Wednesday, November 29, 2006

OFF-SEASON JITTERS

Manny, Manny, Manny: Wherefore art thou, Manny? Is this the end of the days of Manny stumbling in the shadow of the Green Monster? Who is out there willing to trade prospects for Manny? What is his value these days? How can the Sox fill his void in the line-up?

On one hand, I completely understand the stance of the front-office. Manny complains. A lot. He takes at-bats, innings, games, weeks off, regardless of opponent or time of season. He is not known as the best teammate and Terry Francona has probably lost years off his life worrying about and dealing with Manny.

On the other hand, he is second-best right-handed hitter in baseball (Albert Pujols is about a mile ahead of everyone else in the game right now). There is no one short of A-Rod, Pujols, or Barry Bonds who the Sox could get who would provide the level of protection Manny affords Big Papi in the line-up. David Ortiz is looking at 200 walks in 2007 if Manny is anywhere else.

So, Theo, what do you do? Does Manny depart for prospects? Do J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo join the line-up? I think so. Let me say: letting Alex Gonzalez go was just plain stupid. The Orioles won a lot of games with Mark Belanger at shortstop in the seventies. Maybe that has something to do with how they turned Dennis and Tippy Martinez into All-Star pitchers. I like Lugo, but for second-base, not shortstop. I like J.D. Drew as well, but at one year for $6 million. Nothing more.

Here is how I see the Sox right now:

* Trade Manny for closer-prospect, infield prospect and starting pitcher prospect.
* Sign Julio Lugo.
* Sign J.D. Drew.
* Put Wily Mo Pena in centerfield and Coco Crisp in left-field to take advantage of Pena being a better fielder when he has a better view of the hitter and to hide the weak arm of Coco. Crisp, Pena, & Drew in the outfield will turn a lot of doubles in the gap into outs for the pitching staff.

Line-up:

LF: Coco Crisp
SS: Julio Lugo
1B/DH: David Ortiz
RF: J.D. Drew
3B: Mike Lowell
CF: Wily Mo Pena
DH/IB: Kevin Youkilis
C: Jason Varitek
2B: Dustin Pedroia

Is it a better line-up without Manny? Hell, no. Is it a more-balanced/Billy Beane Moneyball line-up? Hell, yeah. Why not keep modeling the team on the old Moneyball Genius? Oakland has yet to fall to earth anytime and keeps chugging along winning 90 or so games every year.

DICE-K

Repeat after me: Dice-Kay. Not Die-Soo-kee. Not Dae-suk. Dice-Kay Mat-soo-zah-kah. Daisuke Matsuzaka. No D-Mat; No fancy nicknames, please. He has one already: The Monster. Sorry, Wally, sorry Dick Raditz, the Sox have a new Monster in town.

Remember that energy when Pedro Martinez first arrived in Boston with that 97MPH fastball, the change-up, the Flash Gordon curveball, and that nasty slider he threw before his shoulder went? Yeah, those were surreal days. A game being pitched by Pedro of his Prime was not to be missed because you never knew if he would pitch a perfect game or strike out 25 batters. The possibility existed in the late 90s/early 00s that you would see a pitching performance like one you had never seen before: history was being made on the mound everytime the ball was in his hands.

Well, it is going to be back in 2007.

Daisuke the Monster Matsuzaka will, eventually, be in a Red Sox uniform making the original Nomomania; Irabu-irritability; Ichiro-media-madness; and Matsui-mania look like small potatoes. This could be Fernandomania! This kid is the real deal.

I wanted to hold back on this until the Sox signed him, but since I cannot wait another two weeks, I am writing it now. Besides, having been on vacation, I am overdue to post something somewhat relevant (Celtics get blown out by the Knicks? Slit my wrists for me now, please!). As to why the Monster signing is not going to be official until right up until the deadline? Two words: Scott Boras. Boras will wring every penny from the Sox Triumvirate, but in an off-season where Alfonso Soriano gets $136 million over 8 years, whatever the Sox pay Matsuzaka will be a deal. $51.1 million posting fee and $45 million over 5 years? A bargain.

Schilling, Beckett, Papelbon, Matsuzaka, and Wakefield. That starting five could/would/should rack-up close to 1,000 strikeouts over the course of a season. Heck, while I am still giddy with joy, howzabout the Sox bring in Roger Clemens for the stretch run?

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