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Craig Breslow’s excellent offseason adventure (that ended right back with Red Sox)

12.30.14 at 5:41 pm ET
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Craig Breslow was going to make the most of this free agency thing.

Breslow has punctuated his first go-round in the world of living the life of a free agent with an agreement to rejoin the Red Sox on a one-year, $2 million deal. How he got to that point, however, encompassed a fairly unique path.

A one-year hiccup after a pretty impressive six-season run paved the way for the out-of-the-ordinary free agent experience.

“In terms of the process, it was exciting, it was unsettling,” said the 34-year-old lefty reliever, who still has yet to take his physical with the Red Sox. “I feel like if I were coming off of my 2013 season it probably would have been a much more opportunistic and exciting time. But the body of work I had over seven or eight years spoke to the capability of me as a pitcher. Only a handful of guys go through their career without some season that is an outlier. But everyone will go through a career with one season being their worst. Now, the fact that mine came on the cusp of free agency that’s not how you draw it up. Still, I think there were a number of teams that appreciated the big picture and the body work and that there were a number of things that went into the disappointment of my 2014 season and that I was very much motivated to change that.”

The adventure started after the Red Sox declined a $4 million option on Breslow’s contract, making him available to the rest of the baseball world.

The decision by the Sox came as no surprise to Breslow, who was coming off the worst season of his big league career. The lefty never felt right after his impressive run through October, 2013, battling shoulder weakness from first time he picked up a ball almost a year ago.

The end result was a 5.96 ERA over 60 appearances in ’14. It was a far cry from his showing from ’08-13, when he pitched in the second-most games of any lefty reliever (392) while compiling a 2.82 ERA.

Breslow had some explaining to do. So he, and his agent, Bob Baratta, set out to offer some explanations.

“There’s probably clear boundaries between the story that I have to tell and the information teams have gotten on their own,” he said. “Certain teams are probably more reliant on their own data, where others are very interested in what players have to say. I felt like because six years had taken such a distinct path and there was one data point that fell out of place I had a story to tell, and I knew there was nobody better to tell it but me. So I felt for a number of reasons it made a lot of sense for me to be very involved in the free agent process.”

How he got involved was to venture to San Diego with Baratta to the Major League Baseball winter meetings.

Breslow would join his agent in meeting with interested teams, offering a helpful complement to the track record Baratta could present via numbers on a piece of paper. It was certainly a unique approach for both the player and those attending what the lefty categorized as, “kind of like a combination of a high school prom, a college fraternity party and a corporate holiday party, all under one roof.”

“Ultimately even teams we diverged from mentioned their appreciation for my involvement and that I had left an impression on them,” Breslow said. “Certainly there will be teams where I’m just not a fit. And there will be teams that just won’t be an opportunity. Me as a player looking for employment and just me as a curious intellectual looking to gain perspective on the industry it was worth it.”

By the time he left California, Breslow had a fairly good grasp on what would be available to him. The Cubs and a few other teams continued to show healthy interest in him. But it was the Red Sox who never were too far out of the picture.

“Toward the end of the season I had a number of conversations with Ben [Cherington],” Breslow said. “I knew he had been in touch with Bob, but the timing wasn’t right for them to exercise the option, which I understood. Then some of the bigger pieces started to fall we both started realizing that maybe there was a fit. When it comes to feeling like I have an interesting track record and a story to tell, while nobody knows the story better than I do, the second character in the story — Ben and [manager] John [Farrell] and [pitching coach] Juan [Nieves] and [bullpen coach] Dana [Levangie] — have been the guys literally across the street. I think I had expressed to Ben and John what I thought contributed to 2014 and what I planned to do this offseason so that 2015 could look a lot like 2013. I absolutely believed it and I know the work that I’m doing is going to pay off. And as the discussion progressed they realized it also.

“My story is that I didn’t have a healthy offseason going into 2014 and what I needed more than anything was to put this free agent process behind me and just focus on my workouts and physical therapy.”

