On May 15, the Indians had won three in a row, were three games above .500, and had first place all to themselves. Since then, the Tribe’s only won 26 more games and lost 43. The Indians have dealt their ace, lost their marquee catcher and powerful designated hitter to injury, and lost their closer who led the league in saves last year to a release.
Meanwhile, back on May 15, the Boston Red Sox were 24-19, a game behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays. Most analysts figured the Rays would be back in their comfortable, familiar last place in a month or so. Since then, the Red Sox played just a game over .500, lost and regained David “Big Papi” Ortiz, and finally started to look like a mortal team.
The Red Sox are getting old, and there’s no one more exemplary of that fact than Jason Varitek. The team captain, he’s a switch hitting catcher who has been instrumental in both Red Sox World Series victories. Varitek is hitting an anemic .218 (that’s below even David Dellucci!) with only 25 extra-base hits all season. It’s becoming clear to me (and perhaps others as well) that Varitek is in the twilight of his solid career.
What I’m proposing is a trade, between the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians, in a move that could potentially help both teams. Let me just throw it out there first, and then I’ll explain it: in my trade, the Indians would get RHP Jonathan Papelbon, and the Red Sox would get C Victor Martinez.
Let’s look at it for a minute. The Indians need bullpen help, particularly a closer. Right now, except for perhaps Mariano Rivera, there is no better closer in baseball than Papelbon. Papelbon is young (he was a rookie in 2006) and thus does not come with an expensive pricetag. He’s got good stuff, including an explosive fastball and a dominant curveball, and has the “stuff” to be a closer (which basically means he’s lucky).
Victor Martinez, with Varitek, Posada and Rodriguez in decline, the best offensive catcher in the American League. He’s a little bit injury-prone, but he has a career batting average of .299 and slugs .463. He’s a team leader, which the Sox will need when Varitek retires. He’s great at calling a game and is defensively underrated.
Meanwhile, the Indians would have Kelly Shoppach as their starting catcher, who has shown in the last few weeks he can handle it. The Indians have depth in the organization at first base and catcher, so finding a backup would not be difficult. The Red Sox have pitchers like Hideki Okajima who could close, or prospects like Clay Bucholz who could do the job. Of course, they also have a gargantuan payroll that could be used to get the best closer money can buy.
Obviously this deal won’t happen. Both teams consider both players too valuable to deal. But it’s an interesting prospect, no?
Now that the Indians have won two games, ESPN is trying to analyze it with the tagline, “How can the Indians be ahead against a team that looked to be invincible?”
Invincible to who? This is a team that nearly collapsed at the end of the season, letting the Yankees reduce a 14 game deficit to a 1 game deficit. The bullpen, which was outstanding in the beginning of the year, was much more vulnerable in the second half. We also saw how impotent the lineup was without Manny Ramirez.
So they go into the division series, they sweep the Angels. The Angels were a completely different team than they should have been, but even so, Ortiz and Ramirez pretty much led that offense through that series. The Angels had a terrible gameplan against Josh Beckett which made him look outstanding. Actually, the same can be said for the whole series: it seemed like the Angels tried to change who they were instead of making the Sox play their game.
The Red Sox get through to the Indians, and to their credit, made Sabathia work. I thought Sabathia was getting squeezed, but he should have been challenging Red Sox hitters more than he did anyway. Game 1 went to the Sox. Game 2 was much the same, but the Indians managed to hold off the assaults of the offense and won it, in the first game where Manny and Ortiz FINALLY looked human. And finally, in Game 3, Westbrook was able to shut them down and cool off the red-hot Ramirez.
So in the end, the Red Sox were NEVER as invulnerable as ESPN would have you believe.