Friday, November 12, 2004

Being Theo Epstein

For the record, let me state that I'm glad I'm not Theo Epstein, as is Red Sox Nation. I'm still flying high about the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox (and, no, that phrase has not lost its luster, but thanks for asking), while Theo's got to get down to the serious business of reassembling a roster that can compete for the 2005 title - and do so while balancing ownership's financial considerations and the Nation's emotional attachment to everyone on the 40 man roster.

Luckily for Theo, he's got a great model just across town in the Scott Pioli-run New England Patriots, winners of 2 of the last 3 Super Bowls. If ever there was a Moneyball NFL franchise, it's the Patriots, who've built dominant teams on a foundation of motivated, fairly-but-not-overpaid, cohesive, team-oriented parts. New England sports fans saw the Patriots dispassionately but rationally jettison players like Drew Bledsoe and Lawyer Malloy, and thrive because of it. The ground has been laid for Theo to do the same.

That said, I know the Patriots, and they, sir, are no Boston Red Sox in terms of emotional attachment to the community. Jason Varitek, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mirabelli and nearly a dozen other free agents will never pay for a meal in New England again. It will be hard to watch any of them play for another team next year, but the cold, hard facts of professional sports in 2004 dictate that many - if not most - of them will don other laundry.

For me, Varitek's the top priority, followed closely by Pedro - and the reasons are more emotional than anything else. Varitek is the unquestioned leader of this team, which is worth a premium, even if he's a catcher on the wrong side of the age/production curve. That said, his agent, the evil Scott Boras, has publicly declared that 'Tek wants 5 years/$50 million to sign - laughable numbers when compared to Ivan Rodriguez' 4/40 deal with Detroit. I love 'Tek, and would be willing to give him 3 years at $8-9m per with a club option for the 4th, but he ain't I-Rod.

Pedro's been offered 2/25.5 with a club option for a 3rd year - all pretty close to Schilling's deal. That's a fair offer, and I expect Pedro to eventually take it. The wild card will be the rest of the league - if 1 owner goes to 3/40 or higher, with the final year guaranteed, Pedro's got a decision to make. Can't really blame him if he takes guaranteed money. Can't blame him, but would still be bummed.

The other slots offer so many possibilities that it makes my head spin, so I'm going to shift into talk radio mode now. Here's one man's perfect world scenario for the makeup of the 2005 Sox on opening day:

C - Varitek
1b - Mientkiewicz/Glaus
2b - Bellhorn
SS - Cabrera (not likely, unfortunately)
3b - Mueller/Glaus
lf - Ramirez
cf- Damon
rf - Nixon
dh - Ortiz

Reserves - Mirabelli (c), Roberts (of), Millar (of, 1b, dh), Reese (if - also unlikely)

SP - Schilling
SP - Martinez
SP - Pavano
SP - Arroyo
SP - Wakefield

RP - Foulke
RP - Timlin
RP - Embree (L)
RP - Traber (L)
RP - Leskanic
RP - one more random quality long arm

That rosy scenario sees the Sox getting Troy Glaus and Carl Pavano in free agency, and losing only Derek Lowe among front-line free agents. Probably wishful thinking. In the real world, Cabrera's probably gone, replaced by a stopgap like Omar Vizquel or Edgar Renteria (not the worst thing in the world) while the Sox wait for Hanley Ramirez to grow up in their farm system. Glaus is a SoCal guy, may not want to play in the superheated Boston atmosphere. I feel pretty good about Pavano, though - New England kid, has said he wants to pitch with a mentor, blah, blah, blah.

The free agent period started yesterday. I'll check in here as things happen. Gimme Tek and Pedro and I'd probably call the offseason a success.

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