The most popular chant at the Red Sox Championship parade was "Re-Sign Lowell." At least, that was the most popular chant on the north side of Tremont Street. Theo and the Sox apparently heard us.
Another popular mantra was "Don't Sign A-Rod." The Yankee villain opted out of his already gargantuan contract in search of more money. Scott Boras's initial demands of 10 years and $350 million were soundly ignored by the Yankees and the rest of Major League Baseball. The evildoers, however, were able to reason with Rodriguez and they settled on a "modest" contract of $275 million for 10 years. Of course, a 10% raise over what was already the biggest contract in baseball history is nothing to sneeze at.
Lowell and the Red Sox agreed on a 3 year, $37.5 million deal that will keep the 2007 World Series MVP in hitter friendly Fenway Park until 2010. Reports say that the Philadelphia Phillies offered him $50 million for 4 years (same salary, one additional year). Lowell's decision to stay with the Sox despite the better offer demonstrates two things.
#1 Lowell likes it here in Boston
#2 Lowell does not want to play in Philadelphia. Who would?
Unlike the 2004 Championship team - which saw the immediate exits of Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Bronson Arroyo, and Orland Cabrera; as well as the eventual departures of Johnny Damon, Bill Mueller, Keith Foulke, Alan Embree, Kevin Millar, and Mark Bellhorn - the transition from 2007 to 2008 will see much more of the team stay intact.
It isn't even December and the following starting positions have already been determined:
C - Jason Varitek
1B - Kevin Youkilis
2B - Dustin Pedroia
3B - Mike Lowell
SS - Julio Lugo
LF - Manny Ramirez
CF - ???
RF - JD Drew
DH - David Ortiz
SP - Josh Beckett
SP - Daisuke Matsuzaka
SP - Curt Schilling
SP - Tim Wakefield (this could change)
SP - ???
What remains to be decided is what to do in center-field. The impressive late season performance of Jacoby Ellsbury almost ensured that Coco Crisp will be traded. The question mark in the rotation is due to a multitude of candidates to fill the spot as opposed to a lack of pitching. Bucholz, Lester, and Tavarez are all possibilities. And don't be surprised if Papelbon's name gets mentioned in the starting rotation mix.
The big load of question marks are for the bullpen. Papelbon is the closer, Okajima will set-up, but the Red Sox need to add more depth in this area. Manny Delcarmen has yet to emerge as a reliable set-up option. He had spurts of brilliance last year, but these were followed by stretches of mediocrity.
A healthy Brendan Donnelley should help to deepen the bullpen. Before getting injured, Donnelley had a 3.05 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in 20.2 IP.
Moving Wakefield would also be a benefit to the relief corps. As it is, Wakefield doesn't promise to give us too many good innings as a starter. His knuckleball could prove to be an excellent change of pace from hard throwers like Beckett, setting up for another hard thrower in Papelbon. Tim's pitched out of the pen before with varying success.
The Red Sox could use a situational lefty. We could use a guy to get difficult left-handed hitters out in crucial situations. Javier Lopez SUCKS as a situational lefty. I'm sorry, but he's not that good. His ERA might have been 3.10, but his WHIP was 1.33. This season, left-handed batters hit .293 against him. That just won't cut it as a lefty reliever. Of course, teams don't NEED a situational lefty in order to win. It's just a nice thing to have.
The Sox have offered a 1 year deal to veteran Mike Timlin. If Timlin doesn't decide to retire, I'd say there's a 99% chance he will stay with the Red Sox. I can't imagine him leaving town for what is almost sure to be his last season in Major League Baseball.
For the first time in 10 years, Timlin had fewer than 60 appearances. He's no longer the work horse that he was for us in '03, '04, and '05. But he has settled into a role as an occasional set-up man and mop up pitcher.
With Timlin aging into his last year, and Okajima wearing down at the end of the season, it's apparent that the Red Sox need another set-up pitcher. As it is, here is how our bullpen might look:
Closer: Jonathan Papelbon
Set-up: Hideki Okajima
Set-up: Manny Delcarmen
Set-up: Brendan Donnelley
Mid-relief: Mike Timlin
Long-relief: Julian Tavarez
That's not a bad bullpen, but Delcarmen still has question marks surrounding him, Okajima wore out and is another year older, Timlin might not even make the 25 man roster, we've yet to see what Donnelley can give us, and Tavarez might be the biggest wild card in baseball. Adding a top set-up man will alleviate some concerns, and give Francona a multitude of late inning options.
It doesn't appear as though the Red Sox will make any massive moves this off-season. Certainly they will be involved in the trade talk surrounding Johan Santana. But I wouldn't expect any big free agent signings like we saw last year.
This doesn't mean that the team is not looking to improve. However, the best way to improve will be for the players we currently have to perform better. JD Drew and Julio Lugo are two candidates for such improvement. Dustin Pedroia will look to have a full season of success, as will Kevin Youkilis. Jacoby Ellsbury might just pan out to be the leadoff hitter we've needed since the departure of Damon. Matsuzaka will start 2008 with a full year of Major League experience under his belt. And young pitchers like Bucholz are on the verge of busting into the rotation.
2008 should prove to be an interesting year in Red Sox Nation.