Thursday, February 21, 2008


While most major league teams go to spring training hoping to figure out a fair percentage of the roster, the Red Sox go into camp this season with very few questions to answer. Due to almost all of the (World Series Champion) roster returning, the Sox themselves do not have much to do this spring training aside from simply getting ready for the year ahead.

There are three spring training battles however. Nobody would describe them as battle-royales, more like royales-with-cheese. And, no, I don't know what that means. Anyway, to the battle stations!

1. Center Field - Barring serious injury or Coco Crisp turning into Grady Sizemore, this is really a question for the immediate present. After not being dealt this winter for Johan Santana, the Red Sox are essentially committing to Jacoby Ellsbury as the center fielder for the Red Sox in 2009.

However, Crisp and his gold glove-level defense* are still on the roster. And, with a number of fly ball pitchers in the rotation and the bullpen, playing Crisp, despite his offensive offense (a term I just don't hear enough of) isn't nearly as bad as it sounds. (The Red Sox won the World Series with Crisp starting through most of the ALCS last season, remember?)

Still, at minimum, Ellsbury is the future in Boston. Crisp has made it known that he would like a trade if he isn't going to play every day, but off the top of my head, I can't think of a team that would be willing to trade anything of significance for Crisp at this stage. Maybe the Twins would still be interested, but they likely don't fancy themselves a contender this year, so trading for a veteran like Crisp probably doesn't suit them well.

Theo is likely working the phones to see what the market is for a good field no hit center fielder. I don't imagine playing one or the other will result in any substantial difference in the Sox record, at least through the first few months of the year. Therefore, Theo can bide his time a bit, and wait to see what deals come to him. In any case, expect Ellsbury to be the starter beginning sometime before the All-Star break, and ending sometime in about a decade.

2. 5th Starter - The Sox were entering spring training with five starters penciled into their five man rotation. Five men for five spots. Perfect. Nothing could mess that up... poop. Oh well. Schilling's injury threw a monkey wrench through that sugar glass window.

An injury of this nature could wreck the season for another team, but the Sox were prepared. Clay Buchholz, who's name I've just recently learned to spell, should be the fifth starter coming out of Ft. Myers. The Sox are making noise about using His Craziness, Julian Tavarez or Kyle "Not Bronson Arroyo" Snyder, but neither of those pitchers is half the pitcher Buchholz is. True, the Sox will have to manage his innings, but there's no reason they can't do that from the rotation.

We know what we'll be getting from Tavarez and Snyder. This isn't to denigrate them, there's a reason they're on the roster, but unlike last season when the Yankees started the year with a record of -8-7,000, the Red Sox are going to need to win to stay in first place. That means getting quality outings as often as possible. Which is why they need their best pitchers to throw for the big club, and not Pawtucket.

Buchholz should be and very likely will fill Schilling's shoes.

3. Back End of the Bull Pen - TGNG. That's Thank God No Gagne. The Red Sox won't have to worry now that Frenchy McSteroids has taken his arsonist ass to Milwaukee. Minus FMcS, the Sox have some slots filled. Which slots are those? Well, funny you should ask. How do you like them apples?

Papelbon, Okajima, Snyder, Tavarez, Timlin, and Vasquez would seem to be locks based on a combination of performance, salary, and service time. That leaves one slot left to fill.

So who will the Sox get to fill that last slot. There are a few contenders to that most precious of thrones. The 'big' names go thusly:

Brian Corey (pros: good control; cons: doesn't throw hard), David Aardsma (pros: throws hard; cons: doesn't know where its going), Craig Hansen (pros: doesn't snore anymore; cons: not a very good pitcher).

Unless Hansen takes a step forward, I expect him to end up back in AAA ball. I think the Sox are going to be very careful with him after trying to force his way into the bigs. Corey is an intriguing option. He seems to pitch effectively where ever he is, but since he isn't a hard thrower and he isn't left handed, he keeps needing to prove himself. I wouldn't be surprised if he was the last guy to make the pen.

*The Gold Gloves are such a joke that I don't even like using them to describe defensive quality. However, by most accounts, both visual and statistical, Crisp played an outstanding center field last season.

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