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Sources: Red Sox in ‘ongoing discussions’ with reliever Dan Wheeler

12.15.10 at 4:59 pm ET
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The Red Sox have been engaged in ongoing discussions with right-hander Dan Wheeler about the possibility of coming to Boston, according to sources familiar with the talks. While no deal is done at this time, one source proclaimed optimism about the direction of negotiations.

The 33-year-old free agent, who was drafted out of Pilgrim High School in Warwick (R.I.), has been with the Tampa Bay Rays since the middle of the 2007 season, when he was acquired from the Astros in a trade for Ty Wigginton. Wheeler had a 3.35 ERA in 48 1/3 innings in 2010, and he struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings. However, his innings total was the lowest of his professional career, and he has seen his workload go down in each of the last three years. Over his last three full seasons with the Rays, he has a 3.24 ERA while striking out 7.5 batters per nine innings, while walking 2.5 batters per nine.

Wheeler has appeared in 21 postseason games for the Rays and Astros, forging a 3.38 ERA while striking out 28 and walking eight in 26 2/3 innings. He was drafted in the 34th round by the Rays in 1996, and has since spent time with the Braves, Mets and Astros organizations before returning to Tampa Bay.

The Rays declined a $4 million option for his services for the 2011 season, instead opting to pay a $1 million buyout. The Rays also declined to offer the veteran salary arbitration. He earned $3.5 million last season in the final year of a three-year, $10.5 million deal he signed with the Rays prior to the 2008 season.

Rob Bradford contributed to this report.

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Fine wine or vinegar: What history says about how Carl Crawford will age

12.15.10 at 12:16 pm ET
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When watching Carl Crawford, one trait jumps out above all others: Speed.

At 29, he is already one of the most prolific base stealers in major league history. His 409 career steals rank 37th of all time. After years of seeing the outfielder torture Red Sox catchers, little explanation is necessary to explain how much Crawford’€™s presence on the bases can transform a game.

The same can be said of the outfielder’€™s defense. In 2010, Crawford was finally awarded a Gold Glove for his tremendous work in left field, thus becoming the first American League left fielder in nearly 30 years to receive the honor. According to fangraphs.com, he has been ‘€“ far and away ‘€“ the best defensive player in the game for the last three years as measured by UZR, having saved 52 runs compared to an average fielder at his position.

Speed is what has helped to make Crawford a star. Speed is the trait that made him a $20 million a year player for the Red Sox.

There is little doubt that the left fielder is growing as a hitter. He had career highs in homers (19) and OPS (.851) in 2010, but if you take away Crawford’€™s legs, he’€™s fighting players like Vladimir Guerrero and Hideki Matsui for a one-year deal in the $4 million to $5 million range.

But speed is a tool that starts to decline almost from the earliest days of a player’€™s major league career. And so it is fair to wonder: What will Crawford be over the life of his seven-year deal? How do players who are phenomenal base stealers at an early age perform as the odometer turns over from their 20s into their 30s?

That is the question the Sox confronted while trying to decide how far to go in their bidding. In addition to a thorough scouting analysis of Crawford, the team also asked analyst Bill James to study what could be expected of the outfielder before signing him to the biggest contract issued by this ownership regime. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: bill james, bobby bonds, carl crawford, eddie collins

Sources: Matt Guerrier turns down Red Sox to sign with Dodgers

12.15.10 at 11:38 am ET
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As first reported by Erik Boland of Newsday (via twitter), reliever Matt Guerrier has agreed to a three-year deal with the Dodgers. One source with knowledge of the negotiations said that the deal is not done as of Wednesday morning, but that the Dodgers and the pitcher are working in that direction.

The right-hander had been offered a two-year contract with a vesting option for a third year by the Red Sox, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, but Guerrier apparently opted to go for the longer guarantee. Boland reports that the Yankees were also among the teams pursuing the right-hander.

Guerrier was one of the most consistent and durable pitchers on the relief market this year, having posted ERAs of 3.40 or better in five of his last six seasons. He had also made 73 or more appearances in the last four seasons with the Twins. Despite a relatively low strikeout rate (5.9 per nine innings in his career, 5.3 per nine innings in 2010), he established himself as an effective middle reliever who was able to induce groundballs.

