Red Sox can't wait for aces in free agency

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Red Sox can't wait for aces in free agency

If it hasn't already, the news that the Seattle Mariners had agreed with pitcher Felix Hernandez on a contract extension last week worth 175 million should make two important points.

One: Thanks to revenue sharing and the general health of the game, almost any team can afford the occasional mega-deal for a
player it covets.

Two: The days of waiting for an ace to hit free agency are essentially over. Big market teams accustomed to poaching All-Star starting pitchers who have outgrown their small- and medium-market teams had better change their approach.

The latter, of course, is a teachable moment for the Red Sox. Some fans were counting the days until Hernandez -- or Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw -- were eligible for free agency, believing that all the Red Sox (or the Yankees) had to do was unholster their checkbook and pick their choice of ace.

But the days of the game's best pitchers taking their talents to market are essentially over. When teams are faced with the prospect of losing a true No. 1 starter, they generally do what they must to retain such a valuable commodity.

In the last few years, Jered Weaver stayed with the Angels, Matt Cain got extended by the Giants and CC Sabathia remained with the Yankees. And is there any doubt that, sometime between now and the end of 2014, the Tigers and Dodgers will pay what they must to keep, respectively, Verlander and Kershaw?

Said one baseball executive: "When you have one of those guys, you have to do whatever it takes to keep them when the time comes."

In truth, this might not be as problematic for the Red Sox as it seems. Having been repeatedly burned on eight- and nine-figure free agent deals -- Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, John Lackey, etc -- to the point where they were driven to unload three big contracts last August, the Sox are naturally wary of such gambles.

That's especially true of the quality of pitchers who do reach free agency, who typically qualify as overpriced innings eaters (think: Mark Buehrle or Edwin Jackson) but often fail to be worth the investment made in them.

All of which will force the Red Sox to get creative in their search for the next starting pitcher to lead the team back to championship status. It's worth noting that, since the mid-1980s, of the four best Red Sox starters (Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Beckett), none was a free agent and only one (Clemens) was drafted and developed by the Sox.

Among the organization's top pitching prospects in the system, Matt Barnes is probably the closest to impacting the big league staff, and even he, having not pitched above high Single A, is probably a year and a half -- at minimum -- away from getting to Boston.

Henry Owens and Anthony Renaudo have similar developmental steps to take.

So, with Jon Lester -- signed through 2013 with an options for 2014 in place -- two years away from free agency himself, where do the Red Sox find their next ace?

They could use some of their top positional player prospects in a deal for an established front-line starter as they did in the deal for Beckett after 2005, or the way the Yankees did with Michael Pineda after 2011.

Or, they could use their first-round pick this June on a top-of-the rotation starter. With the No. 8 overall pick, the Sox will be selecting higher in the first round than they have since 1993, when they chose Trot Nixon.

But both paths have drawbacks and risks. To obtain a true elite young starter, the Sox would probably have to sacrifice shortstop Xander Bogaerts -- and possibly more. The Sox envision Bogaerts being a franchise player, around which they can build for the next decade. Dealing him for an ace would be an enormous risk and could potentially leave the shortstop position as the perennial black hole it's been since 2004.

And, if the Sox use their first-round pick to select a can't-miss starting pitcher, that means they wouldn't be able to select a power bat, the likes of which aren't usually available after the first dozen or so selections in the draft.

Every Red Sox World Series team of the last 46 years has been fronted by a true No. 1 starter, from Jim Lonborg in 1967 to Luis Tiant in 1975 to Clemens in 1986, to Schilling and Martinez in 2004 and Beckett in 2007.

Finding the next one will not be easy or cheap, and, as the Red Sox now know, it almost certainly won't come via free agency.

Improved Matt Barnes dealing with much more than mechanics

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Improved Matt Barnes dealing with much more than mechanics

BOSTON — Matt Barnes has been coping with more than just a few bad outings on the mound, and he’s asking for help.

