Friday, December 09, 2005

Winter meetings wonderland

The winter meetings are over, and your World Champions-Once-Removed Boston Red Sox look a lot different this morning than they did during the final, futile evening of the past season. Naturally, you've got questions. As always, we'll pretend to have some answers:

Q. Who is this Andy Marte cat and why should the thought of him in Boston make me as jacked and pumped as Pete Carroll at a Rose Bowl pep rally?

According to the 2005 edition of Baseball Prospectus, Andy Marte is merely . . .

The best prospect in baseball and a future superstar. As a 20-year-old toiling in the mostly hitter-unfriendly Southern League, Marte hit .269/.364/.525. In only 387 at-bats, he smacked 52 extra-base hits. He's got monstrous power and a broad base of hitting skills. In his prime, expect a few seasons of Adrian Beltre, circa 2004.

Q. So he's actually a better prospect than the departed Hanley Ramirez? Sweet. Just one nagging, teensy little concern here: If Marte's such a Can't-Miss-Kid, why were the Braves so willing to trade him for a 30-year-old shortstop who looked like he was suffering from osteoporosis last season?

Here's the explanation Braves general manager (and future Hall of Famer) John Schuerholz offered during an interview on WEEI's Dale and Holley Friday afternoon: Atlanta needed a shortstop after Rafael Furcal snapped up the Dodgers' ludicrously lucrative three-year, $39 million offer, and the Braves think Renteria's miserable 2005 season was an aberration and he will return to his four-time All-Star form in his National League comfort zone. Further, with Chipper Jones entrenched at third for at least three more years, there was no place for the kid to play after attempts to convert him to a corner outfielder were unsuccessful, according to Schuerholz. It's a perfectly reasonable explanation, though one must be wary of dealing with the Braves: they have an exceptional track record of evaluating their own prospects, of hanging on to the phenoms and dealing the frauds. (David Nied and Mike Kelly are nodding in agreement.) It's entirely possible that they believe the ceiling for Marte is lower than what is currently being projected, and felt it was worthwhile to trade him while his value was at its peak. As far as a postmortem on Renteria's one-and-done career with the Sox, I think it's fair to say our expectations were too high and he underachieved, always a recipe for disappointment if not disaster. We do wish him well - he carried himself with quiet dignity and never made excuses for his Offermanesque play - but ultimately, his greatest contribution to the Red Sox came while he was playing for the Cardinals:

Q. Who will the Red Sox shortstop be on opening day?

Shortstop? Who needs a stinkin' shortstop? The Yankees haven't had one for years, and it's never stopped them from winning tons of regular season games. (Man, that was really fun to type.) Unfortunately, the truth is that the days when the Sox had the stability at short that Capt. Jetes provides the Yankees are getting farther and farther away in the rear-view mirror. The Sox will start their fourth opening day shortstop in four years this season, and your guess is as good as mine as to who it will be. Right now, it's no one, which is why the Sox are suddenly scouring a free agent market that features little more than washouts and retreads such as Rey Sanchez and our old pal Pokey. There's Mr. Hamm, whose stock has fallen faster than any superstar in recent memory. There's Alex Gonzalez - the mediocre one, not the other mediocre one. Gary DiSarcina and John Valentin are still in the neighborhood. And there's really not much else, unless you think old friend Orlando Cabrera can be had from the Angels or believe the Orioles would trade Miguel (B-12) Tejada within the division. At the moment, this sure does look like a major oversight by the Gang of Four. While the Sox front office certainly appears to be approaching this offseason like that overzealous buddy in your rotisserie league - deal first, ask questions later - you'd have to say the balance of trade is in their favor so far. They've given up Renteria, Hanley Ramirez, Anibel Sanchez, Henry Garcia, Doug Mirabelli, Jesus Delgado and boatload of John Henry's cash. They've added Josh Beckett, Marte, Guillermo Mota, Mike Lowell, Mark Loretta, and someone named Jermaine Van Buren. Looks good on the screen, but they're traded two shortstops without getting one back, and they can't seem to make up their mind whether the priority is this year's club or the future. They've raised enough doubt about whether they have a master plan that you can almost imagine something like this taking place during a recent staff meeting:

BILL LAJOIE: Just got off the horn with Schuerholz, fellers. He's taking that stiff Renteria off our hands tonight, and get this - we're getting Marte. Gotta get the boss to throw in some cash, though. Anyone know where Mr. Henry disappeared to?

JED HOYER: Last I saw him, he said he was heading off to the tanning booth. Dude is getting flat-out bronzed. Anyway, the deal's done, huh? Gotta like Marte, right, Ben?

BEN CHERINGTON: Marte? Who's cares about him! I'm married to Wendi Nix! Have I ever mentioned that? Wendi Nix! She's hot! Smokin! How awesome am I? Pretty awesome, I'd say! I married Wendi Nix! Damn!

HOYER: Right. Thanks for the input, man. And for the last time, when we're in the office, we wear pants. No exceptions. Cripes. Anyway, Bill - we hanging on to Marte, or should I get Tampa on the phone and see if they'll move Lugo?

