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.