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The Westmoreland Myth Is Reality

01.11.10 at 11:32 am ET
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In the aftermath of Saturday’s story about Ryan Westmoreland, the Lowell Spinners were kind enough to send along this picture of the top Red Sox prospect posing – somewhat uncomfortably – next to the wall in LeLacheur Park that put an end to his season:

Thanks to the Lowell Spinners for sending the photo via Twitter (@LowellSpinners).

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Red Sox Weren’t In On Chapman at End

01.10.10 at 9:34 pm ET
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The Aroldis Chapman sweepstakes concluded on Sunday, as multiple reports have established that the Reds will sign the Cuban left-hander to a five-year, $25 million deal that will include a club option for a sixth season. The Cuban was widely scouted as having electric stuff — an easy conclusion to draw given that his fastball registered in excess of 100 mph when he pitched at the World Baseball Classic — and as a result, the interest in the 22-year-old was widespread.

The Sox, according to a major-league source, made a concerted effort to acquire Chapman earlier this winter. The team made an offer to him in November (first reported by ESPN.com at $15.5 million — more than the record-breaking sum that No. 1 overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg received when he signed with the Nationals).

But shortly after the Sox made that offer, Chapman changed agents, from Edwin Mejia to Hendricks Sports Management. The Sox pulled their offer when Chapman changed agents, and though the club sent an evaluator to watch the pitcher at a workout in Houston in mid-December, it never made another formal offer, according to the source.

While Boston recognized Chapman’s significant potential, the team also viewed him as a very high-risk investment. As such, given that the team had some questions about the pitcher’s makeup, arm action and aptitude — a relevant concern, since multiple major-league talent evaluators suggested that Chapman may be best suited to make his professional debut in the U.S. in High-A ball, and would require significant development in order to reach the majors — the Sox did not re-engage significantly in the bidding for the Cuban defector once it became clear that other clubs were going to offer far more than what Boston believed to be the pitcher’s value point.

For a scouting report on Chapman, click here.

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Report: Matsuzaka Hid Leg Injury

01.10.10 at 10:24 am ET
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According to a translation from the Boston Globe, Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka told the Japanese magazine Friday that his struggles in 2009 stemmed from a thigh injury incurred while training for the World Baseball Classic last January. The right-hander said that he was able to pitch through the condition by taking anti-inflammatories, but that the pain was such that it was difficult for him to jog.

As a result of the injury, Matsuzaka said, he relied more on the strength of his shoulder than his legs to generate power. He did not alert trainers to the condition, he said, because he did not want to create concern about his health.

“I didn’t tell the trainers. Fortunately, I was in charge of my own training, so if it started to hurt, I could adjust to not hurt myself,” said Matsuzaka, according to the Globe’s translation. “But pitching while hiding the injury was very difficult. Even when I didn’t feel the pain, my body was holding back because it sensed the danger. So, my pitching motion was more of standing straight up and throwing with my upper body, relying on my shoulder strength more than usual.”

Matsuzaka said that when he returned to the Red Sox after the WBC, his shoulder allowed him respectable fastball velocity, but the pitch continued to lack power without the benefit of his lower body.

“After my first stint on the DL in May, I was very hard on myself. Because I got plenty of rest, my shoulder was much stronger, so I could still get up there in velocity. But I couldn’t use my lower body well, and I could not use my full body to generate the power. My fastball was not effective, therefore I lost effectiveness of my other pitches,” he was quoted as saying. “In hindsight, it was impossible to continue faking the whole season, it was too much mental stress. But the Red Sox struggled a little bit in the beginning of the season so I wanted to help the team as much as I could.”

Matsuzaka went on to say that his improvement upon his return to the rotation in September was the byproduct of his thigh injury having healed, rather than the loss of weight. He also noted his gratitude that the team has now said that he can resume extended bullpen sessions between starts so long as shoulder strength tests indicate that he is fit for such an undertaking.

The pitcher concluded that he will try to make amends for his lost 2009 major-league season with a return to effectiveness in the coming year.

“I assure you that the (2010) season will be a great season. I am going to redeem what I lost in 2009,” the Globe quotes Matsuzaka as saying. “With my health back, I am confident and determined to produce this year. I will (try my best to) become world champion once again.”

Matsuzaka and the Red Sox clashed over the pitcher’s training methods during the past season, especially in the aftermath of the pitcher’s pronounced displeasure with the team’s program. But in the aftermath of that incident, the two sides had candid conversations that led to what was viewed as a mutual understanding about how to proceed going forward.

