Actually, I'm going to mix it up a bit today and lead off with a reader question, since it plays into what I was planning to write about -- the present and future of Xander Bogaerts, who should have had about two dozen more at-bats this September than he ended up getting.
Who do you think has a better season next year -- Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts or Jackie Bradley Jr.?
I love how we're always looking ahead around here. Seriously, I do. We can't resist.
The Sox lock up home field throughout the playoffs Saturday, they wrap up their exceptional, fulfilling regular season today, a potentially fantastic postseason looms ... and we're already trying to sort it all out for next year and beyond.
I love it, and you're darned right I'm going to play along, because these are considerably more pleasant "problems" than, I don't know, trying to convince your buddy that Pedro Ciriaco is not the next Jose Reyes.
Let me start out by eliminating Bradley from the conversation for two reasons:
1) The glimmer of reasonable hope that Jacoby Ellsbury does return, which would limit Bradley's role at least in the early part of the season.
2) That as well-regarded as he is as an all-around, the-more-you-see-him-the-more-you-appreciate-him type of ballplayer, he's probably not going to put up dazzling counting stats his first few years in the big leagues. He might be a 15/15 guy with a .410 OBP, 40 doubles and spectacular defense at his peak. He won't be that next year.
That leaves Bogaerts and Middlebrooks. It's tempting to suggest Bogaerts could duplicate next year what Manny Machado did this year -- something like a .280/.330/.440 slash-line with 15 homers and 75 RBIs. But we just don't know how much he's going to play right away. There's a lot of speculation Stephen Drew could end up in New York, but Ben Cherington and John Farrell clearly like him a lot, and tendering him at around $14 million and attaching draft-pick compensation might be something they are willing to do.
There really are a lot of moving pieces here -- Middlebrooks could even end up at first base, I suppose. It also wouldn't completely shock me if he were traded in a blockbuster. (I thoroughly believe they will go hard after Giancarlo Stanton.) But by semi-default, he's the one who wins this competition.
Middlebrooks still has more than his share of hideous at-bats, and I think he's always going to be prone to slumps, but man, he's got the kind of power that's in short supply these days. He's played 168 career games with 655 plate appearances, roughly a full season, and you know what his numbers are? Thirty-two homers, 103 RBIs, 167 strikeouts, and a .762 OPS. He's essentially been Butch Hobson circa 1977, and that was a very promising player.
Chad, I agree the Celtics will not be good this year, but please stop the comparisons with the 1996-97 team. No one on that roster is as good as Rondo, Bradley, or Green. Just those three players makes this roster superior.
I'm gonna let reader Kevin handle this. Come on out here and drop the common-sense hammer, Kevin.
Everyone's OK with Rondo sitting out until December, right? People understand that this must happen for tanking and Rondo's trade value, right?
Thank you, Kevin. Good work. You can't count on Rondo since, you know, he's probably going to miss the first couple months of the season.
As for Bradley and Green, well, Bradley is an exceptional defensive player, one of the best I have ever seen. But this is a kid who is yet to average 10 points per game in a season, lost nearly 100 percentage points off his overall and 3-point shooting percentages, struggled after Rondo went down, has proven he's not a point guard ... and Brad Stevens is raving about his skills as a point guard. Bradley's a nice player. He's also a huge question mark for a lot of reasons.
I like Green, but if he's not your quintessential 24 points-per-game scorer on a lousy team, I don't know what he is.
As for no one on the 1996-97 roster not being as good as these guys, that's patently false. There are six or seven individually above-average players (albeit at various stages of their careers) on that 1996-97 team. It's really not much different from this Rondo-free roster these Celtics will start with. Check it out:
That's not a good team. But those are some talented, relatively accomplished players. (I only included Todd Day because he will prove to be MarShon Brooks's spirit animal.)
Now, I admit to a little bit of hyperbole in comparing these two teams to make my point about how bad the Celtics will be. The 1996-97 Celtics really took tanking to an impressive level, going so far as to start Brett Szabo 24 times and let M.L. Carr coach the whole season. I'll always believe the deliberate disarray of that team, which finished 29th of 29 teams in scoring defense, set back Antoine Walker's career irreparably.
But those who think the Celtics are going to be OK are forgetting how bad the defense was as soon as Kevin Garnett would plunk down on the bench, or how inefficient the offense often was with Paul Pierce and a healthy Rondo. They're also overestimating what role players like Brandon Bass are capable of doing because ... I don't know why. Familiarity, I suppose.
