Starting with the Red Sox -- the 2013 World Champs tried to duplicate the bargain shopping spree that worked such magic last year and failed miserably. A World Series hangover like I've never seen doomed the Sox to a dismal season. When it was obvious they weren't going to sniff the playoffs, GM Ben Cherrington didn't hesitate to pull the trigger on massive trades to rebuild the team in the long run. The entire pitching staff, save Clay Buccholz, was jettisoned to bring in a variety of position players.
Chief among them Yoenis Cespedes, who is looking like the steal of the decade right now. Also dropping some coin to get Cuban defector Rusny Castillo, the Sox have two-thirds of a pretty awesome outfield locked up for a while. Xander Bogoerts stumbled a bit at the plate, but after working with the hitting instructors has rediscovered his stroke and is crushing the ball once again. Catcher Christian Vasquez has blossomed into a major league catcher in short order. Already possessing a rifle arm, he's getting more comfortable at the plate too. With super-utility player Brock Holt and fielding wiz Jackie Bradley Jr., the Sox have a lot of young talent in the field to carry them along for years.
The pitching is a bit more dicey. Clay Buccholz admitted he took last summer off after his injuries and is only now rounding into mid-season form as evidenced by his shutouts and dominant performances of late. Joe Kelly, brought in via the Lackey trade, is a young fighter with awesome stuff and base stealing speed (how cool!). He's a definite keeper. The benefit to surrendering the end of the season gave Boston the chance to bring up talent from Pawtucket and let them play in the bigs against teams fighting for the playoffs. Alan Webster has shown signs of his touted promise (assuming he maintains control over his mechanics). Anthony Ranaudo looks like the real deal as does knuckleballer Steven Wright (got to have a knuckleball guy on the Sox). Brandon Workman, who looked so good in relief during last year's playoffs, didn't look as good as a starter and may be destined to long relief. And there are others in the pipeline.
Bottom line -- a couple smart trades for starting pitching and the Red Sox should be right back in the playoff hunt next year and years to come.
Next the Rays -- a horrible mid-season 1-14 slump took them out of the playoff hunt and a furious sprint to get back in fizzled at the end. The Rays end a disappointing season with a sub .500 finish. The question becomes which is the real Rays? The mid-season slump + end of season fizzle? Or the mad sprint with MLB's best record for a month? Sadly, I think it is the former. The Rays are a national league team mired in the American league -- a pitching and fielding heavy team hoping to cobble together enough runs to steal a 2-1 or 3-2 win. And that won't cut it in the slugging AL.
Despite a Tampa Bay Times writer anointing Evan Longoria as the team's MVP (local sportswriters picked utility man Ben Zobrist), the Ray's legitimate slugger was anything but this season. Invisible when they needed him the most, he only came on after the pressure to make the playoffs was gone. And there's no one behind him to pick up the slack. Matt Joyce? James Loney? The Rays finished last in the AL in runs, left the most runners in scoring position in the majors and led the league in being shut out. They basically have no offense and no chance of finding one. As manager Joe Maddon kept saying during the season, he was just hoping the guys would start hitting at some point because they were wasting good pitching.
And team owners are cutting payroll next season, which isn't a good sign. Owners have played the stadium situation deftly down here. They put to lie the old saw about putting a competitive team on the field with fill the stands -- it doesn't/hasn't/won't. The Trop was poorly designed and located (literally on top of one of the worst housing projects in the city). Only the Yankees and Red Sox games fill that stadium, the rest of the time it's crickets chirping. Outgoing commissioner Bud Selig said the situation (last in attendance, again) was unacceptable. And in a possible hint, said later in the year that he'd like to see Montreal get a team again.
I won't be surprised if the Rays are gone after another season down here. And despite my unhappiness with self-important coach Joe Maddon, I and other natives waited for a long time to get our own team, I'd hate to see it go.
And the Bucs -- hmmmm . . . I wonder what Greg Schiano is thinking right now? His team last year was, literally, four last second fluke plays/penalties from an 8-8 season, and he lost his job over that. In comes Lovie Smith, and the team looks like a worse team than when Raheem Morris was at the helm. Smith made me smile when he said what I've said for years -- the offensive line is overrated and unproductive. Unfortunately, Smith didn't do anything to fix that. Bypassing ProBowl lineman Richie Incognito because he's a meany mean pants for a guy who's already on the IR, there's no run or pass blocking to be found anywhere. These guys couldn't stop a herd of kindergarteners from getting to their juice boxes at play time.
The defense, Smith's specialty, is largely ineffective, and like the old orange Bucs, spends too much time on the field ending up gassed at the end when they're needed most. It's fairly obvious that Lovie is trying to replicate Tony Dungy's formula -- stifling defense and a ground and pound offense with a don't lose the game caretaker quarterback. Problem is they had a competent Brad Johnson back then. Now its Josh McCown -- a 34 year old career backup with a losing record, whom they actually said, for the record, that they expected would magically (my word) blossom into Rich Gannon at some point during the year. Yeah, there's an action plan for ya>
And it goes on and on. Even local sportswriters are shaking their heads over this team, though they are partly to blame for what's going on here. For some reason, the owners seem to listen to what these clowns have to say and then act on it. Super Bowl winning coach Jon Gruden is gone because local writers didn't like his disdain for them. The owners did their Obama hire, bringing in unqualified Raheem Morris to show their commitment to diversity over other vastly more qualified white head coaches available. And they canned Schiano because local writers complained that the former Rutgers head coach didn't understand pro football. This despite a staff that sported the likes of Butch Davis and Bill Cowher.
Short of a breakout year from Mike Glennon at QB (who I like) and some amazing luck, the Bucs are looking at a crappy year. And maybe a few more down the road.
*sigh* Bring on hockey season.
And for no particular reason, here's a young lady sporting the politically incorrect cowboys and Indians motif: