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Archive for the tag “Ben Cherington”

Sticking with Clay

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The Red Sox won the 2013 World Series without an ace. Jon Lester? John Lackey? Good pitchers. But not aces. Not anymore. Boston did, however, boast a deep, talented staff that, by and large, stayed relatively healthy last season. Lester’s regular season was far from elite (109 ERA+), but he did elevate in game in the second half. Beginning on August 8, the big lefty started ten games. He threw 70 innings and produced a 2.19 ERA during that stretch. Lester went on to pitch brilliantly in October. In the fall, he was the ace of spades.

No one will remember Lester’s inconsistent regular season. Instead, they’ll back on 2013 and point to the magnificent final month of the season he put together. It takes a special type of pitcher to do what Lester did in the postseason–4-1, 1.56 ERA, 29 strikeouts in 34.2 innings. Clay Buchholz is a player who possesses that same ability to go through stretches of unadulterated dominance. His upside, talent, and contract render him a commodity that is virtually untradeable.

Beat writers, radio talk show hosts, and bloggers are not demanding that Ben Cherington sell Buchholz to the highest bidder. No one is saying that. But there has been chatter that Buchholz represents a solid trade candidate given the Red Sox’ surplus of pitching combined with frustration over the slender righty’s lack of durability. Many of these points are correct in and of themselves, but bundling them together in order to reach the conclusion that Buchholz should be shipped out of Boston is borderline ludicrous.

Buchholz is really, really good at baseball. Even Buchholz’ harshest critic will quickly concede that the Texas native is extremely talented. There’s no debating it, and it’s been that way for awhile around here. Too often, however, the discussion around Buchholz focuses on his inability to stay on the mound. The value he brings when he is pitching actually ends up getting lost in the fray. Get ready for this — Baseball Reference has Lester’s WAR at 3.0 in 2013. Buchholz, who threw 105 less innings than Lester, earned 4.3 WAR. It’s actually sort of unreal. Basically, when Buchholz was on the mound last season, he was better than just about everyone else. And that is absent of any exaggeration. There is no doubt that he raised his level of performance from April to June in 2013. He went 11-1 in 12 starts, punching out 81 batters in 84.1 innings. He posted a 1.71 ERA during that span while his opponents couldn’t get above the Mendoza Line. The way he manipulated the baseball for those two months was truly something special.  But pitching at an extremely high level is old hat for Buchholz. Since 2010, the right handed starter has compiled a 46-19 record to go along with a 3.15 ERA. Over those four years, he averaged 138 innings with a 135 ERA+. He has put together 12.7 bWAR since 2010.  To put that into perspective, Zack Greinke, during that same four-year stretch, had 111 ERA+ and 12.3 bWAR. Greinke will make $128M over the course of the next five seasons. Buchholz’ contractual situation is quite a bit different.

If the Red Sox choose to exercise their team options, the highest annual salary that Buchholz will earn over the next four years is $13.5M. That will be during the 2017 season. As television money continues to surge into the game and the cost of pitching remains extremely high, Buchholz is primed to be an absolute bargain for a team that is flush with young pitching prospects in their organization. In 2014, the wiry righty will make $7.7M. If he’s healthy — and all reports indicate that he will enter Spring Training that way — it won’t take Buchholz very long to earn his salary in terms of WAR. He jumps to $12M in 2015, his age 30 season, and remains relatively cheap still. The Red Sox hold team options in 2016 and 2017 that are worth $13M and $13.5M, respectively. Should Buchholz’ health woes begin to outweigh the value he brings when he takes the mound, the Red Sox can simply cut ties after the 2015 season ($250K buyout). The way his contract is structured, even if he suffers a catastrophic injury, it is virtually impossible that Buchholz ever becomes an albatross on the Red Sox’ payroll. Conversely, if things break right for Buchholz, the Red Sox will have a player who has the ability to be the best pitcher in baseball for the next four seasons at a price that will make GM’s around the game drool. No matter what, until he puts together a season that resembles more 2010 and less 2012, health will always be a question that looms over Buchholz.

