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Red Sox minor league roundup: A significant advantage in the American League East 04.07.14 at 1:22 pm ET
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Derek Jeter

The Yankees do not appear to have a homegrown successor to Derek Jeter

When Jacoby Ellsbury arrived at free agency, the Yankees blew away the field in bidding because they had to. They had nothing close to a prospect who was ready to step into the role of an everyday big league center fielder. The Red Sox, by contrast, had Jackie Bradley Jr. The Yankees spent a small fortune on Masahiro Tanaka because they had to, because they don’t have starting pitchers who are close to big league-ready. The Red Sox, by contrast, have a passel of prospects in the upper levels, with Brandon Workman (currently in the majors), Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes (when he comes off the DL) all in Triple-A or above and top pitching prospect Henry Owens not far away.

The roster dynamics of the division are largely a reflection of the state of not just developments at the big league level but of entire organizations. That being the case, to understand not just what happened this past offseason but what may transpire in future offseasons, it’s worth taking stock of the overall shape of player development systems of each of the American League East competitors. Such an exercise, at least at this moment in time (with the necessary caveat that perception can shift drastically in the span of a year or two), suggests a considerable advantage for the Red Sox in the division, explained Keith Law of ESPN Insider on WEEI’s Down on the Farm. (Podcast here.)

“I think they’re in the best shape of anyone in the division right now,” said Law. “They’ve got talent at every level. They’ve got position players coming. They’ve got some up-the-middle guys coming, which is the scarcest and most valuable commodity. They’ve got pitchers coming. They’ve got starters coming. They’ve got some relief depth coming. They’ve been pretty successful in the draft. They had changeover a couple of years ago on the scouting director side, and there’s been no interruption. The drafts have continued to be successful. They’ve been aggressive on the international side and it looks like that’s yielded some positive results as well. And they’ve got guys who are coming soon, which means either they can help the major league club — [Xander] Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. as soon as Grady Sizemore gets hurt again, which happens a lot — but they’ve also got guys close to the big leagues who have trade value for them, which is just as important. I imagine the Red Sox are going to get to July and they’re going to need something because everybody does. They have the assets to go and get almost anyone they want, because when you look at the other teams with comparably strong farm systems, a lot of them are also-ran teams, maybe the teams that are selling like the Astros and Cubs, so the Red Sox will not have a lot of competition if they’re trying to go out and land, say, a Jorge De La Rosa.”

Here are some of Law’s thoughts on other farm systems:

On the Yankees’ ability to provide homegrown depth to the big league team: “Not in a good place. Triple-A, they’re going to have extremely little. [In Single-A Greenville and below is] where it starts to get a little interesting. But I could say that for probably 20 other clubs around baseball. … They’re so young and inexperienced we can dream on those guys. By the time you get to Double-A, there’s been some separation between guys who aren’t going to be able to cross the chasm and guys who at least still have a chance. The Yankees have had a lot of trouble getting guys across that chasm in the last couple years.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Buster Olney on M&M: Stephen Drew ‘in a really bad spot now’ 02.14.14 at 1:47 pm ET
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Buster Olney

Buster Olney

ESPN’s Buster Olney joined Mut & Merloni on Friday to discuss MLB news as teams begin to gather for spring training. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Derek Jeter announced this week that 2014 will be his final season. Olney speculated that Jeter might have made his decision public due to lingering injury issues.

“I really thought that we started to see signs of this last spring,” Olney said. “Because when he did his first press conference he made for the first time mentions of age and time in a way that he never had before. Because as you guys know, one of the great things about Derek — and maybe one of those reasons you would say he’s been one of the best players [of the last 20 years] — is because he’s been so reliable. ‘€¦ Last spring he didn’t look right. That was at the beginning of spring training. And then he had the setback with his ankle, and he never looked right; he made only 73 plate appearances.

“I do wonder if in his early workouts and preparation for this year if he’s feeling similar things, that he doesn’t look right. I think that everyone, if you’re a Yankees fan, or if you’re with the Yankees organization you’d love to see him finish up his career the way [Mariano] Rivera did last year. But I think there’s a good chance that’s not going to be the case.”

