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For $2 million, Daniel Bard could have been a Yankee 02.21.11 at 10:23 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Daniel Bard is now arguably the most important member of the Red Sox bullpen. He emerged as one of the most dominant relievers in the game last year, forging a 1.93 ERA and striking out more than a batter an inning over 73 appearances. Manager Terry Francona used him in almost any pivotal situation that arose prior to the ninth inning, and the 25-year-old had no problem with attacking lefties or righties, whether for three outs or more. He is a young and inexpensive weapon with few peers.

All of that makes it intriguing to wonder how close he came to becoming a Yankee.

Bard was already a highly regarded pitcher in high school thanks to his easy mid-90s velocity. No projection was needed to wonder if he had a big league fastball, and he also featured a curve and change. He was named the North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior, and so would have been viewed as an early-round draft pick had he wanted to turn pro.

But Bard, at that time, wasn’t that interested in life in the minor leagues. He had a scholarship offer to the University of North Carolina, where he would be able to enter the starting rotation immediately. And so, when he was eligible for the draft in 2003, teams were in no rush to waste a draft pick on him.

More than 600 players were selected before Bard’s name was finally called. The Yankees selected the young right-hander in the 20th round. Conversations with New York were brief. Bard did not rule out turning pro, but it would take a big dollar figure for him to sign with the Yankees. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2003 draft, Daniel Bard, jeff karstens, Jonathan Papelbon
Why Andrew Miller is already one-of-a-kind 02.21.11 at 7:00 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — A strong case can be made that no one has faced the sort of career decisions that left-hander Andrew Miller has faced at such a young age. At just 25 (he turns 26 in May), the southpaw has faced three decisions that few have ever known.

–After the Rays drafted him out of high school in the third round of the 2003 draft, he was offered a major league contract that included a seven-figure bonus. He declined.

–After a singularly dominant college career, the left-hander further advanced his prospects. He was viewed as the top overall pick in the 2006 draft, but dropped for signability reasons. Though he was hoping to drop to the late-first round, where he thought the Yankees or Red Sox might take him, the Tigers took him with the No. 6 overall pick.

That, in turn, led to another major league contract offer straight out of college. Miller signed this one, in a decision that had huge implications for his development. The Tigers (and then the Marlins, who traded for him) had just four minor league options for the left-hander, meaning that he was in many respects rushed.

–In response to that career trajectory, when he became a free agent this offseason (after the Marlins traded him to the Sox, who, in turn, did not tender him a major league contract, thus giving him a chance to talk to all 30 big league clubs), Miller turned down offers of big league deals in order to sign a minor league contract with the Sox.

After having missed development on a rushed path to the majors in the early stages of his career, Miller chose to pursue minor league offers in hopes of avoiding any shortcuts while trying to fulfill his potential. Towards that end, the contract contains carefully crafted provisions meant to ensure he stays with Boston for the entire year, including a club option for 2012 that vests if he’s assigned to another club should he be added to the big league roster and then exposed to waivers in an effort to send him back down.

In signing this deal, Miller’s priority was not to be in the major leagues as soon as possible, but rather to have the sort of player development that will one day keep him there for the long haul.

‘€œWhen I was 22 years old, I was like, ‘€˜Forget development, get me out of here. I want to pitch in the big leagues,’€™’€ said Miller. ‘€œHey, we all take different paths. This is where I’€™m at. ‘€¦ There’€™s no what-ifs about me throwing 500 innings in the minor leagues before I got to the big leagues. Shoot, I’€™ll never trade those experiences for anything.

‘€œ[But] being out of options, at this point in my career, look, I’€™ve experienced some pretty cool stuff. I’€™ve been in that situation where you need to make the team where they’€™re rushing you for different reasons.

‘€œIt just seemed to me like Boston’€™s the place that wanted me the most. They have the best resources. They were the right fit for me. They’€™re the right fit for a lot of people. That’€™s why everyone comes here.’€

For more on Miller’s decisions and potential with the Sox, click here.

Read More: andrew miller, Marlins, Rays, tigers
Pitching prospect Mathew Price rehabbing from Tommy John 02.20.11 at 11:39 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox prospect Mathew Price, a right-handed pitcher who was drafted out of Virginia Tech in the eighth round of last year’s draft and who signed for a $415,000 bonus, is among the group of players who is rehabbing in Fort Myers after undergoing Tommy John surgery last fall.

