WTNYNovember 07, 2003
More in Beantown
By Bryan Smith

Theo Epstein isn't going to have a trying offseason. The Manny Ramirez saga, along with the new managerial search, may be the two largest stories coming from Beantown. The 2004 team is basically already constructed, with a few minor details here and there. Instead, the Red Sox are likely coming up with a post-2004 plan, when much of their team reaches free agency. Expect a similar team in 2004, with a similar win total, but in 2005, all bets are off. In 2005, we'll start to see Theo's version.

Theo's worries: Manny's mind, his kind of manager, replacing Todd Walker, and filling out the pitching staff. Not bad. All of the team's first and second-tier players will be back, as Walker and Mike Timlin serve as the biggest worries. Theo will probably strive harder to help that bullpen than he did last season, and he'll surely pretend to rustle some feathers. Such as offering Andy Pettite a big deal so that Steinbrenner is forced to beat it out, thus overpaying the southpaw. Another, will be feeling out interest for Manny.

But for Manny, the AL's second best hitter, only one team will likely be calling. After reviewing every team, I've come to the conclusion that only the Los Angeles Dodgers could afford the best left fielder, save Bonds, in the Majors. But in doing so, the BoSox would be forced to take on Darren Dreifort's abysmal contract, that has three years and $36M waiting to be paid. Theo will find out quickly that it isn't worth it, and he'll have to accept Manny in left for a very long time. Pampering him becomes priority #2, because he could quickly become a cancer for that club.

The managerial situation I'm going to stay out of. My gut tells me it will be Francona, simply because he was taught for the last year under the Oakland A's philosophy. He'll have to do that with Boston, just with a lot more personalities. Epstein was just in firing Little, simply because it Red Sox management is firmly backing their GM choice, they must allow him to choose his manager. We'll see how he fares.

Todd Walker, despite postseason heroics, is and should leave next season. Yesterday, it was pointed out that Walker is a Type A free agent, giving Boston two more draft picks next June. I really like Jacobs and Kuhn's idea to replace him...Adam Kennedy. He is a very similar player, just with more brains and less power. Kennedy would fit well, but like Walker, demand a platoon partner. I thought Damian Jackson did an OK job, and I really like the idea of Eric Young. Eric has power and speed, and could also occasionally spell Damon in center.

But it's said the Red Sox focus will be on pitching. But where? Pedro, Wakefield, and Lowe already have rotation spots next season. And I agree with Jacobs and Kuhn that it's ludicrous to not give Byung-Hyun Kim and Bronson Arroyo the fourth and fifth slots. Kim has #2 starter potential, and Arroyo would be much better than John Burkett. I also would go after Maels Rodriguez, the Cuban defector that is rumored to throw 100. If Maels is to be a reliever, allow him to set up Williamson. If not, send Arroyo to middle relief.

It's the bullpen where Theo was most criticized in 2003, largely due to the early failures of the closer by committee philosophy. By the end of the season, I was impressed by the bullpen, and found it to be better than the Yankees and A's. Kim will be gone next season, although he's much better suited for a rotation slot. Williamson will be back, and after he pitched in the postseason, will be handed the closing role. Southpaws Alan Embree and Scott Sauerbeck are back too, giving a couple of very solid LOOGYs. I would re-sign Timlin, who was unhittable for most of October. Then, put Ramiro Mendoza into the back of the bullpen, but be aware of what he does. Mendoza is, by career numbers, very weak in April. Lower his workload in the first month, and you will see much better results. Then, get Arroyo, Fossum, Maels, or another middle relief player for the bullpen. So, my 2004 Red Sox team:

C- Varitek
1B- Millar
2B- Kennedy/EYoung
SS- Nomah
3B- Mueller
LF- Manny
CF- Damon
RF- Nixon
DH- Ortiz

1. Pedro
2. Lowe
3. Wakefield
4. Kim
5. Arroyo

CL- Williamson
SU- Timlin
SU- Maels Rodriguez
LH- Embree
LH- Sauerbeck
MR- Mendoza

Not bad, but then the floodgates break open. After 2004, Variek, Nomar, Mueller, Nixon, Ortiz, Lowe, and Pedro are all free agents. The team will have to be very creative to create another winning team, but creativity seems to be Epstein's strong suit.

Much of the decisions will be based on two players in Pawtucket, Kevin Youkilis and Kelly Shoppach. If both play well, then neither Varitek or Mueller should be retained the following season. If one struggles or is dealt, the team should retain their veteran. Jeremy Giambi, who needs to have a big 2004, may decide Ortiz's future. If Giambi comes up big next season, Epstein will be very hesitant to pay Ortiz significant money.

But it's Nomar and Nixon that have no back-ups. Nomar should be a career Red Sox, as Boston's pride is in the bat of their Nomah. He's the second best shortstop in the game today, and expect those home runs to rise again next season. Nixon should be retained, simply because the Red Sox have no adequate replacement. This offseason is the year for RF, so next season's class will be a little weak. Trying to get Nixon to sign a four-year deal now (worth about $20-24M?) would be the best move.

The pitching is the larger question mark. Pedro is an easy decision: Let him go. He's going to complain to every media source that will listen, but continue giving him the cold shoulder. Javier Vazquez will be a free agent in one season, and he is a much better option than Pedro. Vazquez will give you innings, strikeouts, and a lot less worry than Pedro will. Plus, Vazquez will cost about $12M per next offseason, compared to the 15-18 that Pedro will command.

The decision on Lowe is yet to come. The team could have Fossum, Arroyo, and De La Rosa in a rotation in 2005, to go along with Wakefield and Vazquez. In that scenario, Lowe is history. So I would wait with Lowe as well, to see how the three youngsters pitch, and to discover who is the real Derek Lowe. Basically, this could be the Red Sox in 2005:

C- Shoppach
1B- Millar
2B- Kennedy/Young (signed to 2-year deals)
SS- Nomar
3B- Youkilis
LF- Manny
CF- Damon
RF- Nixon
DH- Ortiz (screw lil' Giambi)

1. Vazquez
2. Wakefield
3. Kim
4. Arroyo
5. De La Rosa

So, it's going to be interesting at least. In coming weeks, I'll write an article about when I think the Yankees will start to go bad, because with their aging, and bloated contracts, it will happen at some point. So, watch out for some investigation on that in the future. Other than that, have a good weekend and see ya Monday...