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Welcome to a new edition of the mailbag. Plenty of hot stove topics from readers, and weíre still wondering who the manager will be. While Bobby Valentine should be the front runner (and our recent Boston.com poll overwhelmingly favored Valentine as the choice among readers) itís no slam dunk. General manager Ben Cherington has to be convinced that he can work with such a strong personality. And that's what Monday's interview was all about. In my opinion it's now very difficult to go in a different direction now that Valentine is in the mix because the other remaining candidates just don't measure up.
Meanwhile, more questions about possible free agents, how the new CBA affects the Red Sox and even more manager talk. Here we go:
I have cut my list down to three possible right fielders for the Sox next season. Josh Willingham, Yoenis Cespedes and Carlos Quentin. All three of these players would hit in the No. 6 spot: Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, right fielder, Carl Crawford, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Marco Scutaro. Having a righthanded hitting right fielder balances out the lineup. Of these three, Nick, who do you think is the best option? I understand there is not a bunch of info on Cespedes yet, but could he be worth the risk?
-- Chad, Medford, Oregon
I would say Quentin because he can also play right field well. Willingham isnít very good. Nobody really knows whether Cespedes will hit good major league pitching. My choice would be Michael Cuddyer.
All these reports of how bad the Red Sox are going to be next year are just plain nuts. They did have one of the best hitting teams in the league. Now we have Gonzalez and Pedroia preparing for the season instead of recovering from surgery. Even though expecting Ellsbury to repeat is tough Crawford should be better than he was last year. As for pitching I'd say Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz make a pretty good 1-2-3.
They should let Josh Reddick/Ryan Kalish fight it out for the right field spot, re-sign Ortiz to a two-year deal and concentrate on getting a 4/5 starters, a few guys for the pen, and a couple bench players. Daniel Bard can close.
What do you think the chances are the Sox go after Hiroki Kuroda, Paul Maholm, Rich Harden or Roy Oswalt to round out the rotation?
-- Jim H., Coventry, Connecticut
I agree with a lot of what you say. I believe the Jonathan Papelbon loss is huge. If it does force Bard into closer role he has to prove he can do it. And the set-up role is key. Matt Capps is actually a good choice for that. I would have said Joe Nathan, but he got a closer job in Texas. Bobby Jenks could be back in the mix after recovery from his back surgery. While theyíve told Alfredo Aceves to be prepared to start, still wonder whether heíll be the set-up guy.
Why does it always seems like the Sox are always dragging their feet when going after players they need? Take their pitching dilemma for example. There are a few good pitchers (starters and relief) on the free agent market. If they don't sign those pitchers now they will be in the same situation they were in September. What are they waiting for?
-- Bob T., Keene, New Hampshire
This season is a little different in that theyíve had to devote their time finding a new manager with a new GM doing the work. We need to cut them some slack. There are plenty of players available in free agency and deals. Iím sure theyíll end up with a decent team. Theyíre definitely not a pounce-first team like Philadelphia, but their approach is to wait things out and see markets develop.
When will we see the end of John Lackey in Boston? Dice K? Any word of serious interest in trading Beckett? Do the Red Sox trade some talent for a respectable fourth or fifth starter Are Bard or Aceves really going to be given a chance to start? Given the confusion on the managers search, I can see this dragging into March.
-- Bob M., Newfields, New Hampshire
Lackey had Tommy John surgery and will be lost for the season. Dice-K is on schedule to return by the All-Star break from his Tommy John. I think one exciting aspect of this is if Bobby Valentine is the manager, heís an expert in dealing with Japanese players. Valentine has been critical of Bostonís approach to Matsuzaka, feeling they Americanized him way too much, which is precisely what I think. I think if they hire Valentine, they should encourage more Japanese signings because Valentine does a great job managing them. Donít hold your breath on a Beckett deal. He will be back and heíll be motivated to put last yearís antics behind him and re-establish himself and his image.
The MLB CBA was agreed to last week but, much to my dismay, there wasn't a change to the rule prohibiting teams from trading draft picks. Why? I know this restriction was put in place to protect small market teams, but I feel like it is doing the opposite. (Don't you think a poor team is more empowered come July 31st when it can demand a 1st or 2d round pick as compensation in trade discussions instead of a prospect they know very little about?) Was there any discussion at the GM meetings about changing this ridiculous rule? If not, why? Thank you.
-- Ed, East Boston
Yes, I agree with you on the trading of draft picks. It would make the trade deadline and draft day exciting. This is something Scott Boras would love to see happen as well.
With the Red Sox talking with Bobby Valentine, it was mentioned in this paper that he might be a short-term solution, say three years. Any thoughts on the possibility that the Red Sox would hire Valentine and make Jason Varitek his bench coach? Valentine would be able to give Varitek his insight and help to groom him to eventually become his successor. At the same time time Varitek serves as a coach and mentor to Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway. He could even be activated in an emergency situation.
