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Talking some baseball over dinner last night

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  January 20, 2012 12:21 PM

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The 73rd annual Boston Baseball Writers Dinner was held at the Westin Copley last night. A large crowd attended and had a chance to hear from assorted award-winners and guests including Ben Cherington, Bobby Valentine, David Ortiz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ryan Lavarnway and Josh Reddick.

Karl Ravech of ESPN (and Needham) was the emcee.

A few observations from the evening:

The people running for president could learn a few things from Valentine. He stood in the lobby of the ballroom before the doors opened munching on popcorn and and probably shook 100 hands and posed for a dozen photos. He has a knack for connecting with people.

Whether that makes him the right manager for the Red Sox remains to be seen. But Valentine is going to make a lot of friends in Boston and have a lot of supporters before too long. He also has attended (or will attend) the hot stove dinners in Portland, Salem and Greenville. The man seems to have boundless energy and passion for what he does.

The loudest ovations of the night were for Ortiz and Janet-Marie Smith, the former Red Sox executive who oversaw the renovation of Fenway Park. She gave an terrific speech about Fenway's virtues.

As long as Roy Oswalt remains a free agent, Cherington will be asked about improving the depth of his rotation. He has stuck to the same message, saying the Red Sox believe in their top three starters and have amassed enough options behind them.

That may be so. But as of today, the Red Sox rotation is no better than middle of the pack in the American League. The Rays, Yankees, Rangers and Tigers are certainly better and the Angels added C.J. Wilson.

Oswalt is no panecea. But he would be a big improvement over seeing what Vicente Padilla and Carlos Silva have left. A rotation of Lester, Buchholz, Beckett, Oswalt and Bard would be competitive. Then the bullpen would be Bailey, Aceves, Melancon and assorted others.

You can make a case that Cherington is taking bullets for the ownership by not sailing way past the luxury tax limit. But in reality he is stuck cleaning up the mess left by Theo Epstein. If the Red Sox can't win with a payroll of $178 million dollars, something is wrong.

The problem is not the payroll. The problem is spending it on the likes of John Lackey.

Lavarnway spoke with reporters beforehand and said the signing of Kelly Shoppach did not cause him any stress. He seems prepared to start the season in Class AAA if necessary and work his way back up. Lavarnway is very prideful in his catching skills. When asked about starting the final two games last season, he said he was most happy with how he handled Erik Bedard and Jon Lester.

Lavarnway will be in Fort Myers on Feb. 1 to start working out with Gary Tuck. While it makes sense for the Sox to get a veteran backup, it also would be easy to release Shoppach if he struggles and Lavarnway looks ready.

Unless something changes, the Red Sox will not have Tim Wakefield or Jason Varitek in camp. Without coming right out and saying that, Cherington has been saying that for a few months now and said it again last night.

There was a report about Varitek attending camp on a minor-league contract. But it would seem incredibly awkward to have the team captain in camp and not on the roster. That also would put Valentine in a tough position. If he has to cut Varitek, that would anger many of the pitchers. In this case, it's better to let Cherington be the bad guy.

It was fun to meet so many readers of the paper and of Extra Bases. One guy from Quincy claimed the pre-game items on the blog and on NESN helped him bet games. Maybe we need to include "for amusement only" on the blog.

Had a chance to spend a little time with Saltalamacchia and he is healthy, confident and eager to get started.

New Balance and The Sports Museum gave everybody a complimentary copy of "Field Of Our Fathers. An Illustrated History of Fenway Park" as they left. Richard Johnson's book is a real keepsake and you'll learn something on every page.

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