Melancon deal doesn't solve Sox problems

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Melancon deal doesn't solve Sox problems

Wednesday represented a flurry of activity for the Red Sox, who traded two players for reliever Mark Melancon and signed free agent utilityinfielder Nick Punto.

But when it was over, the Red Sox hadn't made much progress toward solving their most obvious needs -- the back end of their starting rotation and a closer.

They merely gave themselves more options from which to choose, which is a polite way of saying that they succeeded in making things, for the time being at least, more complicated.

Melancon is unlikely to start 2012 as the team's closer. If he does, it should be read as an indcitment of the front office.

All of which isn't to suggest that Melancon is without value. He's young (26), apparently healthy (following Tommy John surgery earlier in his career) and controllable (he doesn't reach free agency until after the 2016 season).

And Melancon provides a quality arm, someone who can help in the seventh or eighth innings. Entrusting Melancon with the ninth inning, however, is another matter altogether.

For now, there's little evidence that Melancon can handle closing in the American League East. He converted just 80 percent of his save opportunties in the N.L. Central in 2011.

It's worth noting that against opponents from the A.L. East -- the Astros happened to play the division in interleague play last season -- Melancon allowed A.L. East batter to hit .351 with a 1.061 OPS.

True, it's a relatively small sample size (seven games). But it suggests that the Melancon may need more experience -- or another quality pitch -- before he can handle the toughest outs in the toughest lineups.

Just because Melancon isn't yet equipped to close doesn't mean the deal wasn't worthwhile.

Kyle Weiland profiles as a back-end starter and the Red Sox have plenty of candidates for that slot, including Alfredo Aceves, Felix Doubront and Andrew Miller. It was all but certain that Weiland was going to start the season at Triple A.

If he develops into much more than depth starter in the big leagues, most scouts will be surprised.

For the Sox, moving Jed Lowrie was the bigger gamble. Lowrie had value around the game, thanks to his versatility and affordability. At the very least, he can be a useful, flexible part of a big league roster, capable of playing all four infield positions and providing some pop at the plate -- at least from the right side.

But Lowrie was given chance after chance to establish himself as something more with the Red Sox, and outside of three terrific months -- July and August in 2010 and mid-April through mid-May of 2011 -- never truly made his case as an everyday player.

Only once in four seasons did he play more than half a season, his career stalled by a series of injuries and infirmities -- everything from a lingering wrist injury to mononucleosis to a shoulder issue.

Perhaps, with a fresh start and an opportunity to play every day, Lowrie will make good on his potential. But the Red Sox essentially replace Lowrie within hours of his departure with the signing of Nick Punto, a veteran utility piece who, like Lowrie, is a switch-hitter.

Roughly translated, then, the Sox got an older, more experienced version of Lowrie Wednesday and traded a potential back-end starter for a late-inning reliever with upside.

In the strictest sense, that represents a small step forward in terms of roster-building for 2012.

What it doesn't represent, for now at least, is any clearer sense of who's going to be getting the toughest outs. It gives the Sox more options without precluding further moves, some of which will surely be coming.

Or else.

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

When it comes to Pablo Sandoval and his weight, a picture is worth a thousand words.

During spring training it wasn’t a good thing. Sandoval made headlines when a number of photos revealed significant weight gain for the Red Sox third baseman.

But the last two images have been more positive for Sandoval.

In October, a noticeably thinner Sandoval was photographed at an FC Barcelona game.

On Monday, Dan Roche of WBZ tweeted a more recent picture of the new-look Sandoval.

Sandoval, 30, is entering the third season of a five-year, $95 million contract. In his lone full season in Boston, 2015, Sandoval hit .245/.292/.366 with 10 homers and 47 RBI.

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The newly agreed upon Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement features higher taxes and additional penalties for exceeding the competitive balance threshold -- and don't think the Red Sox haven't noticed.

The Red Sox went over the threshold in both 2015 and 2016, and should they do so again in 2017, they would face their highest tax rate yet at 50 percent. Additionally, there are provisions that could cost a team in such a situation to forfeit draft picks as well as a reduced pool of money to sign its picks.

None of which means that the Red Sox won't definitively stay under the $195 million threshold for the upcoming season. At the same time, however, it remains a consideration, acknowledged Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

"You would always like to be under the CBT (competitive balance tax) if you could,'' offered Dombrowski. "And the reason why is that are penalties attached for going over, so nobody likes to (pay) penalties.

"However, the Red Sox, if you follow history, have been up-and-down, right around that number. We were over it last year and the year before that. So I would prefer (to be under in 2017). However, a little bit more driving force in that regard is that there are stricter penalties now attached to going over. And some of them involve, for the first time, differences in draft choices and sacrificing money to sign players and that type of thing. So there's a little bit more drive (to stay under).

"But I can't tell you where we're going to end up. Eventually, does it factor (in)? Yeah. But until we really get into the winter time and see where we are, will I make an unequivocal (statement about staying under the CBT)? Maybe we won't. But there are penalties that I would rather not be in position to incur.''

Dombrowski stressed that he's not under a "mandate'' from ownership to stay under the CBT.

"But I am under an awareness of the penalties,'' he said. "Last year, I would have preferred to be under, too, but it just worked for us to be above it, because we thought that would be the best way to win a championship at the time.''

He added: "I think we're going to have a good club either way.''

But it's clear that the CBT is part of the reason the Red Sox aren't being more aggressive toward some premium free agents such as first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion, who is said to be looking for at least a four-year deal at an annual average value of more than $20 million.

Currently, the Red Sox have nearly $150 million in guaranteed contracts for 2017, plus a handful of arbitration-eligible players, some of whom (Drew Pomeranz, Jackie Bradley Jr.) will see significant raises.

Together, with insurance premiums and others costs tallied, the Sox stand at nearly $180 million, just $15 million under the 2017 tax.

"I've said all along I've wanted to stay away from long-term contracts for hitters at this point,'' Dombrowski said of the current free agent class, "(especially) with some of the guys we have in our organization coming. I just haven't felt that that's a wise thing to do.''

The Sox saw two potential DHs come off the board over the weekend, with Carlos Beltran signing a one-year $16 million deal with Houston and Matt Holliday getting $13 million from the Yankees. Either could have filled the vacancy left by David Ortiz's retirement, but Dombrowski would also be taking on another another eight-figure salary, pushing the Sox well past the CBT.

"I figured we would wait to see what ends up taking place later on,'' said Dombrowski, "and see who's out there.''