The purge continues. Each week, more remnants of the 2011 Red Sox fall to the wayside. Since the last mailbag, Jonathan Papelbon quickly snatched up a four-year deal with the Phillies, and the Red Sox announced sweeping changes to its medical staff.
It is clear that change is the operative word for the coming season. The question is, how far will those changes go?
Papelbon is gone, but it's clear the team would like to keep David Ortiz, at least for the right price. We discuss further below.
In the meantime, two of the remaining four members of the 2004 World Series team to play for the Sox last season are in limbo. Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield are standing on the sidelines waiting to see where they fit in with the team.
After an unprecedented collapse, and a second straight third-place finish, the Sox are clearly considering change in every aspect of the organization. Players locked under contract will be able to avoid much of this, but it's difficult to bring back free-agent players who are part of a group that hasn't won a playoff game since 2008.
Wednesday, Wakefield said he hadn't heard from the Red Sox yet, but that he didn't expect to hear anything until a manager had been hired to replace Terry Francona. Wakefield's agent was at the GM meetings in Milwaukee saying his client would win 15 games for another team if the Sox didn't bring him back.
While the knee-jerk reaction here is to clear out all the veterans who didn't do enough to restore order in a chaotic clubhouse in September, it makes sense to bring Wakefield back. While he struggled in 2011, he provides the type of pitching depth that is hard to find in an organization. He can serve as a long reliever, a role he has handled well in recent years. And he can make a start without worrying about being stretched out. He has done it time and again, giving you six serviceable innings when pressed into service.
Wakefield would come with a relatively small price tag. Last year, his base salary was $1.5 million, a salary increased with several performance bonuses. One would think each would sign for less in 2012.
Varitek, on the other hand, is a tougher call. He won't break the bank, either, making just $3 million last season. With 'Tek, it's difficult to imagine his role on a team. He will be no more than a backup catcher, and no longer is enough of a threat to serve as an occasional DH. We have seen Francona pinch hit for Varitek time and again in recent years, leaving the bench hamstrung as the other catcher goes into duty.
We've long been told that Varitek's real value is what he does with the pitching staff, and the leadership he brings to the clubhouse. Where were those traits last season, when the staff imploded and the clubhouse was in disarray?
Varitek may not be part of the problem, but the Captain clearly wasn't part of the solution.
Wakefield and Varitek have combined for a remarkable 34 seasons with the Red Sox. They were integral parts of a group that changed the culture of baseball in Boston, turning the image of lovable losers into a cornerstone of the modern-day "City of Champions."
Now, another culture change is needed. Deciding how, and if, these veterans fit into the future of this team will be one of many issues facing Ben Cherington in the weeks ahead.
Let's open up the e-mailbag.
Do you think GM Ben Cherington will move past the discussion stages with Papi any time soon and start working out a deal to bring him back, or do you think Cherington will wait until he has a manager in place? And what do you think the chances are that Papi will be back in a Sox uniform next year, or will he be the next one to go, like Papelbon? I don't think Red Sox Nation can handle losing Papi and Papelbon!!!
–Julie, Binghamton, N.Y.
Yes. In fact, at least one report says the team is already past that stage and is making an initial offer to Ortiz. Losing both key members of this team would be a big blow to fans, and I've said all along that I expect Ortiz back. I also said as early as last winter that I thought Papelbon was gone when his contract with the Sox was over. And he made it clear during his introductory news conference in Philadelphia that he was jumping to the first team offering him max dollars. There was never a consideration of offering the Sox a chance to match the deal, something Ortiz has vowed to do.
Hi Tom. I kind of remember in 2006, the Astros tried to have Jeff Bagwell's salary deducted from their team payroll because he was not able to play the whole year. Were they able to do that? And if so, could the Sox do that with John Lackey?
–Dave Palozej, Ellington, Conn.
No, but John Lackey's season-ending surgery does give the team some short-term salary relief. The Sox had a clause in Lackey's contract that adds a year at the major league minimum if he were to miss significant time with an elbow injury. That means Lackey now has a sixth year on his deal at somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000.
This is significant because teams figure out players' average salary for purposes of the luxury tax threshold. So instead of a five-year, $82.5 million contract, Lackey now will have a six-year, $83 million (approximately) deal. That lowers his average annual salary about $2.8 million, giving the team that much more to spend under the tax threshold in 2012.
