Now that the 2006 lineup has come together, we can finally pick it apart, OverTheMonster style.
Let's take a look at our starting nine, in a semi-sensible order, and compare it to our 2005 club statistically.
1.) Center Field
OUT: Johnny Damon
IN: Coco Crisp
There has certainly been a lot of debate here. A few numbers for redundancy's sake:
That's Damon and Crisp respectively. The numbers really are a push 2006 could look entirely the same, though Fenway is more likely to help Coco more than Yankee Stadium will help the late JD.
The difference in this case is, I'll take Coco Crisp for 2.75 million, instead of Johnny Damon for 12.
OUT: Edgar Renteria
IN: Alex Gonzalez
I had always hoped that Renteria would work out in Boston. Sadly, it never happened and the Sox cut their "losses". Are we better off?
We all know that Renteria just didn't have a good year. Despite this, he still beats out Gonzales with the stick. The difference next year will be defense. All reports indicate that Gonzalez will be slick in the field, something the upper management feels we need (and can afford) for 2006. Their respective RF9 (Range Factor/9 innings) last season was 4.08 to 4.74 in AG's favor. Projecting 2006, we can be sure that Renteria will put up better offensive catagories, even if Gonzalez is much better in the field.
3.) This is David Ortiz's spot. Is there anything this guy can't do? Forget sending a LOOGY, Ortiz batted over .300 against lefties last year, BETTER than his splits against Righties. It's easy to project him as a .300/1.00 OPS/ 40 homer/130 RBI guy again next season. Hopefully Manny having a big season means more pitches for Ortiz, who just turned 30.
4.) Another returner, Manny Ramirez. Manny's the OTHER guy in our lineup that's could coast through the second half and still stockpile 40 bombs and 120 RBI. His batting average isn't what it used to be, but I suspect that its less because of decline (a notion that is being kicked around the water cooler) and more because of David Ortiz, and the rest of our lineup being such good hitters. Manny can afford to swing big more often, go for the big stroke, instead of keeping the line moving. I'd be surprised to see that continue this season. We've lost some very talented bats, with question marks replacing them. If they struggle, Don't be surprised to see Manny turn on the gas and contend for another batting title.
5.) The Captain, Jason Varitek. It's not hard to see why Tek's the captain of the Red Sox. He's everything everyone wants him to be. We all know that. There will be increasing concerns over his age each year, but JV is going to be solid for several more. I'd love to get his 2005 season all over again. .281, .865 OPS, 20 homers? Oh yeah. Only 3 catchers put up a .800+ OPS last season, and the Captain topped that list.
IN: Mike Lowell
OUT: Bill Mueller
For the sake of the lineup, I'll evaluate and project Mike Lowell/Billy Mueller here. Mueller's time in Boston epitomized "ballplayer". He played hard every day, kept his mouth shut and did his job the best he could. Sentimental reasons would have forced my hand, but I also feel fortunate to have Mike Lowell on board.
I'm not going to post Lowell's 2005 numbers, because they don't compare to Mueller's at all. Instead, let's take his career averages versus 2005 Billy Ballgame into account.
.272/.339/23 homers/95 RBI.
.295/.369/10 homers/62 RBI
Lowell obviously has the power edge, and the better glove (though Billy was no slouch at third). I'm confident that he'll be around .280/.350+ this year at the Fens. After taking salary into account and Lowell's question marks, I'm giving this one to Mueller. He's very consistant, a great teammate, while Lowell has a lot to prove. If healthy and on, he's a fantastic pickup.
7.) Right Field
Oh how I hope that Trot Nixon can have a healthy season. We say it every year, but "A full season of Trot Nixon's .800+ OPS would do wonders for the lineup. It's too bad that lefties eat him up and he gets hurt so often. Even so, the spot is his to lose, especially considering the lack of corner outfield prospects waiting in the wings. I have high hopes for 2006.
8.) First Base
IN: Kevin Youkilis
OUT: Kevin Millar.
You've gotta love Kevin Youkilis. He's been a fan favorite since his first at-bat in the bigs, stepped up big for Mueller in 2004, and is another great teammate. That OBP is sexy too. Will he put it all together in 2006?
Numbers wise, he should be comparable to the 2004 Millar, with slightly better defense and the ability to play 3rd base. We're less likely to see him in RF though. Youkilis is younger, cheaper (not by much, but it counts), and has a bigger upside for 2006 at this point in his career. This could be his breakout year.
He obviously won't bat in the 9 hole, but that's how things fall on this table. Despite the hype surrounding Josh Beckett and Coco Crisp, I really think that Loretta was our best off-season deal. The Sox landed him for just Mirabelli, which was a complete steal. I certainly think it was another example of "Buy-Low". San Diego was nickel and diming their lineup, and Boston pounced. Some would argue that we would have been fine with just Graffanino. Let's look at the career averages:
.301/.365/8 homers/61 RBI
.268/.336/9 homers/45 RBI
It's a clear offensive upgrade, and Loretta's averaging 7 errors a season since 2001. He'll be very solid with the glove. Am I sensing a trend?
OVERALL EDGE: 2006 3-2.
It was close, but I believe that the team has improved itself. That's the point of every off-season. The fact that we lost several key players and were able to plug the holes with quality players is a real accomplishment.
The offense is close to its 2005 capacity, and the defense is off-the-charts better. Take into account also the upgrades to the pitching, and you may have more than you need to win 90+ games.
Hopefully, pending health and consistency, this team can play good baseball and compete yet again in the AL East.
Look for the coming article on our pitching rotation and the bullpen upgrades.