Matsuzaka has been working at Athletes’ Performance in Arizona to ensure that he is in top shape for the coming year. Agent Scott Boras acknowledged on Friday that the transition to Major League Baseball has not been without its challenges, but that, in the aftermath of the conversations that the pitcher had with the Sox last year, he is trying to adopt routines that will permit him to reproduce his success in the U.S.

“Daisuke is a major star in Japan. To come here and to take on the major leagues and the difference of it took time,” said Boras. “This year, he’€™s just making every effort now to make the transition to fit more than he has.”

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, thigh, world baseball classic,

Red Sox, Mets trend-setters in the Latin American market

01.09.10 at 10:02 pm ET
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Peter Gammons, Omar Minaya, Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington were among those on hand Saturday at Fenway Park for the annual round table discussion to benefit the Epstein brothers’€™ Foundation to be Named Later (for more on FTBNL and Hot Stove Cool Music, click here). The discussion, which lasted just over an hour, focused on Latin American player development and also included current Major Leaguers Bronson Arroyo and Manny Delcarmen as well as outfield prospect Ryan Kalish and Red Sox Coordinator of Latin American Operations Eddie Romero.

Gammons, who moderated the discussion, opened by describing cross-culturalization in baseball and called the Mets and Red Sox the ‘€œtwo most progressive organizations in baseball.’€

‘€œBaseball has represented American integration patterns unlike any other sport from the 1870’€™s on,’€ the 2005 Hall of Fame honoree said. ‘€œPeople from other countries are coming in [and] assimilating into the sport the way they assimilate into [American] society.’€

‘€œEven though Manny Ramirez was born in the Dominican Republic and was raised in New York,’€said Minaya, ‘€œbeing raised in Washington Heights is like being raised in the Dominican Republic in a lot of ways.’€

Both the Red Sox and Mets have constructed facilities in the Dominican Republic that essentially serve as academies for the Dominican players, who sign with Major League clubs as young as age 16. The panel discussed the challenges faced by Latin American players as they attempt to learn a completely new lifestyle while also working to reach the majors.

‘€œ[The Mets] feel that we have a responsibility to that young player that we sign, [that] we have to educate the player,’€ said Minaya, a Dominican native who helped the Rangers sign Sammy Sosa while a scout in the 1980’€™s.

The Red Sox have made big splashes in Latin America, as they signed and groomed Hanley Ramirez from the Dominican Republic, and, more recently, landed highly touted defensive shortstop Jose Iglesias of Cuba, who Gammons said has been described as the best defensive shortstop some Major League scouts have ever seen.

Iglesias, who was given a four-year Major League deal worth $8.25 million over the summer, has put forth a significant effort to be comfortable in his new surroundings when he arrives at Spring Training.

‘€œWe can’€™t expect him to step right into a level that might be justified by his natural talent and athletic ability,’€ Epstein said. ‘€œThere’€™s going to be a longer cultural assimilation process.’€

In an effort to give Iglesias a Cuban mentor with big-league experience, the team gave Alex Ochoa, who was an assistant coach for Boston in 2009, a new ‘€œmulti-disciplinary’€ role that will help him ease Iglesias’€™ transition. Upon the two meeting, Epstein said it was discovered that ‘€œJose had done more to prepare himself for his adjustment than [the Red Sox] had’€ and that he has taken to things such as American history and being a professional baseball player.

Latin Americans aren’€™t the only ones who have encountered significant cultural changes since inking contracts with the Red Sox. The identification of the Latin player’€™s departure from their comfort zone has led American-born players to the Dominican Republic.

‘€œImagine yourself moving to the Dominican and taking a job where you’€™re competing against other Dominicans and not knowing the language and not knowing how to get around, not knowing how to eat,’€ Cherington said. ‘€œImagine doing your job in that environment and having to compete on an even playing field with people who did know how to get around, did know the language. That’€™s what we’€™re asking these players to do, so you have to take their performance for a certain period of time [and] put that in context of the things that we’€™re asking them to do and the pressures. It really does have to be a longer-range commitment.’€

Kalish himself doesn’€™t need his imagination to take him to an unfamiliar situation in Latin America, as he was in the first group of American players sent by the Red Sox to the Dominican instructional league in 2006.

Such efforts are to be expected from a Red Sox organization that Gammons described as being a ‘€œshining light’€ for international development, but they, like the Dominican facility, are just some of the strides that have been made since they recognized the old approach as outdated.

