Mullen: No ready prospects means no rookie program

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Mullen: No ready prospects means no rookie program

BOSTON For the last few years, the Red Sox have conducted a rookie development program for two weeks in January. It has been an immersion program designed to familiarize some of the organizations minor leaguers with life in Boston, both on and off the field. The program was not limited to the organizations top prospects, but for those who could soon within about 18 months be impacting the major league team.

The program has consisted of workouts in recent years at the Boston College bubble -- for about a dozen players, who stay with host families in the area, as well as media sessions and seminars with Sox personnel, including the major league manager and coaches, and others outside the organization. Celtic coach Doc Rivers had been a guest in recent years.

But, with the transformation, both on the field and in the front office, the organization is undergoing this offseason, the Sox have opted not to conduct the program this year, putting it on a one-year hiatus. General manager Ben Cherington is in his first year in the job, as are many of his lieutenants, although most have been with the organization for some time. New manager Bobby Valentine is still filling out his coaching staff. Naming Tim Bogar as bench coach on Wednesday, Valentine has yet to name his pitching coach and base coaches.

The Sox still have work to do filling out the major league roster, with starting pitching and bullpen help needed, along with a right fielder, and a right-handed bat.

"With all the change to coaching and medical staff we are going to focus January on making sure we are fully prepared for spring training," Sox general manager Ben Cherington said in a text. "The rookie program will return in 2013."

It could also be that the players who may benefit the most from the program have either already been through it or are not close enough to the big leagues to benefit from it now.

In previous years, some of the participants were among the organizations most highly regarded prospects, including Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard, Jose Iglesias, and Lars Anderson. Last year, the group consisted of players who at that time were less heralded --pitchersRobert Coello,Stephen Fife, Stolmy Pimentel,Jason Rice,Clevelan Santeliz, and Alex Wilson; catchersTim FederowiczandRyan Lavarnway; infieldersWill Middlebrooksand Oscar Tejeda; and outfielderJuan Linares.

Of the 11 players who participated last year, four are no longer with the organization Coello, Fife, Rice, and Federowicz. All were sent away last season in trades Coello for minor leaguer Tony Thomas; Fife and Federowicz in a three-team deal for pitcher Erik Bedard; and Rice for outfielder Conor Jackson. Lavarnway is the only one of last years class to make his big league debut, after starting the season in Double-A Portland and earning a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket, before joining the big league team on Aug. 18. (Coello had already pitched in the big leagues before participating in the program, appearing in six games in 2010 for the Sox.)

That also reflects a transformation in the Sox minor league system. Once a provider of a steady crop of young players who have helped the big league team, the farm system has been depleted by trades in recent years of high-profile players. Before the Bedard deal at the trade deadline in July, the trade in December 2010 for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez sent pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and outfielder Reymond Fuentes (along with Eric Patterson) to San Diego. In July 2009, three players right-handers Justin Masterson and Bryan Price, and lefty Nick Hagadone were packaged in a deal with the Indians for catcher Victor Martinez.

Of the Sox top 25 prospects, according to soxprospects.com, 10 Middlebrooks, Kalish (who participated twice, the second time at his request), Iglesias, Lavarnway, Wilson, Pimentel, Tejeda, Anderson, left-hander Felix Doubront, and right-hander Junichi Tazawa have already participated in the program.

Of the remaining 15, only Alex Hassan has played as high as Triple A, going hitless with an RBI in four plate appearances over three games for Pawtucket in 2010. None of the other 14 has appeared above High-A, and two right-hander Matt Barnes and lefty Henry Owens, the Sox first and third picks, respectively, in the 2011 draft have yet to make their professional debuts.

Given all the Sox have facing them, this may be the right year to put the rookie program on hiatus.

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Despite still being owed more than $42 million after this year, Pablo Sandoval's days with the Red Sox appear numbered. So, it's no surprise that landing a third baseman at the trade deadline is a priority.

That's among the "major upgrades" the Sox are seeking by the July 31 deadline, MLB.com columnist Mark Feinsand reports.

With Sandoval now on his second disabled list stint of the season - this time with an ear infection - after turning into what Feinsand calls "a horror tale for the Red Sox," and with fill-ins Josh Rutledge and Deven Marrero holding down third, it's apparent that the position is a glaring need.

"Sandoval is basically a non-entity at this point," a source told Feinsand. "They need to make a move there."

Feinsand mentions the usual suspects - Mike Moustakas of the Royals and Todd Frazier of the White Sox - as possibilities. Also, he wonders if former MVP Josh Donaldson could be pried away from the Blue Jays (if "Dave Dombrowski knocks their socks off") with an offer and if Toronto is still sputtering at the deadline?

Those other upgrades? "Boston is also looking for pitching, both in the rotation and bullpen," Feinsand writes. Again, no surprise there.

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

A look under the hood is not encouraging. A look at the performance is.

The sideshows for the Red Sox have been numerous. What the team’s success to this point has reinforced is how much talent and performance can outweigh everything else. Hitting and pitching can drown out a word that rhymes with pitching — as long as the wins keep coming.

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At 40-32, the Sox have the seventh-best win percentage (.556) in the majors. What they lack, by their own admission, is an intangible. Manager John Farrell told reporters Wednesday in Kansas City his club was still searching for its identity.

“A team needs to forge their own identity every year,” Farrell said. “That’s going to be dependent upon the changes on your roster, the personalities that exist, and certainly the style of game that you play. So, with [David Ortiz’s] departure, his retirement, yeah, that was going to happen naturally with him not being here. And I think, honestly, we’re still kind of forming it.”

To this observer, the vibe in the Red Sox clubhouse is not the merriest. 

Perhaps, in the mess hall, the players are a unified group of 25 (or so), living for one another with every pitch. What the media sees is only a small slice of the day. 

But it does not feel like Farrell has bred an easygoing, cohesive environment.

Farrell and big boss Dave Dombrowski appeared unaligned in their view of Pablo Sandoval’s place on the roster, at least until Sandoval landed on the disabled list. 

Hanley Ramirez and first base may go together like Craig Kimbrel and the eighth inning. Which is to say, selfless enthusiasm for the ultimate goal of winning does not appear constant with either.

Dustin Pedroia looked like the spokesperson of a fractured group when he told Manny Machado, in front of all the cameras, “It’s not me, it’s them,” as the Orioles and Red Sox carried forth a prolonged drama of drillings. 

Yet, when you note the Sox are just a half-game behind the Yankees for the American League East lead; when you consider the Sox have won 19 of their past 30 games, you need to make sure everything is kept in proportion.

How much are the Sox really hurt by a lack of identity? By any other issue off the field?

Undoubtedly, the Sox would be better positioned if there were no sideshows. But it’s hard to say they’d have ‘X’ more wins.

The Sox would have had a better chance of winning Wednesday’s game if Kimbrel pitched at any point in the eighth inning, that’s for sure. 

Kimbrel is available for one inning at this point, the ninth, Farrell has said.

A determination to keep Kimbrel out of the eighth because that’s not what a closer traditionally does seems like a stance bent on keeping Kimbrel happy rather than doing what is best for the team. The achievement of a save has been prioritized over the achievement of a team win, a state of affairs that exists elsewhere, but is nonetheless far from ideal — a state of affairs that does not reflect an identity of all for one and one for all.

Maybe the Sox will find that identity uniformly. Maybe they’re so good, they can win the division without it.