Red Sox offseason recap series: part seven (2008-2009)


Given how disappointing the 2009 season ended (second in the division, swept in the ALDS), it’s actually one worth more appreciation given the three seasons that followed. The 2009 season was the last season of the Epstein-Francona Era in which the team won at least 95 games and made the postseason.

Sep 2, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Brad Penny (33) throws against the New York Mets during the first inning at Marlins Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The offense scored 872 runs that season. Jason Bay (.921 OPS with 36 home runs and 119 RBIs), Kevin Youkilis (.961 OPS with 24 home runs and 94 RBIs), JD Drew (.914 OPS with 24 home runs), and deadline acquisition Vicor Martinez (.912 OPS) helped anchor the middle of the lineup. It was welcome support for David Ortiz, who struggled that season (.794 OPS but with 28 home runs and 99 RBIs). Mike Lowell (.811 OPS) and Dustin Pedroia (.819 OPS) had solid seasons as well.

On the pitching front: Josh Beckett led the staff with 17 wins, a 3.86 ERA, 1.192 WHIP, and 199/55 K/BB in 212 1/3 innings (arguably the last excellent season of his career). Jon Lester took another big step forward, reaching the 15-win plateau and eclipsing 200 innings for the second straight year. He also struck out batters at a high rate, an impressive 225 in 203 1/3 innings (10 K/9). Jonathan Papelbon had a solid season and saved 38 games, though his WHIP would creep over 1.000 for the first in his tenure as closer.

But not unlike the other seasons I’ve covered in this series, the Red Sox did say “goodbye” to several notable players and “hello” to a few more. Let’s get to this week’s recap of those notable departures and acquisitions.


Coco Crisp
: I went into further detail on Crisp’s tenure in Boston in an earlier installment. Crisp began the 2008 season as the fourth outfielder, but he became more of a semi-regular when David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez missed time that season. He delivered the most memorable moment of his Boston career that October: getting the walk-off hit to cap an amazing comeback in Game Five of the 2008 ALCS.

Unlike the 2007-2008 offseason, the Red Sox did find a trade partner for Crisp. He was dealt to the Kansas City Royals for a relief pitcher (more on him later). Crisp only played 49 games for the Royals in an injury-plagued 2009. He signed with the Oakland Athletics the following offseason and has been there ever since.

Alex Cora: Originally acquired by the Sox for Ramon Vazquez during the 2005 season, Cora would extend his stay for three more seasons. While his .670 OPS during his stay was rather underwhelming, Cora provided great versatility and adequate defense off the bench. His high baseball IQ and likable personality made him a great mentor for young infielders in Pedroia and Youkilis.

Boston opted to not re-sign Cora after the 2008 season. The Mets signed him in January of 2009. He put up a .597 OPS in parts of two seasons in New York. He was released by the Mets in August of 2010. The Rangers took a chance on him for the couple of weeks that followed. Cora put up a .571 OPS in four games and was released in September (though he did get an AL Championship ring out of it).

Cora’s final big league season was for the Washington Nationals in 2011. He put up a .562 OPS in 91 games for the Nats. Cora made one final attempt at a big league job in 2012, signing as a non roster invitee for the St. Louis Cardinals. He was released at the end of spring training.

Cora’s still involved in baseball in his post-playing days. His knowledge has landed him a nice gig as a baseball analyst for ESPN. That knowledge could also land him a job as a manager somewhere down the road.

Mike Timlin
: A reliable arm for most of his six-year stay in Boston as well as a four-time World Series champion (he was also on both of Toronto’s championship

Sep 10, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Oakland Athletics center fielder Coco Crisp (4) during the first inning at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

teams in 1992 and 1993), Timlin’s career ended rather quietly. The 5.66 ERA and 1.622 WHIP at age 42 probably had a lot to do with it.

It was sad to see it end that way for Timlin, but his legacy in Boston was still intact. He was a big part of the setup corps for both the 2004 and 2007 World Series champions (30-22, a 3.76 ERA, 1.271 WHIP, and 273/98 K/BB in 409 innings in his six seasons). It technically wasn’t the end for him, either. The Colorado Rockies signed him late in the 2009 season, but he was released after putting up a 1.929 WHIP in four Triple-A appearances.