Durability, or lack thereof, is something that may very well plague Buchholz his entire career. His frame is not conducive to bearing the load required to shoulder a 34-start season. He is injury-prone. There’s really no way around it. Throughout the course of the second half of the season last year, Buchholz received a tremendous criticism for his lack of toughness. He dispelled that notion during the World Series. Buchholz wasn’t close to being 100 percent in Game 4, but he yielded one run — which wasn’t earned — over four innings. And it’s likely that no one will remember his effort. If those four very solid innings came in relief, it’s likely that his performance would have much more memorable. Nevertheless, Buchholz’ level of “grit” may not match his ability, but it’s significantly closer than most fans would like to believe.

No player is untradeable. But the value that Buchholz brings to the Red Sox makes him a player that is worth guarding, unless a deal comes along that Cherington cannot refuse. Given his fragility, it’s hard to see a team blowing the Red Sox out of the water with an offer. In the end, it’s probably best to stick with Buchholz and hope that he is healthy for an October run, whether it is in 2014 or 2017. If that happens, the rest of the league, heck, the rest of baseball, will be in for quite a show.

Thoughts on the Left Side of the Infield

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There is a growing sense that Stephen Drew is destined for a reunion with the defending World Champions. As the 30-year old’s stock seemingly plummets, the chances that he winds up playing shortstop for the Red Sox on March 31 in Baltimore increases. Drew turned down a qualifying offer from Boston earlier this offseason, and it’s likely that the Red Sox would welcome him back on their terms. But I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

The argument for bringing Drew back focuses almost exclusively on the short term. Conversely, the reasons for not pursuing his services this offseason have a great deal to do with the Red Sox future. However, it would be entirely too simple to position this solely as a  present versus future debate. Let’s flesh it out a bit.

The 2014 Red Sox are certainly deeper with Drew on their team. That in and of itself, however, doesn’t make acquiring Drew the correct play.  I don’t see a realistic way that they would be able to keep Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, and Drew on the major league roster. That puts Middlebrooks back in Rhode Island to face more Triple-A pitching. There is no doubt that Middlebrooks has had some of his flaws at the plate exposed at the major league level, but relegating him to an extended period of time in Pawtucket would likely be rendered a waste. At some point, the Red Sox have to see what the 25-year old can do over a full season in the big leagues. If he is able to perform at the level I believe he can (.260/.315/.490 and a home run total around 30), Ben Cherington can leave him at third base for the foreseeable future or shop him in a trade that would bring Boston a hefty return. Middlebrooks manning third base in 2014 would also allow Bogaerts to remain at shortstop.

Bogaerts isn’t going to be a special player — he already is. The poise he exhibited throughout the month of October would have impressed the toughest skeptic. His bat will likely play anywhere on the field. Should the Red Sox bring Drew back on, let’s say, a one-year deal, Bogaerts would shift from shortstop to third base. Would a full year away from one of the most demanding positions on the diamond hinder him from shifting back there in 2015? I believe it’s plausible that a year away from shortstop would prevent Bogaerts from remaining at that position long term. Third base coach, Brian Butterfield, in a conversation with Boston Globe correspondent Maureen Mullen last month, gushed over Bogaerts’ future as a shortstop.

“I love him as a shortstop. Even though he’s a bigger body, he’s athletic. He’s very compact. He moves his feet like a smaller guy playing shortstop. He has great body control. He has a good imagination. He can get the ball in the air quickly when he needs to.”

Butterfield, a huge Bogaerts advocate, knows that success at this position requires a tremendous amount of work.

“He’s continuing to learn, and I think the most important thing for him, and the thing that he did so well, was the more reps he got at the big league level the more comfortable he got.”

Moving Bogaerts to third base, even for just a season, would likely prevent him from getting the big league repetitions necessary for an adequate young shortstop to evolve into an above average defender at the position. If he is able to stick at shortstop, Bogaerts, who is as prized as virtually any young player in the game of baseball right now, will carry even more value than he would at the hot corner.

None of this takes away from Drew’s skill set. He is an excellent defender who hits right handed pitching very well. Drew is a top tier shortstop who is having a hard time finding his footing in a market that doesn’t seem to want to pay what Scott Boras is demanding or is apprehensive to relinquish a draft pick. In reality, it’s probably a combination of the two. His presence on Boston’s roster in 2014 would give the club a tremendous amount of depth on the left side of the infield, something that the 2013 Red Sox needed. But Middlebrooks’ upside, Bogaerts’ value as a franchise shortstop, and the fact that the Red Sox would receive a supplemental first round draft pick, outweighs the depth that retaining Drew would provide.

The Red Sox and the Offseason

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“The key for the Sox is to entertain during the season, not the Hot Stove season.