With the offseason adventure over, Breslow will continue his workouts at Mike Boyle’s complex in Woburn before heading to Fort Myers at the beginning of February. Unlike the year before, he has felt healthy and strong ever since the first time he started throwing, Nov. 1.

“Last year I started throwing after the New Year and felt like I never really caught up to where I would like to be having gotten such a late start not feeling not so great when I picked up a ball,” he said. “It was never like I picked up the ball, started throwing and never looked back. I hit some bumps along the way. But ever since I picked up a ball on Nov. 1 I’ve been able to build up arm strength, increase distance, intensity and volume every step of the way and feel really good.

“A part of my decision making was influenced by feeling like I owed something to this organization based on how I left in 2014.”

Don’t count on Max Scherzer coming to Red Sox

12.29.14 at 1:39 pm ET
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Don't count on Max Scherzer coming to Boston. (Getty Images)

Don’t count on Max Scherzer coming to Boston. (Getty Images)

It never made sense, and still doesn’t.

Don’t hold your breath for the Red Sox to swoop and sign Max Scherzer.

When trying to identify landing spots for the free agent pitcher, the Red Sox keep coming up on the list. As was noted in a CBSSports.com column today, the Sox have the need for a top of the rotation pitcher, they have money and they have shown a willingness to extend to six years for a premier starting pitcher relatively the same age as Jon Lester. (Scherzer is six months younger than Lester.)

A recent poll on MLB Trade Rumors put the Red Sox as the fourth-most logical new home for Scherzer, narrowly behind the Cardinals.

It makes for good conversation, but not realistic outcomes.

The Red Sox always valued Lester over Scherzer, so the idea that they would extend beyond the six-year, $135 million offer made the lefty for Scherzer isn’t plausible. One major league source familiar with the Red Sox’ thinking believes the notion of the Red Sox being a player in the Scherzer talks is driven by a desire to use the Sox as leverage against what many believe to be the most legitimate Scherzer suitor, the Yankees.

By all accounts, the Red Sox are more than willing to see what they have in their current group of starters and go from there. They seem to particularly be intrigued by what Joe Kelly could emerge into, with at very least the newly-acquired trio of Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson have enough of a recent history to supply much needed quality innings.

It’s not to say the Red Sox won’t be on the lookout for an ace. But they have also come to the conclusion that such an acquisition may be more realistically explored months from now.

It’s not likely that Scherzer will slide into something like a one-year, pillow contract (there’s no way, Scott Boras goes that route in an offseason his client’s most logical comp hauls in a record deal with the Cubs). It’s hard to believe the Yankees won’t be a player, with the Tigers and Giants (with James Shields a more likely scenario) possibly looming.

The Red Sox? Don’t count on it.

Should the Red Sox make a run at Max Scherzer?

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Rusney Castillo leaves Puerto Rico having made his mark

12.27.14 at 2:13 pm ET
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Rusney Castillo. (Getty Images)

Rusney Castillo left his mark in Puerto Rico. (Getty Images)

Rusney Castillo is ready to finally get a break from baseball for a bit.

The 27 year old outfielder, who snuck in 10 games with the Red Sox at the end of the 2014 season after signing his seven-year, $72.5 million deal, has seen his run of winter ball participation come to an end.

Castillo will spend the remainder of the offseason in the Miami area after playing in 10 games for Alex Cora‘s Criollos de Caguas team in the Puerto Rico Winter League, leaving the team earlier this week. The stint comes after an eight-game stint in the Arizona Fall League.

According to Cora, Castillo didn’t leave without making a positive impression.

“He’€™s ready to play in the big leagues,” the former Red Sox infielder said. “Mentally, we were very impressed with his approach. He didn’€™t try and pull too much. Most of his hits were back up the middle, right-center. Defensively was the part that caught our eye. He did a really good job in center field. He has a feel of where to play guys after that first at-bat. We liked what we saw.”

