Wednesday, March 30, 2005

RED SOX OUTFIELD PREVIEW

One area the Red Sox appear to be set at this season is the outfield. Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and Trot Nixon give the World Champions a very balanced look across the outfield expanse. Ramirez is one of the best right-handed hitters in the game right now. Consistently batting over .300 with 35 to 45 home runs and 100 plus RBIs, he’s an annual MVP candidate. His defense in left field, though greatly improved, is still average. Fortunately, as a left fielder, his flaws are minimized and he has the advantage of 80 games and years of experience with the Green Monster.

Johnny Damon, when not partying, divorcing, remarrying, growing his hair and beard out, or writing books, actually plays baseball once in a while. A former speedster, Damon does not steal bases as he did in Kansas City, but in Oakland and then here in Boston, that part of his game has been minimized. Damon has decent power, but prides himself on his leadoff hitter ability. He has good patience at the plate and works pitchers deep in the count and draws walks. He is an excellent fit as a table-setter for David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Damon used to be an above average fielder back in Kansas City, but since his concussion in the 2003 playoffs, his fielding has been shaky at best. He has problems going back on balls over his head and plays deeper than he did in his earlier years, allowing more singles to drop in front of him. His arm strength has always been below average. Damon is entering the last year of his contract, and hopefully he will put aside the book tour long enough to play some ball.

Trot Nixon is one of the few home-grown Red Sox and, believe it or not, he actually pre-dates Dan Duquette as he was drafted by Lou Gorman. Nixon had a season to forget about last season, injuring his back on the drive to Florida and missing more time than Nomar. Nixon is a good defensive player who could fill-in at centerfield in a pinch. Nixon gives the Sox a solid, unspectacular player who will around .275 with 20 home runs and 80 RBIs, which are good numbers considering he will likely hit in the two hole. As I stated in a previous blog entry, this is the ideal spot for Nixon and he should have been hitting there years ago. A healthy Trot Nixon is a big advantage for the Red Sox this year as Gabe Kapler, as well liked as he was in the clubhouse, and as huge as his Swartzerneggerian arms were, was the weak link in the line-up until Trot returned in September.

The bench is thin, with Jay Payton, a former starter the primary backup at all three outfield positions. Adam Hyzdu, who I thought would finally get a shot as reserve outfielder was dealt to San Diego where he will likely fill Payton’s role last season as reserve outfielder. Payton struggled to put up power numbers in Petco Park in San Diego just like every other hitter. Also, like every other hitter, his power numbers went through the roof in Colorado. Payton is a good defensive player with good athleticism, decent power, but all-in-all, nothing more than an adequate replacement for Gabe Kapler. David McCarty and Kevin Millar both have experience playing the outfield and could fill in if the Sox are in a tight spot.

The last name to throw around is Rule Five pickup from Atlanta, Adam Stern, who is likely to spend a majority of the season stashed on the disabled list. Stern has speed and gap power consistent with a young player. While he likely needs another year in the minors, the Red Sox will try to use him like Lenny DiNardo who came over in the Rule Five draft last season. DiNardo pitched sparingly and was always the first guy on the disabled list. This season, now that he does not have to spend the season on the twenty-five man roster or be offered back to his previous team, DiNardo will likely get a lot of work in Pawtucket. Expect Stern to follow the same path.

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SWEET LOU:

Mentioning Lou Gorman got me thinking about how when he was general manager there were always these reports about him putting together mega-deals involving him trading Roger Clemens for a couple of players and a couple of prospects. Somehow, whether it was the other team getting cold feet or management over-ruling him, the deals never came about. Considering how in hindsight they never went anywhere with Clemens at the end of his Red Sox career and they got nothing back for him leaving, I’d love to find some old articles detailing these supposed blockbusters and see just who, with history behind us, the Red Sox would have received and if there were any potential deals for young future stars.

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Tomorrow I intend to look at the top picks of the NFL draft and the uncertainty surrounding San Francisco, Miami, and Cleveland, who are no doubt desperately looking to find some poor sucker who wants to pick in the top three and will give up multiple picks in a draft that mirrors the Patriots: good depth, few stars.

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