Friday, November 23, 2007

Give Thanks, Red Sox Nation!

The national day of thanks has come and gone, and it was a banner one for Boston sports fans in 2007, especially here at Bosoxwest HQ.

Our firstborn son Miller arrived in the very, very, silly early AM on October 19th (taking me out of the blogosphere for the ALCS and World Series thereafter, obviously). His mom did the Nation proud. He is a healthy and happy baby boy, and remarkably, he has never witnessed a Red Sox (or Patriots) loss. Beckett stopped Cleveland while he was making his way into the world, and as we know the Sox got hot and ran the table from there. We give thanks for him every day.

I've been explaining to him that past performance may not be indicative of future returns, but for now, we're enjoying it. A huge, heartfelt thanks to the Twenty-Five for bringing home the hardware in 2007. This team was incredibly easy and fun to root for.

Ah. Boston Red Sox, World Series Champions. It has a nice ring, doesn't it? No pun intended.

The organization wasn't done there though: this is a process. The front office has publicly stated that they try to manage the personnel of the team with the goal of winning 95-96 games. Get to the dance, and try to get hot in the postseason. Obviously, this year proved that this recipe can bring success, but it also acknowledges that in baseball anything can happen. We should take a minute to give thanks to the Yankees who proved beyond argument that you can't simply buy a championship. That axiom frames the Sox F.O.'s strategy and makes it palatable to the rabid fan base here in the Nation.

Given the success of the current group of guys, the F.O. had a fairly simple offseason mandate - sign Mike Lowell. We were all tempted by the shiny bauble that is A-Rod but that was a path fraught with peril. A Boras bidding war can destroy an offseason in it's entirety - they could have ended up with neither player, and Plan C really looked like shit (Joe Crede, anyone?). Then, assuming they "won" the A-Rod sweepstakes, the signing itself is a risky proposition. One, you've got 20% of your payroll tied up in a position player who's 32, and this goes on for 10 years (although the percentage maybe shrinks, the cost for production doesn't). Two, if he gets hurt you are screwed, because that contract is pretty much uninsurable after three years. And three, there are the character questions. It's hard to argue A-Rod makes any team worse in the short-term, but the equation did not include a short-term component.

So fan and clubhouse favorite Mikey Lowell returns, and on the terms the F.O. wanted, a three-year deal. Nearly every predictive analysis has Mike's production dropping off going forward, and I'm of the opinion he had a career year in 2007, but I think he's a very smart ballplayer who made some adjustments in his approach to the game this year. The home run power will almost certainly slide, as it has, but if he can continue to control the strike zone and improve in hitting to all fields, he'll still put up good offensive numbers. The second piece is the key: Lowell is an historic pull hitter who doesn't drive the ball the other way well, although he worked on that this year. He'll need to protect the outside half of the plate in order to get pitches he can put his power swing on. But he still has a short, compact swing, and I think he'll adjust okay. People are also forgetting that Drew should offer better protection next year, making Lowell's job easier.

Statistics aside, I'm a believer in "chemistry", or basically attitude, and I think it benefits the team to have a guy like Mike on the field and in the clubhouse who keeps guys focused on staying in the moment. It has to be incredibly difficult to stay focused on the task at hand in the Boston madhouse, and the team needs lodestones in order to succeed. Mikey is such a player.

So thanks to Mikey Lowell. As if it weren't enough he led us to a World Series victory, he took less money and fewer years to stay with the Nation. Regardless of what he does between now and 2010, he deserves a place in the pantheon.

The Hunt For Red Santana

The saga of the offseason will center around Johan Santana. The Yankess obviously cannot allow the Sox to acquire him, but the Sox, while they would hate for the Yankees to do so, would probably more easily see the silver lining in the price they paid. Having Crisp as a "surplus" trading piece makes the deal more palatable f or Boston - the MFYs would probably need to deal two of Joba/Hughes/Kennedy, plus a Tabata.

That said, I am on the fence. Santana has a lot of miles on him, will command a ridiculous salary, and we'd be letting go our best young arm (I cannot imagine any way they accept Lester over Buchholz, really). There are no guarantees in this game, so Buchholz may not be the ace we think he is, but also, as they say, TINSTAAPP.

There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect.

What that means is that by and large, pitchers are born not made. It is normally used to refute assertions that Player A will acquire pitching skills as he matures. Once a pitcher reaches a certain level, what you see is what you are getting. There is of course upside due to growth (and with CBuck this is the truly scary part), but you know if he's a pitcher or not. And we know Buchholz is a pitcher. There has never been any doubt of that. He may not be Santana, but he's much younger, cost-controlled, and doesn't cost other players.

I really am ambivalent. It would be pretty hard to complain about watching Santana in a Sox uniform. And yeah, it would suck pretty hard to see Johan in a MFY uni, but it would be pretty freaking cool to watch Buchholz take the majors by storm. Depending on how you look at it, I guess they call this a win-win.

I'll say thanks for that, too.

No comments: