Ask Nick: With Smoak, is there fire?

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We’re all waiting for the lefthanded complement to Mike Napoli at first base. The Red Sox seem to weighing all options on that front. They first tried out free-agents, moved on to trade possibilities and now it’s a little of both.

Seattle first baseman Justin Smoak’s name came up a lot with readers this week. They reasoned that with the Mariners dealing catcher John Jaso to Oakland, they could use Jarrod Saltalamcchia. The switch-hitting Smoak has been an underperforming player for the Mariners and now appears to be on the bench after the acquisition of Kendrys Morales. Pittsburgh’s Garrett Jones is another possibility, but the price for him was quite high.


Any chance the Red Sox try to trade Jacoby Ellsbury for Justin Upton in a three-team trade with the Mariners? A similar package goes from the M’s to the DBacks, Ellsbury to the M’s, and Upton to the Sox. Ellsbury’s a Washington native so he might sign long-term there, right?
— Tad, Rumford, R.I.

You’ve identified the teams correctly. I’m sure geography is important in this equation, but not sure how important. Even in this scenario the names Xander Bogaerts and Jacie Bradley Jr. become a focal point for Arizona. Obviously, none of us have any idea how this deal would work but I don’t get the sense the Red Sox get away with just sending Ellsbury somewhere. The Mariners would have to be able to sign Ellsbury and given the fact they just traded for Mike Morse, not sure there’s that overwhelming need anymore.

I’m still not convinced that even with Mike Napoli signed and concerns about his hip that Boston needs to sign a backup first baseman. Isn’t that what David Ortiz is supposed to be? If there’s a concern that putting Ortiz in the field for more than a couple days exposes him to health risks, I’d think biggest heath risk for him is running the bases. If we keep eight relievers, there’s room on the bench for four guys, and Ortiz is one of those. Leaves little flexibility for INFs and OFs.
— Mike, Hendersonvile, Tennessee


With a weak defensive first baseman, you need someone who can relieve him in late innings and who can hit against tough righthander and/or play left field. That guy could be Nava. But it sure sounds like they’re trying to make a trade happen.

I am not going to let the possibility that the Red Sox might trade for Justin Smoak go until it is actually gone. The Sox seem to have a shortage of first basemen and a surplus of catchers. Seattle seems to have a shortage of catchers and a surplus of first basemen. Do you think either or both teams would be inclined to a deal in which Jarrod Saltalamacchia went to Seattle and Justin Smoak came to Boston? I’m on eggshells checking to see if any other team has obtained Smoak. He is too good and has too much potential to let the opportunity go. I need Ben Cherington’s phone number; I am not above begging.
— Dan, Felton, Delaware

It’s plausible situation no doubt. The Mariners dealt John Jaso in a three-team deal (winding up in Oakland) probably feeling they could replace him. Salty makes a lot of sense for them. Smoak is a switch-hitter who hasn’t played much outfield which seems to be a priority for the Sox, but he is a kid who showed good promise at one time but just hasn’t been able to put it together.

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Do you think the Sox have a chance — or a real chance i should say — of going to the postseason?
— Dennis, Worcester

A chance, sure. As with all potential playoff teams everything has to go right with top performances and limited injuries, two things that haven’t happened in Boston recently.
I hope Jose Iglesias is the starting shortstop. Hopefully, his batting average will be respectable, but his glove will more than make up for his lack of hitting. Agree?
— Gene, Quincy

Let’s see if he gets a legitimate chance in spring training even with Stephen Drew aboard. The Sox infield defense will be tested especially with Mike Napoli at first base. Iglesias is a terrific defensive shortstop, no question and personally I’d give him the job and let him play.
Why is it that all MLB players get raises during the arbitration process? If the players signs a one-year deal to avoid the process, they get a raise. If a player goes through the process, they get a raise, the size being dependent on who wins. Take Ellsbury. He was injured but the guy gets a million extra dollars for hitting four home runs and stealing 14 bases last season.
— James, San Francisco

No one can ever say the Red Sox didn’t take care of Jacoby Ellsbury. They’ve always paid him a little extra.
With Jackie Bradley and Jacoby Elsbury, doesn’t Boras have a conflict of interest? If Jacoby gets a great offer from Boston, but he wants to clear the way so Bradley can take over Jacoby’s position, isn’t he short-changing Elsbury? At this point, it is in Boras’ best interest (not necessarily his client’s) to have Elsbury leave Boston.
— Andrew, Amherst, New Hampshire

