I think it's becoming evident by now that the coin has landed on the "rebuilding" side. All in all, I think the FO did a decent job of putting together a 2006 team that could have been extremely competitive had they been extremely lucky health-wise, had some over-performers, and maybe caught lightning in a bottle. This team did not pan out that way; that's baseball. Technically they're still right there in the mix, but it's pretty clear given their current performance level that come September they will not be in the catbird seat.
Previously I focused on the offense's poor situational hitting, not really as a means of explaining the losing, but as a contributor to it due to their leaving a lot of runs on the table. I thought it was interesting in light of the fact that when you just look at run production the team still performs versus the rest, at #4 in the AL since the break. The issue is that they weren't performing to potential situationally. Still, you can't complain when your team averages more than five runs a game. The pitching, of course, is what is killing this team.
Since the All-Star Break here's how our pitching has fared against the rest of the AL:
Record: 15-16 (speaks for itself)
ERA: 4.99 (only TB, Balt. and KC are worse, and yes, we just went 4-6 against them)
R/ER: 175/154 = 22 Un-Earned runs (worst in AL)
WHIP: 1.50 = avg. of 13.5 baserunners per 9 (only Seattle, Balt, TB and KC are worse)
OBP Against: .352 (tied with Seattle and Balt. TB and KC are worse)
SLG Against: .451 (CWS, Balt, TB and KC are worse)
CS/SB: 23/4 (only CWS at 25/4 are worse)
I don't think there is anyone in RSN, myself included, who would have predicted this situation looking at the roster in the spring. Injuries and some unexpectedly poor performances have put us behind the eight-ball. We probably aren't going to get there this year, so let's look ahead.
The question of course, now that the free agent market has become a pit fight beyond anything we have previously known, is who from within the system will contribute in the near future? I like to follow the young guys because it's fun to do so - they're young, living the dream, having the occasional big night - but the reality is that most of these guys will not become big leaguers.
Here are some players, by league, that might contribute in the 2007-2008 seasons:
AAA: Pawtucket's much-heralded spark plug/fire hydrant Dustin Pedroia is the only player who looks like he's ready for the bigs. David Murphy has the draft pedigree, but hasn't performed well enough to be expected to contribute. There are no pitchers in AAA who will help the big-league club much.
AA: Ellsbury is the cream of the crop here, and probably in the system. He was recently named Eastern League Player of the Week. He is insanely fast, has a bit of gap power, and is plus defensively. It would be fantastic if he were ready for 2007 but it's likely we see him late 2007/for 2008. The fact that he has two last names guarantees us something.
There is some hope hard-throwing converted catcher Edgar Martinez might help out of the bullpen. He was an All-Star this year, and can bring the heat with a couple of balance pitches in his repertoire. Having Rich Garces as your MLB comparison kind of leaves one with mixed feelings though, doesn't it? (Note: I linked to Martinez's Sox Prospects page not to make you click-through to get his stats, but so you could see that he is chubby - like El Guapo.)
Brandon Moss is still languishing in AA but remains on Sox Prospect's top ten list at #10. This is hard to swallow, but if accurate doesn't bode well. I just can't see how it's accurate. He's nearly 23 and middling-to-good in AA. Chad Spann is his doppleganger, although has hit for more power in AA with a .472 SLG this year. Spann surprised people, so might still be on the upswing. If I had to put money on one horse it would be Spann, but it would be money I found on the ground in a public restroom and wasn't attached to.
Luis Jimenez is the x-factor. Knicknamed "Little Papi" due to his immense size and somewhat considerable power, Jimenez has hit 15 HRs in AA in just 329 ABs, but also managed to amass just a .465 SLG - lower than Spann's. Strikes out almost 20% of the time, but also walks a bit. He seems to get injured a lot recently, so the book is still out on LP.
Single-A: It's always a stretch to consider anyone from A-ball contributing at the major league level in two years. Hansen is sort of "contributing" now, but he was deemed nearly major-league ready right out of college (turns out that may have been a rose-tinted assessment).
In Wilmington, there are a few guys that could contribute in the short term. First is Bryce Cox, the fireballing reliever drafted after dominating for Rice in the CWS. His stuff is supposed to be electric, but then, so was Hansen's. Nevertheless, he has moved through the system quickly already.
Jed Lowrie has battled injuries, but comes with a pedigree. He has stalled this year in overcoming his setbacks, but there is the chance that he could come back strong and move quickly next year. He showed some surprising power in college, putting up an OPS over 1.100 his junior and senior year. He has to be considered a longshot, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Mark Wagner (picture link included for laughs) has just been promoted to Wilmington after tearing up low-A in Greenville. At this point he has to be considered the top Catcher prospect in the system, due to... well, there being no others to speak of. He shows good strike-zone command at the plate, and has hit for average and (some) power this year.
Another recent promotee is Clay Buchholz. He has a live arm, and apparently drew some interest over the trade deadline. It might be a stretch to see him make the bigs for the Sox, but if he's ready in 2008 the timing would be pretty sweet.
In Greenville still, Michael Bowden has put together some strong performances, and if he continues to perform at his current level he could move quickly could make the jump. He is big boy with a pitcher's body, and has got excellent peripherals thus far into his career.
That's pretty much it. Positionally, only Pedroia and Ellsbury look sure to help the team over the next couple of years. This year's draft was a good one but there is noone who will be close to ready by 2008, barring a miracle (okay, maybe Masterson). Cox and Martinez will probably end up in the bullpen, maybe as soon as later next year, and we can hope we see Buchholz and/or Bowden making some spot starts in 2008.
The short version is this: it's going to be another exciting off-season. Now, back to your regularly scheduling Red Sox supporting. As I like to say" 'Probability's got nothing to do with it".