Timlin was on hand earlier this year for the commemoration of the 2004 champs. I have little doubt he’ll do the same in 2017, when the 2007 champs are honored.

Sean Casey: I covered Casey’s one-year stint in Boston in last week’s recap. He was a well-liked guy in the clubhouse and a solid hitter off the bench. However, his power was completely gone by the time Casey got to Boston. It’s no coincidence that this was also Casey’s last season in the majors altogether. He retired after the season and is now an analyst for MLB Network.


John Smoltz: A few months from now, Smoltz will likely be announced as a member of the 2015 Hall of Fame class. He’s got the credentials: a World Series ring, a Cy Young Award, eight All-Star selections, 3,084 strikeouts. He even saved 154 games in a four-year stint as a closer. If not for that feat, Smoltz likely finishes with over 250 wins rather than the 214 he actually wound up with.

It’ll be even more special for Smoltz next summer as he’ll be joined by two other excellent pitchers from his era. One was a 300-game winning lefty who struggled early on in his career, but eventually found his form. The other, one of the most dominant right-handers of his era who won multiple Cy Youngs and produced other-worldly ERAs in his best seasons.

Those other two pitchers: Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. Smoltz’s longtime Braves teammates, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, were inducted this past summer. They both retired after 2008 (technically, Glavine was released by Atlanta early in 2009 before he even made an appearance). In hindsight, Smoltz should’ve done the same.

The Red Sox signed Smoltz to an incentive-laden one year deal prior to 2009. The pitcher was coming back from a shoulder injury which required surgery. He spent the first two months rehabbing in the minors and debuted in late June.

Smoltz made eight starts for the Red Sox and went 2-5 with an 8.33 ERA, 1.700 WHIP, and 33/8 K/BB in 40 innings pitched. While the control and the ability to strike batters out was still there, Smoltz was just way too hittable as a starter. After being designated for assignment, the Red Sox offered Smoltz a minor league deal to allow him to re-adjust as a reliever. Smoltz declined and was granted his release.

The St. Louis Cardinals signed Smoltz two days later. He did much better back in the NL. Though his record was only 1-3 and his ERA was a so-so 4.26, Smoltz had an excellent WHIP (1.184) and K/BB (40/9) in seven starts totaling 38 innings. He pitched out of the bullpen in the Cardinals’ NLDS loss to the Dodgers, giving up a run in two innings while striking out five of the ten batters he faced.

Smoltz retired after 2009 and has served as an analyst in his post-playing career. He absolutely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and will likely be inducted next summer. But one can’t help but wonder if Smoltz wishes he would’ve called it quits a year sooner than he actually did.

Rocco Baldelli: There are two schools of thought when it comes to Baldelli. One thinks the player could’ve been a regular All-Star had it not been for a mysterious muscular disorder sapping him of his ability as well as his durability. The other thinks maybe too many people were too quick to peg him for greatness after a solid rookie campaign where he put up a .742 OPS. But no matter which school of thought you belong to, it is unfortunate to see a player’s career come to an end all too soon. It was also nice to see that same player accomplish what he referred to as his boyhood dream. Such was the case when the Woonsocket, Rhode Island native signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox prior to the 2009 season.

Baldelli would play in 62 games as the club’s fourth outfielder in 2009, putting up a .744 OPS. The 62 games played was the fourth highest total of his career, and his highest since 2006. Despite the solid output off the bench, Baldelli’s probably remembered more for being the first player to don number five for the Red Sox since the departure of Nomar Garciaparra.

While the Red Sox made the postseason in 2009, a shoulder injury prevented Baldelli from participating. He returned to the Rays in 2010. He began the season as a special assistant in the organization. He attempted one final comeback later that season. Baldelli put up a .615 OPS in ten games. He played in one game during the Rays’ ALDS loss to the Rangers, going 0-3 with two strikeouts. Unfortunately, he was removed from the playoff roster after the one game due to injury.

Baldelli retired as a player for good after 2010. He resumed his job in the Rays’ front office, a job he still holds today.

