The pundits will be coming out with their predictions for 2006 soon, and we all wonder how the Red Sox will fare.
It's all about the pitching, and the Sox have ability and question marks. At the top of the rotation are Schilling and Beckett, with age and injury the respective questions. From my perspective, Jon Papelbon was the second best pitcher on the staff by the end of the season, and we have to hope that he's in the rotation not in the bullpen. Wakefield serves as a valuable changeup and innings eater, which leaves Arroyo, Clement, and Wells to battle for the final spot. Realistically, the Sox are better with two, because of the neverending likelihood of injury. Who's the odd man out. Well, among the latter three, Wells certainly ranks as the oddest, but not necessarily out.
So, taking 6 of the above, that leaves Foulke, Seanez, Timlin, Tavarez, and Riske as the likely pen pals, with DiNardo, Hansen, and DelCarmen as the callup prospects. Will Foulke start the season on the DL, and how effective will the National League relievers (Tavarez and Seanez) fare against AL sticks?
In addition to the injury issues, age concerns always crop up, and the Sox pitching staff must have one of the highest average ages in the league. Maybe we could get Rick Reuschel and Lee Guetterman to come out of retirement. And, as always, there's the lack of left-handed pitching, with DiNardo the closest in the pen and Jon Lester likely to benefit from AAA seasoning.
I'm waiting on the computer baseball simulations of the 2006 season. Tom Tippett's DIAMOND MIND BASEBALL has outperformed most over the years. Here's his post-season analysis of the AL East from last year.
Our forecast for the AL East was similar that of most people. Everyone thought it would be New York first and Boston second, or vice versa. Generally speaking, the analytically oriented folks, such as Diamond Mind and Baseball Prospectus, had a more optimistic view of the Red Sox chances than did the sportswriter community. We projected 97 wins for New York and 96 for Boston, and they wound up tied with 95 despite myriad pitching problems on both teams.
Most forecasters pegged the Orioles for third place, with a handful putting Toronto in that spot. But many were fooled by the Devil Rays, who finished 4th in 2004 but didn't really have the statistical underpinning to support the idea that they had passed the Blue Jays. Our simulations put Baltimore at 80 wins, Toronto at 73, and Tampa Bay at 66.
In fact, it was Toronto that hovered around .500 and Baltimore that was several games below, largely because we didn't anticipate that Baltimore would be a little worse on both sides of the ball. For the decline in offense, you can point the finger at Sammy Sosa, and Sidney Ponson and Jorge Julio deserve most of the blame for the extra runs they allowed.
Finally, if the Sox have the expectation of a reasonably potent lineup, with more production from Nixon in right and the potential for more from center (really!) and first base, then why do they need to mess with Juan Gone. Supposedly, the slugger of yore has signed a minor league contract, and hasn't done much (if you don't count disabled list time) in the past four years. His trends (OPS) haven't been great, and the most memorable Gonzalez moment in the past few years (if I'm right) was his playing Pokey Reese's Pesky Pole hit into an inside-the-park homer. I guess that the price is right, even if Gonzalez isn't likely to be.
Bottom line. I'll guess that the Sox get it straightened out, and with A.J. Burnett coming up with a sore arm, the Blue Jays chances have faded considerably. Let's dial in the Sox for 96 wins and a wild card spot.