After a week sequestered in conference rooms for my real job and a weekend catching up with my family, its good to be back in the swing of things. With “Truck Day” only a day away and Spring Training right around the corner, its time to answer some questions about 2007 that will have a dramatic impact on the Red Sox season.
In his latest column on MLB.com, Red Sox beat reporter Ian Browne asks a series of questions. After having seen Allen Chace at Over the Monster go a little tongue in cheek, I figured I would do my best to throw some thought into these questions myself.
1. How well will J.D. Drew fit in?
It hasn’t been the dream introduction for Drew in Boston. Between questions of his heart and his durability and a less than warm welcome by the vocal contingent of Red Sox Nation on sports radio, Drew must be looking forward to baseball as much as anyone in a Red Sox uniform.
From what I can tell of his personality, he’ll fit well in the clubhouse. Guys like Bill Mueller have thrived in Boston with a similar laid back, quiet demeanor in the club house. I can’t imagine a situation where he isn’t warmly received by his teammates.
The fans, however, present a different situation. Even with the excitement of the signing of Daisuke Matsuzaka and the move of former closer Jonathan Papelbon to the starting rotation, no player will be looked at as critically out of the gate in 2007 as J.D. Drew. Much like Mike Lowell last year, a hot start in the regular season could turn skeptical fans into the best supporters that baseball has to offer.
Hustle, stay healthy, and show the fans how much you love the game (and play your best against the Yankees); that’s all we can ask of you.
2. Can David Ortiz take it to yet another level?
Is there another level? I think Ortiz has been on the highest level that baseball can be played since the second half of the 2003 season when he emerged in Boston.
The more important question should be, can Papi do what Manny Ramirez has done and make excellence a consistent and expected achievement over the remainder of his career? I see another monster season in front of #34.
3. Is Manny Ramirez happy?
Does it matter? Manny’s relative state of mind is not as important as his presence in the middle of the Red Sox lineup. Manny has started slowly the past few seasons before really catching his rhythm. But over the course of the season, you know what you’ll get from him; .300+ avg, 35+ hr, 100+ rbi, 1.000+ ops, a few headaches, and a few laughs.
What I do know is that while it seems like Papi carries the Red Sox offense during the season, its only because Manny’s consistent excellence makes him disappear from the limelight at the plate. Without him there, this team would struggle to be as consistent a lineup day in and day out as we have come to expect.
4. Who will close?
It won’t be Papelbon. After that it’s certainly up for grabs. Manager Terry Francona recently was quoted saying the race was between veterans Joel Pineiro, Mike Timlin, Brendan Donnelly, and Julian Tavarez.
I expect Pineiro to be the guy the Red Sox “hope” makes it out of Spring Training as the closer signaling an effective transition to the role during Spring Training and renewed confidence in his stuff. If not, I fully expect Mike Timlin and his experience closing in Boston to give him the edge over the rest of the bullpen. He is the ultimate fallback position for this team’s needs in the ninth inning.
Unless one of the young guns, Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen, or Devern Hansack, blow people away in Fort Myers while others falter, I see them continuing to develop at both the Minor and Major League level.
5. Does Craig Hansen need more time in the Minors?
I’ll give you a quick answer here; Yes.
I think Hansen has stuff, but he doesn’t have the control he needs and the understanding of how to use his stuff to generate outs at the Major League level. I expect he’ll be a very good player in the show, but I would start him out in Pawtucket out of the pen where he can get some consistent experience in high leverage situations while still learning the finer points of the craft.
6. Will the real Coco Crisp step forward?
I’m an optimist and the next two answers will showcase that. Not only will Coco be healthy, but he’ll be batting lower in the order. I expect both of these things to push Crisp back to the level that we saw his limited start showcase in 2006. Crisp will not look like the player we got to know for the remainder of the 2006 season. He’ll be a pest at the bottom of the order, continuing long innings after the middle of the order has done some damage and kick starting the offense as it rolls over back to the top turning the lineup over to get the most at bats out of the big guns as possible.
7. Can Josh Beckett make the adjustment?
Yes. He can. Will he? I don’t know. He was that much of an enigma last year. But his health looks strong, and with that not hanging over his head and that monkey off his back, I expect him to start to wow people with his stuff again this season. He now knows what he can’t do. He knows that he can’t power it up and past bats in the AL East without pitching smart and using his secondary pitches and controlling the corners with his fastball.
8. Will the Captain regain his groove?
Jason Varitek isn’t a .280/20 hr hitter anymore. That just isn’t in the tank for a full season anymore. This season more than ever, Varitek will earn his money as the “best catcher a pitcher can have”. With new pitchers in new roles all over the staff, language barriers, high expectations, and a question-laden bullpen, I am comfortable with putting Varitek in the seven or eight hole and getting what I can out of him while he makes the Red Sox staff better than they would be without him.
Also, with Trot Nixon gone, Varitek has lost another voice to lean on as a clubhouse leader. He sets the tone of this team with his work ethic and attitude. I think he’ll rebound in 2007, but not to his previous heights.
9. How good will Papelbon be in the rotation?
When Papelbon talked with Dennis & Callahan from Spring Training last season, he was asked his goals in baseball. He quite confidently stated, as if he had thought this through and believed it was out there for him to take, that his career goal was to end up in Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame. At that time, he answered the question as a starting pitcher. Last season took him down other paths and he blazed them with profound execution.
I expect nothing less than him this season as a starter. He won’t have a .92 ERA, but I fully expect to look up in the middle of the season and see Jonathan Papelbon’s numbers up there with the best that Boston and the rest of the American League has to offer. We’re about to see the beginning of a special career.