Sunday, March 05, 2006

March Meaning

March has always meant one thing: college basketball playoffs, and while Spring Training is a diversion, it's still hoops for now.

Meanwhile, ESPN2 and insomnia bring us the World Baseball Classic, a somewhat diluted showcase of baseball talent. Injuries, illness, and vagaries of ego and territoriality keep some of baseball's best home. Still, the classic affords us to see some quality baseball with international stars and teams actually caring about winning. It's a treat to see Sunny Kim throwing against the Japanese, and Ichiro's cannon from right field.

Gordon Edes has a compelling argument in favor of Buck O'Neil's induction into the Hall of Fame in today's Globe. I'd say that it's outrageous that he's not, but I was more surprised that he wasn't already in. I've read stories about his power, and the telling commentary that the ball simply sounded different coming off of his bat. Baseball has always been about an old boy's network, which explains how many famous baseball sons get the opportunity to fail, not because of genetics but politics.

For those of us baseball lifers, even watching the Sox and the Pirates on NESN is better than nothing, because we can wonder whether Franklin Nunez's stuff can get out Matsui in August, or whether David Murphy will ever fill out that slender frame of his. For those who watch ESPN Classic, it's noteworthy how many contemporary players bulked up relative to their 'ancestors'. Maybe it was protein shakes, but maybe Dr. Needle had something going there, too.

ESPN the magazine has an extensive fantasy baseball section this month. Once 'Roto' offended the sensibilities of baseball purists, who argued that baseball is more than a numbers game, but time, the popularity of Roto, and the realization that 'Moneyball' has meaning (not to mention some monetization of the game) have brought fantasy sports into the mainstream. It's also a passion of many professional money managers, who use other tools in their work, but think that they can outpick their peers here, too.

How many spots are open on the Sox? Let's begin with the 'locks' and see where the braintrust has to pick.

C Varitek
IF Youkilis, Snow, Loretta, Cora, Gonzalez, Lowell
DH Ortiz
OF Ramirez, Crisp, Nixon, Mohr

That leaves a backup catcher and maybe a utility guy, presuming that Tony Graffanino has the same chance as I do as playing this season in Boston. Adam Stern has something like 17 days of mandatory service time as a Rule V guy, so he's in for now.

SP - Schilling, Beckett, Papelbon, Wakefield, Arroyo, Clement
RP - Foulke, Timlin, Seanez, Tavarez, Riske

This presumes that Wells is traded (better team with him than without) and that leaves DelCarmen, Hansen, and DiNardo fighting for a phantom pitching spot, with Jon Lester to benefit from the AAA experience and the question of whether Jamie Vermilyea gets the Hellenic flu. Of course, Foulke could start the season on the DL, and pitching health being what it is, you never really know who could come up lame or infirm.

So all in all, watching the Murphys, Mosses, and Pressleys is intriguing, but only for those of us looking ahead to 2007 and beyond. My 'scouts' say that Minor League free agent Josh Pressley was ripping the cover off the ball in Fort Myers. So we'll see how he looks at Pawtucket? Pressley hit .311/.400/.518/.918 at Wichita last season.

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