Whelan and Dealin

Ben Whelan

Whether the Red Sox go on to win the world series or not, we are certainly witnessing, to paraphrase New York scribe Mike Lupica, the Eve of the Red Sox dynasty. This is not quite the same as that fateful day after the Yankees lost to the underdog Diamondback in 2001 when the Yankee empire began to crumble, but it is certainly close. We are not coming off what you would call a “dynasty”, being that this team has only one world series. However, the success of the last few years is mostly due, like that Yankees team, to a group of fading stars. As Dan Duquette famously showed us, it’s dangerous to predict that a player is in the twilight of their career, but this team is chock full of players for whom the proverbial sun of their professional careers is setting.

We will start with the core of the lineup, the guys who have been the driving force behind the offense in recent Red Sox history, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Manny Ramirez, or Man-Ram as he is know by professional douchebag Jim Rome, is no spring chicken and is only getting older. At 35, one of the best right handed hitters of his generation experienced one of the worst offensive years in his storied career. In 2007 Ramirez failed to hit at least 35 home runs for the first time since 1994, his second year in the majors, and failed to break the 100 RBI mark for the first time in more than a decade. Furthermore, this season Manny recorded his second lowest batting average since he was a Cleveland Indian and his lowest slugging percentage since he was a rookie. Manny no longer inspires the fear that he once did, casually strolling to the plate with his shirt bagged out and his pants riding low, effortlessly driving the ball over the monster with a swing as smooth and sweet as soft serve ice cream. While still playing well in the field, Manny has looked overmatched at the plate at times and at others, well…just plain old.

The other half of the Dominican Bash Brothers, David Ortiz has suffered a similar let down in his power numbers this season, although not quite as extreme as in Manny’s case. Not a substantial power hitter until he reached the Red Sox, Ortiz’s members have steadily improved across the board as he has thrived with his new team. Since his first season with the Sox in which he knocked out 31 home runs and 101 RBIs, Ortiz has gone on to post totals of 41/139, 47/148 and last years record breaking mark of 54/137. Ortiz’s marks this year of 35/117, while not bad for most players, constitute a letdown year for Papi and show a deviation from the trend of steady improvement he has exhibited over the last few years. On the bright side, Ortiz did slug out a career high .332 batting average this season and is 3 years Ramirez’s junior, so a return to his status as offensive juggernaught could very well be in the works. Just keep in mind that by baseball standards, 32 isn’t exactly young, so Ortiz may not have much Big Papi magic left in his bat and his back will certainly give out any day now from carrying the team all season.

Once Ortiz and Manny are gone, you will barely be able to recognize the team that won it all in that magical 2004 season. Curt Schilling, if he doesn’t retire, is a free agent at the end of the season and his $13 million dollar price tag may have exceeded his value. Jason Varitek, 36 next April, bounced back this season from a horrendous ’06 season (12/55/.238) to post decent numbers (17/68/.255) but is quickly on the road to becoming an offensive liability. Yeah he’s still got a few productive years left, but the time is quickly approaching when we need to lift anchor and let the Captain sail off into the sunset. The worst thing you can do to a player as great and as respected as Jason Varitek is to let them play well beyond their time, like Willie Mays in his final days with the Mets or Muhammad Ali stumbling punch-drunk around the ring before he finally decided to call it quits.

The good news is that coming up behind this core of Red Sox heroes are a new generation or future sox stars who will be the protagonists of the next chapter in Red Sox history. In fact, some of them, like Dustin Pedroia, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury are already here. It’s a course of nature that the young replace the old, each sunset brings a new night and a new day, and life moves on. So watch and enjoy Papi, Manny, Curt and Tek, treasure every inning that they have left. Don’t get too attached though. They wont be here for long.