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Source: ‘Nothing to report’ on Red Sox interest in Vicente Padilla

01.12.12 at 8:04 pm ET
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The Red Sox have been talking to Vicente Padilla this offseason. (AP)

According to a major league source, despite a report from CBSSports.com that the Red Sox are “moving toward a deal” with Vicente Padilla, the Red Sox are merely “talking to [Padilla] among others” and there is “nothing to report” about the team’s interest, despite a separate report out of Nicaragua that the 34-year-old flew to Boston on Thursday to be examined by the team’s medical staff. Another baseball source suggested that Padilla has been talking with several teams this winter, including the Red Sox.

Padilla would seem to fit the mold of the buy-low candidates whom the Red Sox have been adding in some volume this offseason. The 34-year-old, who saw his 2010 season cut short by a bulging disc in his neck, endured similar discomfort in early 2011, convincing him to undergo season-ending surgery to fuse vertebrae in his neck.

The 13-year veteran has been pitching in Nicaragua this winter to show that he is once again healthy. By most accounts, he has done just that, with his fastball reportedly being clocked in the mid-90s. According to the initial report of Padilla’s visit with the Red Sox, he is 1-1 with a 2.81 ERA, 13 strikeouts and one walk in 16 innings this winter.

“He’s healthy and he’s throwing hard,” said one industry source.

Padilla has always had terrific stuff, featuring a low- to mid-90s fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. He has worked as both a starter and reliever in the majors, though he has limited bullpen experience in the last decade. After beginning his career in the Diamondbacks and Phillies bullpens (he was traded from Arizona to Philadelphia as part of the Curt Schilling deal), Padilla made all but one of his 238 appearances from 2002-10 as a starter. In that time, he was 97-81 with a 4.32 ERA, 6.3 strikeouts and 3.1 walks per nine innings for the Phillies, Rangers and Dodgers.

However, after returning to the Dodgers on a one-year, $2 million deal last winter, he was moved to the bullpen, where he made all nine of his appearances in 2011 (striking out nine and walking five in 8 2/3 innings) before his neck injury ended his season in mid-May. While the veteran likely would prefer to start, he is not restricting his conversations to teams with a rotation opening, and did not rule out going to teams that were more interested in him as a reliever than a starter.

That being the case, if he were to sign with the Sox, Padilla could join the burgeoning competition for a spot in the back of the team’s rotation with the idea that he would also represent a bullpen candidate if he doesn’t end up starting. The Sox will use spring training to identify their fourth and fifth starters (behind Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz), with Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Felix Doubront, Andrew Miller, Carlos Silva (signed this month to a minor league deal), Justin Germano (signed to a minor league deal) and Aaron Cook (who agreed to a minor league deal this week that will become official pending results of a physical taken on Wednesday) in the mix for the final two vacancies in the rotation.

Despite that volume, the Sox continue to pursue more options, including both the top available starters on the market (such as Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt) as well as other pitchers such as Padilla who are returning from injury. If the Sox brought Padilla to Boston for a first-hand examination of his health, it would echo, in some ways, one of the most successful Sox reclamation projects of recent years. A year ago, the Sox had Alfredo Aceves throw a bullpen at Fenway Park just prior to the start of spring training; his stuff in that session convinced the team to sign the right-hander to a one-year, $650,000 deal that ended up being one of the bargains of the offseason.

That said, the Sox have also seen pitchers returning from injury flop. Notable recent instances from the 2009 season include Brad Penny and John Smoltz, both of whom were signed to significant fanfare and returned to health but had poor results that resulted in their being sent elsewhere before the end of the season. Still, Sox GM Ben Cherington said early this winter that those sorts of poor yields would not deter the Sox from trying to buy low on other pitchers returning from injury this winter.

“I don’t think we can limit ourselves this offseason. We need to add to our pitching depth. We have some resources to do that. They’re finite,” Cherington said at the GM meetings. “So, we’re going to look at a number of alternatives. I wouldn’t rule out signing a rehab-type pitcher just because of what happened before.”

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