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Mets viewed Lackey a bigger health risk than Bay

03.12.10 at 7:46 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — According to a major league source, the Mets viewed John Lackey as a bigger medical risk to sign at five years than they did committing to Jason Bay at four.

It should be noted that the Mets did have strong interest in Lackey when the Red Sox got the pitcher to commit to a five-year, $82.5 million deal. Bay ultimately inked a four-year contract with the Mets worth $64 million, that includes a fifth-year vesting option.

Lackey’s contract with the Red Sox includes medical contingencies that protect the team against the pitcher missing significant time with a pre-existing elbow injury. The Sox’ concerns with Bay mostly revolved around the outfielder’s knees, which the Mets didn’t deem enough of a concern to prevent a deal.

‘€œWe liked Lackey,’€ said Mets general manager Omar Minaya during his team’s game with the Red Sox, Thursday. ‘€œWe thought Lackey was probably the best starting pitcher out there. As for as Bay, we thought we needed a power hitter. Give Boston credit, they were aggressive. At the time of the winter meetings we talked to both of them and they were very aggressive going after Lackey. I’€™ll give them credit. They liked the guy, they went after him right away.’€

As for how Bay felt about the Red Sox’ signing of Lackey …

‘€œYou look at it now and it’€™s genius,’€ Bay said Thursday. ‘€œLook at that pitching staff and it’€™s ridiculous. But at the time it didn’€™t look like there was a need. But it was a great move.

‘€œIt surprised me because you hear all the stuff that goes on and his name wasn’€™t connected with the Red Sox and then all of a sudden, boom, done. Usually people get wind of things like that. They’€™re good at doing their own thing, but of all the team he was rumored to go to, then it was the Red Sox.’€

Minaya also said that the hestiancy the Red Sox had regarding Bay’s defense were not an issue for New York.

‘€œI was not concerned,’€ Minaya said. ‘€œWe had seen him in the National League. We didn’€™t see what people were talking about. I can understand it. When you play left field at Fenway Park it’€™s not easy. Guys can look back at that left field wall. ‘€œ

For the complete story of how Bay felt about the Red Sox’ commitment to Lackey click here.

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An encouraging outing for Lackey

03.11.10 at 3:49 pm ET
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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — John Lackey couldn’t have asked for much better in the Red Sox‘ 8-2 win over the Mets Thursday afternoon.

First, the weather held off long enough at Tradition Field so that the Sox’ starter could get in his three innings of work — allowing three hits, but more importantly inducing eight groundouts compared to just one flyout.

‘€œI’€™m on time, yeah. I’€™m not getting too far ahead of myself or anything,” Lackey said. “My two-seamer was pretty good today. I was happy with that. I got a lot of ground balls. Some of the other pitches aren’€™t quite there yet. We’€™ve still got some work to do, for sure. … I don’€™t think I threw a changeup in the game. I need to incorporate that a little bit more the next couple of starts. Slider and cutter thing wasn’€™t that great today. Still got some work done.’€

Another positive Lackey took away was the opportunity to work with catcher Victor Martinez.

“He was great. It was a lot of fun,” Martinez said. “I was talking to him, he really looked effortless. He wasn’€™t trying to overthrow or push his pitches. And he really has that two-seamer working pretty good today. And the ball was kind of heavy. He mixed his pitches, he worked on what he needed to work on, and I think it went great for him. … It’€™s always good when you feel that good this early in spring training. It’€™s a good sign. It’€™s got to be a good feeling.

“I think we did OK. There were a couple of checks, and it was the first time for me catching him, but it’€™ll get better.”

Bay on boos: ‘I thought it was a little harsh’

03.11.10 at 3:23 pm ET
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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The greeting did take some at Tradition Field off guard.

Upon stepping into the batter’s box in the second inning of New York’s game against the Red Sox, Jason Bay was announced to the fans at the spring training home of the Mets and was peppered with a smattering of boos.

Bay’s reaction?

“I thought it was a little harsh,” the former Red Sox outfielder said with a grin.

