Archive for January, 2012

Red Sox may have an antidote for complacency this spring

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

A year ago, the sense was undeniable. The Red Sox were going through the motions in spring training.

The roster was all but set prior to the first pitch of spring training. At the margins, there were a couple of small questions, chiefly related to the 12th pitcher on the staff to break camp at the start of the season (the big winner having been…Dennys Reyes, whose addition to the roster cost the Sox a bit more than $900,000 for a pitcher who gave up three runs in 1 2/3 innings spanning four appearances). But otherwise, the Red Sox approached the spring like a group that had answered nearly all of its roster questions prior to the start of the regular season. That doesn’t mean that members of the team failed to work hard or purposefully, but work behind the scenes is different from a dogfight for a roster spot or role.

And so, when the team got off to one of the worst starts in franchise history, losing its first six games and then going 2-12, that lackluster spring training was blamed by some for the team’s flat-footed beginning of 2011 — a start that, of course, proved costly given that the Sox missed the postseason by one game.

This year, the Sox will take a different approach. There will be a host of positions that are awaiting definition, with the team having open competitions for playing time.

The Sox will have Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Vicente Padilla, Aaron Cook, Andrew Miller, Felix Doubront and Carlos Silva (among others) competing for the last two spots in the starting rotation. The team will have Mike Aviles and Nick Punto trying to assert themselves as primary shortstop options. In the outfield, Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney will have the chance to lay claim to a role as the team’s primary right fielder (once Carl Crawford returns from his injury). Spots will also be up for grabs in the bullpen, where the pitchers in the rotation competition will join others such as Michael Bowden, Matt Albers and Franklin Morales in a scrum for the final spots.

“We like [competition] for spring training. We’€™ve had years where we haven’€™t had a ton of competition for the team. Some level of competition is healthy and it gives [manager Bobby Valentine] and the staff a chance to evaluate players when they’€™re in a little bit more of a legitimate setting,” said Sox GM Ben Cherington. “Spring training isn’€™t the best time to evaluate players, but when guys are trying to win a job, you’€™re seeing a version of them that’€™s closer to the real thing.

“We think there’€™s some benefit to having a team that’€™s not just going through spring training getting ready for Opening Day, but going through spring training with a purpose and something at stake. We’€™ll have that this spring.”

Valentine is mindful of the fact that it is difficult to hold legitimate and meaningful competitions in the spring. At the same time, he did note that there is value to the idea of having players working to win unsettled roster spots.

“I wish that the roster was extended through April so we could have real competition under the lights,” said Valentine. “I think it’s a misleading situation if they just think they’re competing on results. I don’t believe so much in results, but what we see and what there is, that’s how we’ll judge the competition. …

“[But] I think it’s always good for guys to feel like they have a chance to work and to make the team so that they work a little harder, because the more you work and practice, the better foundation you have to last the entire season.”

That, of course, is precisely where the 2012 Red Sox are looking to improve in comparison with their 2011 predecessor, a team that was as good as any team in baseball from May through August but whose season was sabotaged by its struggles at the beginning and end of the year.

Hot Stove: A’s reiterate interest in Manny Ramirez

Monday, January 30th, 2012

A’s assistant general manager David Forst, during a Q&A with fans at a team event Sunday in Oakland, said the team would consider signing Manny Ramirez.

“We’re open to it,” said Forst, backing up a comment from owner Lew Wolff last week. “We do have other things going on, and we expect other additions between now and Opening Day. We have never been in a situation where we had too many good players.”

Ramirez, who started last season with the Rays but abruptly retired after failing a drug test, must serve a 50-game suspension for his second violation of baseball’s policy on banned substances before he can suit up.

The former Red Sox slugger would turn 40 on or about the day he would be eligible to play.

“I think at this point it’s probably still speculation,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said, adding: “There’s probably some momentum to it, but certainly not anything that I’m in position right now to comment on.”