Added Olney: “I do think, and you guys have seen the numbers on some of the tickets, there’s a lot of pressure on the Yankees, there will be, to play him a certain number of games this year. It will be interesting to see how Derek handles that.”

Stephen Drew remains a free agent, and Olney said the Yankees appear to be an unlikely destination.

“No. Based on everything as of today, no,” Olney said. “They can always change their bottom line. But basically what they’ve been saying is, ‘We’re done. We are finished spending money during the course of the offseason.’ Unless that changes, unless Hal Steinbrenner says, ‘OK, you can add more payroll,’ they’re not going to be the team that signs him.”

Added Olney: “Drew might make sense to the Pirates. but they’re just philosophically not going to give up a draft pick. And the problem is as the winter goes on, teams just decide, ‘You know what, we’re not going to spend money.’ ‘€¦ If you’re Drew, your best play might be to sit back and wait and see if some shortstop gets hurt someplace on a good team. Besides that, these guys [who turned down qualifying offers] are in a really bad spot now. Some people have said, ‘Well, the system doesn’t work.’ I think we’re at a point where, two years into it, no. Bad decisions were made, in my opinion, on some of these players in terms of not accepting the qualifying offer.”

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Tom Verducci on D&C: Derek Jeter can ‘sit back and enjoy’ last season at 10:10 am ET
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Tom Verducci

Tom Verducci

Sports Illustrated baseball writer Tom Verducci joined Dennis & Callahan on Friday to discuss Derek Jeter and the upcoming baseball season. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

For Verducci, Jeter’€™s decision to announce his retirement before the season started was not necessarily a selfish act.

“I think he will like the attention that’s going to come his way; I don’€™t think that’s the driving force,” Verducci said. “I think he decided two or three months ago this was going to be it and he didn’t want to deal with the questions all year long. … From Day 1 of spring training, the first slump, every city he goes to the questions are going to be there about, ‘Hey when are you retiring? €˜Is this your last year?’

“Now he can just sit back and enjoy it and not have to worry about playing defense against those kind of questions.”

Like closer Mariano Rivera, Jeter will come back for a final season after suffering a potential career-ending injury.

“I know Rivera, I’ve spoken to him multiple times about that, he probably would have retired that year he got hurt, but he was not going out with the last image of him being carted off in Kansas City,” Verducci said.

“I think there was something to Derek, too. … Especially when you’re hurt and you put in the time to rehab, you want to come back and play, you want to see something of a payoff for that work, so I do think it’s actually a double-edged sword. I think the fact that he broke down told him that the end was near and he wasn’t going beyond this year, but it also said, ‘I want to get back on the field and at least play and see what I’ve got left.’ ”

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Buster Olney on M&M: ‘Let it play out’ with David Ortiz 12.18.13 at 1:09 pm ET
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Buster Olney

Buster Olney

ESPN’s Buster Olney checked in with Mut & Merloni on Wednesday for a Hot Stove update and a discussion about David Ortiz‘s future.

Ortiz has one more year remaining on his contract, and he recently said he would like to get an extension.

“From a cold-hearted, sitting-in-the-front-office point of view, it’s a no-brainer. You let it play out, and you see what Ortiz does this year before you make the next deal,” Olney said. “And then the reality is, I’m sure the Red Sox, they certainly value David. And they’re always going to be the team that brings him in after he retires for all the old-timers days and different days and throw out the first pitch, and he’ll do all that. But I’m sure that, again, if you’re a cold-hearted Red Sox executive you’re probably thinking, too, ‘You know what, he’s as tied to us as we are to him. And we’re probably going to offer him the best deal of any team because of the history.’ So, you’re going to want to wait and see what happens.

“Now, midseason 2014, if he’s raking still, then yeah, at that point you probably engage and talk about an extension. But I’m guessing they’re going to want to see, just because of the fact that just a few years ago they were talking about releasing him in May, internally.”

Added Olney: “I can’t remember which year it was, but I know that they were concerned about at that time his performance against left-handed pitching. ‘€¦ I think it was the time he was platooning with Mike Lowell as the DH, and he was struggling really badly and his performance was going down. I remember that May that there was a conversation in the organization about whether or not that was the right thing to do. And then he bounced back and he started hitting the ball to left field.”

