Gomez, fellow Sox rookies make most of down year

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Gomez, fellow Sox rookies make most of down year

BOSTON There havent been many silver linings to be salvaged from this lost Red Sox season of 2012. From an inordinate number of injuries, to a record number of players used, to poor performances on the field, to off-field dysfunction and distractions, the bright moments in this season have been hard to find.

No question, said David Ortiz. Its another year were not in the pennant race. A disappointing year. Hopefully, it gets better the following year.

Because of all the issues swamping the team, though, younger players and those who werent expected to have a role at the beginning of the season were given a chance to prove themselves. Players like Pedro Ciriaco and Mauro Gomez, virtual unknowns in spring training, to Junichi Tazawa and Will Middlebrooks, who in the course of the season went from prospects to players who have been relied on to contribute.

I saw a lot from Pedro Ciriaco in spring training and now once hes been here, hes been amazing, Ortiz said. Hes got a lot of talent. And Tazawas been unbelievable. Hes been tough and very impressive. I could mention a whole bunch of them who are doing a really good job and Im sure the front office next year is going to keep a really close eye on them.

Ciriaco began to open eyes in spring training when he hit .419 playing shortstop, second base, third base, and center field. In 70 games this season, he is hitting .289 with two home runs and 19 RBI, playing third base, second base, short, and all three outfield positions. He has 15 stolen bases, getting caught twice. He began the season with 15 consecutive steals before being caught for the first time Saturday. It was the second-most successful steals this season without being caught by any major league player, behind 19 by Detroits Quentin Berry.

Middlebrooks was in the American League Rookie of the Year conversation before being shut down by a fractured wrist on Aug. 11.

Hes legit, said Ortiz. Thats my boy, man. He got injured. He came in a couple of months after the season started and he showed everybody he belonged here. So hopefully his hand gets better and he comes back next year and does what he was doing. Hes a young guy who Ive tried to teach everything I know, and he listens and thats what we need around here, guys like him.

In his last 12 outings since Aug. 31, spanning 11 innings, Tazawa has allowed just one run on three hits with a walk and 16 strikeouts although he has allowed 10 of 26 inherited runners to score, a 39-percent rate, above the team rate of 30 percent. Tazawa, who began the season continuing to recover from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in March 2010, is second in the AL among pitchers with at least 40.0 innings pitched with a 1.54 ERA, behind only the Rays Fernando Rodney (0.63). Since 1916, only two other Sox pitchers (Jonathan Papelbon, 0.92 in 2006 and Calvin Schiraldi, 1.41 in 1986) have posted a lower single-season mark, with a minimum of 40 innings. Tazawas 8.60 strikeout-to-walk ratio is best in the majors this season among pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched.

Hes been near perfect, said manager Bobby Valentine. Hes been as good a pitcher as Ive seen in this league. Hes continued to get better. His split-finger now is devastating, throwing it 90, 91 mph. His control is impeccable. He has nerve. Throws strikes. Hes everything you want in a pitcher.

Gomez has been among the more intriguing players this season. As close to a complete unknown as a player could be in spring training, he was named the International League MVP with Triple-A Pawtucket, while also being named an IL All-Star. In 34 games with the Sox he is hitting .290 with two home runs and 17 RBI. He also has two triples, tied with Ciriaco, one behind team leader Dustin Pedroia. The right-handed hitter is batting .340 with two home runs against righties (just .233 against lefties), playing first base, third base, and serving as the designated hitter.

Gomez, who turned 28 on Sept. 7, made his big league debut this season. After signing as an amateur free agent with the Rangers in 2003, spending eight seasons in the Texas organization and two in Atlantas, a big league call-up was never a given.

Always I worked hard to get to the big leagues, Gomez said. That was my goal. I was so excited when they called me up here. I called my family in the Dominican. They were so happy. I just wanted a chance to play. Every time they put me in the lineup I tried to do my best to help my team to win.

At the beginning of the season I started hitting the ball good. I was playing winter ball in the Dominican. So when I came to spring training I was ready. And when the season started I was ready. It was a good year.

When they give me the MVP award, when they told me, I was excited. Thats good because I work hard every day and try to get better and better. Thats an accomplishment. I was happy.

Gomez is a good hitter, Valentine said. Can hit right-handers, left-handers. I think the more at-bats he gets, the more power factor he can have. If he plays winter ball, Id like him to play some left field for value.

I havent seen him at an extended period at first base. I hear he catches everything that gets to him, thats around him. At third base I can see it being a bit of an issue because he hasnt had a lot of reps.

Gomez, along with Ciriaco, is among several Sox players planning to play winter ball. Gomez will return to Leones del Escogido, where he played last season. This year, he will focus on playing third base and left field, along with some first base, working on his defense. The Sox havent given him any information for next season, beyond being ready for spring training.

They told me, in Dominican winter ball, they want me to play third and left, be ready for spring training, and we never know, he said. Just be ready for spring training.

