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Now that Jonathan Papelbon has answered the most prominent question of the spring (Who will close for the Sox?), let the banter begin about Todd Helton and Roger Clemens.
It was Rockies owner Charlie Monfort who approached the Red Sox about a Helton deal, then pulled back when Theo Epstein would not send two top prospects along with Mike Lowell and Julian Tavarez. With Papelbon slated to close this season – and prized prospect Bryce Cox primed for duty in 2008, either as a set-up man or a closer, depending on if the Sox move Papelbon to the rotation – would the Sox consider dealing Hansen and Delcarmen along with Lowell and Tavarez to get Helton?
It’s an interesting debate. Helton appears to be healthy again, and he would fit nicely at Fenway Park. The Sox could move Youkilis to third. Boston’s minor league system is ripe with promising relief pitching prospects. And Helton’s salary would not hamstring the payroll, especially since the contracts of Lowell ($9 million a year), Clement ($8 million a year, I believe) and Schilling ($13 million a year) will expire at the end of this season. Do you think Helton is worth surrendering Lowell, Tavarez and two prospects, or would you only make the deal for Lowell, Tavarez and Hansen or Delcarmen (which is my preference, but I’m not sure if the Rockies would be receptive)?
Perhaps Epstein would hesitate to include Tavarez since he is the No. 5 starter until Jon Lester is ready. Of course, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Boston has depth in the starting rotation. Today, Kason Gabbard and Devern Hansack could make the starting rotations of many MLB teams. They are ready to occupy a back of the rotation spot with Boston, if needed. Kyle Snyder is an option as well, but I think he is best suited for a middle relief role.
Regarding Clemens, though I am not convinced that he would help the Red Sox, I’m sure that Papelbon’s move to the bullpen increases the chances of the Rocket signing with Boston. The Yankees have a greater need. Their rotation is shaky, and now Pettitte is recovering from back spasms and Chien-Ming Wang experienced discomfort in his hamstring today. The Yankees could give Jeff Karstens and/or Darrell Rasner a chance, and they might even summon Phil Hughes and/or Humberto Sanchez from Triple-A at some point, but I think that signing Clemens is a priority for Brian Cashman.
Early April rotation set
With his closer in place, Terry Francona announced the rotation as it will begin the season. Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka will pitch in Kansas City followed by Tim Wakefield, Julian Tavarez and Schilling in Texas. Beckett is slated to start the Sox home opener against Seattle on April 10.
The numbers game
After such a dismal performance from the starting rotation and bullpen last season, it’s encouraging to see positive numbers in spring training. The Sox rank fourth among AL teams with a 3.63 ERA in March, including a 2.59 ERA (23 earned runs in 80 innings) in the last nine games. The bullpen? It has allowed just seven runs in the last 31.2 innings for a 1.99 ERA. Curt Schilling (2.20), Dice-K (2.84), Kason Gabbard (2.70) and Julian Tavarez (3.55) are leading the way in the rotation while Javier Lopez and J.C. Romero (1.17), Bryan Corey (1.64), Hideki Okajima (2.08), Jonathan Papelbon (2.31) Kyle Snyder (2.89), Devern Hansack (3.18) and Joel Pineiro (3.38) are throwing the ball well in relief.