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Five Things to Watch in Red Sox Spring Training

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With the start of Spring Training, expect all kinds of feel good stories coming out of Ft. Myers.

Like John Lackey really is a good guy.

As much as I look forward to Spring Training, I am not a big believer the games tell one much of anything meaningful.

For instance, the Red Sox biggest question – and most important factor in their success or failure – is the starting pitching.

And how Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Lackey and the other starters do in Florida will have practically no bearing on how they fare during the season.

So here is what this blog will be watching in Spring Training.

Medical Report

Have to admit it’s a little disheartening that David Ortiz is still not at full speed – and will take things slowly.

And who knows what to expect from Mike Napoli – despite the pronouncements from manager John Farrell that Napoli is ready to go.

Watch for whether Ortiz and Napoli are both ready to go without restrictions when the bell rings on Opening Day.

Leftfield

Newcomer Jonny Gomes says he wants to be more than a platoon player who only plays against lefty pitchers.

Watch if the Red Sox give Gomes at-bats against lefties as an indication of what they may do during the regular season.

Also watch for who emerges as the platoon partner – Daniel Nava or Ryan Sweeney.

Catcher

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington says he expects Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross to be the team’s catching combination. With Ryan Lavarnway headed back to Pawtucket.

There are still a bunch of teams that may be looking for a catcher – like the Cubs and White Sox.

It’s unlikely the Sox would deal Lavarnway because Saltalamacchia is a free agent at the end of the coming season.

So if Salty jumps ship and Lavarnway is gone, they would be thin at catcher.

Watch if some team jumps forward with an attractive offer – for instance, something involving Saltalamacchia and Cubs starter and also free agent to be Matt Garza (if he looks healthy) may be of interest.

Bullpen

Boston has ten pitchers competing for seven bullpen slots.

The Red Sox had a pretty good bullpen last season.

If Joel Hanrahan delivers like he can, they will have a great bullpen. And depth matters because stuff happens during the season.

You can never have too much pitching – especially if the starting staff pitches like it did last year.

Watch for how the bullpen shapes up – and if the Red Sox decide to trade the surplus or stash it in Pawtucket.

Bogaerts

Looking forward to seeing uber-prospect Xander Bogaerts play against the big boys – in Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic.

While he is still a work in process, watch to see if Bogaerts holds his own against major leaguers.

That may provide some insight on whether we might expect to see Bogaerts in Fenway Park some time in 2013.

What are you watching for this Spring Training?

How Red Sox Left Field is Shaping Up

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Here’s the latest on left field for the Red Sox – a situation that doesn’t appear to be following in the Manny Ramirez, Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski tradition.

Jonny Gomes says he is planning to grab more than a platoon role in left.

Of course, the issue is Gomes posts strong offensive numbers against lefty pitchers and weak ones versus righties.

The Red Sox are pretty much a by-the-numbers team – so it will be interesting to see how much opportunity Gomes gets when right-handers are on the mound.

We also have the sad story of Gomes’ potential platoon player – Ryan Kalishneeding surgery once again, a move that will delay Kalish getting on the field in 2013.

Unfortunately, it looks like Kalish is Boston’s version of Grady Sizemore (without first demonstrating the big league performance) – a player whose body betrays his all-out, aggressive style of play.

Here’s hoping Kalish can finally put the injury bug behind him.

Of course, with every setback, there is opportunity.

Enter: Daniel Nava, who will be fighting for a roster spot this spring.

Nava is hoping to make the team as its fourth outfielder, with a role as the lefty hitting, Gomes platoon partner.

More likely – given Mike Napoli and his hip issue – the Red Sox will be looking for a lefty bench bat, who can play both outfield and first base.

That’s not something Nava has done – and may be tough to demonstrate without some minor league experience doing it.

This blog has previously suggested Colorado’s Tyler Colvin for that spot. Another, more expensive, option would be Pittsburgh’s Garrett Jones – although it’s hard seeing the Pirates part with him unless being blown away by the offer.

Logan Morrison of Miami could be another fit – but right now, he is penciled in as the Marlins starting first baseman. So Miami getting a replacement would need to figure in the trade equation – not necessarily coming directly from Boston.

