Red Sox offseason recap series: 2005-2006
While every offseason has its own share of drama, the 2005-2006 offseason took things to a whole other level.
Apr 4, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox former players Pedro Martinez , Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek carry out World Series trophies during pre-game ceremonies before the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
It began with the brief departure of then-GM Theo Epstein after feeling he was being snubbed by his bosses. Eventually cooler heads would prevail. But in the interim, the regime of co-GMs Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer pulled off a blockbuster trade that would pay huge dividends for the club in the 2007 season.
Trades would actually be the theme for the club’s acquisitions that offseason. Those deals would counter the departures of three popular players from the 2004 champs. They would also deal away a disappointing, but still expensive “one and done” infielder as well as their top prospect.
While the Red Sox dealt away some prospects that offseason, they did retain their top pitching prospect. A 22 year-old left-hander named Jon Lester would debut that season. While he showed such promise in his first experience of the majors, he would be shut down after the discovery of non-Hodgkins lymphoma put his career and life in jeopardy. Lester would go onto make a full recovery and fulfill his potential in the following seasons.
Given the instability in the front office that offseason (at least between Theo and the beloved Uncle Larry), it really shouldn’t be a surprise that the club would miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season. But while the Red Sox took a step back in 2006, the moves they made that offseason enabled them to take two steps forward the following year.
*Note: Since the deal took place during spring training, I have opted not to include Bronson Arroyo (departure) and Wily Mo Pena (acquisition) on this list.
Kevin Millar: I went into further detail about Millar’s Boston tenure in the first part of this series. He was one of the most memorable and vocal players for the team during his time in Boston. For the first two years, he proved to be quite the bargain, putting up solid power and OBP numbers. But his final season left much to be desired. His power numbers declined and he remained a subpar defensive player. He would even lose playing time to in-season signing John Olerud (who would retire after the season).
Millar would sign with the Orioles and play four more seasons between the O’s and Toronto Blue Jays.
Bill Mueller: Like Millar, I covered Mueller more in that same article. He was another bargain for the Sox in his three-year stay. He won the 2003 batting title and had a knack for getting some big hits off Mariano Rivera. Mueller was also a solid defender at third. But after 2005, the Red Sox were ready to give the third base job to “prospect” Kevin Youkilis (Youk was 27 on Opening Day in 2006).
Mueller would sign with the LA Dodgers, but would see his career come to a abrupt and heartbreaking end after suffering a terrible knee injury. Mueller would remain in the game in some capacity and is now the hitting coach for the Chicago Cubs.
Johnny Damon: The final signing of the Dan Duquette Era, Damon was one of the best free agent acquisitions in franchise history. He averaged 149.25 games played in his four
Jul 3, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett (61) before the game against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
seasons, never playing in less than 145. Damon delivered as the leadoff hitter, scoring at least 103 runs in each of his four seasons. He also made consistent contact (never struck out more than 74 times) and reached double figures in steals in each of those four seasons.
Damon’s most memorable performance was in Game Seven of the 2004 ALCS. The rout was on when Damon hit a grand slam off Javier Vazquez. He would follow that up with another home run, a two-run shot also off Vazquez, for good measure.
Damon did show some signs of decline in 2005. His decrease in slugging percentage and OPS was due to a decline in home runs (20 in 2004 and 10 in 2005). While he did reach double figures in steals, the actual number dropped in each season (31 in 2002, 30 in 2003, 19 in 2004, 18 in 2005). He was also turning 32 and had been doing one of the game’s most difficult jobs, batting leadoff and playing center field, for over a decade.
While the Red Sox had Youkilis to take the third base job from Mueller and the free agent market had better first base options than Millar, Damon was actually one of the premier names on the outfield market that offseason. The Red Sox were going to have to bid rather high to retain him.
