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An inside look at Athletes’ Performance, where athletes go to become better athletes

02.03.11 at 2:24 pm ET
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Ever wonder what that Athletes’ Performance facility is, exactly? Well, thanks to Framingham’s own Eric Dannenberg, a performance specialist at the Phoenix-based AP, (along with WEEI.com video mastermind Colin MacDonald), we offer a glimpse as to where the likes of Ryan Kalish and Jacoby Ellsbury worked out this offseason:

Red Sox will have four of top 40 picks in 2011 draft

02.02.11 at 8:49 pm ET
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Yes, the fact that Felipe Lopez signed a minor league deal with the Rays was a disappointment to the Red Sox. Had the infielder signed a major league deal with another club, it would have netted the Sox a sandwich pick in the 2011 draft, offering a handsome return for the minimal investment (roughly $50,000 in regular season salary, plus a $15,000 buyout of a team option for 2011) it made in him for the last eight games of the 2010 season.

Even so, the Red Sox are in tremendous position for the upcoming draft, which is considered to feature one of the top prospect pools in recent memory, rivaling the quality of the outstanding 2005 draft class that netted the Sox Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Michael Bowden and Craig Hansen.

The order of the 2011 major league draft is now settled. As a result of the comings (Carl Crawford, who cost the Sox their first-round pick, No. 24 overall) and goings (Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre each netted the Sox a pair of compensatory draft picks), the Sox will now have four of the top 40 overall picks in the 2011 draft, two in the first round and two in the sandwich round:

1 – No. 19
1 – No. 26
1(s) – No. 36
1(s) – No. 40

The 2011 draft, then, will mark the first time the Sox have four of the first 40 picks since 1982. (For what it’s worth, that was a disappointing draft class for the Sox, who selected Sam Horn (No. 16 overall), Rob Parkins (18), Jeff Ledbetter (26) and Kevin Romine (29).) And while the Red Sox would have loved to have netted an extra pick from Lopez, the fact that both Martinez and Beltre netted first rounders leaves the team in strong shape for the coming draft, in what could be an opportunity for the Sox to reload some of the organizational depth that they lost when trading for Adrian Gonzalez this year.

Read More: 2011 MLB Draft, adrian gonzalez, felipe lopez, tampa bay rays

Red Sox announce four minor league signings and spring training roster

02.02.11 at 3:44 pm ET
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The Red Sox announced the signings of four players to minor league deals with invitations to big league spring training camp:

Matt Fox, a right-hander whom the Sox claimed on waivers from the Twins at the end of the year;

Tony Pena Jr., who spent his first full year as a pitcher in 2010 after starting his big league career as a shortstop;

Paul Hoover, a catcher who has been with the Phillies for the last couple seasons; and

Hector Luna, a veteran utility infielder.

They were among the 20 non-roster invitees to big league spring training camp. Here are details of the four players whose signings were announced as well as the major league spring training non-roster invitees: Read the rest of this entry »

MLB Bullpen Power Rankings: Red Sox moving on up

02.02.11 at 7:39 am ET
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(For a breakdown of the Red Sox bullpen and what the rest of the American League East relievers look like, listen to The Bradford Files podcast, featuring Rob Bradford and Alex Speier, by clicking here.)

1. PADRES: Closer: Heath Bell; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 1st (2.78)

It was a pretty special group that San Diego trotted out last season, with Bell paving the way. The San Diego closer converted 47 of 50 chances, finishing with a 6-1 record and 1.93 ERA. The Padres’ relievers finished with a big-league best 544 strikeouts, while totaling the fourth-most innings (having to make up for the fact SD notched just two complete games from its starters). The combo of Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams, and lefty Joe Thatcher were tough to top in ’10. This season, the Padres have added another veteran presence in Chad Qualls, who had a rough season between Arizona and Tampa Bay in ’10.

2. YANKEES: Closer: Mariano Rivera; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 7th (3.47)

Sure, Rivera blew five saves in ‘€˜10, and allowed left-handed hitters a better batting average than righties for the first time in four seasons. But he is still one of the game’€™s elite closers, and now has another one of MLB’€™s best game-enders setting him up in the form of Rafael Soriano. The jury is still out on Joba Chamberlain. The bullpen, however, does figure to give lefty hitters some issues with the presence of southpaws, Pedro Feliciano, Damaso Marte and Boone Logan, along with Soriano (.196 vs. left-handers in ‘€™10).

