Spring Training Countdown: No quick fixes

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Spring Training Countdown: No quick fixes

In any other off-season, particularly one following a 69-win season, the Red Sox would have responded with their checkbooks.

The Red Sox had responded to downturns before by chasing after the biggest names available. When the team won 90 games in 2010 and missed the post-season for the first time since 2006, they reacted swiftly and, seemingly, without regard to payroll implications.

That winter, the Sox rocked baseball by trading for -- and later granting a contract extension to -- Adrian Gonzalez. Days later, they signed free agent outfielder Carl Crawford.

To be sure, there were impact players to be had this past winter, too. Outfielder Josh Hamilton was on the free agent market, and surely Zack Greinke, another free agent, would have upgraded the starting rotation.

But the Red Sox refrained from the quick fix this time. They signed seven free agents, but three -- first baseman Mike Napoli; shortstop Stephen Drew; and reliever Koji Uehara -- were signed to one-year deals and three others -- catcher David Ross; pitcher Ryan Dempster; and outfielder Jonny Gomes -- were signed to two-year deals.

Only outfielder Shane Victorino (three years) got more than a two-year commitment.

Perhaps the conservative approach shouldn't have caught anyone off-guard. After the season, the Red Sox publicly insisted that they would remain disciplined in their rebuilding.

Signing premium free agents often come at the cost of draft picks and the financial obligations can weigh down even the biggest of big-market teams.

And hadn't the Red Sox needed the cash-rich and desperate Los Angeles Dodgers last August to rid themselves of Crawford, Gonzalez and Josh Beckett and their anchor-like contracts?

Instead, the Sox took a more reasoned approach to their off-season acquisitions. The seven free agents combined cost them 96 million combined, or nearly 50 million less than they spent on Crawford alone two winters ago.

The hope is that, in the short-term, the free agents will help move the club back toward respectability. In the final two months of last year, after the trade with the Dodgers and the continued absence of DH David Ortiz, the Sox were unable to field a major league-caliber lineup most nights, a fact reflected in their 7-26 finish.

Napoli, Drew, Gomes and Victorino also share a willingness to work at-bats, something at which the Sox failed miserably last season, as evidenced by their paltry .315 OBP, 10th best in the American League.

But after years in which they made long-term commitments and tied up positions for years at a time, the Sox' approach this off-season leaves them with plenty of flexibility.

General manager Ben Cherington often said in the last six months that he envisions the farm system playing a major role in building the "next great Red Sox team.''

That thinking is a return to the philisophy that won the Sox their last world championship (2007) and sent them to the ninth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

Unlike the 2004 roster, which was cobbled together with holdovers from the Duquette regime (Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek) and some cost-effective free agent signings (Ortiz, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Mike Timlin), the 2007-2008 teams featured a homegrown nucleus. Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon all were scouted, signed and developed by the Sox themselves.

Ultimately, that dependence on homegrown players leads to continuity, consistency and cost-certainty.

But there are risks, too.

While the newest free agents steer the Sox back to respectability, the projected arrival of the system's two best position players -- shortstop Xander Bogaerts and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. -- is for 2014. If they, along with highly-regarded pitching prospects Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, and Henry Owens -- fail to evolve into the players the Red Sox believe they'll be, the whole rebuilding program will be for naught and the Sox will have a host of expiring veteran contracts and no reinforcements in sight.

That's a chance the Sox will willingly take, even if, in the short-term, it's unlikely to end the team's three-year post-season drought. They found out the hard way the last few years that signing established (and far more expensive) players is no guarantee of success, either.

Quotes, notes and stars: Porcello has ability to adjust

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Quotes, notes and stars: Porcello has ability to adjust

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 8-0 win over the Yankees:

QUOTES:

"He threw all four pitches tonight for strikes, but most importantly, (he's shown) the ability to make adjustments from pitch-to-pitch. If he gets out of whack or misses with a pitch, he's right back in the strike zone.'' - John Farrell on Rick Porcello.