They'll be more subtle about it than the 1996-97 Celtics. But make no mistake: they're going to stink. It's in their best interests, and the roster is constructed for it to happen.
Loved your recent playoff comps columns. Todd Walker really is a forgotten guy from that 2003 squad. He had a monster ALCS. I also believe he gave NESN a postgame, on-air, "we're going to head to Oakland and kick their a**" quote as well if I'm not mistaken. One of my all time favorite one-hit wonders.
-- Neil, DC
With you, Neil. (And thanks.) Mark Bellhorn, pretty much a one-year wonder himself as Walker's successor at second base, had some huge moments in the '04 postseason. I can still hear his home run in Game 1 of the World Series ringing off the Pesky Pole. But as I've said before, I don't necessarily think of 2003-04 as separate seasons but two chapters in a great novel, and I've always felt bad that Walker didn't get to be a character in the second chapter. He was a big part of the we're-all-in-it-together chemistry of the '03 team, and with apologies to Damian Jackson, he's really the only significant player from that team who wasn't around in '04. And how great was he during the postseason, when he hit five homers in 12 games? Let's put it this way: If the Red Sox had had a chance to honor Andy Pettitte like they did Mariano Rivera, there would have been some slightly mocking clips of Walker taking him deep in the highlight reel.
Next Boston sports figure to have a statue build in their honor after Yaz and Bill Russell. Who you got?
Well, if you read my Farleyesque interview with him the other day, you know I'm going to say Pedro Martinez. And I actually mean it. He meets all the criteria except maybe for super-longevity -- he spent the most memorable seasons of his career here, he was among the elite of the elite (career record with the Sox, in case you forget: 117-37), and he was beloved and charismatic. I'd say winning a title in that city is also essential, except that Yaz never won one, and neither did statue candidate Ray Bourque, though we once had a pep rally for one he won elsewhere.
Who else? John Havlicek or Bob Cousy would be justifiable choices, though it's irrefutably correct that both should be honored only after Russell. Tom Brady will get one someday, probably 20 years from now when he's a Republican Senator from California, lives full-time in his castle with that cool moat, and hasn't been within the town limits of Foxborough since winning his seventh Super Bowl ring in his final season at age 45. (Some of that willcome true. I just don't know which parts.)
Cam Neely? Paul Pierce? Big Papi? They're beloved and brilliant, but probably not up to that standard. Maybe time changes that.
For the record, five Boston athletes least likely to get a statue: Carl Everett, Mark Blount, Albert Haynesworth, Monty Beisel, and Mike Lansing. Dishonorable mention: Pervis Ellison? That guy was a statue.
THIS WEEK IN ANCIENT MEDIA GUIDES
The guide: 1976-77 Washington Bullets
The discovery: The type of copy that might have been written by a bitter, out-of-touch, 40-something Pete Campbell after washing out at Peggy Olson Media Enterprises in '75.
Let's just say that some of the player bios included commentary that wouldn't make it past the first draft today.
I mean, some of it was fine. Dave Bing is described as an "intensely proud man ... classy individual ... says what's on his mind ... extremely intelligent ... handles his own business affairs."
That almost sounds like LaDanian Tomlinson talking about himself after a playoff loss to the Patriots.
Some are more candid:
Kevin Grevey: "Good-looking bachelor ... one of the most gregarious Bullets, socially and publicly."
Elvin Hayes: "Carries a Bible with him and quotes from it liberally ... sensitive person."
In other words: Does not hang out with Kevin Grevey on the road.
Jimmy Jones: "Another Bullets card player."
Mike Riordan: "Sets the standard for sloppy-jeans look among NBA style-watchers ... Nicknamed "Bags" because he always takes one bag on road trips, whether it's an overnight trip or a West Coast swing ... extremely non-materialistic and that's a source of his happiness."
Tom Kozelko: "Dry sense of humor ... says his 19 points forced Dave DeBusschere to retire ... not the team's best dresser ... buys his clothes at the same place Mike Riordan does ... Just a good guy."
And now for the doozy:
Nick Weatherspoon: "Keeps his thoughts to himself ... Has well-rounded ghetto vocabulary."
That might seem inappropriate now, sure. But I am pretty sure the '86 Celtics guide said the same thing about Greg Kite.
Until next Sunday, the mailbox is closed. Exit (and at-bat) music, please:
Don't worry/'Bout a thing/'Cause every little thing/Gonna be all right. ...
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.