‘€œOur expectation previously had been, ‘€˜Alright, we’€™re going to take these [Latin American players] and try to get them to understand how to act like kids from the states,’€™ and that was really only a small piece of it,” said Cherington. “Our flaw was we didn’€™t understand. Our American players need to understand what these guys are going through, what these guys are all about too. That was the start of the idea of sending the guys down to the Dominican.’€

Epstein identified the issue of ‘€œlosing’€ the Latin American player early in his development, which strides such as the Dominican facility have worked to prevent.

‘€œIf you took an equally talented 18-year-old who had graduated from an American high school and had been drafted, and [a similar] Dominican Republican signee [that] had the same tools, the same ability, the same type of makeup, and then put them in Rookie ball, and then expect them to go to advanced short-season ball the year after that, then Low A ball, and then High A ball the year after that, I think we found as an organization that we were losing the Latin American player, Epstein said. ‘€œIt wouldn’€™t be an obvious thing. It wouldn’€™t be something that was patent, it was just that by the time they got to High A ball or Double A, the American player was thriving. In the Latin American player, we would start to see things in the scouting report, like, ‘€˜Well, we’€™re just not sure how committed to the game he is,’€™ or, ‘€˜We’€™re not sure what kind of baseball instincts this player has,’€™ or, ‘€˜We don’€™t think this player takes coaching very well.’€™

‘€œWhen you start to see that pattern over and over and over again, you realize it’€™s complete inequity,’€ Epstein added. ‘€œIt’€™s not fair, there’€™s something inherent in the process that we’€™re not doing to reach the Latin American player. We’€™re not providing him the same opportunity that we’€™re providing the American player. And so the problem is not with the makeup of the Latin American player; it’€™s the opposite. It’€™s that we’€™re not doing what we can to provide a level playing field. I think our challenge as an organization has been to level the playing field.’€

While many big-name players have emerged from the Dominican Republic, the highly touted athletes often are kept out of baseball games and kept in training facilities, thus explaining the tendency of Dominican prospects to be more raw than most minor-leaguers. Buscones, which are similar to agents in the Dominican Republic, take the talented children (as young as 10 years old, according to Minaya and Epstein) and have them fine-tune their stills through drills. This hinders their baseball thinking so much that Epstein recalled a player that the Red Sox had given $500,000 to that they soon realized did not understand what a force out was. The team now makes every effort to put international players through simulated game sitatuations before committing financially.

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Westmoreland: ‘I Left My Mark’

01.09.10 at 2:06 pm ET
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It was the sort of story that takes on the life of an urban legend. Ryan Westmoreland’s season came – quite literally – to a crashing halt when he broke his left clavicle while running into the outfield wall in Lowell.

The injury, which took place in the early days of September, required season-ending surgery, from which Westmoreland is expected to make a full recovery. The outfielder hopes that the injury will soon be forgotten.

Even so, the crash that caused it is unlikely to disappear from memory anytime soon. That is inevitable, given the accounts (disputed by some) that suggested that Westmoreland ran through the fence in left-center at LeLacheur Park in Lowell while making a phenomenal grab.

“I ran into the wall. I was out cold, so I don’t remember if I ran through it,” said Westmoreland, who was in Boston on Saturday for the New Stars for Young Stars event, a fundraiser for the Jimmy Fund that introduces minor-leaguers to Red Sox fans. “But the next day I went out there and there was a hole in the left-field wall, and it was right around where I hit. I kind of put it together. I left my mark, I guess you could say.”

Yes, he hears references to “The Natural” with frequency. Even so, Westmoreland has no interest in being known as the next Bump Bailey (a character in the Natural whose death while running through a wall opened the door for Roy Hobbs, or Rodney McCray, the minor leaguer who became famous for running through a wall preceding an undistinguished big-league career in which he had just 15 plate appearances.

Towards that end, Westmoreland has been very pleased with the course of his rehab, in which he’s been strengthening both shoulders (his left for this year’s broken clavicle, and his right as he is 14 months removed from surgery to repair his labrum). Next week, he will head to Fort Myers to continue his rehab and begin baseball activities. He anticipates no limitations by the start of the season.

“Everything feels really good,” Westmoreland said. “I should be 100 percent by spring training.”