-- Mark S., Silver Lake, New York
Itís funny but Bobby Valentine has never been a short-term solution anywhere, so I disagree with that. He spent a long time in Texas, New York and Chiba Lotte. If Valentine takes this job, nobody is going to tell him who to take as bench coach unless he wants to. Varitekís playing days are not over. Heíll either resign with Boston or head to another team needing a veteran backup, like the Twins.
It seems to me we are making too much of the "chaos" within the Sox front office. Valentine was one of the best candidates from day one. Add Don Baylor as a possibility. Who do you think the next manager will be?
-- TDM, Montgomery, New York
Iíve never referred to chaos, because I end to agree. Theyíre in a transition period where Larry Lucchino has the power again and Ben Cherington is a new GM. How do people expect this to be smooth sailing right away? Thatís unrealistic. I hope the next manager is Valentine. Not sure how they can go from Valentine to any other candidate at this point, but the Valentine situation has the potential to breakdown over philosophical issues Ė such as control. Don Baylor would have been a nice candidate to interview, but their idea of good candidates and my idea of good candidates donít seem to mesh.
Love your columns. Please pass this on the Ben and Co.: T-O-N-Y P-E-N-A. Bobby V. is a mistake. Doesn't ascribe to the Red Sox' proven philosophy, a Moneyball hybrid. Experience? Yes. Success? Not much. He has a history of alienating players. Sox need unity right now -- and motivation. Get Pena! Pena has experience. Former AL Manager of the Year. Players love him. He has won the World Series as the Yankees' bench coach.
-- J., Little Rock, Arkansas
Great name. One of my personal favorites. Tough guy, knows the market, knows pitching and catching.
Nick, I'm sure you may have the inside story here. Did Theo leave the Gorilla suit when he left? Looks like Ben will need it shortly. Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
-- Paul, Gilbert, Arizona
Donít know why Ben would leave in a Gorilla suit. Heís a new GM who I feel needs someone over him until heís a proven commodity like Theo was. I see nothing wrong with Larry Lucchino being the boss. I think heís a very talented boss.
Thank you for answering our questions. It has been great. Has the Globe ever considered sponsoring a tour of outside cities like Portland that have so many fans who would love to meet with you and discuss Boston sports? Lots of great specialty beer spots here. Will the new CBA mean the Sox will likely now go after a Heath Bell, and could it mean that more trades will be made? Finally, why do so many fans think it is a good idea to trade Jacoby Ellsbury? I would think to find a leadoff hitter of this type is about the most difficult thing to do in the game. Why not front load a new contract to him while the Sox have an extra $50 million?
-- Tony B., Portland, Oregon
Tony, would love to take a tour and youíre right, lots of Globe and Boston.com readers everywhere. Like the idea. I think you will see more deals, but I donít think free agency will be affected because team needs to sign guys and in many cases theyíd rather sign a player and give up a draft pick rather than make a deal and give up major prospects. As for Ellsbury, nothing would surprise me. If I were Scott Boras, Iíd push for a deal now. Who knows if Ellsbury can repeat that season and make a fortune in free agency?
Found it interesting that Theo Epstein, as president of the Cubs, was the guy handing Dale Sveum his uniform as general manager Jed Hoyer looked on. Wonder how that would have played out in Boston if Theo had stayed? How would Theo have responded if Larry Lucchino was the guy handing Tito's replacement the uniform while Theo stood by watching. Never would have happened. I like Theo but he comes off like a diva on this one.
-- Dick, Shrewsbury
Great observation. Wrote about that dynamic last week. The very thing Theo didnít want Ė someone over him Ė is what heís doing to Jed Hoyer now. Hoyer and Theo are good friends and maybe therein lies the difference.
My take on the addition of a second wild card is that it makes winning a division much more important. You don't want to be faced with a win-or-go-home game on the first day of the playoffs. Is that an accurate assessment and if so doesn't that make this rule change appear to be a very good thing -- maybe not for the Red Sox, but for the game in general...
-- Jason, Somerville
Absolutely correct. Winning the division and avoiding a one-game sudden death playoff game as a wild card gives you that incentive. The Red Sox really canít be concerned with that. Itís been two years that theyíve been out of the playoffs. Gotta get there, no matter how.
Do the Red Sox have insurance against injuries on players like Matzusaka and Lackey?
-- Roger B., Milford
Yes they do, but Iím not sure of specifics. Those specifics are guarded very closely.
Junichi Tazawa was signed to be a starting pitcher, is there a chance he might make it to the regular roster this coming season?
-- Lloyd B., Philippines
I think Tazawa could be a sleeper. He has good stuff, is a year removed from Tommy John surgery. Could compete for a job unless they feel he needs a half-year at Triple A.