|Ben Cherington, John Farrell take stock of a season gone awry, and where the Red Sox go from here||09.29.14 at 3:52 pm ET|
On the one hand, Ben Cherington is the architect of a World Series winner. On the other hand, he’s steered the team to a pair of last-place finishes that have bookended that triumph.
Good luck reconciling those drastically different conclusions to the three years of Cherington’s GM tenure. Of course, Cherington is not interested in reconciling those finishes. He’s interested in avoiding further repetitions of seasons like 2012 and 2014. The fact that he has not represents a failure of sorts.
“It’s hard. It’s been hard on us, the extreme outcomes. Obviously I like the upside, but the downside is hard to deal with, painful for everyone, and it’s not at all what we want to be. It’s not at all what I’ve said we want to be in the past,” said Cherington. “We want to build something that’s got a chance to sustain and be good every year. I don’t think — you can’t plan on a World Series every year, but we ought to be planning on winning teams and contending teams and teams that are playing meaningful games in September and getting into October more often than not, so obviously, based on the results of the last three years, we haven’t accomplished that yet.
“We need to figure that out and find a way to do that. I still believe that we will,” he continued. “I believe that there are too many strengths in the organization not to do that, but we have to sort of, we’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves honestly what we can do to make sure that happens. That will be a big part of the offseason and moving forward. It’s a very competitive landscape, I think, in baseball. I think the talent is more evenly distributed than it was 15, 20 years ago. So we’re always going to need talent. We’re going to need good players. We’re going to need to construct the roster well. And then we also need to look for every other possible area of competitive advantage. If we do well enough in all of those areas, it will lead to what we want. We haven’t gotten there yet.”
The struggles of the team’s young position players — most notably, Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks and Jackie Bradley Jr. — played a meaningful role in contributing to that volatility (though it would be a mistake to point solely to that group, given the lackluster production that came from elsewhere).
Did the Sox rely too heavily on prospects? Cherington answered that question by offering context for how the team ended up with three young position players. Read the rest of this entry »
|John Farrell: Christian Vazquez ‘ready and capable’ of being an Opening Day catcher||09.19.14 at 6:57 pm ET|
BALTIMORE — Jackie Bradley Jr. is hitting .203 with a .271 OBP and .272 slugging mark this year. Christian Vazquez is hitting .217/.278/.268.
Yet whereas Bradley’s offensive performance in 414 plate appearances has raised questions about his future big league role, the Sox have a more optimistic view of Vazquez’s offensive performance.
“He’s handled different types of pitching well. The batting average, I recognize what it is. He’s squared up a number of balls. Sometimes they haven’t fallen. I think he’s doing a very good job for us in all phases and I wouldn’t be, I guess the best way to say it … his batting average, that doesn’t concern me right now.”
Asked if he viewed Vazquez as a big league-caliber hitter right now, Farrell didn’t hesitate to answer in the affirmative. He cited Vazquez’s ability to execute in the details of the game, primarily by getting the bat on the ball (whether for sacrifice bunts or situational hitting), in explaining his view. (Worth noting: Bradley has struck out in 28.3 percent of plate appearances this year; Vazquez has struck out in just 16.2 percent of plate appearances.)
“Setting aside the batting average, there’s the ability to handle a bat. He can execute the small game. He can hit to the situation. He’s a very good situational hitter, including being able to sacrifice with great consistency,” said Farrell. “He’s probably one of the more, I would say he’s one of the more complete hitters that has come to us, setting aside the batting average.”
Farrell said that he could envision Vazquez as his Opening Day catcher — though he noted that having him in such a role in 2015 might depend on the shape of the rest of the roster.
“I think he’s ready and capable of handling that [Opening Day starting] role. I think what will be as important is who is paired up with him,” said Farrell. “That’s not to eliminate anyone that’s here. That’s not to suggest who that might be. Christian is, I think, in short order, has gained a reputation around the league to be somewhat of a shutdown thrower with the aggressiveness of his picks, of his throws to bags. Like we said, he’s a focal point for a team when they’re on offense, to have to contend with behind the plate.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Passing the test: Christian Vazquez impressing Red Sox in extended evaluation||08.19.14 at 6:26 pm ET|
Many prospects don’t get a chance to get their first taste of the big leagues until September call-ups, when their playing time is limited thanks to the sheer number of players on the roster and, often, the importance of the games played if the team is in the playoff race. But the Red Sox‘ otherwise awful season has presented the team with some unusual opportunities, such as a chance to get prospects like Christian Vazquez some consistent playing time at the major league level in the midst of the regular season.
