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Red Sox dropped ball in compensation battle

02.22.12 at 7:18 am ET
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Theo Epstein 1, Red Sox 0.

That’s the score after the ridiculous, embarrassing, how the hell did it take this long compensation drama finally had its conclusion on Tuesday afternoon. It’s done, and from a Red Sox perspective this was bungled from the start.

Four months for Chris Carpenter (and for the 46,882nd time, it’s not that Chris Carpenter)? Really? You’re going to hear and read all about Carpenter’s 100 mph fastball and dominant performance in the 2011 Arizona Fall League and (wait for it) intriguing upside and all of that might be true, but here’s the reality: Carpenter had a 6.53 ERA in Triple-A last year and had a 1.97 WHIP in 10 appearances with the Cubs at the end of the 2011 season. He’s just another guy, the 14th-ranked prospect in a system so lousy that Tom Ricketts had to spend $20 million to being in Theo Epstein to basically start from scratch.

What happened to the “significant compensation” the Red Sox and Cubs reportedly agreed to, that Larry Lucchino told us was coming? Under even the most liberal definition Carpenter doesn’t qualify.

And this really isn’t a knock on Carpenter, who might figure it out and be a serviceable major league reliever. This is about John Henry and Lucchino and Ben Cherington, who all refused to step on the throats of the Cubs when they were in position where it should have been required to do so. This is Business 101, right? I understand that Henry and Cherington are friends with Theo Epstein, and that’s swell, but this is about making your franchise better. You have an asset someone else wants — and wants desperately, this was the grand prize for Ricketts, the biggest fish out there — and you just let him walk out the door and kiss all leverage goodbye?

Look, I understand that the Red Sox were OK with Epstein leaving. It was time, the big-money free agent track record was hideous, they could save a few bucks with Cherington, all that stuff makes sense. And I personally think Theo leaves a mixed track record behind (and a hell of a mess in some ways). You and I probably agree on all the good and all the bad. But that’s completely immaterial in this case, because Ricketts and the Cubs looked at Epstein and saw the Man Who Ended The Curse. Forget John Lackey, forget Carl Crawford and Matt Clement and all the whiffs. The Cubs needed a name and face to redefine the franchise, and Theo was the perfect fit.

This is where it gets confusing. Why didn’t the Red Sox hold Epstein hostage, stick him in an office and let him do paperwork until the Cubs gave them the prospect or player that they wanted? Not the second choice, not the fifth choice, not the 13th choice. Does anyone think the Cubs would let the deal fall apart over a prospect? Did you watch Epstein’s introductory press conference, or read the press coverage in Chicago when his name was first mentioned? It was tongue bath after tongue bath, the savior had arrived. The backlash of losing that because you wouldn’t give up a guy with a .420 OBP in Double-A would have been enormous, and the Cubs (already getting smoked by the press for years of ineptitude) wouldn’t have risked it. No chance.

So the Cubs got exactly what they wanted when they wanted, and the price was an underwhelming prospect. For the Red Sox, it was an opportunity inexplicably wasted.

Daniel Bard on starting role: ‘It’s something I asked for’

02.21.12 at 5:57 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Daniel Bard knows what he’s getting into. As matter of fact, he was adamant Tuesday, on the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers, that he asked Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington last fall to give him a shot at earning a starter’s spot in the rotation.

“I spoke with Ben [Monday] and he just said, ‘Hey, we wouldn’t do this unless we really thought it would work.’ And I said, ‘I wouldn’t be doing it if didn’t think it would work.’ I’m all in,” Bard said at the picnic bench outside the Red Sox clubhouse. “I’m committed to it and I think they are, too.

“I’m really excited about it. I think it’s a great opportunity for me. It’s something I asked for. Ben was very receptive. This was before Pap had even left. I brought it up to the team. They were very receptive. Then when Pap left, I figured they would kind of forget it ever happened and just move on because they wouldn’t want to lose both of us from the bullpen. Ben called me shortly after that and said, ‘We want to ride this through and see if we can get some bullpen arms.’ He was able to do that with [Andrew Bailey] and [Mark Melancon] and it opened the door for me to do this.”

Bard’s pitching coach Bob McClure is no stranger to this transition. He did it when he was with the Brewers in the 1983 and ’84.

“McClure had done it back in the day,” Bard said. “He’s offered me some good advice. He had done it with a couple of his pitchers in Kansas City. [Justin Masterson] has done it, talked to Masty this offseason. We were catching up on the phone and he was excited for me about it. It’s more just believing in yourself.”