To do both, it wouldn’t hurt if the Sox had some logs in the fire.

It’s been brr . . . boring this winter.”

That is an excerpt from Christopher Gasper’s column that ran in the Boston Globe on Friday. Often times, I find Gasper to be insightful, smart, and thoughtful. I enjoy listening to him on 98.5 The Sports Hub and reading his pieces in the paper. But on Friday, he couldn’t have been more off base.

In all fairness to Gasper, I understand segments of his argument. The Red Sox hit it big last year and won a World Series, and they shouldn’t sit back in the offseason, leaning on their new-found goodwill that they accrued over seven months of playing excellent baseball. I get that. I’m confident that Ben Cherington does too. The 2013 Executive of the Year has methodically augmented his bullpen by adding Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica. The former is adept at inducing ground balls, while the latter is a legitimate strike-throwing machine who resembles a JV version of Koji Uehara. A.J. Pierzynski will serve as a stopgap while Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart cook a bit longer. Cherington shrewdly didn’t overextend to retain Jacoby Ellsbury who received a significant overpay from the Yankees. He inked Mike Napoli to a two-year deal worth $32MM, a contract that beautifully represents what the Red Sox philosophy is when it comes to free agency–allocate a higher number dollars to shorter term deals. Flexibility rules all.

For some scribes, like Gasper, and many fans, this is simply not exciting. I don’t get it. I honestly don’t. Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field doesn’t get you fired up because he didn’t look like a world beater in his first 95 major league at-bats? That’s how we’re going to judge our young, promising talent? You should be thrilled, Gasper. The Red Sox are World Series champions, and they didn’t have to supplement their roster by investing in high priced outfielders in their 30’s like Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, or Carlos Beltran. Jhonny Peralta on a four-year, $53MM deal because you have a gaping hole on the left side? Nope. Not necessary. Your farm system has produced quite a fruitful harvest.

There is a very good chance that the Red Sox open the 2014 season in Baltimore with inexperience on the left side of the infield and in center field. Will Middlebrooks has a great deal to prove, but he is adequate defensively at third base and possesses a tremendous amount of power. Bradley will be a slight defensive upgrade in center. He will get on-base enough to hold his own at the dish. It is likely that Xander Bogaerts will take his lumps defensively throughout the course of his first full major league season, but he is just so damn talented.

Writers and fans should not be frustrated or bored with the Red Sox lack of activity this offseason. Instead, we should celebrate the success of the organization that has manifested itself in a club that can infuse young talent to an already strong core of players.

That is not brr…boring. That is exciting.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: The imperfect, obvious choice

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Brian McCann is Bronx-bound. Carlos Ruiz was gifted a three-year deal that includes a $4.5M club option to remain in Philadelphia. The best backstop left on the free agent market is unquestionably Jarrod Saltalamacchia. And it’s time that the Red Sox realize that Salty is now clearly the best fit for the team.

I can’t argue that cases could not be made for both McCann and Ruiz. I’ve ardently opposed the idea of paying the former Braves catcher big money over the course of five years (never mind a vesting option for a sixth year), but it would be silly to contend that McCann would not have been an immediate upgrade behind the plate. Ruiz, on the other hand, is a guy that would have made a ton of sense. GM Ben Cherington shrewdly presented a two-year offer that would have paid Ruiz more money on an annual basis than what he ultimately received. He didn’t budge from that stance, and the Phillies won out. The goals of the team that motivated Cherington to pursue Ruiz can still be achieved by re-signing Saltalamacchia, however.

By now, you are familiar with Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart, two quality young catching prospects who will begin 2014 in Triple-A Pawtucket and Double-A Portland, respectively. Based on how Cherington has approached the catcher position thus far in free agency, it is safe to say that building a bridge to one or both of these players is imperative. A five-year deal for McCann was too long. A three-year pact for a soon-to-be 35-year old Ruiz was one year too many. Saltalamacchia for three years, however, is a smart compromise that gets both the team and the player what they want.

Ideally, the Red Sox would re-up with Salty on a two-year deal. It’s impossible to know for sure, but I’m going to make the assumption that Saltalamacchia is holding out for a three or four-year contract. I would approach him similarly to Ruiz–offering two years with an elevated annual salary. Maybe you can entice him. Maybe not. Because Saltalamacchia is essentially six years younger than Ruiz, I would be comfortable with a three-year deal at a lower average annual value. This would provide the player with some security while giving the team a little bit of insurance should Vazquez and/or Swihart hit a bump in the road, something that is pretty common among young catchers.

