GM Meetings notes: Sox won't look to add to their rotation

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GM Meetings notes: Sox won't look to add to their rotation

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Don't expect the Red Sox to be among the most aggressive bidders for the thin class of free-agent starting pitchers this winter. With their rotation featuring five veterans set, the Sox don't have a lot of room.

But do expect that the Sox will be looking to improve their organizational starting depth, helping to provide some insurance should injury or poor performance deplete their major league rotation.

That could include taking a chance on a veteran coming off injury (Brandon Webb, Jeff Francis).

"We'd like to add some starting depth, in one form or another,'' said Theo Epstein. "Whether it's someone coming off an injury who might help us in the second half of the season or it's a really good minor-league free agent who we could have at Triple A. Through one form or another, we'd like to add some depth.

"That's an area we'd like to address.''

The Sox are counting on Felix Doubront to, for the time being, help out in the bullpen. Meanwhile, beyond Michael Bowden (who has struggled in the major leagues) and Junichi Tazawa (coming off Tommy John surgery), there are a lot of options internally.

Free agent Victor Martinez lives in nearby Orlando, but Epstein said he didn't feel the need to go meet with the catcher face-to-face.

"We had a lot of talks, heartfelt exchanges,'' said Epstein. "I think he knows how we feel. We know how he feels, certainly. I would do it in a second if I thought there was something to be gained from it, but he knows how we feel.''

Detroit remains the clear front-runner to sign Martinez, though the Tigers' pursuit of Adam Dunn could impact that. Others with an interest in Martinez: Baltimore, Texas and Colorado.

With the quarterly owners' meetings overlapping with the ongoing GM meetings, the two groups met for several hours yesterday to talk (again) about the upcoming collective bargaining agreement, which expires after the 2011 season.

Among the items discussed: possible changes to the current amateur draft -- including official slotting and the introduction of a worldwide draft -- allowing teams to trade draft picks, and the elimination of the current compensation system for losing free agents.

Next summer's draft is regarded by many scouting directors as one of the best in recent years.

Epstein was asked how that might impact his moves this winter -- knowing that signing free agents will cost picks that are even more valuable than usual, while losing free agents will result in picks in a deeper-than-usual draft.

"If the draft is particularly strong or particularly weak,'' said Epstein, "I think you allow it to be one determining factor out of many. If you're talking about nuances, where 'It might be strong,' or 'It might be weaker,' then that doesn't change anything. It's hard enough to tell on draft day whether it's a good draft, let alone this far out.''

The draft is said to be deeper than usual for both college and high school pitchers.

Epstein raved about recent international free agent signing Juan Carlos Linares, who defected from Cuba, signed with the Red Sox last July and is currently winding down his season in the Arizona Fall League.

"He's really opened some eyes,'' said Epstein. "He's very toolsy and it looks like he's really going to hit. He was centering everything, showing significant opposite-field power and pulling the ball with authority.''

Linares is considered an above average outfielder with the ability to play all three outfield spots. In 17 games, Linares hit .397 with 3 homers and 14 RBI, with a .423 OBP, .662 slugging percentage and OPS of 1.084.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

NEW YORK - There won't be any wild pitches on intentional walks this season.

The players' association has agreed to Major League Baseball's proposal to have intentional walks without pitches this year.

"It doesn't seem like that big of a deal. I know they're trying to cut out some of the fat. I'm OK with that," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

While the union has resisted many of MLB's proposed innovations, such as raising the bottom of the strike zone, installing pitch clocks and limiting trips to the mound, players are willing to accept the intentional walk change.

"As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes," union head Tony Clark wrote Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press. "There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however."

The union's decision was first reported by ESPN .

"I'm OK with it. You signal. I don't think that's a big deal," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For the most part, it's not changing the strategy, it's just kind of speeding things up. I'm good with it."

There were 932 intentional walks last year, including 600 in the National League, where batters are walked to bring the pitcher's slot to the plate.

"You don't want to get your pitcher out of a rhythm, and when you do the intentional walk, I think you can take a pitcher out of his rhythm," Girardi said. "I've often wondered why you don't bring in your shortstop and the pitcher stand at short. Let the shortstop walk him. They're used to playing catch more like that than a pitcher is."

Agreement with the union is required for playing rules changes unless MLB gives one year advance notice, in which case it can unilaterally make alterations. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope Tuesday that ongoing talks would lead to an agreement on other changes but also said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Some changes with video review can be made unilaterally, such as shortening the time to make a challenge.

"I know they were thinking about putting in a 30-second (limit) for managers to make a decision," Francona said. "I actually wish they would. I think it would hustle it up and if we can't tell in 30 seconds, maybe we shouldn't be doing it anyway."

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.