As baseball season rounds the final turn, let's turn our thoughts to who on the Red Sox is worthy of the 10th player award.
Remember, the criteria is not who is the best player on the team, or its most valuable player; this award goes to the player that has most exceeded expectations of him this year. Forthwith then my four candidates and my pick:
Candidate 1: Julian Tavarez Projected: C- Actual Performance: B+
Out of nowhere, Tavarez has come up big and delivered everything you could want from a fifth starter: Usually good for 6 innings, he keeps the score low when he's on and keeps things close even when he's not. Relegated to the bullpen and ignored for weeks, he's come up big in two recent spot starts. Put the ball in his hand and your team has a fighting chance to win a game, and you can't say that about every team's fifth starter.
Candidate 2: Tim Wakefield Projected: B/B- Actual Performance: A
Quickly, who is tied for most wins in all of baseball with Josh Beckett? Yes, that's right, the stalwart Wakefield. Wake and his maddening, fluttering knuckler have stymied the opposition to the tune of a 16-10 record this year. He's riding a 22-inning scoreless streak. He's added a decent curve ball to his good-for-shock-value-only fastball to keep batters on their toes. He's played himself into the playoff rotation should the boys get there this year. A normal season for Wake is, say, 12-12 with a 4.8 ERA, decent enough numbers, especially for what we're paying him. But this year he's been nothing short of spectacular.
Candidate 3: Hideki Okajima Projected: C/C+ Actual Performance: A+
I confess: I thought Okajima was going to have little impact on the roster. Like most of the Nation, I thought he was brought in to cushion Matsuzaka's landing here on our fair shores. But no. He's turned into the most solid 8th-inning guy since Mariano Rivera set up John Wetteland. He's taken innings (therefore strain) off Papelbon's shoulder and with the emergence of Delcarmen, the acquisition of Gagné, and the resurgence of Timlin, if you're not in the lead by the 6th inning, might as well just mail in the last nine outs and hit the buffet.
Candidate 4: Dustin Pedroia Projected: C+/B- Actual Performance: A+
Nobody had too high hopes for the rookie 2nd baseman - except me, that is. I saw him a lot in Pawtucket and he showed the exact same pattern when he came up to Triple-A: His first two or three weeks he looked completely lost at the plate. Then for a couple or three weeks he started knocking the ball around really good but just right at people. Then it all came together for him and he started spraying the ball all over the place. Sound familiar? I knew that once he locked in that he'd contribute in a meaningful way, and to his credit, Tito Francona saw the same thing. Having said that, I pegged him as a .280/.290 guy. I had no clue that he'd rip up the league and, by the looks of things, position himself to run away with Rookie of the Year. Good for you, Petey.
Winner: No contest, my 10th player for the 2007 Red Sox is Okajima, with the silver medal going to Pedroia.
As always, differing opinions welcome.