With just six games left in this lost season, thats all any Red Sox players can do. Given full health Middlebrooks will be the starting third baseman. Tazawa should have a spot on the staff. Less known is the role players like Ciriaco and Gomez will have. They werent expected to play in as many games as they did. So, just be ready for spring training.

Thats all that can be salvaged from this season.

Red Sox exercise 2018 option on John Farrell's contract

Red Sox exercise 2018 option on John Farrell's contract

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- When Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski almost casually mentioned in October that John Farrell would return for the 2017 season, he was, predictably asked about the option that the club held on the manager for 2018.

Dombrowski noted that he would speak to ownership about that matter over the off-season. Apparently, it didn't take long.

The Red Sox announced Monday that the team had, indeed, exercised the option on Farrell, putting him on a guaranteed deal through the next two seasons.

"John's done a real fine job for us,'' said Dombrowski. "We had a very good year last year. I thought he did a good job handling the club. We're in a position where we have a good working relationship. He has the respect of our players; our players played hard for him, so we're very happy to have done that.

"It puts stability to our staff going into spring training.''

Dombrowski said the issue would have been addressed sooner, but the team had to deal with the departures of former GM Mike Hazen, former bench coach Torey Lovullo and other front office members.

"There were just so many issues that happened after (the end of the season),'' he noted. "There was no rush. This didn't have to be exercised until 10 days after (the competition of the 2017 season)... (But) John has a solid presence to himself, leadership capabilities, yet I also find him very open-minded when we have conversations. I think he's done a very fine job.''

Farrell became a focal point for criticism from the team's fan base and some in the media when the Red Sox struggled to separate themselves from the rest of the American League East in the first half of the season.

After winning a World Series in his first season at the Sox' helm in 2013, Farrell managed the Sox to a last-place finish in 2014, and the team was mired in the East basement in mid-August of 2015 when it was revealed that Farrell was battling lymphoma.

He took a leave of absence for the final seven weeks of the season and when the team's record improved under Lovullo, acting as interim manager, the pressure on Farrell was turned up for 2016, with Lovullo, Farrell's long-time friend, seen as the heir apparent should the team under-perform.

That pressure remained hot until the final month when a hot streak vaulted the Sox into first place and carried them into the post-season, where the team was swept out of the Division Series by Cleveland.

"I'm thrilled that (the option) has been exercised, obviously,'' said Farrell. "I love the city, the organization, the players that we have. This is an exciting young team - the young core group of players that we talk about is developing year after year.

"(This was the) first full year that Dave and I had a chance to work together and I appreciate his confidence...We addressed and faced a lot of challenges over the course of the season and we came out of it stronger and in a better place.''

Farrell maintained that "the status of my contract never changed (how I managed) day-in, day-out. And it won't going forward. My focus is what we can do (on a given) night to win a game and put our players in the best position to succeed. And that won't change.''

In four years, Farrell owns a 339-309 record (.523 winning percentage). He joined Joe Morgan as the only Red Sox managers to guide the team to multiple division titles.

 

Market for Encarnacion is shrinking, yet Red Sox still don't seem interested

Market for Encarnacion is shrinking, yet Red Sox still don't seem interested

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- As the annual winter meetings get underway today, the market for arguably the best free-agent hitter may be -- against all logic -- lessening.

Edwin Encarnacion, who has averaged 39 homers a year over the last five seasons, should be a player in demand.

But in quick succession, the Houston Astros and New York Yankees, two teams thought to be in the market for Encarnacion, opted to go with older hitters who required shorter deals -- Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday.

Further, the Toronto Blue Jays' signing of Steve Pearce to a two-year deal Monday, coupled with their earlier acquisition of Kendrys Morales, closes the door on a potential return to Toronto for Encarnacion.

Seemingly, all of that would position the Red Sox, in search of a DH to replace the retired David Ortiz, to swoop in and land Encarnacion for far less than they could have imagined only weeks ago.

And yet, it appears as though things would have to change considerably for the Red Sox to reach agreement with Encarnacion.

While the first baseman-DH is known to be Ortiz's first choice as his replacement, for now, the economics don't work for the Sox -- even as Enacarnacion's leverage drops.

Encarnacion is expecting a deal of at least four years, with an average annual value around $20 million.

The Red Sox, industry sources indicate, are very much mindful of the luxury tax threshold. The Sox have, however modestly, gone over the threshold in each of the last two seasons, and even with a bump due to last week's new CBA, the Sox are dangerously close to the 2018 limit of $195 million.

Should the Sox go over for a third straight year, their tax would similarly ratchet up.

That, and the fact that Encarnacion would cost the Sox their first-round pick next June -- for this offseason, compensation for players given a qualifying offer comes under the old CBA rules -- represents two huge disincentives.

It's far more likely that the Sox will seek a cheaper option at DH from among a group that includes Pedro Alvarez and Mike Napoli. Neither is in Encarnacion's class, but then again, neither would cost a draft pick in return, or the long-term investment that Encarnacion is said to be seeking.