When asked how he would classify the reception, Bay explained, “It was lukewarm, at best.”

Upon hearing the explanation, Mets third baseman David Wright yelled over, “For everything you brought to that city, they should cheer for you.”

Bay seemed genuinely amused — while still somewhat surprised — coming away from the re-introduction to his former teammates with an understanding of the situation.

“They travel well,” Bay said of the Red Sox fans in attendance. “I didn’t expect to get cheered. I’m not there anymore.”

Daniel Bard’s secret weapon

03.11.10 at 3:10 pm ET
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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Besides the retirement of Nomar Garciaparra, there was another memorable moment to come out of the Red Sox‘ game with Tampa Bay Wednesday afternoon at City of Palms Park.

“That,” Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard said, “was the best I’ve ever had.”

No, the subject of Bard’s observation wasn’t a fastball that once again registered near the century mark. No, this had everything to do with sound, not sight. What the relief pitcher was talking about was the popping everybody throughout the ballpark could here once Bard’s fastballs hit catcher Luis Exposito’s mitt.

At one point, one reporter in the press box bellowed out after a particularly loud pitch, “That sounds like 100.2 (mph) to me.”

“I love it when it’s like that,” Bard said. “I threw that first pitch and thought, ‘This is going to be good.’ I love throwing to Expo.”

Bard went on to say that a lot of the veteran catchers have “pillow mitts” which don’t supply the the kind acoustics found with Exposito’s All-Star model, which just started breaking in at the beginning of spring training.

Asked about the sound made when Bard’s pitches hit his mitt, Exposito — who caught the pitcher two years ago in Single A Greenville — had a little different take.

“I think it’s the pitcher, not the mitt,” Exposito said. “When you throw that hard it’s going to make some sort of sound.”

According to Bard, however, this was unlike any other tone he had heard before.

“That,” Bard said, “was awesome.”

Terry Francona’s updates from St. Lucie

03.11.10 at 1:57 pm ET
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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Here are some updates from Red Sox manager Terry Francona (starting with the approach his team was going to take toward former Sox’ Jason Bay. “We’re going to walk him three times,” Francona joked.)

On Bay: ‘€œHe’€™s a very popular teammate. Just because he changed unis takes away nothing from what he did. The day he walked into our clubhouse, he was solid. He’€™s a good guy. The business side of the game doesn’€™t change how you feel about people. I know that the business side isn’€™t always fun. there’€™s difficult decisions, that doesn’€™t change how you feel about people.’€

On Bay hitting in Citi Field: “You know what, the only time I saw that stadium was [at the end of spring training last year]. We couldn’€™t get a ball to the warning track. I know when it warms up ‘€¦ I’€™ll tell you what, when Jason Bay hits a home run, it’€™s a home run. He can hit anywhere. That’€™s not an issue.’€

On plan for Daisuke Matsuzaka’s bullpen session Saturday: ‘€œWe’€™ve got a couple of things Saturday. Daisuke is going to throw at, I think, we’€™ve got one thing going on at 10 and one thing at 11:30. We’€™re going to have some innings for some of the younger pitchers over at the minor league side. We’€™re trying to do both, where we can watch both, where theo can watch some of it. we’€™ll have a little bit better of a schedule.’€

On Jason Varitek, who won’t catch Friday in Jupiter as was originally planned: “Yeah, I was actually thinking about catching him tomorrow but I don’€™t think that’€™s gonna, the weather report is bad. I just don’€™t think that makes a lot of sense for him to be taking a three-hour bus ride. I called mikey over there and actually told him and Beltre both to stay back. I just don’€™t think that makes a lot of sense.’€

On Monday’s possible return of Mike Lowell: ‘€œMonday is sort of, I don’€™t know if it’€™s etched in stone, but I think that’€™s a realistic date. But we’€™ll see how he gets through the rest of the week.’€

Ellsbury won’t play in either East Coast game this week: ‘€œHe deserves it. He’€™s been on a lot of trips. And I’€™m sure he’€™ll be going on more.’€

On Alex Cora’s influence: “He’€™s good. He did a good job. You could tell his influence on bench guys. He had a special way of doing that, giving guys a nudge. A guy like carter, hey, go get loose, you never know what could happen here. He was a pretty special guy.’€

Bay more comfortable than ever

03.11.10 at 1:20 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jason Bay had gone through it before, all the hugs and handshakes.

