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The off-season for Red Sox starts - news and notes

 

This will be one of the most active and important off-seasons in recent history for the Boston Red Sox. There will be a new manager. Likely, most of the coaching staff will be revamped. The team will try to bring back potential free agents David Ortiz and Cody Ross, and general manager Ben Cherington has included finding a left fielder, a first baseman and a frontline starting pitcher on this “things to do” list.

Here are assorted notes about what is already happening and what could occur in the Red Sox organization during the Hot Stove League.

Since Jose Iglesias hit just .118 in 68 at-bats with the Red Sox and is still just 22, he will probably open the 2013 season as the starting shortstop at Triple-A Pawtucket so he can continue to work on his hitting techniques. That means Mike Aviles will likely return to the Red Sox Major League roster in 2013. Aviles, who will be 32 next March, played above average defense at shortstop and had 13 home runs and 60 RBI in 545 plate appearances. With Pedro Ciriaco also set to return, the Red Sox will have two players who are versatile and can provide ample production from the shortstop position until it is deemed that Iglesias or uber prospect Xander Bogaerts is Major League ready.

One move that could make Aviles expendable is if the Red Sox acquire soon-to-be 28-year-old shortstop Troy Tulowitzski from Colorado. Tulowitzski is signed long term and will receive $10 million in 2013, $16 million in 2014, $20 million from 20015 to 2019 and $14 million in 2020 before a $15 million team option arises in 2021. Acquiring him would cost a bundle in prospects and it would be risky since he was hampered with a groin injury in 2012, and those injuries tend to linger. Yet Tulowitzski does represent the middle of the order slugger Boston needs to bring in to replace Adrian Gonzalez. of course, it would also make sense to find a slugger at another spot since Bogaerts has a chance to be everything that Tulowitzki is and more.

Don’t forget Anthony Ranaudo as one of the organization’s top starting pitching prospects. It was a disappointing and injury-plagued 2012 season for the 23-year-old right-hander who was a first round pick out of LSU in 2010. He posted a 6.69 ERA and made just nine starts this season, all at Double-A Portland. Ranaudo will pitch for Caguas in the Puerto Rico Winter League and attempt to regain his top prospect status next season, when he will likely rejoin the Portland rotation.

The Red Sox have the aforementioned need for a middle of the order bat to replace Gonzalez and a frontline starting pitcher. One could be addressed via free agency, but at least one need will likely be filled via trade since the club is looking for high-impact talent that is still young and under team control. With this in mind, Red Sox top prospects could be used as trade chips. Though Boston will not be dealing Bogaerts or center fielder Jackie Bradley since both players are part of the team’s long-term plans, outfielders Bryce Brentz, Brandon Jacobs and Keury De La Cruz; third baseman Garin Cecchini, starting pitchers Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, Henry Owens and Rubby De La Rosa; catcher Blake Swihart and shortstop Jose Vinicio are among the organization’s promising prospects who could be packaged in deals.

<> John Lacky

After a forgettable and embarrassing 2012 season for the Boston Red Sox, the thought of a more prosperous and successful 2013 campaign is appealing. John Lackey has a chance to be a significant part of Boston’re resurgence as a legitimate World Series contender.

Laugh if you will. Point to his role as the ringleader of the ” fried chicken and beer” fiasco. Express your aggravation about his 6.41 ERA in 2011, his habit of gestures on the mound that show up teammates when they do not make the plays behind him that Lackey thinks should be executed and his excuse-laden post-game press conferences.

Those are valid responses. After all, since then general manager Theo Epstein signed Lackey to a five-year, $82.5 million deal after the 2009 season, the soon-to-be 34-year-old right-hander has not remotely resembled the durable and effective top of the rotation starter that he was for so long with the Los Angeles Angels.

In eight years with the Angels – from 2002 to 2009 – Lackey was 102-71 with a 3.81 ERA. In four of those years, he logged more than 200 innings, and in one other season, he recorded 198.1 frames. The second round pick in 1999 started showing signs of wear and tear with his elbow in 2008 (24 starts, 163.1 innings) and 2009 (27 starts, 176.1 innings). He posted ERAs of 3.75 and 3.83 respectively in those seasons, but because of elbow issues he was not as impressive. Then he struggled to a 4.40 ERA in 33 starts and 215 innings during his first year in Boston (though he did win 14 games) before bombing in 2011 and pitching just 160 innings.