McClure told our Alex Speier he certainly believes Bard can make the transition from flame-throwing set-up man to starter.

‘€œCan a guy repeat this type of delivery? Daniel’€™s is very simple. My guess is yes,’€ said McClure. ‘€œWhether he can start, I don’€™t know. It’€™s a whole different gig. But can he repeat what he’€™s doing 100 times, 120 times, 130 times? I believe he can.

‘€œIt’€™s a very simple, simple delivery. At first look, can he repeat his delivery where he can get the ball down there where he wants to throw it? I would think he can because his delivery is so simple.’€

The origins of Bard returning to his roots as a starter came right after the heartbreaking end to the 2011 season.

“I think it was early November or late October,” Bard recalled. “It was kind of just brought up. I mentioned it to my agent and he had some talks with Ben. And they went from there. Ben called me to see what my thoughts were and hear it straight form me. It just kind of progressed. I think it was kind of set in stone when I spoke to Bobby when he was hired. Our first conversation [he said], ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to start or close. I think I can do either one really well. Whatever you guys think will help the team more.’

“Turns out, they think starting is the way to go.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Andrew Bailey, Boston Red Sox, Daniel Bard, Jonathan Papelbon

On first day of Camp Valentine, Red Sox pitchers swing for a championship

02.21.12 at 5:56 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€“ Given the late-innings drama of Game 6 of last year’€™s World Series, in which the Rangers were twice within one excruciating strike of a championship as the game drifted into extra innings, it was a play that was easy to overlook.

It was, after all, only the second inning when Colby Lewis stepped to the plate with runners on first and second and nobody out and the Cardinals ahead of the Rangers, 2-1.

Twice before that year, both on June 17 in a contest against the Braves, Lewis had stepped to the plate in obvious bunt situations with runners on first and second. Both times, he had failed to execute a sacrifice, the result being forceouts of the lead runner at third base in both instances.

Back to the World Series, on a night that will live in infamy in Rangers lore: Everyone in the ballpark — including everyone in a Cardinals uniform — knew that Lewis was up to bunt, and bunt he did. He bunted the first pitch foul. On the next play, David Freese charged from third to field it more or less in the batter’€™s box; he fired to third, where shortstop Rafael Furcal was covering for a force play, and Furcal fired across the diamond to nab Lewis at first, where second baseman Nick Punto was covering. Read the rest of this entry »

Clay Buchholz got a surprise when he stepped on the scale Monday

02.21.12 at 10:38 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€“ Every spring training, Clay Buchholz‘€™ weight seems to be a storyline.

There was great excitement the previous two reporting dates when the 27-year-old came into camp weighing close to 200 pounds.

Then came Monday’€™s physical, a new reality was thrown Buchholz’€™ way: The scale had him at 184 pounds.

While in past years the thinned-down 6-foot-3 might be cause for concern — suggesting that the righty would have a hard time turning in an ample amount of injuries with such a build ‘€“ the listed weight might actually be an encouraging sign.

Back injuries and extra weight don’€™t usually go well together, suggesting this is trending in the proper direction

‘€œThe weight came off so easy that it felt like it almost needed to come off,’€ Buchholz said Tuesday morning. ‘€œI feel better now just being able to move around. I feel lighter on my feet than I did last year, all year. It came off quick in a month. That’€™s sort of why I don’€™t mind it.’€

Does it mean that this is where the weight should have been all along?

‘€œI hope so, because that’€™s what it feels like,’€ Buchholz said. ‘€œIt feels good.

‘€œI knew I was lighter. I didn’€™t know I was 10 pounds lighter than at the beginning of the offseason. I was talking to Pedroia this offseason and he said, ‘€˜They want me to weigh 185, but I feel good playing at 165 or 170. It doesn’€™t matter how much you weigh as long as you can do your job and help the team win.’€™’€

What Cody Ross can bring to the Red Sox

02.21.12 at 10:38 am ET
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FORT MYERS — Of all the new faces on the Red Sox this spring, there’s probably no one who can relate more with what happened to the Red Sox last September than Cody Ross.

While the Red Sox were slumping in September, Ross was on a Giants team that was at least expected to make it back to the playoffs to defend their 2010 World Series title. They faded and missed the playoffs completely.

