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As All-Star Game arrives, no movement on Jon Lester’s contract talks

07.14.14 at 8:00 pm ET
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MINNEAPOLIS — Jon Lester said all the right things Monday at the media availability for the American League All-Stars, yet said little that was revelatory. But for a good reason.

There is nothing new going on when it comes to the pitcher’s contract talks.

According to multiple major league sources, the situation remains the same as it has for the entirety of the 2014 season to date: Lester still hasn’t received an offer from the Red Sox that would suggest a short negotiating window, preventing further talks regarding an extension.

Despite recent efforts by the Red Sox to re-engage after initially shutting down negotiations at the end of spring training, Lester made it a point that he would only talk if the offer could lead to a quick resolution. The impetus for such an approach was to limit the in-season disturbances.

“I think the biggest thing for me is just the distraction side of it. I can handle it. I’m not worried about me, I’m worried about my team and I’m worried about my guys,” Lester said. “The last thing I want them having to answer after a game … like we had to in New York. We just took a series from the Yankees and everybody is happy, having a good time and we have a report that comes out and I have guys getting asked about that as opposed to the game we just won. I’ve sat down and talked to Ben [Cherington] about that and expressed that to Ben and they understand. Like I said before, I’ve expressed it to them, this is where I want to stay. Regardless of whether we do it tomorrow or we wait until the end of the season, this is where I want to be. Hopefully when we get to the end of the season we can figure out something and get it done.”

During Monday’s session, an inquiry was made to Lester regarding team president Larry Lucchino‘s comments to The Boston Globe suggesting the Red Sox started low in their initial offer of four years, $70 million.

“I still think they want me here. I think obviously my representation has had a lot of talks with them and Ben and Larry. I think that feeling is still mutual on both sides, I would hope,” Lester said. “I think where that started in spring training and then to Opening Day kind of sneaking up on us, just kind of the way that it happened.”

When asked about the early negotiating approach by the team, Lester added, “I don’t know if ‘exploited’ is the right word, but they’re businessmen. They didn’t get to own the Boston Red Sox by being stupid with money. Like I said, I don’t think ‘exploited’ is the right word. I think they just took a shot, and like you said, Larry and Ben and the collective group put that offer out there and that’s what they wanted to start at. We had plenty of talks after that as far as moving money and moving years, moving money, but never got to another offer, so like I said, Opening Day kind of came in and went and put it on the back burner for a while.”

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Scott Boras on Red Sox as sellers, Xander Bogaerts, Stephen Drew, more

07.14.14 at 6:38 pm ET
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Scott Boras (AP)

Scott Boras expressed confidence that the Red Sox can make a run in the AL East. (AP)

MINNEAPOLIS — Agent Scott Boras doesn’t foresee a Red Sox sell-off as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. After all, despite the fact that the Sox enter the All-Star break tied for the AL East basement with a 43-52 record, 9 1/2 games behind the division-leading Orioles, they reside in a division that is highly flawed.

“I think the Red Sox don’t feel they’re out of anything, at least the Red Sox dialogue that I have,” said Boras. “I think they fully feel that the elasticity of the AL East is a rubber band that can take off or hit you in the face. I don’t think anybody in that division is taking where they’re at for granted, and they know it’s highly likely that this thing could well be decided for a number of teams in the next six to seven days. I think they’ve given themselves a core, a base to take that on. They’re getting some health out of their starting pitching. And I just don’t think that the club is concerned with retooling for next year when they’re in the hunt this year.”

Of course, the Sox’ outlook might be considerably different if a pair of Boras clients on the left side of the infield — Xander Bogaerts and Stephen Drew — were not ensnared in deep struggles. Drew is hitting .151 with a .218 OBP and .269 slugging mark in 28 games since joining the Sox in June (after sitting out the season’s first two-plus months while in free agent purgatory following his decision to reject the Sox’ one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer).

Boras said that while Drew is still working to regain his timing at the plate, he expects the 31-year-old to return to his career track record of a .261 average, .326 OBP and .430 slugging mark.

“The Drews take pitches. The Drews work the counts,” Boras noted, alluding to Stephen Drew and his brother, J.D. Drew. “I think to get that acumen of being comfortable in the batter’s box, that kind of started to unfold a little bit in Houston. He’s a lifetime .270 hitter. That’s not going to go away. And he’s in the prime of his career. So, I’m not concerned about that.”

As for Bogaerts, he closed the first half in a 29-game tailspin that saw him hitting .103 with a .140 OBP, .131 slugging mark and one extra-base hit (a homer) with 32 strikeouts in 114 plate appearances, dropping his season line to .235/.311/.348. That struggle commenced roughly a week after Bogaerts moved from shortstop to third base to accommodate the return of Drew. But Boras denied that there was a causal link between the position change and the offensive struggle.

