Monday, November 13, 2006

Nine innings: 11.13.06

Woo-hoo! At last, we've got ourselves some legitimate hot stove chatter. (Jeter-style fist pump for joy!) . . .

1. If Buster Olney is correct and the Sox are shelling out 30-something million just for the posting rights to 26-year-old Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, well, I guess Sox fans have at least temporarily lost their right to yelp about the Yankees' massive financial advantage. And you know what? Go ahead and call me greedy - I'm giddy about the possibility of Matsuzaka, the MVP of the World Baseball Classic, doing his mysterious gyroball thing from the Fenway mound. You bet I believe the hype about this guy. Chris Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus broke down Matsuzaka's stats, translating them to what they might look like had he been pitching in the majors rather than Japan . . . and damned if he doesn't fall into some extremely elite company. Of course, this is no done deal. As we await the verdict on who the high bidder is, the lingering question is this: Is Olney right? While ESPN's ace baseball blogger is a terrific writer and more often than not a voice of reason, his batting average on scoops is somewhere near the Mendoza Line; I'd hardly be shocked to see Matsuzaka grinning and wearing an Angels hat at a press conference three days from now. My hunch? I do think the Sox are the winner, with a bid around $30 million, trumping the Yankees' pretentious $27 million bid. (Consider the significance of the number 27 to them for a minute, then commence gagging.) I can see the Sox doing this for a handful of reasons: 1. Theo has long said the Sox's mission is to add premier players heading into their primes, and by all accounts Matsuzaka qualifies. 2. The posting money doesn't count toward the luxury tax, a huge benefit to the Sox. 3. It opens up lucrative Far East possibilities - and don't think Matsuzaka won't be shilling Red Sox Nation membership cards in the Japanese market. 4. The Sox are desperate to improve their ballclub this offseason, but with few upper-minors propects to trade and an underwhelming free agent class, it's one way to get a coveted player without terribly overspending or trading away the farm. 5. It sticks it to the Yankees. Can you tell I really hope this happens?

2. So if this Matsuzaka thing does pan out, the Sox are set with a rotation of him, Schilling, Beckett, Papelbon, and Wakefield. There's not a Kevin Jarvis in the bunch. Better yet, it means we can put a long overdue halt to the incessant pining for Roger Clemens in certain corners . . . at least until midseason, when he'll so subtly drop hints through his agents that he might be willing to come out of his latest semi-retirement and pitch for a mere $10 million per month. Just go away, phony.

3. Unless the Sox cough up the big bucks for the one reliable middle reliever on the market - come on down, Justin Speier! - much of their Extreme Bullpen Makeover is probably going to have to come from within the organization. That's a frightening thought upon first consideration, but I think at least these two sleepers are poised to help the Sox next season. 1. Bryce Cox. The '06 draft pick from Rice has a sick slider to go with his high-'90s heat . . . in other words, he sounds like the pitcher Craig Hansen was supposed to be. 2. Devern Hansack. I know, he doesn't have the pedigree . . . but I was extremely impressed with his poise and stuff as he pitched Portland to the Eastern League title last season, and he wasn't too shabby in his season-finale no-hitter* either.

4. After devouring Gordon Edes's insightful and whimsical lists of five players who might be in the mix at each position for the Sox, I offer my list of five players I hope they pursue: 1. Speier (though the fact that he's 17 for 37 in save opportunities in his career might be hint that he's not cut out for the pressure of Boston. 2. Eric Gagne (someone's got to close, and while I'm suspicious of his mysteriously shrunken physique, he's still mighty effective when healthy). 3. Aubrey Huff (love the thought of him as a 400-at-bat bench player, though Eric Hinske is basically the same guy). 4. Octavio Dotel (once a dominant setup guy, he should be better in '07 now that he's a over year removed from his Tommy John surgery). 5. Kerry Wood. (Sleeper closer candidate. What, he reupped with the Cubs? Drat.)

5. And five I don't want. 1. Julio Lugo (seriously, what is the front office's fascination with this erratic mediocrity?) 2. Joe Borowski (journeyman benefited from Florida's spacious park) 3. Ray Durham (plays for the Giants . . . stunning power surge at age 35 . . . hmmm . . .) 4. Doug Mirabelli (one lousy Dr. Charles-produced sequel was enough). 5. Barry Zito (cool dude and fun to watch, but he's a Yankee batting practice pitcher and is not worth the cash he's going to get).

6. As far as that J.D. Drew-to-the-Sox rumor goes . . . I suppose I could be talked into thinking it's a good idea, but I sure ain't sold right now. While he played 146 games this season and led the Dodgers in OPS, homers, and RBIs, he has some well-established characteristics that might not go over so well in Boston. For one, he's injury-prone, and while he's had only one significant ailment in the last three seasons (a broken wrist), he's got a reputation as someone who is reluctant to play through a particularly sore hangnail. Those who look at him from a distance and see a young Trot Nixon will be sorely disappointed when they watch Drew up close - this is no Dirt Dog by any stretch. He plays the game with a casualness that borders on indifference - he's the reincarnation of Fragile Fred Lynn, minus the willingness to challenge a wall - and something tells me that's not going to go over well with the Dirty Cap Admiration Society once they realize what he's all about. Drew's talented, all right, but that's the extent of his appeal.

7. With the announcement this week by the Yankees that Jason Giambi will be a full-time DH next season (assuming his pharmaceuticals remain effective), and assuming Brian Cashman finds the list of free-agent first baseman as uninspiring as everyone else does (Kevin Millar, anyone?), here's some conjecture that might just become reality: Nomar Garciaparra, first base, New York Yankees. I'd like to think he has too much soul to ever wear the pinstripes, but they did covet him last offseason, and you know Georgie Porgie is always in favor of luring iconic ex-Red Sox to the Dark Side.

8. Okay, so maybe he was mean to Michael Holley, and maybe it wasn't wise to say he didn't like watching baseball as a fan (funny how that one word is always omitted in most criticisms). Still, I remain convinced that the cause of Keith Foulke's injury problems in his final two seasons in Boston can be found in the physical sacrifices he made during the '04 postseason, particularly in the midst of the ALCS comeback when he threw 100 pitches in three days. Foulke traded two seasons, if not the rest of his career, to do his damndest to make Johnny From Burger King's baseball dreams come true that October, and for that you must be forever grateful. We should, and will, remember him for this first and foremost: Foulke to the set, the 1-0 pitch . . . here it is. Swing, and a ground ball stabbed by Foulke! He has it, he underhands to first . . . and the Boston Red Sox are the World Champions. For the first time in 86 years, the Red Sox have won baseball's World Championship. Can you believe it?" Yeah, you bet I'll remember him well.

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

Mark Littell's small claim to baseball fame comes from serving up the series-winning home run to the Yankees' Chris Chambliss in the 1976 ALCS . . . that is, until now.

(Click the "watch video" link, and prepare to cringe, fellas.)

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