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Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo ready to make their mark

01.16.15 at 3:54 pm ET
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Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts

For two guys with barely 60 games between them, Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo project to play major roles on the 2015 Red Sox.

The two worked out at Harvard on Friday at the team’s rookie development program, though it’s fair to say they were in very different places than the rest of the prospects in attendance.

In Betts, the Red Sox have the player they believe can take the torch from Jacoby Ellsbury and become their leadoff hitter for the next five or 10 years. In Castillo, they boast an athletic center fielder who will likely start the year at the bottom of the batting order, but is more than capable of hitting atop it.

Betts and Castillo represent energy and excitement, two dimensions last year’s team sorely lacked.

“[The Red Sox] will take care of what they need to take care of, which is the Red Sox,”€ Betts told reporters. “They’€™re going to put the winning nine out there. If I’€™m not a part of it, that’€™s fine. I’€™ll be ready and on the bench to go. And if I am, that’€™s great as well.”

As for Castillo, he’s coming off a successful winter ball stint in Puerto Rico, as well as a nice run in the Arizona Fall League, and is raring to get to spring training and begin his big league career in earnest.

“€œIt’s gone really well actually,”€ he said through translator Adrian Lorenzo. “€œIt’s helping me build some experience and on top of that, when I got back to Miami after playing in those leagues, I really stepped it up with my preparation and my training so I feel really good going into this season and this spring training.”

Betts hit .291 with an .812 OPS at age 21 in 52 games with the Red Sox last year. Castillo arrived in mid-September and hit .333 with a pair of homers in 10 games.

If they make an impact in 2015, the Red Sox will be in business.

“The first thing that stands out about playing in Boston is the difference in the size of the crowds, playing in front of tens of thousands of people is an obvious difference,” Castillo said. “But I guess I was able, especially towards the end of my stint, I was able to do well in controlling that and keeping the nerves down and I think that’s something I’ll take to help me out moving forward.”

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Top prospect Blake Swihart preparing to take final step

01.16.15 at 3:20 pm ET
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Blake Swihart

Blake Swihart

Blake Swihart’s time is coming. But he won’t be rushed.

The team’s No. 1 prospect –€“ and one of the top prospects in baseball –€“ is on the cusp of the big leagues. He’s everything a club could want in a developing catcher, a switch hitter with legit power potential, a live arm, and an athletic build that’s reminiscent of Giants MVP Buster Posey.

The Red Sox have resisted including Swihart in deals for established talents like All-Star left-hander Cole Hamels of the Phillies, because they believe he has the chance to be something special.

The 22-year-old has only played 18 games at Triple-A, though, and the Red Sox have learned from the problems that a number of their prospects faced last year. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Swihart spends most or all of this season in the minors. Quicker isn’t always better.

“That’s always a goal, but no matter where I’m at, I need to just play where I’m at and do what I know I can do,” Swihart told reporters on Friday at Harvard, where he was one of 10 prospects to take part in the team’s rookie development program. “There’s always opportunities. You’ve got to take them in stride and take advantage of them.”

There’s plenty to like about Swihart, who hit .293 with 13 homers and an .810 OPS between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket last year. Drafted in the first round as a raw high school talent out of New Mexico in 2011, Swihart has slowly but surely improved while ascending through the minors.

He has grown as a game caller, and last year he threw out an impressive 45.6 percent of opposing base stealers (31 for 68).

“Just the knowledge of catching,” Swihart said when asked how far he had come. “Like you said, I was new when I first came in. Now that I’m more grown into it, I guess you’d say, I’ve developed in overall aspects. I know how to call pitches now. I know how to get chemistry with my other pitchers. That’s what it takes, is get your chemistry going and get your feet wet and now everything’s running smoothly.”

Farm director Ben Crockett knows the team struggled integrating Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts into the lineup last year. Without speaking directly about Swihart, he said the club plans to be sensible about promoting its prospects, while also cautioning against being over-cautious.

‘€œThere were a lot of areas that, organizationally, from our end and on the field, it could be done better,” Crockett said. “We try to learn from that. At the same time, we’re not going to be shy or hesitate to trust the next young player to make an impact and to have an important part on the team.”

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Don’t count on Cole Hamels coming to Red Sox (yet)

01.15.15 at 3:57 pm ET
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Cole Hamels. (Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images)

Cole Hamels. (Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images)

Remember a few years ago when Arizona was floating out Justin Upton in the offseason? He was the then-23-year-old, super-talented outfielder who had already put in two full seasons of star-level production.

Upton also had just signed a six-year extension for $51.25 million, making him a reasonable investment all the way through the outfielder’s 2015 season (when he would be 28 years old).

No deal was done, with then-Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers asking for three significant players in return.

Moral of that story: you never know unless you ask.

