A point was made by a reader last week that counteracted my claim last week that Keith Foulke could have cost the Sox their 2005 season by the fact that without him, the Sox wouldn’t have won the World Series in 2004. Very true and something I should have included as Foulke is my favorite Sox player (other than Adam Stern…just kidding) and he was money in da bank last season. However, I was a bit disappointed that his tough-guy act hurt the team this year when he decided to forgo knee surgery in the offseason and just tough it out, apparently assuming that pitching for a major league team and putting constant stress on it would make it better.
And in case you didn’t see it, the Sox were eliminated quietly and meekly in the ALDS this week, just tossed around by the ChiSox like a band of Mexican wrestling midgets. I mean, it wasn’t even close. Between the so-so pitching, tired bats and overall lack of that Sox spirit that was so ominpresent last season, you could just tell that it wasn’t going to happen. While I personally didn’t feel that same depression like after the Aaron Boone homer in 2003, I still was hoping for some sort of ‘Things are going to change’ statement from the front office, something that said, “You know, this is unacceptable. We expect to win a World Series, not get swept out of the playoffs. This will be a busy offseason for us, so bye.” Alas, I didn’t expect it and we didn’t get it, rather the usual p.c. talk that dominates the 24 hours after a playoff exit.
But there will be changes, the only question being how many and how far-reaching. Here’s what I expect/predict for 2006:
-Francona/Epstein to be re-signed. I think this goes without saying. Theo is Theo and while some may disagree with Terry’s take on how to run a ball club, he makes the playoffs and got this team to over 90 wins without an ace pitcher, without a closer and minimal power production from the corner infield positions. Say what you will, but he’s doing a good job and Joe Torre ain’t walkin’ through that door folks. (That is, unless he gets fired and wants to come to Boston. Then, Terry can go screw.)
-Millar/Mueller to not be resigned, while Timlin will be brought back. After a year where he hit just five home runs and complained about playing time, it’s time for one of the most interesting personalities in Sox history – Kevin Millar – to cowboy his ass up out of town. I love Mueller’s defense, but his lack of offense late in the season hurt the club at times. Kevin Youkilis is out of minor-league options and deserves his shot at either 3rd or 1st. While older and coming off a career-high of appearances, Timlin can still be valuable to the pen but just not in the same role which I expect will be taken over by Hansen/Delcarmen. Regarding the other crop of free agents (Mike Myers, Matt Mantei, John Olerud), it will all depend on how comfortable the front office is with their age and physical abilities. I’m guessing that most of the older guys will be cut or re-upped at bargain prices. There’s a lot of relievers out there this offseason, so basing your future on reclamation projects seems foolhardy.
–Manny will stay, meaning the Sox need to resign Damon or get CF help. This Manny-for Carlos Beltran rumor is still out there, but do you want to trade a guy that hits 45 bombs with 140 RBI with a .290 average? This all comes down to two things: a) if getting rid of the $60 million left on Manny’s contract is that big of a deal and b) if they believe Beltran is the real deal and that 2004 was just an off-year. If Beltran is acquired, then a corner outfielder is needed. I honestly think that you might as well keep Manny and just build around the power combo that he and Ortiz bring. It’s $60 million for a team that is right up there in revenues. They can afford it. As far as the bearded wonder, it’s up to him to decide what will make him happy. Does the Boras agent take the money and run or does he take some equally good money and stay in the red-and-white? I have this feeling that Boras is going to push him somewhere else after he got served on the Varitek signing last season, not wanting to get the reputation this his status as the no. 1 agent in baseball is waning.
–A big-name 1b or 3b will be dealt for and a middle relief arm will be signed. This is a terrible free agent year where the biggest names at those positions are guys like Paul Konerko, Scott Hatteberg (Moneyball!) and Joe Randa. This will help determine what position Youk plays for the foreseeable future. Regarding pitching, there’s a lot of intriguing names out there including Gordon, Wickman, Wagner, etc., but with Foulke and Hansen as closer candidates, I think they’ll ink a couple good middle guys that we’ll get to know sooner than later. However, if there’s a disappointment at all this offseason, it could be the 1b/3b position simply because the Sox might want to take a run at someone in the markedly-better 2006 free agent class (Derrek Lee, Nick Johnson, Melvin Mora, Aubrey Huff, Pedro Feliz) instead. Also of note, the starters are much better a year from now (Pettite, Mulder, Zito, etc.), one of which I expect to be added to a rotation that will included Papelbon, Jon Lester and Bronson Arroyo. Wells and Wakefield will also be free agents (depending on team options) and I expect those two and possibly Curt Schilling to retire.
And yes, I think they’ll win the World Series in 2006. Why not us?
THE ATLANTA TRIP
Back in the spring, my buddy Page was stressing out. After not doing a lot of law school internship interviews due to other emerging commitments, he was left without a job for the summer because of those commitments not coming through. I was privy to him opening rejection letter after rejection letter and the subsequent frustration that came with it. Why was this such a big deal? Because in law programs, the firm that you intern with during the summer after your second year is the one you get hired by the year after you graduate. However, the amount of firms that came up with interesting ways of saying ‘no thanks’ was mounting.
