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Where the Red Sox stand

12.11.09 at 11:41 am ET
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What will Red Sox fans remember most about the 2009 Winter Meetings? That Theo Epstein used the word “bridge”.

It seems silly, but the utterance of “bridge” or “transition”, coupled with the reality of the Yankees scoring a pretty good player in Curtis Granderson, left Sox fans a bit more uneasy than they were before the front office touched down in Indy. Even when the Red Sox did make a move — or set the stage for one — in dealing third baseman Mike Lowell, the fact that they were getting back a minor leaguer and potentially replacing Lowell with a Boras client not named “Holliday” did nothing to relieve anxiety.

And with no real step forward (or back) on the Jason Bay situation, along with the floating of names such as Mike Cameron and Milton Bradley, Red Sox followers are barreling toward Christmas at Fenway (Saturday) holding their breath while trying to decipher exactly what “bridge” meant.

With that in mind, let’s take this opportunity to step back, inhale, exhale, and view exactly where the Red Sox are at a few uncertain positions right now:

THIRD BASE: A source familiar with the negotiations told WEEI.com Thursday night that the parameters for a deal that would send Lowell to Texas in exchange for minor league catcher/first baseman Max Ramirez were in place, but it would take another “2-3 days” before anything was finalized. Both sides need to examine each player’s physical condition, with the Rangers focusing in on Lowell’s surgically-repaired right hip, and the Sox prioritizing Ramirez’ wrists (which he had issues with throughout the ’09 season.)

Now the Red Sox turn to Adrian Beltre.

The sequence of events shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anybody considering Epstein’s statement immediately after the season in which he said that the team had to A. Get better defensively and, B. Hit better on the road. When looking at the lineup, both issues immediately seem to be pointing toward Lowell (despite his overall offensive production when on the field in ’09 — .290, 17 homers in 119 games). And it has been no secret that Beltre has been on the Sox’ radar for some time.

Beltre hasn’t been close to the offensive player the Red Sox first fell in love with — the one that hit 48 home runs for the Dodgers before dropping to 19 in his first year with the Mariners — but he has hit enough, (despite the fact that Lowell hit nine more homers than Beltre in seven more at-bats in ’09). And then there is that defense. As Alex Speier expertly pointed out, if you’re looking for third base defense, this is your guy. Heck, one Red Sox executive had brought up the notion of playing Beltre at shortstop back in ’05. And you don’t get comments like this everyday:

‘€œ[Beltre is] clearly the best [third baseman] I’€™ve ever seen in person,’€ said Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon. ‘€œI think [Evan Longoria] is good, I used to think Scott Brosius was really good. ‘€¦ [Eric] Chavez was good, but Beltre was stupid good. I think Beltre is the best who I’€™ve ever seen with my two eyes ‘€“ defender, not just third baseman, but defense.’€

Again … “defender, not just third baseman, but defense.” Don’t think for a minute that the image of Marco Scutaro and Beltre on the left side of the infield hasn’t been a dream sequence for the Sox from the time this offseason kicked off. Defensively, it would be a perfect-case-scenario for almost every team.

But Beltre will come at a cost, with some estimating he is looking for five years at $10 million per season. And the one thing Red Sox fans aren’t paying attention to, but should, is the Mariners’ desire to bring back the 30-year-old. Seattle has money and Beltre lives full-time on the West Coast. Then you factor Boras into the equation. It is not a lay-up, by any means.

So what are the alternatives? Mark DeRosa is a possibility, as is Kevin Youkilis, which leads us to …

FIRST BASE: Nick Johnson has been mentioned, with the potential sticking point with teams being his desire for a tw0-year deal while clubs would prefer one with an option. The 30-year-old Johnson has always hit and gotten on base (having had an on-base percentage of over .400 in each of his last four seasons), and he is considered above average defensively. But he consistently breaks down, not having played a full season since 2006.

Another scenario which might not be considered as sexy for some Red Sox fans, but is a realistic possibility, is playing Casey Kotchman at first and Youkilis at third. The Red Sox will be tendering Kotchman a contract, and fits the defensive model the team is looking for. He is, in fact, considered perhaps the best defensive first baseman in the American League (along with Mark Teixeira).

LEFT FIELD: Jason Bay has his offer from the Mets. Now what.

This from Speier in a recent blog post: Over the course of the winter meetings, according to a baseball source familiar with the team’€™s thinking, the Mets became increasingly convinced that they had a chance to make a play for the 31-year-old outfielder, for whom the market ‘€” at least based on public information ‘€” has been slow to develop. Now, it appears that they are taking a shot to acquire one of the two most coveted position players (along with Holliday) on the market.