“To be quite honest, I really didn’t realize it all that much because we were going through so [many] struggles ourselves,” Ross said Tuesday morning in his new digs in the Red Sox clubhouse. “To have a team win the World Series and come back and not even make the playoffs, that’s terrible. So, I was trying to focus on that. I really didn’t know what was going on until after the offseason and then I was like, ‘Wow, it was quite a slide.’

“Them and the Braves had similar slides going down the stretch. It definitely didn’t affect my decision, thinking I don’t know if I want to play for that team. I want to be on a team where I knew everybody in here wants to go to that next level and go to the playoffs.”

Looking to fill the void in right field after J.D. Drew left and while Ryan Kalish continues to heal from neck surgery, the Red Sox signed 31-year-old right-handed bat on Jan. 23 to a one-year, $3 million deal. He’ll battle with Ryan Sweeney and Kalish for playing time in right.

“I knew with the changes they’ve made they’re trying to get a different feel and a different look,” Ross said. “I felt like I’d be a perfect fit coming in, maybe bring a little different energy or whatever you have. It definitely played a role.”

Sweeney thinks his experience playing right field at AT&T Park in San Francisco last year will come in handy.

“Coming from San Francisco, that’s probably one of the most challenging right fields in all of baseball,” he said. “Here it’s tough as well. But it’s just something you have to get used to. I’ll be out there early every day, getting used to the dimensions and the wall. Just something you get used to.”

Ross had the reputation as a versatile outfielder when he was claimed in late Aug. 2010 off waivers to merely block a similar attempt by the Padres, who at the time were leading the NL West. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Red Sox, Cody Ross, florida marlins, MLB

Red Sox pitcher Clayton Mortensen, acquired for Marco Scutaro, out to prove his worth

02.21.12 at 9:53 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — For the last month, it was a line of thinking that Clayton Mortensen heard many times. The Red Sox moved Marco Scutaro in a salary dump.

The Sox just wanted to shed his contract from their payroll, and were content to trade a starting shortstop for nothing simply to get salary relief. The so-called ‘€œnothing’€ in question is Mortensen, the pitcher whom the Sox acquired from the Rockies in the Scutaro deal.

Understandably, that portrayal was seen as unflattering by Mortensen, who is in Red Sox big league camp as a member of the 40-man roster.

‘€œIt was definitely interesting to me,’€ said Mortensen. ‘€œI don’€™t put the expectations so high on myself, but I don’€™t consider myself a schmuck either. I know what I can do. I’€™m going to come over here and show you got something of value. You can use me in any sort of way. I’€™m versatile, can be a starter or reliever, and can definitely show that you got some value.’€

Unquestionably, the primary motive for the trade from the Sox’€™ vantage point was indeed to shed Scutaro’€™s salary (which would have been calculated $7.67 million against the luxury tax threshold) and create greater payroll flexibility. The team used the available money to sign Cody Ross, and the club also now has an increased ability to take on salary with additional players in spring training or as the trade deadline approaches.

That said, the Sox did have a choice of a couple of Rockies prospects and chose Mortensen, a 2007 sandwich pick (No. 36 overall) who was traded by the Cardinals to the A’€™s in 2009 as part of a deadline deal for Matt Holliday, went from Oakland to Colorado a year ago in an exchange of minor league pitchers and now finds himself with his fourth organization in fewer than three years. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: clayton mortensen, colorado rockies, marco scutaro,

Health updates on Aaron Cook and Ross Ohlendorf

02.21.12 at 9:19 am ET
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FORT MYERS — While Aaron Cook and Ross Ohlendorf will be on slightly different schedules than the other pitchers who are being stretched out as starters, both pitchers suggest that the pace reflects nothing more than a cautious approach and is not indicative of some meaningful ailment.

Cook, who is in camp on a minor league contract, has dealt with shoulder issues in both 2010 and 2011. As a result, even though he has thrown two bullpen sessions — including a 35-pitch bullpen yesterday that “felt great” — the Sox are going to take a slightly conservative approach to building up his workload this spring.

“I just think it’€™s a little precautionary thing,” said Cook. “They just want to make sure I don’€™t jump the gun too fast and end up taking a couple steps back. I feel like I’€™m right where I need to be. As long as I keep taking steps and moving forward, I don’€™t think there’€™s any issues.”

As for Ohlendorf, who signed a minor league deal with the Sox last week, he is dealing with minor back stiffness after traveling to Fort Myers from his home in Austin, Texas.

“I just didn’t throw for a couple days,” said Ohlendorf. “I just kind of sat for three days.”

