Hold on, I am at the edge of my seat in anticipation: will the Red Sox acquire Coco Crisp after all? With as much chance to be right as all the prognosticators covering MLB, let me go to the Magic Eight Ball: All signs point to yes. There it is, a legitimate scoop. The Magic Eight Ball predicts Coco ends up in centerfield for the Red Sox.

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So now the Coco adventure has swung back to the three team trade with Cincinnati. I like this deal with one stipulation: it keeps Marte in the fold. The trade has various permutations leaked out to the press, but basically it involves the Reds unloading an outfielder to Cleveland who ships Crisp to Boston and we send Matt Clement to Cincinnati. Not a bad deal, but I hate giving up on starting pitching, especially one so talented as the erratic Mr. Clement. Of course, the Sox can conceivably sign Jeff Weaver to a one-year contract for less than what Clement was due to earn in 2006. One head case out; one head case in.

Of course, the key to the deal would be keeping Andy Marte in the fold (he can DH while Big Papi plays first base. Sure, it screws over Youkilis, but the kid needs a chance!). Whether Marte plays or not in 2006, there is no doubt that the Sox should be a stronger team in 2006 with a beefed up bullpen, rotation, and defense. Here is why there are so many reasons to ignore the WEEI lemmings and be optimistic about the Sox playing through November in 2006:

Infield Defense: Right now for the Red Sox the entire infield, 3B, SS, 2B, & 1B, are all improved offensively and defensively. 3B: Gold Glove Mike Lowell replaces creaky knees Bill Mueller; Alex Cora or Alex Gonzalez represents a huge step up over Edgar Renteria, who would not even dive for a ball in the second half of the season; Loretta is solid at second base and can turn a double play; and I doubt the Sox can find anyone worse than Kevin Millar to play first base.

No Offensive Drop-off: If Coco Crisp replaces Johnny Damon, fortunately Rob Neyer or another stat-head will come out and give the details of my argument: playing in Fenway Park for 80 games will give Crisp the opportunity to improve upon the stats of Johnny Rock Star. The Red Sox lineup is still strong top-to-bottom, with the production of Bill Mueller replaced by Kevin Youkilis; Edgar Renteria can be matched by Alex Gonzalez; Damon by Crisp; Loretta is an improvement over any second base semi-regular (Smellhorn, for example); and how can Mike Lowell do any worse than Kevin Millar? With Manny & Papi still around, the lineup remains strong.

Bullpen: Let me make this point crystal clear: Keith Foulke will come back and save 30-40 games this season. Even on two bum knees he showed the mental fortitude to do just enough to save a majority of the games he was in during a save situation. That is mental toughness. With the return of health for Foulke, there should be no doubt about his ability to bounce back to his normal and productive levels of the past.

Staying with the bullpen, the depth that is there is so much improved over any of the past three years. With Guillermo Mota (if he stays), Julian Tavarez, and Rudy Seanez joining Mike Timlin, the Red Sox should have no concerns after the sixth inning. Factor in Manny DelCarmen (if he stays), Craig Hansen as a late season call-up, Jermaine (not President Martin) Van Buren, and Lenny DiNardo and suddenly the bullpen looks damned good.

Rotation Depth: Yes, the Red Sox have returned to the land of two Aces. Josh Beckett is all that and a bag of chips, and Curt Schilling should win anywhere from 15 to 23 games. Tim Wakefield is back, as is Bronson Arroyo. David Wells may or may not be back, and Matt Clement could or could not be an integral part of getting Coco Crisp to Boston. Of course, Jonathan Papelbon and Jon Lester are ready to join the rotation as well. Also, if the Sox trade Clement or Wells, they really should take a one-year waiver on Jeff Weaver. Yes, he sucked in New York, but no, he was not as bad as they made it out there. Also, he had to pitch with the handicap all Yankees pitchers have to deal with: No pitching coach (because Mel Stottlemeyer does nothing of value other than mixing the post-game gin and tonic for Regular Joe). Weaver would be a great #4 or 5 starter to eat innings and give Papelbon & Lester plenty of opportunity to slowly break into the location.

Forget the Theo/Larry/John Henry/Ben & Jed show: that has no meaning once spring training begins. Focus on the great pitching staff, the balanced line-up, deep bullpen, and improved team defense that makes the Red Sox the best team in the American League in 2006.

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