“That would be statistically undocumented because his great performance last year was at third base,” Boras said, referencing Bogaerts’ performance during the postseason as the team’s third baseman. “The biggest thing is the transition to the big leagues where everybody tests to see if you can hit the fastball. Also, you’re coming into the league and have a broad base of expectancy that you’re going to be successful, but you’ve got to learn how to hit the breaking balls. You’ve got to see breaking balls. And you’ve got to really see the slider. You’ve got to learn how to hit the slider your way. That takes time. It takes practice. And it takes him going through, because you don’t see those types of sliders in the minor leagues. You don’t see the type of velocity irregularity between a changeup and a fastball in the minor leagues, because the few that can do that are up here. So this is really, he has so few at-bats, he’s making that adjustment.

“I said it last year when he was doing well and I’ll say it now, he’s a generational player. He’s in that category of the [Mike Trouts] and the [Bryce Harpers] and the [Manny Machados]. Xander Bogaerts fits right into that group. He’s a great, great young player who showed on the most pressurized stage, the World Series stage, that he’s a baseball player of extraordinary skills. You have kids who are in junior college that are his age [while Bogaerts is] playing in the World Series and doing big things. He’s just that kind of guy.”

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Zack Greinke takes stock of Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, free agent pitching market

07.14.14 at 5:24 pm ET
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Zack Greinke's contract is a key reference point for potential free agents Jon Lester and Max Scherzer. (AP)

Zack Greinke‘s contract is a key reference point for potential free agents Jon Lester and Max Scherzer. (AP)

MINNEAPOLIS — Zack Greinke is the landmark. The right-hander is the primary point of reference for the top of the free agent pitching market, which, this year, means Jon Lester and Max Scherzer.

When Greinke arrived at free agency two years ago, he had just turned 29, pitched 1,492 innings and owned a 3.77 career ERA with 8.0 strikeouts and 2.3 walks per nine innings. He commanded a landmark six-year, $144 million deal from the Dodgers. Lester — in a more difficult division, but at an older age (30) — is nearing the open market with a career 3.66 ERA, 8.2 strikeouts and 3.1 walks per nine innings and 1,505 career innings under his belt. So, Greinke’s $24 million-a-year haul will undoubtedly be a point of reference for Lester, just as it was for Scherzer and the Tigers when Detroit offered (and Scherzer rejected) a six-year, $144 million offer this spring.

“There’s a lot more pitchers like me than there are pitchers like [C.C.] Sabathia when he got to the open market and [Clayton] Kershaw if he got to the open market,” said Greinke, referencing the left-handers who commanded deals of seven years and $169 million (Sabathia from the Yankees after the 2008 season) and seven years and $215 million (Kershaw from the Dodgers this spring. “It’s a lot easier to compare players to my skill level than theirs. Scherzer and Lester, they’re fantastic, but they’re not, I don’t think, at Sabathia’s level when he became a free agent, because he was pretty amazing.”

As a student of the game, Greinke has considered the cases of both Lester and Scherzer. He notes that the months ahead could transform their futures by nine-figure sums.

“They’re two different ones,” said Greinke. “Scherzer has been amazing to me, because he’s slowly gotten better every year. Even this year, his velocity has gotten down a little bit, but his ability to pitch has gotten much better. Even though he’s an older guy, it seems he’s still getting better, which makes him kind of exciting. Lester’s had more of an up-and-down career but he’s had a longer track record of success than Scherzer. They’ve both been healthy. It’s pretty interesting, those two. And they’re both pitching really good right now.

“There’s still a long time to go with the season. Their contracts could go from $100 million to $200 million or $100 million to $20 million over the next two months, depending on how they pitch, if they’re healthy and all that stuff.”

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Red Sox minor league roundup: Deven Marrero’s career day; Alex Hassan scorching; Blake Swihart’s power show

07.14.14 at 4:22 pm ET
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A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Sunday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 13-8 WIN AT TOLEDO (TIGERS)

(BOX)

– Shortstop Deven Marrero, who’d been amidst a 1-for-16 slump over four games, broke out of the skid in emphatic fashion, going 4-for-5 with two doubles while driving in six. The 23-year-old set career highs in both hits and RBIs. He’s now hitting .326 with a .356 OBP, .419 slugging mark and four doubles in 11 games since moving up from Double-A.

– Hottest hitter in the Red Sox system: Still Alex Hassan. Hassan went 3-for-6 with a double and a homer, and in 29 games since returning to the minors on June 10, he’s hitting .367/.448/.615 with three homers and a whopping 20 extra-base hits. On the year, he’s now hitting .341/.418/.541 against lefties and .280/.372/.433 overall — up from .217/.318/.303 before his big league callup.

– Right-hander Brandon Workman, in his first start in Triple-A after nearly two months in the big league rotation, tossed five innings in which he allowed four runs on 10 hits (including three doubles and a homer) with two walks and three strikeouts. Triple-A hitters have a .296 average against Workman this year, while big leaguers have just a .225 mark against him.