Report: Roy Oswalt might be leaning toward signing with Cardinals

Friday, January 27th, 2012

According to Jim Duquette of MLB Network Radio, the Cardinals appear to have the inside edge on signing free agent pitcher Roy Oswalt, although the Red Sox, Rangers, and Astros are still in the mix.

It was reported by ESPN.com’s Buster Olney earlier this week that the Red Sox had offered Oswalt a one-year deal worth approximately $5 million. Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday that the Cardinals’ offer approached $5 million.

According to a major league source, the Red Sox would be content in waiting to use any financial flexibility they might have down the road instead of getting in a bidding war for a player like Oswalt (or free agent pitcher Edwin Jackson).

Red Sox introduce new digital ticket initiative for upper bleacher seats

Friday, January 27th, 2012

The Red Sox announced today a brand new digital ticket initiative as well as information for tomorrow’s general ticket sale. Below is the full release from the Red Sox:

BOSTON, MA ‘€“ As part of an ongoing effort to provide fans and families with more opportunities to purchase the most affordable seats at Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox today introduced a new ‘€œDigital Ticket Initiative’€ that would help prevent the lowest priced seats at Fenway Park ‘€“ the Upper Bleacher seats priced at $12 ‘€“ from being sold on the secondary market at significantly higher prices.

For select high-demand games during the 2012 season, most seats in the Upper Bleacher area of the ballpark will only be offered as ‘€œdigital tickets’€ rather than printed tickets, and require the credit card used by the primary purchaser to be swiped at the gate in order to gain entry into the Park on game day.

‘€œOver the past 10 years, we have intentionally held the price of the Upper Bleacher seating category at $12 per seat in order to provide family-friendly pricing options for Red Sox fans,’€ said Red Sox SVP/Ticketing Ron Bumgarner. ‘€œThe downside of keeping these low price points is that these tickets sometimes end up on the secondary ticketing market at significantly marked up prices. By requiring the primary purchaser of the tickets to attend the game through this Digital Ticketing Initiative, our hope is to gradually eliminate those purchasing these specific tickets solely for the purpose of resale, and instead get these tickets into the hands of fans and families all over New England.’€ (more…)

Conor Jackson looking to move on from his ‘whirlwind’ month with Red Sox

Friday, January 27th, 2012

GILBERT, Ariz. — Life with the Red Sox has often served as a springboard for some players. They might be dropped in mid-season, find a role and supply a Bobby Kielty-like heroic moment somewhere in the midst of a postseason run.

It didn’€™t work out that way for Conor Jackson.

The 29-year-old, who was dealt from Oakland to the Red Sox on Aug. 31 for minor league pitcher Jason Rice, currently finds himself spending his mornings working out with Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Yankees catcher Russell Martin, Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier and a smattering of minor leaguers in a custom-made barn in back of Ethier’€™s house.

That’€™s the fun part. The waiting to hear about a job is another story.

Jackson is one of the remaining free agents still looking for a job with just a few weeks to go until spring training.

‘€œI’€™m a realist,’€ Jackson said. ‘€œI understand an everyday job is probably not available right now. It’€™s going to be coming off the bench. You look for outfielders who are left-handed, a first baseman who is young and spots you’€™ll get an opportunity to get some at-bats.

‘€œI’€™m just searching for the right opportunity. Free agency is not fun these days. Obviously at the end of the day you have to be a realist. That’€™s the big thing. I just want people to be honest with me where I stand with them. I understand nothing is going to be handed to me. I’€™ve had a couple of bad years so I have to prove I can play everyday again.’€

As for the Red Sox, that door seemingly closed for good when the team signed another right-handed-hitting option, Cody Ross, to fill out their outfield rotation.

‘€œI think they’€™re set now, especially after the signing of Cody,’€ Jackson said. ‘€œIt looks like they have their five and will stick with that.’€

Jackson never found his stride with the Red Sox, due in large part to injuries. The first came during his second start with the team, when he crashed into the Fenway Park right field wall, resulting in a knee injury. Later in the month, it would be the left field wall where a collision would take place, leading to another banged up knee.

