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FORT MYERS, Florida Ė OK, it seems like the Red Sox have nicer guys on this team and the atmosphere is calmer than last season. Do nice guys and tranquility equal wins? Thereís got to be some talent sprinkled in their somewhere and thatís the part we canít see yet.
The expectations are fairly low right now and you can still make a case for the Red Sox staying in fifth place. If all goes well and one of two other American League East teams underachieve or are beset with injuries, the Sox could be a playoff team. Thatís how wide the AL East net is cast with Toronto being the one team that can break away.
We start spring training with a pretty wishy-washy outlook.
Hereís the mailbag:
Do you think the Red Sox are going to start the season with the guys they have, or do you expect them to make any more moves? A lot of people seem to think the Sox ought to try to add another pitcher; if all goes well I think they're pretty good as it is, but a little competition for a spot in the rotation could be a good thing. What are we looking at? Lester, Buchholz (if healthy), John Lackey, Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront, not necessarily in that order? I've read that Franklin Morales is generating some interest with other teams. Can we get anything of value for him for 2013, or do you think it advisable to hold onto him?
-- Dan, Felton, Delaware
Itís always a good thing to have extra pitchers, but the one thing that gets sticky is if you donít have anywhere to put them especially guys who are out of options and have to stay on the major league team or be subjected to waivers. So this is where I think the Red Sox will likely have to deal someone Ė whether it be Andrew Bailey, Alfredo Aceves or Morales, who has had a bit of a setback early. But they wonít do anything until they know what Daniel Bard or John Lackey look like in games. There are some interesting possibilities out there for deals. For instance, even though Detroit as committed to Bruce Rondon as their closer, what if the rookie isnít ready? Wouldnít be Bailey be a fit? And if so, could you land someone like Rick Porcello, straighten him out and get into the starting rotation mix?
Has anyone actually seen David Ortiz run yet? Is there any language in his contract to protect the Red Sox if the heel has not healed yet,or he re-injures it?
-- Peter, Rochester, New York
Not sure if anyone saw him run in offseason, but he's here now and we'll see soon. The fact that his prognosis has gone from taking part in all spring training activity and then Ben Cherington saying heíll be ready by the beginning of the season is somewhat alarming. As for language, the only protection is that he has incentives for staying healthy.
Are the Red Sox' prime prospects (Matt Barnes, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Bryce Brentz) as good as they seem?
-- Michael, Newton
That question is impossible to answer until theyíre up in the majors and we see how they perform. The jury was certainly out on Will Middlebrooks and then he made a splash as a rookie. They all have made similar progressions in being able to conquer the level of the minors that theyíre at. So that part is similar. Should we assume they also adapt to the majors like the players you mentioned? Thatís where we need to hold back a bit.
No spring training invite for Bryce Brentz? What gives? I see him as the next prospect to break through into the majors, so why no invite? I was very surprised.
-- Tad, Rumford, Rhode Island
Letís see how this unfolds. The team is obviously sending a message that a handgun accident isnít acceptable. I think they feel heís learned a lifeís lesson that they will allow him into major league camp. Quite frankly, they could use a young outfielder to emerge this year.
Given the overall acceptance of the subpar expectations for the 2013 Red Sox, wouldn't this have been the offseason to go into full-blown rebuild mode? I saw two trades this offseason for young impact prospects that Iím assuming the Red Sox could have made, substituting in their own players. The first trade was the Shin-Soo Choo trade where Cleveland got Trevor Bauer in return from the D-Backs. Choo went to the Reds in the three-team trade and itís arguable that Jacoby Ellsbury fits the Reds needs for a lead-off and center fielder better than Choo. The second trade was the one with James Shields, where he was sent from the Rays to the Royals for Wil Myers. While Shields is coming off a much better season, Jon Lester has a better track record and is younger. Couldn't he have been traded to the Royals instead?
-- Daniel, Nahant
A lot of merit to what you say, but the Red Sox had their own game plan and executed it. Now weíll see if it works. Ben Cherington obviously feels strongly that Jon Lester is a No. 1 pitcher and heís willing to see if that can happen this season. I like Wil Myers, but heís not a sure thing like Giancarlo Stanton so I understand some hesitancy in trading Lester for him. I think teams stayed off Ellsbury on the trade front because of his injury history. Heís probably more valuable to the Red Sox for a year than to another team who would have to hold their breath to see if he stayed healthy and then try to re-sign him.
Would a trade work between the Cardinals and Red Sox with Matt Adams to Boston and Jose Iglesias to St. Louis. At present the Cardinals have depth at first and no solution at shortstop. The Red Sox have the exact opposite. Both Adams and Iglesias have their flaws but project as second-division starters. I am not sure how highly the Cardinals value Adams but he is one of the few decent first base prospects in the minors.
