It's rather telling that "co-GM until Theo comes back and takes a higher position" Jed Hoyer has announced the Red Sox' need to go outside the organization to fill the void in center field, where only Adam Stern's name even suffices as a suitable option.
You know what that means. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2006 starting shortstop -- Alex Cora.
Please, please, save some excitement for pitchers and catchers. Don't wear yourself out.
Center field? Good question. We assume the Red Sox front office team of advisors, executives, scouts, and Cletus the prognosticating gnome has a plan, but with just about three weeks until the inane media coverage of that stupid truck leaving Yawkey Way, they've yet to make a peep about what that plan will be. Which is a bit odd because all the way through last month these guys loved to hold press conferences just to announce that nothing was going on.
Ever since Michelle ... I'm sorry, Johnny Damon decided New York was a better place for her ... I'm sorry, his career last month, the Red Sox have been suspiciously quiet about all things, including possible trades of Manny Ramirez and David Wells, which could help fuel speculation that one, or both, might be a chip in filling open slots on the roster. Doubt it. Maybe Wells, one of 345 starting pitchers on this season's roster, will bring back someone like Dave Roberts, a rumor that's only been out there since Halloween, but at this stage, they're not going to trade Ramirez for spare parts to help them fill stopgaps. In other words, stop calling, Omar.
That would appear to cut the options down to pitching (Bronson Arroyo, a tantalizing option with the ink not yet penned to a cost-effective three-year deal, or Matt Clement, a not-too-tantalizing option with $18 million remaining on his contract) or one of the kids (Andy Marte, Jonathan Papelbon, Jonathan Lester, etc.) How do you think it would go down around here if Boston dealt Papelbon for one year of Torii Hunter? To invoke Peter Gammons, have you ever heard of Jeff Bagwell?
It is an interesting predicament to be sure, to have not just one, but two starting positions completely unsolved halfway through the initial month of the year. At least Cora is a serviceable answer in the infield, but aren't you a little concerned when Red Sox management sort of tosses their arms in the air when the question is raised as to whom will play center? The front office has said the solution will come from outside of the organization, meaning a trade is imminent between now and, what, July?
For the moment, Stern is Damon's replacement (and in fact, is one of just five outfielders on the team's 40-man roster, which includes Brandon Moss and David Murphy), an option nobody likes, particularly in that he'll be busy in Bud Selig's World Baseball Classic playing for Team Canada. Some evaluation the Red Sox will be getting of him in Fort Myers.
OK, so it's Team Canada, which will probably be sending its players back to their respective teams' camps within days of the tournament's kickoff. But it's clear that Boston doesn't want the Stern Experiment to even get to that stage. Notice Hoyer gave Cora a vote of confidence at last week's baseball writer's dinner. No such luck for Stern.
Forget about Coco Crisp, he's the ideal man to patrol center field at Fenway, but I never understood these rumors, specifically on the basis that Crisp had a similar season to Damon's in 2005, and cost less ($365,000) than a 60-second spot on NESN. The Indians are discussing a multiyear deal with Crisp, and it makes absolutely no sense that they would trade him unless they receive the likes of Papelbon in return. Enticing? Sure. Realistic? Not in the least.
So, who then? Jeremy Reed? The Mariners want Arroyo instead of Clement. Brady Clark? It'll cost one of the untouchable kids. Roberts? Well, if the Padres haven't offered more in return for Wells by now, it's not likely to happen. Lee Tinsley? Coaching in Arizona. Not an option at this time.
But what of the on-again, off-again Ramirez rumors, the latest of which has Manny and Clement heading to Philadelphia in exchange for outfielders Bobby Abreu and Jason Michaels, as well as righthander Gavin Floyd, a 22-year-old first-round draft pick who struggled with the big club last season? Abreu for Ramirez straight up might not be akin to those buzzwords we've heard all along -- "equal value" -- but as a package including a center fielder who hit .304 in 105 games last season, and a young pitching prospect, it's hard to imagine coming up with much more than that after all the stinker deals that have been tossed around involving Ramirez this winter (Darin Erstad?).
And unless you're comfortable with giving up one of the young pitchers -- the very core of this maybe, maybe-not rebuilding season -- it also might be their best option (Cue the "Stop being mean to Manny" e-mails).
Still, don't bet on anything happening with Ramirez, if only for the fact it might deny us the inevitable daily drama of will he or won't he show up at spring training. That's 30 days the team can guarantee we won't talk March Madness or NFL Draft, much too valuable to pass up. With the likes of Jacob Ellsbury, Moss, and Murphy working their way up the chain, odds are dealing young pitching that is just emerging as Major League ready for the likes of Reed or Clark isn't a salivating option for the co-GMs.
Hence, the crickets coming from Yawkey Way. Maybe the announcement that they might be forced to go with Stern is the final nail in trying to shield the increasingly obvious case that 2006 is a rebuilding season. Do not be surprised then if you find yourself, at least to start the spring, getting comfortable with Stern patrolling the outfield for the mere fact that the price to upgrade over him is going to be steeper than anyone wishes to pay for a one-year fix.
And then once the first pitcher shows up in the likes of Seattle's camp having put on 40 pounds and pulls his hamstring on the third day of workouts, we'll see how badly they want Matt Clement then.