Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Countdown: Six

Six days, six days until the Red Sox open the 2007 season. To tell you the God’s honest truth I really wasn’t that excited for this year’s edition of my absolute favorite team. I felt a little lost really. I think it was all the off season spending, obviously I wanted the Red Sox to get the best players, I didn’t have a problem with the Red Sox paying Dice-K and Julio Lugo but the terrible wrap that JD Drew has gotten of the years made me stop and think a bit.

I felt like going with Drew, a Boras client, was the final straw in the dismantling of the 2004 Red Sox. Getting ready for this season felt weird, it was like going through the motions. I still filled my day with plenty of SoSH, Dirtdogs, Bill Simmons and I found some great new info thanks to Schilling’s blog and Bradford on Baseball. I listened to WEEI everyday and watched spring training highlights. It just didn’t feel the same as it has in the past.

Maybe at first it had to do with the fact that I’m almost a year removed from college and that I won’t be skipping class to watch the 10:05 Patriots Day game or anything like that. That couldn’t have been it, the people I work with still talk Sox everyday, I’m back home and all my old friends are Sox fans and we still talk about them and on top of it all I’m not in New Hampshire anymore. Being back home means I’m 20 minutes from Boston again. What was it that made me feel so lackadaisical and halfhearted about a team and sport that I’ve loved watching for years?

Like I said before I’m convinced it had to do with all the money they spent in the off-season. But like any fan I always want my team to have the best players and that often costs the most money. Prior to spring training I sent an email to good old Joe Reynolds discussing how I didn’t feel great about the 2007 Red Sox, I said I was almost more excited to wait a year and see Jacoby Ellsbury and a fully recovered Jon Lester. I’ll admit I’m really excited for Ellsbury, I have nothing against Coco, I just really like seeing homegrown/Sox drafted players make it. That’s one of the reasons why I love Youk so much, more on him later, and why I am really pulling for Pedrioa this season.

Of course as the season started to get closer I stopped caring about big money signings and what not and I began looking forward to the season. That all culminated with me realizing that I love the Sox and the fact that they spent a bunch on money and seem to be heading down that Yankee outspend everyone road is not going to change that fact.

For some reason Red Sox fans like the think that Boston is this grass roots organization and that the 2004 Red Sox were this lowly, ho-hum team that defied all the odds to win the World Series. They did defy all odds, since they came back from 3-0 in the ALCS but still let’s not act like they had a 75-million dollar payroll. Granted they hit the lottery with Ortiz and guys like Millar, Mueller and Bellhorn pulled more than just their weight but that team certainly didn’t come cheap.

According to USA Today (circa 2004) the Red Sox had the second highest payroll in Major League Baseball at 127,298,500 dollars second only the Yankees, who had and 184,193,950 dollar payroll. I like to include the whole figure so we can all realize how much money that is. Seeing those numbers also makes you appreciate guys like Youk and Papelbon who are being paid about 45,000 above the league minimum.

When you think about that and the fact that the Sox payroll is around 160 million this year there is really no point in trying to pretend that the Red Sox are totally unlike the Yankees in the financial department. Besides if we as fans want the organization to field a competitive team, wait forget competitive we want them to field a championship contender year in and year out that is going to take money. The Red Sox are also one of the most marketable brands in the world, thus making them one of the most profitable teams. Why not spend that money on improving the team by getting better players.

Spending money is the reason the Red Sox were able to get Schilling (that had a lot to do with Francona too according to Schill) and Manny. I might not have been high on JD Drew a month or two ago but I’m certainly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, if he stays healthy and plays up to potential he’s not only an upgrade from Trot Nixon but who cares if he cost 70-million, it’s not my money.

Now that I think about it I can’t believe I was in such a malaise about the 2007 team and that really hit me on Sunday afternoon at about three o’clock. Let me explain. The NCAA tournament was going on, the Elite Eight Oregon-Florida game to be exact, myself and two friends stopped by the 466 to grab a beer and watch some of the game while we waited for the pizzas we ordered. As we sat at the bar watching Oregon-Florida I couldn’t pull my gaze from the Red Sox Spring Training game against the Marlins. I glanced over and saw one Josh Beckett fastball and that was it. Both of the guys I was with are big Red Sox fans but they were into the Florida game (one of my buddies mothers is a Florida grad) I don’t know what it was but I was memorized by the Sox game.

I’ve watched a couple of innings of ST baseball but for some reason Sunday I was drawn in for the first time this year. Maybe it was the fact that it was baseball in HD, which I don’t have at home, or maybe it was just the colors of the green grass and the why the players moved, seeing that it was real or something. It was probably less poetic then that, but either way seeing the dirt jump off of Varitek’s glove after each fastball woke me up.

Six days, six days and I can’t wait. I’m excited about the 2007 Red Sox, I think they have the potential to have a monster year. Schilling seems like he will be good for 15-18 wins, Beckett is ready to be the Josh Beckett we expected him to be, Dice-K is going to be special, Papelbon is back in the closer role. As far as pitching goes the Red Sox have all the components of a championship squad and their lineup is looking top self as well.

Let’s take a look at the lineup. Lugo is an offensive upgrade from Gonzo, he’s going to get on base and he can run and he’s got Ortiz, Manny and JD Drew hitting behind him. I left Youkilis out of that sentence for a reason, he needs his own. Youk has been a full-time major leaguer for just over two years and is going to have a monster year hitting in the two-hole. Mark Loretta hit well there last year and he’s not the on-base guy that Youk is. Youkilis, batting second is going to work wonders for the Sox, he is an on-base, ‘moneyball’ guy and batting in front of the most feared three-four combo in the league is going to give him an opportunity to see some great pitches because opposing teams aren’t going to want to give up a walk and put two runners on (potentially) with Papi and Manny coming up. It’s my firm belief that Kevin Youkilis is going to the 2007 American League Batting Champion. In fact I’m going to call it right now.

Big Papi and Manny Ramirez need no introduction they are going to be a great duo once again. With the numbers they put up it seems like either one could win the MVP in any given year. Thank you Minnesota, to think in 2003 Ortiz was fighting for time in Boston with Jeremy Giambi.

Drew should be a huge addition to the line up. He’s really only had two healthy seasons, so if he can stay healthy he’s going to be fun to watch. Mike Lowell turned out to be a great throw-in as part of the Beckett deal, even if he costs 9-million, you can’t beat his defense and he hit 20 homers last year and was a doubles machine. If Lowell can just keep pulling his weight and hit .275 with 15 homers he’s a great six or seven hitter.

Tek remains a question. Schilling claims he was hurt all last year and that this year he is healthy and ready for another Tek like year. He’s struggled in ST but if he can stay in the lineup and hit at all he will be ok. He’s invaluable to the pitching staff and even if he struggles at the plate and you have to hit him eighth he’s going to help more then hurt.

Coco is a guy that needs to step it up. He got off to a good start but got hurt so I’ve refrained from judging him. I’m really hoping he turns it around and plays at least the way he did in Cleveland, he’s an exciting player and a guy that goes out and has fun everyday and when those guys are playing well they are the most fun to watch. As for Pedroia, anything you get from him is a bonus. As long as he plays solid defense and hits better then he did at the end of last year he will be fine. Boston isn’t a great place to be thrown into the lineup, I love the way they brought Youk along with Billy Mueller, giving him time to get ready. It will be tough for Pedroia but with the lineup the Red Sox have he isn’t going to be looked to for any kind of unrealistic offensive production. Hey, who ever heard of Mark Bellhorn in 2004 and look what he did.

Six days, six days and it’s almost here.

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