-- Daniel, Nahant
I like your thinking. The Red Sox actually have shortstop depth for the first time in years and have to now juggle playing time for Iglesias, Deven Marrerro and Xander Bogaerts at the highest levels of the minors. So Iím sure theyíre looking at something like this where a team also has depth at a certain position.
The David Ross signing made sense to me only in the context of trading Jarrod Saltalamacchia for help elsewhere That does not appear to be happening. So Ryan Lavarnway, who has nothing to prove in Triple A, won't have a chance to prove his worth this year at the Major League level. This makes about as much sense to me as turning Bard into a starter. Do you think putting Lavarnway in the 2014 class is wise?
-- MK, North Garden, Virginia
Well, in a perfect world he would be up and nothing says that a catcher wonít get hurt. Catchers need a lot of seasoning. Their game-calling/throwing skills sometimes develop a little bit later than other positional players. Salty is a great example. So while itís not so great for Lavarnway, not sure it hurts anyone.
I prefer to go to spring training practices. What time does the park open to see the players walk to the practice fields? Morning? Afternoon?
-- Peter, Peterborough, New Hampshire
Players are usually out on the field by 9:30 a.m. JetBlue Park opens at 9.
Why weren't the Red Sox trying to sign Michael Bourn? They need an outfielder who can actually catch the ball. He would also be insurance against Scott Boras breaking the bank after this season in Jacoby Ellsbury negotiations. If Shane Victorino is worth $13 mil per, Bourn has to be. -- Jim, Randolph, Massachusetts
Bourn is also a Boras client as you know. I asked the Red Sox about this possibility recently and they said they werenít interested. I agree, he would be a nice addition, but he signed with Cleveland for four years, and $48 million. Good deal for them.
Once you have identified someone like Xander Bogaerts as a future player when is the right time to start giving him major league experience? I remember the Kevin Youkilis transition where he played several games for the Red Sox in 2004. Might we see someone like Bogaerts this season to start giving him that experience?
-- Mike, Austin, Texas
Maybe, but donít forget that Jose Iglesias is ahead of him on the shortstop depth chart and that heís probably at Double-A for some of the year. Could be a September call-up I suppose, but the Red Sox really want to be patient with him.
I've thought for a long time that the Red Sox take too long getting players up from the minors to the majors. In my opinion, good players progress rapidly when they are playing at the major league level if they are ever going to make it at all. Will Middlebrooks would still be in the minors but for injuries to starters. There are numerous other examples throughout baseball.
-- Bernie, Boca Raton, Florida
Not sure you can make a blanket statement like that. They all develop differently and take their own time to do so. I spoke about Porcello. You can make the argument he didnít have enough time in the minors and now heís struggling. Every organization has their guidelines and some of it is based on need. Youíre right in that some guys perform their best once they get to the big leagues. Carlton Fisk is a great example.
With a farm system depleted in first base prospects and strong in pitching (Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, Henry Owens, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo, Pat Light) would you consider a package centered around Barnes that also included Salty, Andrew Bailey, Alfredo Aceves and Jose Iglesias to bring back Anthony Rizzo? Is that reasonable from a Cubs standpoint? If so, why hasn't it been discussed?
-- Nick, Massachusetts
Theo Epstein loves Rizzo so I donít think it would happen. They also have a franchise shortstop is Starlin Castro. Donít think Iíd spend too much time on this one.
I know it is early to be talking draft as much can change throughout the spring. That said, with a high pick for once (hopefully we don't have more in our future), do you think the Red Sox will go with the best player available or target a need? I originally was hoping they would get a high-upside pitcher who could change the rotation for years, but given the lack of worthy first basemen set to become free agents in the coming years, might it be wise to target a near MLB-ready 1B?
-- Ryan, Washington, D.C.
They would always go for pitching first and then the best available player. I know people are concerned about first basemen, but you can always buy or trade for one of those. Or they can move Middlebrooks there eventually if Bogaerts plays third. I donít think theyíd drive off the road to draft a first baseman unless heís a tremendous power hitter worthy of being that high of a pick.
You were asked what to call this season, and you came up with bridge. I think tunnel is better, as the team is so far underground in our expectations. They may keep on going down, or they surprise us all. A bridge to nowhere or a tunnel to the light, your call ?
-- Mikey, Munich
Yes, when you use the term bridge you can certainly use some offshoots.
Over/under 30 homers for Napoli and Middlebrooks?
-- Ryan, Sharon