Opening Day is so close that you can start to feel it. Though the pictures are starting to become clearer by the day in Fort Myers, there are still questions to be answered before the Yankees invade Fenway Park next Sunday.
Which pitcher do you think will lead the Red Sox in wins?
–Bernard, Groton, Conn.
I think Josh Beckett. Not
that he ever needs motivation, but he could be entering this year
pitching for his future deal if he and the Red Sox do not get anything
done this spring. I have said all along that I think this season will be
a return to dominance for Josh. I think lots of things drive him
internally, but the addition of John Lackey and the return of Jon
Lester will make for a healthy internal team competition. It worked
for Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, then again with Pedro
and Curt Schilling, and I think it is now a three-headed equation
here. Each of these guys will want to one-up the other, or, at the very
least, keep pace with the success that each will enjoy.
What’s the biggest difference between this Red Sox team and last year’s Red Sox team at this point in spring training?
–Tom, Newton, Mass.
They’re the same really. When you are a good team, your jobs have been decided in December and January. It’s startling how few story lines there are for writers coming in and how few jobs there are for players to compete for.
Like last year, there is some question initially about which starters would go north at the end of spring. Right around now last year, the Red Sox made it clear that John Smoltz would be coming at some point but would start the year in Florida. It sounds like Daisuke Matsuzaka will do the same this year. I guess the question is whether the Sox actually need a fifth starter until mid-April whether that starter is Tim Wakefield or Matsuzaka remains to be seen. Other questions I guess are how much will Jason Varitek play and will Jacoby Ellsbury see more time in center than expected? Otherwise, it’s really the same.
What are your thoughts on Joe Mauer signing an eight-year, $184 million extension to stay with the Twins? What are the chances Victor Martinez re-signs with the Red Sox?
–Max, Colorado Springs, Colo.
I am happy for the Twins and for baseball. I have been a longtime admirer of how the Twins organization has been run from a baseball perspective. They draft well, they develop as one of the game’s best and compete with a moderate team salary base every year. There is a true sense of team that exists with the Twins from Single-A on up.
The players graduate each level together and then play in the majors together and learn to win together at all levels. As a Twins player, you truly feel part of something as an entire organization. The one issue that has remained a problem has been keeping those players when they flourish at the top level. I thought Torii Hunter would be the guy for whom they changed their mantra, but it took the hometown boy who is one of the top five players in the game to get it done. Good for the Twins and good for baseball.
As far as Victor Martinez goes, I believe the Red Sox want him to stay and I know he wants to stay. Now that Mauer will not be moving, it seems to increase the chance that Victor will stay right here.
Any improvement with Mike Lowell’s health?
–Cecily, Raleigh, N.C.
As a spectator, it appears that not much has changed really. I think I am surprised that he is not further along hip-wise and mobility-wise. I think he’s surprised also that this far removed from the surgery, there is still not any more range of motion. He is classy as classy gets and has handled an unbelievably tough situation and made it comfortable for those who are uncomfortable with it. I just hope his thumb gets better and he is able to move around better as time goes on. I really thought he would be moved by now, but I also thought he would be healthy by now, and I am not sure he is. He must be thinking a year removed from the surgery that maybe this is best he can hope for. I hope that is not the case.
Clay Buchholz seemed to change last year. What happened?
–Winston, Middletown, R.I.
He matured. Plus, as he admitted to me the other day in our interview, he felt sorry for himself for a while after spring training last year, when he was demoted and stayed demoted for three months. He turned that into frustration as he got himself together and dominated Triple-A hitters in Pawtucket. When he arrived with the big club for the first game after the All-Star break, he was a man on a mission — determined not to return to Pawtucket and to take the opportunity by the horns.
That he did, and despite having a bit of an inconsistent spring, he should land in the rotation to begin this year. With Clay, there has never been much doubt about his stuff, and as he said, it’s all mental. He will continue to work on both and hopefully the Red Sox will reap the benefits in 2010.