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Red Sox Winter Meetings Warm-up

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The Boston Red Sox and the rest of baseball are arriving in Nashville for the Baseball’s Winter Meetings.

Let’s take a look at a few baseball developments that have preceded the meetings.

Tommy Hanson Trade

The Atlanta Braves dealt starter Tommy Hanson to the Angels for reliever Jordan Walden.

The Red Sox should be in the market for a starter but Hanson looks like a risky pick-up, a pitcher who has seen his ERA rise and velocity drop since mid-2011. Primarily due to a rotator-cuff tear and a back injury in 2011 – not good injuries for a pitcher.

And who is the closest Red Sox comparable to Walden – Daniel Bard.

From a Braves’ view, Walden is a better pick-up than Bard (he of the 6.22 MLB ERA last season).

Overall, a good move by Boston in passing on Hanson – especially since it would have probably cost more talent than Bard.

Red Sox Starters

Red Sox manager John Farrell said that Franklin Morales will go to Spring Training as a starter but he has yet to determine a role for Alfredo Aceves.

Morales had his moments as a starter last season but did not demonstrate the consistency or durability to give one confidence he can be a 30 game starter.

As for Aceves, he has some value (so was worth tendering a contract) but Farrell’s comments don’t indicate he has reached a meeting of the minds with Aceves (if that is humanly possible). So look for the Red Sox to explore moving Aceves if there is a market for him.

The Non-Tenders

It doesn’t look like there is a David Ortiz or Edwin Encarnacion players who were previously non-tendered – in the current crop of non-tendered players. The best in the bunch:

  • Brian Wilson. The Sox probably don’t have a ton of confidence in Andrew Bailey despite Bailey’s proclamations he plans on closing. Boston should pass on Wilson (coming off his second Tommy John surgery) unless he accepts a low base, incentive-laden contract.
  • Nate Schierholtz. Good bench outfielder who will probably attract a lot of interest. With Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava and maybe Jerry Sands, Boston has a pretty solid outfield bench so it is unlikely they will pursue Schierholtz.
  • Tom Gorzelanny. Lefty pitchers are always good pick-ups so Boston should kick the tires on Gorzelanny (who could take Morales’ bullpen role if Morales makes it to the rotation) – and also take a look at John Lannan, another non-tender lefty from the Nationals.

The Red Sox should also look to bring back Rich Hill and Scott Atchison.

What big move are you expecting from the Red Sox at the Winter Meetings?

Five Trade Options for Red Sox in an Alfredo Aceves Deal

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Alfredo Aceves. Love the arm and durability. Not wild about the pitching results last season. Can’t stand the drama.

For a team desperately looking to add more pitching talent, it would seem counter-intuitive for the Red Sox to trade Aceves, but that’s precisely what they should do.

Next season is all about starting anew under manager John Farrell.

And part of that is building some team chemistry. Aceves is too much of an emotional rollercoaster to include in the team plans going forward. Even if Farrell is impressed with Aceves’ versatility.

His on-field behavior with manager Bobby Valentine was at times inexcusable. The Red Sox cannot afford to have a repeat performance.

The salary cost for a team acquiring Aceves should still be reasonable (he is eligible for arbitration for the first time this off-season). And the earliest he can become a free agent is 2015.

Move Aceves in a deal for a productive player with a bad contract or as a piece in a larger deal. The guy has got talent. Perhaps, there is a willing trading partner who thinks they can draw that talent out on a consistent basis.

Red Sox Trade Options

  • Mike Cuddyer. Colorado is going nowhere and needs pitching. Cuddyer’s deal has two more seasons at $10.5 million. The Red Sox have the financial flexibility to absorb the contract. Cuddyer is a right-handed bat with some pop. And Cuddyer would give the team another option in the OF and at 1B.
  • Jeff Francoeur. Another righty bat with a bad contract – but Francoeur’s has only one year left (at $7.5 million). The Royals want to open up an outfield spot for super-prospect Wil Myers and are looking to bolster their starting rotation. So Aceves may actually be overpaying for Francoeur.
  • Kendrys Morales. A stretch target. Aceves alone would not be enough to land Morales – but can be a conversation starter. The Angels have a surplus at first base (Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo). And after cutting ties with Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, the team needs starters (they also need bullpen help). Aceves-plus could perhaps get Morales in return.
  • Logan Morrison. How about an exchange of players who have worn out their welcome on their teams? LoMo is still young; maybe he just needs a change of scenery to live up to the potential he once showed.
  • Chris Perez. Here’s another player who most likely won’t be returning to his team – plus Perez is creeping up the salary scale a little too high for Cleveland. Aceves had great success before under manager Terry Francona. Perhaps Aceves-plus can bring Perez – if Boston doesn’t feel totally confident with Andrew Bailey in the closer’s role.

