To hear some of his critics tell it, Theo Epstein hasn’t made a prescient off-season move since he signed David Ortiz and traded for Curt Schilling. And since the Ortiz (and Billy Mueller) signings, critics charge that Boy Wonder has been either abused or burned every time he dips his toe into the free agent pool. There is plenty of truth to this thesis and while I am generally supportive of Epstein, I concede that free agency has not treated him kindly. That being said, only the fool still argues that Epstein’s free agent “drought” lives on and that is because Adrian Beltre has made it rain in 2010. And rain hard!
Folks, this guy has been a five-run slam. And last night, the Sox $10M investment paid dividends once again as he stroked a decisive granny while Boston slept though another game. With that blast in the rear-view mirror, Beltre is now slashing .336/.372/.570 and he sports a staggering WAR (wins above replacement) of 5.1. For comparative purposes, Longoria’s WAR is 4.4 and Arod checks in at 2.1. One can quibble with his walk totals and there have been a couple defensive miscues that stand out, but this guy has been nails at third, he has been the Sox best situational hitter by ten miles and at this rate, he very well could finish in the top-five of this season’s MVP vote. $10M for all that is chump change and about the only thing you can criticize Epstein for is not negotiating a little more protection for Boston in the event that Beltre had this type of season. That probably wasn’t in the cards but boy would it be sweet if the Sox had a couple of $15M options on Beltre right now.
As it stands, the Sox face a difficult situation with Beltre going forward. Do they say thanks for the season, let him walk and collect a couple of draft picks? Or do they ante up with a three or four-year deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of 14M a year? It will be a tough call for the Sox as their best 3B prospect – Will Middlebrooks – tore up A ball this year but is still at least two years away. And losing Beltre probably means bringing in a first baseman and shifting Youkilis to third, which is something that I don’t think the Sox want to do. In the end, I don’t think the Sox will be willing to go four years on Beltre and so I think they will lose him but that doesn’t minimize the “greatness” of Epstein’s find. And just remember, if Beltre weren’t around, the important series on this upcoming trip would in Toronto where the Sox would be fighting next week to overtake the Jays for third place in the East.
* He can’t get through a first inning without giving up a run but Daisuke Matsusaka is quietly on a roll and a big one at that. With last night’s eight-inning gem (gamescore-72) in his pocket, Mats is 5-1 with an ERA of 2.98 since June 2. Now he has had to face some awfully soft lineups of late but for comparative purposes, so has Jon Lester and he hasn’t exactly gotten the job done. So say what you will, but Matsusaka has carried his fair share this season. And with season totals that are now inching up to “good,” I am no longer sure the question going forward on Matsusaka is whether the Sox COULD trade him. It’s whether they would want to trade someone who is delivering pretty decent value right now.
* How long before Ellsbury’s camp begins with the “he came back to soon” whispers? Just a hunch, but I’d bet a dollar there will be a cutaway to Dwarf Rosenthal this Saturday where the little guy will say something to this effect: “Ellsbury is back but he’s still not entirely healthy.” For the record, Ellsbury is 0-8 since coming back.
* Casey Kotchman? Lyle Overbay? Carlos Delgado? These are the guys being suggested to replace Kevin Youkilis? Sorry Charlie, those guys aren’t worth the bother. Instead, you mix and match over the next week and then you use either Varitek or Salty to catch and Martinez at first to spell Lowell. That is my final answer. And if Lars Anderson does anything in August, you bring him up in September and give him some burn.
* The Sox just had a 6-4 road trip that really needed to be 7-3 and a 4-3 home stand that needed to be 5-2. So as bad as things have seemed, the Sox really only underperformed plan by a couple of games. That being said, losing Youkilis makes everything moot.
* That has to be it for Oki, no? There are words for guys who can’t get three outs with a five- run leads …… unemployed. Sorry Oki, but other than getting outs in totally lopsided losses, there doesn’t seem to be a role that suits you. I suspect that Oki may be able to survive Bowden’s promotion but if the Sox follow through on their plan to bring Doubront up as a reliever, my money is on Oki’s obituary.
* Speaking of Doubront …. the plan is to make him into a reliever so he can help out in the Boston pen over the final two months. And s part of this process, Doubront threw a couple of innings out of the Pawtucket bullpen the other day. But given this Youkilis injury and Boston’s current prognosis, I have to wonder whether the Sox should perhaps amend this plan. I say that because it is probably too late for Doubront to make a difference in Boston. And if he is going to be a starter going forward – as the Sox insist – then why not let him rack up twenty-five additional innings as a starter at Pawtucket? And when their season ends at Labor Day, the Sox can then bring him up to help out. It just seems to me that the rationale for converting Doubront has faded and it now makes more sense to concentrate on his development.
* FARM REPORT: Josh Reddick continued his assault on International League pitching last night with two more hits, Manny Rivera impressed with seven strong innings (one run) in Greenville and Will MIddlebrooks continued to do damage for Salem. But the big night belonged to Salem 2B Oscar Tejeda who went 3-4 and stroked his first bomb since May. Now a casual review of Tejeda’s numbers confirms the second baseman has spent this year alternating big months. He blistered April, came back to Earth in May, tore up June and then went cold in July. But he’s off to a pretty good start in August and if his “pattern” holds and he can finish off this season in style, Tejeda will be in the conversation when the Sox hand out their “organizational breakout” award for 2010. He has had a real nice year and given the fact he is just 20, Tejeda can once again be called a “prospect.”