Thursday, December 29, 2005

AT-BATS, PATS, AND ALL OF THAT

The Holiday season allows for no let-up whatsoever in the insular galaxy of Boston Sports. The Red Sox make news for simply being the Red Sox; the Patriots stir up controversy with local writers jumping to attack the Genius; the Celtics go out west on one of those road trips that show will show whether or not this team can bond and put together a decent run at some point; and the Bruins actually won a game this month!

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PUT ME IN COACH
I’M READY TO PLAY (clap, clap) TODAY
LOOK AT ME
I CAN BE
CENTERFIELD:


The Red Sox still rule the airwaves with all the attention on what will happen next with the roster. Fans are getting restless as the Blue Jays and the Yankees continue throwing mad amounts of money around at overpriced veterans (The Blue Jays trading Orlando Hudson and Miguel Batista for Troy Glaus? The Yankees throwing $6 million a year at Kyle Farnsworth? What, did the Yankees look at Farnsworth and say: Hey, he choked in the playoffs big time last year. What a perfect fit! This guy is already a true Yankee just like our boy A-Rod!) Apparently, the Red Sox are ruined because they have no center fielder around anymore. Sure, a scroll through my archives on the site here will show that I have never been a big Johnny Damon fan, having long thought him grossly overpaid, and that his recent rock-star attitude and appearance were incredibly transparent.

So who plays centerfield for the Red Sox in 2006? Well, here are a few suspects I have rounded up:

Eric Byrnes:
The former Oakland Athletic is available as a free agent and is cheap, in comparison to the crazy contracts being thrown around, and would like endear himself immediately to the Fenway Faithful. Byrnes, who plays like his flaming red hair is actually on fire, is a hustler and is an above-average fielder. While not a hitter like Damon, Byrnes is more than serviceable in center field. For the price (probably a 2 year deal for $5 to $8 million would be plenty), it is crazy not to bring in the jolt of electricity that Byrnes provides a team.

Corey Patterson: I doubt it would take much of an offer to pry the underachieving former can’t-miss prospect from the Cubbies. Patterson has the skills to pay the bills, but has withered under the Ivy expectations. Maybe replacing Johnny Damon would be too much pressure for him, but I would take a waiver on Patterson simply because of all the tools he has at his disposal. Maybe a spot at the bottom of the order, watching Manny Ramirez get ready for a game (on offense at least), being taken in by Big Papi, and a lot of time with Papa Jack in the batting cage would land us a future star for a couple of low-level prospects.

Preston Wilson: I know, I know, I know: 148 strikeouts last season. But he can catch the ball and mash it too. Last year he had a .782 OBPS to go with a .260 batting average and 90 RBIs. Like Byrnes, I doubt the Sox would have to break the bank to get Wilson. Hitting in Fenway for 81 games, Wilson could put up stats on par with his 2003 season at Coors Field in Denver for the Rockies. Wilson is not a kid anymore, but he is another guy with just too much talent to waste. Maybe Boston is a place he can get back on track.

I would think the Sox can trade for or sign all three of these guys for less money than what the Yankees are paying Johnny Damon. They can have Byrnes, Patterson, and Wilson shore up the outfield depth, which would allow them to try to unload perpetual underachiever Trot Nixon (wait, THIS may be the year he is healthy and fulfils his potential at last!) for another young arm to add to their arsenal.

Then, first base can be manned by Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz (keeping the big guy happy by letting him play more in the field), keep Alex not Joey Cora at shortstop (and maybe bring in Pokey Reese), have Andy Marte be the full time DH and spell Mike Lowell at 3B, and the Sox would then have a dynamite and balanced line-up to go along with the second or third best pitching staff in the AL (Chicago is obviously #1 with the Angels nipping at their heels). For depth, sure, grab a J.T. Snow. Whatever. Grab Pokey Reese to play shortstop and back-up at second base. Then, Graff can be the super-sub and Tito can stick him in the outfield, second-base, shortstop, third, first, whatever.

To be frank, as long as the Sox have Ortiz & Ramirez at 3 &4 in the lineup, the potential is there for scoring 900 to 1,000 runs. This is how I see the potential regular line-ups:

Kevin Youkilis – 1B
Mark Loretta – 2B
David Ortiz – DH
Manny Ramirez – LF
Mike Lowell – 3B
Preston Wilson – RF
Jason Varitek – C
Eric Byrnes/Corey Patterson - CF
Alex Cora – SS

AND/OR

Corey Patterson/Eric Byrnes – CF
Mark Loretta – 2B
David Ortiz – 1B
Manny Ramirez – LF
Mike Lowell – 3B
Preston Wilson – RF
Jason Varitek – C
Andy Marte – DH
Alex Cora – SS

AND/OR

Corey Patterson– CF
Eric Byrnes - RF
David Ortiz – DH
Manny Ramirez – LF
J.T. Snow – 1B
Jason Varitek – C
Andy Marte – 3B
Tony Graffanino – 2B
Pokey Reese – SS

To me, those line-ups are just as good if not better than the 2003, 2004, or 2005 line-ups the Sox trotted out and won at least 90 games with each season. Somewhere, somehow Red Sox Nation has got it in their heads that change is a bad thing. In this liberal hotbed of Boston, I feel confident that I can state that teams need to evolve. Evolution of a team is a natural thing. Survival of the fittest is the way the team needs to be assembled. Young and hungry is a trait that is a necessity for any team. The Sox are not rebuilding, they are reloading. And they are doing it by getting some players with upside, rather than players

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JESTS:

Ahh, another day, another media contingent taking pot shots at Bill Belichick. This time, the media is lining up to take shots at Belichick for daring to put starting defensive players on special teams. Yes, Bill Belichick is apparently a moron, idiot, out-of-touch, stubborn, and or stupid for making football players play football. Yes, one of the few coaches who dares to make special teams part of the game plan rather than a place to get all those scrubs on the field for a few seconds.

