Red Sox offseason recap series: Part three (2004-2005)

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This is part three of a 12-part series recapping the most notable acquisitions and departures from the 2002-2003 offseason to the 2013-2014 offseason. The following post covers the 2004-2005 offseason.

Oct 13, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox former player Dave Roberts is introduced prior to throwing out the first pitch in game two of the American League Championship Series baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The 2005 season was a hangover in every sense of the word. It seemed that throughout the season, there was so much reminiscing (at least when it came to fans and the media) about the previous year.

But the 2005 club would be a decent club, albeit one that did take a step back. The pitching was not at the level it had been in 2004. Offensively, Kevin Millar and Johnny Damon saw a decline in their power numbers. But David Ortiz put up arguably the best season of his career and finished second in the MVP voting behind Alex Rodriguez. They made it to the postseason that year, but were swept by the Chicago White Sox.

Now let’s get to the acquisitions and departures.

Departues

Pedro Martinez
: Arguably one of the best trade acquisitions in club history, and probably the greatest pitcher the Red Sox ever traded for, Martinez was the most dominant right-hander in an era where offense was at an all-time high. From 1998-2003, Martinez went 101-28 with a 2.26 ERA, 0.942 WHIP, and a 1,456/248 K /BB in 1,166 and 2/3 innings pitched. He won two Cy Young Awards (becoming the first pitcher to win the award in both leagues), led the AL in ERA four times, made four All-Star Teams, and was MVP runner-up in 1999 (would’ve won had it not been for NY sportswriter George King. Apparently King didn’t believe a pitcher should ever win the Cy Young, despite having put two pitchers on his MVP ballot the previous year).

By 2004, it became evident that the workload Pedro had carried over the years was starting to catch up with him. Though he won 16 games, struck out 227 batters, and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting, his ERA ballooned to 3.90 (up 1.68 from his league-leading 2.22 from 2003). He was dropped to second in the playoff rotation behind Curt Schilling. His final performance for the club was in Game Three of the World Series. He pitched seven shutout innings, allowing five base runners and striking out six, good enough for the win.

The increase in ERA and history of shoulder problems was enough to convince the club to part with Martinez when he became a free agent after 2004. Martinez would sign a four-year deal with the New York Mets. The 2005 season would be the last season Martinez would make 30 starts: 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA, 0.949 WHIP, 208/47 K/BB, 217 innings, and an All Star nod. Martinez would only make 48 starts for the rest of his tenure with the Mets: 17-15 with a 4.74 ERA, 1.328 WHIP, 256/90 K/BB in 269 2/3 innings. His final stop in the majors was nine starts for the Phillies in 2009. It’s safe to say that the Red Sox got the best seasons of Pedro’s career.

Martinez was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2014. This offseason will be Martinez’s first on the ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s very likely that he will be giving a speech at a podium in Cooperstown next summer.

Derek Lowe: Acquired along with Jason Varitek at the 1997 trade deadline for Heathcliff Slocumb Lowe would be somewhat of a “pitching everyman” during his Boston tenure. From 1997-2001 he would be used primarily out of the bullpen (though he would make 13 starts in that span). He would save 42 games in 2000, making his first All Star team in the process. Lowe was moved to the rotation full time in 2002. Coincidentally, 2002 would be the best season of his Boston tenure, if not his whole career: 21-8 with a 2.58 ERA, 0.947 WHIP, 127/48 K/BB in 219 2/3 innings while making his second and final All Star Team.

Lowe followed his 2002 season with a 17-win campaign in 2003. His 2004 season was a tale of two pitchers. Plagued by a lackadaisical defense for most of the year (not good for a sinkerball pitcher), Lowe would have a very mediocre final line: 14-12 with a 5.42 ERA, 1.615 WHIP, 105/71 K/BB in 182 2/3 innings.

Lowe’s bad regular season would have him exiled to the bullpen to begin the postseason. His only appearance in the ALDS was one inning of relief. He allowed two base runners but would get out of the inning unscathed. David Ortiz would hit a walkoff home run in the bottom of the inning, making Lowe the winning pitcher in the series clincher.