Allen Webster, relegated to a piggyback role, allowed four runs on six hits (four doubles and a triple) in four innings, though he walked just one and struck out four.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 7-6 WIN VS. NEW HAMPSHIRE (BLUE JAYS)

(BOX)

– Catcher Blake Swihart continued to show his emergence as a player capable of hitting homers. He went 1-for-4 with a key eighth-inning homer as part of a game-winning Portland rally. The solo shot was Swihart’s 10th of the year, giving him more homers this season than he had in his first two seasons combined (9). The 22-year-old is hitting .293/.349/.481, and he’s viewed as the best catching prospect in the minors. Though he wasn’t in the All-Star Futures Game, he belongs in the conversation about the elite prospects in the minors.

“It’s been unbelievable. He gets better every year. He should be in this locker room right now. He should be catching me,” said Henry Owens. “Every single year he progresses. From the first year on, he matures every year. He’s a great guy in the clubhouse. Great batterymate. He has an unbelievable feel for all of our pitchers, not just me. He’s just unbelievable.” Read the rest of this entry »

Tom Verducci on MFB: Red Sox ‘have to be in at least a partial selling mode’

07.14.14 at 1:46 pm ET
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Tom Verducci

Tom Verducci

Sports Illustrated baseball writer Tom Verducci joined Middays with MFB on Monday to discuss the state of the Red Sox, Jon Lester‘€™s impending free agency and trade rumors surrounding Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. To listen to the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

In an interview with The Boston Globe published Sunday, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said that the organization has yet to determine if Boston — sitting at 43-52 and 9 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East — has accepted the role of “buyer”€ or “€œseller”€ this season, a stance that Verducci said he agrees with.

“€œI think right now, they’ve got to sort of be both,”€ Verducci said. “In other words, you have to lay the groundwork for some deals, you have to see what you can get for somebody, whether it’€™s a Jake Peavy, maybe a Stephen Drew, even a [Koji] Uehara. … But I do think they have to be in at least a partial selling mode and see what they can get for these players.”

Another week has gone by with no news of any progress regarding a new contract for Lester. Verducci said that while Lester — who has posted career-best numbers with a 2.65 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP this season — could be a trade chip, the Red Sox should go all out to retain the southpaw.

“€œI’€™d do everything I can to re-sign this guy. … I think you give it your best shot. … It’€™s hard for me to imagine the Red Sox going forward without Jon Lester,”€ Verducci said. “€œThe durability that he brings is just irreplaceable. Yeah, you look in the farm system, there’€™s a ton of arms that you really like, but some of those guys are 2-3 years away from the potential of being Jon Lester, and Clay [Buchholz] just has not proven he’€™s a 200-inning guy, 33-start guy year after year. … The minute you lose a pitcher like that, you’€™re trying to replace a pitcher like that, and that’€™s not easily done.”

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Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright named All-Star starters; Derek Jeter to hit leadoff

07.14.14 at 1:12 pm ET
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MINNEAPOLIS — Monday, Major League Baseball took a big step forward toward deciding home field advantage in the World Series.

Both All-Star managers — John Farrell of the American League, and the National League‘s Mike Matheny — took to the podium at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis to announce their starting pitchers and lineups. Here they are:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Starting pitcher: Felix Hernandez

Lineup: Derek Jeter SS, Mike Trout LF, Robinson Cano 2B, Miguel Cabrera 1B, Jose Bautista RF, Nelson Cruz DH, Adam Jones CF, Josh Donaldson 3B, Salvador Perez C

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Starting pitcher: Adam Wainwright

Lineup: Andrew McCutchen CF, Yasiel Puig RF, Troy Tulowitzki SS, Paul Goldschmidt 1B, Giancarlo Stanton DH, Aramis Ramirez 3B, Chase Utley 2B, Jonathan Lucroy C, Carlos Gomez LF

How did the industry miss on Futures Game star Joey Gallo?

07.14.14 at 10:36 am ET
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Joey Gallo homered in the All-Star Futures Game after a memorable batting practice. (AP)

Joey Gallo homered in the All-Star Futures Game after a memorable batting practice. (AP)

MINNEAPOLIS — Joey Gallo brought the All-Star Futures Game to its knees. And in so doing, he offered a frustrating reminder to about 29 teams.

Gallo’s power display — first an epic batting practice in which Target Field proved incapable of holding his massive blasts within its confines, then a 95 mph blast to right field — elicited awe from all onlookers. While the Futures Game is a showcase for the top power hitters in the minors, the 20-year-old was in a class by himself.

“Did you watch his batting practice? That was probably the most incredible batting practice that I’ve ever seen in my life,” Red Sox pitching prospect Henry Owens said. “He was hitting balls that were in a random parking lot.”

Indeed, Gallo busted the windshield of an SUV beyond the right field bleachers.

“I think I win it,” Gallo joked. “But I feel bad. They told me I hit it and I said, ‘Oh, man, I hope I don’t have to pay for that.’ ”

Based on the scarcity of power in baseball right now, one can assume that Gallo will be able to afford whatever bills might come his way for his assault on metropolitan areas surrounding ballparks. But his face-melting display of power on Sunday raised a perplexing issue: How on earth did a player with top-of-the-scale power last until the Rangers tabbed him with the 39th pick in the 2012 draft? Read the rest of this entry »

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