Gomes groomed to be Sox left fielder

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Gomes groomed to be Sox left fielder

BOSTON Even before he ever cracked a big league lineup, Jonny Gomes began grooming himself to play left field at Fenway Park.

Gomes is now the newest member of the Red Sox and the teams left fielder. The Sox announced Saturday the free agent agreed to a two-year (10 million) deal.

Im excited, Gomes said on a conference call with the media Saturday afternoon. I think the challenge is as big of a challenge as you can put on it personally. Obviously getting drafted by Tampa, made it through the organization pretty fast, was up and down between the big leagues and Triple A early in my career. But the Triple-A Durham park has almost the exact dimensions in left field as the green wall, and I always thought young in my career I was grooming myself to play left in Boston one day. And this was obviously even before I was in the big leagues, obviously Manny Ramirez was there, so it was far-fetched.

But really worked hard on that wall, really studied the angles, and really took the challenge as something exciting and not something difficult. So I do have quite a few starts in left field in Boston, but I got years of starts in Triple A underneath that wall in Durham, which is just about exactly the same.

Gomes, 32, was an 18th-round pick of the Rays in 2001, making his big league debut in 2003. His first major league road trip, beginning the 03 season, went to Yankee Stadium and then Fenway Park. In his 10-season career, he has played with the Rays, Reds, Nationals, and As. He has appeared in 327 career games (290 starts) in left field, and 145 (130 starts) in right.

He appeared in 99 games for the As last season, batting .262 with 18 home runs, 47 RBI, a .377 on-base percentage, and .491 slugging percentage. He appeared in 39 games (25 starts) in left field, three in right field, and served as the designated hitter in 53.

In 31 career games at Fenway Park, Gomes, a right-handed hitter, has hit .262 with three home runs, seven RBI, a .354 OBP, and .429 SLG. He hit .2991126.413.561 in 196 plate appearances against left-handed hitters in 2012, .209721.324.391 against righties.

In 2012 Gomes led the majors, hitting .480 (12-for-25) with two outs and runners in scoring position, the best mark in the American League in 17 years. He hit .311 (19-for-61) with runners in scoring position, and .306 (38-for-124) with runners on base.

Im not really too concerned about how Ill be used, Gomes said. I came up groomed into believing that this is a results-driven industry. And if the results are there, youll play. I try to get myself ready one way, and thats to be ready for 162 games and thats to be wherever the manager puts me, left, right, DH, or wherever the manager wants to put me that day. But I have one way to approach the game and thats to be ready every single day, and one way to approach the offseason and thats to get myself in shape for 162 and like I said before this is a results-driven industry. So if the results are there, youll play. So Ill be ready to play every single day and hopefully I can keep myself in the lineup.

Gomes is a student of the game, with an obvious appreciation for its history. Even as a visiting player at Fenway, he respected the history of the games oldest big league park.

You cant help but to be in awe of the history of the ballpark, he said. The further you walk in and the more you play, the more history escapes you really cant help but to take. Its almost selfish to say its just your team vs. the Red Sox. There are so many battles and so many pitches and home runs exchanged and world champs that paved the way for me to get in between those lines. Its so much more than a nine-inning ballgame that Im playing that day, which I definitely dont take for granted and Im very appreciative of.

Now, hes looking forward to being part of it.

First and foremost, nothing less than honored, he said. When you have a team with the history-rich organization, the fan base, educated fans, its an honor. Not everyone has had the path that Ive had, bouncing around. Ive played for the youngest organization in Tampa. Ive played for the oldest organization, that being the Cincinnati Reds. Ive played for the team that I grew up cheering for, the Oakland As. And now I get to play for what I think personally is the mecca of baseball fan base. Chevy, American pie, and baseball. And baseball, thats the Red Sox. So Im definitely honored.

He watched from afar as the Sox suffered through their disastrous 2012 season.

Obviously what happened last year, unless you were living under a rock, what went on with the Red Sox, and I know the core guys with the Red Sox, he said. I know the guys that have been there for a while. I know Dustin Pedroia, I know Jacoby Ellsbury, I know Jon Lester. I know Big Papi David Ortiz. So right away, without even signing, I was like the Red Sox are going to play with the biggest chip on their shoulder. Knowing the pasts of those guys and how they play, I said theres no possible way that would happen two straight years to the Sox nation, and telling myself, I would love to be a part of that.

I would be honored and love to bring back the fire to the Nation. And ironically enough, the phone rang. And at the end of the day, where I am in my career, it wasnt about location, it wasnt about need, it wasnt about money. It was about being wanted. All I wanted was to be wanted... Me being a historian of the game and a fan of the game, it was a pretty easy decision to be able to call Fenway home.

Gomes has a reputation as a stand-up guy. A solid character in the clubhouse. Someone who will lead by positive examples. How does he see his role in turning the team around from 2012?