Lowe only found himself back in the rotation after Game Three of the ALCS. With the game already being lost, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (who was originally slated to start Game Four) offered to pitch mop up duty to not further tax the bullpen. Lowe would keep his team in the game in Game Four before being taken out with one out in the sixth inning after giving up three runs and throwing 88 pitches. It was apparent that Lowe was likely to be the Game Seven starter if the Red Sox were to go on and tie the series. Sure enough, they did. Lowe only allowed three batters to reach base in six innings of work in Game Seven: a two out walk to Jorge Posada in the bottom of the second, and plunking Miguel Cairo with one out in the bottom of the third (Cairo would steal second on account of Jason Varitek just never being the best thrower to second at any point of his career) before Derek Jeter followed up with an RBI single. Lowe would then retire the last 11 batters he faced. After the game was complete, Lowe was credited as the winning pitcher in another series clincher.

A fully rested Lowe took the mound a week later. He pitched another gem (seven innings, three hits, one walk, four strikeouts, no runs on 85 pitches). After Keith Foulke recorded the 1-3 putout for the third out in the ninth, the Red Sox were World Series champions and Lowe was the first pitcher to win the clinching games in all three postseason series.

Despite Lowe’s resurgence in the postseason, the Red Sox were not pleased with Lowe’s regular season numbers and also cited his off the field issues (late night carousing in bars, marital issues) as big red flags. Lowe signed a four-year deal with the LA Dodgers and would spend the next seven seasons of his career in the National League. He was a dependable and effective pitcher for both the Dodgers and Atlanta Braves during that time. He made a return to the AL in 2012 when the Braves traded him to the Cleveland Indians. The Indians released him after posting a 5.52 ERA in 21 starts. The Yankees signed him shortly after and Lowe pitched effectively for them out of the bullpen for the remainder of the season.

After struggling early on as a reliever for the Texas Rangers in 2013, Lowe was released and he announced his retirement shortly after. Lowe would make a return to the Red Sox that season as a broadcast fill-in for Jerry Remy on NESN. His performance in 2004 alone cements his spot in Red Sox history and he’ll someday be inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame.

Orlando Cabrera
: OC arrived in Boston to replace Nomar Garciaparra as part of the same deal that sent Nomar Garciaparra out of Boston. Cabrera was already known

Oct 7, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; 2010 World Series MVP for the San Francisco Giants who retired as a Cincinnati Reds player Edgar Renteria prepares to throw out the first pitch before game two of the 2012 NLDS at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

for his outstanding defense. He continued to be a stellar defensive shortstop in his brief stay. But he also held his own with the bat, putting up a .785 OPS in 58 games. He only walked 11 times in that span, but struck out just 23 times as well. His offense really came to life during that historic comeback in the ALCS (.873 OPS). Combining that with his elite defensive play, Cabrera had the case of being the best overall shortstop IN THAT SERIES (using all caps so nobody accuses me of thinking he was better than Jeter or A-Rod though he was always defensively better than the former).

Thinking there was a better option for the shortstop position on the free agent market (more on that guy later), the Sox opted to let Cabrera walk. Cabrera would go onto play seven more seasons for the Angels (05-07), White Sox (08), A’s (09), Twins (09), Reds (10), Indians (11), and Giants (11). While well traveled, especially near the end, Cabrera will be remembered for his glove. But he wasn’t a total slouch with the bat either. And he’ll never be forgotten for 2004.

Doug Mientkievicz: While having been a starter for most of his career at the point he arrived in Boston, Mientkievicz had been surpassed by a young phenom named Justin Mourneau. While he was never put up the kind of OPS you’d expect from a first baseman, he was always a solid defender. That should be no coincidence as to why Mientkievicz arrived in the same deal as Cabrera. For the most part, the Red Sox used Mientkievicz as a late innings replacement for the better hitting, but less defensively efficient Kevin Millar.