One more name to include in the left field mix is Ryan Sweeney.

We know what can be expected from Sweeney: good field (especially arm), decent average, no power.

Sweeney re-signed with Boston on a minor league contract, so he could provide some depth at AAA Pawtucket.

Lastly, the Red Sox could have a new left field candidate develop over the course of the 2013 season.

Top prospects – Jackie Bradley Jr. and Bryce Brentz – are expected to start the season in Pawtucket.

A fast start by either player could rocket him up the organizational depth chart with a trip to Fenway.

In particular, keep an eye on Bradley who is a model of what the Red Sox want to be in 2013 and beyond.

What’s your plan for the Red Sox in left field?

Three Red Sox Players Who Could Go in Trade Deadline Deals

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A previous post outlined a “buy and sell” strategy for the Red Sox for the approaching MLB trade deadline.

The strategy goals are to protect whatever chances the Red Sox have to get into the playoff hunt, while also looking to 2013 and beyond by picking up assets that can help Boston long term.

As much as I would like to see them go – don’t expect for Josh Beckett or Carl Crawford to be heading out now. Their contracts – and production levels – make them close to untradeable.

The most attractive (to other teams) trade candidates the Red Sox have are players that can add value in the stretch run – and don’t lock in the acquiring team with a bad contract.

Boston should explore the trade market to land young major leaguers or good prospects in return. For the players proposed here, I don’t see top prospects coming back – but hopefully ones who can be developed and contribute.

Here’s a look at three trade candidates:

Cody Ross. As a player on a one-year contract, Boston should explore the trade market for Ross – even though he is having a good season. A proven playoff performer, Ross is exactly the type of player some team may pay big to acquire to put them over the top. San Francisco is a perfect fit for Ross – a place he has a strong playoff track record and a team that demonstrated it will pay to land a player for the stretch run. And Boston should try to get the Dodgers involved too – to generate some bidding competition. Other targets: Atlanta, Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

Kelly Shoppach. Another player on a one-year deal – and the Sox have Ryan Lavarnway looking like he is ready to go at Pawtucket – Shoppach could be dealt. But expect a lower return than what Ross could produce. My favorite target: Washington. Catching is a weak area with Wilson Ramos out for the season – and the Nationals have a strong farm system. Pittsburgh would be another good fit – with Shoppach providing an upgrade over Rod Barajas. And maybe it’s time to talk trade again with the Yankees – Shoppach would be a nice 2012 add for New York.

Matt Albers. He has rebounded from last season to pitch well out of the Red Sox bullpen. The Sox have Chris Carpenter and Alex Wilson looking good in Pawtucket as potential replacements. It may be a good time to move Albers. Deep bullpens contribute to pennants – and Albers could help teams like the White Sox, Angels and Texas (if they decide to bolster their bullpen instead of getting a starter).

Other guys who could go: Aaron Cook and Ryan Sweeney. Both could be traded and not be missed. I just don’t see the return they would generate as good as what Ross, Shoppach or Albers could produce.

Who do you think the Red Sox should trade? And who do you think they will trade?

Red Sox Should Buy and Sell at Trading Deadline

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The trading deadline approaches and only three teams in the American League have worse records than the Red Sox.

But Boston is only four games back from landing a spot in the wildcard playoff game.

While the team doesn’t inspire confidence for a strong playoff run, the Red Sox are too close and have too much talent to start thinking about next season already.

So what’s the recommended course as major league baseball approaches its trading deadline: Buy and Sell.

What this path means is don’t bale on the season but the trades the Red Sox make – when looked at collectively – can’t detract from 2013 and 2014.

