The Sox' fate in the new season will in large part be determined by how much production they receive from Beckett, a should-be ace coming off an underwhelming and injury-plagued season, and Papi, the once-transcendent slugger who lost an alarming amount of lightning from his bat as he battled various ailments and the cruel passage of time.
Lowell? He turns 35 in a month and reportedly is just now starting to swing the bat after a torn labrum in his hip abruptly ended his season last October. While Lowell has always been an easily admired and winning ballplayer, it's shortsighted to consider him as anything but a semi-reliable complementary piece at this point. I don't mean to diminish his importance or his contributions during his time with the Red Sox -- you wont find a teammate or, heck, probably even a fan who doesn't adore the guy -- but he is not irreplaceable. There's a reason the Red Sox pursued Mark Teixeira so vigorously -- bloodless general manager Theo Epstein is concerned that his lineup as currently constituted isn't deep enough to thrive in the fierce AL East. And I don't need to remind you who the odd man out would have been had Boston won Leigh Teixeira's heart and credit cards rather than New York.
Manny Ramirez? Sorry, Charlie. I'm talking 'bout the 6-foot-6-inch, 260-pound power-hitting on-base machine who answers to "Big Donkey."
Tell me now, when is some enterprising GM going to realize that former Reds and Diamondbacks behemoth Adam Dunn is poised to be the steal of the offseason for some shrewd and fortunate team?
And to borrow a phrase from the recent Red Sox past: Why not us?
Oh, I'm aware there are longstanding knocks against Dunn, and some are even justified. He strikes out at a Bellhornian rate. He's just a .247 career hitter. Some who watched him in Cincinnati claim he habitually pads his stats in blowouts while repeatedly faltering in the big moments. Defensively, he's so brutal that he brings to mind the old joke about Jose Canseco. What do Canseco and Michael Jackson have in common? Both wear a glove for no apparent reason. The Red Sox defense surely would suffer if they signed Dunn to play first, moved Kevin Youkilis across the diamond to third, and jettisoned Lowell. And it must be noted Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who I'm pretty sure is in the Fave Five of every baseball columnist in the country, claimed last season that Dunn doesn't like baseball.
Maybe Ricciardi is right -- maybe the game is more of a job than a joy to Dunn. But that doesn't stop him from being pretty damned good at it. ESPN baseball analysts and other casual fans don't realize or recognize quite how productive the 29-year-old has been in his eight-year career -- to be honest, I didn't either until giving his baseballreference.com page a deeper look recently. His career adjusted OPS of 130 is just four points lower than Teixeira's. He's hit at least 40 home runs in five straight seasons, and exactly 40 in the past four -- how's that for consistency? He's the major league leader in home runs and walks over the past five years, and then there's this: His career home run rate of one every 13.96 at-bats is fifth all time, trailing guys named McGwire, Ruth, Bonds, and Thome.
This list of the five players most similar to Dunn at age 28 may also raise some eyebrows, if only because he isn't often perceived as being in their stellar (if in certain cases star-crossed) company:
1. Darryl Strawberry (brilliant in his youth)
2. Jose Canseco (ditto)
3. Harmon Killebrew (H of F)
4. Rocky Colavito (better than Harvey Kuenn)
5. Reggie Jackson (H of F)
Knowing all of that, you're telling me Dunn's particular set of offensive skills doesn't appeal to the Bill James Red Sox? In a lot of ways, he is their ideal. Under slightly different circumstances -- say, such as one where Lowell did not re-sign with the club before last season and instead accepted the Phillies' superior offer -- I bet Dunn would be coveted by the Sox. And it's not out of the realm of possibility that they are covertly pursuing him anyway. FoxSports' Ken Rosenthal reported Jan. 14 that the Sox have "some interest" in Dunn, though he also couched it by calling it a long shot. His source was a "rival executive" -- is that you, J.P.? -- meaning that it was probably more conjecture than anything, but it was certainly enough to pique my interest, especially since Dunn would not cost a first-round pick as compensation because the Diamondbacks did not offer him arbitration.
According to the Washington Post, Dunn is still holding out hope for a four-year, $56 million deal. Last offseason, he probably could have doubled that contract, but in this economic climate, he'll be lucky to get $10 million a year. (Somewhere, Jason Varitek weeps stoically into his catcher's mitt.)
But make no mistake, even at his own asking price, Adam Dunn is going to be some team's bargain. No disrespect to Mike Lowell, but I keep catching myself hoping he somehow becomes Boston's.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.