Aside from the financial commitment, there were concerns about how long Damon could remain in center field. He didn’t have the arm to move to right field nor the power to be a full time first baseman. Left field and DH were also out of the question with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz occupying those spots for the foreseeable future. The club had also used one of its many first round picks on a highly touted outfielder from Oregon State named Jacoby Ellsbury. Many felt Ellsbury would be on the fast track to the majors (which he would be) and a stopgap player would be a better option than handing Damon a megadeal.
The Red Sox have always placed offers for most of their free agents, most of the time hoping another club would offer more. With Damon it was no different. Boston bid four years and $40 million. The New York Yankees bid four years and $52 million.
One of the most-popular of the 2004 Red Sox became one of the most disliked turncoats in franchise history. But the reason behind it is much deeper than the player simply deciding to take the Yankees’ money and play for them. Damon did an interview during the 2005 season with regard to his upcoming free agency. In the interview, Damon said he would never play for the Yankees while acknowledging that they would likely come at him with the biggest offer. Not being a man of his word is what upset fans more than anything. Had he never done that interview, he probably would’ve still gotten negative reactions from Red Sox fans. But the negativity probably wouldn’t have been anywhere near as bad as it wound up being.
Damon would remain a very good offensive player in New York. The short porch in right field suited him well. But while he remained a solid offensive contributor, Damon would lose his job as an everyday leadoff hitter during that time.
The belief that Damon’s days as a regular center fielder were numbered would ultimately prove to be true. The latter half of Damon’s New York tenure would feature the player spending most of his time in left field and at designated hitter.
After having a solid final season New York in which he put up an .854 OPS and won a World Series, Damon would test the market again. He would sign with the Detroit Tigers late in the 2009-2010 offseason. Unfortunately, Damon did not play in the Red Sox-Tigers series at Fenway that season due to back spasms. Had he played, he probably would’ve finally gotten his overdue ovation, thanking him for what he did in 2004.
Another opportunity to get back into the good graces of Red Sox fans would fall upon him just weeks later. With the Tigers out of contention, they placed Damon on waivers. Hoping to get a little bit of an offensive boost, or to simply keep him from the Yankees or Rays, the Red Sox placed a claim on Damon. With the Red Sox on his no-trade list, Damon vetoed the deal. He cited liking his chances to return to Detroit in 2011 as the reason (kind of weird given the team had just waived him).
Damon would play the 2011 season for the Tampa Bay Rays. Red Sox fans didn’t forget his trade veto and let him hear it in that first Sox-Rays series at Fenway. If Damon’s .756 OPS for the Tigers in 2010 (a 98 point drop from his .854 in 2009) wasn’t a sign of decline, his .743 OPS as the Rays’ primary DH in 2011 was. More alarming in this drop was that Damon hit twice as many home runs (16) that he did in 2010 (8), yet the OPS was lower. The big culprit was a more aggressive approach. He was within 300 hits of the 3,000 hit milestone, but also in his late thirties. Time was not on his side.
Damon would linger on the free agent market until April of 2012 when the Cleveland Indians signed him. He would play his final series in Fenway that season. The Red Sox would play a tribute video during the second game of that series. After the video was played, Damon would FINALLY get the ovation from the Fenway Faithful that he always deserved to get. It was probably one of the fonder of that forgettable 2012 season.
Like the Red Sox, 2012 wasn’t friendly to Damon either. He would put up a .610 OPS in 64 games before being released that August.
Damon returned to Fenway early in the 2014 season to help commemorate the tenth anniversary of that unforgettable 2004 World Championship team. For old times sake, he decided to flip the script with Manny Ramirez. Damon would make a diving interception of Ramirez’s ceremonial first pitch.
