RedSox.com writer Ian Browne was kind enough to answer some questions from Over The Monster and the OTM readers. Browne also writes a great blog called Brownie Points.
OverTheMonster.com: With the loss of characters like Kevin Millar and Johnny Damon and the addition of players like Mike Lowell and Alex Gonzalez, how much has the clubhouse changed? What is the atmosphere like before and after games now with this new-look, idiot-free clubhouse?
Ian Browne: The main difference in the clubhouse is just the volume level. I think the loss of Millar is definitely the reason for that. He was always holliering at players and making fun of them in a good-natured way. But I think that this team has plenty of chemistry in its own way. They are a more professional group, not as interested in the frat room culture of the '04-05 teams. I think that attitude worked nicely for those teams -- obviously. But these guys are just different. The main similarity between the Idiots and Post-Idiots is that both teams knew-know how to be focused during the nine innings every day.
OTM: At this time next year, what do you see Jonathan Papelbon doing, closing or starting? Do you think the organization has changed their views, and want Papelbon to close and Craig Hansen to become a starter?
Browne: I think that Papelbon has fallen in love with closing, the instant gratification of it all. If he has a Cy Young or MVP type season, it would be hard to justify switching him to a starter next year, where there would be no guarantee he would be this effective. I don't think Craig Hansen will be a starter. I think he'll ease into a setup role over the next couple of years and eventually become a closer, whether it's in Boston or somewhere else.
OTM: There's a lot of uncertainty in the Red Sox rotation. How do you think the rotation will shape up? Will the front office keep trucking along with the same pitchers, or do you think they'll take aim at some up-and-comers down on the farm or make a trade?
Browne: The main question now is who the fifth starter will be. Can they get anything out of Clement or Wells for the rest of the year or is it going to be a lost year for both? It seems obvious that Lester is going to stay put in the rotation as long as he keeps pitching well.
OTM: Mike Lowell has certainly rebounded from his lackluster 2005 campaign. Do expect his numbers to drop as pitchers find his holes, or do you think he could keep it up and even challenge for the batting title ? like a former third base man we all know and love.
Browne: I don't think Lowell's numbers will drop all that much. He was a solid player his whole career, and everyone jumped to the conclusion that he was done after one bad year. He's a terrific fielder, a true pro. I don't think he'll challenge for a batting title. He's not that type of hitter. He's more of a run producer. As the weather stays warm, I think his home run totals might jump while his doubles fall off a bit.
OTM: Lately we've seen more of Jermaine Van Buren and Manny Delcarmen, but do you think he's still reluctant to pitch them in crucial situations? If so, why do you think that is? They seem to only pitch when the team is losing or they have a big lead.
Browne: Mainly because of injuries to Keith Foulke and Mike Timlin, Francona has had no choice but to use those guys in big spots, and, at times it has worked and at times it hasn't. At any rate, it can only help the development of both pitchers.
OTM: The hot topic recently has been the issue of who's playing right field next season in Fenway. Trot Nixon is the lifetime dirt dog, but his contract is expiring and there is a home run machine waiting for 550 at-bats a season. How do you think it will play out?
Browne: If Nixon is willing to take a hometown discount and play for perhaps $1.5 to $2 million less than he's made the last three years, I could see him staying. They value his run production and on-base capability quite a bit and that's without even talking about his role in the clubhouse, where he has been an underrated presence for years. But I can't see the Sox giving Nixon the same salary they've given him the last three years because of the injuries he's had.
OTM: Alex Gonzalez has been great defensively, but his offense has certainly lacked. Has there been rumblings about the Sox calling up Dustin Pedroia to play shortstop? Pedroia has struggled this season, but the organization really seems to like him. Do you think the front office would be more prone to make a trade for, say, Cesar Izturis, or give Pedroia a chance?
Browne: I really believe the Red Sox are fine with their shortstop situation. Terry Francona, in my mind, has done a masterful job of mixing and matching Cora and Gonzalez. Whenever Cora plays, he seems to get a hit or two and contribute in some way to winning. As for Gonzalez, he'll never be a hitter, but when he does get hits, they seem to come in key spots.
OTM: As fans, we see how Sox players are on TV, but how are they in the clubhouse, away from the cameras? Are any of them great clubhouse guys that no one in the public knows about?
Browne: By now, everyone knows what a great clubhouse guy Gabe Kapler is. I also have a ton of respect for the way Trot Nixon goes about his business. He's just a consummate pro. David Ortiz lights up the room whenever he's around. He's almost what you'd imagine him to be just by what you see on TV. Mike Lowell, in just a short time, has proven to be one of the most respected players in that room. He is all about winning. Same goes for Mark Loretta. Curt Schilling and Jason Varitek are definitely the two players who stick out with their game preparation during the hours the clubhouse is open to the media.
OTM: We know Manny Ramirez doesn't talk to the media; ever attempt to get anything out of the quiet slugger?
Browne: Usually when you ask Manny a question, you get one of two responses: "No thank you" or complete silence, and him treating the reporter like he or she is invisible. Because of how degrading that can be, I usually only approach Manny if it's for a pressing matter. The big mystery for me is why he was so great to talk to in '04, but basically has shut everyone down ever since then. It's too bad. He's an extremely fun loving guy. For whatever reason, I guess he'd rather not speak with the media and that's too bad.
OTM: Finally, a few of my readers want to know: how did you get the job writing at the official Red Sox website? Where did you go to school and what did you study?
Browne: I was a journalism major at Northeastern University and served as a sports Coop at the Globe during that time, getting tons of clips and invaluable experience working around some of the true professionals in all of journalism. At the time, my dream was to cover a pro sports team -- preferably one in Boston -- for a major newspaper. As it turns out, the Internet was exploding the year I graduated -- 1995.
I got my first job at a start-up website called SportsLine USA, which morphed into CBS SportsLine shortly thereafter. My boss Mike Kahn gave me the opportunity of a lifetime in my mid 20s, covering events such as the Stanley Cup Finals and the World Series. In 1998, I moved from our home base in Fort Lauderdale to New York City, where i became a one-man bureau covering all the New York/New Jersey pro and college teams with a primary focus on baseball. In April, 2001, SportsLine had over 90 cutbacks, and I was one of them. It turned out to be the best thing for me. MLB.com hired me as a regional writer based in New York roughly one month later. After the 2001 season, my boss asked me to go back home to Boston and cover the Red Sox and I jumped at the chance. This is my fifth year covering the Sox and it's a dream job.