3. GIANTS: Closer: Brian Wilson; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 2nd (2.99)

The image of Wilson closing out the ’10 season with the final out in the World Series was fitting considering the kind of season the New Hampshire native came away with. Nobody in baseball had more saves (48), and he finished with an impressive 1.81 ERA. Oh yeah, and remember Ramon Ramirez? Well, the former Red Sox reliever only allowed three runs in 25 appearances with San Francisco, limiting opponents to a .137 batting average.

4. BRAVES: Closer: Craig Kimbrel; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 3rd (3.07)Atlanta took a hit with the retirement of Billy Wagner, but the way GM Frank Wren has filled in the pen from top to bottom has been impressive. Some veteran influences being brought in have been George Sherrill and Scott Linebrink, with Linebrink figuring to be more of the sure thing in terms of getting to Kimbrel. But it is guys like Jonny Venters (93 K’€™s in 83 innings) and Peter Moylan (6-2, 2.97 ERA in ‘€™10) that separate this group. The high ranking, of course, goes out the window if Kimbrel doesn’€™t step up seamlessly into Wagner’€™s spot.

5. OAKLAND: Closer: Andrew Bailey; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 12th (3.75)

The A’€™s did a good job of solidifying the group behind Bailey, signing both Brian Fuentes (lefties hit .128 against him in ‘€™10) and Grant Balfour. Not to be forgotten are Michael Wuertz and lefty Craig Breslow, who has developed into an extremely reliable reliever. Breslow has now pitched in 75 or more games in two straight seasons, while not allowing an opponents batting average against of more than .197 in either campaign.

6. RED SOX: Closer: Jonathan Papelbon; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 23th (4.24)

The Sox bullpen had a few problems in ‘€™10, chief among them were walks, giving up home runs (most in the majors), and allowing inherited runners to score. New comers Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler should help solve some problems. Jenks’€™ 3.39 K/BB and Wheeler’€™s success in not allowing inherited to score (6 of 32) would have both been best on the Red Sox last season. It should be noted that Wheeler also allowed left-handed bats just a .154 battingaverage a year ago (albeit as a situational reliever, facing just 54 lefties).

7. PHILLIES: Closer: Brad Lidge; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 17th (3.98)

There will be little change in what was a solid (albeit older) group, with Lidge (27 of 32 save opportunities in ‘€™10) and Ryan Madson offering a formidable one-two punch. The keys might lie in the consistency of veterans Jose Contreras (67 appearances) and J.C. Romero (60 appearances), who both proved mostly reliable last season. The fact that the Philly bullpen was 24th in batting average against despite the success of the aforementioned foursome suggests it still has some filling in to do.

Read the rest of this entry »

Felipe Lopez’ reported minor league deal with Rays bad news for Sox

02.01.11 at 8:39 pm ET
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According to a report from Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times (via twitter), veteran infielder Felipe Lopez is expected to sign a minor-league deal with the Rays in the coming days. If accurate, the report would represent a bit of bad news for the Red Sox, who signed Lopez during the penultimate weekend of the regular season (after he’d been released by the Cardinals and refused a waiver claim by the Padres) in part because of the possibility of netting a draft pick.

Lopez, who played on a one-year, $1 million deal last year, hit .233 with a .311 OBP, .345 slugging mark and .656 OPS for the Cardinals and Sox last year. He was a Type B free agent who turned down the Sox’ offer of salary arbitration, meaning that the Sox could have gotten a sandwich pick (around No. 55-60 in the coming draft) had he signed a major league deal with another club.

But, if Lopez signs a minor league deal, according to multiple major league sources, the Sox would not be entitled to any draft pick compensation.

In four games for the Sox, Lopez was 4-for-15. The Sox paid him approximately $50,000 (the balance of what he would have made on his 2010 deal had he not rejected the Padres’ waiver claim) during his brief time in Boston, and then declined an option on his services for the 2011 season, and instead paid him a $15,000 buyout.

Read More: Cardinals, draft pick compensation, felipe lopez, mlb draft

Joe Maddon on The Big Show: Why Manny Ramirez will fit with the Rays, and why Boston will ‘dig’ Carl Crawford

02.01.11 at 5:31 pm ET
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Rays manager Joe Maddon was a guest of The Big Show on Tuesday, the same day a press conference was held in St. Petersburg introducing Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon as the newest members of Maddon’s squad.

Maddon was asked about the idea that the addition of Ramirez, now 38 and coming off a career-low 90 games in 2010, could present challenges for a manager.

“My hair is already white. If he could turn it brown, I would be appreciative,” Maddon said.