This time the adventure consisted of a meet-and-greet with his former Red Sox teammates in and around the batting cage at Tradtion Field.

“Seeing those guys it’s almost like I never left,” Bay said. “But within Day 2 of me being here, it’s been seemless. A lot of that probably my own doing. I’ve been the new guy in the clubhouse more than a few times so the longer you play the more guys you play with and against which makes it easier. To be honest with you I feel I’ve been here a lot longer than the two weeks I have. It’s refreshing.

“I still have a lot of good friends and teammates over there, so it was good to see those guys. If you’ve been there a week it’s a little bit different. If Adam LaRoche (who was with the Red Sox last season for nine days) comes back I don’t know if the handshakes will be as big, but that’s the way it goes.”

Having switched organizations five times is part of the understanding, as is standing in the same cramped Mets clubhouse he did as a member of New York’s Single A team in St. Lucie back in 2002. But what truly has Bay carrying a peace of mind he didn’t previously possess is the certainty that has come with his situation.

Not only does Bay possess a four-year, $64 million deal with a vesting option for a fifth year, but he also has a full no-trade clause that eliminates any kind of doubts.

“Probably,” said Bay when asked if this was the most comfortable h has been in his career. “Pittsburgh was up and down. Boston, I had a great time there, but I didn’t know where I was going to be. Ultimately now there’s a little bit of ease. Even all offseason I was wondering where I was going to be and finally in January I signed the contract and kind of exhaled knowing where I was going to be, but by that point there was a month left in the offseason. The offseason felt like it was a month long because there were so many unknowns. Then being here, you dig your feet in knowing that you’re going to be part of something. You know you’re going to be here. I think it’s a little bit more settling.”

Bay compared his current state to last season at this time, when contract negotiations were heating up a bit. Now he has nothing to worry about but baseball, but in 2009 the drama of working on a new deal proved to be an unavoidable albatross.

“Regardless whether you like it or not, when you have impending free agency that’s going to be a topic, I understand that,” Bay said. “I was curious to how I was going to react. You play the business as usual card and you hope it is that way. And, you know what, surprisingly it was.

“It was a situation where you can’t do anything about it. If there was something I could do, or if there was something I wasn’t doing, that was holding it up that it could become an issue. But when it’s not up to you, you do what you can do and everything is secondary. But the moment you have a hand in it that’s when things start to change.

“It’s been a refreshingly smooth transition.”

Something else Bay discussed was the perception that his power would be diminished because of the spacious confines of Citi Field.

“I understand it’s good fodder, but I played in Pittsburgh and it might not be Citi Field, but it’s not Coors Field or anything like that. Historically most of my home runs were hit on the road for whatever reason,” said Bay, who has hit 106 home runs on the road, and 79 at home. “It’s not like all of a sudden you’re looking at it and saying, ‘He hit 28 at home and five on the road.’ I’m not giving it much thought. There’s also other ways to drive in runs. I don’t have to hit 40 home runs to drive in 100. It helps, but ultimately I’m trying to get on base and drive in runs. Let’s give it more than one year before we start writing it off.”

His former manager Terry Francona agreed.

“I’ll tell you what,” Francona noted, “when Jason Bay hits a home run, it’s a home run.”

(Note: For a representation of how Bay’s hits at Fenway would have translated to Citi Field click here)

What’s new with the Red Sox: Wednesday

03.11.10 at 7:48 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Nothing fancy, just the facts.

What started as a fairly innocuous spring training day turned into a memorable one at about 8 a.m., when the Red Sox announced there would be a press conference in the press box. Almost immediately, thoughts that the event might revolve around Josh Beckett or Mike Lowell were debunked, and not too soon thereafter the real reason for the presser came to light:

Nomar Garciaparra was retiring as a member of the Red Sox.

