Ask Nick: Which starter is the odd man out?

It’s about 105 degrees here in Houston, but it feels like a nice clear day in baseball after the Biogenesis mess was finally resolved, though Alex Rodriguez’s appeal will linger.

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The Yankees will see about $34 million of A-Rod’s salary come off their books once the appeal is heard and likely denied. That will really help them in 2014 in keeping under the luxury tax threshold and also being able to go out and buy players.

That probably isn’t the best news for the other AL East teams, but Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino didn’t seem too concerned.


“The biggest thing here is to support the commissioner’s effort in ridding baseball of this scourge of PEDs, and that’s the effort we all support,” Lucchino said. “That’s what we need to focus on.”

Thirty-four million dollars is a lot, but there would be more objections if A-Rod had been given a lifetime suspension and some $112 million were taken off the Yankee books.

Anyway, the Red Sox had a team take about $260 million off their hands last Aug. 25, so it’s hard to complain, isn’t it?

Your questions this week seem to focus on Boston’s pitching depth and what will happen when Clay Buchholz returns, with six pitchers for five jobs? This issue also looks ahead to next season and what the Red Sox might do with Jon Lester, whose contract expires after the 2014 season.

Let’s take a look:

When Clay Buchholz returns, the Red Sox will have six starters (Lester, Buchholz, Doubront, Lackey, Dempster, Peavy), so who sits, or do they use a modified six-man rotation to get rest headed into the postseason?
Evan, Longmeadow
The six-man issue will arise, and it’s something they’re going to have to figure out. You can go with a six-man for a while, but as you head down into the final two weeks of September, I think you want a regular five-man rotation that sets you up for the playoffs. Dempster has been a closer, so he’s the most adaptable, and I’m guessing he would be the odd man out and sent to the pen. But who knows?


Does Buchholz want to be traded? He’s sure acting like it.
Douglas, Portland, Maine
I wouldn’t think so. He’s on the team with the best record in baseball. I would think he enjoys it here. He’s got an injury that he doesn’t feel he could rush. Dr. James Andrews, the Red Sox, Mass. General staff, and trainers have put him on a throwing program and so far he’s executed it without any setbacks. Figure late August and he should be good to go.

We have seen a lot of player movement up through the minor league system recently. Players are moving from A to AA, AA to AAA. Is this their normal career progression or are the Sox posturing their system for further deals?
Todd, North East, Md.
The Red Sox have one of the best systems in baseball now, and they have multiple prospects at certain positions like third, short, catcher, pitcher. It’s somewhat difficult to manage that sometimes, especially when there’s a bottleneck situation. Things thinned out a bit with Jose Iglesias being traded to the Tigers, but you still have Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts, and Garin Cecchini only a level away from one another. But, sure, the normal progression is to get to the multi-digit A’s over a three-year span, and I think for the most part Red Sox prospects have been able to do it. These logjams will likely create deals, trading excess for something you don’t have.