There, Westmoreland hopes to build on what was a phenomenal first full professional season. He hit .296 with a .401 OBP, .484 slugging mark, .885 OPS, seven homers and 19 steals without getting caught once. Given the weather-induced limits of playing high-school ball in New England, the Rhode Island native was pleasantly surprised by how he was able to handle both an expanded schedule and a higher level of competition than what he’d experienced as an amateur.

“I never really knew how to play everyday. A 75-game schedule is a lot different than a 20-game schedule in high school. The first couple weeks were tough physically, mentally trying to keep myself there. But I think I settled in the last three-quarters of the season,” said Westmoreland. “The first week or so of the season, I was kind of nervous. I’d never really seen college pitchers. But I think I adjusted and ended up putting up pretty good numbers. It was really motivating for me knowing that I could compete at that level.”

The accolades were far reaching. Scouts and talent evaluators raved about him, suggesting that his far-reaching skill set — an advanced plate approach and knowledge of the strike zone, power, speed in both the outfield and on the bases, good routes and a strong arm — bore some resemblance to that of a superstar centerfielder like Grady Sizemore. He was named the top prospect in the Red Sox system by Baseball America.

“It’s a great honor,” said Westmoreland, “but it really doesn’t mean anything unless I produce.”

Naturally, such hype made it inevitable that his name would emerge in trade rumors. There is little doubt, after all, that other teams would love to acquire such a player. He has already heard his name brought up in trade rumors for players such as Roy Halladay and Adrian Gonzalez.

Westmoreland — who grew up rooting for the Red Sox — would like to remain in the organization. But he recognizes that little good can come of concerning himself with trade rumors.

“It would be great to get to Boston because I’ve been a Red Sox fan my whole life. It would definitely be a special experience. At the same time, I’m still fighting for a spot. Being from New England doesn’t help me in any way or hurt me,” said Westmoreland. “Really, I don’t deal with [rumors]. I kind of just let it happen. I get text messages and calls all the time, and I just say, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen.’ I just tried to focus on the offseason, get stronger. If something happens, it happens. I try to block all that stuff out, because if I let it get to me, especially if it’s in the season, it’s going to affect the way I play. That’s exactly not what I want to do.”

Instead, Westmoreland is focused on the 2010 season, which will offer him his first experience with a full-season affiliate. He will play in Single-A, away from home, most likely in Greenville of the South Atlantic League. It is a challenge that the 19-year-old takes seriously.

“This is going to be my first full season. That’s going to be a big thing,” said Westmoreland. “I’m really looking for it. This season, 70 games was long for me, but I think I’m ready. I’ve been preparing all offseason because I know I’m probably going to get in a full-season situation. I’ve been trying to prepare myself physically and mentally.”

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What Now For Mike Lowell?

01.08.10 at 1:09 pm ET
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With Adrian Beltre now under contract, the Red Sox remain in a position where Mike Lowell seems eminently expendable. Of course, that has been the case for much of the offseason, given the team’s attempts to move the 2007 World Series MVP to the Rangers for Max Ramirez, a deal that fell through when it was discovered that Lowell would require surgery on his right thumb.

From the outside, the situation between Lowell and the Sox seems eminently awkward. Boston G.M. Theo Epstein acknowledged that perception, but said that the team and Lowell are in agreement about what will be most useful for the player going forward: a healthy return in spring training that will put him in a position where other teams will want to trade for him.

We’€™ve been in contact with Mike throughout the winter, most recently with his agent a few days ago. I think we’€™re actually on the same page on this one,” said Epstein. “For Mike, it’€™s an unfortunate situation. It’€™s the second straight offseason in which he’€™s been rehabbing from surgery. His goal and our goal is for him to come to spring training and get back on the field and demonstrate his health and start playing, and playing well.

“I think this is a situation that will take care of itself. If Mike gets out on the field and shows that he’€™s 100 percent healthy, as we expect him to be a couple of weeks into spring training and starts playing well, there will be an opportunity for him. If it’€™s here, if other players don’€™t show up in good health , or elsewhere, he’€™s going to be a sought-after player. We’€™ll probably be able to put Mike in a situation either here or elsewhere where he can make an impact on a team.

“If he’€™s a little bit slower rehabbing or hasn’€™t quite gotten back to the position where he can play regularly, then I think Mike feels like if he’€™s going to have a complementary type role, he’€™d rather have it here, better in Boston than anywhere else, the way he feels about the Red Sox and the way we feel about him. I know it might look awkward from the outside but it’€™s a situation that will probably take care of itself as long as we stay on the same page and we certainly are right now.’€

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Why the Sox Needed to Upgrade Their Defense

01.08.10 at 1:05 pm ET
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At first glance, the idea that the Sox felt an almost dire need to upgrade their run prevention isn’t obvious. Even with one of the worst defenses in the majors last year, the team allowed just 736 runs (4.54 per game), the third fewest in the American League last year.