Manager John Farrell sees value in exposing someone like Vazquez to starts on a regular basis before September call-ups.
“I firmly believe that April through August is your typical and normal regular season,” Farrell said. “You’ve got 25 guys that you can’t mix and match to always get the right matchup. You’re part of a team that, in many cases, is contending or hoping to, so you’re exposed. It’s more of an accurate evaluation of what a player is capable of.”
In his particular case, Vazquez has seen an increase in playing time over the past month or so with the Red Sox than he had experienced even in Triple-A. With the injury to David Ross, Vazquez has started 12 of the last 15 games for the Sox, a workload that had been unavailable with the PawSox due to the logjam of catchers that included Dan Buter and, at times, Ryan Lavarnway and Matt Spring, with Blake Swihart now up in Triple-A while Vazquez and Butler handle the catching duties at the major league level. Read the rest of this entry »
|Defensive miscues cost Red Sox in frustrating loss||08.16.14 at 2:59 am ET|
It seemed as if everything was in place for a Red Sox victory Friday night.
Clay Buchholz gave his team a chance to win, holding the Astros to just two earned runs over seven innings of work, while Brock Holt‘s RBI single in the bottom of the seventh gave Boston a late 3-2 lead.
However, both the lead and the game quickly changed course in the top of the eighth, all due to a head-scratching and bizarre series of defensive mistakes.
With runners on first and second for Houston with two outs, Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez hit a liner that jumped up in front of Xander Bogaerts. Bogaerts, looking to end the inning, attempted to get the out at second, but Dexter Fowler beat the force out.
Dustin Pedroia then immediately threw to home in an attempt to nab Gregorio Petit, who was attempting to score on the play. Christian Vazquez caught the ball and attempted to tag out Petit in a rundown, but took an odd angle that allowed Petit to avoid the tag and sneak past the Sox catcher on the basepaths.
“It’s a tough play. … [Pedroia] threw the ball to home plate and I was running to the runner to do a rundown and he came on the other side,” Vazquez said.
Vazquez then flipped the ball to reliever Burke Bandenhop at home, who fumbled the throw, allowing Petit to score and tie the game at 3 runs apiece.
“A strange play with two outs,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell after the game. “Fowler, at first base, does a good job of getting to second base in short order, but Dominguez hits a little bit of a humpback liner that Xander’s got to lay back on, and if the anticipation might have been where the speed of Fowler doesn’t give him a shot at the feed at second base, then does he possibly take the throw across the infield to get Dominguez, who is probably a little bit of a below-average runner.”
“But then I think [Pedroia] makes a heads-up play, even after the safe sign is called, and Christian’s aggressiveness to run him back to third base, his momentum takes him inside the third-base line and gives Petit enough room to elude a tag, and unfortunately that’s a tie ballgame in that spot.”
|John Farrell knows do-or-die time is upon his Red Sox: ‘Each [game] has increasing signficance’||07.17.14 at 9:32 pm ET|
John Farrell can read the standings just like everyone else. He knows his team stands 43-52 heading into the final 67 games, 9 1/2 games behind first-place Baltimore in the AL East. He can also read a schedule. He knows full well that after this three-game series this weekend with Kansas City, the Red Sox have 13 straight games against three of the four teams ahead of them in the division.
It’s do-or-die time.
“Given where we are right now, yes,” Farrell said, confirming the characterization of this as the make-or-break part of the season. “That’s not to add pressure. That’s to say there’s some additional significance when you play the teams ahead of you. After we get through Kansas City, we’ve got the next 13 [games] or four consecutive series of teams ahead of us. Sixty-seven games remaining, each one has increasing significance as we go.”
After three with the Royals, the Red Sox have four in Toronto, followed by three on the road against the Rays. They come home for three against the Jays and three against the Yankees, overlapping the July 31 trade deadline. Did Farrell feel like he got a break to mentally prepare for the upcoming grind?
“Yeah for about a day-and-a-half, and now I’m ready to get going for [Friday],” Farrell said of his shortened All-Star break due to managing the AL All-Stars to a 5-3 win in Minneapolis.
“I think the four days gives guys a chance to mentally and physically take a break and get away from the game a little bit. [Xander Bogaerts] has been going at it pretty hard, not only in terms of what he’s been working on pregame but with every focus to be brought into the game, and he’s played regularly as well. We’ve given him a couple of days here and there, but I think the break mentally and physically was needed for him, and quite frankly, for a number of guys.”
|Ready for his closeup: Why Red Sox felt time was right for Christian Vazquez||07.09.14 at 11:52 pm ET|
The Red Sox have relied heavily on youth all year long, and with the Sox sinking further down in the standings during the homestand, they made a move on Wednesday that signaled that they aren’t backing off of a commitment to and investment in their prospects.
