In his co-written autobiography, “The Red Sox Years,” Terry Francona refers to the 2008 club as the most talented group he ever managed. On the surface, it’s easy to argue that it’s not. After all, Francona managed two other squads that won the World Series, while the 2008 club would lose the ALCS in seven games.
But when you dig deeper, it’s so much easier to understand Francona’s bold statement that a person can find him or herself agreeing with it: Seven of the nine players in the Opening Day lineup would reach double digits in home runs and six of those seven made the All Star Team that season. J.D. Drew would win the MVP in that All Star Game. Manny Ramirez hit 20 home runs (including the 500th of his career) before taking his disruptive behavior to a whole new level and being traded. Jacoby Ellsbury stole 50 bases. Dustin Pedroia won the MVP Award. Kevin Youkilis finished third in the MVP voting.
On the pitching side of things: Jonathan Papelbon made the All Star Team and recorded 41 saves that season (still his career high). Jon Lester emerged as a top of the rotation starter and won 16 games. Daisuke Matsuzaka was able to win 18 games and have a 2.90 ERA despite only pitching 167 2/3 innings and having a not-so-impressive 1.324 WHIP. A young right-hander named Justin Masterson emerged from the farm system and provided a solid option as a reliever and spot starter.
This club encountered much internal adversity throughout the season: Ramirez became a toxic presence in the clubhouse in his final weeks with the club (naturally, he played nice with the Dodgers and had one of the best closing stretches of his career which helped him finish fourth in the NL MVP voting). Mike Lowell played with a bad hip for most of the season. Josh Beckett got hurt down the stretch and was nowhere near 100 percent when he made his start in Game Six of the ALCS. Clay Buchholz pitched poorly in his first “full” season (he made 15 starts so that season counts as “full” for him).
Given how eventful things were in 2008, the offseason that preceded it was rather uneventful. The real highlights were actually the re-signings of Mike Lowell and Curt Schilling. Lowell had won the World Series MVP in 2007 and played three more seasons before retiring after 2010. While Schilling also re-signed, an injury prevented him from taking the mound ever again and he officially retired after the season.
Despite it being uneventful, I will not short you loyal viewers of an acquisition and departures recap. So let’s get to it…
Eric Gagne: It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since he was on one of the most dominating stretches a relief pitcher ever had. From 2002-2004, Gagne recorded 152 saves with a 1.79 ERA, 0.822 WHIP, and 365/58 K/BB. In those three seasons, he made the NL All Star Team and finished in the Top Ten in the NL Cy Young voting, winning it in 2003.
But all good things must come to an end. Gagne put up a solid line in 2005 (13 1/3 innings, 8 for 8 in save opportunities, 2.70 ERA, 0.975 WHIP, 22/3 K/BB), but battled several injuries, the last of which required Tommy John surgery. Gagne wouldn’t return to majors until late in the 2006 season where he recorded one save in two innings pitched. The Dodgers opted to not pick up Gagne’s option for 2007.
Gagne signed a one year deal with the Texas Rangers prior to 2007. He actually pitched well in Texas: 2-0, 16 saves, 2.16 ERA, 1.050 WHIP, and 29/12 K/BB in 33 1/3 innings. Given the Rangers were out of contention and Gagne would likely not re-sign with a rebuilding club after the season, the Rangers opted to trade Gagne. The Red Sox acquired his services in exchange for outfielder David Murphy, left-handed pitcher Kason Gabbard, and outfield prospect Engel Beltre. Texas actually got an even better haul at that same deadline from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Mark Teixeira.
The primary reason Gagne was acquired was the hope that he’d ease the workload on the rest of the Red Sox bullpen. Needless to say, it didn’t work out that way. Gagne went 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA, 1.875 WHIP, and 22/9 K/BB in 18 2/3 innings. Somehow he wound up making the postseason roster. He gave up one run in his lone ALDS appearance and two runs in 2 1/3 ALCS innings. He finally did what the Red Sox had hoped he would do all along in his lone World Series appearance: recorded a one-two-three inning with a strikeout. It was the ninth inning of Game One which the Red Sox won 13-1. The same guy who had such a memorable stretch a few seasons earlier finally had his World Series moment…and it was mop-up duty.
The Red Sox were either bold or insane to offer the guy arbitration. Fortunately, Gagne declined. The Brewers were even crazier: they gave him $10 million! This was also shortly after Gagne’s name was mentioned in the Mitchell Report, diminishing what he had accomplished from 2002-2004.
Gagne would lose his job as closer one month into the 2008 season. He finished the season as a mop-up pitcher rather than as a reliable late inning reliever. His final line: 10 saves in 17 opportunities, 5.44 ERA, 1.468 WHIP, and 38/22 K/BB in 46 1/3 innings.
For some reason the Brewers decided to keep Gagne around on a minor league deal for 2009. He was released during the season after suffering a shoulder injury. He tried to make one final comeback with the Dodgers prior to 2010. Gagne’s attempt was unsuccessful and he was released late in Spring Training. He announced his retirement a month later.
Fortunately, the Gagne trade was one with limited damage. Engel Beltre didn’t debut in MLB until 2013 when he put up a .543 OPS. He spent 2014 back in the minors and is unlikely to be an impact player. Kason Gabbard would actually be reacquired by the Red Sox in 2009 and pitched in the organization for another season before being released. David Murphy was clearly the best player in the package. He hit between 11 and 17 homers a season as a part-time player for the Rangers from 2008-2013. Those efforts got him a new contract with the Cleveland Indians. He’s the real winner of the Gagne deal.