Saltalamacchia, however, is more than just a placeholder.  In 2013, he slashed .273/.338/.446/.804. Since 2010, McCann — who, to be fair, dealt with injuries off and on during that time — hit .257/.342/.444/.786. McCann just received a deal that could pay him upwards $100M. I’m certainly not advocating that McCann and Saltalamacchia belong in the same tier, but, despite his .372 BABIP, there is reason to believe that Salty, who will play the majority of the 2014 season at age 29, is showing legitimate improvement. I would expect his slash line to look worse after 2014 than it did at the end of 2013 due to the fact that his batting average on balls in play simply isn’t sustainable, but he is walking more, and that is definitely encouraging. Saltalamacchia has improved both at the plate and behind it.

Salty will likely never be regarded as a superior defensive catcher, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a serviceable. Sure, the majority of his value derives from his offensive production. That will likely never change. However, Saltalamacchia is an everyday catcher who has learned how to successfully handle a staff. Pitchers Jake Peavy and especially John Lackey have gone out of their way to praise the work that Saltalamacchia has done.

Overall, Salty can accurately be described as a league average defensive catcher. For the first time, he didn’t fade in the second half, and when David Ross missed a substantial amount of time with a concussion, Saltalamacchia stepped up. During the middle of June, with Ross sidelined, Salty caught both halves of a doubleheader. The next night, the big, burly switch-hitter was back in the Red Sox lineup. Saltalamacchia is not a defensive wiz, but he is a hardworking player who can be counted on to handle a veteran staff night in and night out.

We don’t know who the everyday catcher is going to be for the Red Sox next season. What we do know is that Saltalamacchia is an above average offensive player who can hit from both sides of the plate. Ross, a right handed hitter and plus defender, is complimented almost perfectly by Salty who is dramatically stronger when hitting from the left side of the dish. Saltalamacchia will go through frustrating patches that make you think he’ll never make contact with another pitch all season. Defensive lapses are bound to happen (see: 2013 World Series), but they can certainly be limited by simply making better decisions with the baseball. Ultimately, Saltalamacchia is a flawed player among a handful of free agents who all have their warts, but he is the best fit here, for what this team is trying to accomplish now and in the not-so-distant future.

Red Sox Offseason Notes: Napoli, Carp, Ellsbury

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We are only a couple of weeks into the Red Sox offseason. The World Series trophy is somewhere, presumably in New England–where it belongs. Qualifying offers have been made and turned down. All is right with the world.

Here are some brief thoughts on the Red Sox, free agency, and the 2014 season.

— I think too many fans are underestimating the hole that Jacoby Ellsbury‘s likely departure is going to leave in the Red Sox outfield. Most of us know that Ellsbury is an excellent player. But because the Red Sox have Jackie Bradley Jr. waiting to play center field, some fans believe that Ells won’t be missed as much. Ellsbury was close to a six win (5.8 WAR) player in 2013. It wouldn’t be hard to make a case for him as team MVP. Bradley makes it easier to not overspend on Ellsbury, but he certainly does not fill the void the Oregon native is going to leave.

— My outfield next year has Shane Victorino in right field. No matter what.

— I understand why the Red Sox didn’t give Jarrod Saltalamacchia a qualifying offer, but I think they made a mistake. No free agent in the two years this system has been in place has accepted a qualifying offer. 22 offers, 22 “no thanks.” The Red Sox can afford to be aggressive with their QO’s. They missed out here.

— I would try to find a way to begin the year with Brandon Workman starting baseball games. Ideally, it would be in Boston, but if it’s in Pawtucket, I’m cool with that.

— I owe Mike Carp an apology. When GM Ben Cherington traded essentially nothing to acquire his services from the Mariners, I said that I didn’t think he was very good at baseball. I was wrong. Carp brings legitimate power, a coveted asset around baseball. He slugged .523 in limited time last year. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford has reported that clubs have inquired about Carp, but the Red Sox don’t want to move him. I don’t blame them.

Daniel Nava‘s OBP in 2013 was .385. Victorino, Nava, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli are my ideal/realistic top five hitters on Opening Day.

— Where does Joel Hanrahan play next year? I wouldn’t be against bringing him back on a one-year, low cost deal.