Goodbye, veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who was designated for assignment on Wednesday. Hello, 23-year-old Christian Vazquez, promoted from Triple-A Pawtucket and inserted into the lineup as the starting catcher.
“I’m very happy to be here,” Vazquez said. “It’s my dream to be here and play in the big leagues.”
“There was a lot of emotion,” Vazquez said. “It was a good win for us and I’m excited.”
Vazquez had his work cut out for him in his first game in the majors, facing All-Star candidate Chris Sale and catching five pitchers on the evening. He went 0-for-3 at the plate and was pinch-hit for in the ninth, but he looked solid defensively. While he had to work with four relievers, he began the game in something of a comfort zone, catching De La Rosa, his former Triple-A battery mate.
“[Catching De La Rosa] helped me a lot,” said Vazquez after his debut. “I’ve got a lot of experience with him and I’m very confident with him.”
Vazquez may not necessarily be the offensive spark that will turn the lineup around, but he’s described as a game-changer behind the plate.
“I think he’s a great young prospect,” catcher David Ross said prior to Wednesday’s game. “I love his attitude and he’s got a cannon for an arm. He’s not just about hitting or catching, he’s about both. I think he’s going to be a good bright spot for us.”
After 90 games, it’s hard to assess the 2014 Red Sox season as anything but a failure.
A Red Sox squad fresh off a 97-win campaign that resulted in a World Series title was expected to once again establish itself as the cream of the crop in the American League this season -- not slump to the status of cellar dweller.
This is not the 1998 Marlins, who dropped from a 92-70 record (and a World Series title) in 1997 to a dreadful 55-108 season the following year due to a monumental fire sale. The 2014 Red Sox have a payroll of around $164 million and retained 17 of the 2013 team’s 25-man World Series roster.
Simply put, no one expected the Red Sox to be 12 games under .500 at this point of the season. General manager Ben Cherington is among those struggling to make sense of what has transpired.
Now 10 1/2 games behind first-place Baltimore in the AL East, the Red Sox have been put in a position that Cherington has not been familiar with — possibly taking on the role of “seller” as the trade deadline draws near.
“I think we’re in an unusual and perhaps unique position,” Cherington said. “It’s unusual in the sense that we haven’t been in this position — at least since I’ve been here — of even thinking about trading players at the deadline. So that’s unusual. It’s unique because on the one hand, our team is where it is. On the other hand, we’ve got guys on the team who are performing at a very high level who were part of winning a World Series months ago, and that just doesn’t happen often in baseball.
“Sometimes teams are sellers, but not necessarily with guys that are coming off of success like that. We’ll just have to see what happens. As I’ve said before, whatever we do will be with the mind of trying to get better as quickly possible and trying to build the next good team as quickly as possible.”
|Red Sox minor league roundup: How scouts view Anthony Ranaudo; Christian Vazquez feels he’s ready; Blake Swihart, Manuel Margot punctuate impressive June||07.01.14 at 12:13 pm ET|
A year ago at this time, right-hander Anthony Ranaudo was receiving accolades for a Double-A breakthrough that had netted him a spot in the All-Star Futures Game. By the start of July, he’d made 15 starts, going 8-2 with a 2.68 ERA. Opponents were hitting under .200 against him, he was striking out just over a batter an inning and just over three batters for every walk, looking like the player who had been the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox organization from the time that he signed after being drafted in 2010 through spring training of 2012 (before the emergence of 2011 draftees like Henry Owens and Matt Barnes, or the breakthrough by fellow 2010 draftee Brandon Workman).
This year, though receiving less attention in Triple-A (at a time when Owens was named to the Futures Game and looms as the clear top pitching prospect in the Sox system), Ranaudo’s results have been even more impressive. The 6-foot-7 right-hander continued a run of dominance unmatched in his career on Monday, pouring in seven shutout innings while giving up three hits (two doubles and a single), walking two and punching out five. There was some hard contact that resulted in outs, but by and large, Ranaudo continued a nearly seven-week run of putting up zeros.
Monday marked the fifth time in nine starts that he did not allow a run in a start. During that run, he’s 6-2 with a 1.13 ERA (the third best ERA in the minors over that time) while holding opponents to a .173 average. His strikeout totals have been largely modest (7.1 per nine during the stretch, 7.6 per nine on the year), but he’s been increasingly aggressive throwing strikes (3.1 walks per nine during the run, compared to 5.2 walks per nine in his first eight starts — and 1.7 walks per nine in his last five starts) and he’s been more consistently down in the strike zone with a fastball that has typically been around 92 mph but getting up to 93 or 94 mph within outings. Read the rest of this entry »
|Buster Olney on MFB: Jake Peavy ‘probably on the firing line’||06.25.14 at 2:00 pm ET|
ESPN baseball reporter Buster Olney joined Middays with MFB on Wednesday to discuss the state of the Red Sox and the trade market across MLB. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.
