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Once around the order

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  March 14, 2011 06:54 AM

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I've had it all wrong around here lately. (Whaddaya mean lately, Finn? BAHAHA. BURN! See there, I did it for you.) What I mean is this: This Red Sox season is as eagerly anticipated as any in recent memory. And yet in small part because there is so little drama and debate during the club's preparations in Ft. Myers, I haven't written about this team as much as I should.

That's a lousy approach to take to the plate, and it's time to remedy that. So here's the plan. Starting today and carrying through Thursday, I'll chime in with observations on 40 players; if you're lucky, some might even be insightful. That number seems appropriate, with the acknowledgment being that some of the non-roster invitees are more relevant than kids like Stolmy Pimentel and Oscar Tejada on the 40-man roster, at least in relation to this year's edition.

In the casual spirit of spring training, I'll write them up in no particular order, with the first 10 checking in below. Collectively the 2011 Red Sox are the odds-on favorites to get to the World Series. Looking at their remarkable talent individually serves as a pleasant reminder why they should form an outstanding team.

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drewjdfinnca.jpgJ.D. Drew: His career OPS against righthanded pitching: .921. Mike Cameron's career OPS against lefthanded pitching: .866. I don't know, looks like an extremely productive semi-platoon in right field to me.

Mike Cameron: Seriously, I don't get the suggestion of trading him whatsoever. Sure, it's a bit of a luxury to have a fourth outfielder on the books for $7.25 million. It's also a luxury the Red Sox can afford, one of those big-market perks that separate them from other shrewd teams without a permanently open checkbook such as the Rays. The Red Sox' three starting outfielders are lefthanded hitters. Two have been known to spend a few weeks of the summer on the disabled list. Cameron is a righthanded hitter, and a relatively accomplished one, with eight seasons of 20-plus homers on the back of his baseball card. You don't deal him for someone else's spare part just because he's overqualified for his role. You keep him, knowing that such high-quality depth is going to matter at some point, and you're going to be happy you kept him around when it does.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: I know, he drives me absolutely crazy too, and he didn't even wait until the regular season to break out his full enigma routine this year. But if, as the rumor goes, the Red Sox would consider trading him to the Angels for Scott Kazmir, there can be only one logical reason: Theo is convinced Matsuzaka is Victor Zambrano in disguise. Otherwise, as -- well, annoying -- as he can be, his immediate future is brighter than Kazmir's. The Angels lefty's once-great slider has abandoned him, his velocity is way down (his K-rate of 5.6 last season is roughly half of what it was in his best years in Tampa Bay), he walked 4.7 batters per nine innings last year, and he has never had the command to make that Tanana-style transition from power pitcher to savvy control artist. Dice-K is frustrating, maddening, all of those things, but at least there's hope. Kazmir? Let's put it this way: His most similar pitcher is Dontrelle Willis. His best days are behind him, and the good old days weren't always good anyway.

Dennys Reyes: His K/9 ratio dipped to a career-low 5.9 last season, one indication that his days as an effective lefty specialist are waning. Sox fans may also shudder at the discovery that his most similar comp is J.C. Romero, who was a washout in a similar role here in 2007. But Reyes is arguably the most qualified pitcher vying for the lefty relief role with the Sox -- check out that stellar 2006 season -- and should the rotund southpaw win the role and find early success, you know he will be wildly popular at Fenway, a latter-day lefty version of Rich Garces. (The Guaposite? I know, I'm sorry.)

Rich Hill: Best-case scenario: The new motion takes, and he becomes the 2009-10 version of Randy Choate, who made 146 appearances for the Rays over the past two seasons, holding lefthanded hitters to a .385 OPS in '09 and a .529 OPS last year. Worst-case scenario: It doesn't take, his command is still his downfall, and he bounces to his fifth organization since February 2009 before the season is through.

saltyfinn.jpgJarrod Saltalamachia: The pitchers are frequent -- and sound genuine -- in their compliments for how he calls and manages a game, his throws back to the mound have been crisp and uneventful, he's just 25, and he did hit .266 with 11 homers in 308 at-bats as a 22-year-old rookie. Maybe it's just a side effect of the natural optimism of this time of year, but I've convinced myself that the Sox will reap the benefits of picking up a player they have long coveted at the perfect time.

Jason Varitek: Tek's OPS as a righthanded batter against lefthanded pitching each year from 2007-10: .801, .863, .807, .868. Again, I'm a convert and a believer. This catching situation really could work well.

Yamaico Navarro: Now, this isn't a prediction that he'll have a similarly distinguished career, but the kid's stance and swing remind me of John Valentin. (Related to absolutely nothing for our purposes here, every time I hear about Chase Utley's patellar tendinitis, I get flashbacks to Val blowing out his knee on a routine play in May 2000.)

Daniel Nava: The first-pitch grand slam was an unforgettable storybook moment, but the non-fiction reality here is that he's 28 years old, didn't hit another home run from plate appearance No. 2 to No. 188 last season, and has been weirdly flighty this spring to the point that Terry Francona seemed to call him out about it with the media. Realistically, his best hope for steady playing time is either Pawtucket or a trade to, say, Pittsburgh.

Ryan Kalish: Watching him now as such a likable young prospect, it's very easy to foresee him having a long, productive career that ends up a dozen or so years from now right there in the J.D. Drew/Trot Nixon color wheel. If he can avoid their familiarity with the trainer's room, perhaps he can even surpass what they have done. But . . . it's the right thing to do to send him back to Pawtucket and let him play every day this spring. He won't turn 23 until later this month, he has a little more than 300 at-bats above Double A, and for all of the acclaim during his turn in the big leagues, he did bat just .252 with a .710 OPS. The Red Sox are wise to give him time.

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.

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