Ohlendorf said that he otherwise has felt great this spring, and suggested that his delayed start to throwing bullpens is unrelated to the shoulder issues that burdened him in both 2010 and 2011.

Read More: aaron cook, ross ohlendorf,

The legend of Mike Aviles’ calves

02.20.12 at 10:28 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — There aren’t too many days in a baseball season — even in spring training — where shorts are the standard issue for a workout. But Monday, that was the case, with whichever Red Sox choosing to participate in voluntary workouts donning red shorts to go along with what was typically a gray t-shirt.

It left Mike Aviles counting the days until baseball pants could be worn again.

With the usual baseball garb, the Red Sox shortstop can usually glide through his days without noticing the conversation-starter that has buzzed around virtually every clubhouse he has been in throughout his baseball-playing plays — Aviles has unwordly big calves. (See accompanying photo.)

“My dad has big legs, my brother, my sister. It runs in my family. It’€™s like a known thing in our family. The first thing you look for when the baby comes out is, you look for the calves,” he said Monday. “You know exactly whose kid that is.”

When Aviles was traded to the Red Sox last summer, the immediate buzz around the clubhouse wasn’t regarding the infielder’s playing abilities, but rather the uniqueness of his leg muscles. And it wasn’t just members of the Sox who took note.

Orlando Cabrera would always say all the time, ‘€˜I don’€™t understand why you don’€™t wear those pants up. If I had those calves I would wear them up all the time.’€™ I told him it was because everybody looks at them all the time and asks me about them, so I just wear pants all the time,” he explained.

But the truly fascinating part about Aviles’ unique physical stature is the road he has taken to get to this point. It is one that leaves inquiring minds in disbelief.

“In all honesty, I don’€™t workout my calves, ever, because if I work out they’€™ll just get bigger,” he said. “I’€™m not lying to you. I don’€™t do anything with my calves. They would just get bigger and they’€™re already big. Ever since I was in Little League, it is the first thing everybody notices. When I was younger, before I got to college, I was always skinny. I had always been just bones and huge calves. There would be this skinny kid running around with big calves, and that was me until I started growing into my body.

“That’€™s the first thing everybody always tells me. They say, ‘€˜Nice calves. Are those real?’€™ I go to the gym at home and guys who are doing body-building ask, ‘€˜Are those real? What do you do? Did you have implants?’€™ I’€™m like, ‘€˜I promise you, you can shadow me in this gym and I’€™ll not do any calf exercises.’€™ My mom and my dad have big legs. In our family we have strong, muscular legs. Nobody notices the rest of my legs because all they see is the calves. … Now you see why I wear my pants down low.”

Aviles leg muscles are so developed, he explained, that he can’t wear certain style of jeans, and when he does buy a pair it has to be a size 36 waist even though his waist is only 32 inches.

And even though Aviles doesn’t incorporate his calves into workouts, he has managed to maintain a better overall fitness level over the years. In 2008, the last time the former Royal played shortstop on a regular basis, he weighed 210 pounds while maintaining 13 percent body fat. Now, with his latest opportunity to become an everyday shortstop upon him, Aviles tilts the scales at 205 with nine percent body fat.

“I’€™m actually ligthter now because believe or not back then I never watched what I ate. I ate whatever I wanted and didn’€™t care until I got hurt and then I really took a whole new focus on my career,” said Aviles, referencing his Tommy John surgery in 2009. ” I had never been hurt before so I didn’€™t realize why it was important to take care of myself.”

John Henry: Terry Francona ‘will always be a part of the Red Sox family’

02.20.12 at 9:20 pm ET
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FORT MYERS — Two days after a report in the Boston Herald suggested that he had not returned several phone calls from former Red Sox manager Terry Francona this offseason, Sox owner John Henry wrote in an email that he had not been trying to avoid contact since the former manager parted ways with the Sox. Henry said that he did talk to Francona on Monday, in the process dispelling misunderstandings that the two might have had, and that the two plan to get together in Fort Myers this spring.

“I called Tito about this today. We spoke also about a number of things, but regarding what you inquired about, he said he had called on my cell phone but didn’€™t leave any messages. We simply missed each other apparently a few times,” Henry wrote. “Had he left me a message, I would have certainly called him back. We talked extensively and agreed that we had waited far too long in speaking and both of us had probably come to some wrong conclusions as to why we hadn’€™t. We are looking forward to sitting down in Ft. Myers this spring for lunch or a game. He will always be a part of the Red Sox family.”

Henry also praised his former employee, who managed the Sox for eight seasons, reaching the playoffs five times and winning two titles.

