ST. LOUIS -- Things are so much simpler here. Oh, the Cardinals operate with a narrower budget than the Red Sox, as do all teams residing in Midwest divisions, but Walt Jocketty has assured fans that they have the core of Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen to build around through 2010, which is enough to sell promise for the next six years.
It is different in Boston, where the euphoria over the greatest comeback in postseason history quickly gave way to a media debate over whether the "curse" was lifted by simply beating a New York team in October for the first time since Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees. The curse, in reality, is the medieval belief in things that go bump in the dark (the Loch Ness Monster Society asks, "why not us?") and people who perpetrate such ghostly witch hunts.
Theo Epstein's greatest challenge could be next offseason.
When the Red Sox defeated the Yankees, Theo Epstein said it best: "A huge cloud has been lifted off this franchise." That cloud is no curse, but the need for the Red Sox to exist in a vacuum where every move must be calculated in relation to what George Steinbrenner does, even if he runs his payroll up to $250 million.
Epstein and his organization have proved that matching the Yankees is simply a matter of intelligent baseball management and that teams, not stars, win -- ask Derek Jeter. Losing Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees might have been embarrassing and a New England nightmare, but the Red Sox beat the Yankees with A-Rod. Making the Nomar Garciaparra trade when he did might have been the defining moment for Epstein's early administration, but the broader vision of team -- fiscal flexibility and depth -- produced an AL pennant and in the long term gave this organization and ownership the credibility to tell fans to trust their judgment. If they choose to set a value on Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, Orlando Cabrera and Derek Lowe that is lower than some outside bidder, so be it. They'll use the money elsewhere. Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke, Cabrera, Dave Roberts, Doug Mientkiewicz, Bronson Arroyo, et. al., were decisions that built respect and credibility.
While this postseason is historic and has created an unprecedented wave of Red Sox Nation -- in part thanks to the work this ownership has done in respectfully touching the fans while building the revenue base -- it allows Epstein to build an organization that does not have to fill every hole with free agents, and $300,000 talents allow dollars for stars and depth. For instance, part of the decision on the gifted Orlando Cabrera will be based on the estimated arrival time of 20-year-old shortstop Hanley Ramirez (2006). If the market on Cabrera gets high, that might necessitate signing Omar Vizquel and adding Barry Larkin as a utilityman, which he wants.
While working on the Cardinals, the Red Sox are keeping an eye on the Arizona Fall League, where second-round pick Dustin Pedroia, the undersized middle infielder from Arizona State, is off to a .370 start, and right-hander Manny Delcarmen continues his comeback from Tommy John surgery. By next July, they hope that Double-A Portland will be offering a potential final eight-week addition to the end of the rotation between lefty Jon Lester, righty Jon Papelbon, Delcarmen or Abe Alvarez.
Scouting director David Chadd has worked hard with the Epstein organization to reconstruct what had become a shallow farm system. The initial Instructional League assignment for 6-foot-5, 18-year-old lefty Mike Rozier -- to whom they gave $1.55 million -- was beyond their imagination. They are loaded with young pitchers out of Venezuela and the Dominican, led by Anabel Sanchez and Jimmy James. With Ramirez, Pedroia, Luis Soto and Christian Lara, they have four legitimate middle-infield prospects.
If the Cardinals were to rally in the World Series, it would be a tremendous letdown after Curt Schilling's courageous Game 2 victory. But coming back against the Yankees, looking at that sick 88 share in Game 7 and seeing every street from Presque Isle to Southington lined with Red Sox paraphernalia, gave the John Henry Red Sox a line of credibility that allows them to manage the baseball business the way they know they should, not the way the media says they must in the shadow of The George.
And should they win? After Beacon Street is renamed Schilling Avenue and it becomes the Varitek Expressway, there will be time to determine what street gets renamed Ricky Gutierrez Way.
News and notes
Bob Watson will meet with Bud Selig in St. Louis to discuss becoming the interim GM of the Washington Kerrys. But Watson is telling the commissioner that he doesn't want it on an interim basis, that he will want to meet with prospective buyers and have some long-term commitment.
Word is that the Grady Little interview did not go as well as expected in Philadelphia and that Charlie Manuel is back in the lead. Gene Lamont will interview as well. In its heart, Philadelphia's management might want Jim Fregosi, and why not? The man is an extraordinary manager.
Phil Garner is virtually certain to remain in Houston, with some coaching staff changes.
We don't hear much about QuesTec these days. Curt Schilling had asked the Red Sox to remove it from Fenway, they could not, and he went on to have a brilliant season. Tom Glavine and Al Leiter actually have better numbers with QuesTec.
The Chibe Lotte Marines have talked to the Red Sox about a deal that would take some of Byung-Hyun Kim's salary off Boston's hands, but they want a couple of players in the deal. Adam Hyzdu, who is ready for such a move, might be one player Boston would send to Bobby Valentine's club.
One of the marvels of the postseason has been to watch Mike Matheny catch, particularly his textbook blocking of pitches in the dirt. "He's the only catcher I've ever seen who practices his craft correctly warming up the pitcher between innings," one Boston official said. The Cardinals are afraid they cannot afford to keep Matheny from the free-agent market, especially now that he has made a hitting adjustment -- getting more upright in his stance so he can drive the ball down -- thanks to Mitchell Page. The adjustment might make him a far more potent offensive player.
Astros folks don't think Carlos Beltran is a New York kind of moment. They believe that the Cubs will make a huge run at the superstar center fielder.
The Marlins will know in a week whether or not Mike Lowell will exercise his right and test the market. And while Carl Pavano switches agents to Miami's Scott Shapiro, he still will be the prize of the free-agent pitching market. Even if Pavano doesn't want to go to New York, he can use the Yankees to run up the price with the Red Sox and Orioles.
With Adam Kennedy out for a prolonged period of 2005, the Angels might make a short-term run at Nomar Garciaparra, while trying to find a center fielder and re-sign Troy Glaus. What they saw from Dallas MacPherson is a tremendous work ethic and power, but a question whether he can fix most of his holes. They don't know whether they have Jim Thome or Russell Branyan.