Do you see Aceves as a keeper or someone to move out of town? And if you want to trade Aceves, what do you think the Red Sox can get in return?

Diamondbacks Chris Young Trade – What it Means for Red Sox

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In a three-team trade, the Arizona Diamondbacks traded OF Chris Young to Oakland for SS Cliff Pennington and minor leaguer Yordy Cabrera – and then dealt Cabrera to the Marlins for closer Heath Bell.

A few thoughts on these deals and the Red Sox:

  • No, missing out on acquiring Young is not a mistake by Red Sox GM Ben Cherington. Young is a classic physical tools player who can’t hit for average (a career .239 AVG hitter, who has hit below that mark in the last two seasons). And he is scheduled to make $8.5 million next season. Young would have added nothing to the Red Sox – even if they part ways with Jacoby Ellsbury this off-season. That’s why Arizona got so little in return.
  • Take note on the worthlessness of Bell. I get he had a lousy season and has a big contract. But Bell should be a reminder to Cherington – don’t trade value for relievers, like he did in acquiring Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey last off-season. Better to go find next season’s Fernando Rodney (a cast-off free agent who signed for a big pay cut from the previous season). Note: last off-season, it was Boston’s professed goal to find the next Alfredo Aceves (a low-cost free agent reliever who stands out). Cherington missed on that one. Let’s see if Boston can comeback this off-season. And, by the way, let’s get rid of Aceves. Enough of the drama.
  • Pennington moving to Arizona eliminates a potential trade home for Mike Aviles, if the Red Sox decide to commit all the way to Jose Iglesias (a move I wouldn’t make). This blog recently covered potential trading partners in an Aviles deal, which included Arizona. Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay would be the best bets for a Boston move involving Aviles.
  • While we are exploring potential shortstop trades, time to throw out an out-of-the-box move – Boston should look into trading Pedro Ciriaco. I know you are screaming – What? Let’s look at the reasons. Figure in 2013, Boston is either committing to Aviles or Iglesias – or keeping both (which is the right move). After the 2012 season, will Ciriaco ever have higher trade value? Probably not. Good hitter, versatile player, low salary. That combination opens up a range of trade partners. Boston should explore every single option. The team needs talent – especially pitching. If Ciriaco can help bring it, deal him. Go find the team looking for a low-cost starting shortstop – who believes in Ciriaco’s upside.

Next Three Steps for Red Sox after Dodgers Deal

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No need to wait for the off-season.

Boston GM Ben Cherington started to reshape the underperforming Red Sox with a blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The deal frees up some big money – more than $250 million – to reinvest in talent to fill holes.

And the Red Sox have some big needs in their quest to return to being a World Series contender.

The list includes a top-tier starter to fill the ace role Josh Beckett once had – and probably another starter for the rotation. And it also includes a big bat to replace Adrian Gonzalez.

Next Three Steps

  • Keep Working the Waiver Wire. The expanded playoffs have resulted in more contending teams late in the season. The Red Sox should keep looking for motivated buyers. Think big – Jacoby Ellsbury (if the Sox don’t see him as signable in the long term). And think extra pieces – Vicente Padilla could be a good bullpen addition for a contender. All with an eye to adding more young talent.
  • Evaluate Players with Focus on 2013. Play Ryan Lavarnway to see if he is ready for a starting role at the plate – and behind it. Put Andrew Bailey in the closer role – Alfredo Aceves is a warrior but not sure he is closer material. Let’s get a look at what Bailey can do in Boston. Determine if Franklin Morales can handle a starting role – or is a reliever – for 2013. And let’s see what SS Jose Iglesias has and bring P Daniel Bard back to the majors.
  • Make the Bobby V Decision. As this blog has written previously, manager Bobby Valentine is not the top culprit in the team underperforming – the players are. But with the Dodgers trade, Cherington is signaling a fresh start for the team. Part of that fresh start should include a new manager – announced the day after the season closes.

And from there, Boston will move onto what should be an exciting off-season.

What do you see as the next move for the Red Sox?

The Task Ahead for the Red Sox

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Good game today – especially nice to see Jon Lester turn in a strong pitching performance. With a solid bullpen effort from Andrew Bailey, Craig Breslow and Alfredo Aceves. And what about Pedro “Four Hits” Ciriaco.

