Completing the thoughts for this week are the first musings as to whom of the possible departees the Red Sox should keep, and whom the club should allow to go. In alphabetical order, I give you the following:
• Alex Cora, Utility: A smart, steady player who can play multiple positions well and might teach Dustin Pedroia a thing or two while sitting in the dugout. He’d be great to have around if Pedroia needs more seasoning; otherwise, he’s expendable and likely attractive to potential trading partners. A keeper, even if only for the spring.
• Alex Gonzalez, SS: What a glove! And when he’s healthy, he can even hit from time to time. A keeper for keeps, especially considering there isn’t an immediate heir apparent. (Hanley Ramirez, where are you now that we need you?)
• Gabe Kapler, OF: As solid a fourth outfielder as there is. He’s got some speed, is a fan and clubhouse favorite, and certainly fields better than Willy Mo Peña. But he is what he is, and both Peña and David Murphy still have upside potential. So painfully, reluctantly, it’s time to let him go.
• Mark Loretta, 2B: Another rock-solid performer. So what if 80% of his hits were singles? He had 181 of them, and made only four errors in the field. After careful consideration, he stays: two years while (on paper, anyway) Pedroia transitions into the job.
• Doug Mirabelli, C: Perhaps the best-loved backup catcher in the game, and surely the only one ever to assume his position from the back seat of a state police car! But he’ll be 36 in two weeks, and he’s batted near or under the Mendoza line for the past two years. His primary value, therefore, is his ability to catch Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball, which means he really only contributes every fifth day – and then only when Wakefield is healthy and on the hill. Surely, there are younger, more versatile players who can fill this role; therefore, with pangs, he goes.
• Trot Nixon, RF: The Original Dirt Dog and a Red Sox lifer. He’s a throwback player who gives his all day in and day out, but at this point in his career, he indeed may have given his all. Unless he offers to re-sign for a significant home-town discount, he goes. But we’d like to keep the cap as a sign of honor and respect.
• Carlos Peña, 1B: A wonderful story of a local product made good: a Cape League Hall of Famer with a good attitude and good skills, but so far, an inconsistent performer at best. If he stays, will we see the Peña who hit 27 homers and drove in 82 runs for the Tigers in ’04, or the one who struggled in the minors for the past year and a half? Let’s hedge the bet and offer him something attractive (plenty of incentives) but small, and keep him if he signs.
• Tim Wakefield, P: A solid citizen with a weird pitch that lets him eat innings and, for the most part, keep the Sox in games. Now healed from his rib cage injury, there’s absolutely no reason not to renew him. He stays.
• Keith Foulke, P: A riddle wrapped in an enigma. Injury and frustration clearly took their toll on both his psyche and his pitching over the past two seasons, but when he’s on, he’s on. He finished ’06 stronger than he started and, unlike last year, when his knees caused him grief, he will have all winter to recondition himself properly. Don’t buy him out, and keep your fingers crossed. He stays.
• Jason Johnson, P: Perhaps the easiest decision of all: picked up only to perform emergency service, he gave up 41 hits and 13 walks in 29+ innings over six games. Nothing personal, but he goes.
• Mike Timlin, P: Another character guy who has meant much to the ballclub. The question is, was his decline in ’06 due to age or his pre-season work in the World Baseball Classic? The latter is not an ongoing consideration, but the former, of course, certainly is. Either way, when a reliever’s ERA essentially doubles as his did (2.24 to 4.36), it’s a concern – especially considering that inherited runners he allows to score show up in the ERA of the guy he replaced, not his own. With regret, he goes, and we’ll hope the Sox will find someone younger who’ll do at least as well, and probably for less money.
That’s it for now. See you at the ballyard!