The Red Sox continue to slide in the standings, as the team’s current 1-5 West Coast trip has put Boston seven games back in the race for the second wild card spot.
While the Red Sox offense (24th in baseball) has been the Achilles’ heel for the team this season, Olney said that playing in a unimpressive AL East gives the team an opportunity to get back into the playoff hunt.
“We have a not seen a Red Sox offense like this in so many years. … To see [Boston] 24th and the Yankees 20th in runs scored, that’s incredible,” Olney said, adding: “The rest of the division is so mediocre to bad that it’s not nearly as dire as it might feel like if you’re watching this team play out day to day. … When I talk with people about the Yankees, they are scrambling to fill the back end of their rotation, they’ve got issue in their lineup that they’re not sure are going to be fixed.
“You talk to people in Toronto, and they’re concerned about the losses of a couple of stars to injuries, they’re worried about the back end of their rotation. They’re trying to get a starting pitcher. The Orioles have had so many issues and the Rays are about ready to trade their best pitcher. There’s no question that where the Red Sox stand in the standings, it’s a deep hole, but this early it’s not something that they can’t climb out of.”
Boston’s lackluster performance this season has opened up the possibility of seeing some of the franchise’s most promising prospects, such as Christian Vasquez and Mookie Betts, getting the call up to the big leagues. Olney agreed that a Vasquez sighting in Boston could be very likely, especially given the struggles of A.J. Pierzynski this year.
“I don’t think there’s any question that they’re front and center with the question about Vasquez. … As of today, out of all catchers in baseball with at least 200 plate appearances, [Pierzynski] is dead last in OPS at .637. … A lot of times, teams will use an off-day to evaluate the situation, to make changes, to make adjustments, they’ve got that coming up,” Olney said. “They’ve got an important series against the Yankees and if you’re going to call up a strong-throwing catcher, this weekend is a good weekend to do it, because the Yankees like to run — fifth in the major leagues in stolen bases.
|Red Sox minor league roundup: Rev the Rafael Devers hype machine; Steven Wright dominating; Christian Vazquez heating up||06.13.14 at 12:40 pm ET|
Rev the hype machine.
Rafael Devers is 17 years old and in the Dominican Summer League, which for most, counts as light years from the big leagues. But the third baseman has started his career in a fashion that commands fascination and a sense of enormous possibility, particularly given that when the Red Sox signed him to a $1.5 million bonus last summer, he came with the reputation of being perhaps the best pure bat on the international amateur market.
Devers added to his startling professional debut on Thursday with the type of performance that’s rarely seen in the DSL. He went 2-for-5 with a pair of homers, a walk and a strikeout in his team’s 11-8, 13-inning loss.
But the details of the two homers made them even more noteworthy, even more exceptional. The first homer was an opposite field shot — the second time Devers has cleared the fence in left thus far in the Sox’ DSL facility, a field where even some Cuban players in their mid-20s have had a hard time going deep. The second came in the bottom of the 12th with the DSL Sox trailing, 8-7, two outs, and an 0-2 count to tie the game.
Through the first 11 games of his pro career in the DSL, Devers is now hitting .442 with a .537 OBP, .814 slugging mark, three homers and seven extra-base hits. He has nine walks and seven strikeouts in that span.
To put that in context: Devers has now matched the number of homers (3) that Xander Bogaerts hit in 63 games in the DSL in his pro debut, when the Sox’ top position prospect in decades hit .314 with a .396 OBP, .423 slugging mark and 15 extra-base hits.
To put that in further context: The rest of the DSL Sox have zero home runs. The league average line is .243/.342/.339.
That’s not to say that when he reaches the big leagues, Devers will be a prospect on a par with Bogaerts. But it does say quite a bit about where Devers is right now — a hitting prodigy capable at 17 of driving the ball to all fields, with the fearlessness to clobber a game-tying home run with his team one strike from defeat, with the advancement to dominate his competition as he gets his professional bearings.
It will take years to figure out what that can translate into — performing in the DSL is one thing, performing against left-handed pitchers who can command breaking balls that make left-handed hitters weep is another — but as first impressions go, Devers is making one that stands out from virtually any that have been seen for a Sox player in the DSL in recent years.
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