So at six games back in the wildcard hunt (as this post is written) – does Boston still have a chance?

Take a look at the numbers.

The Red Sox are playing .488 ball with 59 wins for the season.

Say they play .600 percentage baseball the rest of the season. The team would end with 84 wins.

Here are the top three teams in the wildcard race:

  • Tampa Bay has 65 wins (.546 winning percentage) with 43 games remaining.
  • Baltimore and Detroit both have 64 wins (.538 percentage) with also with 43 games left.

Note: All three teams still are playing today.

Any of the three top contending teams can outpace Boston by hitting 85 wins without even playing .500 for the rest of the season.

And there are two other teams ahead of the Red Sox (Oakland and Los Angeles).

So while capturing a wildcard spot is a mathematical possibility for the Red Sox, to actually achieve it requires Boston to play significantly better than they have all season.

And for Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Detroit to each probably play below .500 baseball for the rest of the year (assuming Boston plays .600).

The moral of the story: Keep trying to win – but look for opportunities to play the kids like Ciriaco and Ryan Lavarnway – to see what you got for next year.

Trade Lesson Learned

Also, in prepping for next year – start the introspection process – to learn from this year’s mistakes.

For instance, don’t trade – actually, don’t give away – player assets just because the player is unhappy.

This blog was a proponent for trading Kevin Youkilis – but I have changed my mind.

Trade recap – Youkilis loses his job to Will Middlebrooks – and to create a clear path for the rookie, move Youkilis for not much talent in return and paying most of Youk’s salary.

Boston has seen injuries to Middlebrooks (two times – one season ending), Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz – all where have Youkilis would have helped.

A playoff-focused team tells Youkilis – go to the bench and be ready when we need you.

While Youkilis probably would not have been a big contributor – when you get nothing much in return, hold onto to an asset.

Congrats to the Yalies

Love it – Breslow and Lavarnway became the first pitcher-catcher battery with both players from Yale since 1883.

Red Sox Second Half Outlook

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Camp Harmony reopened today with the Red Sox starting the second half of the season.

The day began with Gordon Edes’ post on Red Sox disarray.

We already knew most of the players don’t like manager Bobby Valentine – but that’s okay since Boston has a bunch of underperforming players who need someone on their case.

In today’s article, Edes added that three of Bobby V’s coaches don’t like him either.

If true, this is an unacceptable situation.

Red Sox management needs to decide where they stand – if they are united, which is an open question given GM Ben Cherington didn’t want Valentine on board in the first place.

If Boston’s brass backs Valentine – let him have a coaching staff that stands with him.

If management won’t let him run his clubhouse – get rid of Valentine now.

Lucchino Letter

In what seemed timed as a rushed response to the Edes article, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino sent a letter to season ticket holders – telling all everything is just fine and Boston won’t bail on the season.

The letter’s language was downright strange – with Lucchino describing players like “cheerful Cody Ross” and “friendly Mike Aviles.”

We get the Red Sox compulsive need to put a positive spin on everything – but give the fans some credit.

Yes, the Red Sox have some great fan favorites – led by David Ortiz.

But overall, the team is pretty unlikable. (Not calling out Ross and Aviles here – they are okay.)

Play up to expectation levels and personalities won’t matter.

To quote the late, great Al Davis – “Just Win Baby.”

Players to Watch

As I have written previously – and it remains true at the start of the second half – Red Sox success is all about starting pitching.

And most directly, it’s about Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz being a Big Three.

They deliver – the Red Sox are in the playoff hunt.

Those three don’t deliver, Boston is Royals-Land in the standings.

The other key is Jacoby Ellsbury. I know I have written the Red Sox score plenty of runs to win.

But with Adrian Gonzalez not delivering – yes, he will get better in the second half – Boston needs help against right-handed pitching. Ellsbury can do that.

Other thoughts:

  • Franklin Morales stays in the rotation and does well. Bobby V. knows talent and it was a good move putting him in the rotation.
  • It won’t happen right away but Andrew Bailey will finish the season as closer with Alfredo Aceves setting him up along with Vicente Padilla and Daniel Bard (yes, he will be back).
  • Carl Crawford delivers nothing noteworthy and Daniel Nava keeps getting playing time.
  • Sometime in August, Jose Iglesias arrives with Mike Aviles moving to a super-sub role.