“Tito was the best manager the Boston Red Sox ever had,” he wrote. “We won two World Series together. He’€™ll be terrific on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. And no one can doubt that he will be managing again very soon.”

Read More: John Henry, Terry Francona,

Tim Wakefield on The Big Show: Retirement ‘the hardest thing I’ve ever done’

02.20.12 at 8:16 pm ET
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Almost a week removed from his retirement, former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield joined The Big Show to talk about his decision to walk away from the game, the Red Sox collapse last September and his post-retirement plans.

After spending the last 17 professional seasons with the Red Sox, Wakefield announced his retirement last Friday. For Wakefield, it was a difficult decision that took a lot of time and contemplation to come to, but it is one that he is at peace with.

“I made a lot of phone calls to a lot of different guys, but ultimately it’€™s a decision you’€™re going to have to make for yourself,” Wakefield said. “Most of the guys that I spoke to said the same thing — it’€™s something that nobody can lure you either way. It’€™s a decision I wrestled with for most of the offseason.

“It’€™s the hardest thing I’€™ve ever done. It’€™s a very hard decision when you’€™re passionate about something that you’€™ve done for most of my adult life.”

With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training to get ready for the 2012 season, Wakefield said that it’s hard to believe that, for the first time in over two decades, he won’t be participating.

“It’€™s still a surreal feeling for me,” Wakefield said. “It’€™s hard to imagine today is the first day for pitchers and catchers to be in camp. Today is a tough day for me not being there and knowing I’€™m not going to be there. It’€™s something I’€™m going to have to adapt to now.”

Wakefield’s career ultimately came to an end when the Red Sox infamously blew a nine-game wild card lead to the Rays in the final month of the season, a meltdown that became a source for intense scrutiny and speculation for months. Wakefield acknowledged that the Red Sox’s shortcomings weren’t a product of a single thing; rather, it was a combination of factors that did the team in.

“In my honest opinion, and this is me personally talking, there’€™s a fine line between playing to win and playing not to lose and I think we fell on the other side of that line,” Wakefield said. “We were putting so much pressure on ourselves to win that we were afraid to lose. There’€™s a fine line there between playing to win and playing not to lose and I think we lost a little bit of focus on what we did.

“Teams go through hot streaks where everything’€™s clicking ‘€“ the offense and the defense and the pitching is all clicking and you can win a lot of games. When all three things shut down for a time, it’€™s tough to win games. It got down to the wire there and unfortunately we weren’€™t able to pull it off.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the full interview, go to the Big Show audio on demand page.

On what’s preventing the Red Sox from asking him to come back in 2012, if needed: “Nothing’€™s going to prevent them from doing that. Hopefully it won’€™t get to that point. It’€™s hard to fathom, but I’€™m at peace with my decision, it’€™s something that didn’€™t come lightly, obviously. If I do get a call in May or June, I’€™ll have to entertain those options.”

On how he developed his trademark knuckleball: “It was something that I played around with younger when I was in high school and something my dad really used to throw to me. I wanted to play catch with him every day. That was my passion -‘€“ baseball, baseball, baseball. It was kind of a funny thing, my dad would throw my knuckleballs just to tire me out so I would want to go inside and eat dinner. It’€™s just something I kind of picked up and learned to throw on my own and kind of had in my back pocket.”

On the reports of players drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse: “I hardly ever saw it. Guys have got to eat and sometimes guys get hungry over the course of a game and there’€™s not any food in the club house, so somebody went and got some chicken one day. That’€™s not the issue of why we collapsed in September, honestly. It was a once in a while type thing that might have happened. Ultimately, you have to blame the way we played. It had nothing to do with nobody being in shape. I don’€™t know, I wish I could put my finger on one thing of why it happened, but unfortunately it happened and it was tough to swallow.”

On his post-retirement plans: “I have some options already out there. I was honored that the Red Sox actually invited me to sit on the board of the Red Sox Foundation and do some charity work for them and the Jimmy Fund, which you guys know I’€™m very fond of. I have a huge spot in my heart for them and that organization and what their mission is. I need to digest a lot of stuff first before I make a decision and I’€™m weighing all my options. There are some opportunities out there that I’€™m looking into. I think I really just want to enjoy my kids, my wife and my family and not be so busy from day to day and the grind of going through spring training and the course of a season and the traveling. Not being able to spend time with your family, that’€™s the hardest part.”

Read More: Tim Wakefield,
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