Since he failed to reach the 3,000 hit milestone, it’s unlikely Damon will ever be enshrined in Cooperstown. But now that he’s back in the good graces of the Red Sox and their fans, and because of what he meant to the club during his entire Red Sox tenure, Damon is a shoo-in for the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
Edgar Renteria: Went into detail about him in last week’s post. The less we talk about his tenure, the better. Renteria disappointed with the bat and completely fell apart defensively. He was dealt to the Atlanta Braves for alleged prospect Andy Marte and the Red Sox ate up most of the remaining salary. He was somehow able to play seven more seasons and was on a World Series winner in 2012. Guess it’s nice he won two rings in his career since he was in attendance at the Red Sox ring ceremonies in 2005 and 2008 (the Red Sox opened at home against the Tigers, Renteria’s 2008 team) but didn’t receive one either time (though he did get booed in 2008). I also believe the Red Sox were paying him during both occasions. That’s enough on Rent-A-Wreck.
Hanley Ramirez: The highest-touted prospect in the Red Sox organization at the time of his debut and departure. Ramirez would only make two plate appearances for Boston in 2005, striking out both times. He was the centerpiece in a trade that brought in two notable players I will write about later on.
Ramirez would win NL Rookie of the Year in 2006 when he put up an .833 OPS with 17 home runs, 119 runs scored, and 56 stolen bases. He would be a consistent offensive player for most of his tenure in Miami. However, he was a lackadaisical fielder and had a reputation for not being a well-liked person in the clubhouse.
After putting up disappointing numbers in 2011 and the first half of 2012, Ramirez would be dealt to the LA Dodgers, who had recently acquired a bottomless wallet after the new ownership group took over. Ramirez has put up a solid .874 OPS in parts of three seasons in Miami. He’s also been reported to be a better teammate in recent years.
With his contract up this offseason, Ramirez is set to become a free agent. Though he’ll be 31 next season, is no longer a threat to eclipse 20 stolen bases per year, and still isn’t a good defensive player, Ramirez will likely land a lucrative multi-year deal in the coming months.
Doug Mirabelli: Has there ever been another backup catcher who was dealt from his club after an age 34 season which saw his OPS drop 172 points (.893 in 04 to .721 in 05) and said catcher wound up being irreplaceable?
This was the case with Doug Mirabelli. The Sox traded Tim Wakefield’s backup catcher to the San Diego Padres for Mark Loretta. There was nothing wrong with the player they acquired and I will get into more detail him in a little while. The problem was actually not finding a suitable replacement to catch Tim Wakefield.
The Red Sox were originally hoping that veteran John Flaherty would fill the void. After struggling in the early stages of camp, Flaherty chose to retire. That would leave the job to Josh Bard, a throw-in in the Coco Crisp trade (more on that later).
While Bard put up a decent-for-a-backup-catcher .714 OPS in seven games, it took just seven games for the Red Sox to declare him incapable of handling the knuckleball.
The Red Sox would deal Bard, right-handed relief prospect Cla Meredith, and cash considerations to the Padres to reacquire Mirabelli.
Mirabelli made a memorable return to Fenway. He had just been traded that morning and had to fly cross country, losing an additional four hours in the process. But a police escort got him to the ballpark in time.
Mirabelli would put up a .603 OPS for the remainder of 2006. He put up a slightly better OPS (.637) in 2007 while primarily catching Wakefield. Mirabelli would be released prior to the 2008 season and retire thereafter. Though his offense declined in his final seasons, he was the backup catcher on Boston’s first two World Series championship teams in 86 years. He was indeed an irreplaceable player.
Mark Loretta: The player the Red Sox acquired for Doug Mirabelli, Loretta would put up a .706 OPS in 155 games and make his second and final All Star team in 2006. His presence in 2006 bought time for Dustin Pedroia to finish his development. Like Todd Walker, Loretta is another guy who I would’ve liked to have seen stay longer mainly because their lone seasons ended on such a lousy note. I might be mistaken, but I do recall rumors in either 2008 or 2009 where the Red Sox were close to bringing Loretta back as a late season acquisition. Too bad it never happened.
Loretta would play the 2007 and 2008 seasons for the Houston Astros, the former as a regular and the latter as a backup and pinch-hitter. He played his final season for the LA Dodgers in 2009, also as a reserve/pinch hitter. He retired after the season and took a job in the San Diego Padres front office.