It is a few million more than the Red Sox’ offer of $60 million (although not quite $65 million) with the same four-year commitment. According to big league sources, if a team comes in at five years it might get the deal done. Nobody has yet, and the Sox’ are still certainly in the hunt.

A few times executives from other teams suggested that word on the street (or in the lobby) was that the Red Sox still had the inside track on Bay, but that was before word of the Mets’ involvement and was also coming off of the statements from Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia saying, “I’€™ve not reached out personally to him, but he has been in internal discussions we’€™ve had as an organization. I think there are some more pressing needs we have right now than the talent that Jason could bring. He’€™s an extraordinary talent, but we definitely have to look for some balance in some areas, and that might not make Jason a great fit for our club. ‘€¦ You try to be balanced and have as deep a club as you can. With some of the things we’€™re looking at, the opportunity to get deeper, we might not be able to make that one big splash with that one guy that Jason would be right now.’€

At the meetings, Epstein said that the time element (i.e., the need to set a deadline) wasn’t yet a factor, and stages were still thought to being set, rather than action taken while the executives were in Indianapolis. (And there was no better stage-setter than Boras.)

One aspect of the Bay negotiations that would suggest a deal could get done is how much the Sox’ ownership group is thought to like the left fielder. It’s not the be-all and end-all, but it certainly helps when looking at what lengths the team is willing to go to sign the 31-year-old.

If they don’t sign Bay … I don’t know if you knew this before Boras told us, but Matt Holliday is unlike any other outfielder … ever! (And he could have played in the NFL.) Even with all of that, he appears to be an expensive Plan B.

PITCHING: The Red Sox picked up two cheap options to serve as bullpen candidates, Scott Atchison and Boof Bonser, and both could legitimately be big league relievers next season. Atchison could have made as much as $3 million in Japan last season after performing the way he did for Hanshin, but wanted to return to the United States, partially due to family reasons. Bonser’s stuff has translated better — before his shoulder injury — in the bullpen.

There were some who thought the Red Sox might be in on high-investment relievers Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano to fill the void left by Billy Wagner. Soriano accepted arbitration and was subsequently dealt to Tampa Bay, where the Rays will seemingly have to pay the reliever around $7 million. That thinking, however, was somewhat negated when Epstein said on the second day of the meetings that the Red Sox would rather build their bullpen with guys which would cost less in terms of money and years, pointing to how few multi-year contracts they have given to relievers.

One other option, Kelvim Escobar, wasn’t trending toward the Red Sox’ direction as the meetings came to a close. Escobar, who is heading into next season with the sole purpose of being a reliever, got a good report from Mets’ doctor Robert Altchek, Tuesday, and was hoping to squeeze in some winter baseball innings. If Escobar isn’t able to pitch in winter ball, he may offer a showcase for interested teams in January, perhaps having to rely on a minor league deal. According to a source familiar with the situation, however, the Red Sox weren’t one of the teams showing the strongest interest in Escobar.

Another pitcher coming off injury with a history of success, Justin Duchscherer, was on the Red Sox’ radar, although he has made it clear he will sign to be a starter, not a reliever. The Red Sox were the first team to request medical information on Duchscherer after he rejected arbitration from the A’s, with the righty having missed time with knee and shoulder injuries, as well as a bout with clinical depression. There would appear to be other teams which could give Duchscherer a clearer path to a spot in a rotation, especially considering he figures to be ready to go once spring training roles around.

One thing to keep an eye on are the contract cases of Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon. Both are arbitration-eligible, with Papelbon coming off a historic settlement last season. Talks figure to heat up in January, although both are thought to be unique cases in the industy. Stay tuned …

Red Sox to Check Ramirez’ Wrists

12.10.09 at 10:33 pm ET
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The deal between the Red Sox and Rangers that would send Mike Lowell to Texas for minor league catcher/first baseman Max Ramirez is still not complete, with part of the process including the exchange of medical records. While it has been well-documented that the Rangers’ concerns center around Lowell’s surgically-repaired right hip, sources say that the Sox also have to be satisfied with previously injured parts of Ramirez’ body — both of his wrists — before completing any trade.

Multiple baseball sources expected that the condition of the wrists would not be serious, but the Sox wanted to confirm that assessment before finishing the deal. Ramirez, who is currently leading the Venezuelan Winter League in home runs (12), while hitting .236, experienced soreness in his right wrist in June and then was sidelined in July by tendonitis in his left wrist.

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Still ‘2-3 days’ before Lowell deal final

12.10.09 at 10:30 pm ET
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According to a source familiar with the negotiations, the Rangers and Red Sox have agreed upon the terms of a deal that would send Mike Lowell to the Rangers in exchange for catcher/first baseman Max Ramirez, with multiple outlets reporting that the Sox will pay $9 million of Lowell’s $12 million 2010 salary. It still figures to be 2-3 days before the trade is finalized, with both teams having to look at each player’s medical situation.

