Ask Nick: Should Youkilis lead off?

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The competition for fourth and fifth starters, bullpen, shortstop and backup catcher positions are well under way. It’ll be interesting to see how it all unfolds, but it seems that Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine believes he has a talented squad and he should be able to do something good with it.

The Red Sox’ scouting staff is out looking for more pitching help, so don’t be surprised to see an addition or two before camp breaks. A lot of teams have good players who are out of options, as do the Red Sox (Andrew Miller, Felix Doubront, and Darnell McDonald, to name a few).

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In this week’s mailbag, we’ll discuss some of these issues and respond to your questions:

Is there any value in having Kevin Youkilis lead off for the Red Sox in 2012?
Peter, Nobleboro, Maine
It’s not a bad idea. Youkilis is a high OBP guy, so he would be in the mode of a Dwight Evans when he hit leadoff for the Red Sox. Valentine is going to do some interesting things with his lineup, he says. Youkilis has said in the past the one place he cannot hit in the order is leadoff. Valentine mentioned that he’s going to try to shed players of this fear of the batting order.

What are the rules regarding the number of minor league teams an organization is allowed to have? Could the Red Sox have two or three Triple A or Double A teams, or are there restrictions?
Neale, West Warwick, RI
There are none. You can have as many as you want. Obviously, they’re limited because the cost is so high. Most teams have the same number of players — between 140-170.

I have been having a debate with my housemates: Who is the face of Boston sports and the fan favorite? We came up with the big three, David Ortiz, Tom Brady and Paul Pierce.
Michael, New York, NY
Sorry Michael. Brady, hands down, slam dunk, no debate at all.

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During an intentional walk, why doesn’t the pitcher just go to his mouth four times, which is an automatic ball call for each? This way he doesn’t risk throwing the ball away and allowing the base runners to advance, if there are runners on base?
Martin, Hazleton, Penn.
Going to his mouth would constitute a balk. Runners advance.

You mentioned giving Jacoby Ellsbury a “Matt Kemp deal.” Isn’t eight years for $160 million too expensive, especially with Ryan Kalish waiting (and hopefully ready) for his shot?
Harold, Boston
I think it is, but if he has another year like last year, he’s a bona fide superstar and would warrant that type of contract. Will the Red Sox do it? Will he want to stay? Those are bigger questions. Jacoby may want to escape to a West Coast team like Seattle, closer to where he grew up. By that time, the Mariners, A’s and possibly the Dodgers (they could move Matt Kemp to left or right) will all be possibilities. It’s not the West Coast, but the Chicago Cubs, I would guess, would also be a possible destination for him.

Why isn’t there an outcry from baseball writers about Chris Carpenter as compensation for former GM Theo Epstein?
TDM, Montgomery, NY
There’s one more player to be named later, and that will likely be someone close to Carpenter’s ability. I think the Red Sox didn’t come out of this too good, but I think they settled for the best possible talent, a guy with a 96 m.p.h. fastball.

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Can you explain how the “player to be named later” process works as it pertains to the Red Sox-Cubs compensation issue? Is it one predetermined player that they have yet to announce? Or is there a list of candidates from which one team gets to choose at a later date? If so, which team gets to choose?
Bill, South Boston
Both teams submitted a list of, I believe, 5-6 names to choose from. Those players are being scouted by both teams in spring training, and presumably by the end of spring training, each side will let the other know which player they’ve selected.

With Jenks out, Wakefield retired and Lackey out, I see three openings for pitchers. My choices would be Felix Doubront, Chris Carpenter, and Vicente Padilla. Do you agree?
Bruce, Dorchester
Doubront is out of options, so he needs to make the team either as the fifth starter or out of the bullpen. Carpenter doesn’t have to make it. Padilla is interesting out of the bullpen and I believe, barring a bad camp, he could be one of the 12. The other guy I think they protect is Andrew Miller. I think you can probably send Aaron Cook back to Triple A and get him when there’s an injury to someone.

With all the question marks about the Red Sox’ fourth and fifth starters, why did they not consider retaining Erik Bedard ?
Thomas, Berlin, Md.
Not dependable. Injury-prone. They didn’t care for his lack of fire down the stretch when they really needed him.

Who is going to be the clubhouse character, the guy who loosens up the clubhouse and brings unity to the club?
Aaron, West Bridgewater
David Ortiz has been that guy. I think Dustin Pedroia will. Cody Ross appears to have an extroverted type of personality.

One thing I haven’t seen addressed in terms of the plan for Daniel Bard is an estimate of his innings limit.
Larry, Tokyo, Japan
Just going by other pitchers who have made the conversion from relief to starting pitcher, I’m guessing the number is between 150 and 170. I think that’s probably a safe number, but I doubt anything is etched in stone.

