Posted by: Staff | 10.31.2007

Red Sox Surprises and Disappointments: Lowell, Francona pass with flying colors.

DANA SPIGELMAN ’08

The Red Sox certainly went through their ups and downs this year, nearly squandering a once 14.5 game lead over the vaunted Evil Empire, only to claim the division crown for the first time since 1995. While some players have more than earned their keep this season, others did not do as much to ingratiate themselves with the sox fans. Those players and front office members are highlighted below.

Surprises:

Hideki Okajima: Okajima was undoubtedly the key to the first half of the season, becoming the only setup man in baseball to make the All-Star team. It is unfathomable to think that prior to the season the Red Sox envisioned Devern Hansack, J.C. Romero and Joel Piniero as the core of their bullpen while Okajima was left to fend off Craig Hansen for a roster spot. Okajima wore down towards the end of the season and saw his once eye-popping Earned Run Average drop to 2.22. However, Okajima still held the bullpen up while the Sox were patiently waiting on Mike Timlin and Manny Delcarmen to play key roles in the bullpen. Okajima led the team in games pitched (66) and was one of the pleasant surprises of the season.

Mike Lowell: Lowell has certainly made a case for an extension with the Red Sox. Playing stellar defense, Lowell set career highs in batting average (.324) and RBI’s (120) to go along with 21 homeruns. Lowell picked up the slack for Manny Ramirez throughout the year and finished the season as the cleanup hitter for the Red Sox. Lowell was originally acquired as a salary dump from the Florida Marlins in the deal that acquired Josh Beckett. This ‘salary dump’ has proved to be one of the most valuable players on the pay role and more than worth his $9 million price tag.

Terry Francona: Francona should be credited with the complete success of this team. Fans were screaming for Alex Cora to start during a rough May stretch where Dustin Pedroia’s batting average dipped south of .200. However, Francona stuck with the rookie second baseman and in the end found the Red Sox sparkplug. Francona also handled the bullpen masterfully, giving the Red Sox a healthy and rested Jonathan Papelbon to go along with Manny Delcarmen, Mike Timlin, Javier Lopez, Hideki Okajima and Eric Gagne as a solid bullpen core for the playoffs. Francona’s positive attitude helped keep the team loose and confident as its lead dwindled and allowed them to regain control and finish the season on top of the AL East.

Young Guns: Home grown Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Dustin Pedroia and Manny Delcarmen were all key members of the team by the middle of September and proved that Theo Epstein was right to keep them through trading deadlines’ past. While Buchholz’ no-hit performance may have made him the most captivating rookie, he may have had the least impact of the young quartet. Delcarmen gave the bullpen terrific innings just as Okajima started to tire, Pedroia was the teams’ sparkplug and is on his way to earning rookie of the year while Jacoby Ellsbury gave offense and speed while playing in Manny Ramirez’s spot in left field as the Red Sox were sewing up their AL East title. Without these four, who earn about one third of Erik Hinske’s salary, the Red Sox would truly be lost and maybe even watching the playoffs instead of playing in them.

Disappointments:

Theo Epstein: It should be noted that the Red Sox are still paying for two monumental failures in the form of Edgar Renteria and Matt Clement. Theo has gotten too comfortable within the confines of a high payroll and has wasted millions on mediocre players such as Julio Lugo ($8.25 Million), J.D. Drew ($14.4 Million), Joel Piniero ($4 Million), Eric Hinske ($5.725 Million) and the aforementioned Clement. While spending over $100 million on Lugo and Drew alone, Epstein has developed holes that will be in the lineup for years to come, whereas Manny and Big Papi will not be here to compensate for those holes forever. Theo is truly getting saved by players he did not bring in. The most successful player on the team, Josh Beckett, was acquired while Theo was on his short vacation. While Theo did draft Buchholz, Pedroia, Ellsbury and current prospects Michael Bowdin, Daniel Bard and Jed Lowrie, draft picks are usually the result of systematic success. To justify his cult status in New England, Theo needs to come up with some gems in the near future via free agency or a big time trade.

Manny Ramirez: Whether due to injury or not Manny has simply not performed up to his normal benchmarks. While Manny is still the best RBI man of the last decade and one of the most formidable hitters in baseball, .296 and 20 HR just won’t cut it.

Kevin Youkilis: While Youkilis still finished with a very solid season and managed to contribute even when he was struggling, he has to be seen as a disappointment due to his hot start. With Lowell’s contract coming up this may be a time where the Red Sox have to decide whether to go with Youkilis for the future or not. While he has shown signs of greatness, his inability to put together a consistent season may be a sign that he is not the answer at first or third for the Red Sox.

Hired Guns: J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo were all out failures. Combined they collected $20.65 million while hitting 19 home runs. That’s over one million per home run. They also hit .270 and .237 respectively and failed miserably at filling the holes they were brought into fill. The leadoff position flipped between Coco and Pedroia at the end of the season. Although the fifth spot did go at times to Drew it settled in the hands of Youkilis and Lowell. Daisuke, was expectedly mediocre, although considering the cultural barrier he had to jump along with the major differences in the Japanese and American game he could not have been expected to contribute much more than he did. Eric Gagne, who earned almost $3 million in Red Sox paychecks, certainly did not justify his salary, ending up with as many blown saves as holds in a Red Sox uniform. And I won’t even discuss Hinske and Clement, making over $15 million combined this year.

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