He was a great insurance policy to have. Without him, perhaps Terry Francona leaves Millar on first after that walk from Rivera instead of lifting him for Dave Roberts. But with Mientkievicz, Red Sox fans could worry less about the defense in the late innings. After Ortiz was lifted for Mientkievicz in Game Four (Millar was on the bench since it was an NL Park), even the most expecting-the-worst Sox fans started to get into “they’re finally going to do it” mode. There would be no fluke ground ball error in this series clincher. Dougie caught Foulke’s underhanded throw to secure the club’s first World Series.

Much has been speculated as to why the Red Sox opted to trade Mientkievicz in the following offseason. Was it Kevin Millar having a new-found sense of entitlement by way of overvaluing his intangible contributions? Or maybe the club felt they didn’t want to pay a starter’s salary for a backup? Or perhaps both the club and player wanted Dougie to have a chance to be a starting player again. He would be dealt to the Mets, but would get hurt that season. The rest of Mientkievicz’s career was injury-riddled and when he did play, it was as a reserve. He retired after 2009. While his stay in Boston was short-lived, Doug Mientkievicz provided good insurance for the club on its way to winning the World Series.

Gabe Kapler: While technically a backup outfielder, Kapler actually played in 136 games in 2004, primarily filling in for the injured Trot Nixon but also spotting for Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon on their days off.

Kapler was offered a $2 million contract with a $700,000 signing bonus to play for the Yomiuri Giants. He only put up a .478 OPS in 38 games. Yomiuri would then deactivate Kapler and he returned to the Red Sox in the middle of the 2005 season.

Kapler would play another season with Boston and spent a one-year retirement as manager of the Red Sox Single-A affiliate, the Greenville Drive. He resumed his playing career with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008. Kapler would play for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009 and 2010. He signed with his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers prior to 2011 but was granted his release before the regular season started. He’s currently an analyst for Fox Sports 1.

Pokey Reese
: I went into more detail on Reese in my previous recap. Reese was a reliable defensive player but didn’t hit much in his lone year in Boston. He departed for the Seattle Mariners organization after 2004 but never reached the majors again.

Dave Roberts: Roberts will always be remember for his stolen base in Game Three of the 2004 ALCS. Lost in all the euphoria is the fact that Roberts never got an at-bat or played the field at all that October.

Roberts had began the season as the starting center fielder for the Dodgers. But after acquiring Steve Finley at the deadline, they had little use for Roberts so they simultaneously dealt him to Boston. While in Boston, Roberts played sparingly. He was mostly used as a pinch-runner, defensive replacement, and occasional starter.

Roberts was a true pro, and accepted his new role. But having been a starter for most of his career, and still being relatively young (32 at the time), it’s understandable why the player quietly asked for a trade. The Red Sox found a trade partner in the San Diego Padres, who sent two established players in return (more on them later).

Roberts played four more seasons, two in San Diego and two in San Francisco. He retired after 2008. That didn’t keep him out of baseball, however. Roberts spent 2009 as a broadcaster for NESN. He returned to the Padres organization as a Special Assistant in 2010. He beat Hodgkin’s lymphoma that year and was named first base coach after the season. Roberts was promoted to bench coach after 2013.

Acquisitions

Jay Payton: One of the players acquired in the Dave Roberts trade, the Red Sox were hoping Payton would replace Gabe Kapler as the fourth outfielder, playing the bulk of his time in right field against left-handed pitching (at this point, Trot Nixon was nearly useless if the opposing starter was a lefty).

It’s ironic that Payton was the player Boston acquired for Roberts. While Roberts accepted a limited role and quietly asked for a trade in the offseason, Payton was unwilling to accept his role and was very vocal in his displeasure. He was traded midway through the season to the Oakland A’s for right-handed reliever (and “Moneyball” character) Chad Bradford.

Payton would play the rest of 2005 and 2006 for the A’s, putting up an overall OPS of .746. He would make two more stops in his big league career (Baltimore in 07 and 08 and Colorado in 2010) before retiring after 2010.