The plan for buying and selling:

  • Don’t trade elite prospects (Matt Barnes, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley) for any rental players. It’s alright to trade second-tier ones (Bryce Brentz, Jose Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway) because they are replaceable.
  • It’s okay to deal players over 30 years old on long-term deals (Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford) – good luck with that one.
  • The team can acquire players over 30 – but only ones with contracts that expire after this or next season to maintain roster flexibility.
  • Players under 30 reaching free agency during one of the next two off-seasons (such as Jacoby Ellsbury) can be dealt if you don’t see a long-term contract in the cards. You are probably asking – wouldn’t trading Ellsbury hurt Boston this season? Maybe – but the Red Sox problem is pitching. They score plenty of runs. If the Red Sox brass doesn’t see Ellsbury re-upping with another contract – trade him in a deal for a stud pitcher.
  • Fungible pieces – like Mike Aviles, Kelly Shoppach, Ryan Sweeney, others – can go because you aren’t counting on them as key players in 2013.
  • Bullpen pitchers can always be traded – because they are unpredictable on what they will do next season. And if you acquire a reliever – do it with only this season in mind.

So what’s on the shopping list?

A starting pitcher – the best one you can get.

Keep knocking on Seattle’s door for Felix Hernandez – just in case.

The Plan B list (in priority order):

  • Josh Johnson, Miami
  • Matt Garza, Cubs
  • Jason Vargas, Seattle
  • Brandon McCarthy, Oakland – only with medical clearance (the A’s have lots of young pitching – he could be available even with the team challenging for a playoff spot)

I don’t want to do the rental on Ryan Dempster (Cubs); not sure how Zack Greinke (Milwaukee) would fare in Boston; Francisco Liriano (Minnesota) is buyer beware. And no thanks on Wandy Rodriguez.

Next on the shopping list – a bullpen arm. Not required, but would be a good add.

Prospect Trading Chips

Mike Andrews of SoxProspects.com did a great job classifying Red Sox prospects based on trade value – and value to Boston.

What do you think the Red Sox will do before the trading deadline? And who would be your top target?

A Look at Upcoming Red Sox Outfield Moves

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Get ready for the coming logjam in the Red Sox outfield.

The team is currently carrying three outfielders:

  • Ryan Kalish
  • Daniel Nava
  • Cody Ross

With newcomer Brent Lillibridge capable of playing multiple infield and outfield positions.

And here are the Sox outfielders on the disabled list:

  • Carl Crawford – now rehabbing with AA Portland and getting ready for a post All-Star break return.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury – in the same situation as Crawford.
  • Scott Podsednik – rehabbing at AAA Pawtucket and most likely ready for the upcoming Yankees series.
  • Ryan Sweeney – getting close to starting a minor league rehab.

The Red Sox are usually configured with 12 pitchers and two catchers – and with David Ortiz at DH. That leaves ten roster spots.

In the infield, Boston typically goes with one reserve along with the four starters. Leaving room for five outfielders.

Which Outfielders Win Out?

The Red Sox have eight outfielders. Who stays? Who goes?

Start with the Lillibridge/Nick Punto reserve infield decision – because Lillibridge can chip in playing outfield.

The nod here goes to Punto. Neither player can hit – but both are good defensively.

Punto wins because he can play shortstop – something Lillibridge has not done in the last couple of years.

Side note: I see Punto as a short-timer with Jose Iglesias making his way to Fenway during the season – and Mike Aviles sliding into a utility role.

Next? Kalish is an easy decision to return to Pawtucket. He has done alright during his stay with the big league club – but nothing to distinguish himself.

Better for Kalish to go back to the minors – and keep the development process going.

What about the last roster spot? From here, it looks like a Podsednik/Sweeney decision.

With Podsednik returning first – it gives him a chance to solidify his position. But I see Sweeney winning out when he returns.

Looking past his total lack of power (a weak area for Podsednik too), Sweeney played well in the 52 games he has appeared – and he is nine years younger.

I would expect the Red Sox would try to trade Podsednik – but not receive much in return. Podsednik has shown he can potentially help out a contender as a bench/role player.

Who Starts in Outfield?

Ellsbury goes back to center on day one. Let’s hope he can help the team against right-handed pitching – which is a sore spot, especially during the just completed road trip.

Ross should continue to get the bulk of playing time in right.

And left? Here, size of contract will win out – at least initially – with Crawford regaining his leftfield starting position – over Nava, who is a Bobby Valentine favorite.