Yet that number was slightly misleading. On many occasions last year, the Sox pitching staff successfully navigated a tightrope. Thanks in part to poor defense, a near-constant stream of baserunners occupied the bases. Sox pitchers managed to wriggle out of jams, allowing opponents to hit just .242 (second lowest in the AL) with a .690 OPS (also second lowest in the A.L.) with runners in scoring position. (For the leaders in the category, click here.)

In the minds of the Sox, however, they were playing with fire. There was some luck involved, as the team gave up a much higher batting average on balls in play overall (.313) than they did with the bases empty (.286). Barring some good fortune, the Sox’ runs allowed total could have been much higher. Thus, the offseason evolved where the Sox thought they could achieve their most dramatic improvement by adding a top starter (John Lackey) and bettering a defense that had been porous at times.

“In looking at last year’€™s club, I think we had a real problem with our defense, and you can look at certain numbers, it demonstrates that, but I think we were lucky that it didn’€™t become a more obvious problem. It didn’€™t manifest as much as it could have, or I think would have, if we had brought back the same team this year,” said Epstein. “We were really good at quote-unquote ‘€˜clutch pitching’€™ last year, we kind of pitched our way out of a lot of jams. So our pitching performance ended up being a little better than it might have been otherwise, things might hadve turned out a little different. Our defense really did our pitching staff no favors last year.

‘€œI thought if we brought back the same team there’€™s no guarantee we’€™d be as good offensively, there’€™s no guarantee we’€™d be anywhere the same from a pitching standpoint, and our defense certainly wasn’€™t going to improve, just bringing back the same players a year older. So we decided to take the bull by the horns a little bit, and shore up our pitching, the back end of our rotation was an issue last year, all of a sudden, those various starters who were in the five hole now become John Lackey, in a sense.

‘€œI think we’€™ve been able to change the nature of our defense fundamentally, by having several moving parts. We should have a very solid infield defense, I hope, and a very solid outfield defense, and I hope that you look up this time next year and there are pitchers who are having career years, and maybe that’€™s a reason why.’€

Why the Beltre Deal Worked for Both Sides

01.08.10 at 12:51 pm ET
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Yes, Scott Boras admitted, when he talked to clubs about Adrian Beltre, he was seeking a huge multi-year offer. But that quest, the agent insisted, was always done with the idea in mind that the third baseman, following a 2009 campaign in which his playing time and offensive production were severely impacted by injuries, would ultimately end up pursuing a one-year contract in a setting that would allow him to re-establish his performance before seeking a bigger contract.

Beltre was presented with a number of three-year offers — by the agent’s reckoning, three or four such offers for a player recovering from injury represented an extraordinary occurrence. But ultimately, Beltre saw the potential fit of going from a ballpark (Safeco) that is death to right-handed power hitter for a year to one that rewards such a class, trying to mash the ball and sustain his Gold Glove-caliber defense as too good an opportunity to pass up. This was in both sides’ short-term interests for 2010 and also in Beltre’s long-term interest going forward.

“In this situation, economics weren’€™t the priority as much as positioning coming off the injury season. He’€™s an elite player. He was not going to get an elite contract coming off an injury season. He was going to get a good contract but not an elite one,” said Boras. “I told teams, ‘€˜If you’€™re interested in him, it’€™s going to take a multi-year deal at big numbers. Otherwise, we’€™re going to do something different.’€™ We basically did that. That doesn’€™t mean teams didn’€™t attempt to sign him, which is very rare, fielding multiple three-year contract offers for a player coming off an injury season.

“I told Adrian coming in, ‘€˜I’€™m going to do a pillow contract for us. If someone comes up and really makes this work economically, if someone came up and gave us a four-year contract at elite money, I would probably say take that. Other than that, re-establish a full season, illustrate who you are and then in a year go back in the marketplace.'”

(As an aside – that, of course, raises the question: what on earth is a pillow contract. To Boras we go: “A pillow contract is, basically, you lay down, it’€™s comfortable, it’€™s soft, it’€™s there. But the fact of the matter is it’€™s not with you all the time. That’€™s a one-year contract. Your pillow, you leave it, you come back, it’€™s there,” said Boras. “Short-term, you use it for a little bit, then you move on.”)