Brian McCann should be a target of the Red Sox if he can be had for less than a five-year pact. It’s unlikely that he would sign a three or four-year deal, so I’m passing on him.

— The Red Sox should give Napoli a two-year deal with an option. Defense isn’t especially sexy, but the burly first baseman proved to be an excellent fielder in 2013. Power, on the other hand, is sexy, and Napoli provides plenty. Does he strike out a lot? Sure. But he sees a ton of pitches, gets on base, and fits in well here. Chicks dig the long ball, and I dig Nap.

— Napoli was at Tuesday night’s Celtics game in Boston. He was, reportedly, wearing a shirt.

A Thought on John McDonald

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On Saturday, the Red Sox acquired John McDonald from the Phillies. McDonald, a 38-year old utility infielder, isn’t a game-changer. He’s not going to make the Red Sox significantly better than they were on Friday. But he did get me thinking about Jose Iglesias.

During Iglesias’ abbreviated tenure with the Red Sox, I, along with many others, believed that if he could hit .240, his sparkling defense would make him a worthwhile everyday player in the major leagues. Detractors had their doubts that the Cuban defector could even do that. Their arguments were not unfounded. Iglesias did little in the minors to show that he could be at least serviceable offensively in the big leagues. Defensively, however, the slender Iglesias was nothing short of spectacular. His glove was always major league ready.

Like Iglesias, McDonald is a defensive wiz who can play multiple positions in the infield. Baseball lifers like, Brian Butterfield, gush over McDonald’s prowess as a defender. This year is McDonald’s fifteenth in the major leagues. His career batting average is a paltry .235. McDonald is known across baseball as being a hard working pro, a guy who knows his role. But being a nice guy who works his butt off doesn’t get you a decade and a half if the bigs. The ability to come off the bench after not seeing action for a week and play well above average defense at more than one position? Yup. That will do it.

I’m not saying Iglesias couldn’t turn out to be a better player than McDonald. There is no doubt that he possesses more raw talent. But if you were to ask me if Iglesias has a better chance of being a .320/.368/.397 hitter (his current 2013 slash line) throughout his career or a player in the mold of McDonald, I would take the latter — and that is nothing to be ashamed of.

McDonald will join the Red Sox for the stretch run. He represents what Iglesias could very well become–a utility infielder who is almost never looking for a job. In turn, McDonald also represents why Ben Cherington should be praised for trading Iglesias to acquire Jake Peavy. It was the correct move.

The Red Sox: Observations and Opinions

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Terry Francona will return to manage a game at Fenway Park on Thursday night. For Francona, his vantage point will much different. He hasn’t managed a game against the Red Sox at 4 Yawkey Way in nearly 14 years. Back in 1999, Tito was at the helm of the not-so-good, very mediocre Phillies. Fast forward to 2013, Francona is back in the saddle. This time, it’s with the Tribe. It’s expected to be a wet, rainy night at the Fens on Thursday. And I’m sure Tito thinks his return as an opposing manager is not a big deal. But the banners, the wins, and the memories make for a much different argument. If in fact Francona doesn’t believe Thursday night is a big deal, he’s wrong. It most definitely is.

— On Wednesday night, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted this:

Olney has connections that pretty much everyone could only dream about, but I see that statement as pure, relatively uninformed, speculation. First of all, Jacoby Ellsbury hasn’t even been displaced from his usual leadoff spot yet. And really, that probably couldn’t happen until Shane Victorino and his hamstring are feeling good enough to get back on the field. The idea of sitting a player like Ellsbury who has a major league track record — as head-scratching as it may be — in favor of guys like Mike Carp and Jonny Gomes is absurd.

So maybe Olney is talking about some of Pawtucket’s young stars? Well, Jackie Bradley Jr. is back on the field, but he is still recovering from biceps tendinitis and isn’t playing every day. Olney later went on to mention that Bryce Brentz is an option. Brentz is a talented power hitting outfielder with eight home runs on the year, but he is not on the 40-man roster. That means the Red Sox would have to make room on their 40-man before even thinking about adding him to their 25-man roster.

Would the Red Sox really make roster-altering moves because Ellsbury is simply struggling? I don’t believe there is even a small chance that happens.

