Notes: Varitek getting reacquainted with Wakefield

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Notes: Varitek getting reacquainted with Wakefield

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It almost wasn't fair.

There were Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz getting ready to take their first batting practice swings off live pitching, and they had to step in against Tim Wakefield and his knuckleball.

Youkilis flailed at a few offerings, Ortiz jokingly started running toward one of the approaching pitches, and Crawford appeared overwhelmed.

"Crawford was asking, 'Does Wake know he's making it go this way, that way, up, down?' '' recounted Jason Varitek, who caught the session. "I told him no. But that was the perception of some not as familiar with the knuckler, like he was trying to make it go toward the feet, he's trying to make it go away from them. I was like, interesting -- if he did, he should let us know.''

Varitek himself is getting re-acquianted with Wakefield's signature pitch this spring. It's been a while since he last caught him much in a game and there are still vivid memories of Varitek being unable to handle the pitch in the 2004 ALCS against New York.

Since then, of course, Wakefield has been paired with Doug Mirabellli, Kevin Cash, Victor Martinez and others. But it's time for Varitek to work with him and prepare.

"Wakefield is the one guy we always kept Varitek away from,'' said Terry Francona. "We want both catchers to have the ability to catch Wake so we don't ever feel like we're boxed in if Wakefield comes out of the bullpen.

"I think he caught him earlier in his career, and then when he was the everyday catcher, he was catching so much, that Wakefield's starts were just the obvious day to give him off. If you're not catching him regularly, that's not an easy thing to do. But Varitek can catch anybody. That won't be issue. He just needs some repition with him . . . We'll get both of those guys comfortable.''

The Red Sox have a number of players with zero-to-three years service time unsigned in camp, including pitchers Daniel Bard and Clay Buchholz, infielder Jed Lowrie and outfielder Darnell McDonald.

The aforementioned players don't have much leverage, since they're noteligible for salary arbitration.

Major League Baseball has a deadline for players in that service class to be signed by the first week of March. Members of the Red Sox Baseball Operations Department have only recently reached out to the agents representing the players, though little progress has been made.

Ultimately, the Sox can unilaterally determine the salaries, though the club tends to take less of a hard-line with its younger players than some other franchises.

This season, the major-league minimum is increased to 414,000. The four players in that class will, to varying degrees, be paid significantly above that figure.

Reliever Dennys Reyes, who was signed earlier this month, has had some visa issues. He and countryman Alfredo Aceves will go to the Mexican consulate in Hermosillo Wednesday morning and are expected back into camp the next day.

Aceves is already in camp and has been throwing without restriction; Reyes, a lefty, has yet to report.

Francona doesn't believe Reyes's late arrival will hinder him in attempting to make the club.

"If he hasn't been throwing and he's behind, that wouldn't be good,'' said Francona. "I imagine he knows what he's in for. He knows he's in competition. He certainly wants to put his best foot forward. I certainly would be surprised if he allowed himself to get behind. We certainly don't want him to be behind.''

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.