Cherington won't rule out major move at meetings

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Cherington won't rule out major move at meetings

BOSTON Two years ago, the Red Sox won the winter, acquiring first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and left fielder Carl Crawford. Talk of 100 wins and a World Series title soon followed. We know how that went.

The Sox have made major splashes in past offseasons with the acquisitions of marquee names such as Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, and Curt Schilling.

What is the likelihood the Sox make a major move this offseason, acquiring another high-profile player? They do, after all, have an extra quarter-billion dollars or so to spend after Augusts blockbuster trade sent Gonzalez, Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto and their salaries for 2013 and beyond -- to the Dodgers.

I dont know, said general manager Ben Cherington. I cant handicap it. You cant rule it out. I certainly wouldn't rule it in. I think if theres a deal that we feel really makes us, the organization, stronger short and long term, well pursue it. And some of those might end up being, can fit into that category. But I cant handicap it right now. Were still working on so many things that were trying to get the right things to land for us.

I think our fans want a winning team, and they want a winning team year after year. They want a team they can root for and can get behind and can believe in. They want to see players they can get behind and believe in and root for. And they want to see a direction. They want to see a sort of reason for things, see a team that plays the right way. So there are different ways to get to that. Sometimes bigger deals help you do that. Sometimes smaller deals help you do that. So well explore everything. Couldnt rule it out or rule it in.

Is it a necessity to have high-profile players to be successful in the major leagues?

You're never going to not want to take talented players, said new Sox manager John Farrell. But more important to that is the success of the team has got that team concept and buy-in. And that's not only an area that's not only being talked about with players that have been here, but what we're looking to add to it. So how we work collectively, and how we work together and how we compete together, you can have a group of individuals but if there's no common thread or common purpose, I think that's just going to make the challenge more difficult.

Still, the Sox have several holes to fill a starting pitcher, an outfielder, first baseman, maybe a shortstop. With the winter meetings starting Monday in Nashville, perhaps those pieces will begin to fall into place.

Asked if he is more likely to add players by way of trades or through free agency, Cherington said it may be easier to answer that question as the meetings progress.

Ive always thought its hard to answer that until you get to the winter meetings because a lot of these dominoes start to fall and until they do you dont really know the cost of different things, he said. Up until the winter meetings, it seems a lot of teams and agents are playing this dance of what it might cost, what you might be willing to pay but not really committing. And then teams start to commit or players start to commit and that sort of sets a price and then everything else, sometimes other things fall from that. So I think well have a better idea maybe later this week or into the next week on that question of whether we can more easily fill holes through free agency or trades.

It is unlikely, though, that the Sox will delve back into the realm of long-term contracts. With the stranglehold that was put on the roster, and any financial flexibility, by recent long-term deals -- precipitating the need for the trade with the Dodgers -- Cherington has become cognizant of the length of deals.

I think we have to have a guiding philosophy and preferences, he said. And that is consistent with what youve heard from Sox presidentCEO Larry Lucchino and what Ive said. In baseball you always have to be sort of open to the exception, and if its the right time and the right fit in the organization. But were guided by an interest in keeping deals shorter if we can. We cant always do that. So more than anything were trying to find the best fits for our team and guys that we think fit in the best for the long term.

Its not difficult to find things to spend it on. Its difficult to find the right things to spend it on, and that's what were trying to do.

Curran: Outcome expected, Patriots can still build off win vs. Rams

Curran: Outcome expected, Patriots can still build off win vs. Rams

FOXBORO – So they did precisely what they were supposed to do. Poleaxed a bad team that had come cross-country to get its whipping and then return home.

It’s hard to downgrade the Patriots for that. Not this time. Even though they were facing a rookie quarterback making his third NFL start in Jared Goff, even though the Rams were without wide receiver Tavon Austin, the net the Patriots threw over the Rams offense was so stifling that those qualifiers don’t count.

The Rams went 1-for-9 on third down. They were 0-for-8 before the late conversion. They didn’t get over 100 total yards until their final drive of the game and that required a breakdown by Malcolm Butler on Kenny Britt. Britt, the Rams best offensive player this season, hadn’t had a catch before that.

So what if the Patriots used the Rams as their step stool to get to the next rung? So what if they were supposed to do exactly that? They’d had other matchups this season when they hadn’t choked out lesser opponents. This time they did.

And some of the players who figured prominently are precisely some of the players who’ve had their struggles.

Jabaal Sheard, benched two weeks ago, forced a pick and three passes defensed. Logan Ryan, who’s seen his role change and playing time dwindle, had a sack on a corner blitz and had two quarterback hits to go with five tackles. Kyle Van Noy, still fitting into the defense, had a pick, a pass defensed and four tackles. Alan Branch, who hasn’t struggled but had an NFL suspension hanging over his head until the league rescinded it Saturday, was his normal nuisance up front. Chris Long and Shea McClellin, both new to the team this year, had sacks.