Why not consider Trot Nixon or Gabe Kapler for being the new Red Sox manager? I think either one of them would of been a great fit in the ball club.
–Romeo, Milford, Conn.
Gabe Kapler was a young manager ready to move up the ranks when he decided to return to playing. There have been rumors that he ruffled a few feathers when he bolted for Tampa Bay, and you wonder if that's part of what has kept him from returning to the manager's role for any team.
Trot Nixon has no managing experience whatsoever. He's certainly got the fiery personality fans want in a manager, but this is a tough place for on-the-job training.
Sure seems like there is a lot of Red Sox bashing going. What is the reason? Papalbon took shots at everyone. I thought his comment at the Sox fans was very low and uncalled for, am I right? Enjoy all your Sox writings and broadcasting.
–Ted Williams, Round Rock, Texas
Wait. Is your name really Ted Williams? And you're a Red sox fan? I didn't think Papelbon said anything too over the top, but he did seem to dismiss the fans who cheered him on for six seasons a little too quickly and easily, don't you think? As good as he was, Papelbon never seemed like someone willing to commit to Boston as a long-term home. Now he's gone, pitching in a bandbox in Philadelphia. He'd better keep that fastball down.
What's in store for Daisuke Matsuzaka. Have not heard much about him lately.
–Auey McClure, North Haven, Conn.
That's because there isn't much to hear. Daisuke Matsuzaka continues to recover from Tommy John surgery, and wouldn't return to the team until late next season, if at all. That will be the final season of Daisuke's contract with the Sox, leaving us to wonder if we've seen him pitch his last game for Boston.
You also have to wonder how this will affect Boston's interest in future Japanese stars, like pitcher Yu Darvish. He has been a dominant pitcher in Japan, but many have wondered if teams like Boston will be gun-shy after committing more than $100 million on Matsuzaka. In fact, The Wall Street Journal just wrote a great piece on the subject. Check it out here.
Could Andre Ethier be a good right fielder to replace J.D. Drew, ow that Carlos Beltran may ask for too much money because of Matt Kemp's contract?
–Tad Smisr, Chino Hills, Calif.
Andre Ethier is coming off his worst offensive season since his rookie year, with a career-low .789 OPS. Wrist, elbow and hand injuries have limited his trade value for the Dodgers. But with the team tying up so much money in Kemp, L.A. might be willing to move the close friend (and former Arizona State teammate) of Dustin Pedroia. Would you be willing to give up Will Middlebrooks for him?
Ethier is a right fielder, and could certainly use Pesky's Pole to his advantage. If only he were a right-handed hitter. Bringing Ethier to town wouldn't help the Sox balance a lineup that's already left-handed heavy.
What do you think of signing both Matt Capps and Joe Nathan to compete for the closer job? They have both been lockdown closers before, they won't be expensive and we won't have to give up any first-round picks.
–Art Van Dalay
You could be on to something. Ben Cherington has already discussed the possibility of the team putting the closer's role up for competition in Fort Myers. Joe Nathan, Matt Capps and other free agents like David Aardsma, Jon Rauch and Francisco Cordero could be part of that competition, too. Daniel Bard could be left as an option in that scenario. Cherington made it clear he wants a defined closer by Opening Day, but he's not completely opposed to letting the positional battle play itself out over the course of spring training.
T.C., would you like sidewalks or no sidewalks on Salem End Road? Haha! OK, here's my real question: The Sox need some guys to step up and be leaders. With the way things are looking now, this is Pedroia's team now. They need a leader, who is it going to be?
–J.J., Ashland, Mass.
Sidewalks! I know it's an historic area, but you try running along those roads with angry commuters whisking by.
I think, in ways, Pedroia's tight relationship with Terry Francona could've hurt his status as a "clubhouse leader." Players are much like kids, and they can resent someone perceived as a teacher's pet — even if that student (or player) is the hardest-working member of the class (or team). With Francona gone, Pedroia will be judged on his merits, and he has plenty of them. He is, as Sports Illustrated said, the heart and soul of the Red Sox. Players could do a lot worse than to watch, listen, and learn from him.
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