It sure seems like this is the way things are trending in regards to the Phillies’ approach to trading Cole Hamels.

According to a source familiar with the Phillies’ thinking on the matter, Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro and his club have been “unrealistic in their expectations” in regard to a return on Hamels.

The Red Sox are still are keeping an eye on Hamels’ availability, with a report from CSN Philly stating that the Rangers, Cardinals, Padres and Red Sox are the “primary suitors” for the lefty.

It seems clear the Phillies won’t deal Hamels unless they get the haul they’re looking for, with the pitcher owed $96 million over the next four seasons. If the Red Sox make a move, Hamels would surely ask them to exercise the fifth year option — pushing the deal up to $110 million — since the Sox are on his no-trade list.

Amaro has to hit a home run on this deal, and he knows it. That’s why the asking price. But the caveat to waiting things out is any risk the Phillies run in regards to an injury to the 31-year-old.

Hamels has been sturdy, making at least 30 starts in each of the last seven seasons, but as the Phillies learned in the Cliff Lee situation, such runs can easily come to an abrupt halt.

The Red Sox are also in a position where they can let a more palatable deal come to them, with a collection starters the organization feels comfortable heading into spring training with. There are also a myriad of starters with one year left on their current deals, making the acquisition of such a frontline starter potentially more reasonable closer to the non-waiver trade deadline.

Dustin Pedroia evidently is feeling pretty good: ‘I’m full go’

01.14.15 at 11:28 pm ET
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While John Farrell‘s statement on MLB Network Radio Wednesday offered some enlightenment in regards to the status of the Red Sox‘ second baseman — revealing that Dustin Pedroia had been cleared for baseball activity — for the 31-year-old it was old news.

“If [spring training] started tomorrow, I’€™m ready,” Pedroia said by phone. “I’€™ve got all my strength back. I’€™m lifting like a maniac. I’€™m pretty excited. Last year at this time I couldn’€™t hit yet. It’€™s obvious a lot different offseason this year than last year.

“I’€™m full go. I’€™ve been throwing, hitting, taking some ground balls. I’€™m ready to go. … I’€™m done with the rehab. I haven’€™t missed a beat. I haven’€™t had my strength like normal for few years. I’€™m excited.”

Pedroia has settled into his usual offseason routine. Wednesday it included the usual weight lifting and a visit to his Arizona home’s batting cage to continue his hitting (which he has been participating in since just before Christmas).

This time, the day also included a trip to the store to buy his 5-year-old, Dylan, catchers gear. (“This guy rakes,” Pedroia said of his oldest son’s hitting skills.)

“Every day of my life is pretty good,” he explained.

These days, in this offseason, seem a bit better than years past if no other reason than Pedroia feels back to normal. After undergoing surgery on his left wrist in September, he has given himself enough healing time to hit the ground running come mid-February for the first time in the past few years.

With hand, wrist and foot injuries, Pedroia’s offseasons have been uneven of late. Last year, the Sox’s World Series run, coupled with thumb surgery and early-season injury, had the infielder playing catch-up until ultimately shutting down his season with a month to go.

“It’€™s been a while,” said Pedroia of having a semi-normal offseason. “You go through times you have some injuries, have to have some surgeries, things like that. You just have to prepare the best you can. When we won the World Series I had surgery and there’€™s time you have to rest and recover, so I got a late start and it caught up with me. Now I’€™m full steam ahead. I’€™m ready, I feel strong and there’€™s nothing I’€™ll be thinking about when I get on the field other than winning games.

“I never worry about if this is going to be my best year. Every year I try and come out and win games. As far as I’€™m concerned. I’€™ve had two good years and both years we’€™ve won the World Series. That’€™s what you play for, that’€™s what we all play for and that should be everybody’€™s mindset coming in. If we lose our last game we don’€™t accept that. That’€™s the way I’€™m going to look at it and that’€™s the way all the guys are going to look at it.”

And just in case it wasn’t clear …

“I’€™m ready to go, dude,” Pedroia concluded.

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In shocking development, ESPN picks Red Sox vs. Yankees for early season Sunday night games

01.14.15 at 10:37 am ET
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It’s nice to know some things remain the same when mapping out a baseball season.

In this case, it’s ESPN using the matchups between the Red Sox and Yankees for two of its first five Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts.

ESPN released its early season schedule for the broadcast — which will include Curt Schilling this season after the pitcher took last season off due to cancer treatments. It is the following (with all games starting at 8 p.m. ET):

April 5: Cardinals at Cubs (Jon Lester‘s debut with the Cubs)
April 12: Red Sox at Yankees
April 19: Reds at Cardinals
April 26: Mets at Yankees
May 3: Yankees at Red Sox

Of course, when it comes to the Red Sox playing these games, the next question always trends toward what the next day looks like.