Have there been any significant changes to the minor league/farm organization that have hindered the Sox’ ability to develop homegrown talent?
Jesse, Berkeley, Calilf.
I think there was a slump in scouting — and all organizations go through this — that didn’t produce a good haul of players. I think they’ve made a comeback and they seem to have talent in A-ball that should rise in the next couple of years. If you speak to Theo Epstein or Ben Cherington, they anticipated this was going to happen. They’ve spent a lot of money on guys that just haven’t produced, but on the flip side, they have been surprised by some players they probably thought would never make it like Tiverton, RI’s Zach Kapstein, a 44th round pick, who looks like he has great tools and could rise quickly. So I guess you never know.

Considering Tim Wakefield is now retired and his dedication to Red Sox charities, do you see him as a likely successor to Mike Andrews at the Jimmy Fund?
Gerry, Tyngsboro, Mass.
Have no idea. Tim has his own charities that he’s very much involved with. Good call on your part though. I think Tim would enjoy a role like that.

Why did the Sox sign Kelly Shoppach for a year at $1.35 million when they could have re-signed Jason Varitek for roughly the same money? It doesn’t make much sense when you could bring back a fan favorite for the same production, but also the familiarity with the pitching staff, rather than someone who is relatively new.
Jeff, Allendale, Mich.
I agree. The one thing Shoppach gives you is a guy who throws out runners. Boston was the worst in the majors in that department. I think Shoppach is there to provide competition for Ryan Lavarnway and if Lavarnway doesn’t make it, Shoppach is a viable backup.

Which baseball skills can be learned, and which are either you have it or you don’t?
George, Boston
Oh, gosh. I think all three — hitting, pitching and fielding — can be learned to some degree. There’s God-given talent involved in all three areas, but take a guy like Wade Boggs. He made himself a great hitter and then dedicated himself to make himself a Gold Glove third baseman. I think things that can’t be learned are things like pure speed, quick hands as a hitter or soft hands as a fielder.

This offseason the Red Sox have signed many starting pitchers who have had some sort of success in the majors in the past. Having said that, why are the Red Sox not interested in Scott Kazmir? He has been a tremendous pitcher in the past, and although his velocity has dropped considerably, he is still young and could prove to be a low-risk, high-reward player.
Ryan, Boston
He’s been so inconsistent, and I don’t think I’d use the word “tremendous” to describe him. I think you’ve outlined reasons not to sign him — mainly the drop in velocity. He would be a low-risk player and lefties do reinvent themselves from time to time. But I think they feel they’ve been down this road before and it hasn’t worked out.

I get the Sox are trying to take a page out of the Yankees’ book by signing guys like Cook, Carlos Silva and Padilla, but Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon were once top of the rotation guys, while these guys never have been. I don’t get why they don’t go after Rich Harden and Scott Kazmir, guys with the same risk, but bigger upside.
Mitch, Saint John
Harden just had surgery and is out for the year, and maybe the rest of his career. We mentioned Kazmir above. No thanks.

What are the odds of Ryan Sweeney leading off against righties with Jacoby Ellsbury in the 3-hole?
Jon, Cooper, Maine
Given what Bobby V said about multiple lineups, anything is possible. I just think Sweeney will be a bottom of order guy given that the manager has so many other options for leadoff, including Pedroia, Ellsbury and Crawford.

Why did the Red Sox go through all of the trouble of making JetBlue Park identical to Fenway (from a playing surface standpoint) and then after all that time and effort put the Sox dugout on the third base side instead of the first base side where it is in Boston?
Sean, Austin, Texas
It’s not completely identical, as far as I’m concerned. The left-field wall is higher and there’s netting there where the ball is in play.The right-field line doesn’t look the same to me with a higher railing. I’m not sure why things like that were overlooked. There’s also an obstruction problem for people sitting on the third base side of home plate where you can’t see the left-field corner. I wish I knew the answer to some of these questions. But having said that, it’s a gorgeous ballpark that is pretty darned close to Fenway.

There are a number of guys on the 40 man roster (like Lars Anderson, Doubront, and Carpenter maybe) who will be out of options. Do you see them worth anything, and is there a likelihood of a trade by packaging them together?
Richard, Brooklin, Maine
I think they are worth something and teams are already scouting these guys for possible deals later in camp. Anderson seems to be developing power, so that may improve his value. Doubront is a guy I think they’ll keep when they break camp. Carpenter I believe has options, so he can be sent back to the minors. Andrew Miller and Darnell McDonald are the other two who are out of options.