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Pitch Perfect (almost)

The Sox do not have a whole lot of room for improvement in their pitching staff. The difference between this starting rotation and a championship staff is a little more offense and a truly dominant playoff performance or two - something I think we can count on from the likes of Misters Beckett and Lester as much as with any other team's dynamic duo.

The only chance for a major upgrade is with a blockbuster trade for someone like the Mariners' Felix Hernandez. But, the Mariners had a good year this year and I expect them to resign their ace. Also, those trades are not easy and can backfire. The Sox pulled one off when the infamous (why is that again?) former GM Dan Duquette traded Tony Armas, Jr. and Carl Pavano for Pedro. But, for every one of those trades, there's one trade where the Expos rent Bartolo Colon (at the time one of the best pitchers in the game) for Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips (all of whom are stars today).

Meanwhile, Beckett and Lester are both true aces. I don't like the murmurs of trading Beckett because he's in the last year of his deal - though I see that it's something that should be considered I guess. Lester is right there with the likes of Sabathia and Santana as dominant lefties. He'll win a Cy Young if he starts off the year as he's ended the last two - in 2008 and 2009 he had post-break ERAs in the 2's and a combined 16-5 record. As for Beckett, he seems a bit inconsistent, but I don't think he's any more inconsistant than other aces in the league. You're bound to have some bad steaks in 30+ starts and the hallmark of a good pitcher is getting out of those unavoidable tailspins and Beck lives up to that.

Likewise, Clay Buchholz proved he's a keeper with a micro verson of what I just said about Beck on a macro level. That is, Buchholz would struggle for an inning or two then settle himself and keep the team in the game. In 2007, Lester had a second decent partial-major league season which ended with a very good playoff start, launching him into what we know now. I think we saw Buchholz in 2009 have a similar year and a similar turning point.

Dice-K needs to come to camp in great shape. I expect he will because he must know he's on the verge of failure. He simply cannot have another year like 2009 and expect to have a rotation spot on any team in 2011, let alone the Red Sox. He's a proud and very talented athlete and I expect him to be motivated and have his best year yet. He has every tool to be a dominant starter. That said, the Sox need to be prepared in case he falters.

I was wrong about Wake. I was convinced all year that this was his last one. He was hurting, getting older, and made the all star team so I thought it made sense that this would be the offseason he'd bid us farewell. That said, he's still effective and I'm sure he was disappointed with his non-existant second half of the season. While his surgery might have fixed things, he's still 43 years old and there's a reason why almost no one pitches that long. The body breaks down. And no, being a knuckleballer does not negate this arguement. He still puts effort into every pitch; he just doesn't have much of an arm and the force is lost because he's holding the ball with his fingernails.

The Wake situation almost guarantees youngster Michael Bowden a roster spot. He's a starter with a good chance to be a solid 4 or 5 in a rotation someday. He pitched very well at Pawtucket last year. Also, in short relief for the Sox in a few outings last season, he looked like that might be where he ends up at the major league level. He throws pretty hard and is agressive in the strike zone. He fits perfectly into the roll as long man and Wakefield backup. Junichi Tazawa will be his top competition for this spot but I think the less-experienced Tazawa is best off learning in Pawtucket and coming up when a starter goes down for an extended time rather than a spot-start.

The bullpen is very good. Very good! Papelbon is great and will remain the closer for at least a few more years. Daniel Bard is dominant; Ramon Ramirez (70 games, 2.84 ERA) was very solid; Oki had another good year; and Delcarman* had a great first half and a stinker of a tailend. The team has likely lost Saito (who I kept forgetting all year but really was great) and Rent-a-Wagner. At this point I think the last roster spot goes to 6'6" lefty rookie Dustin Richardson. I loved the way he looked in his 3 Boston games this year and I think we should have a second lefty when possible. That said, I am sure Epstein will bring in a few free agent relievers to compete for spots.

I frankly worry that Oki might be about done. His "stuff" has never been great but last year it seemed pretty bad, like he was getting by with Frank Tanana junk and moxy (what is moxy? or guile? Do I have either? Probably not...). I hope I'm wrong about my Oki hunch, but the Sox could really use a Wagner-esque set up guy to help out the still very young Bard (of course, which team couldn't use someone like Wagner?).

There are a few free agents I'd take a flyer on if you can afford them - a la Brad Penny and Smoltz. Ben Sheets took last year off to rehab from arm surgery. He's planning to comeback this year and given his often-dominant track record when healthy, he should get a good deal of attention from a number of teams but still not get priced too high. I also like the idea of the Sox signing a free agent lefty starter. I wouldn't mind signing Erik Bedard or Doug Davis. Bedard has the most talent but is usually hurt. Davis is way under the radar but consistently good (though probably not under the radar of "real" GMs, as opposed to backseat executives like yours truly).

This staff it appears will be throwing to the same two catchers, V-Mart and Tek. I hope the coaching staff puts more emphasis this year on holding runners because neither of these guys has the throwing talent to make up for the staff's indifference toward baserunners. The team recently released George Kottaras (someone I always really rooted for for some reason) whose landed with the Brewers. It looks like Dusty Brown - who leads to team in name-awesomeness - will be primary fall-back plan in case of an injury with a possible switch to the younger and more talented Mark Wagner if he's ready. I hope Wagner gets a cup of coffee this year because he might be the backup in 2011.

*If you made it this far you can read one more rambling paragraph. I love local boy mini-Manny Delcarman. But he was baaaaad at the end of last year. There has always been talk about trading him to a place where he'd get a chance to close or be the primary set up guy, but now is not the time to trade him as his value is probably lower than it should be. My random thought is this: if Manny's surgically repaired arm can take it (big if), why not bring him into spring training as a starter? The guy throws hard and has a nasty change-up and curve. He has three good pitches and I think his maddening inability to pound the strike zone is actually a bit more managable as a starter than a reliever. That said, I think of this more like what the Sox did with Pap a few years ago. Bring Delcarman into camp and let him see if starting works for him. Doubtful he'll make the rotation but maybe he does. If he doesn't, he'd be ready to spot start and it might raise his trade value. Just a thought.


DC in DC said…
What's "Moxy," you ask?
This guy had it:

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