— Speaking of struggling hitters, Will Middlebrooks continues to disappoint at the plate and, at times, in the field. There is no doubt that the young third baseman is playing through pain after colliding with David Ross and injuring his ribs. Even before the injury, however, Middlebrooks was scuffling. Late in the game on Tuesday night, Middlebrooks came to the plate against the White Sox’ reliever Jesse Crain with the bases loaded and one out. He struck out, swinging at a ball outside of the strike zone. The talented right handed hitter has been very frustrating, despite hitting for a fair amount of power and delivering a clutch two-out, two-strike double that plated three runs and ultimately won the game in the ninth inning against Fernando Rodney last week.

I don’t like Middlebrooks’ approach right now. When I watch his at-bats night in and night out, it feels like he is doing a lot of guessing, rather than recognizing the spin of the baseball out of the pitcher’s hand. Middlebrooks is a big, strong kid who can hit the ball to right field with authority. I’d like to see more of that. The good news is that the season is still relatively young. Middlebrooks is a good month/month and a half away from a much more respectable slash line than what he is sporting these days — .208/.243/.423. Ick.

Lowering the Bar

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Jon Lester is not an ace.

Don’t tell me about four straight years of at least fifteen wins (2008-2011). I don’t want to hear about how he will be the starter on April 1 in Yankee Stadium. Thirty starts? 200 innings? Good. But not great. Lester may be confused about what it means to be a legit ace, but I’m not. There aren’t many, but you know one when you see one. Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia stop losing streaks. Not only do those players expect their respective teams to lean on them, but they embrace it. You can count on them. They’re dependable.

And for the past year and a half, Lester has been anything but dependable.

With that out of the way, it’s important to begin figuring out exactly what we can realistically expect from him in 2013. That Cy Young-type season that many of us have been waiting for is not coming. I feel pretty confident in saying that. At the same time, there is absolutely no reason why Lester cannot return to his very good (not great) form from a couple of years ago.

Bouncing Back

I’m going to keep this relatively simple. In 2012, Lester was downright bad. The southpaw consistently struggled early in ballgames, racking up high pitch counts, and often times, getting hit rather hard. Stats aside, the former 19-game winner did not look like himself. And the numbers lend credence to that.

Lester’s average WAR (wins above a replacement level player) from 2008-2011 was 5.2. His WAR last season? 0.4.  He went 9-14 last season. His ERA was 4.28. Raise your hand if you think that those numbers will improve.

No Beckett? No problem

Josh Beckett will never, ever, ever receive the credit he deserves in New England–injuries and a poor attitude sealed his fate with most fans. In 2007, Beckett’s right arm almost single-handedly won the Red Sox their second World Series Championship in four years. You should be proud to have the opportunity to say you watched him pitch that season, especially in October. But that doesn’t mean that his influence will be missed.

For the first time in Lester’s career, the Red Sox will open the season without Beckett in their rotation. I’m not a hater of the Texas native, but it’s impossible to simply dismiss the idea that some of his bad habits may have rubbed off on guys like Lester. Even if Beckett was still pitching for the Red Sox, Lester is his own man. He’s not a kid — he’s 29-years old. But still, Beckett is a guy that younger pitchers undoubtedly looked up to. Like or not, he was, for a period of time, a role model to pitchers who came up through the Sox’ system. The hope is that a different tone will pervade the clubhouse this season, espeically with regards to the starting staff. Will the extraction of Beckett lower Lester’s ERA a full run? Of course not. But I’m willing to bet it won’t hurt.

The Farrell Factor

During Farrell’s tenure as pitching coach (2007-2010) of the Red Sox, Lester experienced a great deal of success. He went 54-23, fanned 8.6 batters per nine frames, and posted an ERA of 3.40. It was the stretches of dominance during that four year period that raised fans’ expectations for Lester. In the offseason that followed the 2010 season, Farrell left Boston for an opportunity to manage the Blue Jays, not knowing that the Red Sox would soon have a managerial vacancy themselves. Lester’s 2011 campaign was not an abject failure–he finished year the year 15-9 with 124 ERA+ (adjusted ERA), both quite good. But that was overshadowed by his dismal finish to the disastrous season. Lester’s ERA in his final six starts was a robust 5.40. The Red Sox went 1-5 in those games, and the big lefty looked completely and utterly gassed. He walked too many hitters and allowed bad mechanical habits to persist.

