Spring Training Countdown: No quick fixes

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Spring Training Countdown: No quick fixes

In any other off-season, particularly one following a 69-win season, the Red Sox would have responded with their checkbooks.

The Red Sox had responded to downturns before by chasing after the biggest names available. When the team won 90 games in 2010 and missed the post-season for the first time since 2006, they reacted swiftly and, seemingly, without regard to payroll implications.

That winter, the Sox rocked baseball by trading for -- and later granting a contract extension to -- Adrian Gonzalez. Days later, they signed free agent outfielder Carl Crawford.

To be sure, there were impact players to be had this past winter, too. Outfielder Josh Hamilton was on the free agent market, and surely Zack Greinke, another free agent, would have upgraded the starting rotation.

But the Red Sox refrained from the quick fix this time. They signed seven free agents, but three -- first baseman Mike Napoli; shortstop Stephen Drew; and reliever Koji Uehara -- were signed to one-year deals and three others -- catcher David Ross; pitcher Ryan Dempster; and outfielder Jonny Gomes -- were signed to two-year deals.

Only outfielder Shane Victorino (three years) got more than a two-year commitment.

Perhaps the conservative approach shouldn't have caught anyone off-guard. After the season, the Red Sox publicly insisted that they would remain disciplined in their rebuilding.

Signing premium free agents often come at the cost of draft picks and the financial obligations can weigh down even the biggest of big-market teams.

And hadn't the Red Sox needed the cash-rich and desperate Los Angeles Dodgers last August to rid themselves of Crawford, Gonzalez and Josh Beckett and their anchor-like contracts?

Instead, the Sox took a more reasoned approach to their off-season acquisitions. The seven free agents combined cost them 96 million combined, or nearly 50 million less than they spent on Crawford alone two winters ago.

The hope is that, in the short-term, the free agents will help move the club back toward respectability. In the final two months of last year, after the trade with the Dodgers and the continued absence of DH David Ortiz, the Sox were unable to field a major league-caliber lineup most nights, a fact reflected in their 7-26 finish.

Napoli, Drew, Gomes and Victorino also share a willingness to work at-bats, something at which the Sox failed miserably last season, as evidenced by their paltry .315 OBP, 10th best in the American League.

But after years in which they made long-term commitments and tied up positions for years at a time, the Sox' approach this off-season leaves them with plenty of flexibility.

General manager Ben Cherington often said in the last six months that he envisions the farm system playing a major role in building the "next great Red Sox team.''

That thinking is a return to the philisophy that won the Sox their last world championship (2007) and sent them to the ninth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

Unlike the 2004 roster, which was cobbled together with holdovers from the Duquette regime (Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek) and some cost-effective free agent signings (Ortiz, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Mike Timlin), the 2007-2008 teams featured a homegrown nucleus. Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon all were scouted, signed and developed by the Sox themselves.

Ultimately, that dependence on homegrown players leads to continuity, consistency and cost-certainty.

But there are risks, too.

While the newest free agents steer the Sox back to respectability, the projected arrival of the system's two best position players -- shortstop Xander Bogaerts and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. -- is for 2014. If they, along with highly-regarded pitching prospects Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, and Henry Owens -- fail to evolve into the players the Red Sox believe they'll be, the whole rebuilding program will be for naught and the Sox will have a host of expiring veteran contracts and no reinforcements in sight.

That's a chance the Sox will willingly take, even if, in the short-term, it's unlikely to end the team's three-year post-season drought. They found out the hard way the last few years that signing established (and far more expensive) players is no guarantee of success, either.

Price on his return to Red Sox: ’There’s not a better feeling’

Price on his return to Red Sox: ’There’s not a better feeling’


BOSTON — Red Sox left-hander David Price is set to make his season debut in a holiday matinee Monday on the road in Chicago against the White Sox. 

Price, 31, starting the second season of a $217 million, seven-year contract, has been recovering from a strained pitching elbow since spring training.

“Excited, just to be back here,” he said Thursday. “There’s not a better feeling. You can’t replicate it anywhere else.”

Price allowed nine runs — six earned — and 12 hits in 5 2/3 innings in a pair of less-than-impressive injury rehabilitation starts at Triple-A Pawtucket. He struck out eight and walked two.

“A lot of pitches, in a short amount of time. I think that is more of a test to being healthy as opposed to going out there and throwing five or six [innings] in 90 pitches,” he said. “To do what I did in both of my rehab outings, I don’t think you can do that if you’re not healthy.”

The Red Sox (24-21) have won four in a row heading into their weekend series against the Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park.

“He’s eager to get back to us and physically he feels great,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “His return to us will give us a definite boost but that’s not to de-emphasize he needs to go out and perform.”

Farrell hopes Price’s return has a trickle-down impact.

“It’s not based solely on the name on the back of his jersey,” Farrell said. “Hopefully it allows us to even out some of the performances within the rotation.”

© 2017 by The Associated Press.

Weird umpire replay mistake helps Red Sox to record-tying 20 Ks

Weird umpire replay mistake helps Red Sox to record-tying 20 Ks

BOSTON -- New York’s mistake helped the Red Sox, and they weren’t playing the Yankees.

The Red Sox struck out 20 in a game for the third time in franchise history on Thursday night, and they were able to do so only after MLB’s replay team — based in Manhattan — gave Craig Kimbrel an extra batter to strike out in the ninth inning.

A 6-2 win over the Rangers featured 16 strikeouts for Red Sox pitching heading into the top of the ninth at Fenway Park. Kimbrel came on for a non-save situation because he had five days off previously.

There’s always that outside chance for a four-strikeout inning, and it happened. Even for a four-strikeout inning, however, this was bizarre.

The first batter, left-handed hitting Nomar Mazara, swung and missed at a back-foot breaking ball for strike three — a literal back-foot breaking ball, because it hit him in that foot after he whiffed on the pitch.

On a swing and a miss with a pitch that hits the batter, the ball should be dead. He should not have been able to reach first base. But the umpires didn’t catch the ball hitting Mazara, and instead saw it as a wild pitch. 

Sox manager John Farrell asked for a review and the umpires went for one, but came back empty-handed. The crew was told, erroneously, that the play could not be looked at and the batter was awarded first base.

“It was just a swinging strike three, ball that go away and he obviously reached first base,” crew chief Alfonso Marquez told pool reporter Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. “The only thing that I can tell you, and the only thing I will say is, this was a replay issue. New York will come out with a statement.”

You could say it worked out just fine. Kimbrel went on to strike out the next three, and got the Sox to 20 Ks.

Kimbrel and Tim Wakefield are the only Red Sox pitchers to fan four batters in a single inning. Wakefield did it in the ninth inning on Aug. 10, 1999. 

Kimbrel did it once before as well, when he was with the Braves on Sept. 26, 2012.

No one has struck out five in a major league inning, although Kimbrel has as good a chance as anyone.

“The guy strikes out the world,” Matt Barnes said. “It’s ridiculous. … His fastball is seemingly unhittable. Complement that with the breaking ball he’s got, which comes right off that same plane, when he’s commanding it like he is, the numbers kind of speak for themselves. It’s kind of ridiculous. It’s fun to watch.”

The Sox have struck out 20 in a nine-inning game three times since 1913. Roger Clemens' two 20-strikeout games are the other two.