Sox pitchers: To add or subtract?

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Sox pitchers: To add or subtract?

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.

Curran’s 100 plays that shaped a dynasty: The Top 2

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Curran’s 100 plays that shaped a dynasty: The Top 2

We're down to the Top 2. 

These are the plays of the Bill Belichick Era you best never forget. And probably can't. They're the ones that led directly to championships -- most for New England, a couple for the other guys. Or they're plays that signified a sea change in the way the New England Patriots under Belichick would be behaving from there on out.

I did my best to stack them in order of importance. You got a problem with that? Good. Let us know what's too high, too low or just plain wrong. And thanks for keeping up!

PLAY NUMBER: 2

THE YEAR: 2014

THE GAME: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24

THE PLAY: Malcolm Butler picks off Russell Wilson at goal line to save Super Bowl

WHY IT’S HERE: Is it the biggest defensive play in NFL history? You’d have a tough time making a case for any play to be ranked ahead of it. The play itself – Malcolm Butler sniffing out a quick slant to Ricardo Lockette on second-and-goal from the 1 with 26 seconds left – was a singularly great football play. The historical importance of it to the Patriots franchise in delivering a fourth Super Bowl title and preventing a third straight Super Bowl loss is even more far-reaching. It’s a play that symbolized a lot of things the Patriots under Bill Belichick have been about. It symbolized that it doesn’t matter how you got to the Patriots, it mattered what you did when you got there. Butler, an undrafted rookie who made the team in a tryout the previous spring, was on the field because another undrafted player, Kyle Arrington was getting lit up. A bold move but one that had to be made. It symbolized preparation and attention to detail. During the week of practice leading up to the game, Butler arrived late when the Patriots scout team offense ran the play and Jimmy Garoppolo beat Butler with a throw to Josh Boyce. The play needed to be sniffed out – it was by Butler and Brandon Browner – then executed with a great jam by Browner and an unhesitating break by Butler. It symbolized maintaining poise, which the Patriots had to do after the ridiculous juggling catch by Jermaine Kearse put Seattle on the brink of victory. It symbolized a measure of risk-taking and coaching by feel, as Bill Belichick eschewed a timeout and let the Seahawks run the play. That the coaches locking brains at the point – Belichick and his predecessor in New England, Pete Carroll – added another chapter to the backstory. You could write a book about this play.  

PLAY NUMBER: 1

THE YEAR: 2001

THE GAME: Jets, Patriots

THE PLAY: Mo Lewis changes course of NFL history with sideline hit on Drew Bledsoe

WHY IT’S HERE: While the Butler interception at No. 2 cemented legacies and places in history, the play at the top of this list was the one that started it all. If you paid attention to what Tom Brady was doing in training camp practices and preseason games (30-for-51 for 390 yards) and contrasted it with Bledsoe’s performances (so underwhelming he played the bulk of the fourth preseason game and went 14-for-22), you could see the gap between $100 million franchise quarterback and sixth-round afterthought was closing. But even with the Patriots losing at Cincy to open the season and Bledsoe playing  poorly against the Jets, it was still going to be very difficult for Bill Belichick to press the eject button on Bledsoe. The team was building a new stadium and Bledsoe was the hood ornament for the franchise. With ownership trying to sell luxury suites and sponsorships, benching the only marketable player for the worst team in the league might not be prudent. Then Mo Lewis intervened. With 5:19 remaining and the Patriots trailing 10-3, Bledsoe was flushed to the right on a third-and-10 from the Patriots 19. As he neared the sticks, Bledsoe saw Lewis coming and slowed to go out of bounds, then seemed to remember it was third down and he needed to push forward. Lewis had all the momentum and his devastating hit sheared an artery in Bledsoe’s chest and gave him a concussion. It was a terrible injury that caused internal bleeding and put Bledsoe in some touchy moments in the hospital. And that’s what sucked. Here was a solid person of good character with a young family who’d given a lot for the franchise (albeit for a handsome paycheck) and now he was seriously hurt. But what happened in Bledsoe’s absence only confirmed what many suspected. He was an impediment to winning. It was that simple. I don’t doubt for a moment Brady would have eventually taken Bledsoe’s job even if the injury hadn’t occurred. It might have been that week anyway Bledsoe was so ineffective against the Jets. But the course of the 2001 season wouldn’t have been the same and almost certainly wouldn’t have ended with Bledsoe hoisting a Lombardi in the Superdome on Feb. 3, 2002.

 

NFL: 'No credible evidence' Manning used PEDs

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NFL: 'No credible evidence' Manning used PEDs

The NFL released a statement on Monday saying that after a seven-month investigation into allegations made in a documentary produced by Al-Jazeera America, it found "no credible evidence" that Peyton Manning used HGH or any other performance-enhancing drugs. 

In its documentary, released in December, Al-Jazeera used former British sprinter Liam Collins to go undercover to try to expose PED use by athletes. Collins spoke at length with a supplement salesman named Charlie Sly, who claimed he worked with Manning at the Guyer Institute, an anti-aging clinic in Indianapolis following Manning's 2011 neck surgery, and that the Guyer Institute sent HGH to Manning's wife, Ashley.

Manning, who retired about a month after his Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50,  vehemently denied the allegations. Meanwhile, Sly -- who was recorded by Collins without consent -- later recanted his claims.

The NFL did not release all the details of its investigation, but it explained in its statement that both Mannings were "fully cooperative" with the investigation. They agreed to interviews and provided access "to all records sought by investigators," the NFL said.

The league did say that its investigation was led by the NFL's security and legal teams with "support from expert consultants and other professionals." 

"The investigation involved witness interviews," the NFL said, "a review of relevant records and other materials, online research, and laboratory analysis and review."

Al-Jazeera's documentary implicated several other NFL players, including Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Packers linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. The league said that its separate investigations into those claims are ongoing.

The NFL Players Association released the following statement regarding Manning:

As a former player, Peyton Manning is free to do whatever he believes is in his best interest. The Union knows that he understands the rights of players under the Collective Bargaining Agreement and would never do anything to hurt or undermine active players in support of those rights.