Red Sox Report Card at Mid-Season

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The Red Sox have returned home from a West Coast road-trip where they passed the halfway point in games played this season.

While there have been bright spots, the team overall is a disappointment.

Boston is a team built to do more than just contend for a playoff position. It is built – including salary structure – to win now.

At the midway point, the Red Sox have the Orioles and Angels ahead of them in the expanded wildcard race – with the Yankees also ahead, leading the AL East.

The Sox are tied with the Rays and the Indians are closely behind both teams.

Success should be based on comparing the Sox to the first place Yankees, not the wildcard teams – which is why I call them disappointing. Boston is 6.5 games behind New York.

Let’s look at three bright spots and three disappointments for the season thus far.

Bright Spots

  • Bullpen. There was a very rocky start – beginning with the Andrew Bailey Spring Training injury and Mark Melancon early season meltdown. But kudos to manager Bobby Valentine for building a very productive bullpen – led by closer Alfredo Aceves. While Aceves can be shaky (six losses, four blown saves), he has come through for the team. As have the rest of the bullpen. And hopefully Bailey can give it a boost in a few weeks with his return.
  • Salty. It is a shame that Jarrod Saltalamacchia did not make the All-Star team. He has truly emerged – for instance, Salty has 16 home runs, already matching last season’s total. And he looks like to be a leader on the field – showing a presence similar to his former mentor Jason Varitek.
  • Middlebrooks. Will Middlebrooks started the season as the Red Sox top prospect – with the expectation he would continue his development at AAA Pawtucket. But an injury and poor performance by Kevin Youkilis gave Middlebrooks an opportunity – and he took full advantage of it. Third base now belongs to Middlebrooks – and the Red Sox hope it stays that way for a long time.

Honorable Mention: David Ortiz. Big Papi continues to produce big numbers – defying what one expects from a 36 year old in the post-steroid era. Felix Doubront – with eight wins – also deserves a shout out.

Disappointments

  • Big Three Starters. The Red Sox have a lot invested in Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. And their failures to deliver consistently are the top reason why Boston has been disappointing. They need to answer the bell in the second half for the Red Sox to contend.
  • Adrian Gonzalez. Where has the power gone? Six home runs at the midway mark don’t cut it. This is a player who regularly hit 30+ homers in the massive Petco Park in San Diego. Gonzalez took one for the team moving out to rightfield while the Sox were sorting out the Middlebrooks-Youkilis situation – and that’s commendable. Now it’s time to hit for power – and put some fear into opposing pitchers.
  • Ben Cherington. The top off-season moves by new GM Ben Cherington – acquiring Bailey and Melancon – have been duds. He gave up assets – Josh Reddick, Miles Head, Jed Lowrie – and not only the Red Sox don’t have much to show for giving them up, the team three fewer trading chips for making mid-season moves. And moving Daniel Bard into the rotation was a disaster – for the team and Bard.

What’s your assessment of the Red Sox – is your glass half empty or half full? And do you see the team making the playoffs?

Red Sox Round-up

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Moving Youkilis

Jon Heyman weighs in on potential Red Sox trading partners in a Kevin Youkilis trade. Increasingly, it is looking like a Youk deal is a matter of “when” not “if.” Of interest: What will be the Red Sox asking price? Are we looking at player (or players) that will impact this season’s roster – or prospects? The Red Sox – even with all their injuries – have plenty of offense, so pitching should be the any short-term trading priority. Does Youkilis have enough trade value to bring a quality pitcher in return? This will be a good test on Boston GM Ben Cherington’s deal-making abilities. His previous trades (notably, Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon) have not worked out so well for the Sox.

Doubront’s Emergence

If Jon Lester could just pitch as well as Felix Doubront then the Red Sox rotation would be something. With yesterday’s victory, Doubront leads Boston’s pitching staff – and is the only starter with an ERA under 4 (ouch). This has been an unexpected plus says manager Bobby Valentine, “When you talk about a guy winning six games by June 2 when he hadn’t been in a rotation before, I can’t say that’s what I expected.” While two months doesn’t make a season, all signs indicate Doubront is a keeper and will be a key part in Boston’s drive for a playoff spot this season.

Atchison = All Star?

You got to like Scott Atchison. He consistently does his job – whatever the manager asks. And so far, Atchison’s season is shaping up to be All Star caliber. Talk radio callers frequently cite the Red Sox as not a particularly likeable team – but the 2012 Scott Atchison story is compelling and he is a player people can easily get behind. Hope he makes it to Kansas City for the All Star Game.