Our own Lou Merloni swooped in with news that his former teammate would be signing a one-day minor league deal and then retire. Merloni also revealed that Garciaparra had attempted to return to the Sox as a player a few times over the course of the past few years.

Garciaparra went to the podium at 10:30 a.m., accompanied by his wife, Mia Hamm, his daughters, parents, and former teammate Paul Rappoli. (Click here for the transcript.) He then went on the Dale & Holley Show to talk retirement, as well. (Click here for the transcript.)

By the way, our man Alex Speier points out that Garciaparra has the second-best all-time OPS for shortstops (.882), only behind Alex Rodriguez (who likely will soon change classifications, going to third base, leaving Nomar at the top of the list).

A little later on a few of his former teammates checked in:

David Ortiz: “Rake. Straight rake. That’s all I remember about Nomie. Rake. Nothing else but rake. He was good, man.”” Asked if Garciaparra was right there with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Ortiz responded “(Heck) yeah!”

Jason Varitek: “Sitting behind him, all the way back in college and playing intrasquad games, he was really a pain in the rear. He accelerated that from college into putting together some of the best offensive years people have seen in a while in that uniform. He was a pretty, pretty, pretty special player. Catching him and trying to get him out in an intrasquad game wasn’t fun.”

Tim Wakefield: “The best. He was a great teammate, and to have him behind you defensively and in the box hitting for you was truly amazing.”

Dustin Pedroia, who never played with Garciaparra, also chimed in. When told that Nomar didn’t cry at his press conference, and asked if he would be crying at his own retirement press conference, Pedroia said, “Legends don’t cry.”

For a retrospective of Nomar’s greatest moments click here.

– After talking about his former Georgia Tech teammate, Varitek explained the reason for recent absence from the team was due to his father’s illness. For more click here.

Jon Lester was encouraged by his 2 2/3-inning outing — giving up an unearned run on two hits — having worked on fastball away, his changeup, and getting strike one. But what he really wanted to talk about after the game was the problem the game has with maple bats.

‘€œAny time you step on the field, you’€™re in danger of something hitting you, whether it’€™s a ball or a bat or whatever. It’€™s just kind of part of the game. It kind of sucks that baseball hasn’€™t done a very good job with the maple bats,’€ said Lester, who said he has sat on one meeting regarding the subject. ‘€ It seems like they tried to do something last year, but they just aren’€™t getting the results. They’€™re a danger to the game. They’€™re a danger to all the players and the fans. Hopefully they can do something about those bats.’€

For more of Lester’s comments click here.

– Red Sox manager Terry Francona said the hope was to have Mike Lowell play in Monday’s game.

– The Big Three of the Red Sox’ rotation — John Lackey, Josh Beckett, and Lester — continued the get-to-know process by playing golf together Tuesday.

– Speaking of Beckett, Jon Heyman of SI.com reported that sources suggest the pitcher will agree to a new contract with the Red Sox in the coming weeks: Contract talks between the Red Sox and star right-hander Josh Beckett are said to be progressing, with growing optimism about a new deal emerging. Beckett and the Red Sox have an excellent relationship, and people familiar with the talks say both sides expect a deal to be reached in the coming weeks that will keep Beckett in Boston for years to come.

For Heyman’s story click here.

Daniel Bard, who impressed with two strikeouts in one inning of work, was encouraged by the fact he struck out Tampa Bay outfielder Matt Joyce with back-to-back changeups. The reliever’s fastball had considerable volume on it, with the sound of it hitting the mitt being heard all the way up to the press box. “That,” Bard explained, “was the loudest glove I’ve ever thrown to.” The backstop was Bard’s former catcher at Single A Greenville, Luis Exposito.

Read More: Alex Rodriguez, Daniel Bard, Jason Varitek, Jon Lester

Varitek’s absence due to father’s illness

03.10.10 at 3:56 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — While talking to the media regarding Nomar Garciaparra’s retirement, Jason Varitek divulged that his recent absence has been because of his father’s illness. Varitek, who left the Red Sox‘ camp late last week, didn’t get into particulars regarding what the medical issue was.