As for the April 12 tilt, that will lead into the Red Sox’ home opener, which starts at 3:05 p.m. against the Nationals. The May 3 game in Boston is followed the next day by a night home game against Tampa Bay.

Dan Butler has found new home, landing with Nationals

01.14.15 at 9:07 am ET
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Dan Butler

Dan Butler

Dan Butler — who was recently designated for assignment by the Red Sox in order to make room for Craig Breslow on the 40-man roster — has been traded to the Washington Nationals.

In return for the 28-year-old catcher, the Red Sox will receive 27-year-old pitcher Daniel Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum does not need to be placed on 40-man roster, although the former Xavier University product is scheduled to become a minor league free agent at the end of the 2015 season.

Rosenbaum has served as starter in the minors for the Nationals, going 8-10 with a 3.94 ERA in 26 starts for Double-A Harrisburg in 2012 before totaling a 3.87 ERA in 28 Triple-A starts in ’13.

He made just four starts for Triple-A Syracuse in 2014, having to shut down his season due to Tommy John surgery.

For Butler, its a fresh start, although the Nationals already have four catchers on their 40-man roster, with Wilson Ramos and Jose Lobaton at the top of the depth chart.

Butler recently talked to WEEI.com about the opportunity that could spawn off of the Red Sox decision to DFA the backstop. (Click here for Butler’s comments.)

Daniel Nava has contemplated switch from switch-hitting

01.12.15 at 9:01 pm ET
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Daniel Nava

Daniel Nava

It’€™s a conversation that usually makes switch-hitters cringe.

Why don’€™t some of these guys just give up the practice of hitting from both sides, and focus on the skill-set they excel at?

Initially, former Red Sox outfielder Bobby Kielty would bristle at such an idea until he finally committed to exclusively hitting from the right side. Jason Varitek never abandoned switch-hitting even though his career batting average was 30 points better as a righty (and 50 points higher his final four seasons).

Daniel Nava, however, doesn’€™t mind broaching the subject. And for good reason: he has thought about making the switch away from switch-hitting. (Although he currently has no plans to do make such a move.)

“Oh yeah,” said Nava when asked Monday by phone about if he had contemplated hitting exclusively from the left side. “I didn’t think about it too much in 2013, but then last year I definitely thought about it. I’ve talked with [Red Sox hitting coach] Chili [Davis] about it before when I struggled in 2011. I asked him what he thought I should do because sometimes I felt terrible from one side. He told me you never feel the same on both sides, but there’s definitely a side I had more of a challenge with.”

For his career, Nava is a .293 hitter from the left side, while totaling just a .203 batting average as a righty. Last season it became even more extreme, with the outfielder managing a .293-.159 split.

In the final three months of the ’14 season, Nava hit .321 from the left side, among the best in the majors over that span.

And now, with the Red Sox flush with righty-hitting outfielders, the 31-year-old is on the verge of embracing what is working for him.

“I have thought about it. Is it something I’m going to do? I don’t know. It’s a tough thing to do,” he said. “[Shane] Victorino did it a couple of years ago, just dropping it. It definitely runs through my head. It’s definitely something I’m considering doing, but at the same time it’s something I’ve never done. Would I even be effective lefty on lefty, or would it be better hitting against lefties from the right side. I would have to go out and give it a test run.”

Despite the numbers, Nava’€™s hesitancy is somewhat understandable. It has been quite a while, after all, since he stared down a lefty pitcher as a lefty hitter.

“Probably Little League,” he said when asked the last time he didn’€™t hit from both sides of the plate. “I’ve been a switch-hitter my whole life. Hopefully I raked in Little League, but I don’t’ really remember.”

It’s Rolando Arrojo time once again: MLB arbitration season

01.12.15 at 12:56 pm ET
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Rolando Arrojo (Getty Images)

Rolando Arrojo (Getty Images)

In the unpredictably that have been Red Sox‘ offseasons over the years, one thing has remained deliciously constant since 2003 — this time of year we’re reminded of Rolando Arrojo.

It was Arrojo, after all, who remains as the last Red Sox player to actually have his arbitration case go to arbitration, with the club being awarded its figure of $1.9 million instead of the $2.8 million asked of the then-32-year-old pitcher during a 2002 hearing.

Since then, not one Red Sox player has had to step into a room with the fate of their contract being decided by arbitrators.

There have been close calls. In 2007 Wily Mo Pena the was sitting outside of the room when a settlement was hatched. In ’12, David Ortiz actually ventured to the Vinoy Hotel in St. Petersburg, Fla. for his hearing only to agree upon a deal for he midpoint of what he was asking and what the club was offering four hours prior to the hearing. (Click here for details of the Ortiz case.)

This time around, the Red Sox only have four arbitration-elgible players — Daniel Nava, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Junichi Tazawa.