The two sides worked through some of the nuances of the collective bargaining agreement, specifically as it pertains to luxury tax, to figure out how to make the contract work within the Sox’ payroll structures. There was creativity, as Beltre’s deal — thanks to the structure of the player option, as well as the corresponding move to trade Casey Kotchman to the Mariners in exchange for Bill Hall, cash and a player to be named — made a minimal impact on the Sox’ payroll as calculated for luxury tax purposes.

Ultimately, Beltre got a contract that will give him a higher salary in 2010 ($9 million, potentially $10 million if he reaches a plate appearances threshold) than what he was being offered in the multi-year deals that were reportedly in the three-year, $24 million range from teams like the A’s and Twins. He will go to a park that will do more to reward his approach at the plate than just about any other park — something that will be novel after a career spent in Safeco and Dodger Stadium.

“[Safeco] is a beautiful ballpark. But as a hitter, sometimes you make contact and you expect a little better result. It didn’€™t work out that way,” said Beltre. “Sometimes you’€™re going to take a hit on your at-bats if you’€™re not confident. Sometimes you hit a ball and think it will be a gapper or maybe a homer and it ends up being an out.  Next at-bat, you probably think about trying to hit it a little harder. that’€™s here the problem comes, creating some bad habits. Maybe that won’€™t happen here.”

As Sox G.M. Theo Epstein pointed out, Beltre could benefit enormously simply by being anywhere but Safeco.

“We think Fenway is a fit for Adrian. It’€™s hard to emphasize just how much Safeco deflates offensive performance for right-handed power hitters. It’€™s really a tough place to hit,” said Epstein. “Mike Cameron, I know, talked about it when he was in here. It’€™s a difficult place to put up any kind of numbers, left field, left-center, center field, even if you hit the ball well to the opposite field, it’€™s hard to get rewarded as a right-handed hitter there. Obviously Fenway is a nice place to hit if you can elevate the ball to the pull side. It also doesn’€™t take away from a nice opposite field stroke.

“Adrian’€™s natural stroke sometimes is to the opposite field, which is fine. He’€™ll be rewarded here in the gaps. Pull-side elevation will obviously be rewarded. We think he’€™ll be a nice fit. Just getting out of Safeco even moreso than getting to Fenway is significant if you look at Adrian’€™s road performance over the years, it’€™s very impressive what he’€™s done outside of Safeco, and even before that, he was in a pitchers park in Dodger Stadium. It will be a nice change for him. And as he said, it’€™s more than just numbers. It’€™s a mindset and confidence and it’€™s effect on the whole ballclub.”

From 2006-08, Beltre hit .287/.338/.503/.840 on the road with 39 homers; at home, he hit .252/.311/.432/.743 with 37 homers. (Of course, that conveniently ignores the fact that Beltre was terrible on the road in 2005 (.248/.295/.440/.736) and during his injury-prone 2009…)

Boras is convinced that Beltre will be in a position to seek an elite contract following the season. If so, then Beltre will have gotten a deal that is to his long-term benefit.

On the other side of the coin, the Sox believe that this short-term deal fits perfectly into the team’s broader picture. Aside from the five-year deal to John Lackey (which creates an interesting phenomenon – how many other clubs in baseball have three pitchers (Lackey, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka) signed to deals of five or more seasons?), the team has been able to acquire a number of players on short-term deals. Marco Scutaro (2 years with both a team and player option for a third), Mike Cameron (two years) and Adrian Beltre (one year plus player option) should all help the club to remain competitive for the 2010 season while also avoiding a scenario when the Sox’ top farm players are blocked from the majors.

These short-term deals are precisely the bridge of which Epstein spoke earlier this offseason. The Sox believe they improved their defense signficantly, and acquired some players who will allow them to have a better-than-expected offense, without clogging the major-league roster for the long haul and without having to trade any top minor leaguers.

“Unless you get a steal of a contract, it’€™s always better to be short than long from a club’€™s perspective,” Epstein explained. “I probably regret ever saying the word bridge when I talked to you guys . . . What I meant was, we’€™ve been a good team, we’€™ve been to the playoffs six out of seven years, we’€™ve had a certain core in place, we’€™ve won 95 games six out of seven years, and I know we’€™re going to be good when I’€™m projecting into the future, players we really like in our farm system, our pre-prime players will still be in their prime.