Though he is not popular among fans and is frequently chastised by the media, Lackey is well-liked by his teammates and remained with the club during his rehab work over the 2012 season. His recovery is reportedly progressing well, and he is expected to fill a rotation spot with the Red Sox in 2013.

Now that the Sox have freed themselves from the cumbersome contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford, they can afford to pay Lackey $15.25 million in 2013 and 2014, especially if he serves as a durable and effective starter.

Aside from the myriad of injuries to key players in the lineup this season, the key reason why Boston finished 69-93 and in last place in the American League East is a severe lack of dependable starting pitching. Jon Lester struggled all year, and Clay Buchholz was atrocious in the first half before rebounding and becoming one of the top starters in the AL after the All-Star break. Felix Doubront, the 24-year-old rookie left-hander, showed promise but wore down in his first full season in the majors.

Along with those three starters, Lackey can provide the Red Sox with a durable and deep rotation if general manager Ben Cherington is able to land a frontline starter, like a Dan Haren or Jake Peavy via free agency, or a trade with Seattle for Felix Hernandez.

Lackey is paid like a top of the rotation starter, and likely he will not give the Red Sox frontline starter numbers. Yet he can provide the club with a reliable back of the rotation arm who can post a 3.80 to 4.00 ERA and win 13 to 15 games. That is more palatable than what they have been getting from back of the rotation arms in recent seasons.

The Manager

Who will be the next manager of the Boston Red Sox? That remains to be seen, but what we do know is that it will not be the recently dismissed Bobby Valentine, former Red Sox skipper Terry Francona (who was just hired to manage the Cleveland Indians) or longtime Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek (who was recently named special assistant to Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and has said that he is not interested in the managerial vacancy).

 

Toronto Blue Jays manager and former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell is considered the top candidate to replace Valentine, according to numerous media reports.

Farrell has a year remaining on his deal with the Blue Jays, and Toronto general manager Alex Anthopolous has said that the team will not permit lateral moves. Still, if Farrell expresses interest in leaving the Blue Jays and not signing an extension beyond 2013 – and/or if the Blue Jays prefer not not sign Farrell to an extension beyond next year – it is possible that he could wind up as the manager of the Red Sox for compensation.

Last off-season, when the Red Sox approached Toronto about hiring Farrell in the aftermath of Francona’s departure, the Blue Jays asked for right-handed starting pitcher Clay Buchholz. Boston passed and later hired Valentine, who guided the team to a 69-93 record and a last place finish in the American League East.

Cherington has indicated that the Red Sox will be looking to hire a manager quickly, unlike last off-season when Valentine was not brought aboard until December 1.

Considering the tension and drama in the dugout and clubhouse between Valentine and his players, and Valentine and his coaching staff, likely the Red Sox will hire the anti-Valentine as his replacement. The new manager must be someone who commands the respect of his players and coaches, and understands how to effectively communicate with and handle the Boston media. Farrell seems like the logical choice.

The Red Sox are in prime position to build a contender in 2013. Core players like Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury are returning, and the team will likely bring back David Ortiz and Cody Ross. Rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks expects to be fully healed from the wrist injury that prematurely ended his 2012 season, and the catching tandem of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway is promising.

Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront give the Red Sox three quality starters who are under 30. They are best suited as complementary rotation pieces, though, so the club desperately needs to acquire a frontline starting pitcher. John Lackey expects to be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery by spring training and could be an asset in 2013 since he has posted impressive numbers in his career when he has been healthy.

In addition, the Red Sox have just $46 million in payroll commitments for 2013 after the August trade that unloaded the salaries of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Boston also said goodbye to the salaries of Kevin Youkilis and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

“The team is in a different point than it was last year when we hired Bobby,” Cherington said. “The roster was fairly mature and we felt, mistakenly in retrospect, but we felt at the time that we had a chance to win and the team was ready to win and we’re now at a different point.”

If the Red Sox are unable to pry Farrell away from Toronto, other managerial candidates who could emerge include Blue Jays first base coach and former Pawtucket manager Torey Lovullo, Dodgers special assistant and former Red Sox third baseman Bill Mueller, Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, Padres special assistant and former Major League catcher Brad Ausmus, Marlins bench coach Joey Cora and Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo.

By Jeff Louderback
Sunday, 7 Oct 2012

 

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