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View from the Monster: All-Star Special Edition Part I

With the All-Star break upon us, now is a good time to take a look at how 2008 has shaped up for our beloved Red Sox. As we all know, this team led the East most of last year and coasted through the playoff, punctuated by the sweep over the surprising Rockies.

To repeat in 2008, management and ownership had to assess what to change. So first, we should take a look at those moves (based on players who were critical enough to appear in the playoffs).

  • Bobby Kielty: He was a utilityman last season, playing in the outfield, pinch hitting, and providing a veteran presence for the team. He also hit a pinch-hit home run which turned out to win the 2007 World Series and accepted a minor league deal with the organization, playing the first half in Pawtucket. He suffered a broken hand in March and on July 13, he requested his release from the Red Sox. He was a good veteran player who was willing to take a smaller role for a championship opportunity and I was surprised he took the minor league deal, but he seems to have had some second thoughts at this point. Good luck to him this season!
  • Eric Hinske: He was a pinch hitter and defensive replacement for the Red Sox and another veteran who signed on looking to contribute in some minor way to a winner. The former Rookie of the Year signed a minor league deal with Tampa and has spent the entire season on the big club as a part-time starter and utility outfielder/first basemen. He is hitting .267 with 14 home runs and is part of the reason for the Rays shocking first-half success. He, like Kielty, will probably be a forgotten member of the title team, but he filled his role very well and we wish him success.
  • Doug Mirabelli: He had been a fan favorite for the seven years he was part of the team. He gave Jason Varitek a day off every fifth game and had the tough task of being Tim Wakefield’s personal catcher and knuckleball specialist. As an expensive backup catcher, the Red Sox traded him in 2006 to the Padres for All-Star Mark Loretta, but had to reacquire him a month into the season as no one could handle the knuckleball well. This spring, the Red Sox could not justify the salary and he was a late camp cut with the team gambling (well so far) that he imparted his abilities to Kevin Cash. This was probably a necessary move, but it is too bad it could not have been handled a bit better to afford him more time to make another roster. He is still untethered to any organization at this point. Without much of a bat and few knuckleballers in the majors to catch, his career is probably over, but he will not be forgotten by Red Sox Nation.
  • Curt Schilling: He is still with the Red Sox, of course, but he has not pitched at all due to the injured shoulder. After much bally-hoo to get him re-signed with the weight and other incentives in the contract and the drama between him and the team over the shoulder treatment, all seems to be calm with the (fellow) blogger. His return this season is doubtful and his career is perhaps over. Schilling is reviled by some by his outspoken nature, but Sox fans will never forget his post-Thanksgiving acquisition in 2003 and bloody sock game which were instrumental in ending the curse in 2004. Should 2007 turn out to be his last, it was also memorable for another stellar October and the near no-hitter in Oakland. Our hats are off to Schilling!
  • Eric Gagne: Last, but certainly not least, we all know this story well. He was one of the deadline’s biggest catches after appearing healthy and very effective for Texas in the first half of 2007. The move appeared to be one to block the Yankees, but he never did seem to fit. With Jonathan Papelbon locked in as the closer, the Red Sox placated him by buying out his incentive clause and offering him a chance at a World Series. However, as much as Terry Francona tried to get him working as a setup man (and he tried often), Gagne proved to be ineffective. Having his name show up on the Mitchell Report only seemed to be a distraction. The team put him on the postseason roster, but Francona clearly did not trust him, bringing him into only one-sided games. As expected, he declared his free agency, hoping to land a closer’s job, which he got in Milwaukee and has continued his ineffectiveness and has been injured as well. I do not suspect he will not be offered a beer by any Red Sox fans who see him in a bar…a very good non-signing.
  • Other 2007 rosterees who are no longer Red Sox for various reasons: Royce Clayton (designated for an assignment he has yet to find), Bryan Corey (early season trade to San Diego after ineffective start), Devern Hansack (September callup has spent all of 2008 in the minors thus far), J. C. Romero (signed with Philadelphia and remains active), and Julian Tavarez (ineffective start led to his release; relieved for the Brewers until earlier this month when he declined a minor league assignment and was released; signed with the Braves and has made one appearance with them so far).

With all of these guys gone, who have the Red Sox added? It may be best to begin with who the Red Sox did not add: Johan Santana. Considering the Twins asking price (Jacoby Ellsbury AND Jon Lester among other permutations), this was a deal best left to someone else. The Sox did not have a huge need at starting pitcher anyway and getting into the auction may have made it prohibitive enough to prevent the Yankees from pulling the trigger, good enough for me!

Major Acquisitions:

  • Sean Casey: The veteran was signed in the offseason to provide backup at first base and veteran pinch hitting. He has been a professional hitter during his career, showing some power in his early years and contending for a batting title while with the Reds.
  • Bartolo Colon: Former Cy Young Award winner signed a non-guaranteed minor league deal amid shoulder concerns. He looked good starting six games before injuring his back and is a nominee for signing of the year if he can contribute in the stretch drive.
  • David Aardsma: The journeyman reliever acquired in offseason trade with the White Sox is having his best season by far. He has provided good relief mainly as a one-inning pitcher to bridge from the starter to the set-up man.

Contributing Callups:

  • Justin Masterson: The rookie pitched will filling in the rotation and was just sent down to Pawtucket to become a reliever.
  • Jed Lowrie: The infield prospect saw some action early in the season and was recently recalled to help cover Julio Lugo’s injury. In limited playing time, he has shown some flashes as to why the Red Sox are high on him, but he cannot get consistent playing time with the Red Sox right now (barring injury to a starter).
  • Craig Hansen: He has been disappointing out of the bullpen after spending all of last season in the minors.

Others:

  • Chris Carter (acquired in last season’s trade of Wily Mo Pena and has appeared in one game)
  • David Pauley (made one spot start after remaining in the minors all of last season)
  • Chris Smith (rookie made three appearances and was sent back to the minors)
  • Joe Thurston (veteran minor leaguer went hitless in eight at bats and was sent back down)
  • Jonathan Van Every (appeared in a single game)

Aside from Schilling, the Red Sox have neither lost or found anyone major, leaving the core of the team intact. They have opted to fill roles vacated by exiting players and to promote a couple younger players and work them into the Major League rotation. This is not a big surprise considering the team is the reigning Champion and did not lose any major pieces.

Tomorrow, we will look at this year’s edition of the team in more depth, recapping the pitching, offense, and defense. Also, check back as I name the first half MVP!

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