Boras has been in this position before. In fact, many times. In the end the team pushes the agenda. Knowing they have Bradley, the Red Sox are going to negotiate with Ellsbury on their terms and given the fact that no long-term deal came out of their recent negotiations, it appears Ellsbury is headed elsewhere either before the season, at midseason (if they’re out of it) or as a free agent.
I’m trying to put 2 and 2 together and I don’t know if the answer is 4 or 22. Now that Bill James has more say in the final product, do you think they will use Andrew Bailey as a fireman and come into the game at any time to stop a potential big inning? Terry Francona did it a few years ago with Paps against Cleveland (it worked) and James did say that the game isn’t always on the line in the ninth. Also I was watching MLB’s “Clubhouse Confidential” with James on the show and they were discussing how eventually (decades from now) pitchers will only pitch a few innings. Do you think the Sox will try this approach if the rotation falters? I have a funny feeling there will be a lot of forward thinking this year and it should be fun.
— Bob, Philadelphia

Colorado has already started that approach and it worked fairly well for them toward the end of the season. I can see Bailey in that old Daniel Bard role, where Francona would bring him in that “important” scenario, but Bailey has to show that he’s pitching well again. With Joel Hanrahan there, unless there’s an injury, he’ll come in the eighth inning unless Daniel Bard has turned himself around and/or Junichi Tazawa emerges as the setup righty.
The names of Mike Carp and Justin Smoak, a couple guys who barely hit their weight last year — and I’m referring to OBP — have been mentioned as backup first base options. Any talk in the organization about someone like Aubrey Huff, who’d provide veteran presence as well as a lefthanded 1B/OF bat and could play everyday should Napoli’s hip give out? Luke Scott is also out there and although he could fill the role, I can’t imagine a culturally worse fit.
— John, Watertown

I think they’ve dabbled in those free-agents and came away feeling they need to make a deal for a younger player. If that should fall through they’d probably have to go back to them. There are age and injury concerns with Huff. Scott is a bad fit and doesn’t address the defense they’re also looking for with this player. They tried out Bobby Abreu, and even though he hit well, they didn’t seem to think he was good enough to sign.
My question is regarding Adrian Gonzalez. I’ve never really understood what happened. He was supposed to be such a great character/clubhouse guy. What went wrong?
— Barry, Miami

Some saw him as a clubhouse lawyer. Some of the Bobby Valentine issues were traced back to him (cell phone call to ownership to set up the infamous New York meeting). The backdoor stuff. They would have kept him but when the Dodgers presented what they did, they decided to rid themselves of the big contracts and the players who just didn’t seem to fit right.
I feel like the Red Sox took advantage of Mike Napoli. A $34-million drop in pay is pretty serious. It’s hard to justify that he deserves over $4 million less than Stephen Drew. If so could this cause problems down the road?
— Stephen, Niceville, Florida

I don’t think there will be any problems. The players union seemed on board with the concerns the Red Sox had, and that’s huge. The hip problem must be degenerative. Napoli had the right not to sign but he did, so there must not be hard feelings.
What about Saltalamacchia seeing some time at first base as a way to sub for Napoli and to get him some rest from catching?
— Gina, Malden

Probably what they’ll do if they can’t trade Salty. I doubt Napoli will catch because of the hip, but if Salty is on the team he’ll still be the starter behind the plate and maybe, maybe…and I hesitate… play some first when David Ross catches. But the problem is first base defense in that scenario.
It seems the rumor of the Red Sox being quietly for sale could still be true. Can you tell me what are their longest commitments as far as contracts are concerned? I can’t think of any past 2014.
— Terry, Seattle

I can’t imagine they’re for sale. I know there have been rumors but I’ve been given every indication they’re not. As John Henry told me recently, “This is what I do.” Don’t forget he retired his hedge fund company so this is indeed what he does.
What do you think of Brandon Moss for the backup lefthanded first baseman/ outfielder position? I think he would be a good fit for the Sox.
— Amy, York, Maine

Asked A’s general manager Billy Beane about trading Moss and he said no way.
How do we not have a young first basemen on the trade radar or roster yet? Napoli on a one-year deal is fine. However, the farm is bare at first. Are we planning on Will Middlebrooks moving there with Xander Bogaerts going to third?
— Nick, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

The Middlebrooks/Bogaerts theory isn’t a bad one, but when I asked if Middlebooks would eventually move to first I got a no answer. We’ll see how he looks over there. He needed some help with his footwork. I think they’re looking for find a young first baseman/outfielder in their pursuit of a Napoli complement. Anxious to see who that might be.
When will MLB start using the sticky gloves they are using in the NFL? Imagine a shortstop trying to take a ball out of his mitt and tossing both mitt and ball to the second baseman.
— John, Hermon, Maine

Must admit, haven’t given this one much thought.

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