Should the Sox Stand Pat?
Should the Sox be "buyers" or should they stand pat? That is a million dollar question in Boston right now but it cannot be answered until the Sox have the answer to one burning question - Can Curt Schilling return by late July and show that he can be a dominating starter. If the answer is yes, the Sox probably should be buyers given the state of baseball. But if there is any question about Curt’s ability to pitch well down the stretch, the Sox would be well advised to play their hand as is and save some ammo for down the road.
The whole key to the Sox short-term and mid-term planning right now hinges on Schilling’s foot. This club needs to know by July 30 whether Curt will be effective this year so efforts can be made at the trade deadline to upgrade first base and secure another lefty for the bullpen. If Curt is still limping around on that date, my recommendation would be to make only those improvements that could be made without sacrificing much of the future. I say this because there is little chance this club can truly compete without a thoroughbred at the head of the staff. There is probably a shot the existing rotation could perform well enough to win the East, but without Schilling, this club is not much of an October threat. I hate to concede that but it is probably the truth. With that said, why throw away key parts of the future if it will do little to secure the ultimate prize? Conversely, if Schilling can come back by early July and show that he is well on his way back to form by late July, then perhaps it makes some sense to part with a few of the kids.
The reason I am more leery then usual of exporting some of the kids in exchange for some immediate major league help is two fold. First of all, it appears for the first time in years that there may be some farmhands - particularly at Portland - that could actually contribute in the near future. Secondly, after glancing at the club’s salary structure over the next few years, it is critical that some of these cheap alternatives be allowed to float up to the major league level. I say this because the Sox have some fairly major and potentially costly holes to fill in the next couple of years and therefore some inexpensive help will be needed. If you don’t believe me, lets take a closer look.
First of all, Johnny Damon is going to be a big nut to cover. After looking at what Jimmy Rollins brought down from the Phillies, it is pretty damn clear that Damon will command eight figures per year on the open market. With the year he is having, I suspect he is looking at something close to $45 million for four years. Will the Sox go there? Perhaps, but if not, the Sox will go into this off-season with a hole in Center, a hole at First, a hole at Second and nothing special at Third. The bullpen will also need to be rebuilt and that is not a cheap proposition. Such deficiencies cannot all be addressed through free agency. Third is perhaps not a huge problem because Youkalis could be used as a stop gap and I suspect Mueller could be brought back at something that could be stomached. But centerfield. Sorry guys, there are no cheapies out there to take up Damon’s slack. They could go downstream for a Kotsay if he opts out, but that won’t exactly be cheap. At first base, the pickings are real slim short of a major financial commitment. Second doesn’t have to cost much, but the end result will be something close to what the Sox already have and that is not pretty. The morale to the story is the Sox do not have the resources to just go out and completely reload through free agency.
With that said, the Sox need some help from within and I would therefore be suspicious of any move that would deplete the farm system at this time. These kids at Portland must be allowed some time to develop since a couple of them have shown big league promise and their successful arrival in Boston could greatly ease a looming liquidity crisis. Foremost, I would make every effort to hold on to pitchers Jon Lester and Jon Papelbon. The budget is likely to get real strained in 2006-2008 and low cost pitching will be needed to help ease the situation. Heck, if these two are in the rotation come 2006 or 2007, the Sox will be in much better shape to address other needs. Further, I would not part with Dustin Pedroia. He seems pretty close and his emergence could settle a big issue at second base. If Pedroia could be counted upon in 2006 and third could be handled by Mueykalis, there may be some resources available to sign Damon and perhaps address first base. But here is the key - some of these kids have to be part of the mix come 2007 and 2008 when the contracts of Ramirez, Renteria and Varitek will all be in jeopardy. Those three contracts will consume $40 million in those years and who can tell what the Sox will be getting in return. As such, it sure would help if the Sox had a couple of starting pitchers in the rotation who were still not eligible for arbitration. If that isn’t the case, get ready to return to the old Joe Kerrigan days where the rotation was rounded out by guys named Burkett, Schourek, Cone and Castillo.
Hell, if Schilling is still uncertain come July 25th and the Sox are in the hunt, I wouldn’t be opposed to packaging over-hyped Kelly Schoppach and perhaps someone else for a lefty. I could live with that but what I don’t want to see is the organization go for broke and mortgage a future that is already very cloudy. Such a move would improve the Sox questionable chances in 2005 but it would severely cap the club’s upside going forward. If 2005 has to be sacrificed for the future, so be it. I can take a one year hit, but it’s a return to the Dark Ages that scares me. Now if Curt is back in form come late July, all bets are off. I could take a trip back to the early 90's so long as there were two trophies in the truck.