Julian Tavarez: A legitimate case can be made that he was signed primarily because he was a close friend of Manny Ramirez in hopes to finally get Manny to shut up and stop asking to be traded several dozen times every year. And it wouldn’t surprise me if that theory is true.
That’s not to take anything away from Tavarez, who did provide some value on the mound even though his overall numbers in Boston (12-16 with a 4.94 ERA and 1.557 WHIP) don’t reflect that.
Tavarez would pitch 98 2/3 innings in 2006. With the starting rotation in shambles, Tavarez made six starts late in that season. He would make 23 starts in 2007, filling in for the rehabbing Jon Lester.
After struggling early in 2008, the Red Sox released Tavarez. Once again, a valid argument can be made that that move is what caused Ramirez to become even more disruptive to the point his presence was poisonous. Tavarez would pitch for two more teams that season (Brewers and Braves). His final season was for the Nationals in 2009.
Count me in as one of the fans hoping Tavarez is in attendance for the commemoration of the 2007 champs in three years.
Alex Gonzalez: The Red Sox were left without a shortstop for the present and the future when they dealt Edgar Renteria and Hanley Ramirez. Add Theo Epstein’s unexplainable infatuation for the guy he signed the following offseason and the one-year deal for underrated defensive shortstop Alex Gonzalez just made sense.
Gonzalez put up an underwhelming .695 OPS which featured a .299 OBP. But the glove made up for his lack of offense.
After the season, the Red Sox apparently signed an upgrade while Gonzalez signed with the Cincinnati Reds. Gonzalez put up a .793 OPS in 2007 (while the alleged upgrade put up a .643 OPS).
After cutting the alleged upgrade in 2009, and getting subpar production from Nick Green, the Red Sox reacquired Gonzalez for the final stretch in 2009. In the brief reunion, Gonzalez put up a .769 OPS while providing still stellar defense.
Gonzalez would play the next four seasons for the Blue Jays, Braves, and Brewers. He made an early season cameo in 2014 for the Detroit Tigers but was released after putting up a .452 OPS. Chances are that Gonzalez has reached the end of the line in his up and down offensively/extremely overrated defensively career. That wouldn’t be the first I would’ve thought that however…
Coco Crisp: A bridge player before the term “bridge year” was ever uttered. Crisp was acquired from the Cleveland Indians along with a few others (one being Josh Bard) for a package featuring Andy Marte, the alleged prospect Boston had gotten for Renteria, as the centerpiece.
Crisp’s tenure in Boston would last three seasons. He put up a .706 OPS with 22 steals and stellar defense in 105 games in 2006. His 2007 season would feature a .712 OPS with 28 steals and the same stellar defense. He would be benched in the playoffs that season in favor of the recently arrived Jacoby Ellsbury.
Many thought Crisp would be dealt prior to 2008, but the Sox never found a suitable deal. It’s a good thing they held onto Crisp. A wrist injury to David Ortiz, created a spot in the lineup for Crisp (with Ramirez moving to DH and Ellsbury shifting over to left field). Crisp would put up a .751 OPS with 20 steals and the same stellar and very underrated defense.
Crisp and Ellsbury would reverse roles that October. While Ellsbury stole the show in the 2007 World Series, he struggled mightily in the 2008 ALCS. He was benched in favor of Crisp. Crisp would collect the walkoff hit in Game Five as the Red Sox fought back from a huge deficit to avoid elimination. His final OPS for the series was 1.092.
The Red Sox did find a deal to their liking after the 2008 season and they dealt Crisp to the Kansas City Royals for reliever Ramon Ramirez. Crisp would have an injury-riddled 2009 as well as 2010, his first season in Oakland.