The Red Sox knew that there was a possibility that Price would need Tommy John surgery when they drafted him, but they initially tried to see if his elbow would respond favorably to rehab. However, the team had him undergo surgery shortly before fall Instructional League, feeling it made more sense to have his elbow repaired then rather than proceeding with rehab and potentially requiring that the procedure would still prove necessary if Price didn’t respond by spring training.

The Sox felt that Price’s stuff was among the best of any of the pitchers whom they signed in last year’s draft. He was scouted with a sinking 93-94 mph fastball, with a boost to 94-95 mph towards the end of the year. He also showed an above-average changeup and a curve that graded as below average.

Price proved inconsistent at Virginia Tech while going 7-4 with a 4.95 ERA, 85 strikeouts and 26 walks in 91 innings, but the Sox liked the upside of his stuff and athleticism. Given the relatively modest cost, position of the draft and potential upside of the pitcher, the Sox were willing to sign him despite the questions about his elbow.

For now, however, the development of the 21-year-old will have to wait while he rehabs from surgery. Price is slated to visit Dr. James Andrews to see if he can be cleared to being throwing.

Read More: mathew price,
The man who made Jim Edmonds famous 02.19.11 at 6:30 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — With the news on Friday of Jim Edmonds‘ retirement, it was inevitable. Every mention of the conclusion of his career would have an accompaniment in the form of a replay of The Catch.

Little explanation is required to conjure the image. Edmonds, then the Angels center fielder covered a seemingly impossible distance, running back to the plate. He dove full out, caught the ball and held on. As he lay on the ground, he rolled over and held the ball up in his left hand before collapsing on the warning track.

Edmonds had an exceptional career. He was viewed as one of the best defensive center fielders of his generation, if not all time, and he also delivered 393 homers while hitting .284 with a .376 OBP, .527 slugging mark and .903 OPS. A strong case can be made for him among the top center fielders in major league history.

But mention his name, and it is The Catch that instantly comes to mind. And so it was that David Howard, the Red Sox minor league field coordinator, saw it replayed on Friday — in connection with the news of Edmonds’ retirement — while riding an exercise bike next to big league coaching assistant Rob Leary.

The reaction was obvious.

“‘€˜It’€™s me!’€™” Howard yelled to Leary. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Angels, david howard, jim edmonds, kansas city royals
Is a healthy Jed Lowrie gunning for Adrian Gonzalez? 02.19.11 at 9:32 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Long-term, Jed Lowrie still views himself as an everyday shortstop in the major leagues. Short-term, barring an injury to Marco Scutaro, that won’t happen.

Manager Terry Francona said in January that Scutaro will be the Sox’ everyday shortstop, prompting Scutaro to fire up the grill and leaving Lowrie to face the reality that he will be a player whose value to the Sox (again, barring injury) comes from his ability to be a productive player while playing all four infield positions.

Lowrie’s comfort level, he said, is in the middle infield, but he understands that his multi-positional skill is to both his and the team’s advantage.

“I see myself as an everyday shortstop, but I don’€™t think it hurts that I can play other positions. I think the team sees that. I think that adds value,” the 26-year-old said. ‘€œIt’€™s just general improvements. There’€™s nothing specific I’€™m going to work on. Obviously, I assume they’€™re going to ask me to play more than one position, so it’€™s just continuing to get reps at more than one position while still focusing at shortstop.’€

Though Lowrie’s strength was diminished for almost all of the year after he was diagnosed with mono in spring training and missed all of the first half, he produced at an impressive level in the second half. In 55 games, the switch-hitter hit .287 with a .381 OBP, .526 slugging mark and .907 OPS, launching nine homers in 197 plate appearances.

Those are marks that he can build on, and give some indication of the kind of value that he offers the Sox as a depth option. Those sorts of numbers would give the team above-average production at any infield position. And given the complexion of the roster, the team is well-served by the fact that Lowrie is now capable of playing all four infield positions (even as he describes both first and third as ongoing adjustments).

That said, Lowrie jokingly noted that he was skeptical that he is about to force a left/right platoon with Adrian Gonzalez.

“I don’€™t think [first base] is a career move,” Lowrie mused. ‘€œThat’€™s not the competition I want to be in. I’€™ll just take as many reps as I can at the other positions [aside from shortstop], just to get comfortable.’€

In that regard, Lowrie is already well ahead of where he was a year ago. It was by the time that he reported to spring training that he started to feel that something was amiss. And, of course, in each of the last two offseasons, the required rehab on his wrist prevented him from a winter of normal strengthening and conditioning for the regular season.