Draft Returns

The baseball draft will be held this coming week – and triggers Brian MacPherson to look at how the Red Sox did last year. And the answer (so far) is pretty darn well. P Matt Barnes and OF Jackie Bradley are tearing it up in the minors. Plus it looks like the Red Sox may have landed some other keepers. But remember – working through the minors is a long haul. The player closest to The Show – Barnes – is probably at least a couple of years ahead. So a lot can happen – good and not so good.

Fixing the Red Sox Bullpen

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The Red Sox need to explore the trade market to address their bullpen woes – now.

Pulling Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard out of the pen without adequate replacements has been a disaster.

Given how early it is in the season, it will be very difficult – and costly – to fix but Boston doesn’t have a choice.

Three Closer Targets

Suggest the Red Sox turn to the teams that are don’t have a chance to contend in 2012 and open up the farm system to grab a closer.

Joel Hanrahan. The best option but also the least likely to be moved. While Pittsburgh has no chance to win, they are trying to show their fans success is on the horizon. Moving Hanrahan would smack as another rebuilding sell-off – he is not a free agent until after the 2013 season. That’s why the Sox would need to pay big. Something like Felix Doubront, Ryan Lavarnway and one or two more solid to top prospects (like an Anthony Ranaudo).

Huston Street. San Diego is another team going nowhere. Street is a free agent to be. And the Padres have Andrew Cashner as a closer in waiting. So Street is likely to hit the market sometime this season. The Red Sox might as well pursue this now – rather than waiting until the trading deadline. The trade package for Street would be similar – but probably a little less rich – to what it would take to land Hanrahan.

Grant Balfour. Another free agent after this season – and it’s hard to picture him returning to Oakland. Has had a strong start to the season. The Andrew Bailey deal shows Oakland has respect for Boston’s farm system (Miles Head – part of the Bailey deal – is off to a terrific start in the hitter friendly California League).

More Bullpen Moves

Getting a closer now hopefully stops the bleeding – and buys some time for Bard in the rotation.

But if Alfredo Aceves, Franklin Morales and Vicente Padilla can’t hold the fort in the seventh and eighth innings – Boston needs to look to moving Bard back to the bullpen for the season (not just this week).

The Sox may have starting pitching depth to work with – Aaron Cook in the next week or so (a Doubront replacement if needed) and later Daisuke Matsuzaka in a month or so (potentially freeing up Bard for the pen).

Get the bullpen squared away – and then all’s the Sox need to fix is getting the Big Three of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz pitching like an effective Big Three. I know – no minor task.

Red Sox Notes: Bailey, 25th Man, Top Prospects, Ross Red-Hot

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Bailey Hurt. Closer Andrew Bailey has an injury-prone track record in his career. And he is now reporting a thumb injury that will send Bailey to Boston to have it checked. It may be nothing serious – however, the Red Sox don’t need uncertainty in their closer spot. Mark Melancon can step in – but moving him from set-up man shrinks the bullpen. If Bailey’s injury lingers – or if another pops up – it will be interesting to see if the Red Sox move Alfredo Aceves to closer or consider bringing Daniel Bard back to the bullpen.

25th Man. The Red Sox are leaning towards keeping a position player instead of another bullpen arm in the last roster spot. Former manager Terry Francona kept things pretty stable in the everyday line-up – and during the game. The extra bench player is probably an indication of Bobby Valentine’s more aggressive “style” – having someone for pinch-running, bunt situations and defensive switches. Top contenders: infielders Pedro Ciriaco and Nate Spears and outfielder Jason Repko. However, with Bailey’s injury – the Red Sox may need to reconsider and add some bullpen depth by carrying a 13th pitcher.

Down on the Farm. The Red Sox have some help in nearby Pawtucket with Jose Iglesias, Will Middlebrooks and Ryan Lavarnway opening with the PawSox. Expect all three to play in Fenway sometime during this season. Here is a list where each of Boston’s top 20 prospects will be playing. Keep an eye on: Xavier Bogaerts – a potential elite shortstop, Anthony Ranaudo – does he establish himself as a top starter and Blake Swihart – a top 2011 draft pick playing in Greenville.

Ross Red-Hot. I am not a big believer in Spring Training statistics but Cody Ross’ power display this spring has been impressive. Ross is shaping up to be an excellent acquisition by GM Ben Cherington. Look for Ross to hit 20+ home runs this season – filling in for Carl Crawford in left and then getting the bulk of the playing time in right when Crawford returns from the disabled list.

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