Olney compared Ortiz’s situation to that in New York, where Derek Jeter‘s value is higher to the Yankees to any other team.

“The Yankees have a parallel situation going on with Derek Jeter, where in their negotiations, and just like with David, there have been some tense moments between the team and the player,” Olney said. “I’m sure David feels the way that Derek does, where Derek can’t really imagine that he’s ever going to leave the Yankees; he’s said that. Ortiz I’m sure envisions that he’s going to finish his career with the Red Sox. And the reality is ‘€¦ there are not a lot of teams right now that are employing full-time DHs. So, they would probably pay him more.”

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Yankees cherish rivalry with Red Sox, playing at Fenway 09.16.13 at 12:53 pm ET
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The Yankees won’t always admit it, but the bad guys from New York relish their trips to Fenway Park.

David Ortiz and the Red Sox honored Mariano Rivera prior to Sunday night's game at Fenway Park, (AP)

David Ortiz and the Red Sox honored Yankees closer Mariano Rivera prior to Sunday night’s game at Fenway Park. (AP)

In the midst of a 162-game, seemingly never-ending season, Fenway Park provides endless intensity from its 37,400 rabid fans.

“What makes it so special?” asked Derek Jeter. “It’s a good atmosphere. It’s fun to play here. We played a lot games here over the years, so it’s something as a player you look forward to because the fans get into it.”

Even Boston’s — and these days, baseball’s — resident villian, Alex Rodriguez, is enamored with the Hub.

“I love competing against the Red Sox,” said Rodriguez. “A lot of people forget that I almost came here. I conceded a lot to come here, but the [players' association] took it down. Fenway is a great stadium. I visited Harvard again last year, too, and took my two daughters. I love Boston, it’s a great town.”

“Just being able to play here at Fenway is amazing,” said Mariano Rivera. “I love it. I’ve been playing here for so many years and I look forward to coming here to play.”

Even players no longer sporting the Yankee pinstripes still recall their favorite Fenway memories.

“It’s the best rivalry in any sport,” said former Yankee and current Indian Jason Giambi. “You feel like you’re in a heavyweight fight every time you play. You’re mentally, physically exhausted after every game. Not only is it important to the team, but it’s important to the fans and media, too. It’s got a lot of hype to it. It’s fun to be part of, and it challenges you as a baseball player. I definitely miss it.”

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Red Sox-Yankees series preview 09.05.13 at 10:34 am ET
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It’ll be a showdown in the Bronx as the Red Sox visit Yankee Stadium for the first time since early June, taking on the Yanks in a four-game set this weekend.

The Yankees are 12-5 since Ryan Dempster hit Alex Rodriguez with a pitch in a Sunday night game on Aug. 18. (AP)

Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees are 12-5 since Red Sox right-hander Ryan Dempster hit Rodriguez with a pitch in a Sunday night game on Aug. 18. (AP)

The Red Sox finished off a series victory over the Al Central-leading Tigers in style on Wednesday night, with the team knocking eight home runs by seven different players for a final score of 20-4. With the victory, the Red Sox maintained their 5 1/2-game lead over the Rays in the division and improved to an American League-best 84-57.

The 20 runs scored by the Red Sox stands as the highest total since the team scored 25 back in 2003. The eight home runs tie a franchise record, done just one other time (July 4, 1977, vs. the Blue Jays). The home runs by seven different players set a franchise record. And all of this came against a fellow first-place team, one that the Red Sox could meet again in October.

“One through nine, we have a guy that can hit the ball over the fence,” starting pitcher Ryan Dempster said. “That’s something not a lot of teams have, but at the same time, we’re putting up runs however we can get them.”

Dempster and the Red Sox will meet up with the Yankees for the first time since the incident with Alex Rodriguez that resulted in a five-game suspension for Dempster, although the right-hander will not face the Yanks in this series.

Just when it looks like the Yankees might fall out of the playoff picture, they find a way to string together wins and stay afloat in the division and the wild card chase. While the Yankees sit eight games back of the Red Sox for the AL East lead, they’ve managed to keep themselves in the race for a wild card, currently 2 1/2 games out. The Yankees had a decent month of August, going 16-12, good for their best winning percentage of any month since April.

