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Five Questions: The 2009 Boston Red Sox

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A few days ago, I asked MVN's very own Tim Daloisio (of the Sox blog Firebrand of the American League) what he thought about the Braves's former crosstown rival Red Sox. He answered me on June 11, so the answers are a few days old. I wrote editors' notes to update the stats where necessary.

Let's get this out of the way... according to Buster Olney, the Red Sox "have been doing their own research on Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur." Rany Jazayerli recently used the Sox's interest in Francoeur as evidence that the Royals should be in on him, which tells you how much stock smart baseball people put in the Red Sox's talent evaluation. So is there any chance that Frenchy heads to Fenway? How terrified are you that this could actually happen?

There's been a lot of talk on FireBrand and across the blog/twitter-sphere about this topic with most of it in the Anti-Francouer camp. While I understand that he's got some major flaws (plate discipline, lack of ability to get on base and generally over-rated ability at the plate), I think the Red Sox should be interested, only so much as they can "buy low" and add a piece to the outfield puzzle. Common sense would have J.D. Drew and Rocco Baldelli bound for the DL again at some point this season. With Mark Kotsay as the "next in line", the Red Sox could still view Francoeur as a useful alternative. The Red Sox have brought in low risk, most likely low reward outfield pieces nearly every season without expecting much; Gabe Kapler, Dustin Mohr, Bobby Kielty to name a few.

So to answer your questions:
  1. What are the chances?
    There's a chance, if the Braves will take Julio Lugo.
  2. How terrified are you?
    He would only be an emergency piece, not a player relied upon to bring home the championship. In that respect, if you'll take Lugo, I'll welcome Frenchy.
Apparently, some former Tigers farmhand named John Smoltz has been pitching pretty well at Pawtucket. Any chance the Braves will catch his first cup of coffee with the big league club? How much do you expect from him this year?

It would be some kind of sweet irony if the John Smoltz' first start in a Red Sox uniform came against the club he'll be forever associated with. [ed. note: sadly, he's scheduled to debut June 25, days after the Braves leave town. I wonder if that's a coincidence.]

All reports out of the minor league rehab starts have Smoltz pitching very well and within a start or two of being ready to return to the bigs. The question for the Red Sox is where does he fit? Beckett and Lester aren't going anywhere and Wakefield is similarly entrenched in the rotation. That leaves three options: 
  1. Red Sox trade Brad Penny to make room for Smoltz.
  2. Dice K hits the DL and continues some rehab to try and regain his mental and physical form.
  3. The Sox juggle a six man rotation for a few weeks giving some starters some extra rest along the way and defer the decision.
I'll give all three equal chance at happening at this point with the six man rotation likely the easiest of options to pull off. If it were my decision, unless I could bring in a shortstop for Brad Penny, I would choose option two. Any way you cut it, Smoltz gives them a tremendous amount of flexibility moving forward.

My expectations for Smoltz are rooted in September and hopefully October. Anything other than a big start down the stretch or in the playoffs is purely gravy for me.
Speaking of the rotation, the Sox have had a few problems, as their starters have put up a 4.93 ERA so far, good for 26th in baseball. How confident are you in the Beckett-Lester-Dice-Wake-Penny crew? How badly do you need serious innings from Smoltz, Justin Masterson, or perpetual prospect Clay Buchholz?

Have you seen Josh Beckett or Jon Lester lately? 7-1 with a 1.57 ERA since May 16th. [ed. note: Lester pitched great in an ND on 6/13, but Beckett got shelled his last time out. The duo is now 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA since May 16th.]

Their early season struggles were rooted in the anomaly of bad luck and a few mistimed poor pitches. I am very confident that the top of the rotation will be the Red Sox strength moving forward. As much as I think Tim Wakefield will give you what he always gives you, slightly above average overall performance, my confidence in Matsuzaka is nearly as low as my confidence in Julio Lugo. (Well... that might be overstating it a hair.)

That's where the depth of the Red Sox rotation will pay dividends over the course of the season. While Smoltz will be a nice addition and Masterson has proven he can be effective as a starter, Clay Buchholz is the wild card that could be a true game changer should something unexpected happen with the rotation.
Concerning the starting 9, former Brave Nick Green has hit surprisingly well in the absence of Julio Lugo and Jed Lowrie, but the elephant in the room is David Ortiz, who's hitting like he wants to break Jose Vidro's "Worst DH Ever" record. Plenty of people are whispering "steroids"; the Sports Guy thinks he lied about his age and is much older than we think. Why has he fallen off a cliff, is his career over, and if so, what will it take to eject him from the lineup?

Ortiz has been awful. There's no way around it. Given the recent hullabaloo around bloggers and accusations of steroid use (or misinterpretations of by mainstream media), I'll dance around the subject with generalities. Every Major League player is within the cloud of suspicion, that includes David Ortiz. But I find it hard to believe that even if he did at some point in his career use, that this steep a drop off in production would be attributable only to possible past PED use. Is it fair to say that he didn't likely stop using just this past offseason, if he ever did? I think PEDs are the easy answer to cop out to for Ortiz.

As for Bill Simmons's assumptions of age, when I asked J.C. Bradbury (who is doing his own research on age and performance) the very same question, he asserted as did Bill James to the Red Sox organization when they brought him in in 2003 that he has a player profile in line with his stated age.

I think the real answers are rooted in a player rebounding from a series of injuries, including a wrist injury that at first sapped his power, then threw off his timing, with further adjustments setting his swing in the land of the lost. Don't look now, but three home runs in his past five games, along with signs that he's finding his true swing more often than he was have the Red Sox happy to wait him out before making any moves. [ed. note: the five games were June 6-11. He hit another homer on June 16.]

Will he be the perennial MVP candidate that he was? Not anymore. He certainly has, as expected, regressed. Is he as bad as he's been? I don't think so. Lets set the over/under on the way home at .265 with 20 home runs between now and game 162.
And finally... Manny. Are the championships tarnished? (Pretty clearly, Manny wasn't the only cheater on the lineup, though they had the good sense to ditch Nomar before they went all the way.) How do you put it in perspective? If you had an HOF ballot, what Red Sox from the past 10 years would you vote for?

Steroids have been rampant this era and there isn't likely a World Series, or even playoff team, that didn't have at least three players using on their roster at any given time. Sure you could point to members of the '04 and '07 teams that could have used, but it's no difference than any other team in baseball. Unless PED use in the Sox clubhouse was as rampant as recreational drug use was to the '86 Mets, I don't view their or anyone else's championships as tarnished.

As for Hall of Fame votes, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling get my vote. By the time Manny Ramirez comes around, others with HOF credentials and similar "issues" with PED use will have set the precedent for their inclusion in the Hall, but my gut is that he'll be in and I would likely vote for him as well.

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