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FORT MYERS, Fla. – The low expectations for the Red Sox continue to ooze out in this week’s mailbag. There are lots of concerns still about the first base situation where Mike Napoli and Lyle Overbay will man the position with the team hoping they’ll have good power numbers from the right and left side.
People often ask me, "what would you call this season?" I would have to say it’s a bridge season. The Red Sox did not part with their top prospects for established player so they’re obviously going to try to go down that road and slowly incorporate Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Matt Barnes, Henry Owens, Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa into their future plans.
The Blue Jays elected a different approach – they got sick of waiting for their prospects – and trading many of them away for established players. Interesting that two teams in the same division would change course in the opposite direction.
On paper, the Jays are the team to beat, but as we know things always seem to happen up there, particularly pitching injuries which can derail them.
Red Sox beat writer Pete Abraham and I have arrived in The Fort and we’ll begin our coverage for what should be another interesting spring training with lots of new faces, a new manager (again) and lowered expectations, which may work in the team’s favor.
Here we go:
My question concerns Juan Carlos Linares. We paid pretty good dough to get him and he seems to be able to do the job in the minors when called upon at the plate and outfield when healthy. Why don't they give him a legitimate look? I think he would adjust well to the big leagues because he has pretty good patience at the plate.
-- Artie, Sacramento, California
I don’t know whether at this point in his career that he’s just been typecast as a 4-A player. He seems to have a good bat and plays the outfield well. Every so often there’s that guy who falls through the cracks and Linares just might be one of them. Sometimes guys like that just need to get to a different organization where the talent evaluators view him with a fresh eye.
It seems to me that Rubby De La Rosa, Franklin Morales, and Alfredo Aceves could all be at least as effective starters as John Lackey and Ryan Dempster. John Farrell keeps raving about Lackey's potential, but I'll believe it when I see real results. The three I mentioned all have tremendous upside as starters.
-- Ethan, Somerville
De La Rosa, of course is a younger guy who hasn’t be given his shot yet while Aceves has only made nine career starts (4.18 ERA). I agree with you on Morales. That’s worth exploring and he will be stretched out as a starter in spring training. As for Lackey, they’re paying him a lot of money. They have to see what he can do post-Tommy John. And Dempster has had a solid career. Had a great first half last year with a bad team (Cubs) and had a good stretch with the Rangers before a few bumps in the road especially against the tough Angels lineup.
Now that the deal with Mike Napoli has been whittled down to a year, and assuming there is not an option for a second year (is there?), whom do the Sox see as their first baseman in 2014? Is Napoli destined to be Adrian Beltre Redux? .
-- Jim, New York City
That’s a very interesting question. There’s certainly the possibility they could move Xander Bogearts to third and move Will Middlebrooks to first if they prefer not to spend big money on a free-agent first baseman or deal for some like Justin Smoak. If Napoli has an injury-free and productive season they probably sign him up again for another year.
Why were the Sox so high on bringing Napoli and Jonny Gomes to Fenway? They will be a defensive liabilites, not something you want to help out a pitching staff that was horrible last year. I think Ben Cherington should have gone after Adam LaRoche, who is great defensively. Living in New York, I watch Mark Teixeira do something every night with his defense to help the team win. We won't see that from Napoli or Gomes
-- George, Castleton, New York
Probably right on that one George. They obviously hope the offense makes up for the mediocre defense. They feel they can get away with subpar defense at first base and left field. We’ll see.
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When do you see the Red Sox coming into the playoff picture?
-- Eddie, Waterford
My initial thought as spring training is about to start is they’re a year away. I reserve the right to change my mind. But as I’ve learned covering baseball since 1984, spring training can be deceiving either way. We get into the habit of writing and observing in what great shape players are in. And usually that’s the norm because they’ve spent the offseason working out so it’s silly to base success of a player or a team on what great shape they’re in. This is an interesting time for John Farrell because he’s going from one train wreck in Toronto to another in Boston. This isn’t like Terry Francona in 2004 inheriting a team that went to Game 7 of the ALCS then adding Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke and making a blockbuster midseason deal. The players will have to transition to Farrell. New players have to get accustomed to their new surroundings. I just see too many things having to happen for this team to jell enough to be a playoff team.
