Sadly, for us, baseball season has come to a close a little too early, and usually when we’re in this situation it’s because something’s not right and we need to fix it. We ask ourselves what we should do now. But this year it’s a little different. The Rays barely hung onto the division and barely made it to the World Series. We don’t have debilitating flaws. It makes you wonder how unstoppable we’d be if we hadn’t had to battle injuries and late major trades.
And that’s just it. We don’t have that many offseason decisions to make because, for all intents and purposes, we’re already golden for next year. Just like in 2006 and 2007, the injuries piled themselves on this year but next year it’ll be smooth sailing in the health department. The new guys have gotten used to the city, and now that they’ve tasted October baseball they’ll want more.
But there are still some issues that need to be addressed. Issue number one: Jason Varitek. We love the man. He’s our captain for a reason. He’s a mentor to the younger players, he handles the pitchers very well, he’s caught a record four no-hitters, he’s a leader on and off the field, and he still has his moments. Those moments, unfortunately, are becoming more and more sporadic though, and it’s not clear that the offense can afford to simply consider him an “easy out” with the assumption that he won’t hit anything and then be pleasantly surprised when he does. It’s true that the position of catcher isn’t known for its offensive production, but it’s also true that catchers who can hit do exist. I see three solutions here. One is to give Tek something like a three-year deal and also take on a young catcher, and have Tek and the new catcher split playing time, such that the new guy learns from Tek and Tek becomes his mentor and teaches him everything he knows. That way, when Tek reaches the end of his deal, we’ll have a Tek, Jr. to take the reigns. A second solution would just be to have Kevin Cash fill the role of Tek, Jr. He’s got a great arm and his offense has potential. The third option I’m seeing is to keep Tek, not as a player, but as a kind of coach for the pitchers. Sort of an assistant to John Farrell. That way the pitchers as well as the rest of the clubhouse can benefit from his presence and leadership without having to feel pressure to compensate for his lack of offensive production.
Another concern will obviously be Mikey Lowell. He’s set to have surgery on his right hip soon. He’s getting old. He spent most of the second half on the DL, and when he did play this season, he didn’t show signs of being as dominant as he was last season. I’m not saying his outstanding 2007 was a fluke. I’m just saying that it’s going to be more and more unlikely that his numbers will be comparable in the future. We might want to consider taking on another starting third baseman, just in case. This will allow Mark Kotsay to go back to being a spare outfielder, which is something else we need, and it’ll allow Youk to go back to first and get himself another Gold Glove.
I’d like to strongly suggest that we make Jed Lowrie our starting shortstop permanently. Since Nomar we haven’t had stability or reliable offensive production from the shortstop position, and signing Julio Lugo to a five-year contract was supposed to take care of that. We all know how that turned out. Ironically, he came over from Tampa Bay, and little did we know that it would be a complete disaster. The differences between the defensive and offensive abilities of Jed Lowrie and Julio Lugo are absolutely staggering, and after spending so much time watching such talent and potential between second and third base I don’t think I can go back to watching error after error and out after out. I’d also like to strongly suggest that we keep Alex Cora and Sean Casey on board for 2009. Alex Cora is a great utility guy, and Sean Casey hits line drives like nobody’s business.
In terms of pitching, it’s difficult to say. Theo Epstein isn’t worried about Beckett, and after his most recent postseason start I think that’s justified. Next year we’re in line to have three aces on our staff: Beckett, Dice-K, and Lester. We’ll have Wake, too, and the good news is that as a knuckleballer the quality of his pitching won’t decline. (The quality of his pitching at present is a completely different story.) But we’re going to need a reliable fifth starter. I’d like to see Justin Masterson fill that spot. He made a handful of starts this year and rocked in all of them. As for the bullpen, let me state first that Mike Timlin should retire immediately. I don’t even want to count how many games he lost for us this year, and don’t even get me started on Game 2 of the ALCS. Even if he doesn’t retire, we’ll need at least one more reliever, two if Masterson does go back to being a starter. The more airtight our relief is, the more invincible we’ll be. Think about it. A pitching staff that includes Dice-K, Beckett, Lester, Papelbon, Okajima, and Delcarmen is pretty formidable already. Some additions and improvements could make us lights-out for the full nine innings.
In other news, Big Papi’s wrist is fine and he won’t need surgery in the offseason. Tito, however, is scheduled to have surgery on his back. I give him a lot of credit. Boston is a tough place to manage, and he makes it look easy. He is officially one of the greatest managers in the game. The Patriots completely decimated the Broncos and won on Monday night by a score of 41-7. And after six games, the Bruins are third in their division with a record of 2-1-3 for a total of seven points in the standings. Manny Fernandez and Patrice Bergeron are back in action this season, and Bergeron, PJ Axelsson, and Andrew Ference are this year’s assistant captains with Zdeno Chara wearing the C. Chuck Kobasew is on the injured reserve. The Red Sox and Patriots have been doing some serious winning lately, and it’s becoming painfully obvious that the Bruins need a Stanley Cup.
I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I congratulate the 2008 Boston Red Sox, the American League Division champions! True, our October didn’t end like it could have or should have, but remember, there’s always next year. And there’s always last year.
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