It's an hourbefore game time at Red Sox training camp, and Coco Crisp sits at his locker,leafing through a binder with the intense gaze of an undergrad cramming for anexam. Boston's new centerfielder is studying a booklet of ... what? Scoutingreports? Statistical breakdowns? "Actually, it's TV-show proposals,"Crisp says. "I've got a lot of stuff in the works. Right now my godbrother[Marcus Andrews] and I have a reality dating show we're trying to get pickedup. I'm working on some movie ideas too."
Also a rapperwith his own music label, Crisp, 26, has aspirations for a career inentertainment, but the challenge that awaits him in Boston is as daunting asbreaking into Hollywood. Acquired in January in a seven-player deal with theIndians, he's expected to fill the shoes of an All-Star centerfielder andBoston icon. "I don't know Johnny Damon, and I'm not going to try to beJohnny Damon," says Crisp. "I'm just going to go out there, have fun,play hard and run into a couple of walls. People will stop making comparisonsonce they get to know me. They don't talk about the guy who was here beforeDamon."
The ebullient LosAngeles native brings his own bejeweled style and eccentricities--Crisp doesn'twear batting gloves or use pine tar--but at the plate he is essentially ayounger, far less hirsute version of Damon: a speedy leadoff hitter who spraysthe ball to all fields and possesses good power. Last season Crisp improved hisaverage, on-base percentage, hits and home run total for the second straightseason. He also performed considerably better away from pitcher-friendly JacobsField (.323 with a .370 OBP and 12 home runs on the road; .275, .319 and fourhomers at home). "This kid's at a different time in his career [thanDamon]," says manager Terry Francona. "We're going to see his bestyears."
While lettingDamon go was a cost-effective option for Boston--he signed for four years and$52 million with the Yankees, who have relegated the Red Sox to second placefor the past eight seasons--the acquisition of Crisp, who will make $2.75million this season, also signifies a shift in philosophy for anoffense-oriented club.
"On paperthis team might not have quite the firepower and upside offensively, but we'veprobably got more depth in our bullpen than we've had, and we expect to bebetter defensively," says general manager Theo Epstein. "Our philosophyis that a run prevented and a run scored have equal value. We believe in moreof a balance." Rated as the top defensive leftfielder last year bythehardballtimes.com, Crisp is a defensive upgrade in center; so, too, arewinter acquisitions Alex Gonzalez at shortstop, Mark Loretta (second base),Mike Lowell (third) and J.T. Snow (first).
While thepitching staff may be deeper, the fragility of its three most important memberswill require Red Sox Nation to keep the Dramamine close. Righthander CurtSchilling was ineffective for most of last season while recovering from '04ankle surgery, though he says he hasn't felt as good as he does now since his21--6 season two years ago. Another righty, Josh Beckett, acquired from theMarlins in a seven-player November trade, has the stuff of an ace, but overfour years he has made nine trips to the disabled list, six of them with ablister on his right middle finger. Righty closer Keith Foulke has had two kneeoperations over the last nine months.
Changes have leftthe Red Sox roster bearing little resemblance to the one that won a WorldSeries two seasons ago. Of the 21 players who saw action in the '04 Seriessweep of the Cardinals, only nine remain, and just 16 of the 55 players whoreported to camp last spring returned this year. "It's a bit strange, forsure," says first baseman Kevin Youkilis. "You look around the lockerroom and you realize all the guys you played with the past couple of years aregone."
Even the newestBoston players, however, know that the key to reaching their fourth straightpostseason comes down to three words. "Beat the Yankees," says Crisp."I can't wait to do that." --A.C.
Last year the RedSox led the majors in runs for the third straight season, the first team to doso since the Dodgers in 1951, '52 and '53. The Red Sox also had been the lastAL club to do it, in 1948, '49 and '50.
a modest proposal
With KeithFoulke's knees bothering him, the Red Sox should make 39-year-old CurtSchilling (right) their closer. The typical starter lowers his ERA by about arun when he switches to relief, and Boston is that rare team that has moredepth in its rotation than in its bullpen. Considering his age and injuryhistory (elbow, shoulder, knee, ankle), Schilling stands to gain more than moststarters would from making the transition. Last season Schilling's opponentshit .281 against him in his first 30 pitches and .341 thereafter. The switchwould also provide an Eckersley-like coda to a Hall of Fame career.
projected roster with 2005 statistics
second in ALEast
third season withBoston
COCO CRISP [Newacquisition]
ALEX GONZALEZ[New acquisition]
MARK LORETTA [Newacquisition]
MIKE LOWELL [Newacquisition]
WILY MO PENA [Newacquisition]
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Triple A stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 59)
coming to a ballpark near you this summer ...
Before beingdrafted in the first round last year out of St. John's, Craig Hansen wasconsidered college baseball's top closer. Now the 22-year-old righthander, arabid Yankees fan growing up in Glen Cove, N.Y., could be called upon tobolster Boston's shaky bullpen in a pennant race with New York. At 6'6" and210 pounds, Hansen throws a 97-mph fastball that's major league ready, but hehas just 152/3 professional innings under his belt.