“As far as details on it, I’ll grant my mom’s wishes and kind of keep things … we’re just in a stage where we need to keep things in-house until we have a little more direction where things are going to go. It’s my dad,” He’s fighting a battle right now. We’ll leave it at that.”

Varitek, who returned to Fort Myers last Tuesday night, didn’t know what his schedule would be going forward, not ruling out taking another hiatus

.”It’s my dad so I’m not going to say I’m here for good,” Varitek explained. “As far as extended period, I have no idea. I knew I had to come back, get outside a little bit, kind of get refreshed, and get back to work a little bit and make sure the family’s stable, which is most important.

“It’s a weird feeling. It’s just a different feeling. I was tired today. It’s been a stressful, straining week, five to six days. Guys have been great. I had a ton of text messages from Theo down to Tito and all my teammates. Family has been great. Friend support in the area has been awesome. I’m just very thankful that so many people reached out.”

Lester happy with outing, not maple bats

03.10.10 at 2:53 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jon Lester came away from his second outing of the spring fairly encouraged, saying “I actually felt timing-wise the other day, but today I just got some better results. As the game went on I felt a little bit better, got the ball down. Made some good pitches with my changeup. All in all I thought I threw the ball pretty well today.”

Lester’s line: 2 2/3 innings, 57 pitches (33 strikes), one unearned run, two hits, four strikeouts and a walk. The lefty’s goals? To work on his fastball away, changeup, and getting strike one.

But while the outing was fairly innocuous for Lester, his comments regarding the use of maple bats were anything but.

“Any time you step on the field, you’re in danger of something hitting you, whether it’s a ball or a bat or whatever. It’s just kind of part of the game. It kind of sucks that baseball hasn’t done a very good job with the maple bats,” said Lester, who said he has sat on one meeting regarding the subject. ” It seems like they tried to do something last year, but they just aren’t getting the results. They’re a danger to the game. They’re a danger to all the players and the fans. Hopefully they can do something about those bats.”

The impetus for the comments came from an incident in the second inning in the Sox’ game against the Rays when part of an Adrian Beltre broken bat hit the hand of Tampa Bay pitcher David Price, driving the Rays’ starter from the game.

“Hitters like them. Until you get, I guess, a serious injury I don’t think they’re going to change.”

Nomar on D&H: ‘[The tank] is empty, and I’m OK with it

03.10.10 at 1:14 pm ET
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Nomar Garciaparra appeared on the Dale & Holley show Wednesday morning to discuss his reasons for retiring, his next career as a member of the media (following a sometimes-frosty dynamic with reporters during his playing days) and the events that allowed him to resume a strong relationship with the Sox following a departure in 2004 that was, at times, acrimonious.

Highlights are transcribed below. To listen to the complete interview, click here.

How did you decide on this?

I said there was one uniform I would love to wear. I talked about this when I came to Fenway this past year with Oakland. I always had this recurring dream, to put on that uniform. It was the first uniform I’€™d worn, and I dreamt it would be my last. Today that dream comes through, thanks to Mr. Werner, Mr. Henry, Mr. Lucchino, Theo and the whole Red Sox organization. I can’€™t thank them enough for allowing me to fulfill that dream. My first dream came true in a Red Sox uniform, and that was playing in the big leagues. Another dream gets to come true as well, finishing my career and retiring as a member of the Red Sox.

There are so many emotions going through me right now as I try to take it all in, but I think the way Red Sox Nation ‘€” the fans ‘€” have just embraced me throughout my career, not only as a member of the Red Sox but after being a Red Sox as well, I can’€™t tell you how many times I had people come up and say, “Thank you. We love you. We appreciate you.” That has stuck. The feeling has always been mutual. Hopefully, with today, I really show them that I was sincere when I told them that the same feeling was always there and I love them just as much. Read the rest of this entry »

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