For Lowell, the Rangers will be focusing in on the progress of his surgically-repaired right hip, while the Red Sox figure to prioritize the health of both of Ramirez’ wrists, which he injured at different times in 2009.

Boston.com was first to report that the teams had agreed to terms, Thursday night. WEEI.com published the initial report that the Red Sox and Rangers were negotiation the trade, Wednesday.

Report: Mets Offer Bay 4 Years, $65M

12.10.09 at 5:17 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — According to SI.com’s Jon Heyman, the Mets made an offer of four years and $65 million to free-agent outfielder Jason Bay. It is the only known offer made to Bay aside from the offer made by the Sox, believed to be for four years and $60 million.

Entering the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, the Mets seemed ready to target some of the mid-range free agents who are on the market. Once it became clear that the asking price of the mid-range players was higher than desirable, and that of the top-of-the-market players was at least within shouting distance of those requests, the Mets turned their attention towards the top free agents on this offseason’s market: Bay, John Lackey and Matt Holliday.

Over the course of the winter meetings, according to a baseball source familiar with the team’s thinking, the Mets became increasingly convinced that they had a chance to make a play for the 31-year-old outfielder, for whom the market — at least based on public information — has been slow to develop. Now, it appears that they are taking a shot to acquire one of the two most coveted position players (along with Holliday) on the market.

While there now would appear to be competing four-year deals on the table, the same major-league source suggested (as mentioned in this post) that an offer of a fifth year could be enough to close a deal with Bay. It remains to be seen whether the Sox, Mets, or any other club might be willing to go to those lengths.

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Reports: Mets Make Offer to Bay

12.10.09 at 3:28 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — According to multiple reports, the Mets became the second team known to make a bid on outfielder Jason Bay. New York would join the Red Sox in the competition for the free-agent outfielder’s services.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Mets determined over the winter meetings that they could be players in the bidding for Bay, John Lackey and/or Matt Holliday. With the market for Bay appearing fairly static, the team felt that it could make a play for the outfielder. Now, with reports of the official bid, it appears that they are coming closer to finding out just how good its chances are of acquiring the All-Star.

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A Bit About Boof

12.10.09 at 1:29 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — On the final day of the Winter Meetings, the Red Sox added a great name who, in a best-case scenario, could offer the team a strikeout pitcher out of the bullpen with an ability to add a bit of rotation depth. Boston traded for Boof Bonser, a 28-year-old, former first-rounder (2000), from the Minnesota Twins for a player to be named. Bonser is coming off of a year lost to shoulder surgery, as he underwent arthroscopic surgery in February to repair partial tears to the labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder.

Prior to his injury, Bonser had a fairly diverse repertoire, with a fastball, curveball, cutter/slider and changeup. Both the fastball (a 93-95 mph pitch when health) and cutter/slider were swing-and-miss pitches when he worked out of the bullpen before his surgery. During his rehab, he had not yet regained his complete fastball velocity, but the Sox thought that his rehab was progressing well enough that he was a worthwhile risk at a low acquisition cost.

Bonser has worked as both a starter and reliever, but his stuff has ticked up in the past out of the bullpen, as he’s recorded 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings as a reliever, compared to 6.9 as a starter. That said, he has a 6.38 ERA in 36 career relief appearances, compared to a 4.92 mark as a starter. (That said, there is some weirdness in play — Bonser has allowed an astonishing .383 batting average on balls in play as a reliever, versus a closer-to-normal .306 mark as a starter.)

Bonser missed the 2009 season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery in February to repair partial tears to the labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder. The right-hander made one rehabilitation appearance on September 6 for the Twins Single-A Fort Myers affiliate, tossing 1.0 scoreless frame. Sox officials also watched him throw a couple of times during the Fall Instructional League. His performance went well enough that the Twins had suggested that he would compete for a fifth starter’s spot before free-agent pitcher Carl Pavano elected to accept their offer of salary arbitration, thus eliminating that spot.

And so, with Bonser arbitration eligible and expected to earn around $1 million, the Twins parted with him. He is out of minor-league options, so he would either have to make the major-league roster, get traded or be exposed to waivers.

Selected by the San Francisco Giants in the first round (21st overall) of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, Bonser has made 96 Major League appearances (60 starts) over parts of three seasons with the Twins (2006-08). He is 18-25 with a 5.12 ERA (223 ER/391.2 IP), compiling 317 strikeouts compared to 125 walks. Bonser made one start for Minnesota during the 2006 Division Series vs. Oakland, throwing 6.0 innings of two-run ball in a no-decision.

