Funny that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Roger Clemens should both come back from the dead on the same day.
It was inevitable that the man with the Donatello and Michelangelo shoelace ties would once again enter our general consciousness with yesterdayís news that Jonathan Papelbon was heading back to the bullpen to be the Red Sox closer, if only for the fact that any sort of fantasy takes a fanís mind off the fact that Julian Tavarez is now the teamís fifth starter.
But could he be supplanted by Clemens? Folks wondered within an instant. And the laces are back in style and everything.
ďUpgraded turtles have style, lack substance,Ē reads the headline of Wesley Morrisí review in the Globe today of the movie nobody really asked for.
I suppose you could say the same of the Clemens saga.
Of course, there are those who remember only that Tavarez had a nice streak as a starter last September - with his team out of playoff contention - going 3-0 over five starts with a 3.52 ERA, and think heíll be a fine No. 5, following Tim Wakefield in the rotation. Then again, itís a lot more comforting to remember that rather than the .349 average opposing hitters had against him the month before, or the summer evenings when he was booed off the mound on a seemingly endless basis.
But, sure, September was great, so letís go with that.
Still, letís not forget that the Red Sox shuttled 13 different pitchers into the starting rotation last season, and after all the hoopla about the Sox having the best staff on the planet, all thatís different all of a sudden is the addition of Daisuke Matsuzaka. In fact, the only full-time starter who didnít go on the DL last season was Josh Beckett, who has spent various periods of his career sidelined with blisters.
Itís impossible to expect a 2004, when Sox starters missed nary one start. But itís quite daft not to be prepared for a little taste of 2006 either, especially with a pair of 40-year-olds holding up the starting five.
AndÖyes, ok, maybe three.
But the Clemens discussion is one for another time, at the very least until he comes out and says that he has decided to play (1) more season(s) (again). Thatís not likely to be until May, by which point, young lefty Jon Lester might be ready to take over things in the No. 5 hole.
Lester was having a nice rookie season (7-2, 4.76 ERA) before being diagnosed with cancer in August, the low point of one of the worst months in the history of the franchise. In 10 of his 15 starts, the lefty allowed three or fewer runs, although he often had a monumentally difficult time getting out of the fifth inning, his ability to conserve and locate pitches still an issue.
Kyle Snyder, claimed off the scrap heap from the Royals last summer, has all of a sudden become a fan favorite, lots of folks screaming about potential, the fact that heís finally healthy, and that he sort of looks like Bronson Arroyo, who would still look pretty good on this team. This, of course discounts the fact that when heís been healthy he hasnít been very consistent, butÖwell, heís healthy.
Snyder did have his moments in an erratic season, but has looked nice this spring, a 2.88 ERA over 9 1/3 innings pitched, which, along with Mike Timlinís injury, has effectively earned him a spot in the bullpen. And if either Tavarez fails, or one of the other three goes down, Snyder is likely the top candidate for some spot starts.
The Red Sox also really liked what they saw out of Kason Gabbard this spring, a 2.70 ERA over 10 innings, and certainly last season, when Terry Francona glowed about the leftyís mound presence. Gabbard is a guy to watch in Pawtucket, as he vies for a return to the club, and quite possibly the starting rotation, if it so needs him.
Barring a $20 million half-season acquisition, of course.
Letís be honest, the Red Sox could have gotten by just fine without Papelbon in the bullpen, patching together a closer by committee, and making a move for the right guy when the price, or time, was right down the line. Theo Epstein has repeated the Billy Beane line many times about the first two months being merely seeing what kind of team you have, whereas the next two months are about fixing it. With that frame of thought, isnít the bullpen a heck of a lot easier to fix than the starting rotation? And itís not like Epstein doesnít have experience in doing so.
But perhaps there is added importance on winning in April and May this season than there has in the past. After all, Clemens doesnít appear too much of a Beane disciple, lest he understand that youíre struggling a bit now, but come August weíll be primed for the playoffs. Uh-huh. Clemens is going to sit back in Katy and study the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros before deciding which might give him the best chance to win another World Series before he, you know, retires.
In that sense, Papelbon makes sense for the bullpen. It gives the team an attractive hole in the rotation that Clemens feels he can fill, with a bullpen that wonít give him the willies about leaving a lead out on the mound. Kowabunga.
So, perhaps there will be substance after all. At the very least, it might keep us from the Papelbon: starter or closer debate for two months. Like that one is gonna die.