Look for Nava to continue to get playing time. And if Crawford starts off slowly – it will be interesting to see if Bobby V makes a quick move back to Nava.

How do you see the Red Sox outfield shaking out? Which outfielders would you go with?

Red Sox Notes: Carl Crawford, New Attitude, Sweeney & Fifth Starter

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The State of Carl Crawford. The rehab of Carl Crawford from his wrist injury appears to be going well – with Crawford already hitting. The “care and feeding” of Crawford appears to be a Red Sox priority this spring – with manager Bobby Valentine showing him the love early and owner John Henry apologizing for past remarks about not wanting to sign Crawford. Boston has long-term, big-money invested in Crawford – and the team needs to get a return. I see Bobby V as a good fit for Crawford (Crawford does too) – with Valentine having a personality similar to Crawford’s former Rays manager Joe Maddon. So keep an eye on Crawford this spring – does he begin to show he can return to being the offensively dangerous player he was in Tampa Bay? And does the team show confidence in him by moving Crawford up to the top of lineup – where he thrived as a Ray?

New Attitude in Camp. The Red Sox during the first week in Spring Training camp are saying and doing all the right things – trying to put the ghosts of last season’s collapse behind them. Partly a testament to Valentine – and also to the players themselves. Red Sox management chimed in yesterday – addressing the current state of the Red Sox. But let’s not lose sight – it’s easy to be Camp Sunshine with the new beginnings of the spring (even the Pirates think they have a chance, right now). Let’s watch – how does the team start the season as compared to the woeful 2011 start? And the real test is how the team handles the grind of the 162 game season. We can’t forget one bad September can wash away months of hard work and previous success.

Sweeney: Right Guy. Ryan Sweeney is out to prove he is more than a throw-in in the Andrew Bailey deal. Based on his track record, Sweeney should play an excellent RF – which will help the pitching staff. The question is how much will he contribute with the bat? Look for him to be passable for a guy in the bottom third of the lineup – but without much pop. And Cody Ross will also get a big share of playing time – with the Sweeney – Ross combo holding down the fort well in RF.

Fifth Starter. The Red Sox have opened their Spring Training doors to a number of pitchers cast off from other clubs – in the hopes of finding the next Alfredo Aceves. The non-roster invitee list includes Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, Carlos Silva and 14 other pitchers. Who will get the coveted fifth starter position? I see Aceves back in the bullpen – he’s just too valuable there. Look for Cook (if he shows he is over shoulder woes) and Felix Doubront (on the 40 man roster) to be the top contenders.

Who do you think will be the Red Sox fifth starter when they break Spring Training camp?

Five Things to Watch: Red Sox Spring Training

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With today’s first full-squad Red Sox workout, here are five things to watch this Spring Training.

Clay Buchholz. He says all systems are go this spring. The fortunes of the Red Sox this season turn with the starting rotation. Beyond getting in shape, Spring Training is a meaningless activity for Jon Lester and Josh Beckett (remember Beckett’s line last spring: 1-4, 5.33 ERA). What Lester and Beckett do in September means more than what they do in March and April. Buchholz is a different matter – having had to shut it down last June. How does Buchholz’ back bounce-back once the games start? And is he pitching free and easy like the Buchholz of old?

Daniel Bard. He is working to establish himself as the #4 pitcher in the rotation – right behind Buchholz. His stint as a starter in the minors was a disaster – but Bard has matured as a pitcher. And he yearns for starter money – which is much more than set-up man or even (young) closer pay. Will Bard demonstrate he is a starter with three quality pitches who can work his way through a line-up two or three times a game? If Bard flops in the spring – how do Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon handle the chain of events generated by Bard moving back to the bullpen?

Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Yes, Salty. He was okay last year – and with a year under his belt and Jason Varitek gone (Thank you, Tek – for tons of thrills!), does Saltalamacchia assume more of a leadership role in the catcher position? How will he work with Beckett – now that Beckett’s personal catcher Varitek is gone? How does Salty handle Ryan Lavarnway’s presence – competition that pushes both players to be better or does he become someone constantly looking over his shoulder? I say: Salty steps up this year.