Getting some of the key members of the lineup back on the field has done wonders for the Yankees. In August, the club put together its best offensive month since April, with the lineup batting a collective .267/.337/.417. The return of players like Derek Jeter and, of course, Rodriguez, plus the acquisitions of Alfonso Soriano and Mark Reynolds have given the Yankees a bit of a spark heading into the stretch.

The series against the Red Sox will be a big one for the Yankees, the kind of series that can all but make or break their chances at a playoff berth. They’ve won five of their last six games but have lost seven of their last 12 contests against the Red Sox. Overall, the Yankees have a winning record against American League East teams, but that mark is skewed by a 13-3 record against the last-place Blue Jays. The Yankees are under .500 against every other AL East club.

“[This series] could do a lot to determine where we’re going to be at,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after Wednesday’s 6-5 victory over the White Sox. “I think it’s important that we concentrate on one game at a time and not look too far ahead.”

Here are the pitching matchups.

Thursday: Jake Peavy (11-5, 3.91) vs. Ivan Nova (8-4, 2.88)
Friday: Felix Doubront (10-6, 3.89) vs. Andy Pettitte (10-9, 4.01)
Saturday: John Lackey (8-12, 3.22) vs. David Huff (2-0, 1.13)
Sunday: Jon Lester (13-8, 3.88) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (11-10, 2.99)


• Two nights, two huge hits for Will Middlebrooks. The third baseman provided all the runs the Red Sox would need on Tuesday night, clubbing a two-out, two-run single in the fifth inning (credit also due to Stephen Drew, whose ground-rule double made Middlebrooks’ big hit possible). Middlebrooks came through in a big way again in the series finale, breaking the game open with the second grand slam of his career and first this season. Since returning from Pawtucket, Middlebrooks has impressed at the plate and has stayed consistent with his approach. He’s hitting .343/.413/.529 since his recall on Aug. 10 with seven extra-base hits, along with eight walks against 17 strikeouts, an improvement over his performance earlier in the season. He cooled off for a stretch prior to the series against the Tigers, going 4-for-25 in the previous three series, but Middlebrooks went 5-for-11 in his last three games.

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Saturday’s Red Sox-Yankees matchups: John Lackey vs. Hiroki Kuroda 07.20.13 at 8:30 am ET
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John Lackey

John Lackey

Fresh off a well-rounded 4-2 win to open a three-game set with the Yankees, the Red Sox will look to clinch a series win Saturday at Fenway Park when John Lackey gets the ball against Hiroki Kuroda.

Lackey (7-6, 2.78 ERA) is in the midst of one of the best stretches during a comeback season that could prove to be one of the strongest campaigns of his career. In each of his last six starts dating back to June 15 — shortly after Clay Buchholz’s spectacular start to 2013 came to a halt — the right-handed Lackey has gone at least seven innings and allowed no more than two runs, with the Red Sox picking up wins in four of those contests.

His June 12 outing was particularly dominant, even if he was a little wild. The Athletics drew four walks while Lackey tossed another seven innings, this time allowing two runs on three hits. He struck out only five, but the effort was more than enough for the Red Sox to come away with a 4-2 victory.

“This is one [start] that probably says more about where I’m at than anything,” Lackey told the media after the game. “I probably didn’t have my best stuff that I’ve had the last few times out and I was still able to do pretty good against a pretty good team.

“It’s still a work in progress, but I feel pretty good with where I’m at. Usually my touch and feel and that sort of stuff, offspeed pitches, it’s usually better in the second half. That’s usually what happens for me.”

Lackey has not pitched against the Yankees in the last two seasons, but a trio of New York batters have found decent success against him in their careers. Ichiro Suzuki, who saw Lackey quite a bit when they were AL West rivals, and Robinson Cano are both hitting above .300, while Derek Jeter is right behind them at .297.

Kuroda (8-6, 2.65), meanwhile, doesn’t have a ton of history against any of the Red Sox, having spent only a season and a half on the junior circuit, but he is having another solid season overall.

Opponents have failed to score in their last 15 2/3 innings against the Japanese righty. Five of those frames came against the Twins on July 12, when Kuroda scattered six hits and two walks while fanning five.

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