McAdam: Sox target bullpen help at trade deadline

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McAdam: Sox target bullpen help at trade deadline

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
As the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline draws closer, the temptation is to view a team's needs through the prism of the present.

But for the Red Sox, that's the wrong bit of perspective. After exactly 100 games, it would take a collapse of historic proportions for the team not to qualify for the post-season.

The important math isn't the team's two-game lead over the second-place New York Yankees; it's the 8 12 game edge they hold over the wild-card runners-up.

Essentially, the Red Sox and Yankees will spend the final 10 weeks of the season for the privilege of having home-field advantage.

The Sox, then, aren't seeking help for August or September; they're shopping with an eye toward October.

That's why addressing the bullpen -- and not right field -- is paramount for the Sox. It's far more likely that a playoff game could be won or lost by a reliever than it is for an outfielder.

With almost no contributions from the right field spot -- until Josh Reddick more or less took over the job in the past week -- the Red Sox still lead the American League in every significant offensive category. And since it's reasonable to expect that Reddick will give them more than Drew did going forward, the team's focus is elsewhere.

BULLPEN
Closer Jonathan Papelbon is solid -- just one blown save nearly two-thirds of the way through the season -- and set-up man Daniel Bard has been otherworldly.

In the absence of Bobby Jenks (currently on his third DL stint), Matt Albers has emerged as the team's mainstay for the seventh inning.

What's missing, for now, is a dependable lefty. Franklin Morales can possess devastating stuff, but his command is often spotty. The last thing a manager wants when he summons a matchup lefty in a big spot is an inability to throw strikes.

A look at some lefties believed to be available at the deadline:

Craig Breslow, Oakland A's
The A's are open for business and are attracting plenty of interest in their relievers.

Breslow was with the Sox in 2006 and has experience. In his career, he's held lefty hitters to a .222 batting average. This season, however, Breslow has struggled against lefties, who have hit him at an alarming .390 clip.

That could force the A's to lower their asking price, or, if the Sox' scouting reports aren't good, eliminate any interest the Sox might have had.

Grant Balfour, Oakland A's
Signed as a free agent last winter, the righthanded Balfour has pitched well, with a 2.08 ERA and a WHIP of 1.077. Even more impressive is his success against lefties, having limited them to a .162 batting average.

There are two caveats on Balfour. One A.L. West source is unsure whether the A's will deal him, since they have him under control through the end of next season.

In a related issue, Balfour signed a two-year deal with a team option for 2013. That would leave the Sox on the hook for 1.25 million for the remainder of the season, 4 million next year, plus a 350,000 buyout on a team option for 4.5 million in 2013.

Total minimum investment for the Sox: 5.6 million. For a team watching its payroll expenditures and attempting to avoid the luxury tax, will that be a factor?

OUTFIELDERS
Reddick has earned the majority of playing time in right, and Drew will be available next month as a late-inning defensive replacement.

The Sox don't need a star player like Carlos Beltran, or even an everyday player like San Diego's Ryan Ludwick.

Instead, they'll be looking for a more affordable option who can hit left-handed pitching to serve as a platoon partner with Reddick.

An ideal target would be Jeff Baker, but the Cubs have already told the Red Sox -- and anyone else who's inquired -- that Baker won't be moved.
Reed Johnson, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs won't move Baker, but Johnson is said to be available. He's not a great outfielder, but the Sox could probably live with his defense.

What's most attractive is his ability to hit lefties -- he has a .929 OPS against lefties this season.

It doesn't hurt that given his supremely affordable contract (900,000), he would cost the Sox a little more than 300,000 to rent.

Jeff Francoeur, Kansas City Royals
Francoeur profiles more as an everyday player, and there are concerns about how he would respond to part-time duty -- both in terms of attitude and production.

On the plus side, he's a good outfielder with a plus arm who could handle the spacious dimensions of right field in Fenway. Another positive: he has post-season experience with Atlanta (2005) and Texas (last year).

His 2.5 million deal translates into a cost of about 800,000 for the final two months, affordable enough.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.