I have read "Francona: The Red Sox Years'' and think it is as good a baseball tell-all as I have read. Does it match up with what you were aware of the past several years?
-- Bob, Penfield, New York
I was certainly aware of some things and not aware of others. It’s a well-written book. I think I would have loved the outtakes which could be another whole book. We knew there’d be blasting of the owners, but the book is more than that. Francona took some shots at other people in the game at times. I never agreed with his comment that the owners don’t love baseball. In my dealings with them, I think they do.
Any word from the front office about the rumored contract extension for Dustin Pedroia? That story certainly has gone quiet. And do you think keeping the oft-injured Pedroia as the team's "face of the franchise" for years to come is a good idea? At the very least, he is underpaid and deserves a big raise. But for how long?
-- George, Salisbury, Connecticut
This is a great topic. From what I hear there’s still open discussion. Obviously, the Red Sox would extend him for the right price, much as they did when they signed him to his current contract. Is it a good idea to make a second baseman who plays 1,000 miles an hour all the time the “face of the franchise?” For now it is, sure. It’s his team, there’s no doubt about that. He’s taken it over on the field. I resist calling anyone underpaid because he agreed to that contract and he knew at some point in that contract that he might outperform it. Pedroia, with the team option, is signed through 2015. That’s potentially three more years. Question is, do you really need to do it now?
Now that the Red Sox have signed Lyle Overbay it looks like Ben Cherington thinks the Red Sox have addressed their situation at first base. I think this is a dreadful mistake. I hoped the Red Sox would trade for Justin Smoak, and I am disappointed that Cherington has missed the opportunity to obtain him. He might break out in 2013, and if that were to happen Seattle would not make him available again. I understand the reasoning behind Overbay; I don't agree with it, but I understand it. He gets on base, he's good to give Napoli a day off now and then, he's lefthanded and he can DH to give Papi a day off. Smoak could have done all that as well under the right circumstances, and Smoak is young enough that he might have stuck around long enough to be a big part of the team Cherington is trying to build with the prospects on the horizon. Why not take a chance on someone with some potential to be great?
-- Dan, Felton, Delaware
I don’t think it’s a huge mistake to sign a veteran player to a minor league deal with the chance to make $1.25 million if he makes the roster. Cherington couldn’t find that first baseman of the future quite yet, so why not go with a veteran platoon and buy yourself some time. Maybe they don’t think Smoak is the answer. After all, his time in the majors so far hasn’t been very good. Sometimes Cherington is accused of not pulling the trigger, but in this case I think he’s prudent in waiting for the right guy to come along and going with a pair of veterans, both of whom hit well at Fenway.
Do you think Terry Francona will fit in and adjust nicely to Cleveland, with the players and fans?
-- Ronald, Sherman Oaks, California
I think he’d adjust well anywhere. I just think he’ll be frustrated there. He’ll have half the payroll on his roster. He had it good in Boston for a long time – unlimited flow of funds. It has to be tough to go somewhere where the financial commitment just isn’t there. He may be singing the praises of Boston’s owners before this is over.
Williams, Yaz, Rice, Greenwell, Manny, Crawford ... Jonny Gomes?I am not impressed, Nick. The Red Sox will hit. At least at Fenway, and Gomes is an okay stick. But left field here? Yikes. Overall, do you think the Red Sox can hang with the big boys, or do feel like me that this team is just too iffy?
-- Mike, Milford
They can hang, no doubt about it. I just don’t think they have much margin for error and if they start the injury bug thing again, it’ll be over quickly for them. That’s the risk you take with older players. They’re definitely bridging toward their youth movement, but breakdowns could be rough on them.
It certainly feels like the Red Sox want to go in a different direction behind the plate. What are they looking for in return for Jarrod Saltalamacchia? What can they realistically expect to be offered for him? I thought Jason Vargas would have been a fair return, but the Mariners chose to flip him for Kendrys Morales.
-- Sonic Boom, Andover
They’re probably just looking for a deal for prospects for Salty at this point. Again, I wouldn’t be too eager to deal him.