February 2010

THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD

     The Red Sox, like the Patriots make no secret of their desire to clean house, whittle away the pieces that they feel are no longer useful, or that won’t ever, in their minds, make a contribution at the Major League level.  I am absolutely fascinated by the fact that the two longest tenured members of the Sox are now way past their primes and clinging to days gone by, hoping for a renaissance.  Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek, mainstays of the two World Series champions are going to be relegated to backup roles in 2010.  The question is, will the old men act like little kids?

     Varitek was a cheap option as a backup to Victor Martinez. Maybe if George Kottaras had shown enough improvement, he wouldn’t have ended up with the Brewers.  We are all painfully aware of Teks’ precipitous dropoff in offensive production these last couple of years.  The company line though, is that he is so valuable as a handler of a pitching staff.  I suppose he can’t hurt you that much if he plays only once a week.  If Martinez gets hurt,  Dusty Brown and/or Mark Wagner better be ready.  Varitek still wears the Captains’ “C” on his chest.  There is a reason he does and it’s because of the respect he’s earned throughout his career.  I envision Varitek as the “good soldier” that won’t rock the boat and relish his role as elder statesman on the club.  It won’t be easy on him psychologically, but there will be so much less wear and tear on him physically that he might actually be productive in the new role.

     Wakefield might be a different story.  In 2009 he made his first All Star team after a stellar first half.  His 43 year old body broke down and was of no use the rest of the way.  Terry Francona made it abundantly clear (at least in my mind) that Wakefield would be used in the rotation on an “as needed” basis.  He more than likely will serve as a long reliever.  Francona talked about 2006 and vowed that he and Theo Epstein would never come up short on pitchers again.  I am enthralled by the rotation of Lester, Beckett, Lackey, Matsuzaka and Buchholz.  Could they become the first team since the Orioles of the early seventies to boast 4 20 game winners?  With all due respect to Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson, it is a real possibility.  Wakefield is making noise about expecting to be in the rotation not the bullpen.  Those in the know realize that although the Sox gave him a two year extension, he was very unhappy with the money.  Giving him the benefit of the doubt, we’ll assume that he too, will behave nicely.  If he is unhappy and is vocal about it, that could affect the team chemistry.  I’m positive that Tim Wakefield has many fans in the Boston clubhouse.

     The third “old guy”, Mike Lowell comes in to Spring Training in some sort of weird “limbo”.  If not for the bad thumb that required surgery, Lowell would be apartment hunting in Arlington, Texas.  Lowell will arrive in Fort Myers knowing that he already is “persona non grata.”  It makes things just a tiny bit uncomfortable.  Not just for the three senior citizens, but for management and the other players.

     Much has been made of the revamped defense and the deep pitching.  The offense is being underestimated, I think. On paper, the Red Sox might be very good.  Haven’t really heard anyone mention the chemistry.  That could be the X-factor heading into 2010.

IT’S MILLER TIME IN COOPERSTOWN

     I think it’s remarkable how well Dan Hoard and I get along.  Given the amount of time we spend together during the season, we genuinely like each other.  That is not to say that we agree on everything.  He likes to try new places for lunch and I could eat a tuna sandwich from Subway every day.  Dan tries different imported beers when we go out and I drink only the “King of Beers”, Budweiser.  One area where I believe we are in 100% agreement is when it comes to Jon Miller.  The Giants announcer is second only to the great Vin Scully.  This July,  Miller will take his rightful spot in the announcers’ wing at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, as the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, for meritorious service to baseball broadcasting.  Miller has a great voice, but that is only the beginning.  There are lots of guys with good pipes, but Miller has substance.  Come to think of it, I’d probably enjoy listening to him recite the alphabet.  His timing is impeccable and his vocabulary is extensive.  In short, he is just about the best.  His partner in San Francisco is former PawSox announcer Dave Flemming, the man I replaced in Pawtucket in 2004.  Dave is a super-intelligent guy to begin with, with degrees from Stanford and Syracuse.  Imagine the Phd. he’s getting sitting next to Miller every night.  I met Miller back when he was working for the Orioles, before he achieved his legendary status.  I will never forget him parading through the press box at Camden Yards in bright orange gym shorts and a dress shirt and sandals, with a paper plate full of hot dogs.  Beats the heck out of going into the office every day, doesn’t it?  My guess is that he’ll wear a nicer outfit when he is enshrined.  I can guarantee, however, that he will give the days’ best acceptance speech.

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     Joe Nelson has signed with Boston.  The 35 year old reliever, who spent 2009 with the Rays, inked a minor league deal with the Red Sox and could spend time at McCoy this season.  Nelson pitched for the PawSox back in 2004.  There are two things I’ll always remember about Joe.  1.) His “Vulcan” pitch and 2.) He wound up marrying his surgeon.  This signing will also cause some turmoil in my nephews’ house. Seven year old “Duke” told me he hated Nelson because he pitched for Tampa.  The kid is already a Sox loyalist.  I’m going to have to play the role of Henry Kissinger and set up a summit so the two “adversaries” can meet.  Poor Joe has no idea what he’s in for.

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     It looks like we can take Joe Mauer off our wish list.  The MVP catcher for the Twins is scheduled to be a free agent after the 2010 season, but reports out of Minnesota indicate that Mauer and the club are on the verge of a ten year deal that could be worth around 200 million dollars.  It would be a departure for the Twins, signing one of their stars to a long term deal.  He is just 27 years old so a ten year pact isn’t outlandish.  Only Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are currently under such a long-term contract. 

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