“The building blocks are still in place to have a really strong foundation going forward, starting in a couple of years. The question was, how are we going to maintain competitiveness at the highest level this year, 2010, 2011. That’€™s why it was a bit of a bridge. A bridge from one pretty good team to what we project will be another pretty good team. How to get there without hamstringing the future, while maintaining competitiveness at the highest level. One way to do that is to sign really good players to shorter-term contracts, and to really solidify elements of the team like pitching and defense, and I’€™d like to think that we accomplished that, but there are no guarantees in baseball.”

Moreo

Read More: Adrian Beltre, Scott Boras, Theo Epstein,

Boras would let Beltre baby-sit his kids

01.08.10 at 12:39 pm ET
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Adrian Beltre was introduced as the Red Sox‘ newest third baseman Friday morning, joining his agent, Scott Boras, and Sox general manager Theo Epstein in answering questions from the media at Fenway Park.

Here are some things we learned at the get-together:

– Boras clearly thinks highly of Beltre, as a player and a person. The two were first introduced when Beltre was an 18-year-old (more on that later).

“Sometimes you run across people in your career that you think very highly of both skill-wise and as a person, and Adrian for me is one of those people,” said Boras, who hadn’t gotten into Boston until midnight Thursday night after flying straight from St. Louis, where he had the Matt Holliday press conference. “He’s one of those players who I would let baby-sit my children. I have always been completely infatuated with Adrian Beltre as a player.”

– Those in attendance are about to refute Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon’s assertion that Beltre is the best defensive third baseman in the game. (Maddon actually told our man Alex Speier that Beltre was the game’s best defensive player, period.)

– Boras and Beltre were perfectly happy taking the “pillow contract” from the Red Sox. (Such a deal is a one-year deal you can comfortably rest your head on before waking up and moving on, according to the agent.)

“He’s just someone I respect at the highest level. I trust him. When you ‘re out there turning down millions of dollars to come here on a one-year scenario … I did it for a reason,” Boras said. “His family is already taken care of from his prior contract. The other thing is that I just think he’s that good a player. He’s an elite player. He’s one of the best third basemen in the game. I would never advise him to sign a long-term contract unless it’s at a level where elite players get paid.

“When the Red Sox signed a pitcher I knew Adrian had a chance to come here because obviously if they signed a big position player they might have allocated these resources to a pitcher. When they chose to spend their franchise money on a starter I knew we had an ability to come in with a creative approach. We worked through it and created a ‘pillow contract’.”

‘€œIt’€™s true, I had many multi-year offers but I made the decision to come here and take my chances with a team that has a legitimate chance to get to the World Series,” Beltre said. “I’€™ve been in the big leagues for 11 years and have only been in the playoffs once. I like my chances. I like the organization and I like what’€™s going on here. I think the team is built to win. It’€™s a decision I made and I’€™m really happy about it.’€

– Beltre is clearly self-motivated. Coming over from the Dominican Republic as a 15-year-old, the infielder knew very little English but took it upon himself to meet up with a bilingual teammate from Cuba who taught Beltre one word a day. It has paid off as the third baseman is not only fluent in English, but his young his young children (3- and 6-years-old, respectively) also speak both languages. And then there is his work ethic on the field.

“He’s been nothing but discilpined,” Boras said. “This guy in spring training is out there at six o’clock taking 200 ground balls and he’s the best defensive third baseman in the game. He’s that kind of man, he’s that kind of player. Nobody tells Adrian Beltre what to do, he does it all on his own.”

– Beltre’s defense has been largely self-taught. Weighing just 130 pounds as a 15-year-old, the infielder’s power-hitting frame has clearly developed over his time as a professional. His defensive instincts, however, has been in place for sometime. An example of how natural defense has come to Beltre can be found when looking at how he executes fielding slow-rollers, which typically has his left leg high in the air upon throwing the ball to first. Beltre had no idea he possessed such a trademark high leg kick until Boras showed him a picture of the player while the agent was trying to teach his son the art of such a play.

– Epstein feels like Beltre and the Red Sox are a good match, for a few different reasons. (One of which is that he no longer has to play in the expanse of Safeco Field.)

