John Farrell's state of the Sox address

923119.jpg

John Farrell's state of the Sox address

NASHVILLE -- You'll forgive John Farrell if he felt like a man caught between two cities on Tuesday.

The new Red Sox, and former Blue Jays, manager was surrounded by both Boston and Toronto media members at his Winter Meetings press conference, and nearly a quarter of the questions he was asked referred to the Jays. The Canadians, it seems, still haven't quite forgiven Farrell's leaving the Blue Jays for what he's termed his "dream job" in Boston, and the Jays' aggressive offseason have them wondering if he regrets the move. (Hint: He doesn't.)

The Boston media was able to squeeze in some Red Sox questions, and Farrell was able to discuss, among many topics:

Newly acquired Mike Napoli
"He's a guy that is a type of player that we want to bring in . . . We see him as a first baseman primarily, but with the ability to catch and to acclimate him to our pitchers in spring training. One of the things we would do . . . is . . . have him catch in spring training early on, but then certainly make sure that we've got enough reps at first base for not only him to feel comfortable there, but for us as well."

Whether or not he knows if any Sox players will participate in this spring's WBC
"Not yet. We haven't had that list of invites or requests by their respective countries. When that does come out, we've got to take into account if there's any physical ailments that guys are lingering through the offseason, whether it's David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia. Just to name a couple of guys that might be on the invite list."

On whether they've contemplated using Ryan Lavarnway at first base
"Not yet. And I say not yet because we're looking to exhaust every development time with him, and he's got maintenance, as every player does, to be as proficient behind the plate.

"One of the things we're still building with him is just the overall number of games caught in any given year. Last year being the highest, right around 100 games caught. Right now our focus is to keep him behind the plate.

On whether he's talked to Will Middlebrooks, and where he's at healthwise
"Health-wise, to be ready for spring training. I spoke to him a number of times from Boston with situations coming up there. I'm planning to go to Dallas a couple of weeks from now to see he and John and maybe some other players that might be in that area. So it will be another opportunity to connect with him.

"There's no lingering effects with the wrist or anything like that or the hand."

On where he sees Middlebrooks hitting in the lineup
"Without placing any limitations on any guy, you could see him growing into a middle-of-the-order bat. In the interim, if we've got a chance to have him somewhere in that second half of the order, it just speaks that we've created further depth in the lineup. He's a good looking young player, there's no doubt. Just in the time I've seen him across the field, it's an exciting young player.

The health status of David Ortiz
"Everything has progressed on schedule. I know he's I think he's due to come back to Boston sometime middle of this month to get another recheck, but the rehab that he's been going through, the treatment he's been getting, all of that has been able to respond in the time frame and the overall, I guess, prognosis of his rehab to be ready for spring training."

The health status of John Lackey
"He'll be advanced on the calendar, but as far as total number of innings pitched, structurally, I think it's at least put his mind to rest that he got to somewhat game speed before the offseason approached.

"We'll go into spring training with a normal progression for him. Spring training is going to tell us a lot about where John's at, and we fully expect him to be ready to go."

On relievers who might become starters
"Franklin Morales is the one internal guy that we've talked about. Whether or not we choose to go that way with Alfredo Aceves remains to be seen, but typical with a guy that's been a multiinning reliever or a swing man type, we're always going to look to get multiinning outings in spring training. Further developments to the offseason are going to give probably more guidance to who those candidates might be as well."

On the back end of the bullpen
"I think general manager Ben Cherington will always look to upgrade. But I don't think we saw the true end of closer Andrew Bailey last year after he came back from the injury.

"One, any time you're coming back from an injury, and, two, you're trying to play catch up, sometime in August, after guys are so entrenched in their performance in a given year, yeah, he's playing catch up. But this is a successful closer in the past that right now you look to him to be in that role."

On the setup men
What Junichi Tazawa has done in his emergence coming back from Tommy John, he's put himself in that mix coming back into the game. The ability to mix up with lefties that are in house right now, both strike out with power stuff. Daniel Bard, there's work to be done with him, and conversations with him are starting that process. I know pitching coach Juan Nieves will travel to see him and begin that relationship building on their end.

"Knowing Daniel and the conversations that have been had to date, we've got to get back to what has made him so effective and really so powerful."

More on Bard
"The separation of mental and fundamental is a great debate, what's going to come first. I think it's first and foremost that we get him in a position to command the baseball a little bit more regularly. Just in reviewing some video from last year versus a couple of years previous, there's some noticeable changes there just from a physical side. So I think to address those first and then have some reminders through video of where he was, either on the rubber previously or where his arm slot was or what his mindset was to begin to discuss what he tried to do as a pitcher.

"And what I mean by that is in the role of a late inning, one inning guy, it's a completely different mindset than the attempt to manage a game over six or seven innings. I think he tried to, quote, unquote, pitch rather than be dominant with his stuff. So those are the angles that I would want, and I would both look to take with him and get him back to a more simplified, more power type of approach . . .

"I think you turn the page as the calendar turns. I don't know that you can fully separate yourself from the experiences that took place. Those are going to continue to shape who he is as a pitcher going forward, and to learn from the adversity that he faced. I think along the way he's probably learned more about himself as well . . .

"I think, if we could snap our fingers and go back to 20092010, I'd be looking at one of the top two or three setup men in baseball. Clearly a weapon that, depending on where you were in the lineup, he was always matched up against the middle of the lineup, regardless if it was lefthanded or righthanded, and pitched a lot of high leverage innings in that seventh and eighth situation."

On Alfredo Aceves
"Personally, I see him as a very dominant reliever late in the game. Whether we sit here today and fully define what that role is. I don't know if we're here to do that. There's a lot of discussion internally that he could still provide a depth starter for us or possibly a fifth starter.

"The one thing we have is a talented pitcher that can do some things physically that not many can do. That's the frequency with which he pitches and the number of pitches he'll throw in a given outing. He's a valuable pitcher."

On Allen Webster
"Power armed righthander with a good live sinking fastball. We still see him as a starter. Whether or not the arrival to the major league level, we don't know when that date is going to be, but he's a guy we're extremely excited about coming over in the trade.

"This is someone that personally looking forward to seeing him, other than video I've seen so far. We see him as a starter going forward."

On Ruby De La Rosa
"We still see him as a starter. He did obviously get into game activity before the season concluded last year. We'll bring him into camp, stretch him out, but I think it will be important for guys coming off of Tommy John, particularly young guys that have only experienced the major leagues in a small number of innings, I think we've got to get him going in terms of consistent turns through the rotation, starting to build his innings foundation, and more importantly, that first year back there's always that last mental hurdle to get over.

"And that probably is similar in Ruby's case."

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

bruins_ryan_spooner_120216.jpg

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.