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.

Pedro Martinez talks about one of the greatest games he's ever pitched

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Pedro Martinez talks about one of the greatest games he's ever pitched

CSN baseball analyst Lou Merloni sits down with Pedro Martinez and Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis to discuss one of Pedro's greatest games. 

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On September 10, 1999 at the height of the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry, Pedro Martinez struck out 17 Yankees in a complete game victory, with the only hit he allowed being a home run to Chili Davis. The two men recall that memorable night in the Bronx, and discuss the state of pitching in 2017.

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."