The "story" this preseason for the Red Sox has been the rather large turnover in the starting lineup. Four changes – three new infielders and a new center-fielder.
I think this angle has been slightly overblown. The core of the Red Sox the last several seasons has been Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon, Bill Mueller and Johnny Damon. Four of those six players return in 2006.
The other positions, first base, second base and shortstop, have been revolving doors in recent years. First base has belonged at various times to Kevin Millar, John Olerud and others. Second base has been manned by Todd Walker, Pokey Reese, Mark Bellhorn and Tony Graffanino. Shortstop – since Nomar left, has been a trip also. Orlando Cabrera, followed by the late, great Edgar Renteria.
Still, since there have been some changes its always fun to compare year to year and see whether we think there’s been an upgrade.
Coco Crisp (CF) – I love this guy. His numbers, and age (26), tell me that he’s going to make people forget Johnny Damon in no time. He is not Rickey Henderson – that is, he will not get on base over forty percent of the time, but he’ll be plenty good enough with speed and a little power. Damon, on the other hand, is due for a decline. (SLIGHT UPGRADE)
Mark Loretta (2B) – The Sox must see second base as a spot where you can put an aging guy who can provide some offense at relatively low cost, because that’s what they’ve been doing there since Walker arrived a few years back. Loretta fits that mold nicely. If he is over his recent health problems, he should be an upgrade offensively. One more thing – when is someone going to mention the classic Beantown punk classic from the 70’s, "Talk To Loretta" by the Nervous Eaters? I still have the single in my juke box. (SLIGHT UPGRADE)
David Ortiz (DH) – Doesn’t he remind you more and more of the Bambino? He is a phenomenal offensive player, showing no signs of slowing down. My only concern – most Red Sox stars eventually turn sour. Its an iron law – think of Williams, Yaz, Rice, Boggs, Roger, Nomar, Mo, Pedro. The media get to them, and they get grumpy. This guy’s greatest contribution to the team could be overcoming that trend and setting a great example for the others. (NO CHANGE)
Manny Ramirez (LF) – They just can’t get rid of this guy. Oh well, I guess we are just going to have to suffer through another season of 40 home runs, 120 RBI and a high OBP. Yes, there were times last year when he went to sleep for a while – but by the end the numbers were there. If he’s around in 2007, we will have to start worrying about his age – but I say he’s got one more historic year in him. (NO CHANGE)
Trot Nixon (RF) – When I penned a column for Masslive a few years back, I loved this guy and promoted him every chance I got. I’m done. Staying healthy is part of the deal – whether its his fault or not is beside the point. Yes, there are certain situations when I still want to see him up there (Yankee Stadium against a righty comes to mind), but most of the time he’s just a gimpy guy with modest power. A nice what-might-have-been kind of player, but that’s all. (SLIGHT DECLINE)
Jason Varitek (C) – Eventually, a catcher breaks down. True, Varitek is a tough guy, but at times last year his bat seemed slow and its inevitable that we will eventually see a decline in production. With my April, rose-colored glasses firmly in place, I say he’s fine. For now. (NO CHANGE)
Mike Lowell (3B) – This is a pure guess. He’s produced at high levels in the past, but last year was a bust. He started poorly this spring, but came on with a vengeance late. As one Globe columnist pointed out, Bill Mueller was a pretty good offensive player (about like Damon). No superstar, but no liability either. The rose-colored glasses come off for this one. (SLIGHT DOWNGRADE)
Kevin Youkalis (IB) – This is likely to be a rough-platoon with J.T. Snow getting a fair amount of time, ala Olerud. Youkalis – formerly known as the Greek God of Walks – will be expected to get on base and provide some spark at the bottom of the order. Snow is a decent offensive player with a good glove. (SLIGHT UPGRADE)
Alex Gonzalez (SS) – His history suggests that although he will not get on base with great regularity, he will hit for occasional power. I like that. It means from time to time he actually might hit a home run when they need it. I have a theory, born of experience, that players acquired mostly for their defense lose their luster very quickly – fans and club officials lose patience with all the outs. But overall, Gonzalez for Renteria is a good move. (SLIGHT UPGRADE)
So there you have it – four slight upgrades, two slight downgrades and three positions where I see no change. For an offense that already was among the best in the game, I think that’s pretty good.