Who’s at Short? This is Mike Aviles’ job to lose this spring. Aviles can probably hit a buck-fifty and get the starting nod – if he shows he can consistently field the position. The competition: Nick Punto is an excellent add off the bench – capable defensively at 2B, SS and 3B but doesn’t deliver much offensively. Rookie Jose Iglesias is a master with the glove but has not displayed any prowess at the plate. He needs more at-bats – in the minors. Can Aviles win the job – and not by default but with manager Bobby Valentine feeling good about it?

And What About Right-Field? I am pretty bullish about the Ryan SweeneyCody Ross combination. I am not expecting Jose Bautista – but this combo should be good. Over the last few years, every time I saw Sweeney, his defense (especially his arm) shouted out: Made for Fenway. Not expecting a lot of power from him – but an okay hitter. Ross is playing with a chip on his shoulder – he bombed last season after World Series glory the year before. Will the Red Sox leave Ft. Myers feeling they have RF covered?

Who’s on your “watch list” for the Red Sox in Spring Training? And what are you watching for them to do in 2012?

Red Sox Notes: Theo Compensation, Spring Training Questions, Farm Systems & Papelbon’s #1

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Epstein Compensation. Nick Cafardo runs through potential compensation options for the Red Sox from the Cubs for Theo Epstein. What’s “significant” value – that’s the question. One’s got to think Boston has been asking for the moon which is why Chicago feels they are better off letting the commissioner decide. No one outside the Red Sox and Cubs (and they aren’t talking) knows what was said about compensation before Theo jumped ship. But letting talks drag on has enabled Chicago to trade assets that may have interested Boston (Andrew Cashner, for example). I like Cafardo’s suggestion that lefty pitcher Travis Wood (an off-season pick-up by Chicago) would be fair compensation – a decent, not top-line player who potentially could play a role in Boston’s rotation. The Cubs farm system is so thin, it is hard to see how anyone beyond OFs Brett Jackson and Matt Szczur, and SS Javier Baez rate as significant.

Three Questions. Tim Britton outlines three questions the Red Sox must answer in Spring Training.

  • Who will fill out the rotation? I am picking Daniel Bard and Aaron Cook.
  • Who will start at shortstop? I say, the season starts with Mike Aviles but his poor defense has the Red Sox turn eventually to Nick Punto, Jose Iglesias or someone to be acquired.
  • Who will play right-field? I like the Ryan Sweeney-Cody Ross combo. It will be an improvement over J.D. Drew and Josh Reddick. In the outfield, I am more concerned with: will Carl Crawford play like a $19.5 million/year left-fielder? My hunch is no.

Farm Report. Keith Law ranked MLB’s farm systems with the Red Sox landing in the second tier at #18. Law writes Boston is “terribly thin up top.” The Red Sox are stacked in the lower minors and could move up the charts quickly if their young prospects produce. Of course, they could also wash out – keeping Boston searching in the free agent pool. Looking at the rest of the AL East: Tampa Bay #2, Toronto #3, New York #10 and Baltimore #17. That’s not good news for the Red Sox. Keep in mind Boston’s farm system has not produced an impact player since 2007Clay Buchholz.

Papelbon is Tops. Dave Cameron called the Phillies signing of Jonathan Papelbon the worst transaction this off-season. According to Cameron, Philadelphia overpaid and should have waited out the market – to save money to address other issues like left-field. No Red Sox move made the best 10 transactions list. The “swap” of Papelbon for Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon at the back-end of the bullpen was GM’s Ben Cherington’s best move of the off-season.

Red Sox Notes: Nakajima, Sweeney, Bailey & Garza

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Here’s a quick tour of comments on some recent baseball news and analysis:

Yankees fail on Nakajima. The Yankees failure to sign Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima could provide an opportunity for the Red Sox in 2013. Marco Scutaro’s contract will be up at the end of 2012 and SS prospect Jose Iglesias may or may not be ready. Manager Bobby Valentine’s connections and experience in Japan should pave the way for the Red Sox to be in a good position to get Nakajima, if they want to go in that direction. Look at Seattle’s recent signing of Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma as providing the model. Iwakuma was posted last season – with Oakland grabbing his rights, only to not sign him. That made Iwakuma free to join any U.S. team without any posting fees this off-season. Nakajima will be in the same position next year. So the team signing Nakajima only expends salary – which makes him more attractive and potentially in position to get a more lucrative contract.

