Tomorrow, February 19th, might well be the best day of the entire winter. On that magical day, pitchers and catchers are required to report to their respective spring training camps, and the rituals of baseball begin anew. It's been a long winter, kids, but it's almost over.
This week at Over the Monster, we talked of many things. Of shoes, and ships, and sealing-wax. Of cabbages and kings. Nope, that wasn't us, that was the Walrus. The Lewis Carroll one, not the Beatles one. We talked about baseball. Who's good at baseball, who's going to be good at baseball, and who would rather sit in a duck blind all summer than play baseball in Boston. We also bid farewell to one of the Red Sox' all-time greats, and did not at all weep like babies while doing so.
To the recappening!Saturday saw another of the rituals of late winter: Truck Day. Once the quiet observance of a few cold-immune die-hards, now a fully marketed spectacle. Boston bid "Godspeed" to the JetBlue-sponsored semi full of bats, gloves, cleats, and presumably whatever restraints the club uses to keep Pedey from trying to field grounders in his sleep. To honor the occasion, OTM poet laureate Matt Kory penned an Ode to Truck Day.
To kick off the week, Cee Angi took a look at three unresolved issues facing the Sox. First, the uncertain futures of team stalwarts Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield. Tek's situation remains in flux (although there have been mutterings that he may retire), and we'll speak more of Wakefield at the end of the recap. Second, the ongoing saga of Roy Oswalt. It's the middle of February, and one of the premier pitchers of the last decade sits unsigned. This is an almost unprecedented situation, as Marc Normandin covered on Wednesday. Lastly, what are the Cubs going to give the Sox in exchange for Theo Epstein? Fortunately, it's now in the hands of Commissioner Bud, so we can expect a resolution around the time the Sox are drafting Victor Jose Martinez.
Uncertainty also surrounded two probable pillars of the 2012 Red Sox going into the week. An arbitration hearing with DH/Playoff Jedi David Ortiz was set for Monday afternoon, but with hours to spare, Papi and the front office agreed to a one-year, $14.575 million deal. Marc had all the details. That same front office, with slightly different leadership, signed Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million deal last winter. The first year was somewhat disappointing, at least in part due to a wrist injury that required offseason surgery. Marc covered new Sox manager Bobby Valentine's take on Crawford's recovery.
Writers all over the sporting media, and Boston writers in particular, have raised questions about the perceived weak points in the Sox roster. Matt Kory took a look at three of those weak points: shortstop, the aforementioned Crawford, and the back end of the starting rotation. While the back end of the rotation remains a question mark, at least the Sox got another option for that back end by signing former Pirate Ross Ohlendorf. Is he the answer? Ben Buchanan thinks probably not, while Marc was slightly more optimistic about the move.
Either way, Ohlendorf joins the veritable flock of non-roster invitees the Sox will have at spring training. An entire team's worth, in fact, as Marc speculated. It's actually a vaguely interesting cast, and one that could, with a little luck, maybe win 35 games in the NL Central. A few more if the pitching's healthy. If worst-case scenario rosters aren't your thing, how about best-ever? The Red Sox are putting together an "All-Fenway Team," a lineup of the best to ever don the crimson hose at Fenway. First up: best RHP and LHP, which Marc covered. Personally, I could go a couple ways on the best lefty, but if Pedro Martinez doesn't win best righty, I'm going to riot in the streets.
Matt Sullivan added two pieces to his fantastic rundown of the best tools on the 2012 Red Sox. First, the pitchers: who on the Sox staff has the best control? Next, the hitters. Simple question: of Boston's formidable stable of sluggers, who's the best pure hitter? The overwhelming winner of the latter, among both OTM writers and readers, was Adrian Gonzalez. Matt Kory provided a closer reading of the big first baseman's 2011 numbers to see what lies ahead (hint: it involves pain inflicted upon the ERAs of AL pitchers).
Turns out Marc also writes about fake baseball. Like, quite a bit about fake baseball. (I kid, but I just rejoined a league and named my team FIPping the Bird, so I can't talk too much.) He gave OTM readers a few tips on Red Sox players who might be good values at your next fantasy draft.
Red Sox fans bid farewell on Friday to a pitcher who had brought them joy so often: the Yankees apparently agreed to a trade of A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates. With the Pirates deciding that big-contract pitchers who underperformed in the AL East are a market inefficiency worth pursuing, Ben wondered whether they, or some other team, might be persuaded to take one John Lackey off Boston's hands.
Finally, we come to the week's sad, if long-anticipated news: the retirement of Tim Wakefield. The last time a Red Sox team started the season without Wake on the roster was 1994, the year of the strike. I was 11. I almost literally can't remember the Red Sox without #49 on the mound. I saw him pitch hundreds of times; there was a span of about four years where it seemed every game I attended at Fenway just happened to be a Wake start. I was at Fenway for his 2,000th strikeout, and I remember distinctly that there was almost no fanfare, no fireworks, I don't think there was even an announcement. But Wake knew, and the crowd knew, and we all stood to applaud the guy who showed up every five days and sent that knuckleball fluttering.
My most distinct Wakefield memory, though, is Game Five of the 2004 ALCS. The Sox had made their miraculous Roberts Steal comeback the night before, and had somehow again scored off Mariano Rivera late to send it into extras. Wake came in to pitch the 12th, and got through it mostly unscathed. Next inning. Wake struck out Gary Sheffield, but Varitek (who never got the hang of catching the knuckler) dropped strike three, sending Sheff to first. Wake got Hideki Matsui to ground into a fielder's choice, and retired Bernie Williams on a fly ball. Facing Jorge Posada, Wake uncorked another passed ball, and Matsui took second. They put Posada on first, trying to set up the force out for Ruben Sierra. Wake got Sierra down in the count, and threw another passed ball. Now there were two men in scoring position, and all of Red Sox Nation was ready to die. But Wake struck Sierra out, then pitched a perfect 14th to set the Sox up for Papi's walkoff single in the bottom of the inning.
That was Tim Wakefield. None of the presence or artistry of Pedro. None of the dancing theatrics of Papelbon. Wake never seemed to relish the spotlight, or seek it out. But when it counted most, when the Red Sox needed someone to give them an inning, or shore up a battered rotation, Wake was there. For seventeen seasons, Wake was always there when the Sox needed him. And we'll never forget that. Thanks for an incredible run, Wake. It's been an honor to have you.