The Red Sox have three members of their team on the “back nine” of baseball. I am not a golfer, but have heard that term often applied to various situations including life itself. In that case I may be into the back three.
I talked about this term with a golfer. A strange breed that they are. In his estimation the traditional round is played holes 1-18 and as you get deeper into the round the game becomes more difficult. You wear down physically as you progress through the course and can wear down mentally if your round is deteriorating.
From his own experience, he stated that playing the same nine holes twice, the second time is more difficult. Some may be mental and some frustration, but his game just wears down. That is exactly what can transpire in a baseball career.
The statistics are available to show how careers past a certain age start to wither. This is a natural process in sports and it is quite unique having an athlete operate at a high-level after forty or even thirty-five. Baseball is no exception and the Red Sox, like virtually all teams, have their share who are into the “back nine.” The natural aging process of a baseball player on just about anyone.
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Shane Victorino was spectacular in 2013. Everything you wanted from a right fielder in Boston. Defensively, he capture another Gold Glove, was a timely hitter, a daring base runner, a well-respected teammate and played a style that placed him in a danger zone regarding his career.
The injuries started in 2013 and were certainly attention-getting and 2014 it reached critical mass. The season was a professional washout for Victorino and resulted in surgery and a long rehabilitation. This season manager John Farrell pronounced Victorino his right-fielder. No spring training controversy.
Simply put the Victorino I see is certainly not close to the dynamic player of a few seasons ago. Now 34-years old the wear and tear of twelve-year career is showing. You should never write off a player with the grit of the “Flyin’ Hawaiian,” but the obvious is starting to stare RSN in the face.
Mike Napoli is now 33-years old and in his previous baseball life started 485 games as a catcher. The position’s equipment is known as “Tools of ignorance” for a reason. Catching is simply the one position that will take several years off a career. The Red Sox wisely shifted Napoli to first base and the results were, for the most part, quite positive.
In 2014 Napoli suffered some injuries and his production slipped from that of 2013. Off-season surgery became a focal point for a full Napoli recovery and with stellar spring training numbers flashes of a 30/100 danced for those willing, like myself, to project.
So far 2015 has been a disaster for Napoli. As with Victorino, he is in the last year of a contract and good production translates to very good money in a baseball where power is at a premium. Napoli may be, like Victorino, in the “back nine” and facing a slow demise of skills.
David Ortiz is a realist who sees his baseball clock ticking towards midnight. Papi has prepared The Nation for the inevitable with talk of retirement, suspicion of PED use, Hall of Fame and his legacy. At 39-years old the end may be in one season or, hopefully, a few more. Ortiz clearly sees the baseball sunset and not the sunrise.
Unlike Victorino and Napoli, Ortiz has a secure immediate future with two team options based on performance. Knowing Ortiz we may just hear the rumbles of negotiation if he posts another 30/100.
Napoli and Victorino are gone. Both are in the last year of their contracts and the Red Sox have ample coverage for when they leave. The next younger generation is on the way. Rusney Castillo will soon be in right-field. You could see Daniel Nava and a disappointing Allen Craig get more reps if Naopli fails to deliver.
Red Sox management has shown levels of loyalties, but are also shrewd businessmen who embrace the concept of limiting emotion as much as possible in the decision-making process. This is apparent in free agent dealings and in many expiring contracts.
In the minors you have Jackie Bradley, who is starting to put it together offensively. And Blake Swihart could actually end up at first. Even Pablo Sandoval has been discussed as a DH/first base option.
So as some slip well into the back nine others are in the heart of the front nine.
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