December 9, 2012

On Baseball: GM moves may help Sox make a move

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Do you like how General Manager Ben Cherington has infused new talent into the Boston Red Sox so far?

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Boston Red Sox GM Ben Cherington has had a busy offseason, but none of the moves have been major-impact upgrades.

AP

Let's make a list and check it twice. Cherington has signed five free agents this offseason:

David Ross. A backup catcher.

Jonny Gomes. An outfielder who is limited defensively and batted .209 against right-handed pitching last year.

Mike Napoli. A catcher who plays first base; neither very well, we're told. And he batted .227 last year.

Shane Victorino. An outfielder whose numbers are trending down, hitting .255 last year with an unimpressive .667 OPS (combined on-base percentage and slugging average).

Koji Uehara. A reliever who not only missed 21/2 months to injury (lat muscle strain) last season but turns 38 next April.

Impressed?

Well, you're not supposed to be. But that doesn't mean Boston won't win with them, plus those returning, and those coming up through the system.

Notice that not one prospect was dealt to obtain a player.

No big splash, but no losses for the organization, either.

Making a big impression in the offseason means signing big-name free agents, or trading for them, then signing them to long-term deals.

The Red Sox have been there, done that, and lost. Where did Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez get Boston?

Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona reportedly said at last week's winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., "as I found out the hard way, the team that wins in the winter doesn't always win the season. ... Sometimes it makes you an analyst."

Maybe these players won't wow anyone now, but they could win in 2013.

What Cherington appears to be building is a team that could be a winner -- what do you want, a guarantee, like that 2011 club that was going to win 100 games? -- and continue winning, with constant new blood.

The free agents he signed may have their weaknesses, but they do have an upside, and most of them are considered leaders who have played on winning teams qualities the Red Sox could use, especially as they mentor younger players.

Here's what Boston has now:

Catcher: The newly acquired Ross brings a reputation as a solid receiver who handles a pitching staff well. Boston's pitching can use all the help it can get. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is a free agent after the 2013 season, could be traded or held onto for one more season. If he stays, Ryan Lavarnway will go back to Pawtucket.

Down the road, Lavarnway could be a power-hitting All-Star, with other prospects (Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart) coming up.

First base: Napoli is there and there is concern defensively, especially after the infielders have been spoiled by the error-preventing ways of Kevin Youkilis and Gonzalez.

Down the road, the best prospect is Travis Shaw, who barely tasted Double-A ball last season, with 31 games in Portland.

Second base: Dustin Pedroia has the job. Period. Pedroia, 29, is set through 2014 (club option for 2015) and Boston likely will renegotiate soon.

Down the road, Sean Coyle, 20, is coming along, maybe reaching Portland by the end of the 2013 season.

Shortstop: It looks like Jose Iglesias finally will be given a chance to show off his dazzling fielding at Fenway. His bat may come around. Boston would be foolish not to be patient.

Down the road, Xander Bogaerts awaits. He is Boston's No. 1 prospect. Not as slick a fielder as Iglesias, but with a potential All-Star bat.

Third base. Will Middlebrooks is there for a while. He will be eligible for free agency after 2017, but Boston is likely to eventually sign him to a deal beyond that.

(Continued on page 2)

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