LAJOIE: Lugo? Hell, no. Last time I talked to them, those greedy sumb----- asked for Trammell and Whitaker. I offered 'em Rusty Kuntz and slammed down the phone. Showed them. Ha.

HOYER: Love the '84 Tigers stories, Bill. Great stuff. But it seems to me we'd better figure out who's playing shortstop. I think Lugo ----

LAJOIE: Ramirez is playing short. Don't patronize me, young feller. I've got chunks of punks like you in my ----

HOYER: Manny? I don't think Manny can ----

LAJOIE: Hanley. Cripes. Who else? We've been talking this damn kid up since he was a fetus. It's about time he played.

HOYER: We traded him to the Marlins, Bill. Two weeks ago. Got Beckett, Mota, and one of the 33 third baseman on our roster. Ring a bell?

LAJOIE: Oh . . . oh, no . . . oh, #$%@. Uh, maybe you should call Tampa, kiddo. Ask 'em about that Lugo feller. And let 'em know we might move Chester Lemon in the right deal.

Q. Random pop culture question: What is the funniest, best-written show on network television?

The correct answer is The Office, and don't bother emailing to tell me that the British version or some atrocity such as "My Wife And Kids" is better. This is personal. I'm pretty sure the actress who plays Pam is channeling my wife. My wife is pretty sure she married the real-life Dwight Schrute.

Q. Stick to sports, Finn, and answer this: Do you have any crackpot theories regarding the Sox that are rattling around in that whistle-pea you call a brain?

Why, yes, yes I do. Two, actually. 1) A rejuvenated Theo will return to the Red Sox as team president when Larry Lucchino leaves to join the new ownership in Washington, perhaps even this season. 2) The Sox will not trade Manny unless they get full value in return, having come to the belief that the supposedly self-inflicted personal problems he is going through might just make him finally grow up.

Q. Manny? Maturing? You are a crackpot. How about using some common sense on this one: Johnny Damon. Staying? Going? Turning to the dark side?

Staying, for something like four years and $44 million, perhaps with an option for a fifth year. Scott Boras, Damon's devil of an agent, is getting predictable. He's trying to pull the same sleight-of-hand negotiating tricks he used when Jason Varitek was on the market last year: Claiming there's a "mystery team" that has made a lucrative "secret" offer, pulling the puppet strings in encouraging his player to praise another club in hopes of getting the Red Sox to up the ante, asking for the moon so when his client receives the stars it won't look so ridiculous. Apparently, though, the Sox are the only team to make Damon a confirmed offer. After a few more days of Boras's reindeer games, the strong hunch here is that Damon, who wants to stay despite his transparent recent praise of the Yankees, will take it.

Q. So is that why the Yankees are close to bringing back Bernie Williams and his mummified remains for a 298th season in pinstripes?

I think they want Bernie back because they've got those awesome monuments beyond the outfield fence, and Steinbrenner thought it would be cool to have a statue in front of it. Actually, we're glad to see Williams return to the Yankees for a couple reasons: 1) His skills are shot, so he makes a great Yankee from a Red Sox fan's perspective. 2) Williams really is what all the Joeys in the Bronx bleachers like to call a True Yankee, and it would be a shame to see stay one year too long as, say, a Seattle Mariner. Do I need to remind you of how painful it was to watch Dwight Evans end his career with the Baltimore Orioles?

Q. Did the Blue Jays really spend $102 million on A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan?

Yup. Is Canada a great country or what?

Q. What's Roger Clemens going to do now that the Astros can't sign him until May 1?

1) Pitch for his favorite country in the World Baseball Classic in March: Go Texas!
2) Help his wife hock this overpriced junk, probably by forcing the K kids into sweatshop labor.
3) Continue to work on his "art" projects, provided he gets that fancy 64-count box of crayons for Christmas.
4) Call Steinbrenner and tell him he wants to end his career in pinstripes, and he really, really means it this time.

Q. Why is there a single tear trickling down Buckethead's cheek?

Because we're still littering? Because he knew he shouldn't have brought his favorite pipe to Michael Irvin's house for Thanksgiving? No, and . . . well, maybe. But we think the reason Buckethead is inconsolable these days because while Buckethead made his legend as a Maine Guide, he just loves his Red Sox, and like many of us, he's terribly saddened by the systematic dismantling of the "Idiots." This fraternity of admirable, talented and damn-near crazy ballplayers came together in the spring of 2003 and promptly delivered three wildly successful, wildly enjoyable seasons. And now their nothing but days gone by. We knew the end was coming - they looked worn-out and weary against the superior White Sox, and three-fourths of the infield plus Damon are free-agents - but that doesn't mean we're not permitted melancholy feelings when we see Bill Mueller become an L.A. Dodger, or read Gordon Edes's eloquent tip o' the cowboy hat to Kevin Millar. It may have been time for them to go, but that doesn't mean they won't be missed.

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Dewey as an Oriole? Just. Plain. Wrong. It's as disconcerting as seeing Cowens as a Buck, Law as a Jet, and Orr as a bleepin' Blackhawk.