First Pitch: Red Sox start working toward their future

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First Pitch: Red Sox start working toward their future

SEATTLE -- After seven straight losses, the Red Sox would have taken any win Tuesday night -- blowout, nail-biter, anything in-between. When you haven't won since two time zones ago, any victory is a good one.

But there was something extra packed into the Red Sox' 4-3 decision over the Seattle Mariners, something that might be more significant than a September win over a losing team.

Ryan Lavarnway hit what proved to be the game-winning homer and Jose Iglesias collected his first hit after starting out 0-for-17 -- and it was a double, his extra-base hit of his major league career.

Whether the Red Sox win 78 or 79 games the season won't be important in 2013. This will go down as the most dispiriting season for the Sox since the inglorious 2001 campaign, and nothing that happens in the final four weeks will change that.

But if the Red Sox are going to be better in '13, if they're going to take more than baby steps back toward contention, then Iglesias and Lavarnway are likely going to be big parts of the reason.

And the truth of the matter is that, amid the losses and the subsequent Bobby Valentine Death Watch, Lavarnway and Iglesias haven't shown much. Couple that with the scant contributions they've received from Ryan Kalish in three separate stints with the major-league team, and there's real reason for concern about the future.

Here's why: If the Red Sox are going to be more "disciplined" in their free-agent spending and refocused on homegrown player development, they've got to have an influx of talented prospects ready to make contributions every year.

If you count the injured Will Middlebrooks as a projected 2013 starter, then Kalish, Igleisas and Lavarnway are the three position prospects closest to the big leagues. The other top hopefuls (Xander Bogaerts, Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley Jr.) are all at least a year away.

And yet the trio has done nothing to signal a readiness to play in the big leagues.

Kalish has been bothered by recurring shoulder and neck issues, the same injuries that cost him most of 2011 before two surgical procedures were performed last winter.

It's clear he's far from 100 percent healthy. The Sox conceded as much as when they started infielder Pedro Ciriaco in left field for the first time ever Sunday, rather than Kalish.

Some close to Kalish have tried to remind him it often takes almost two years to completely recover from the shoulder surgery he had. That, as much as anything, explains his anemic numbers in Boston: .216 batting average, no homers , .505 OPS.

Until Kalish starts to play as the Sox hope, he'll be thought of -- fairly or unfairly -- as the outfielder the Sox chose to keep over Josh Reddick, who is nearing 30 homers for Oakland.

Lavarnway, perhaps intent on making another good impression after his promising late-season callup in 2011, appeared to be pressing at the plate until his sixth-inning homer. Despite some raw power, he was slugging just .217 and had knocked in only two runs in his first 22 games with Boston this year.

"For me, a lot of the time, it's about pitch selection,'' he said. "Laying off the bad pitches so they often end up having to come to me.''

Worse, his defense has been shaky. Lavarnway was voted the best defensive catcher in the International League by Baseball America, but that improvement hasn't been evident in the big leagues. His actions have been stiff, and his throws have been off.

Finally, there's Iglesias, who, nearly three full seasons into his professional career, still hasn't demonstrated he can hit well enough to play every day in the big leagues.

The Cuban infielder looks overmatched and, despite some streaks of offensive improvement at Pawtucket, still too prone to chase pitches out of the strike zone.

It may be too much to hope that Iglesias grow into a gap hitter who can occasionally drive the ball. But it isn't setting the bar too high to hope he can make regular enough contact to put the ball in play and hit .250.

With a better lineup surrounding him, the Sox would probably accept that, given Iglesias's defensive virtues. His did-that-just-happen? quick flip to Dustin Pedroia to start a double play Monday was jaw-dropping, a snapshot of what he's capable of at shortstop.

But he has to hit at least some to get on the field. He did Tuesday, chopping a ball over third base for a double.

That, combined with Lavarnway's homer, were the real takeaways from Tuesday's skid-snapping win. The real momementum won't come from September wins but, quite literally, player development.

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.