The Red Sox set-up man made some mechanical corrections that paid off in the eighth inning Monday night, when he struck out all three Twins he faced in a 4-1 Red Sox win at Fenway Park.

“I just simplified the mechanics,” Barnes said afterward. “Two days ago, I was trying to get with more of an up, down, and out approach. I felt better in that outing. I know I gave up a run and walked the one guy, but I felt better around the zone. And then just kind of went into a slide step, doing what Andrew Miller was doing.”

Barnes allowed four runs spanning his previous three outings, retiring just four batters while walking five. But Barnes has had a lot more to worry about than just a brief professional rut. 

He’s been devoted to helping his girlfriend, Chelsea, through the unexpected loss of her father, who was diagnosed with cancer and suffered a stroke

"Her father passed away [May 27]. That’s why I wasn’t in Baltimore for the two days [in early June], I was at his funeral,” Barnes said. "It’s tough, dealing with that, and she’s obviously having a hard time with it. She’s got her good days and her bad days. But it’s not easy. He was sick for a little while, and unexpectedly passed a lot faster than anybody ever expected him to. So, it’s been tough. She’s been alright, considering.”

There are a ton of medical bills still to be paid. A fundraising page has been set up to help the family with some large medical bills, and Barnes has asked on Twitter for people to spread the word if they’re able to.

“I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with her which is nice,” Barnes said of his girlfriend. “Everybody who’s helped out with donations and spreading the page, I couldn’t be more grateful, and she couldn’t be more grateful.”

Barnes is a big leaguer, but he’s still young and making the major league minimum. For every $1,000 total donated, Barnes plans to send a signed baseball to a random donor.

“I felt like it was a nice way, if they’re going to help me out, I can at least do that in return for them,” Barnes said.

Sale gets 9 Ks, Moreland hits home run as Red Sox beat Twins, 4-1

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Sale gets 9 Ks, Moreland hits home run as Red Sox beat Twins, 4-1

BOSTON - The way Chris Sale and the Boston relievers were pitching, the Red Sox didn't need to score a lot.

Sale went 6 1/3 overpowering innings with nine strikeouts, Mitch Moreland hit a solo homer for the third straight game and the Red Sox beat the Minnesota Twins 4-1 on Monday in a matchup of two of the AL's top teams.

"When you've got him on the mound, all you need is a couple and he's going to do the rest," Moreland said. "Obviously, tonight was another example of that."

Dustin Pedroia had two hits and drove in a run and Moreland added a sacrifice fly for Boston, which kept pace with the New York Yankees atop the East.

The Red Sox started fast, grabbing a 2-0 lead just four batters into the first.

"When the guys score early for you, it's nice," Sale said. "It settles you down a little bit and allows you to throw strikes."

Coming off a three-game sweep in Cleveland that had jumped them over the Indians into first in the Central, the Twins' offense was stymied by Sale and three relievers. The loss coupled with Cleveland's win over Texas moved the Indians back a half-game ahead.

Sale (10-3) gave up one run and four hits, increasing his major-league strikeout total to 155. Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth for his 21st save after Matt Barnes struck out three in the eighth. Heath Hembree faced one batter, getting a double play.

The 6-foot-6 Sale relied on his usual sharp-breaking slider and fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s to fan eight over the first six innings, getting the initial half dozen with his breaking pitch.

"It's what we've seen many times. He had a nice mix," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "I think the biggest trouble we had was with that slider, especially down and in to righties."

Jose Berrios (7-2) allowed four runs and eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. Chris Gimenez had a solo homer for Minnesota.

"When you go against a guy like Chris Sale, you try to give 110 percent," Berrios said through a translator.

Boston jumped ahead when Moreland homered into the first row of Green Monster seats after the first run scored on a double-play grounder.

Berrios had given up just two runs in each of his previous four starts, and six of eight since being promoted on May 7.

Gimenez's homer completely left Fenway Park over the Monster.