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Former Red Sox first-rounder Kolbrin Vitek retires

03.28.14 at 12:46 am ET
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Kolbrin Vitek (right), pictured here in his pro debut with the Lowell Spinners in 2010, retired. (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

Kolbrin Vitek (right), pictured here in his pro debut with the Lowell Spinners and teammates Bryce Brentz (left) and Anthony Ranaudo (center) in 2010, retired. (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — According to industry sources, Kolbrin Vitek — taken by the Red Sox with their first-round pick in the 2010 draft — filed his retirement papers in mid-March, ending a playing career that never lived up to the lofty expectations that followed him into professional ball.

Vitek had a solid if unspectacular first full pro season in 2011, hitting .281 with a .350 OBP and .372 slugging mark. But he struggled with significant injuries in both 2012 (when he hit .242/.284/.339 in Double-A Portland while limited by an intercostal injury) and 2013 (.204/.260/.254 over 58 games back in Portland, with his season largely wiped out by neck issues and a concussion).

Vitek, who was drafted as a third baseman but moved to left field in Portland last year, reported to spring training this year hoping that his health woes were behind him. However, when he experienced a recurrence of the neck issues and lingering effects of the concussion while trying to play, he decided that it was time to move on from his baseball career.

When the Sox drafted Vitek in the first round (No. 20 overall) out of Ball State University, they believed that he represented a player with exceptional athleticism and the sort of tremendous bat speed that offered the potential to yield high averages and OBPs with the possibility of perhaps 15-20 homers and a comparable number of steals while playing third base — a diverse skill set that offered the potential for a well above-average big league regular. But even in his lone full healthy season of 2011, his passive approach at the plate led to a relative absence of impacting the ball (he hit just three homers).

Still, the Sox viewed that year as a potential foundation for future success, particularly given his promising work at third base. But in 2012, against Double-A competition, Vitek’s performance lagged behind his tools, a development that became pronounced as a result of his injuries. By last season, his organizational future seemed in question.

While Vitek did not pan out, the Red Sox‘ 2010 draft, at least from a distance of four years, currently looks like a successful one. Four of the team’s next five picks after Vitek — supplemental first-rounders Bryce Brentz and Anthony Ranaudo, second-rounder Brandon Workman and fourth-rounder Garin Cecchini — have advanced to Triple-A or higher with the possibility of making a big league impact this year. (Workman, of course, has already shown the ability to make an impact at the highest level of competition.)

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Sox place Craig Breslow, Steven Wright on disabled list to start season

03.27.14 at 11:11 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox made a pair of roster moves following their 4-1 victory over the Twins at JetBlue Park on Thursday night, placing both Craig Breslow (mild left shoulder strain) and Steven Wright (recovery from sports hernia surgery) on the disabled list. Wright has just been cleared to ramp up his throwing program and will open the year in extended spring training in Fort Myers. Breslow, by contrast, likely will be activated in the early days of the season.

Breslow’s disabled list trip is retroactive to March 21, meaning that he can be activated as early as April 5. He has pitched in two minor league spring training games, tossing 15 pitches (10 strikes) in an inning of work with a fastball at about 87 mph and a swing-and-miss changeup on Thursday. Breslow felt like the DL stint was unnecessary and told the Sox as much, but the team feels that he will benefit from building arm strength with perhaps two or three minor league outings before he joins the roster.

“[Breslow] felt like with three appearances that were outlined [during spring training], he felt like he’d be ready for the start of the season. We just felt like similar to last year, with a couple extra outings in that first week of the season just to continue to build his foundation,” said manager John Farrell, alluding to the fact that Breslow spent the initial weeks of last year on the DL. “I thought today, watching him in the minor league game, there was a clear step-up in stuff without overexerting. We expect this stay to be minimal.”

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Grady Sizemore goes 2-for-3: ‘Everything is as good as I could have hoped for’

03.27.14 at 11:00 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Grady Sizemore made his final case a compelling one. The outfielder, playing in his third straight game for the first time all spring, went 2-for-3 with a walk, lofting a double to the opposite field, high off the wall in left-center, singling up the middle against left-hander Glen Perkins and once again looking like a player who has managed, despite two and a half years off, to look big league-ready.

Sizemore is now hitting .333 with a .381 OBP, .462 slugging mark, three strikeouts and four walks this spring. He’s enjoyed a steady build-up over the course of the spring with no setbacks after his two-year absence. He’s felt routine soreness, but still said that he feels good even as he’s continued to raise the bar.

“You definitely want to push it and test it and see how things feel. You’re definitely going to have some bumps and bruises like you would in any season or any week of baseball, but it’s all been mild stuff,” said Sizemore. “Everything has been great. I’ve held up well. It’s good to get the reps. It’s nice to play consecutive days and get a better feel for timing, moving around. Everything is as good as I could have hoped for.”

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John Farrell finally announces Jon Lester as Opening Day starter

03.27.14 at 6:43 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. – Spring training’€™s worst-kept secret became public Thursday afternoon. Jon Lester will be the Red Sox‘€™ Opening Day starter.

Even though he had insinuated Lester would receive his fourth career Opening Day start throughout camp, Red Sox manager John Farrell always stopped short of officially making the announcement.

But prior to the Sox’€™ third-to-last spring training game, against the Twins at JetBlue Park, Farrell finally made the March 31 start in Baltimore official.

“Oh yeah, Jon Lester is,” said Farrell when asked about the designation Thursday. “I know, earth-shattering news, and the world is round. So he starts Monday.”