“That happens around here,” explained Dont'a Hightower. “The next-man-up mentality has been here for a few years. Guys don’t play early then later in the season, they get right whatever it was that wasn’t right and they come back and we play well. It’s about us playing together.”

Hightower has steadily proclaimed that the defense has the talent and self-belief necessary to get where it needs to be on a consistent basis.  

“I feel like every week should be like this regardless of who we’re playing,” he said. “We had a great week of practice. Everyone was all in the same mindset, the same focus. (Defensive coordinator Matty Patricia) again did a great job of calling the game, mixing it up. We just went out there and executed.”

As the Patriots head into the final four games of their schedule, the caliber of their competition will rise. The next opponent, Baltimore, has won four of five including a 38-6 demolition of the Dolphins on Sunday.

The Broncos are up after the Ravens and that game will be in Denver, never an easy spot for the Patriots to say the least.

The Patriots close at home with the always-annoying Jets and then have to go to South Florida to play Miami in the New Year’s Day finale.  

“We’re just one week at a time,” said Ryan. “You can’t break this season off a couple weeks. Next week, we see what Baltimore [Ravens] just did, they’re a real good team. We know how that’s been in the past so it should be a nice game, a competitive game, competitive atmosphere. We’re just one week at a time, we’re happy we got this game and we’re on to the next one.”

It’s hard to point to this game and say, “All’s fixed.”

It was the outcome expected and there was no letdown. Part of the process.

“It’s December, time to play our best football,” said Devin McCourty. "We’ve been at it for a while now dating back to the beginning of training camp. Things we’ve talked about working on and things we’ve talked about improving, it’s time to start improving on those things and getting them done. Bill [Belichick] said it over and over that who we play each week is not going to matter if we don’t come and fix the things we need to fix and play the way we need to play. I think the whole team understands that and it starts with him, but [also] us echoing it as captains and as leaders. Today I think showed that when we do those things, we go out there and play well.”

The principals in this win – players like Sheard and Ryan – signaled that concerns over buy-in and locker room fissures appearing after playing time was shifted and personnel was shipped out were probably unfounded.

It’s a tough place to play because performance matters and there’s not a lot of, “That’s ok, you’ll get ‘em next time…” with this coaching staff.

It’s mentally challenging.

“That might be an understatement,” laughed Hightower. “But that’s part of the process, that’s part of the Patriot way and we try to adapt to it.”

Branch carries on with productive season after suspension is overturned

Branch carries on with productive season after suspension is overturned

FOXBORO – The first snap of the game for the Los Angeles Rams offense was an inside handoff to running back Todd Gurley. He was summarily stuffed by Patriots defensive lineman Alan Branch for a 1-yard loss.

It was happenstance, of course, that the Rams chose to run right at Branch. But it was no coincidence that the Branch was there to envelop Gurley like an upright sofa. The 6-foot-6, 350-pound, 31-year-old has been doing that all season. And on Saturday, word broke that he will be able to continue doing so, uninterrupted by NFL discipline.

PATRIOTS 26, RAMS 10

Branch, who was set to be suspended by the NFL for testing positive for marijuana, had his suspension rescinded by the league. The league did so without hearing the appeal Branch filed. Apparently, they decided they just got it wrong. The Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe reports that the traces of marijuana in Branch’s system were from a previously failed test and did not constitute a separate incident.

It’s been a strange season for Branch, a quirky, goofy, good-natured guy who dances during practices, stretching, on the sidelines and in between plays more than any other Patriot. That’s if any other Patriot actually dances. Branch was suspended by the team for a week during training camp. Reason unknown.

Regardless, his play’s been very good.

“This has definitely been the most productive year I’ve had so far,” he said. “Is it my best? When it comes to numbers it probably would be but there’s a lot of plays and a lot of games I could have done better. I’m kinda my own worst critic.”

Why has he been so productive?

“It’s a good defense for me,” he explained. “The playcalls and way we play goes to my strength to allow me to make plays and I’m making them.”

Branch has 40 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble this season. He had just that lone tackle on the stat sheet on Sunday, but he was a factor even if the stats don’t say so. During one first-half rush, Branch worked upfield with a bull rush, then spun back to his right to get in the face of Rams quarterback Jared Goff, forcing an incompletion.  

“That’s all reaction,” said Branch. “That was a hard day’s work on that play because I kept reacting and reacting and then I was right there. I just get out there and try to cause some ruckus.”

Meanwhile, the would-be suspension caused a ruckus for Branch prior to Saturday.

“I was upset because I knew I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “Having my name out there for my family and friends and my kids family and friends to see, you never want to have that on you. But I just wanted to go out there and take it one day at a time and play my best ball because I felt pretty confident that I was going to win the appeal or whatever was going to happen. I expected it because I didn’t see how it could go any other way when I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Asked if the league reached out to apologize for getting it wrong, Branch said, “I haven’t gotten anything yet. I haven’t read any emails yet, I haven’t opened my emails.”

Asked if he cares to hear an apology, Branch said, “I do care. I don’t know if it’s an apology or what (that he’s seeking) but the position I was put in was something else.”