Questions For 2009

As we prepare for a new season of Red Sox baseball and all that that entails, here are some questions I’ve got going into the season, ranging from the product on the field to the organization in general. Of particular interest to me will be the continued development of the Red Sox brand by this ownership group. Read on, and comment away on whatever interests you.

1. How Much Does Varitek Have Left In The Tank? He’s slimmed down a bit, has a new contract in hand, and what by all accounts was a messy divorce is now more or less behind him. Can Jason Varitek return to something approaching the Varitek of pre-2007? As I’ve already written, he very much looks the part. Question is, can he play it at this age?

2. What will be the next “Sox Appeal” to be visited upon us by Red Sox and NESN Marketing? The Boston Red Sox are perhaps the archetypal example of an MLB organization whose marketing department has run completely amok. There is no product they will not sell their “Official [product type here] of The Boston Red Sox” to. There is no demographic which they will not aggressively pursue. The most recent and (to my taste as a fan from the Old School) most shameful is the “Sox Appeal” program on NESN. Its target demo is pretty clear, and it perpetuates the notion that going to Fenway is something people do more to be seen and for what happens off the field than to enjoy the game on it. NESN promoted this show with some sort of splash graphic or a full ad at least twice an inning for pretty much the entire season. Over the course of a 162 games, that can wear on even the most devoted “Sox Appeal” viewer, let alone those among us who would rather watch a Yankeeography.

I assume “Sox Appeal” will make a triumphant return this season, but I’m wondering what the new vehicle to annoy the viewership will be this year. We already get to enjoy interviews with NASCAR drivers in the middle of at bats. I think that pretty much swept away any limits on what they’re allowed to do.

3. Can Pedroia & Youkilis Meet or Best Last Year’s Performances? Each of them had an incredible year, and both were MVP contenders. It’s hard to imagine Pedroia being able to top his MVP performance last year, but he he’s still young, and there is precedent for repeats (Frank Thomas most recently, I believe). Youkilis I think may be a little less likely to put up the same type of numbers, but he’s still young enough and in good enough shape to do it. Strong contributions from these two will help to offset what I believe is going to be the big issue for the offense which nobody’s really talking about, namely…

4. A Disappointing and/or InjuryPlagued Season for Ortiz & Lowell Probably the biggest question mark of all this season for the Boston Red Sox is what kind of offensive production can be expected from Mike Lowell and David Ortiz. They’re both coming off injury-plagued seasons, and neither is a spring chicken. Everyone seems to be expecting Ortiz in particular to rake this year, and the two words that keep echoing in the back of my head are “Mo” and “Vaughn”. If Lowell plays more than 120 games, I’ll be pleasantly surprised; I think Youkilis’ versatility will come in very handy again this year.

5. Will I Get Used to the New Uniforms and Logos? Without question the biggest disappointment for me this year was the decision to update the team logos and uniforms. In my opinion, this was a totally unnecessary set of changes driven by two factors:

Yuck.

Yuck.

squeezing more merchandising money out of the team’s fanatical fan base and in the case of the logo and branding changes, putting this ownership group’s stamp on the team. The new uniforms are not an improvement. The Red Sox had some of the best road uniforms in the game. Now, (and especially with the addition of their new ‘with-a-cherry-on-top’ caps), they have one of the worst.

6. Will Matsuzaka Finally Stop Nibbling? Is this the year that Daisuke finally “gets it” and starts going after hitters? He’s clearly got the stuff to do it, but I really thought that after 2007 he would finally stop trying to paint the corners and go after these hitters. When will we move past him having a pitch count of 85 in the 2nd inning. He walked a tight rope all last year, putting men on base and then getting out of these jams. I’d like to issue a personal challenge to The Dice Man to make it through the 7th inning in 2 out of every 3 starts this year.

7. What Will Be The Big Story This Year? Last year we had the whole Man Ram debacle and him shooting his way out of town, Pedroia & Youkilis having stellar years, and Lester’s emergence as one of the premiere arms in the American League if not all of baseball. What will be the stories we’re talking about this year? Will the economy play a role? It almost certainly will both from an incoming revenue perspective and also quite possibly from a fire sale by other teams of some of their high priced talent perspective (Detroit Tigers, I’m looking in your direction…). I don’t feel good about profiting from other teams’ misfortunes like that, but I’d be shocked if the Red Sox don’t do exactly that. And of course there’s bound to be some controversy somewhere along the line. Where will it come from?

8. The American League East It is probably a given that the race for the AL title would be of interest to fans of the team, but in this year, you have arguably the three most talented teams in all of Major League Baseball playing in the same division. Not much separates them, and this year in particular I think it’s going to be fascinating to see what factors determine which of those three makes the playoffs. I’d be very surprised if the wild card doesn’t come from this division.

BONUS QUESTION: Will Joe Morgan Discover The Existence of a New Type of Pitch Besides ‘The Cutter’? I know you’ve been wondering this too, but I think we both know the answer:

No. No he will not. Seems ESPN knows this too, and Steve Phillips’ presence in the booth gives me hope. He actually contributed some cogent analysis to the proceedings last night, and doesn’t need to get a running start to pronounce foreign names like John Miller. (On a side note, adding Dave Winfield to the ‘Baseball Tonight’ studio team was a master stroke; the guy is fantastic and I’m really looking forward to his analysis this year.)

All in all, I really like the Red Sox’ chances to make it deep into the playoffs in 2009. The usual ‘if they can stay healthy’ caveat applies, but I’m looking forward to how this season will unfold both on and off the field more than any since 2004, and I’m very thankful not to be an Orioles fan; for them it will probably be a very long season.

Play ball.