The Twins acquired Bonser as part of one of the most notable deals of the past decade, sending A.J. Pierzynski to San Francisco and bringing back pitchers Bonser, Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano.

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Rumors: Soriano to Rays

12.10.09 at 12:17 pm ET
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According to Fox Sports, the Rays and Rafael Soriano have agreed on a one-year, $7 million deal, nearly completing a trade for the reliever that would send Jesse Chavez to Atlanta.

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Rangers GM Daniels: No Done Deal for Lowell

12.10.09 at 10:37 am ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels discussed the status of the trade with the Red Sox that would send Mike Lowell and cash ($8-9 million) to Texas in exchange for catcher/first baseman/DH prospect Max Ramirez, who is currently leading the Venezuelan Winter League with 11 homers. Daniels acknowledged that the two clubs have an understanding of where negotiations stand, but that it wasn’t a done deal as both teams review additional pieces of information.

“Some of the reports of how close it is,” said Daniels, “might be a little bit overstated.”

Presumably, that includes the decision on the part of Sox ownership to pay a healthy chunk of Lowell’s salary, as well as the Rangers’ need to review Lowell’s medical records.

Here is a transcript of Daniels’ remarks:

“Both clubs understand where the other one is and what we’re looking to do. At the same time, we’re also both looking at alternatives and what our options are as we kind of go through the process.”

“I don’t really have anything specific to give you guys but I think some of the reports of how close it is might be a little bit overstated.”

What are the specific obstacles to complete the deal?

“I think there is always different layers to these things but both clubs are kind of evaluating. I think the general parameters are understood but both clubs need to decide whether it’s the right fit.”

Any chance of Lowell taking a physical before the deal is done?

“Premature for me to say that.”

How long will it take to decide?

“I don’t know, I don’t want to put a time-table on it.”

Reports on the Sox’ contribution to Lowell’s salary have ranged from $6 million to his entire ($12 million) 2010 salary.

“There’s a financial component to it but I’m not going to address that specifically. … I’ll just say that the general parameters of the deal are relatively understood. Both clubs know what’s on the table and we’ll continue to talk here and work through it.”

Are medicals a holdup?

“We’re not at that stage. But in any deal, a review of the medicals is part of it.”

“As Boston has, there’s a lot of moving parts. Sometimes it’s beneficial to take a half-step back and evaluate things.”

Is one team or another as further down the road?

“Both clubs are looking at it.”

A Look at the Red Sox Rule 5 Draftees

12.10.09 at 10:24 am ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — The Red Sox had two of their minor leaguers selected by other clubs in the Major League Rule 5 draft on Thursday.

The Astros selected 25-year-old Jorge Jimenez and then sent the third baseman to Florida as part of the Matt Lindstrom deal. Jiminez spent all of 2009 in Double-A, hitting .289 with a .366 OBP, .422 slugging and .787 OPS and 13 homers. He has been a solid performer at every level with a solid plate approach that has yielded solid contact and walk rates, though he projects as no more than a major-league bench player, and given that he has been in Double-A for the last year and a half, there is an expectation that he won’t stick in the majors, and will end up being offered back to the Sox. He does not have the defensive versatility of a utility backup, and lacks the power to profile at third base.

Armando Zerpa, 22, was taken by the Rays and then dealt to the Dodgers. He recorded a 1.20 ERA and struck out 51 batters in 45 innings for Low-A Greenville before seeing his ERA climb to 4.85 in High-A Salem (while maintaining his strikeout-an-inning pace). It may be hard for him to stick with the major-league club, given the presence of left-handers Hong-Chih Kuo and George Sherrill, as well as three other lefties in the system (Scott Elbert, Brent Leach, Eric Stults).

Even so, there is a chance he could stick. His fastball was 89-92 mph last year, and touched 94 mph in the past, and he also features an average breaking ball while also working to develop a changeup. He generates some deception, and so if he can maintain his delivery and throw his fastball for strikes, he could be effective in the majors.

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Rumors: Sox lose two in Rule 5 draft

12.10.09 at 10:03 am ET
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According to reports, the Red Sox have lost two minor league players in the Rule 5 draft: infielder Jorge Jiminez (selected by the Astros and traded to the Marlins) and left-handed reliever Armando Zerpa (Rays).

In a story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, Barry Bonds‘ agent said “it’s nearly impossible” that the slugger would return to the majors. “It’s an unfortunate ending to a storied career,” agent Jeff Borris said of the 45-year-old Bonds, who last played in 2007.

FoxSports.com is reporting that the Cubs are having trouble ridding themselves of outfielder Milton Bradley, while the Phillies and Angels have re-emerged as leaders in pursuit of Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay.

ESPN reports that the Braves will send reliever Rafael Soriano to the Rays for right-hander Jesse Chavez.

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