Castillo played center field for Criollos de Caguas, hitting leadoff, second and third. The righty hitter got in 37 at-bats, hitting .405 with a home run and two stolen bases. He walked twice and struck out four times.

Between the two leagues, Castillo combined to total 78 plate appearances, with his Arizona Fall League experience getting cut short due to a thumb injury.

One of the most encouraging aspects of the outfielder’s work in Puerto Rico, according to Cora, was the opportunity to refine a leg kick he started picking up toward the conclusion of his stint with the Red Sox last season.

“He was working on that new leg kick,” said Cora, who said Red Sox executive Allard Baird came down to check in with Castillo about a week ago. “He tried to use it toward the end of the season in the big leagues and sometimes he was caught in between trying to get his foot down. But the more he played, the better he got at it. Hopefully for him with spring training and learning the pitchers and more repetition, he’€™s going to be OK with it.

“The report we got that was he was raw baseball-wise. But he’€™s not. The way he talks the game in the dugout. The way he gets details. That really caught my eye.”

How David Ross landed with Cubs and not Red Sox (or Padres)

12.26.14 at 3:14 pm ET
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David Ross thought the entire offseason was bizarre enough. As the former Red Sox catcher put it, “€œI was blown away and flattered by the offers and opportunities that came my way. It really shocked me.”€

Then the morning of Dec. 19 came around, and that took the unpredictability to another level.

“That last day was crazy,” Ross said by phone Friday afternoon.

Ross is the new owner of a two-year, $5 million deal with the Cubs, an agreement that was unofficially announced the Friday night before Christmas. But it was earlier that day when things took a turn he never saw coming.

Here’€™s what happened …

The day before, Thursday, Ross had informed the Red Sox he was going to verbally commit to the Cubs. Chicago had extended a two-year contract, which was a level the Red Sox didn’t appear ready to commit to.

According to the catcher, the Cubs’€™ signing of Jon Lester –€“ the pitcher Ross had caught with so much success over the previous two seasons — also most likely had some impact on both the organizations’€™ offers.

“I think the two-year deal … I don’€™t know what pushed the Red Sox out, but I think the two-year deal may have been a little more than they wanted to go, to be honest with you,” Ross explained. “They didn’€™t say that, but I think that’€™s where they were at. I don’€™t know if Lester had anything to do with it. They told me it was independent of Lester. They didn’€™t stop their pursuit of me after Lester signed. But they might have been more aggressive if Lester came back. I don’€™t know that, but if I were them … I think about that, trying to take me out of it and trying to be real and see what an organization would want or what would I give me if I were an organization.”

Then, later that Thursday, San Diego — whom had already been rebuffed by Ross two different times throughout the offseason — came back with a fairly aggressive offer. It was a proposal that was relayed to Ross by his agent, Ryan Gleichowski, Friday morning. He told Gleichowski they could talk about it after the catcher finished his workout.

To Ross’ surprise, there was plenty to discuss after those two hours at the gym.

There had been the agreement by the Padres to trade catcher Ryan Hanigan –€“ whom was just acquired by San Diego three days earlier — to the Red Sox in exchange for Will Middlebrooks. And then a report that Ross had also agreed to a deal with the Padres.

“It was a really weird day,” he said. “I went to sleep and got up the next morning and my agent told me the Padres had made another offer. I told him I was going to workout and we would talk when I got out. I literally got out of the gym, turned on my radio and they said David Ross had committed to the Padres. I couldn’€™t believe it. So I got my agent on the phone right away to try and figure that out. For about two hours of my day, it was crazy.

“I had turned [the Padres] down twice, saying no right away. I hadn’€™t fully committed to the Cubs, but I had. I wanted to be a man of my word. Me and Theo [Epstein] go back to 20€™08 and I respect him. Once Boston was off the table, I had already put my heart with Chicago.”

Despite not having any inside knowledge, the deal of Hanigan to the Red Sox didn’€™t surprise Ross. Even after San Diego’€™s deal for the former Reds and Rays backstop, the Padres had kept pursuing Ross, with the catcher’€™s good friend and former teammate Dave Roberts taking lead in San Diego’€™s communication.