‘€œWe think Fenway is a fit for Adrian,” the GM said. “It’€™s hard to emphasize just how much Safeco deflates offensive performance for right-handed power hitters. It’€™s really a tough place to hit. Mike Cameron, I know, talked about it when he was in here. It’€™s a difficult place to put up any kind of numbers, left field, left-center, center field, even if you hit the ball well to the opposite field, it’€™s hard to get rewarded as a right-handed hitter there. Obviously fenway is a nice place to hit if you can elevate the ball to the pull side. It also doesn’€™t take away from a nice opposite field stroke. Adrian’€™s natural stroke sometimes is to the opposite foeld, which is fine. He’€™ll be rewarded here in the gaps. Pull-side elevation will obviously be rewarded. We think he’€™ll be a nice fit. Just getting out of Safeco even moreso than getting to Fenway is significant if you look at Adrian’€™s road performance over the years, it’€™s very impressive what he’€™s done outside of Safeco, and even before that, he was in a pitchers park in Dodger Stadium. It will be a nice change for him. And as he said, it’€™s more than just numbers. It’€™s a mindset and confidence and it’€™s effect on the whole ballclub.

“As far as Red Sox fans, those who have stayed up late to watch us play out in seattle have seen Adrian make some great plays against us over the years, and beat us with home runs, one of the inside the park variety which you guys probably all remember. I think Adrian is the type of player you have to see day in and day out to appreciate not just what he does at third base and his ability to win games with the bat in his hand, but also the type of person that he is. His leadership skills and how hard he plays and how passionate he is about the game. I think he’€™s going to fit in with the Pedroia’s and the Youkilis’ of the world on this club and really help us have the right mindset day in and day out as we grind out what we hope will be our 95 wins and our playoff berth and a chance to win the World Series.’€

– Then there is the story of Beltre’s age. It was a well-documented case when it was discovered that Beltre was a year younger than had been initially reported by the Dodgers. This was surfaced at a dinner that included Boras just after the third baseman had been called up as a “20-year-old”. The agent was praising his client for being a rarity — a player who was making his major league debut at the age of 20 when the average for more rookie third basemen was 25. Beltre jumped in and said he didn’t know why everybody was saying he was 20 when he was only 19. That led to further investigation, that revealed that the Dodgers had illegally signed Beltre to a professional contact at the age of 15.

– As for the Red Sox’ incumbent third basemen, Mike Lowell, Epstein said:

‘€œWe’€™ve been in contact with Mike throughout the winter, most recently with his agent a few days ago. I think we’€™re actually on the same page on this one. For mike, it’€™s an unfortunate situation. It’€™s the second straight offseason in which he’€™s been rehabbing from surgery. His goal and our goal is for him to come to spring training and get back on the field and demonstrate his health and start playing, and playing well. I think this is a situation that will take care of itself. If mike gets out on the field and shows that he’€™s 100 percent healthy, as we expect him to be a couple of weeks into spring training and starts playing well, there will be an opportunity for him. If it’€™s here, if other players don’€™t show up in good health , or elsewhere. He’€™s going to be a sought-after player. We’€™ll probably be able to put mike in a situation either here or elsewhere where he can make an impact on a team. If he’€™s a little bit slower rehabbing or hasn’€™t quite gotten back to the position where he can play regularly, then I think mike feels like if he’€™s going to have a complementary type role, he’€™d rather have it here, better in Boston than anywhere else, the way he feels about the Red Sox and the way we feel about him. I know it might look awkward from the outside but it’€™s a situation that will probably take care of itself as long as we stay on the same page and we certainly are right now.’€

For more on Beltre …

Merloni: Why Beltre Signing Makes Sense

Bradford: Beltre’s Journey To Boston

Speier: Creative Accounting For Beltre

Speier: The Impact of Defense on the Red Sox

Speier: Why the Red Sox Targeted Beltre

Bradford: While Beltre is Introduced, Lowell Marches On

Nuggetpalooza: Adrian Beltre By the Numbers

Beltre Contract Details

01.07.10 at 7:32 pm ET
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Adrian Beltre’s one-year, $9 million contract with a $5 million player option for 2011, which was finalized today after the third baseman passed his physical, features a $2 million signing bonus and a $7 million salary for the coming season. There are no performance bonuses.

The contract also has a $5 million player for 2011 that could increase to $10 million in Beltre reaches 640 plate appearances. There is a conditional $1 million buyout of the player option that would be triggered if Beltre reaches 575 plate appearances.

It is also noteworthy that the Sox did not have to waive the right to offer Beltre salary arbitration — something that agent Scott Boras (and other agents) will sometimes seek for a player who is on a one-year deal, in order to give the player greater freedom when he next becomes a free agent.

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