“I had dinner with him last night, as you know he’s actually a very ingratiating fellow. … We had a good conversation, I explained to him about the Rays and how we do things here and he just continued to repeat the mantra that at 7 o’clock he’s going to play hard and compete. And he said that to me several times. So I think he’s at the point where he feels like he has something to prove. He’s lost some weight, he’s in great shape, he’s been working out with Evan Longoria and some other fellows. It was great to see them [Ramirez and Damon] together, it was a lot of fun.”

Maddon managed Carl Crawford for five seasons in Tampa Bay. He said on Tuesday that he wished Crawford was returning to the Rays in 2011, instead of joining an AL East rival in Boston. The 2008 AL Manager of the Year had nothing but praise when asked about his former player. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, carl crawford, Joe Maddon, Johnny Damon

Familiar faces in new places: Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon introduced as Rays

02.01.11 at 1:09 pm ET
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It was in 2005 that Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez last neighbored in the Red Sox outfield, in a pairing that had lasted four years and included three playoff appearances and a World Series trophy. On Tuesday, Damon and Ramirez were giddy in the renewal of their partnership in the American League East, this time as members of the Rays.

Damon signed a one-year, $5.25 million deal with Tampa Bay, and Ramirez agreed to a one-year, $2 million deal. On Tuesday, they were introduced at a press conference in St. Petersburg.

“We’re back,” beamed Ramirez.

Ramirez, who had made more than $20 million per season from 2001-10, said that he had no qualms about signing a one-year, $2 million deal with the Rays, suggesting that the opportunity to prove his ability to perform at a high level on a competitive team was his chief motivation in joining Tampa Bay.

“I already made my money,” Ramirez told reporters. “I’m here because I love the game, I love to compete. It doesn’t matter how much you make. All you want is a chance to prove to people that you still could do it.

“I’ve been working hard and I want to show people that I can still play,” added Ramirez, who underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia following the season, and then went to Athletes’ Performance in Arizona to prepare for the season.

Ramirez, 38, was limited by injuries to a career-low 90 games in 2010. He split the year between the Dodgers and White Sox (after being claimed on waivers by Chicago in August), hitting .290 with a .409 OBP, .460 slugging mark, .870 OPS and nine homers. For his career, he is a .313/.411/.586/.998 hitter with 555 homers. He suggested that he can play for five more seasons.

Ramirez, who will DH for the Rays, will wear the same No. 24 with the Rays that he wore with the Red Sox, leaving behind the No. 99 he wore with the Dodgers. He told reporters that No. 99 is his National League number, while No. 24 is his preferred American League integer.

Damon grew up in nearby Orlando, and so the 37-year-old — who played in 145 games in 2010 for the Tigers while hitting .271 with a .355 OBP, .401 slugging mark and .756 OPS — viewed the opportunity for a homecoming as an opportunity that could not be turned down.

“This is my dream team,” Damon told reporters at the press conference to introduce him and Manny Ramirez as the newest Rays. “I’ll see much more of my family and friends. I love this opportunity to come back home and hopefully help this team win a championship.”

Damon said that he views the Rays — who won the AL East in 2010 — as capable of competing in the division this year. He also said that he does not view this season as the “final chapter” of his career.

The Rays, of course, are Damon’s third stop in the American League East. After coming up with the Royals and spending his first six big league seasons in Kansas City, he spent one year in Oakland before playing from 2002-05 with the Red Sox. He hit .295 with a .362 OBP and .441 slugging mark with the Sox, helping Boston to the 2004 World Series. He then went to the Yankees from 2006-09, hitting .285/.363/.458/.821 in his four years in the Bronx, which culminated in another World Series ring in 2009.

Now, Damon and Ramirez will be competing against the Sox and Yankees for AL East supremacy. While the departure of free agent left fielder Carl Crawford to the Sox was expected to represent a shift in the balance of power in the division, the Red Sox caution that the Rays’ chances in the division should not be discounted.

‘€œThe demise of the Rays has been greatly exaggerated. Even before those moves, we never erased them at all from our radar,’€ Sox GM Theo Epstein said on Monday. ‘€œThey’€™re uniquely positioned to lose some really good players and stay and keep their status as one of the best teams in baseball given the strength of their farm system. They lose [Matt] Garza, they have [Jeremy] Hellickson ready to step in. They lose Crawford, they have [Desmond] Jennings and [Matt] Joyce ready to step in. They’€™re going to be really tough.’€

Read More: Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, tampa bay rays,
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