Of course, who could forget the role of special team sin the 2001 march to the Super Bowl? All-Pro wide receiver Troy Brown scooping up a blocked field goal and rumbling downfield before lateralling the ball to Antwan Harris who took it to the house to nail the door shut against Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship? Sure, injuries happen. They happen all the time to all players doing what they do on the field. Knowing and preparing for that is what makes the Patriots able to be 10-5 and in the playoffs with their injury problems while Happy Herm and the J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS flounder along with three wins desperately hoping for a top five draft pick this year (which, let me remind one and all, is the year the Jets were to make their move and challenge the Patriots for dominance in the AFC East. Remember Vinnie Iyer of the Sporting News picking the Jets to make the Super Bowl? Vinnie also wrote to draft Larry Fitzgerald as a sleeper pick at WR which I did so he gets off the hook since I am in the championship game this weekend).

So do not criticize Belichick for playing starters on special teams or for having linemen and linebackers on offense in goal-line situations (anyone think Belichick does not checks out BC games and smiles when the Eagles are in First-and-Toal situations?). The Patriots play as a team, and the veteran starters are the ones who need to set that tone. They do, by doling what is asked of them without complaint. That is why it works for the Patriots and not for the other 31 teams. Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, and Troy Brown are the difference. A balance between a coach who asks more from his team and at team with character guys who step up and lead by example for everyone else.

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MY FANTASIES:

Mentioning Vinnie Iyer got me on the subject of my frustrating fantasy football team. After a hot start, my team was beset by bad luck and/or injuries and limped into the playoffs. However, as I have Matt Hasselback and Shawn Alexander on the team, I have been able to ride the Seattle wave down the stretch. Of course, now that I am in the championship game, I find out that Mike Holmgren is planning to rest the starters and only have them play a few series. Great. Now I get to play Eli Manning and Jamal Lewis in their place. My other stud running backs? Ha! I drafted Deuce McAllister. Nuff said. Of course, I also have the Cadillac, who I expect to put up some primo points this weekend, in addition to my big three wide receivers who are all playing for personal stats (100 receptions, 1,400 yards, double-digit touchdowns, etc) and should be begging for the ball in the huddle: Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Torry Holt.

The best news for me is that the Giants are playing Oakland, so Manning should be good for 300 yards; and that Jamal Lewis is running against Cleveland, so 100+ yards are possible. Either way, I do not feel the confidence that is usually there when I have my Seattle connection in place.

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SMURF TURF:

I have to say, I love having a cell phone that receives text messages with updates from ESPN with scores and what not. Rather than risk ruining my streak of not having seen a BC bowl game since the days of Doug Flutie (the freaking Cotton Bowl! Now that was a REAL bowl game. No MPC Computers, Motor City, what-freaking-ever bowls they play in now), I got all the updates on my phone while at work (game started at 4:30 pm eastern, a true sign of a prestigious bowl game) and on the train home. Of course, I gleefully turned on the tube to catch the final drive to see if Boise State could pull off the comeback from 27 to 0 with less than 20 minutes to play. Alas, an interception with a minute or so left ruined my glee. Oh well, congrats I guess to BC. Hope they enjoyed Boise. Next year, win a few games against the cream puffs so you can go someplace warm or make a few more dollars.

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IT AIN’T EASY BEING GREEN:

Well, so much for the Celtics putting it together on the road and pulling the team together ala New Jersey the past two weeks. I just want to fast forward this team about two years into the future and see how the Big Al, Perk, Paul Pierce, Ricky Davis, and Delonte West starting five wreaks havoc on the league and wins 55 games. The 2007-8 Boston Celtics: Faraway, So Close (and yes, that is the title from one of the best songs from Zooropa, the oft overlooked 1993 album by U2. All anyone remembers the album for now is Numb, the spoken-word masterpiece by the Edge and the accompanying great video. Maybe Lemon is remembered as well, but overall Zooropa is one of my favorite U2 albums. Johnny Cash on lead vocals for The Wanderer makes the album well worth the $7.99 bargain basement price tag.)

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SOMETHING IS BRUIN IN BOSTON:

What is brewing in Boston is apathy for the Bruins. Rather than leaping onto the sports scene, the Bruins have disappeared from consciousness. While I still believe the Bruins needed to trade Joe Thornton, and I still like some of the guys they got back, I still think the team was doomed from the outset when management miscalculated the post-lockout salary structure. The Bruins were stuck overpaying marginal talent, which was exactly the opposite of what they thought would happen. Instead of having a team of affordable superstars, they ended up with aging, overpriced talent who cannot stay healthy or put away a game in the third period. Boo to the Bruins Front Office.

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