In last year’€™s opener, Lester allowed two runs over five innings against the Yankees. In total, the lefty has allowed eight runs over 17 1/3 innings in Opening Day starts.

Lester’€™s worst opener came in his first try, giving up five runs over 5 1/3 innings during the first game of the 2011 season in Texas.

“He’s become a very good pitcher at a young age,”€ said Farrell of the 30-year-old. “€œAnd the early trajectory of his career, for a guy that’s made that number of starts for a franchise as storied as this, without having gotten to free agency yet, all those things combine. It speaks volumes for a talented guy at a very early age.”

Lester is coming off a 2013 season in which he went 15-8 with a 3.75 ERA over 33 starts. It was a campaign which was punctuated by his postseason, which saw the southpaw give up just six runs in 34 2/3 innings.

Farrell also noted how well Lester has handled the Red Sox’€™ spring training while dealing with contract extension talks. The pitcher has given up one run in 13 1/3 innings of Grapefruit League action, having also pitched in two minor league games.

“He’s done a very good job of it,”€ said Farrell of Lester balancing contract talks and on-field preparation. “I’m sure, in his mind, there was some anticipation leading up to when the talks began. Since they have started, he’s done a very good job balancing it, compartmentalizing those issues off the field and focusing on the task at hand. I think it speaks to how he’s able to concentrate and maintain his focus. We see it in situations other than what he’s going through, whether it’s postseason or otherwise. That speaks to his mental strength.”

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Grady Sizemore will not bat leadoff to start season

03.27.14 at 4:54 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox have yet to make a definitive announcement regarding who will be their Opening Day center fielder. But manager John Farrell did express one certainty on Thursday: If Grady Sizemore makes the team as its Opening Day center fielder, he won’t hit leadoff.

Though Sizemore was once one of the game’s most dynamic leadoff hitters, Farrell said that there were a couple of reasons that left him inclined (again, assuming Sizemore is on the roster) to have someone else in the top spot. First,Farrell wants to get a high on-base player at the top of the order. For now, Sizemore has been more of a contact hitter (.306 average) than an on-base machine (two walks, .342 OBP) in his return to games this spring. Moreover, Farrell noted that lowering Sizemore in the order would be one way of making the buildup in his workload more gradual as he attempts to return to the big leagues after not playing at any level in two and a half years.

“We look at those top spots in the lineup as on bases being the most important, and we also factor in, if it were to be Grady, there’s a potential of one more at-bat every single night, and how does that cumulative effect affect him given the amount of time off?” noted Farrell. “We’d probably see him middle, where he’s at, in the five/six range, in the lineup initially.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Jon Lester says productive contract talks continue, he would have a hard time turning down a Max Scherzer-like contract

03.26.14 at 4:59 pm ET
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Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester (WEEI.com)

Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester (WEEI.com)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jon Lester‘s final tuneup for Opening Day proved a drastic contrast to what awaits him in five days. The left-hander tossed six innings against High-A players, allowing a run on three hits and two walks while punching out seven on 94 pitches amidst the quiet of the back fields at JetBlue Park. That outing will serve as the prelude to his fourth consecutive Opening Day assignment next Monday against the Orioles, a responsibility that serves as a reminder of his unquestioned role as the leader of the Red Sox pitching staff.

But the countdown to the regular season comes with another time of anticipation. Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said that the team hopes to resolve contract negotiations with the left-hander on a potential extension of his current deal (the $13 million option on the five-year, $30 million contract he signed in 2009) prior to the start of the season. Lester said that he had “no update” regarding the state of negotiations, though he said that both sides are continuing their talks.

“Both sides are optimistic about it. The biggest thing, really anytime you’re talking about this, the biggest thing is communication,” said Lester. “As long as both ends are open and we’re communicating, I think there’s always that chance of something getting done. But as far as anything else, as far as anything else, I can’t really comment on it. That’s up to [the front office and Lester's agents] to talk about as far as details, but I know that communication is still open and nobody’s blown up on each other, so I think that’s a good sign.

“The dialogue has gone well,” he added. “The biggest thing is they’re still talking. We know how some of these things go, where guys blow up on each other and things get ended pretty quickly.”

One example of that occurred recently, in fact, when the Tigers publicly cut off talks with reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. Reports suggest that Scherzer walked away from a six-year, $144 million deal. Lester suggested that, while he didn’t know the factors that led Scherzer to turn down the offer and didn’t want to comment on his decision specifically, in his own circumstance — with his agents, his team, etc. — Lester would have found it difficult to turn down such an offer. Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox valued by Forbes at $1.5B, third highest in MLB

03.26.14 at 1:54 pm ET
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Forbes magazine’s annual ranking of Major League teams’ worth places the Red Sox in third at $1.5 billion, up from $1.3 million billion a year ago.

The Yankees hold the top spot for the 17th consecutive season, valued at $2.5 billion. The Dodgers, who this year replaced the Yankees with the highest payroll in baseball, are second at $2 billion. That’s a 24 percent increase over last year and matches the price the current owners paid for the team in 2012.

The top four teams remain in the same order as as last year.

Behind the Red Sox are the Cubs ($1.2 billion), Giants ($1 billion) and Phillies ($975 million).

The Rays, despite being a competitive team the last few years, are at the bottom of the rankings with a worth of $485 million. Just ahead of them are the Royals ($490 million), Athletics ($495 million) and Marlins ($500 million).

The average team value rose 9 percent from last year to $811 million, primarily because of increased media rights fees.

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