Red Sox line up for spring
I was hoping to use this space to write Dan Duquette's
Red Sox obituary. There are, after all, so many good memories from the
Duquette Era: letting Mo Vaughn and Roger Clemens walk and getting nothing
in return, spending over $30 million on Carl Everett, firing former American
League Manager of the Year Jimy Williams and watching the Sox go in the
tank last season. Unfortunately, it looks as if the new owners are going
to let Duquette hang around for a few more days while they find a replacement.
The team Duquette built is now well into spring training
and had its first spring game with the Twins yesterday. As the trend has
been under Duquette, the 2002 Sox are made up of a few true stars, many
average and often overpaid veterans, and a starting rotation with a lot
of question marks. Out of this collection Manager Joe Kerrigan is supposed
to assemble a team to challenge the American League Champion Yankees.
Let's start with the stars. Pedro Martinez, when healthy,
is unquestionably the best pitcher in baseball. The problem is, like a
lot of small pitchers, his durability is always a concern. Pedro basically
played half a season last summer, and his absence was probably the main
reason Boston's pitching staff fell apart towards the end. But Pedro's
put on fifteen pounds in the offseason and hopefully he can stay healthy
this year. Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and catcher Jason Varitek are also
coming off injuries, Nomar to his wrist, Varitek to his elbow. If they
can regain their past form, the Red Sox will be immeasurably better, both
at the plate and in the field. Manny Ramirez is healthy, but it remains
to be seen whether the star lef-tfielder will play like the MVP candidate
of the first half of last season or the mediocre hitter of the second
New center-fielder Johnny Damon highlights an outfield that could be one of the best in the majors, with Manny and right-fielder Trot Nixon. Ricky Henderson should back up Manny, and I look forward to watching the future Hall of Famer steal bases and talk about himself in the third person.
Most of the infield returns from last season. Hopefully
the team is planning on a replacement for the slow bat and even slower
feet of Jose Offerman, another great Duquette signing. Boston fans seem
to be salivating about 6-7 Tony Clark, a switch-hitting first baseman/DH.
Maybe they're forgetting that Clark makes $7 million a season, is injury-prone,
and is only in Boston because he was released outright by the Detroit
Tigers- one of the worst teams in the American League.
The pitching staff is again full of aging veterans and unproven
kids. It may not be as bad as last year, but there's no one besides Pedro
that can really be counted upon. Newcomers John Burkett and Dustin Hermanson
should be the third and fourth starters, but Burkett is 37 and Hermanson
was benched by the Cardinals during the playoffs last year. Derek Lowe
may make a smooth transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation,
or he may give us a less-frequent version of last year's Fenway meltdowns.
The bullpen may be more solid this year, with Tim Wakefield, Rolando Arrojo,
closer Ugueth Urbina, and one of the greatest obese athletes in history,
Most of this article may sound pretty negative, but I'm just trying to be realistic about the Red Sox's chances. If everyone stays healthy and Kerrigan continues to work magic with the pitchers given to him, the Sox may contend for the wild card and maybe even the AL East. The biggest upside for Boston this year is that the clubhouse atmosphere should be vastly improved. This was a team that couldn't even agree to collectively donate a day's salary to the victims of September 11, because they were too busy arguing amongst themselves and with management.
The chief malcontents, Carl Everett, Mike Lansing, and Dante Bichette, are all gone, and hopefully Dan Duquette will soon follow them out the door. As a listener to Boston's WEEI sports radio station put it, "If Carl Everett is a cancer in the clubhouse, then Dan Duquette is Phillip Morris." With a new manager finally holding players accountable for their conduct, maybe some kind of team chemistry will return to the Red Sox. The New England Patriots proved to us this year that great team chemistry can more than compensate for average talent. Hopefully we'll see the same lesson demonstrated at Fenway Park this summer.
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