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Does it concern you that you’ve been writing about your new boss for years?
Jesse, Berkeley, Calif.
None for me. Looking forward to the new ownership, new ideas, and hopefully a successful business plan.
In the ninth inning on Aug. 2, with the Sox down a run, and after a single by Stephen Drew, Brock Holt attempted to bunt. I think he fouled off two pitches, then he — inexplicably to me, at least — turned to bunt on the third pitch and took a called third strike. Why was he bunting with two strikes? He is not a bad hitter and to my way of thinking should have been swinging away.
Bob, Fairbanks, Alaska
The Red Sox felt Holt, being a little guy who can handle the bat, would be able to bunt with two strikes. They took a chance and it didn’t work. Sometimes when you’re in first place, you can take risks that you normally wouldn’t take, like sending a runner from second when you know it’s going to be a close play. You get more aggressive and try to force the action. Not a bad theory. When it doesn’t work, it probably doesn’t look so good.
Why is an umpire allowed to call balls and strikes with his head positioned between the catcher and the hitter? It’s impossible from that location that he can see the outside corner of the plate. His head must be directly over the catcher’s head.
Jake, Delray Beach, Fla.
Can’t disagree with you, Jake. Since they got rid of the chest protectors, the angle is worse, no question about it. It’s not a direct view. I’m amazed they get it right as often as they do.
I don’t think Lester will regain his old form in Boston. A change of scenery is needed. Is there another underperforming pitcher about the same age/money out there for whom we might swap Lester?
Bill, Tucson, Ariz.
James Shields comes to mind. Lester is also a neighbor of Royals manager Ned Yost in Georgia. Remember the early winter trade rumor last season – Lester for Wil Myers? But anyway, no doubt the Red Sox have a tough and interesting decision to make on Jon Lester. Do they extend him long-term? Do they ride it out with him through next season? With Peavy and other veteran pitchers aboard and youngsters knocking on the door, do they trade Lester for another area of need? I wrote in spring training that if he had an outstanding year, he’d get one of those huge pitching deals. He could still do that.
What is Felix Hernandez’s fascination with staying in Seattle? Shouldn’t games like Thursday’s make him want to leave for a team that could actually win?
Jackson, Falls Church, Va.
Feels very comfortable there. He’s the big fish. It’s all he’s ever known. Nothing wrong with wanting to stay in one place your whole career.
I’ve always heard that it can take a long time for a hitter to recover from a wrist injury. I know players hate to talk about injuries and use them as an excuse, but how much of Will Middlebrooks’s struggles can be tied back to his wrist injury last season?
Andy, Va.
Unless we hear it from him, we have to assume he’s OK. The Red Sox think he’s OK. If there was something preventing him from swinging the bat properly, I’m sure we would know. Very early in the season, there might have been something amiss with his wrist. Now, I don’t know. If there’s something wrong, he needs to speak up because people are getting down on him.
Against some lefties, Ellsbury looks overmatched. Why doesn’t he bunt more in those situations? He’s got the wheels.
Duane, Windsor, Conn.
I agree. He should bunt more, but he’s not a bunter.
The Sox dealt Jose Iglesias feeling that Xander Bogaerts will soon be able to handle the shortstop position. I realize they have Devin Marrero as future depth but I wonder if Mookie Betts, currently playing second base at Salem, might also get some time at shortstop. Mookie has a really high ceiling and looks to be blocked at second base due to the Dustin Pedroia contract extension.
Peter, South Hamilton
The Red Sox like to move their players around, so that wouldn’t be shocking. But they do have a lot of shortstop depth and they need second basemen right now more than they need shortstops.
In last week’s mailbag, you said the man behind home plate with the yellow headphones is Jeremy Kapstein, but I’ve been told by a number of people that it’s Dennis Drinkwater. Can you help me out here?
Randy, Reno, Nev.
Headphones is Kapstein. Drinkwater sits in that area as well.
Wondering if there’s more to the Iglesias trade than meets the eye. I was at a Baltimore game and was struck by seemingly prickly interaction between Drew and Iglesias during infield tosses between innings. Another time, it seemed like Iglesias just sulked on the bench after being thrown out at second, and even after a teammate hit a homer, he just sat there. Maybe he had a hint he was being traded, but couldn’t help recalling the attitude issues that got him benched in Pawtucket. Was there any indication of a chemistry problem with Iglesias?
Steve, Springfield, Va.
None that I was aware of. Never heard anything like that. I know Iglesias has a lot of faith in his abilities and it must have been tough to be playing third when he knew he was a better shortstop than Drew. Otherwise, I’d never heard of any issues once Iglesias got to the major league team. He sulked in Pawtucket and was benched for it, but once he got back up here, I thought it was all good.
At Broadway plays, they have seat fillers. Is Joseph Abboud a seat filler at Fenway Park? The other night he was sitting behind home plate, the next day he was sitting behind the third base dugout. Does he get paid for this?
John, Hillsborough, N.J.
Don’t think he needs to get paid. I know Mr. Abboud and his family have had season tickets for a couple of generations, at least, at Fenway. He probably has some friends he sits with in that area as well.
How much longer can Mike Napoli bat behind Big Papi? He plays a strong first base, but if they keep walking Ortiz just so Napoli can whiff, it won’t bode well for the stretch run.
Todd, North East, Md.

Strikes out a lot, for sure. Had 145 of them entering Tuesday’s game vs. Houston. But can also drive in runs. Not sure who else you would bat behind Papi. It’s a lineup that’s produced the most runs in baseball, so this isn’t a pressing need,

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