Tuesday marks the day players can start filing their salary requests, with the official day to begin the exchange of numbers between the clubs and the players taking place Friday. Arbitration hearings will be from Feb. 1-21.

The Red Sox have simply made it a policy to avoid the potentially cantankerous nature of arbitration hearings with players since that Arrojo hearing. And they aren’t alone. In the past two years, anyway, the number of actual hearings has plummeted, with three taking place last year and, in 2013 (for the first time since the process’ inception in 1974) none being heard.

Actually over the past 10 years players actually having to go through such a deal has become a rarity. Here are the totals … 2005: 3 (clubs 2, players 1); ’06: 6 (clubs 4, players 2); ’07: 7 (clubs 4, players 3); ’08: 8 (clubs 6, players 2); ’09: 3 (clubs 1, players 2); ’10: 8 (clubs 5, players 3); ’11: 3 (clubs 1, players 2); ’12: 7 (clubs 5, players 2).

Conversely, in the 1980’s and early ’90’s, everybody seemingly went to arbitration, with an average of 20 cases being heard over a 15-year span.

For what it’s worth, MLB Trade Rumors projects Tazawa (who is arbitration-eligible for a second time) to make $2 million when it’s all said and done, with Nava coming in at $1.9 million. This will be Nava’s first opportunity to enter the world of arbitraiton.

The newly-acquired Miley is projected at $4.3 million, while Porcello is predicted to get a healthy $12.2 million

The guess here is that we will still be talking about Arrojo this time next year.

David Ortiz gets better of Adam Jones thanks to Patriots win

01.11.15 at 9:44 am ET
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It’s still just more than three months before the American League East party gets started, but David Ortiz and Baltimore’s Adam Jones decided to kick the competition off a bit early.

In a Twitter exchange between the two throughout Saturday — with each publicly rooting for their respective NFL team, the Patriots and Ravens — Jones finally threw down the gauntlet and proposed a bet. (Spoiler alert: the Red Sos DH won.)

Here’s how it went down …

Should Red Sox be bracing for that 2024 road trip?

01.10.15 at 7:21 am ET
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Baseball might be returning to the Olympics for first time since 2008. (Getty Images)

Baseball might be returning to the Olympics for first time since 2008. (Getty Images)

Boston mayor Marty Walsh clearly wants the Olympics to come to his city for 2024. According to his comments on Middays with MFB Friday afternoon, he also is pretty jacked up about the possibility of baseball being part of the festivities.

“I think they’€™re trying to keep baseball in the Olympics,” Walsh said. (Click here to listen to audio of the interview.) “Can you imagine having the Gold Medal game in Fenway Park? It would be incredible. Fenway Park is probably the best example of Boston. We’€™ve had World Series there. We’€™ve had concerts there. We’€™ve had hockey. And now to top it off, to bring in the United States, possibiy playing in a Gold Medal game at Fenway Park. How better does it get for a sports fan?”

Walsh is right, there have been rumblings about bringing baseball back to the Olympics, with the sport having been booted from the Games after 2008. And, thanks to newly-mandated flexibility on the part of the IOC, it has a really good chance to make a return.

The IOC recently ruled that starting in 2020 not only wouldn’t it be beholden to the 28-sport limit of years past going forward, but that host cities will be allowed to propose the inclusion of one or more additional events for their games.

You can bet that, with the iconic Fenway Park sitting in the middle of the action, Boston would be pleading for baseball to make a return.

The reality is that baseball might be back in the fold even before ’24, with Tokyo expected to make a push for both that sport and softball for when the host the Summer Olympics in ’20.

So, what would this mean for the Red Sox?

Well, the last time Olympic baseball was played in a Major League city was during the 1996 Atlanta games. On that occasion, the Braves were forced on a 19-day road trip. (That still match up to the Astros’ 26-game road trip scheduled due to the 1992 Republican National Convention.)

The Braves finished their 17-game, 5,600-mile trip with their sanity, a 9-8 mark on the swing, and enough gumption to finish the season in first-place. While many of the Braves players were relieved to get home, some on the trip saw the merits of such a sojourn.

“Now I’ve got to go home and pay the bills and do the wash,” then-broadcaster Don Sutton told the Associated Press at the time. “I’ve been on a 19-day working vacation. I had great room service, played a great golf course almost every day, and I would tell you that Morton’s [the restaurant chain] has a better wine cellar than I do.

“Of course, I had friends with me on the first half of the trip and my wife on the second.”

As for the fear of losing any major leaguers to such an Olympic endeavor, don’t count on it. Former MLB commissioner Bud Selig seemingly threw down the gauntlet when addressing the issue in 2013.

“Look, we can’t stop our season in August. We just can’t,” Selig said. “You can’t say to your fans: `We’ll see you in the next period of time. Your club loses some players but yours doesn’t.”

Just something to think about … for the next few years.

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