Scott Boras, is selling him as some heaven-sent combination of Rickey Henderson and Brad Pitt, a world-class leadoff hitter who doubles as a marquee idol. Boras even claims, in the missive he has given to prospective Damon suitors, that Dunkin' Donuts latte sales skyrocketed after Damon began endorsing them. Yes, the crass marketing of Johnny Damon Superstar is all a little much, but his impact on the baseball field can't be ignored: He is a crucial, perhaps irreplaceable, cog in the Red Sox offensive machine, an ideal leadoff hitter skilled with patience, pop, and enough savvy on the basepaths to score over 100 runs eight years running. We all know he throws like his humerus is broken, but his glove and range is better than average in center field. And even when he's injured, as was for much of last season, he plays with reckless abandon, crashing into the wall in pursuit of a Web Gem in a manner that is the perfect amalgam of Freddie Lynn's grace and Yaz's courage. The truth is, the Red Sox need Johnny Damon, and while his request for a seven-year deal is asinine, I hope they have the sense to offer him a short deal for a high annual salary - say three years and $43 million. For all of his agent's bluster, I have a hunch that Damon would accept it. He has said all along that staying in Boston is his first priority, and I believe realizes he needs the Sox as much as the Sox need him. While he's already established as a beloved icon here - whether he stays or goes, we'll always have Game 7, '04 ALCS - his lovable caveman image isn't going to sell overpriced coffee in Anaheim.

2. Re-sign Mike Myers. Sure, the lefthanded reliever is a specialist to the extreme - he pitched just 37.3 innings last season on a team desperate for competent relief - but he's worth keeping around for one reason: He does his one job very well. Myers held lefthanded hitters to a .198 average last season, allowing just 15 hits to them all season. Simply put, he drives lefties mad with his odd arm angles and slow-slower-slowest breaking balls; I'm pretty sure he made Garret Anderson weep openly at least once last season. The Yankees reportedly have interest in signing him (guess that Alan Embree thing didn't quite work out), and the Sox should make him a priority before the Evil Empire can completely bribe and/or brainwash him. Put it this way: Wouldn't you rather see Myers spinning his sidewinding slop to Hideki Matsui than David Ortiz next season? Thought so.

3. Don't trade David Wells to the Padres unless relief pitching is part of the return package. As currently constituted, the Sox have seven starting pitchers worthy of the five rotation spots: Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Wells, Tim Wakefield, Bronson Arroyo, Jonathan Papelbon and the quivering shell of Matt Clement. While Arroyo could - and perhaps should - move to the bullpen, the Sox are still expected to deal from their alleged surplus. Wells, who has requested a trade to the West Coast, is the most likely to go, and a number of rumors have kicked around involving his hometown San Diego Padres, for whom he pitched in 2004. The most recent had 34-year-old second baseman Mark Loretta coming to the Sox in return for Boomer. That wouldn't be the worst trade the Sox could make - Loretta had a quietly sensational '04 season before injuries interrupted him in '05 - but I worry that the Sox are undervaluing Wells. For all of the drama, the Fat Man did win 15 games, and there's something to be said for a lefty that can thrive at Fenway. If the Sox can get Loretta and, say, reliever Akinori Otsuka, well, maybe then it's bye-bye, Boomer. All things considered though, I'd prefer the Sox keep Wells around and instead pursue the intriguing Clement-and-Trot Nixon-for-Bobby Abreu deal that the Philly papers are pushing. Now that's a trade that would make the Sox better. What a notion, huh? Shouldn't improving the ballclub - and not fulfilling someone's trade request - be the primary intention?

Which brings us to the all-important No. 4 . . .

4. Keep Manny, dammit. So tell me again why the Sox are so intent on trading the savant slugger. It can't be his contract. His three-year, $57-million contract suddenly is bordering on a bargain considering the ridiculous sums far less accomplished players such as B.J. Ryan, A.J. Burnett and Rafael Furcal are commanding on the current market. It can't be his production. He's among the most prolific righthanded power hitters of any generation, and if you demand the stats to back this up, you haven't been paying attention and, frankly, aren't worth wasting an argument on. It can't be the overwhelming offers the Sox are receiving. The Angels are offering rickety Darin Erstad (he of the $8 million-plus salary and worse '05 production than Kevin Millar) and ancient Steve Finley (the old-timers say he was sick in the dead ball era) and a handful of their second-tier prospects. The Mets, whose GM, Omar Minaya, supposedly covets Manny to the point of obsession, are offering a middling package headed by Lastings Milledge, their most prized outfield prospect since Alex Escobar. Now, I'm not saying the majority of can't-miss kids actually miss, but if you know what Alex Escobar is doing these days, you are either Momma Escobar or Peter Gammons. You just don't trade Manny Ramirez, First-Ballot Hall of Famer, for could-bes and never-weres and Lastings Freakin' Milledges. You just don't. It can't be his request to be traded. Lucchino himself has said that Manny has asked to be dealt in each of the four seasons this ownership group has run the team, and Manny probably sent his agent into Dan Duquette's office once or twice as well. By now, the Sox should know how to handle this: They tell Manny they will shop him around, do so with little intent of trading him unless David Wright or Brandon Wood comes in return, ultimately hold on to him while telling him they did their best, then sit back and watch as he and Papi spend the summer putting on a fireworks show over Fenway. To be blunt: If they do trade Manny for a couple of wooden nickels and a handful of magic beans, forget the first four items we've listed here, because none of it will help the ' 06 Sox overcome their blockheaded blockbuster.

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

That's Barry Bonds? No way. I don't believe it. Look at those twig arms, desperately in need of some flaxseed oil. C'mon, that's really Oddibe McDowell, right?