Farrell did not return to Boston as the team’s pitching coach, so it would be silly to assume he will have as much involvement with the staff as he did from ’07-’10. It would be equally foolish, however, to think that Farrell will simply sit back and watch Lester repeat the mistakes he has been making for the past year and a half. Aside from pitching poorly, Lester has received criticism for his overall presence on the mound. Instead of seeing that mean, competitive Lester, we received the complaining, umpire-blaming version. Showing up umpires on the regular makes you appear like a six year old, and that’s never a good look. I believe Farrell (as well as new pitching coach Juan Nieves) will work to reallocate Lester’s focus towards the hitter, rather than the guy calling balls and strikes.

What to Expect

This isn’t exactly a contract year for Lester, but it is close. The Red Sox hold a team option for 2014 worth $13MM. I can’t really see them declining that option, but anything can happen. Either way, it is imperative for Lester to have a good year, not only for the Red Sox but for him personally as well. Nothing is standing in Lester’s way of having a year looks something like 16-8 with an ERA of 3.70.

He is not Verlander or Sabathia. We know that. But Lester is who he is, and over the years, we’ve learned that that typically means more success than failure.

Weekend News

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–There will not be a competition for the starting shortstop position in Spring Training, according to GM Ben Cherington. Stephen Drew will be the guy, barring injury. That’s bad news for Jose Iglesias.

–Staying on the subject of shortstops, last year’s first round pick, Deven Marrero, received an invite to major league camp. No big deal, right? Not so fast. Marrero is the first position player to be invited to major league Spring Training in the year after he was drafted since Scott Hatteberg in 1992. Marrero is 22 years-old and played in only 64 games last year. Dude must be thrilled.

Here is what Cherington had to say about Marrero’s invitation: “Typically, it’s not something we do very much, bringing a draftee from the previous year into camp. We felt like in this case, we knew him well enough because we had scouted him all the way back to high school, and he’d been through a lot and played a lot of baseball at a high level — college, Team USA — and played a premium position. We just wanted to get him exposed to the major-league staff and felt like it was appropriate to do in this case.”

–Most Red Sox followers were extremely surprised about the news regarding Marrero when the non-roster invites were announced. I was more surprised that Bryce Brentz was not included. He participated in the rookie development program in Boston earlier this offseason–all signs pointed towards the power hitter getting the nod to report to big league camp. As it turns out, Brentz shot himself in the leg while cleaning one of his guns. Although he is not 100 percent, the accident will not keep him on the shelf for long.

Daisuke Matsuzaka signed a minor league deal with the Indians. He will be reunited with former manager Terry Francona. We imagine Tito is just thrilled.

Motivation May Fuel Red Sox in 2013

Photo via espn.com

If you’re looking to gauge what the 2016 Red Sox will look like, the 2013 roster is not a good place to start.

GM Ben Cherington unexpectedly and creatively unloaded three lucrative long term contracts last August. Josh Beckett (signed through 2014), Adrian Gonzalez (signed through 2018), and Carl Crawford (signed through 2017) were suddenly no longer in the fold, leaving the Red Sox a roster bereft of talent but provided the organization with plenty of financial flexibility.

Improvement was undoubtedly needed, but they were not going to put their newfound fiscal flexibility in jeopardy this offseason.

That resulted in a revamped roster that includes several newly signed veterans who have experienced success in the past but are coming off disappointing seasons. Cherington exhibited discipline by staying away from the Josh Hamilton‘s and Zack Greinke‘s of the free agent world. Instead, he set his sights on players with less raw talent who were willing to accept shorter term deals–guys who have something to prove.

Acquisitions via trade and free agency, combined with a couple of team controlled, soon-to-be free agents, have left the Red Sox with several key players who will enter 2013 with a tremendous amount of — let’s face it — money riding on this season.

And we all know that there is nothing wrong with a small fire being lit under a player, even if the flame is fueled by the dollar bill. In fact, that is often when the results are the most fruitful.

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Jacoby Ellsbury is the most obvious and the most important player that falls into this category. The 29-year old center fielder recently agreed to a one-year deal worth $9MM, successfully avoiding arbitration during his final year of eligibility. Following the 2013 season, Ellsbury will be a free agent and quite an enigmatic one. We know the damage he inflicted on opposing pitchers in 2011, a year that saw him post a .321/.376./.552 line. Ellsbury was a hardware hoarder that year as he appeared in his first All-Star game, took home the Silver Slugger Award for his position, and nabbed his only Gold Glove. Do you want to make a case that he, not Justin Verlander, was the American League’s Most Valuable Player? Good. Do it. You can certainly make a sound argument. Scott Boras definitely will when Ellsbury officially hits free agency.