I always say how does a big machine run? he said. Well, a big machine runs with a lot of grease. You get a tall building with all kinds of fancy windows. Well, its that foundation that keeps that building up. I always say I represent the grease that runs the machine, not the machine. I represent the foundation, not the star at the top.

And for the Red Sox, that may be just what they need.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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0:41 - Michael Holley, Kayce Smith and Tom Giles recap their thoughts on drafting Jayson Tatum and trade rumors involving the Celtics.

6:21 - Ian Thomsen joins BST to discuss if it would be worth trading for Paul George as a one-year rental and if there would be a chance he could still around long-term if traded to Boston.

11:13 - Evan Drellich joins BST to talk about Rick Porcello’s outing, the Red Sox offense coming to life, and Doug Fister being claimed by the Red Sox. 

15:10 - Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely look back at the Celtics/Nets trade, what the assets have turned into, and if Danny Ainge has done a good job turning those assets into players. 

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

CHICAGO – As opening nights go at the NHL Draft, Friday night was a bit of a ho-hum affair for the Boston Bruins at the United Center home of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Bruins went the safe route by drafting a smooth, defensive-minded defenseman with the 18th overall pick when they selected Finnish product Urho Vaakenainen, and in doing so left more dynamic forwards like Kristian Vesalainen and Kailer Yamamoto still on the draft board for other teams to claim as their own. It was a bit of a curious choice given how many defensemen the Bruins already have in the prospect pipeline, but the lack of strength in the draft class seemed to lead teams to carve their own paths looking for players.

MORE: Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder clearly has miles to go offensively despite his smooth skating and solid passing skills, but there’s also a consideration that the teenager has been playing in the men’s league in Finland for the last couple of seasons. It makes things a little more difficult to project for the Finn D-man, but the Bruins believe there is some upside to his offensive game given the skills, the hockey IQ and the considerable confidence that the player has in his own game.

“His gap control and skating ability are really good. He’s obviously played in the Finnish Elite League at a very young age for one and a half years now and he’s played on the big stage at the world juniors. We feel like there’s a lot of upside for a 200-foot player that gets back on pucks, and then can transition them back out. Being able to cover ice is an important part of the game, and it continues to evolve in that direction,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who indicated Vaakenainen will play in North America in 2018-19 after fulfilling his contractual obligations in Finland. “We tracked what he did on offense at the junior league level prior to him jumping to the elite league, and it lines up pretty well with other elite players that made the jump to that level.

“It’s a valid question and whether he gets put into those [offensive] situations this year is what we’re excited about with his [Finnish] team moving forward.”

While Vaakenainen sounded surprised the Bruins selected him after only a single meeting at the NHL scouting combine, Sweeney said that Boston’s head scout in Finland has enough history with the family to vouch for the kid’s makeup.

So while it’s far from a sexy pick and the Bruins could have tried to hit a home run with an 18th overall selection in a mediocre draft, the B’s will also get some time before anybody is ready to label the Finnish blueliner a boom or a bust.

The rest of the draft night didn’t add up to much for the B’s, however. They made the selection of Vaakenainen after strongly considering dropping down in the first round, and in doing so lost one of the better trade chips in the form of their 2017 first round pick. There were discussions with Minnesota about Marco Scandella and a few trade feelers to other clubs that might listen on a D-man, but the Bruins now have to hit the reset button on trade discussions for left-shot defensemen or top-6 left wings.

Perhaps Scandella’s $4 million per season salary was an issue for the Bruins, or maybe the Bruins didn’t want to give up their first round pick for a 27-year-old D-man coming off a so-so season with the Wild. Either way, there wasn’t enough momentum for the Bruins to get a trade done with a bevy of defensemen rumored to be available if the offer is good enough.

“I was on the record saying that we’d be offering our first round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to go through with it, so we went ahead with a player we wanted with our own pick. We continue to build what we think is a good group of guys moving forward.

“There are a couple of areas we’d like to address and get better. We’re trying to help our team currently. Certainly Brandon [Carlo] jumped into our lineup and we hope Charlie [McAvoy] will carry over what he did, and we have other players that will push. We have six returning defensemen we feel good about and we’ll certainly push from underneath, but it’s an area we’ll continue to address. We have some forwards that we also hope will come online, but we’ll never stop exploring and trying to improve our club.”

So let’s sum it all up after a week of additions and subtractions from the Original Six organization: The Bruins added a decidedly vanilla defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft that might be a simple stay-at-home guy, and they weren’t able to muster any kind of deals for a D-man or winger to enhance the NHL roster. On the other hand, they didn’t give up much over the week as well and they didn’t do much at all to harm a solid roster that looked like they were finally on the right track pushing into the playoffs last season.

The Bruins could be in store for an action-packed Day Two of the draft on Saturday full of promising prospects and bountiful trades, but it sure feels like the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago isn’t going to be a very memorable one for the Black and Gold.