It's already two days into the season and I'm already horribly late with my Sox preview, as Bob Ryan (or Julius Caesar, I guess) would say, “Mea culpa. Mea culpa.”* And after splitting two games with the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo, we don't have a good enough idea about this team yet to make any strong predictions on the 2008 season.
*Quick aside, I like that way of saying sorry it sounds so, erudite. And it's a lot less whiny than “I'm sorry.” Though needed at times, people sound wussy saying “I'm sorry”. “Mea culpa” has some gravitas behind it, plus if you get a person who doesn't understand Latin, you can apologize and not lose face.
Here's what I know about the 2008 Boston Red Sox: they're going to be pretty good. How good? I'm not sure. I am 90% sure that they're going to make the playoffs. I'm about 50-50 on them making the World Series and a little less sure about them winning the whole enchilada. With that being said, I'm not sure that there is a team better than them. I just think that a lot of things have to fall into place for the Sox to take home the trophy in back-to-back years.
What I'm going to do is go through the team, position by position with last year's numbers and tell you whether the player will do better, do worse or stay even in 2008. Be warned, I don't do a lot of projections with numbers, I'm going to go off of gut feelings, what I think is common sense and trends. I will get to the pitchers on Friday.
Jason Varitek: .255/.267/.421 – Worse. I think that 2007 was the last good year for Jason Varitek. He's 36-years-old, caught a ton of games in the last decade and he's getting older. His Spring Training stats weren't very good and he looked old and slow in the first two games of the season. Obviously two games don't make a season, but the Sox are really up against the wall when it comes to catchers. This is Varitek's last year on a four-year deal and there's no one out there (internally or on the free agent market) that's better. What do they do?
Kevin Cash: .111/.242/.148 – Better. I mean, how can he do any worse, right? For as much as I hated Doug Mirabelli, Kevin Cash is not the answer. He's a fine defensive back stop, but he can't hit for anything. That being said, you have to think that he can improve on those terrible 2007 numbers.
Kevin Youkilis: .288/.390/.453 – Same. Had a break out year last year, and like the three years prior faded down the stretch. Though he did rebound hugely in the post season and is one of the main reasons why the Sox won the Series. I'm hoping that Sean Casey will spell Youkilis a lot this summer and that will stop his yearly fade.
Dustin Pedroia: .317/.380/.453 – Worse. Rookie of the Year and began hitting at a Williamsian level after one of the crappiest Aprils ever. The reason why I say he may have a worse year is because you can't expect him to hit .317 all the time and he has to walk a bit more to get that OBP up. I wouldn't be upset with a .290/.400/.450 line. That's where I think that his numbers will fall this year, if he has a better eye.
Julio Lugo: .237/.294/.349 – Better. He can't do much worse and Peter Gammons has been banging the drum all spring that Lugo was very sick last Spring Training and lost a ton of weight, but now he's better. I hope so. I do have to say that he is batting .500 right now, which is much better than what he was doing a year ago.
Mike Lowell: .324/.378/.501 – Worse. Lowell had a monster career year last year, and I doubt very much that he'll do it again. Do I think that he's going to fall off the planet like he did in 2005? No, but I think that if he hits .280 with 20-25 bombs and 80-90 RBIs, that will be perfectly acceptable. I also think that he'll play better defensively this year than he did in the early part of last year.
Alex Cora: .246/.298/.386 – Same. Pretty good numbers for a back up infielder. Don't ask him to do too much and he'll do a good job for the club. The fact is, you can't have an All-Star at every position. I wonder if this is the year I stop calling him by his brother's name? I doubt it. There's only one Cora: Joey.
Sean Casey: .296/.353/.393 – Better, though not by much. I think that Sean Casey is going to use the wall to his advantage this year and pepper that thing with a ton of doubles. I hope that he can, so he can give Youkilis and Lowell the days off that they need to keep them fresh for the post season.
Manny Ramirez: .296/.388/.493 – Better, much better. Last year Manny Ramirez had pretty good numbers for someone not named Manny Ramirez. This year, I think that he's going to be the American League Most Valuable Player*. I've been reading articles all winter about how he's rededicated himself to training and is supposedly in tip-top shape. He looked monstrous in the opening series against the A's and I think it's just going to keep going from there.
* If Manny, or somebody on the Sox, wins the MVP this year or next, the Red Sox will be the only team to have a representative win the MVP in the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s. Not too many people are talking about this, but that's a tribute to how competitive the Red Sox have been in the last 70 years. No one really talks about this though.
Jacoby Ellsbury: .353/.394/.509 – Worse. He only played about 30 games last year, and he's still a rookie. There is no way that Jacoby Ellsbury is going to put up the same numbers he did last year over a full season. Expecting him to do this is totally unreasonable. I wouldn't be surprised if he .275 with a few bombs and 40+ steals. I'd be totally ok with that. I don't think that the banshees on WEEI would, but they're not happy with anything.
JD Drew: .270/.373/.423 – Same. Last year he told Boston Herald scribe Rob Bradford (when he was still with the Lawrence Eagle Tribune) that he spent the 2006 off season sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber—the same kind Michael Jackson sleeps in—so that he can cut down on his injuries. It sort of worked as he did play in 140 games. Problem was he hit like Jackson until Game 6 of the ALCS. What's he going to do this year? I have no idea. My gut says he'll be better, but I'm not sure. He's already begged out of the first two games with back issues. That nine hour flight back to the states should do wonders for that.
Coco Crisp: .268/.330/.382 – Same. It's about time to cut bait with Covelli Crisp. He is not the heir to the Johnny Damon centerfield throne, he just isn't. No matter how many times he teases us, he's not that guy. And that's too bad, because he had a very good year in Cleveland in 2005 and when he came to the Sox in 2006 he started out like a house afire, but then he got hurt. And that was the reason why he sucked in 2006. And the reason why he wasn't so great in 2007—though he did play a Gold Glove centerfield. And he's sort of been hurt in Spring Training.
Bobby Kietly: .231/.295/.327 – Better. Should be the fourth outfielder once Crisp gets traded or he might not want to wait around for that and demand his release in April. I have no clue what the Sox are going to do with him because while he went with the team to Japan, he was never brought on to the 40-man roster. Basically he got paid $40K to take a trip to Tokyo. Not bad work if you can get it. I do like him as he can play all three outfield positions. And he was pretty clutch in Game Four of the World Series. At least he has that on his resume.
Brandon Moss: .280/.379/.440 – Worse. If he plays, it'll be because of injury or because someone needs a break. He was the embodiment of the humbling game of baseball as he had a terrific game on Tuesday (game tying homer and two RBIs) and looked terrible on Wednesday (three strikeouts). I expect him to be a charter member of the Lou Merloni shuttle from Boston to Pawtucket.
David Ortiz: .332/.445/.621 – Same. The power numbers were there, just look at his slugging percent if you don't believe me, but he didn't hit 54 dingers. No matter, Ortiz had one of his best all-around years in a Red Sox uniform in 2007 and he did it on one knee. This year the knee is better (surgery in the off-season) and I don't see why Ortiz can't put up the same digits as last year.
Friday, the pitchers.