Since 2011, Crisp has put up a collective .730 OPS for the A’s. His 2011 and 2012 seasons featured 49 and 39 stolen bases respectively. He hit 11 homers in 2012. Last season saw Crisp put up the best home run total of his career (22) and he finished 15th in the MVP voting. As always, his defense is still spectacular. It’s a crime he’s never won a Gold Glove.
While he’s never been an All-Star, Crisp has proven to be something more than just a stopgap player.
Mike Lowell: One of the two players acquired in the blockbuster involving Hanley Ramirez, Lowell was just seen as an expensive, but necessary throw-in. After putting up the lowest full season OPS of his career in 2005 (.658), the Marlins were making it necessary to put Lowell’s remaining two years and $18 million on the advertisement for their Fire Sale of 05-06.
Aside from the fact that there was no way the Sox would obtain the pitcher they coveted without taking Lowell with him, many were confident that Lowell would regain his form in Boston. He did. Lowell’s line for the remainder of that contract: 307 games, .847 OPS, 41 home runs, 200 RBIs. That’s not including the 1.300 OPS he put up in the 2007 World Series, which was good enough to walk away with MVP honors.
Lowell re-signed with Boston after 2007. He would put up a .778 OPS in those three seasons as age and injuries began to catch up with him. I’ll never forget watching Lowell play with that hip injury in 2008. It coincided with Manny Ramirez doing everything he could to get the Red Sox to either trade him or decline their $20 million club options after that season.
Lowell retired after the 2010 season and is currently working as an analyst for the MLB Network. He’s a lock to be inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame. And I really hope his induction happens long before Manny Ramirez.
Josh Beckett: The young pitcher the Sox coveted so much. Beckett’s career in Boston had many ups and many downs. His amazing 2007 reflects the highs and his final 11 months with the club reflect the lows.
Beckett was already a proven postseason pitcher at the time he was acquired, winning the World Series MVP in 2003. But he also had a hard time staying healthy. The 2006 season would actually be the first season in which he’d reach 200 or more innings. Despite pitching that many innings and winning 16 games (a then career high), Beckett would also have a 5.01 ERA. His WHIP was a decent 1.295.
The 2007 season would be the best season of his career. Beckett would go 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA and 1.141 WHIP in 200 2/3 innings, good enough to finish second in the Cy Young voting.
Beckett topped it off with an even better postseason. He would win all four of his starts, going 30 innings, allowing just four runs, 19 hits, and posting a 37/2 K/BB. Two of those four wins came in the ALCS, of which he would be the MVP.
Beckett would continue to alternate bad/injury-plagued seasons and good/also injury-plagued seasons over the next four years.
His final line in 2011 was actually decent: 13-7 2.89 ERA and 1.026 WHIP in 193 innings. Despite that, he faded down the stretch and later reports revealed that Beckett was one of the ringleaders surrounding the club’s 2011 collapse.
Beckett’s final five-plus months in Boston were not good: 5-11 5.23 ERA 1.327 WHIP. Theo Epstein had signed him to a four year extension prior to 2011 and Beckett’s contract was one of several bad ones the club had on hand. Miraculously, the Dodgers and their new bottomless wallet agreed to take Beckett and a couple other expensive contracts from the Red Sox in exchange for a collection of prospects and alleged prospects.
Beckett would have another lost season in 2013: eight starts, 0-5 and a 5.19 ERA and 1.500 WHIP. The 2014 season would be an improvement: 20 starts, 6-6 and a 2.88 ERA and 1.167 WHIP, which included his first career no-hitter. Beckett would suffer yet another season-ending injury, however. His contract is up after the season. It remains to be seen if some club will give him an incentive-laden deal or if the pitcher will finally hang it up.
While Beckett’s time in Boston ended badly, he was one of the most important pieces to that 2007 World Series Championship puzzle. Hopefully more and more will remember that as time goes by. And if he’s no longer active by the time 2017 rolls around, I hope Beckett is in attendance at that commemoration ceremony and gets a very positive reception. After all, they wouldn’t be able to celebrate that ceremony had he not contributed in 2007.