But he has a lot to prove. Ellsbury’s critics will point to 2010 and 2011 and claim he’s injury prone. And if he’s not injury prone, he is certainly a slow-as-molasses healer. It would be hard to debunk that theory. When healthy, the talented center fielder has the ability to carry a team for a long period of time. Barring any ailments during the spring, Ellsbury will enter 2013 with the opportunity to solidify himself as a legitimate candidate to receive a nine-figure deal in free agency. Should he spend a great deal of time on the disabled list or simply struggle to produce at the top of the Red Sox’ lineup, it will further muddy the water on Ellsbury’s value as a free agent. It is officially put up or shut up time.

Like Ellsbury, closer Joel Hanrahan is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility and is eyeing a big payday next offseason. Hanrahan was traded to the Red Sox from the Pirates earlier this winter in a swap that cleared some clutter on the 40-man roster for Boston, while giving Pittsburgh some salary relief. The power righty has already been given the keys to the car by manager John Farrell who swiftly and shrewdly made his decision to unseat Andrew Bailey as the closer apparent in favor of Hanrahan. That is good news for a player entering the most important season of his career. It also comes with added pressure. Bailey, as injury prone as he may be, is a proven commodity. He can close ballgames. If Hanrahan struggles early, Farrell may look to make a change. He is keenly aware of how badly the bullpen meltdowns of yesteryear affected the Red Sox in April. The pressure and spotlight are on Hanrahan. The stage is Boston. His response will dictate whether or not he receives the fat, multi-year contract offer he will undoubtedly seek next offseason.

Hanrahan’s likely battery mate, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, will have plenty of motivation this season to build on his 2012 campaign. The soon-to-be 28-year old switch hitter had a breakout year of sorts last season, establishing himself a legitimate power hitting backstop. Saltalamacchia is hardly a player without warts, however. He managed to post a .288 on-base percentage in each of the past two seasons, a miserable, yet consistent feat. He strikes out too much and is starkly better when hitting from the left side of the plate. Despite his flaws, Saltalamacchia is a catcher who has pop, and that’s valuable. If he can find a way to not fade as the season wears on, retain his power, and improve his on-base skills (even marginally), Saltalamacchia could be in line for a multi-year deal from a team following the season.

Saltalamacchia isn’t the only player with catching experience on the Red Sox who will be looking to parlay a productive 2013 into a big contract next offseason. Last week, Mike Napoli officially signed a one-year deal worth $5MM, a far cry from the original three-year, $13MM agreement the two sides agreed to on December 3. The reason for the hold up and subsequent $34MM reduction in guarunteed salary? Avascular necrosis–a condition that destroys bone due to lack of blood supply to the specific area. It sounds bad, and it is. But it was caught early, and according to doctors, should not get worse. Still, it cost the 31-year old a ton of dough this offseason. Naturally, Napoli will look to respond with a productive 2013 and prove to clubs that he deserves a multi-year deal. He is in the right lineup and the right ballpark to bounce back.

Stephen Drew is looking to repair his stock as a free agent that, like Napoli, has been marred by injury. Drew, a Boras client, agreed to a one-year deal with the Red Sox that will pay him $9.5MM in 2013. Once a top level performer at his position, Drew, due to a vicious ankle injury that occurred in July of 2011 and forced him to miss the first three months of 2012, did not garner a great deal of interest in free agency. With a strong performance in 2013, Drew will almost certainly see more teams bid on his services next time around. As long as Drew leaves camp healthy, it is hard to envision a scenario where he will not be the Red Sox’ Opening Day shortstop. He will have an opportunity — not unlike Adrian Beltre in 2010 — to capitalize on the ever-intense baseball environment in Boston. His ankle issues seem to be behind him. Health and productivity at a shallow position are all that stands between Drew and a much more memorable crack at free agency.

Cherington and the Red Sox are hoping to take advantage of the motivation that comes naturally with a player operating on a one-year deal. One-year pacts are essentially wagers entered into by both the player and the team. If the bet works out, the player almost always has a big payday waiting, and the team receives the benefit of a playoff run.

In 2013, the Red Sox will gladly go all in.

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