Then, it happened. After he nearly tore up the letter because he expected another no, a patent law firm in Atlanta, GA, took a chance and wanted to interview him. Already up against odds because they preferred Georgia residents, Page impressed them enough in interviews to land a spot for the summer. One long drive down later and like Ray sang, Georgia was on his mind. So naturally, I had to go visit, a thankful trip after the usual winter confinement of working in pro hockey. Without further blabbing, I give you the first installment in the Trilogy of Trips series – part one of July’s visit to Atlanta, full of drinks, divas and derelicts.
Friday: After arriving in Atlanta, I took to jumping aboard the MARTA (Hotlanta’s underused T-system) so I could head downtown and meet Page in his office building. The first obvious cultural difference I would experience is the amount of African-Americans or, in other words, a lack of white people. This stuff really isn’t a big deal to me, but it’s an interesting cultural study in how some minorities must feel in places like Maine and New Hampshire except worse. Living up here, we really have no idea of the fishbowl mentality that some minorities deal with when living in primarily white-dominated areas like New England. The second difference was how freakin’ hot it was as luckily I arrived during the first big heat wave the city had all summer. Awesome! I hate the heat and this just cemented my resolve about never living in the south. I couldn’t deal with walking outside and immediately sweating for months on end. Of course, Southerners probably would hate dealing with months and months of snow and ice, so I guess it’s all relative.
I got aboard the MARTA car and noticed immediately that I was one of two white people in the train. No big deal, other than the fact I didn’t really know where I was going, was sweating like I stole something and had some travel bags with me, making me feel I was sticking out as a tourist-type. Then, the other white guy got off the train and it was just me. Yikes. I assume that northbound was a good way to get where I was supposed to go, but I really wasn’t sure. I just imagined that the train would lead into some unsavory part of Atlanta where I’d have to sell drugs or dance-battle in order to get out, making the whole story a great movie. ANYWAY, some guys on the train started rapping loudly, at which point I fully expected the hook to be, “Kill the whitey with the Red Sox hat…stomp his ass into a welcome mat.” After listening for my call to death, the train stopped at a place called the Five Points which I thought would be a good spot to get where I needed to go. Five Points must mean a ‘hub’ of sorts, right? WRONG. I got off the train and found that I should have stayed on because my stop was just a few away. I then got to hang out for about 15 minutes in the middle island between the trains, overheating and anxious about my unfamiliar surroundings. However, when I saw a few policeman in the area, I relaxed a bit. (Later on, I found out that the Five Points was the WORST possible stop I could be at, as it’s become infamous with assaults, murders, etc., hence the police presence. Uh-huh. )
I met up with Page and we rode out to Decateur, a surburb. I learned that the area is still growing and developing (thanks to the city burning down to the ground during the Civil War) and that condos are going up everywhere. You can haggle rent costs for apartments and a nice condo can be had right downtown for $175,000-$225,000, depending on ameneties, because of the mass amount of housing to be had. It’s a city that has a ton of clubs and is very diverse in terms of what attracts people to live there. I also learned that Page’s air-conditioning in his truck was not working and that his passenger-side window does not roll down. It was like driving around in a sauna and would be part of what I’ll call THE WORST 20 MINUTES OF MY LIFE (coming soon). After we met up with another friend from Mass. (the inimitable Josh Howes) who flew in, the night was ours. After heading into town to meet up with some of Page’s law friends, we downed some beers and headed into the night, simply going to the only bar we would ever need to go: Mako’s.
I’ll start by explaining that Mako’s is my favorite bar of all time. Ever. I can’t imagine another place ever moving into this top spot unless they offer free beer, free food and tons of hot women at all times. Mako’s is a chain (the others are in Florida) and the draw is simple: cheap beer, dive atmosphere and all waitresses/bartenders dressed up in lingerie. I mean, it’s incredible. Sirens going off announcing free shots, giant shot luges and gorgeous women everywhere. I would have bought a cot in the corner and moved there if possible. (And ladies, there are male bartenders who look like A&F models, just for you. See? Equal opportunity!) In the very front window, there is a giant swing which a young lady operates, doing a dance for you on the swing while you swing back and forth. It’s hard to truly describe, but just imagine something great.
We jumped into the ride and prepared to depart, following the Page group ahead of us. As Bud revved the engine and put it into drive, we took off like a speeding bullet and prepared to navigate the parking garage labyrinth like a chase scene out of an action movie. But before the previews began, there was a jarring bump under the car like we had run over a moose. Worse – Bud drove over an approximately eight-inch cement riser/divider and had completely ripped apart the bottom of his car. As the other carload and myself looked on in horror, Bud backed up the car with all kinds of fluids draining out like the blood of a victim in a Friday the 13th movie. Before we got out to survey the damage, Bud looked over to me and calmly said, “I guess we’re not going to the Waffle House, huh?” It remains perhaps the coolest response to a disasterous situation that I’ve ever heard in person. I thought Howes – a fellow BMW owner – was going to cry. Bud parked the car and we jumped into the SUV, dropped off someone that was comatose-drunk and headed to someone’s apartment in the city that we weren’t supposed to be at. And this, folks, was Night 1.
(Of note: Worst of all, the whole BMW incident could have been avoided. Bud wasn’t even supposed to be out and should have been in Connecticut visiting his girlfriend. However, he changed his flight by a day to hang out with us and got a bad break as a result. Even better? He missed his early flight on Saturday. I love this guy!)
Day 2 and more? Next week!
Thanks for reading,