The surest sign that spring is on its way is the day pitchers and catchers report to spring training. We’ve got exactly 30 days until that blessed event, so I thought it would be a good time to reflect a little on the Red Sox off-season moves.
First off, I want to comment on Theo Epstein describing 2010 as a “bridge” year. This hasn’t been a good year for bridges in my neck of the woods. For evidence, watch this video. Nevertheless, I took that word to be code for rebuilding; i.e. don’t expect any big moves and be prepared for a sub-par season. Hmmm. I don’t know if Theo’s definition of bridge is that much different than my interpretation or if he was spreading disinformation, because the team has been anything but treading water to 2011.
Signing Marco Scutaro was probably a sound move, if not a season-changing event. His contract is relatively short and, while he’s no Nomar, he’ll probably provide solid defense and a consistent, if not overwhelming, bat in the lineup. Just removing the question mark from the short stop position is a step in the right direction, and no one has to worry about it for the next two seasons.
The John Lackey signing is a good move, too. He won’t be the ace of the staff (I hope!), but he will be a dependable arm in the starting rotation. I was surprised that Theo went five years on the contract for a pitcher over the age of 30, but I guess that’s just the economics of the game. Theo will certainly have to offer Josh Beckett the same contract at a minimum if he wants to resign him. But having Lackey is insurance should the Sox fail to lock Beckett up for the next few years.
With Lackey, the Sox have a very strong starting rotation. I won’t say it is the best, but it should be effective, especially with the new emphasis on defense.
With Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre, the Red Sox bolster that defense, and with short-term contracts that give them flexibility to make other moves over the next two seasons (yes, I’m talking about Adrian Gonzalez). Still, I wonder if the Sox are really going to be better with Kevin Youkilis at 1st base and Beltre at 3rd, than they would have been with Casey Kotchman* at 1st and Youk at 3rd. I suspect Kotchman is going to have a breakout year (can you say Carlos Pena?) for Seattle.
So, the big question is this: Will the Red Sox have a better team in 2010 than they did in 2009? I think so. I think they will have enough offense to complement a crazy good defense and very good starting pitching.
My biggest concern at this point is the bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon was shaky through much of ’09, and we all know how the season ended. Can he regain his form? If not, is Daniel Bard ready to take over the closer role? And if that happens, who is the set up man? Plus, Manny Delcarmen hasn’t exactly been progressing in his development as a quality reliever. Okijima is a year older. Ramon Ramirez was effective early last season, but the work load seemed to get to him. Boof Bonser?
It is nice having good starting pitching, but if the bullpen regularly blows late-inning leads, then you might wish you had some more offense. Or maybe the hope is that with steady starting pitching and defense, we’ll get more complete games…
What will be indicative of the faith the team has in the bullpen will be the number of relievers they carry. In recent years they’ve kept 12 pitchers, meaning they had seven arms out of the pen. If they believe the starting pitching and defense is good enough, they should only need five relievers, plus Tim Wakefield. But if they are not sure about the arms in their pen, they may keep that 12th pitcher. We’ll see.
Anyway, the Sox have a serviceable lineup, and they aren’t locked into too many long-term contracts… at least not ones they currently regret. So maybe this year will be a bridge year.
*Speaking of Casey Kotchman, what do you think is going through his mind now? Two seasons ago he was traded for Mark Teixiera. Last summer he went straight up for Adam Laroche. Then, this winter all the Red Sox could get for him is Bill Hall! Next time he’s traded, it will probably be for a used DVD of Major League!