Eric Hinske: Hinske made his major league debut for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002. He seemed to be destined for stardom when he put up an .845 OPS with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs to walk away with Rookie of the Year honors. He put up solid numbers for the Jays in each of the following three seasons as the primary third baseman, but never on par with what he had done as a rookie.
By 2006 Hinske was being used more as a utility player, seeing time at first base, designated hitter, and both corner outfield spots in addition to third base. The versatility and solid production when on the field (.845 OPS) made Hinske a very useful commodity, but a rather expensive one for the Blue Jays. The Red Sox agreed to purchase Hinske from Toronto and take on his remaining season and a third (this was an August transaction) of organizational control.
Hinske provided a .733 OPS off the bench in his brief tenure in Boston. He only had two at-bats that entire postseason and failed to collect a hit in either of them (he did score a run in the ALCS as a pinch-runner however). But 2007 would be the beginning of a four season stretch where he would become somewhat of a good luck charm for the teams he was playing for.
Hinske departed as a free agent and signed with the Rays prior to 2008. He put up a .798 OPS with 20 home runs while playing primarily in the corner outfield and occasionally in the corner infield. Hinske had to wait until the World Series to finally get some game action. He made it count when he did however, hitting a home run in two at-bats against the Phillies.
He became a free agent again after 2008 and began 2009 as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Yankees acquired him in late June and he provided an .828 OPS off the bench for them the rest of the way. This ended being the third consecutive season in which Hinske’s team reached the World Series and the second of which his team won the Series.
Hinske would land a deal with the Atlanta Braves after 2009. He put up a .793 OPS in 2010, but was used mostly as a pinch-hitter as he only started 50 games. Hinske got his fourth consecutive experience of the postseason that October. He hit a two run home run in four plate appearances. This would be Hinske’s last appearance in October.
Hinske played two more seasons with the Braves and served primarily as a pinch-hitter and 1B/LF/RF reserve. The Braves would suffer a late-season meltdown in 2011 but did make it as one of the Wild Card teams in 2012. Hinske was not used in that game, a game they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals.
He signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to 2013. He made only three starts (two at first base and one at DH) while primarily pinch-hitting. After putting up a meager .547 OPS, the Diamondbacks released Hinske that July.
Hinske has remained in the game in the little over a year since his playing days ended. It’s actually been an eventful fifteen months for him. He served as a scout for the Yankees for a month, playing a part in convincing former teammate Brian McCann to sign with the organization. Hinske left that post to take a job on the Chicago Cubs’ coaching staff. He spent the 2014 season as the team’s first base coach and was last week promoted to assistant hitting coach.
Jun 28, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Dallas Beeler (32) is congratulated for getting a single in his first major league at bat by first base coach Eric Hinske (77) during the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
It’s been an eventful life in professional baseball for Eric Hinske. While he didn’t quite live up to the greatness he seemed destined to achieve after his rookie campaign, he does look like someone who will be a baseball lifer.
Bartolo Colon: Colon was already a winner of 146 games when the Sox signed him to a one year deal late in the 2007-2008 offseason. He only made seven starts, but pitched effectively: 4-2 3.92 ERA 1.385 WHIP 27/10 K/BB in 39 innings. He departed the club for his native Dominican Republic late in the season to take care of a “personal matter”. He opted to stay and was placed on the restricted list for the remainder of 2008.
Colon returned to the Chicago White Sox, where he had pitched in 2003, for the 2009 season. He made 12 starts (3-6 4.19 ERA 1.444 WHIP 38/21 K/BB in 62 1/3 innings) before suffering a season-ending injury.
He missed all of 2010 but landed an incentive-laden deal with the Yankees prior to 2011. Colon wound up being a solid investment of $900,000 dollars that season: 26 starts, going 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA, 1.290 WHIP and 135/40 K/BB in 164 1/3 innings.
Colon’s efforts in 2011 landed him a $2 million deal with the A’s prior to 2012. He produced another solid line that season: 24 starts, going 10-9 with a 3.43 ERA, 1.208 WHIP and 91/23 K/BB in 152 1/3 innings. The A’s re-signed him for 2013. Colon was even better that season: 30 starts, going 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA, 1.166 WHIP and 117/29 K/BB in 190 1/3 innings pitched. Colon also pitched three shutouts that year, made his third All Star Team, and finished sixth in the Cy Young voting. All of this in his age 40 season.
Colon signed a two year, $20 million deal with the Mets before the 2014 season. He would win 15 games (including the 200th of his career) and eclipse 200 innings in the first year of the deal, his age 41 season. Colon will play at least one more season in the majors as he’s guaranteed $11 million for 2015.
Sean Casey: Casey was already a three-time All Star and well-regarded clubhouse guy when the Sox signed him prior to 2008. However, his power had regressed greatly since 2004 and he was nothing more than a reserve at that point. He spent most of his time subbing at first base when Kevin Youkilis or Mike Lowell (on days Lowell sat, Youkilis played third) needed a day off. He did put up a .773 OPS that season in large part because of a .322 average and .381 OPS. Of his 64 total hits, 50 of them were singles and the other 14 were doubles (good for a .392 slugging percentage).
He would see less playing time down the stretch as the club acquired veteran Mark Kotsay (who didn’t have much power either) and opted to use him more.
Casey retired after the season and took a job as an analyst for the MLB Network, a position he still holds to this day.