Ramon Vazquez: The other major leaguer acquired for Dave Roberts (minor league RHP David Pauley was also in the deal, but he didn’t play for the big club in 2005), the Red Sox were hoping Vazquez would be an upgrade over Pokey Reese with the bat while being a versatile defensive player. That wound up not being the case.

Vazquez played only 27 games for Boston and put up a .464 OPS. As bad as his numbers were, the Sox found a trade partner for him in the Cleveland Indians. The player the Red Sox received in return was Alex Cora. Cora would be a reliable backup infielder for Red Sox for the next three and a half seasons.

Vazquez put up a .683 OPS for the remainder of 2005 and then played another season in Cleveland. He played for the Texas Rangers in 2007 and 2008 where he put up a .735 OPS. His final season was for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009.

David Wells: It was no secret that the Red Sox were never pleased with Derek Lowe’s carousing at bars and it probably played a role in the club not re-signing him. So it’s somewhat ironic that the club signed David Wells, a pitcher who claimed to be “half drunk” when throwing a perfect game in 1998. Perhaps the willingness to take a shorter deal and lower annual salary was enough to make an exception for Boomer.

Wells made 30 starts in 2005 and won 15 games, but with a 4.45 ERA and 1.310 WHIP. He was hurt for much of the first half of 2006, making only eight starts. With the Red Sox out of contention in August of 2006, they opted to move Wells, who was scheduled to be a free agent after the season. He was traded to the San Diego Padres for a minor league catcher named George Kottaras.

Matt Clement: By the time the Red Sox signed Clement, they had exhausted all of the options they had ahead of him. In no particular order, the Sox lost out on their bid to trade for Tim Hudson, Brad Radke opted to remain with the Twins, and Carl Pavano opted to sign with the Yankees (which wound up being a good thing). Re-signing Pedro Martinez might’ve been higher on the priorities list as well, but he was off the market when the Sox signed Clement to a three year $25.825 million deal.

Clement was actually very good in the first half and was 10-2 at the All Star Break. He made the All Star team as a replacement for an injured Roy Halladay.

That first half would be the only good highlight of Clement’s tenure in Boston. He would go 3-4 in the second half and finished 13-6 with a 4.57 ERA, 1.361 WHIP, and 146/68 K/BB in 191 innings. He capped off his swoon with an atrocious outing in Game One of the ALDS against the Chicago White Sox, giving up eight runs in 3 1/3 innings.

Clement made 12 starts in 2006 and put up an underwhelming line of 5-5 with a 6.61 ERA and 1.760 WHIP and 43/38 K/BB in 65 1/3 innings. That line would be Clement’s last in the major leagues. He had season-ending shoulder surgery and never made an appearance in 2007, the final year on his contract. He tried making comebacks with St. Louis in 2008 and Toronto in 2009 but was unsuccessful.

After retiring, Clement moved back to his hometown of Butler, PA and became head boys basketball coach at his old high school. Looks like the Sox gave him a generous contribution to his retirement fund (it even included a ring!)

Edgar Renteria: At the time, it seemed like Renteria would be a no-brainer upgrade over Orlando Cabrera. But with hindsight being 20/20, this would be a signing the Sox would regret.

Renteria was signed for four years and $36 million, but would only play one season. He wasn’t terrible offensively, putting up a .721 OPS. But for nine out of ten seasons from 1999-2008, Renteria would reach double-digit home run totals. 2005 was the one season in that span in which he failed to do so.

Despite the drop in offensive production, the biggest letdown with Renteria was with the glove. He made 30 errors that season.

The Red Sox opted to go in a different direction after 2005. They traded Renteria to the Atlanta Braves for prospect Andy Marte and agreed to eat most of the remaining salary. Renteria would play six more seasons for the Braves, Tigers, Giants, and Reds and retired after 2011.

Final Analysis

The Red Sox lost a lot of key players from 2004, so it’s not surprising that they had an expensive offseason. But unfortunately, none of the acquisitions really panned out. On the plus side, the club did get quite a few picks for the 2005 draft for the players they lost. Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, and Jacoby Ellsbury were all drafted by the club that June.

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