According to Street & Smith's 2005 Baseball Yearbook, the Boston Red Sox's 68 steals during the regular season last year were the fewest for a World Series champion since 1983 when the Baltimore Orioles stole a just-a-little-worse 61 bags during the regular season.
As the infamous Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons would say:
Slowest. Team. Ever.
And the scary thing is that we actually got slower during the off-season.
We lost Gabe Kapler to the Yomiuri Giants. We traded Dave Roberts to San Diego because he wished to start and the Sox just couldn't promise that for him in Boston. And Pokey Reese is now wearing a tilted Mariners cap to the side, not a Boston one.
The key to all those losses were that they were bench players; players that would come in during the later innings to pinch-run and give a better chance to score. Now? Our bench isn't nearly as fast.
We added Edgar Renteria who had his worst season ever on the base paths last season (17 stolen bags, 11 caught stealing). If he only stole 17 bases last season in the National League, don't expect those numbers to go up in the American League on a Boston team. The last person to have more than 20 steals in a season and not be named Johnny Damon is our former center fielder (pre-"Jurassic Carl" Everett) Darren Lewis who stole 29 in 1998. Renteria, though, is a starter and if we need his speed on the base-paths, then we need him to get a hit or produce a walk to get on. If he wasn't such a great defensive player, able to hit a ball so well, and making ten million dollars a season, then sure: let's stick him on the bench! (Please - PLEASE! note the sarcasm in the last sentence).
Jay Payton was another off-season acquisition for the Red Sox this season. Payton is one of three players that we received in return for the Roberts trade to San Diego. He is a very interesting case though, because all reports are that he is a speedy, excellent defensive outfielder. When looking at his stats, all I can assume is that he's a bad base runner because his best season ever on the base-paths was seven steals in 2002. I don't know what to expect of him on the base-paths this season, but at least we know he has some speed.
Ramon Vazquez also came over from San Diego with Payton. Vazquez, in just 52 games last season, had only one steal. The year before, though, he had ten and was caught only three times. My diagnosis? Slow. He won't be our answer to our need of speed, but on a side-note, he'll be a great backup infielder.
Let's review what we know so far. The fastest players on the team, and are capable of at least 20 steals a season, are Renteria and Damon. Payton, I assume, is fast but can't run the base-paths well, so he ain't no Kapler in that sense. And Vazquez's job won't be to steal bases this season, just to spell our starting infielders.
I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't mention the players worth an honorable mention. There are guys with average speed on the team like Jason Varitek (ten steals last season; second on the team), Bill Mueller, Mark Bellhorn and Trot Nixon. They are, like I said, average. They won't be making any 9th inning steals, or coming in the game to pinch-run. They are just guys who are in the middle of the pack and can get the job done once in a while.
We haven't hit a solution yet, but I think I've got a player in mind that can be the answer to our problems: Rule-V draft pick Adam Stern.
Here is what SoxProspects.com has to say about Stern:
Since he is a Rule-V draft pick, he has to make the team out of spring training and be with the team for the whole season. If not, he is optioned back to the Atlanta Braves where they can take him back if they choose to.
Stern is fast, and he showed his speed last season at double-A Greeneville. He stole 27 bags and was only caught ten times while playing in 102 games last season. Two years earlier he stole 40 bases at Myrtle Beach while only being caught eight times.
The likeliness that he makes the team is pretty scarce at the moment. He needs to have a good spring, and demonstrate that speed that the Red Sox seem to desperately need. The Sox carried five outfielders - at least - for most of last season. If Manny Ramirez, Damon, Nixon and Payton have their spots locked up, that leaves one more outfielder to make the team. If Terry Francona wants to go the five-outfielder direction, then it leaves Stern and Adam Hyzdu as the only real contenders to battle for the position.
Keep an ear out for Stern's name this spring. He may be the next player to do a Dave Roberts in game four of the ALCS.