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?

click image to enlarge

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.

Down the road, Garin Cecchini, 21, looks like a budding major leaguer, although he has not played beyond low Class A Greenville.

Outfield: The newly signed Gomes is a pull hitter who could thrive at Fenway, but he has to prove he can play the Green Monster. Jacoby Ellsbury returns to center (we think), but likely leaves for the big bucks after 2013. Victorino brings his excellent defense to Fenway's tricky right field.

For backups the Red Sox have Ryan Kalish and Daniel Nava.

Down the road, some of the best prospects are in the outfield, led by center fielder Jackie Bradley, who could see Fenway in 2013. Pawtucket will be filled with players wanting their chance, including Juan Carlos Linares and Bryce Brentz. Alex Hassan is developing, and Brandon Jacobs likely will reach Portland this year.

Starting pitching: Begin with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Felix Doubront, and that looks good on paper. But such potential hasn't always converted to wins. Cherington likely will sign or trade for another starter (as well as try out Franklin Morales, Alfredo Aceves and/or Junichi Tazawa for the role).

Down the road, Rubby De La Rosa, obtained in the mega Dodgers deal, may slide into the rotation. If he goes to Pawtucket, he will have good company, with knuckleballer Steven Wright, lefty Chris Hernandez and possibly Allen Webster (also coming from the Dodgers).

Also, more talent is on the way. Stolmy Pimentel and Drake Britton are likely bound for Pawtucket in some capacity. Portland will have a prospect bonanza with Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman and Keith Couch. Henry Owens could see Hadlock in late summer.

Relief pitching: Uehara brings impressive numbers to Boston. In the last four years, in 211 innings, he has 231 strikeouts and 29 walks. Add him with Andrew Bailey, Daniel Bard, Mark Melancon, Andrew Millers, Morales, Aceves, Tazawa and Craig Breslow, and Boston should be able to build a strong bullpen.

Down the road, Alex Wilson will begin his second season in Pawtucket, with a call-up coming at any time. Brock Huntzinger still has promise and is now in Triple-A.

Cherington's plan seems sound. Fill current gaps with free agents on short-term contracts, while using the farm system to prepare for the future.

A winner? Maybe not in the offseason. But wait until the game begin.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

 

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