“They were still calling for me so I knew they were going to move someone,” Ross said. “Then I heard they might move Middlebrooks to San Diego and I knew the Red Sox had always liked Hanigan. Ben had called me on him before they signed A.J. [Pierzynski] but I don’€™t think it was going to work out with Cincinnati. I knew they really liked Hanigan so I just started assuming they were going to deal Hanigan, and sure enough. I didn’€™t know any of that was going on the next day when I was at the gym. It was crazy.”

After assuring Epstein and Cubs that there was no agreement with the Padres, and he remained committed to Chicago, the reality of joining Joe Maddon‘€™s team truly sunk in.

There were no hard feelings toward the Red Sox. (“I had told them I will not make a decision without talking to them first,” he said. “They were going to get right of first refusal. So we checked in every couple of weeks. We kind of agreed that if I was going to go a different way that I would give them a head’€™s up and let them know what the offer was. They were a treat to deal with, to be honest with you.”) But the combination of the two years, along with family-related factors paved the way for Ross’€™ decision.

“I really didn’€™t think there were a whole lot of teams interested, and interested to the level they were,” said Ross, who was limited to 86 regular season games in two seasons with the Red Sox. “When you have the year I had … I hadn’€™t been a part of a whole lot of losing teams, maybe it drains you a little bit mentally and you start wondering about how much longer I could play this game and if teams will be interested. I was going to be 38 years old, not having a good offensive years and my defensive numbers were down. Coming off the high of the year before it was sort of depressing. So, yeah, it was totally different than how I thought it would shake out, to be honest with you.”

He added, “€œKind of the deciding factor with Chicago was that I have some friends there, Joe Maddon‘€™s approach to the game and how he treats players. That is a really good dynamic for my family. If you get in at midnight you’€™re not expected to be at the yard at 2 o’€™clock. Those sort of things weighed on my mind a little more. The day game, talking to [Ryan] Dempster, was more of cool thing that I thought. You get to have breakfast with your kids and then also have dinner with them. But the two-year offer, and [Eric] Hinske is a good buddy of mine … Knowing how the Red Sox treat their players and how they do everything first-class made it a tough decision. They try and take as much off their plate as possible so they can just focus on baseball, and I know Theo is big into the mindset of how they think and what they should focus on … To me, there were more positives in Chicago for me and my family.”

What the Red Sox bullpen might look like

12.23.14 at 10:34 am ET
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Koji Uehara

Koji Uehara

Today we wrote about how the Red Sox priority has to be finishing off the construction of the bullpen. With some uncertainty involving the starting rotation, it would seem to make sense to have as good a read on the relievers heading into the season as possible.

(To read the entire column, click here.)

So far, this is what we know …

— Koji Uehara will come in as closer.

— Edward Mujica (he had a 1.78 ERA in his 79 post-All-Star break appearances) will join Junichi Tazawa as the primary set-up men.

— If Craig Breslow‘s 2014 is, indeed, an aberration he also enters into that group.

— Brandon Workman should get every opportunity to become the factor he was at the end of 2013.

— Newly-acquired Anthony Varvaro almost certainly will be in the equation as a viable ground ball-inducer, heading to camp out of options.

That’s six. There would seem to be room for one more.

Last Opening Day, the only differences in the group was the presence of Burke Badenhop, Chris Capuano and Andrew Miller. (Breslow started the year on the disabled list)

While Varvaro might be viewed as a cheaper replacement for Badenhop (although the jack-of-all-trades free agent would seemingly still be valuable fit if re-signed), the Sox would seemingly be down one lefty. There are still free agent options (Phil Coke, Neal Cotts, Joe Beimel among them).

But this might be a spot the Sox look to fix with an internal option. For this very reason, the Drake Britton vs. Tommy Layne camp competition will be something to watch. If Britton impresses to the level which he did until the very end of spring training last year, he would certainly have the upper-hand considering the 25 year old is out of options.