Ryan Sweeney. Al Melchior has an interesting post on notable trends in changing skills (for better and worse) of players in 2011. He calls out Sweeney for an improved batting eye, noting “In each of the previous two seasons, Sweeney had been gradually increasing his pitches per plate appearance, and in 299 plate appearances in 2011, his rate shot through the roof, increasing from 3.96 to 4.34. As a result, he registered the first double-digit walk rate (11 percent) of his major league career, as well as his highest walk-to-strikeout ratio as an Athletic.” Melchior sees the line-drive hitting Sweeney as potentially thriving in baseball’s best doubles-hitting park.

Bailey in Bullpen. Alex Speier talks Andrew Bailey’s college coach and the A’s scout who pushed for Oakland to draft him. With Wagner coach Joe Litterio expecting Bailey to respond well to the Fenway pressures saying, “This is his dream. I know that he’s going to take full advantage of this and do whatever it takes to stay healthy.” Ben Cherington has done well bringing in Bailey and Mark Melancon but in no way do they match the Jonathan Papelbon-Daniel Bard combo of last season. The back-end of the bullpen starts as a question mark in 2102. Although Brian McPherson sees Bailey-Melancon as a good fit.

Garza Price-Tag. Didier Morais reports the Cubs asking price for starter Matt Garza remains high with the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox in the hunt (looks like Theo Epstein is trying to stoke a bidding war among his former brethren in the AL East). As noted in a previous post, I see Garza as Boston’s best option for a starter addition – given his AL East experience. Jed Hoyer’s knowledge of the Red Sox farm system paid off in making the Adrian Gonzalez trade. Perhaps, what Theo and Hoyer know about the system will help make a Garza deal.

Red Sox Bullpen Shaping Up

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Good move by Ben Cherington picking up Andrew Bailey (and Ryan Sweeney) from Oakland for Josh Reddick and a pair of prospects.

Oakland is shedding salary – with Bailey in line to go to arbitration for the first time and get a contract in the $3.5-$4 million range – in an overt move to the bottom so there will be less uproar in Oakland when the team heads off to San Jose.

While Bailey and Mark Melancon add some quality to the relief corps – no way this combination is equal to the 2011 bullpen back-end of Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard.

And Bailey has had difficulty staying healthy in past seasons – but says this has been his “first healthy offseason” since he has been in the big leagues.

Boston is committed to giving Bard – and Alfredo Acevesa shot at the rotation in Spring Training.

Figure at least one pitcher between Bard and Aceves will be back in the pen – giving the Red Sox a good trio for next season.

But will that be enough?

Before the Bailey trade, ESPN’s Buster Olney ranked baseball’s top bullpens (subscription required) and the Red Sox were not in the top ten list.

Playoff competitors Yankees (#2) and Rangers (tie for #10) made the list – along with the Indians (#4).

But no Rays, Blue Jays, Tigers or Angels – all teams in the AL East and/or AL playoff competition.

Look for all these teams – plus the Red Sox – to continue to tinker with their bullpens this offseason.

Name to watch: Grant Balfour – another potential salary dump by Oakland.

Quick Thoughts on Sweeney

Sweeney is a nice throw-in to the deal. Terrific defensive outfielder with a strong arm – and can play all three outfield positions.

His hitting pegs him as a lefty hitting platoon player – with not a lot of pop in his bat.

Who will be Sweeney’s platoon partner? Right now, it’s shaping up as either Darnell McDonald or Mike Aviles.

A Sweeney – McDonald/Aviles combination won’t strike fear in opposing pitchers but Boston has plenty of offense. And has pitching needs that are greater than adding another outfielder.

If the Red Sox make a move, a name to watch is free agent Cody Ross.

I don’t see Cuban prospect Yoenis Cespedes coming to Boston – given the cheapskate approach by the Red Sox this offseason.

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