Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington just conducted a conference call to discuss the recent moves.
He’s a recap of the salient questions:
On Mark Melancon: “We really like his stuff and have liked his stuff back to his college days at Arizona and we feel like the second half of the season, he really developed a better feel for his cutter. He’s always had a good curveball. He’s a really aggressive pitcher. Tough, confident and we think he has the intangibles to compete in the American League East. Just felt he was a really good upgrade to our bullpen.
Do you see him as a closer? “We believe he’s definitely capable of closing and capable of pitching in the ninth inning for us. But those are questions that Bobby, with help from his pitching coach in spring training, will answer and figure out the right roles for everyone.”
Is is necessary to go into spring training with a closer in place? “I don’t think it’s completely necessary. We have in the past done that and there have been other years when we haven’t. I think, as I said before, we’d like to have a defined closer on Opening Day and we believe Melancon is completely capable of doing that or keep working. As I said, Bobby will make those decisions with help from his pitching coach during spring training.”
Does Cherington see the possibility of adding another closer type? “Well, we felt like we had some options even before the trade in guys who could do it, guys that have done it in the past, guys who we think are ready to do it, perhaps. Melancon certainly adds an important piece in a guy that has done it very recently and more recently than anyone else on our roster. So we feel pretty good with the way the back of the bullpen is shaping up. But there is certainly time between now and spring training and we’re going to continue to look for ways to make the team better.”
With Kyle Weiland gone, what now for Felix Doubront and Junichi Tazawa? “Right now, we plan to bring all those guys into camp as starters. If something changes, if we feel like there’s better opportunity for them in a different role, we could certainly adjust. As a general rule, and Bobby and I have had a chance to talk about this, it’s generally wise to keep guys stretched out and capable of starting. It’s a lot easier to go the other way and shorten guys up than it is to stretch guys out.”
Regarding Nick Punto: “Nick’s a guy we’ve had interest in in the past and the timing has never quite worked out. He’s a guy who plays really good defense. Smart baseball player. Puts together a good at-bat. He’s really good in the clubhouse. He’s just a smart, smart baseball player who I think understands his role on a winning team. He certainly showed that this year down the stretch in October with St. Louis. When the Lowrie, Weiland and Melancon deal was coming together, and even before that, he was a guy that we had targeted as a guy we’d like to bring into the team. Certainly when things sped up with the Houston trade, we sped up our efforts to get him. He fits well into our team, into our mix in the clubhouse and can do a lot of things for us.”
On the team’s budget this offseason: “We have a budget, we’ve always had a budget. There are different ways to fit what you need to do into that budget. In some areas, that means being involved in certain free agents. In some areas, it means being more involved in trades and some areas it means both. This winter, it’s really been both. … The offseason isn’t over. We have a lot of time between now and spring training and we’re going to continue to look for ways to upgrade the team. Ownership has always made a significant commitment. If baseball operations has an argument for something that’s going to make us better, then we’ve always been given the flexibility to do that and it’s up to us to make those arguments wisely and do things that we think are in the best interest of the team presently and in the future. We’re going to continue to do that and find ways to make the team better that fit 2012 and moving forward.”
On signing Kelly Shoppach and what that means for Jason Varitek: “We obviously know Shop well and as went into the offseason, we felt like there was a couple of things that were important to us as far as the catching position. One was to continue to find ways to help in the run game and help control the running game, which was an area of concern of ours last year. Shop’s been able to help pitching staffs control the running game pretty consistently throughout his career. He’s also a guy that’s consistently hit lefthand pitching. That sort of fits in and makes him a complement to [Jarrod Saltalamacchia]. We felt like in a perfect world we would solidify the catching position by adding things to that area and not necessarily counting on [Ryan] Lavarnway going into spring training. That said, we really think highly of Ryan and think he’s going to be a really good player for us in the future. Just feel like Shop helps us strengthen the position overall and helps complement Salty.
As far as Tek is concerned, we have incredible respect for Tek. I have incredible respect for Tek on a personal level. We as an organization and an ownership have incredible respect for him and the contributions he’s made and I think our hope is that Tek will always be part of the Red Sox in some way. As far as what this means immediately, what we want to do is keep talking to Tek and not discuss that in a public forum but keep taking to Tek and Scott [Boras] and figure out what’s best for the Red Sox, best for him and we look forward to doing that.”
How much have the recent moves been made with an eye on improving the team chemistry? “It’s something we’ve thought about. As I’ve said going back six weeks now, I really feel strongly that we have the core group in that clubhouse not only has the talent to win but has the character to win, too. We believe in those guys. I think as we’re looking to build our roster for spring training and thinking about going into the season, we’re going to have a challenge ahead of us in the American League certainly. We felt that we added players with toughness and guys that get it and know how to win and it’s important. But it’s just one part of the equation. Nick is a talented player, too. He has good at-bats; he plays good defense; he knows how to run the bases; he’s a smart player and he can play all over the infield and support us in a lot of areas. We’re happy to have him. The clubhouse dynamic is something that is an area of discussion but not necessarily the driver when we’re making those decisions.”
On the coaching staff: “Nothing formal yet. Bobby and I have made continued progress in narrowing in on finalists for the open positions. Nothing to announce but we’re closer than we were last week.”