(As a quick aside, here are the players who are — or will be — on the 40-man roster and out of options: Varvaro, Britton, Breslow, Mujica and Daniel Nava.)

That would still seemingly leave one spot to find an impact arm, via promotion, trade or free agency. Matt Barnes might be an interesting option, although it is unclear if the Red Sox plan on continuing him down the road of a starter for the 2015 season. With options, the likes of Heath Hembree, Edwin Escobar and newly-acquired Zeke Spruill would have to separate themselves dramatically in camp to have a shot at opening with the big club.

Of the free agents, Badenhop might be the best option/fit, but one of an intriguing group just might slip through the cracks and add an unexpected element to this group…

Which free agent reliever do you want the Red Sox to make a run at?

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Live chat: Talking Red Sox, Hot Stove with Rob Bradford, noon

12.23.14 at 9:48 am ET
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Join Rob Bradford of WEEI.com for a live chat Tuesday, starting at noon. Ask Bradford any and all questions about the Red Sox, the Hot Stove season, or anything else. Get your questions in now …

Live Blog Red Sox live chat, Bradford
 

Red Sox officially send Will Middlebrooks to Padres for Ryan Hanigan

12.19.14 at 10:53 pm ET
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The Red Sox officially announced Friday night that they are sending Will Middlebrooks to San Diego in exchange for Ryan Hanigan.

Completion of the deal was contingent on Middlebrooks passing his physical with the Padres. The 26-year-old recently said that he is still recovering from a wrist injury, although he didn’€™t view the ailment as an issue heading into 2015.

‘€œ€œI want to stay in Boston; I want to play in Boston,’€€ Middlebooks said a few weeks ago at David Ortiz‘€˜s charity golf event. ‘€œI came up here, and I know it’€™€™s pretty rare for someone to stay in one place their whole career. I understand that. But I’€™€™m still going to try. I don’€™€™t really fit the mix right now. It doesn’€™€™t seem that there’€™€™s a place for me now. But it’€™€™s a long time until April and a lot of things can happen.’€

After the Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval, there wasn’€™t a full-time spot on the roster for the third baseman. Battling injuries the past two seasons Middlebrooks has batted .213 with 19 homers, 168 strikeouts and a .265 on-base percentage since the start of 2013.

‘€œIt’€™€™s not enjoyable to be replaced,’€€ he added. ‘€œBut like I said, I understand. I’€™€™m trying to look at the big picture for the organization, but selfishly I say, ‘€˜€˜What about me? What’€™€™s going to happen with me?’€™€™ I’€™€™m curious to see what’€™€™s going to happen.’€

The Red Sox have previously expressed interested in Hanigan (an Andover native), targeting the 34-year-old right-handed hitter to back up Christian Vazquez. Hanigan, who played with Tampa Bay last season after spending his previous seven big league seasons with the Reds, was traded to San Diego earlier this week.

Hanigan played in 84 games with the Rays, hitting .218 with five home runs. His career-high in games played came in ‘€™12, totaling 112 appearances. He carries a career .256 batting average and .694 OPS.

Source: Red Sox agree to bring back left-hander Craig Breslow to one-year, $2 million deal

12.19.14 at 9:22 pm ET
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According to an industry source, the Red Sox have reached an agreement with Craig Breslow to bring back the left-hander on a one-year, $2 million deal. The team had declined its one-year, $4 million option on Breslow following the 2014 season, in which Breslow struggled to a 2-4 record with a 5.96 ERA in 60 appearances. That struggle represented a career-worst year for a pitcher who had been one of the most consistent left-handed relievers in baseball for several years prior to that, forging a 2.82 ERA in an average of 65 games a year from 2008-13.