“Guerrier is consistent,” said a scout of an AL team. “He’€™s a steady sixth, seventh inning guy.”

Guerrier is the third middle reliever to receive a three-year deal this winter, joining Joaquin Benoit and Scott Downs. The Sox are unlikely to go to such lengths in pursuing bullpen help, having signed just one reliever (Keith Foulke, a closer) to a deal of that length under GM Theo Epstein.

Read More: Hot Stove, matt guerrier,

Graphic: How stolen base artists age

12.15.10 at 8:20 am ET
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In today’s column on how speedsters such as Carl Crawford age, Crawford was compared to a group of the 15 other players since 1901 to have accumulated 40 or more steals in five different seasons by age 28. It is a group that includes four Hall of Famers (Rickey Henderson, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Max Carey) and one Hall of Fame hopeful (Tim Raines) as well as several players who performed at an All-Star level for some time. (Also included are players whose only reason for being in the big leagues was speed.)

Here is a more detailed look at the performance of those players as measured by their hitting lines, OPS+ (OPS compared to the league average, with 100 representing league average, 110 identifying a player whose OPS was 10 percent better than average, and 90 identifying a player who was 10 percent below average), games played per season and stolen bases per season. Read the rest of this entry »

Red Sox ‘getting closer’ to a deal with reliever Matt Albers

12.14.10 at 7:46 pm ET
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According to Peter Gammons of NESN and the MLB Network, the Red Sox have signed free agent reliever Matt Albers. A source familiar with the negotiations said that a deal is “not done,” but that it is “getting closer.”

The 27-year-old (he turns 28 in January), who was non-tendered by the Orioles earlier this month, was 5-3 with a 4.52 ERA in 62 games for the Orioles in 2010, striking out 49 and walking 34 in 75 2/3 innings. He has spent parts of the last five seasons in the majors, mostly as a reliever, forging a 15-25 record and 5.11 ERA. In 2008, after he was traded from the Astros to the Orioles as part of the package for Miguel Tejada, Albers had a 3.49 ERA in 49 innings, but with a 26-to-22 strikeout-to-walk rate.

Albers has a low-90s fastball that he mixes with a curve. While his career strikeout numbers (5.8 per nine innings) are fairly unimpressive, he gets a significant number of groundballs, making him an intriguing buy-low possibility on a Sox relief corps that is lacking a groundball-inducing option. Albers has a career 1.05 groundball-to-flyball rate, roughly 33 percent better than league average. In 2010, that jumped to a 1.33 groundball-to-flyball ratio, the sixth-highest mark in the AL (min. 50 innings).

News of the Sox’ interest in Albers was first reported by the Boston Globe.

Read More: Hot Stove, matt albers,

Jayson Stark on D&H: Red Sox could deal Jacoby Ellsbury

12.14.10 at 7:02 pm ET
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Jayson Stark of ESPN called into the Dale & Holley Show on Tuesday to discuss the Phillies’ signing of Cliff Lee and what that means for the Yankees and the Red Sox.

With Lee now heading to Philadelphia with a five-year, $120 million deal, the Phillies have an abundance of starting pitching at a high price. Sports Illustrated reported on Tuesday that the Red Sox and Phillies had a deal in place for Joe Blanton. Stark was asked if Blanton would make sense for the Red Sox.

“Not particularly,” said Stark of Blanton, who has two years and $17 million left on his contract. “I think the Red Sox were willing yesterday to do anything to help the Phillies make this [Lee] deal happen. They would have been a very accommodating trade partner. Joe Blanton doesn’t fit for them. Think about the last time Joe Blanton set foot in Fenway Park. Daniel Nava can tell you all about it. I don’t see Joe Blanton as an AL East kind of guy.”

What is the next move for the Yankees, who now appear to be reeling after missing on Lee? Stark suggests that the Yankees are still trying to figure out what the next step should be, but a move made on Tuesday could lead to a bigger deal down the line.

“The Yankees really haven’t even formulated Plan B,” said Stark. “They were so obsessed, so fixated on Cliff Lee that they were willing to basically put all their resources into him and worry about what happens if they don’t get him later. There’s no doubt that the Russell Martin deal gives them ammunition to make a trade later. Catching is the strongest, deepest part of their system and now they have catching to deal. So I don’t think these deals are disconnected ‘€¦ I think it’s more likely than ever that they’ll make a big deal before the deadline.”

