It was another hectic off- season at Fenway Park. I’m not just talking about the continued renovations in the attempt to improve and maintain the historic park, but also the changes to the team that will be playing in it. In possibly the biggest overhaul the Sox have made to their lineup for as long as I can remember the Sox didn’t want to waste any time putting themselves back in contention for the title. With some sort of order finally present in the clubhouse, and just in time for the season too, the 2006 Boston Red Sox are ready to make another run at winning it all.
I hope you saved up your money this winter because some of you fans might need to buy some new jerseys this spring. I hope even more that none of you strive to have a jersey of every player because you’ll have some catching up to do. With so many new faces in this lineup the Sox’s biggest challenge will be to gel sooner rather than later. No longer the same cast of ‘idiots’ that kept the team from folding when the heat was on this Red Sox team will have a new persona which will be looking to produce the same results. Luckily everyone the Sox brought in seems to have a positive attitude and should blend in well. Even Manny Ramirez seems content with being back in the red and white.
In what should be the last move for a while, the Sox traded Bronson Arroyo to Cincinatti for OF Willy Mo Pena, getting rid of excess depth on the mound and adding some depth to the outfield. So it appears that the opening day roster should be set. Trading Arroyo should make it easier to form a starting rotation (likely Schilling, Beckett, Clement, Wakefield and Wells), and keep the pitching situation from becoming a big problem. Meanwhile, Mo Pena should be the backup used against lefties in place of Nixon and also to give Coco Crisp and Manny days off as needed.
On paper the Sox look like they should challenge for the title again, but as we all know paper only takes you so far. The depth is there in both the rotation and the lineup, but that’s contingent upon how the new additions adapt to their new environment. Fenway is not a safe haven for athletes who hope to stay out of the spotlight. Being a World Series MVP it seems safe to say Beckett should handle the pressure just fine. However, other newbies such as Crisp, Mike Lowell, Alex Gonzalez and David Riske will be in for a new experience. Gonzalez has gotten a little taste being a former Cub, but the other three are leaving their small market veils and will finally get a taste of the big time. How they handle the added pressure will be a huge factor in the Sox success because they all are key pieces.
The other problem the Sox will have to deal with is an even tougher division. The Sox couldn’t hang on and outlast the Yankees last year for the division title, and as always they will be the Sox’s toughest foe. Now the Blue Jays want in on the action, too. One of the more active teams this off- season, the Jays boosted their pitching staff and lineup in an attempt to end the Sox’s and Yanks’ reign. Since the Jays gave the Sox a good amount of trouble last year with a weaker team, they may be even more of a headache in ’06. The Devil Rays and Orioles didn’t do much to enhance their respective teams this season, but there is enough talent there they won’t be a walkover.
The good news amidst all this is that there is finally some stability in the Red Sox clubhouse. The pieces are all there now and all that’s left to do is for them to arrange into a complete puzzle. Once again the Sox have a lineup that should tempt the bettors and scare opponents. If they can find the same magic that they had in 2004….well we all know the outcome. If the Pats’ dynasty is any indication, the Sox may be in for two consecutive titles. It’s a stretch, but there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic.