A Real Deal
Other than a recent four-game skid (which is, thankfully, over), the Red Sox have been incredibly consistent thus far in the 2007 season. Even with the $70 million JD Drew hitting in the .220s, $8 million-a-year Julio Lugo becoming an automatic out as leadoff man, and $100 million Daisuke Matsuzaka carrying around a 4.63 ERA, this team is winning. Winning like Patriots. Winning as though they weren't human. And it's not the guys with the hefty salaries who are carrying most of the weight.
Kevin Youkilis recently ended a 23-game hitting streak, but still has a live 28-game on-base streak. He ranks fourth in the AL with a .341 batting average, despite a tough series in Oakland. He ranks 6th in runs with 43, 7th in hits with 75, and is errorless at first base. And his humble attitude has endeared him to the fans. Upon ending his streak with a three-walk night, Youkilis responded that "We just won a ballgame. Who [cares] about a streak. Streaks are streaks. They're gonna happen. You can't be mad about ending a hitting streak." Said Terry Francona about his blossoming first baseman, "What impressed me more than anything was seeing Youkilis mature right in front of our eyes. I mean, he never left the strike zone. I got a kick out of that more than almost anything today. He plays the game right." Youk's salary is $424,500.
Dustin Pedroia has been blisteringly hot since he broke out of his April slump. He earned AL Rookie of the Month honors for May, batting .415 with a .600 slugging percentage over that period. He has only two errors at second base, and had a 13-game hitting streak. According to Francona, "When he was struggling, he didn't put his head down, he's got that fighter mentality. He goes to the cage every day. He had a lot of long sessions with [hitting coach Dave Magadan]." Though many fans were quick to dismiss him as unprepared for the majors, and Francona was forced to platoon Pedroia with Alex Cora throughout April, Cora has seen a lot less playing time as of late. "Pedroia got himself to a point where he's a key member of our team and he's not looking over his shoulder," said Francona. Pedroia makes the major league minimum, $380,000.
If you compare Jonathan Papelbon's stats from this season with last year's, it almost appears that he has been struggling. And when a 2.11 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 21.1 innings is struggling, you're almost inhuman. Papelbon has gone from unknown to household name in just a year. His explosive pitches have confuddled batters all year long, and his energy is insane. He's one of the elite closers in all of baseball. He makes $425,500.
Hideki Okajima came over much like Mike Lowell did, as a forgettable side dish to an expensive, expensive meal. Nobody even mentioned him during Spring Training when the team was searching for a closer, yet he has become Jonathan Papelbon's setup man and occasional partner in crime. Okajima's miniscule ERA of 1.21 earned him AL Rookie of the Month honors for April. He has emerged as the workhorse of an incredible bullpen and captured the fans' hearts. His salary is $1,225,000.
Jon Lester will soon return from the DL after a bout with cancer. He has been phenomenal in Triple A Pawtucket, boasting an 0.87 ERA in four starts. He's dying to get back and round out an already-stacked rotation. Lester has been the Sox' farm system's prize posession, and last year he joined the rotation when the entire pitching staff was struck with a case of horrible luck. Lester will make $384,000.
Everyone seems to focus on the salaries of veterans like Manny, Papi, Drew, and Schilling, yet the great deals the team has seem to be going unnoticed. Although the Red Sox have the second-largest payroll in baseball, they clearly have some of baseball's best bargains as well.