He did have his moment, however, coming in an 18-9 Red Sox rout of the Orioles at Fenway when the righty hitter launched a grand slam over Fenway’€™s left field wall. But when the sting with the Sox was all said done, Jackson was left with 12-game resume in which he managed just three hits in 19 at-bats.

‘€œIt was a disappointing finish for me, and just the Red Sox in general,’€ he said. ‘€œGetting traded to a franchise like that, you wan to play as much as you can. Unfortunately my first start lingered for quite a while after I banged into that wall. It was a pretty salty taste in my mouth after finishing like that.

‘€œIt was an experience. It was a whirlwind. I’€™ve never seen another team’€™s reporters come in and cover another team. That was different. But it was a fun experience.’€

Jackson on former A’s teammate, and new Red Sox closer, Andrew Bailey: “Just a stud. A light’€™s out closer. When I was playing in Oakland I don’€™t remember him blowing a save. He’€™s got really good stuff. He’€™s going to fill in for Pap pretty well, and that’€™s a tough thing to do. It’€™s a good move to Boston. He’€™s going to transition pretty well.”

Jackson on former Oakland teammate, and current Red Sox outfielder, Ryan Sweeney: “One of the better defensive guys I’€™ve seen better. He can swing it, too. He just hits line-drives. That will be a nice addition.”

A look at the updated Red Sox payroll (and correcting the record on John Lackey’s deal)

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

The trade of Marco Scutaro unexpectedly freed up more payroll for luxury tax purposes than expected, as the shortstop’s $6 million salary in 2012 would have represented a $7.67 million payroll hit for luxury tax purposes. (More on that here.) Yet in another way, the Sox have slightly less flexibility than anticipated.

It had been assumed that John Lackey had given the team a couple million dollars in additional payroll flexibility with the news that Tommy John surgery that will cost him all of the 2012 season. That is because his absence for the season in turn gives the team an option on his services at the major league minimum for the 2015 season, thus seemingly turning his contract from a five-year, $82.5 million ($16.5 million AAV) contract to a six-year, $83 million contract ($13.83 million AAV).

However, that conclusion was based on a premature push of the fast-forward button. Lackey’s contract remains a five-year, $82.5 million deal. There was a conditional club option for the 2015 season that, if he missed an entire year with a preexisting elbow condition, he would pitch in 2015 for the major league minimum. That is now a club option (rather than a conditional one), rather than a guaranteed season. As such, it does not alter how Lackey’s contract impacts the team’s payroll in 2012. He still represents $16.5 million in salary against the luxury tax threshold in 2012.

That now out of the way, here’s a look at the Red Sox‘ current payroll commitments, in a year when the Red Sox appear to be budgeting for somewhere in the vicinity of $185 million to $190 million (a number that will exceed the luxury tax threshold of $178 million): (more…)

Dustin Pedroia on The Big Show: Punk’d by Andre Ethier

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Dustin Pedroia joined The Big Show for his weekly radio appearance to talk about the Marco Scutaro trade, Julio Iglesias, Nick Punto, Mike Aviles and his beloved San Francisco 49ers.

Yet the visit was particularly noteworthy for another reason, as the second baseman was confronted with a phone call from “Andrew, calling from his car.”

“People keep talking about this Punto and Aviles, I think they should be starting over you, they should be in the middle infield now,” the caller said. “I’ve been watching you play over the years and you ain’t that good.

“They already got rid of Scutaro, they should probably get rid of you, too,” the caller added in his rant.

Pedroia was quick to respond.

“Let me break it down for you, Andrew,” Pedroia, who won Rookie of the Year honors in 2007 and the AL MVP in 2008, responded. “I’ve got a couple of pieces of hardware at my house that says I’m pretty damn good.”

But lost in all the trash talk and back-and-forth banter was a simple truth — Andrew was, in fact, Dodgers All-Star rightfielder Andre Ethier, one of Pedroia’s closest friends. (more…)