BOSTON The Red Sox go into the winter meetings, which begin Monday in Nashville, with several holes to fill a starting pitcher, an outfielder, a first baseman, and maybe a shortstop. General manager Ben Cherington knows he has to keep an open mind about how he can best fill those gaps.
Lefthander Jon Lester was the recent subject of trade rumors. Is it possible to improve the team while subtracting a starting pitcher, already an area of need?
Anything is possible, but certainly it gets harder to improve the team, to subtract somebody from the rotation, Cherington said.
We have a number of players that teams like. I think were in perhaps a different situation than we have been in the past , coming off the year we did. Maybe in light of that, teams not surprisingly are inquiring about things that maybe they wouldnt have in the past," Cherington said. "Because, look, we have to be open-minded. We lost 93 games. But were still, our primary focus is to build the best team we can for 2013 and one that doesnt in any way get in the way of a great team for a long time. So thats our focus, and that will guide us over the next several weeks. But youve got to be open-minded when you have a year like this, and were trying to build a team that will sustain a level of success over a long period of time.
Perhaps that open spot in the rotation will be filled from within the organization. New manager John Farrell said lefthander Franklin Morales will come into spring training being stretched out as a starter. The idea there being that its easier for a pitcher to convert to the bullpen after being stretched out, as opposed to the reverse. Farrell still has not defined a role for Alfredo Aceves, noting the righthanders versatility is valuable.
Still Cherington knows, and has stated, the need for him to keep an open mind. The starting rotation, glaringly, did not live up to expectations in 2012. Red Sox starters finished 12th in American League with a 5.19 ERA, 10th with 928 13 innings pitched, with the second-most runs allowed (575), fourth-most home runs allowed (135), third-most in walks allowed (336), the fourth-highest opponents average (.272), and tied for the fourth-highest WHIP (1.42).
I think just generally it needs to improve, Cherington said. The performance of the rotation wasnt good enough last year. So I think we need to get improved performance out of them. And as I said before I think that will mostly come from the guys that are already here. Thats going to make a bigger difference than anyone else we add, likely. In terms of the order, once I guess the way I see it once the season starts and you get into the schedule, someones taking the ball every day and Im not sure the order matters as much. Were looking for guys, we need guys who every time they take the ball give us a chance to win. And that didnt happen enough in 2012.
We have guys in Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz who we think can pitch like top-of-the-rotation starters. They have in the past and have done that for consistent periods of time in the past and were counting on them to do that going forward.
So, when Lester heard the rumors of a trade, it helped that Farrell - who knew Lester well from his four seasons as the Sox pitching coach before leaving to manage the Blue Jays for two seasons -- was in the fold to talk to the left-hander about the situation.
You take the temperature of their reaction, of what could initially be there, Farrell said. And I know Jon in his own words, wants to prove a number of people wrong. And I said, before we go that far, look at it as a positive, that you're a good player. Teams inquire about good players all the time. You can't change the opinion of others by what you do right now. You can by performing to your capabilities, and that's where our focus has to be.
He's a Red Sock. I think any time that first rumor gets out there, it can be a little startling for guys. But I know one thing: He's extremely motivated and he's working his tail off right now to have a very strong year.
Thats a conversation that is easier to conduct, given the rapport that had already been established.
Yeah, clearly, Farrell said. You get an understanding through that course of time how they respond to certain things, how their minds work and you can, instead of a feeling out, you can be a little bit more direct in certain cases when it might call for it.