The days go by slowly in winter, even moreso when the Pats, Celts and Bruins are redefining "underwhelming" (not that I blame the Pats; if any team could seriously believe they're cursed it's this year's Pats). This results in a malaise that very quickly gives way to an obsessive speculation about what deals are going to be made in the offseason. As I mentioned in my previous rant, one of the big stories will be Manny. But there are others, so many others. It's tough to focus.
The Captain Caveman story will certainly be one to watch. JD is in a strong bargaining position. He again put up good numbers in 2005 although his power figures dropped considerably from 2004. The theory that as Damon goes, so goes the Sox offense was pretty defensible this year. CF is a tough position to fill, as is the leadoff spot in the order. No matter how you slice it, Johnny is the premier free agent on the market for CF, and maybe period. The problem is, Caveypoo wants a 5 year contract, and he's well on the wrong side of 30. There is a good chance that he's a Finley-type physically who will play well into his late 30s, but there is also a good chance that one of these days he'll hit the wall too hard, at too awkward an angle, and that will be that. You hate to downgrade a player because he plays too hard, but there it is. We Bostonians remember Freddy Lynn fondly, but we didn't want him in the outfield at 35. There is really no free agent market at the position other than JD. So it looks like the Sox will be looking at Damon, or a trade, or a non-tender acquisition (for example, would they really want to try and fix Corey Patterson? In Boston?). The list of names is long, and unlikely. I have no idea who will be patrolling Fenway's center field next year. I don't think anyone does.
Now, the infield! The Sox could potentially lose every infield player save Renteria (and there are those who wouldn't mind seeing them make the sweep). This means that unless they want to start Alex Cora at 2B, something has to be done. I feel OK saying they do not want to do this.
Let's look at it positionally:
1B: I think it's safe to say the black hole known as Kevin Millar's offensive production will go away. I think it's also safe to say that John Olerud made a favorable impression and could be back at cost. Roberto Petagine put up a 1.ooo+ OPS in Pawtucket and had good at-bats for the big league club but never got into Tito's good graces, perhaps owing to his lack of clowning. Still, for those of us who believe AAA numbers are a decent predictor of MLB performance, we'd like to see him get a shot...problem being, we don't need two platoon left-handed 1Bs(although each of them could blow a hamstring getting out of the recliner). The free-agent crop is pretty thin here. Paul Konerko is the obvious cream, but his pricetag skyrocketed in the 7th last night and he seems content to stay in Chicago. There are a couple guys that could be had on the trading block, but the costs might be prohibitive. Adam Dunn would be a fantastic addition to the club, but Cincy would undoubtedly ask for every pitching prospect we have plus a testicle. That's not good. Aubrey Huff could possibly he had for an Arroyo/Shoppach combo, but the lefty thing creeps up again, as does the "worst full year yet" thing. This will be an interesting story. I'm hoping we sit tight, suck it up with Olerud and Petagine and maybe add an Eduardo Perez. Even if these guys don't play that well, they would have a three-player platoon with over 100 years on the planet - that's got to count for something.
2B: Keep Graffy. One meaningless but egregious error aside, it's difficult to think you'll improve on the package he brings to the table for the money.
3B: This is interesting. Mueller is a fantastic player and with Varitek I think the professional spine of the team. But with his knees going, and the likelihood that he'll get some strong offers in the market, the Sox may need to look to Youks to step in. He has certainly shown he's ready to get his chance. The Free Youks bandwagon will be ecstatic; I suspect that most of us, even when/if Youks succeeds, will find the departure of Mueller bittersweet. The forward thinkers have put out the theory that the Sox should go after Furcal to play SS and move Renteria to 3B. I'm not a huge fan. It's not impossible, nothing is, but Renteria appears to be a guy who doesn't adapt well to new environments, so at $10 mil a year, I'm not experimenting.
The infield x-factor is Glaus. Obviously this guy would hit extremely well at Fenway - and most other parks for that matter - when healthy. Problem being, of course, he's made of cellophane paper. He wants to play 3B but his shoulder's shot. Could the Sox pick him up and convert him to 1B? Maybe. Does he want to do that? Rumors say no. Sometimes guys come around, but other times, Jay Payton says Hi.
The Sox are fortunate right now in that they have a lot of high-level prospects in the pipeline, and these are prospects that over the next couple years need to be indoctrinated into the major league ballgame. One thing that I hope the front office takes into account is the fact that these guys need leadership in the clubhouse and on the field. That's a big reason why I'd like to have Graffanino on the squad while Pedroia gets his feet wet. It's a big reason why despite Renteria's iffy first season in Beantown I'm happy we have him. 2006 won't be a rebuilding year, not entirely, but only a fool would think it won't be a building year.