Around here, we love nothing more than a nice, schmaltzy, schmoopy story about the hometown boy suiting up for the Olde Towne Team.
Well, Sox Nation, eat your heart out.
Rocco Baldelli, signed by the Sox to a very smart 1-year deal with an almost irresistible $500,000 base salary, is a lovely signing in many ways, not the least of which is the fact that Baldelli is from Woonsocket, RI, and thus is also almost certain to be embraced by Boston as he tries to come back from an illness that limited him last year. And who but a hometown underdog could take the sting out of un-retiring No. 5?
Personally, I've had my eye on Baldelli for years--he's been just one of Tampa Bay's enviable prospects, and I'll admit his New England origins have played a big part in my affection, as well as my desire to see him in red and white.
It's really almost a can't-lose deal, given the reported price tag. The risk is the mitochondrial disorder he was diagnosed with last year, which causes chronic fatigue and limited him to 90 games with the Rays in 2008. However, reports are that the disorder is responding well to treatment--if true, the Sox have scored themselves a coup in their fourth outfielder. If not...he'll be the fourth outfielder.
This has been something of a theme for the Red Sox in this relatively modest off-season. I've heard frustrated rumblings from some in RSN about their lack of MFY-like big splashes, but it's easy to forget that the team's problem last year wasn't necessarily their personnel, but their overall health. Boston doesn't need to make the kind of fundamental changes the Yankees do--they began the season after their second World Series having made remarkably few moves at all, clearly believing in ability of the roster they already had to remain competitive and possibly repeat. Even with the setbacks the Sox suffered throughout last year, they made it to Game 7 of the ALCS. What's to fix?
Instead, the Sox have made shrewd moves like this one, and the signing of Brad Penny, who like Baldelli was available at a discount given an off year last year, to shore up the roster against a potential return of the injury bug, or to offer alternatives where there are question marks about performance for an existing player (see also: Buchholz, Clay). Smart. Strategic. Creative. Frugal. I love it.
The one recent signing I'm skeptical about, however, is the hiring on of 20-year Atlanta Braves veteran John Smoltz, presumably to the bullpen, for $5.5 million with incentives that could total $10 million. While versatile as both a reliever and starter at different points in his career, Smoltz is 41 years old and coming back from an injury. Didn't we just finally relieve our payroll of a couple 41-year-old, recently-injured pitchers? Was the market for relievers really that dry?
There's also something distasteful to me about a player that's been an icon elsewhere disappointing his longtime home fans for a few more million dollars and a single year instead of going out on top (see also Favre, Brett). I don't like that the Sox are the enabler of that whole phenomenon here. And I will be wary about what Smoltz, who probably won't even start pitching till May or June, can realistically produce. On both sides, with that signing, I have to wonder why they bothered.