This year, that is different. Lowrie was able to build for the season in a way that he hadn’t, by his estimate, in at least two or three offseasons, something that gives him optimism about the form that the coming year might take.

“It’€™s a long season. Having a little extra strength and being able to maintain that throughout the year, the idea is to help performance,” said Lowrie. “It’€™s been a long time [since he had a healthy offseason]. It feels good to feel healthy, feel good about yourself. I look forward to helping this team.

Read More: Jed Lowrie, marco scutaro,
Red Sox Roundup: What happened in Fort Myers on Friday 02.19.11 at 7:31 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The gang’s all here.

The Red Sox are set to conduct their first full-squad workout of the spring on Saturday, one day after position players went through their physicals. That will occur after a rare full-squad meeting that manager Terry Francona does with his players, in which he goes all Knute Rockne to discuss the team’s expectations for its players and its organizational values. Other participants to that conversation will include GM Theo Epstein and the men who opened the Sox’ wallet this offseason, principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and CEO/President Larry Lucchino.

Somewhat remarkably, Henry, Werner and Lucchino are entering their 10th season at the helm of the Red Sox. Almost inevitably, whether from the owners themselves or from a reporter, joking mention will be made this morning of the fact that they remain the “new owners.”

As for the product that they are paying for this year:

–Much to the relief of several members of the Red Sox (most notably Jason Varitek), Carl Crawford will no longer torture them. The former Rays star was a constant thorn in the Sox’ side for several years, and so his new teammates are looking forward to having the shoe be on the other foot.

–Crawford shrugged off the notion that his seven-year, $142 million deal will result in any kind of added pressure on him this year.

The outfielder recalled with gratitude a key piece of advice he received early in his career from a current Red Sox instructor.

–On the Dennis & Callahan Show, GM Theo Epstein discussed how the Sox “stumbled into” signing Crawford after initial skepticism about their ability to do so, as well as a host of topics surrounding the team, including areas of concern for team depth and the questions about the team’s starting pitching. For that, click here.

–On the Dennis & Callahan Show, Daniel Bard contemplated possible future jobs: closing, middle relief, starting, selling hot dogs. For more, click here.

–Food was apparently on the Red Sox’ brains on Friday. Marco Scutaro said that manager Terry Francona‘s affirmation that the Sox gave him reason to host a couple of celebratory barbecues this offseason.

–Red Sox prospect Stolmy Pimentel was a rail-thin 16-year-old when he signed for $25,000 out of the Dominican in 2006, but he had what VP of International Scouting Craig Shipley suggested was a projectable body. Well, that projection now seems to have been fulfilled. Pimentel has grown a couple inches and, thanks to a rigorous commitment to the team’s strength program, he’s added quite a bit of muscle. He is now 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, touched 95 mph at times last year in High-A Salem and expects that he might be able to add even more velocity. The starter, who was added to the 40-man roster this winter, is likely to spend much if not all of the coming year in Double-A Portland.

–Not quite Sox-related, but there was an interesting chance encounter with “Jim Leyland.”

Read More: carl crawford, Daniel Bard, Jason Varitek, jim leyland
Red Sox find relief from Carl Crawford 02.18.11 at 1:51 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — As an opponent, he inflicted a strange form of torture. Members of the Red Sox simply hated to face Carl Crawford.

That notion truly commenced on Opening Day of the 2003 season, when one unlikely walkoff homer golfed from just off the ground against a Chad Fox slider managed to blow up the Closer-By-Committee concept before it ever had a chance to succeed. Over the years, the frustrations continued.

There was a straight steal of home in 2006 against Jason Johnson. There was the game in 2009 where Crawford stole six bags against the Sox, running circles around Jason Varitek and Brad Penny.

Crawford has played nearly a full season’s worth of games (144) against the Sox in his career. He is a .300 hitter with a .330 OBP, .442 slugging mark, .772 OPS and 12 homers against them, but those numbers barely tell the story. He has swiped 62 bags against the Sox — far and away his most against any club — while being thrown out on just four occasions.

And then, of course, there were the innumerable times that Crawford tracked down anything that was hit into the left field corner or the left-center field gap against the Sox.

“The ball never hit the ground,” said manager Terry Francona.

In short, he was a source of tremendous frustration to virtually every member of his new club — something that came up even on the day that he first put on a Red Sox uniform for his introductory press conference, when he encountered catcher Jason Varitek. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: carl crawford, Jason Varitek, tampa bay rays,
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