In contrast to the Yankees, the Red Sox have had an extraordinarily productive off-season, adding Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Stark was asked if the Sox could make another high-impact move.

“I don’t think there’s a whole lot more for the Red Sox to do,” Stark said. “They’re in the tweaking stage right now. I think they are going to listen on Mike Cameron. I don’t think they’re likely to trade him because if you start to look at that outfield and start thinking about how likely it is that Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew play 140 games each, you’ll see that it’s not that likely. So Mike Cameron still fits for them but he’s an interesting chip. But they’ve spent their money well and they’ve thought and looked over the horizon as they always do and it really showed.”

Is there any chance that the addition of Crawford means a possible deal involving Jacoby Ellsbury? Stark believes the Red Sox are happy with the team they have but won’t shut the door on a potential Ellsbury trade.

“I think it opens that possibility,” said Stark. “No doubt about it. The sense I get is that they are very content with how their team and outfield shapes up right now. But they’ve got four everyday outfielders and an everyday DH, so any time you are sitting in that spot it’s a great place to be. They’re in the driver’s seat now, they can totally call their own shots here and control where their off-season goes from here. Anything they do now, they do from strength. That’s not the case with the Yankees.”

To hear the entire interview, check out the Dale and Holley audio on demand page.

Read More: Cliff Lee, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jayson Stark, joe blanton

Source: Red Sox unlikely to offer any reliever three years

12.14.10 at 4:37 pm ET
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It would not be unprecedented. The Red Sox have done it before — once. But while there is no formal club policy against offering three-year contracts to relievers, according to a source familiar with the club’s thinking, the Sox would only go to such lengths to sign a pitcher whom the club deemed to be one of the best in the game.

While there are several strong options on the relief market right now, only one — Rafael Soriano — could be considered one of the top relievers in the game, and since he is virtually certain to seek a job as a closer (a job that the Sox have filled both for 2011 by Jonathan Papelbon and likely beyond by Daniel Bard), the Sox are unlikely to make a play for him. And so, even though a pair of relievers (Joaquin Benoit and Scott Downs) have set the upper end of the market for middle relievers this winter by signing three-year deals, the likelihood is extremely small that the Sox would offer a three-year deal to a bullpen arm this winter.

The Sox gave out their only three-year relief deal under GM Theo Epstein to closer Keith Foulke following the 2003 season. That paid off in 2004, when Foulke proved a crucial contributor to the Sox’ World Series, but offered a case study in the perils of long-term relief deals in 2005 and 2006, when Foulke missed substantial time with injuries and performed poorly, ultimately losing his job to Papelbon.

The Sox have signed relievers to two-year deals that included vesting options. Both Alan Embree and Julian Tavarez were signed to such deals. Embree made enough appearances for his option to vest, while Tavarez did not, but had his option picked up after emerging as a valuable swingman in 2006 and 2007. Both pitchers ended up being designated for assignment in the third year of their deals.

That history may have informed the Sox’ approach with Downs, the free-agent left-hander whom they aggressively tried to acquire both at the trade deadline and again in free agency.

Downs represented a potentially good fit for the Sox as a southpaw with an outstanding track record (he had a 2.36 ERA over the last four years) and a proven ability to succeed in the AL East. According to multiple major league sources, the Sox had significant interest in Downs, especially after signing Crawford.

In part, that represented the fact that the cost of Downs ‘€“ a Type A free agent for whom the Sox would have to give up a draft pick ‘€“ would not be quite as steep. The Sox had already signed Crawford as a Type A who would cost them their first-round draft pick; Downs, ranked lower among Type A free agents by the Elias rankings system, would have thus cost a second-round pick.

Even so, while the team would have been interested in him for two years, the Sox made the decision to back off of Downs. The team decided that a three-year deal was more than it wanted to invest in a reliever, particularly given Downs’€™ age (34) and the fact that he would cost a pick.

A case can be made that Downs was the best setup man on the market this offseason. That being the case, even while the Sox have interest in other available relievers such as (according to multiple industry sources) Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain as well as (according to ESPN.com) Kevin Gregg, among others, none is likely to receive a deal with three guaranteed seasons.

Read More: bullpen, Hot Stove, jesse crain, kevin gregg
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