Ramon Ramirez: The reliever the Red Sox acquired in exchange for Coco Crisp. Ramirez was a decent, though control-challenged reliever for most of his season and a half in Boston. In 2009, he went 7-4 with a 2.84 ERA, 1.335 WHIP, and 52/32 K/BB in 69 2/3 innings.

Ramirez played a part in the team’s eventual sweep by the Angels in the ALDS. In his lone appearance, he was unable to record an out. However, he walked one, plunked one, gave up a hit and two earned runs while facing just three hitters. His days as a somewhat reliable option for the Red Sox were basically over.

Ramirez was 0-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.299 WHIP when Boston traded him to San Francisco at the 2010 deadline for a Minor League reliever named Daniel Turpen. The trade would be a steal for the Giants. In 25 appearances, Ramirez had a microscopic 0.67 ERA and 0.889 WHIP, solidifying the bullpen for the eventual World Series champs. He had another solid season for the Giants in 2011 but was traded to the Mets before 2012. While he stayed healthy in 2012 (63 2/3 innings), Ramirez had an unimpressive 4.24 ERA and 1.461 WHIP that season.

Not unlike many other middle relievers, Ramirez has bounced around multiple organizations the past two seasons. He returned to the Giants organization prior to 2013. He failed to make the club out of spring training, but agreed to accept a Minor League assignment. He made it back to the big club for six appearances, but was released in late June after putting up an 11.12 ERA and 2.471 WHIP in 5 2/3 innings. The Rays signed him a little over a week later. While he pitched well in his brief stint, the Rays had no need for him in their bullpen and he was released after one month.

Ramirez spent 2014 in the Mariners and Orioles organizations. He was released after one month in Seattle’s Triple-A affiliate. The Orioles signed him to a minor league deal one month later. He did a make a one inning cameo for the O’s, pitching a single inning where he gave up no hits while walking one and striking out two.

Middle relievers are usually well-traveled and erratic by nature. Ramirez completely fits that mold. Somebody will likely sign him to at least fill out their Triple A bullpen.

Brad Penny: The other low cost/high reward starting pitcher signing of the offseason who was 11 years younger than his counterpart (Smoltz). Like Smoltz, Penny was coming off an injury-plagued 2008. The difference: Smoltz was 42 and his best days were behind him while Penny was 11 years younger but had stuff much better-suited for NL ballparks with spacious outfields. The Red Sox don’t play in the NL and Penny’s stuff was easily hittable in his stint in Boston.

He did make 24 starts but the final line was very underwhelming: 7-8, 5.61 ERA, 1.534 WHIP, and 89/42 K/BB in 131 2/3 innings. With the reemergence of Clay Buchholz and with Tim Wakefield coming off the DL, Penny became the odd man out. Rather than accepting a demotion to the bullpen, Penny asked for his release. The Red Sox obliged. He finished the season for the San Francisco Giants, making six starts and going 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA and 0.960 WHIP in 28 innings.

Penny’s last full season was for the Detroit Tigers in 2011. His numbers were not much better: 11-11 with a 5.30 ERA, 1.563 WHIP, and 74/62 K/BB in 181 2/3 innings. He’s since had two unsuccessful stints as a reliever in a second stint with the Giants and most recently a second stint in Miami. That’s not counting a bust of a deal for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Korea (gave up six runs and five stolen bases in 3 1/3 innings in his lone appearance).

Penny hasn’t been a viable pitcher in quite some time. But he’ll keep going as long as there’s some team desperate enough to sign him.

Takashi Saito: The guy who usurped the Dodgers’ closer job from Eric Gagne. The Red Sox signed him to a one year deal worth $1.5 million prior to 2009. Saito would actually end up making an additional $4.5 million in incentives that season. He went 3-3 with a 2.43 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings, but with an underwhelming 1.347 WHIP and 25 walks (4.0 BB/9).

The Red Sox declined their club option on Saito for 2010. He pitched three more seasons in MLB (Braves, Brewers, and Diamondbacks) before returning home to Japan after 2012.

Saito actually returned to form in 2010, getting his WHIP back under 1.100. In hindsight, it might’ve been a mistake not to pick up that option. After all, the Red Sox bullpen would prove to be the club’s Achilles heel that season. But I’m getting too ahead of myself.