"You look back at the first month and I think we've gained a lot of trust in each other up and down the lineup. That to me is the strongest attribute right now on this team.'' - Farrell on the Red Sox after one month of play.

"Pretty similar. I'm getting a lot of timely hits, and it's helping the team.'' - Jackie Bradley Jr., asked if this last week is similar to the hot streak he enjoyed last August.

"I'm comfortable. I'm in a good place, mentally and physically. I worked really hard to get where I am now and I'm going to continue to work.'' – Bradley on his hot streak.

"Much better fastball command. I've been able to execute my sinker better and that's allowed me to get ahead of hitters and if I do fall behind, I've been able to come back.'' - Porcello on cutting his walk rate by more than half compared to this point a year ago.

NOTES:

* The shutout at Fenway was the first for the Red Sox against the Yankees since May 14, 2011.

* The eight-run margin was the biggest margin in a Red Sox shutout over the Yankees since Sept. 6, 2003 when they won 11-0 in New York.

* The four triples in April for Jackie Bradley Jr. are the most for a Red Sox hitter in that month since Jose Offerman in 1999.

* In his last nine games against the Yankees, Bradley is 14-for-31 (.452) with nine extra-base hits.

* Rick Porcello's 5-0 start to the season is the best run for a Red Sox starter since Josh Beckett was 7-0 in 2007.

* The Yankees have failed to homer in seven games this season; they're 0-7 in those games.

STARS:

1) Jackie Bradley Jr.

Bradley had three extra-base hits (two triples and a double) for eight total bases, and knocked in three runs.

2) Rick Porcello

The Red Sox starter tossed seven shutout innings and allowed only two baserunners into scoring position while issuing just one walk.

3) Mookie Betts

Betts had a double in the second and a single in the sixth, good for three RBI, a season high for him.

First impressions from Red Sox' 8-0 win over Yankees: Bradley on a tear

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First impressions from Red Sox' 8-0 win over Yankees: Bradley on a tear

BOSTON -- First impressions from the Red Sox' 8-0 win over the Yankees:

* Rick Porcello doesn't seem like a weak link in the rotation now.

Porcello blanked the Yankees for seven innings and is now 5-0 with a 2.76 ERA for the season. For the fourth time in five outings, he pitched into the seventh innings.

The Yankees threatened only once - in the fifth, when they had runners at the corners and two out. But Porcello got Jacoby Ellsbury to ground out, stranding two and was never in trouble again.

Porcello's command is improved over a year ago. In his first five starts last year, covering 30 innings, he walked 10. This year, he's pitched 32 2/3 innings and issued just five walks.

* Jackie Bradley is swinging it like he did last August.

Bradley went on an extra-base tear late last summer, rocketing doubles, triples and homers for a stretch of a few weeks that was completely unexpected.

The last week has been like that stretch, with seven extra-base hits in the last seven games. He knocked in the first run of the night with a double to left, then delivered another in the sixth with a triple to the triangle and two more in the seventh with a triple into the right field corner.

In the two games against the Yankees, he's got four extra-base hits, a walk and five RBI.

* David Ortiz has started 20 games this season. He's knocked in 19 runs.

Ortiz added his second homer in as many nights, to go along with a single and walk.

It's doubtful that he's going to keep up his RBI-per-game pace, but when he's locked in the way he is now, he impacts virtually the entire lineup from the cleanup position.

* If you think Pablo Sandoval was bad, maybe you haven't been watching Chase Headley.

The Yankee third baseman was a free agent the same winter that Sandoval was and some argued that he would have been a better fit for the Sox than was Panda.

But 22 games into the 2016 season, Headley has yet to collect a single base hit and has an OPS of .405. He's hitting .153 and has virtually no range to speak of at third base.

* A lot has changed for Junichi Tazawa.

A year ago, Tazawa was overworked in the first half of the season. On Saturday night, he got an inning of work in the ninth in a blowout game because he hadn't pitched since last Sunday -- thanks to strong starting efforts from the rotation over the past two series.