‘€œI’€™ve never before had to play the last game of such a miserable season,’€ Breslow said on the final day of the season. ‘€œThere were a lot of firsts this year. I’€™ve never struggled like this at any point of my career. I’€™ve never had a full season that ended up like this, especially one that had significant expectations going on. The best part of this season is that it’€™s done. ‘€¦

‘€œI’€™m not looking for sympathy. I recognize that in my mind, and I think quite pragmatically, 2014 was the complement to 2013. I wouldn’€™t undo any of that. I would gladly make that sacrifice. As much as this stinks, being able to contribute to a team that won a World Series is something that guys play for 20 years and never get a chance to do,’€ he added. ‘€œI think it’€™s kind of like I had the ultimate high of highs last year and the ultimate low of lows last year and in 2015 I’€™ll go back to being the same guy I was for six of the last seven years.’€

Breslow attended the Major League Baseball winter meetings to meet with potentially interested teams. On Friday, he narrowed his decision down to the Red Sox and Cubs before making the decision to return to the team that acquired him in a trade with the Diamondbacks at the July 31 deadline in 2012.

Sources: David Ross agrees to 2-year deal with Cubs; Craig Breslow deciding between Red Sox, Cubs

12.19.14 at 6:15 pm ET
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According to a major league source, David Ross has agreed to a two-year, $5 million deal with the Cubs.

The 37-year-old had narrowed his decision down to the Red Sox, Padres and Cubs prior to Friday. The Red Sox, however, appear to be on the verge of acquiring Ryan Hanigan from San Diego for third baseman Will Middlebrooks.

With the choice coming down to the Padres and Cubs, Ross made the move to join his former teammate Jon Lester in Chicago.

Ross battled various injuries during his two-year stint with the Red Sox, including concussions. He played in a combined 86 regular-season games with the Sox, thriving during the team’s 2013 postseason run when the backstop took over starting duties for the final two rounds.

Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com was first to report the agreement.

The Cubs and Red Sox seemingly have at least one more free agent showdown, with another major league source suggesting reliever Craig Breslow has narrowed his decision down to the two teams. The Red Sox declined their $4 million option on the lefty earlier this offseason.

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Wade Miley on Hot Stove show: ‘You can’t tell me Babe Ruth ever stopped eating gluten’

12.19.14 at 11:24 am ET
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Wade Miley

Wade Miley

New Red Sox pitcher Wade Miley checked in with Rob Bradford, Alex Speier and Mike Mutnansky on Thursday’s Hot Stove show, and the left-hander clarified his view of the gluten controversy with his former team, the Diamondbacks. To hear the interview, go to the WEEI audio on demand page.

Miley said his initial comments about the Diamondbacks pushing him to eliminate gluten from his diet were overblown.

“I said something a little sarcastic and I guess it got taken a little further than it needed to be taken,” Miley said. “They did not require you to be gluten free. They would like you to be a little healthier than I would think, than I would expect, but no, they definitely don’t require you to be gluten free. They just really worry about your health a lot.”

Added Miley: “I’m a big fan of old-school guys. You can’t tell me Babe Ruth ever stopped eating gluten.”

Asked what food he was most hesitant to give up, Miley responded, “Fried chicken.”

The 6-foot-0, 220-pound Miley is known for his durability, as he’s pitched 200 innings each of the past two seasons, after going 194 innings in 2012. While his ERA climbed from 3.33 in 2013 to 4.34 last year, Miley said he was surprised that the Diamondbacks were ready to move him.

“I had heard about some of the rumors, but I really didn’t think much of them,” he said. “Those things happen. I guess Arizona’s in the rebuilding stage and whatever they’re trying to do. I was looking forward to going back to Arizona and trying to win there, and then bam, just like that, things just got a little heavy. And I really didn’t know what team it would be, but I talked to a few people and they said looks like I’m going to get traded. And then Boston hops in the picture and then it happened.

“It was kind of nuts, those three days. It was a little drawn out more than I thought it would be. I’ve never been traded, so I didn’t really know the process it would be. It was kind of stressful a little bit, but it all worked out for the best.”

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