Red Sox notes: Francona hints at lineup


Red Sox notes: Francona hints at lineup

By Sean McAdam

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Having revealed his starting pitching rotation earlier in the week, manager Terry Francona Saturday came close to doing the same with his batting order for the regular season.

Francona said it was likely that for, most games, Jacoby Ellsbury will lead off, followed by Dustin Pedroia and Carl Crawford. He hinted that Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis were "interchangable'' in the fourth and fifth slots, but is leaning toward having Gonzalez hit fourth most games.

They would be followed by David Ortiz (sixth), J.D. Drew (seventh), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (eighth) and Marco Scutaro (ninth).

Complicating matters somewhat, Francona added, is that the Sox will face C.J. Wilson in the April 1 season opener. For that game, Francona could sit Drew in favor of Mike Cameron and drop Ellsbury to ninth with Scutaro temporarily replacing him at the top.

"Wilson is so tough on lefties,'' said Francona. "That's the one thing that's been messing with me because normally, that's a guy you would do something (different) with. But it's Opening Day, so I don't know how I feel about that.

Scutaro hit leadoff for most of last season when Ellsbury missed all but 18 games thanks to broken ribs.

"The next 10 days, you'll probably see our (regular season) lineup a few times,'' Francona said. "

For the second start in a row, Josh Beckett pitched against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and for the second start in a row, a long inning -- the fourth -- cost him.

Beckett pitched 4 23 innings, allowing five runs on seven hits, though only one run was earned thanks to errors by Nate Spears and a throwing error by Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

"Pretty similar,'' agreed Beckett. "It was just a different inning (than last time) -- fourth inning instead of the fifth. I felt good in several of the other innings.

"You never like to be in jams, but if you show that you can get out of them -- big jams -- it's a confidence thing more than anything.''

Beckett threw 88 pitches and said his arm strength is good. He'll get up to 95 or so pitches in his next Florida start, then taper back when he faces the Astros in Houston two days before the season opener.

"I thought he made a lot of good pitces,'' said Francona. "When the season starts, consistency is a huge thing. But the way the ball's coming out of his hand (is encouraging).''

Francona noted that Beckett's changeup -- a bit softer than in the past -- was a quality pitch, but said the curveball was spotty, with only four strikes thrown out of 17.

Beckett was also miffed that, for the second time in a row, he allowed base hits to the opposing pitcher. Saturday, Kevin Correia had two singles against him, including one which produced two runs.

Daniel Nava made the defensive play of the game, leaping in left to take extra bases away from Andrew McCutchen in the first before firing a cutoff throw to Dustin Pedroia who rifled a relay to first to double up Neil Walker and end the inning.

Earlier in camp, Francona said he thought that Nava had the ability to be a better outfielder than he showed last season.

"I think he's done that this spring,'' said Francona. "I think he's done a better job with (his defense). He's not swung the bat particularly well (.205 for the spring), but he hasn't taken that out to the outfield with him.''

"It's definitely been a focus,'' said Nava. "I'm just being more attentive to that side of the game.''

Hideki Okajima pitched for Single A Greenville Saturday, tossing a scoreless inning with two strikeouts. Okajima threw 15 pitches...The Sox have their only scheduled off-day of the spring Wednesday, but Adrian Gonzalez will DH in a game at the minor league complex to get some extra at-bats...Alfredo Aceves pitched two innings and gave up a two-run homer to John Bowker...Staff member and batting practice pitcher Ino Guerrero was hospitalized Friday and held overnight after a bad reaction to a nerve blocker shot in his shoulder...Monday's pitching matchup in Clearwater could be a beauty: Jon Lester vs. Roy Halladay. They're two of the four pitchers who've won 50 or more games in the last three seasons...Spears has been told he won't make the club for Opening Day, but will spend the rest of the spring with the major league club, where he offers versatility.

Sean McAdam can be reached at Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The newly agreed upon Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement features higher taxes and additional penalties for exceeding the competitive balance threshold -- and don't think the Red Sox haven't noticed.

The Red Sox went over the threshold in both 2015 and 2016, and should they do so again in 2017, they would face their highest tax rate yet at 50 percent. Additionally, there are provisions that could cost a team in such a situation to forfeit draft picks as well as a reduced pool of money to sign its picks.

None of which means that the Red Sox won't definitively stay under the $195 million threshold for the upcoming season. At the same time, however, it remains a consideration, acknowledged Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

"You would always like to be under the CBT (competitive balance tax) if you could,'' offered Dombrowski. "And the reason why is that are penalties attached for going over, so nobody likes to (pay) penalties.

"However, the Red Sox, if you follow history, have been up-and-down, right around that number. We were over it last year and the year before that. So I would prefer (to be under in 2017). However, a little bit more driving force in that regard is that there are stricter penalties now attached to going over. And some of them involve, for the first time, differences in draft choices and sacrificing money to sign players and that type of thing. So there's a little bit more drive (to stay under).

"But I can't tell you where we're going to end up. Eventually, does it factor (in)? Yeah. But until we really get into the winter time and see where we are, will I make an unequivocal (statement about staying under the CBT)? Maybe we won't. But there are penalties that I would rather not be in position to incur.''

Dombrowski stressed that he's not under a "mandate'' from ownership to stay under the CBT.

"But I am under an awareness of the penalties,'' he said. "Last year, I would have preferred to be under, too, but it just worked for us to be above it, because we thought that would be the best way to win a championship at the time.''

He added: "I think we're going to have a good club either way.''

But it's clear that the CBT is part of the reason the Red Sox aren't being more aggressive toward some premium free agents such as first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion, who is said to be looking for at least a four-year deal at an annual average value of more than $20 million.

Currently, the Red Sox have nearly $150 million in guaranteed contracts for 2017, plus a handful of arbitration-eligible players, some of whom (Drew Pomeranz, Jackie Bradley Jr.) will see significant raises.

Together, with insurance premiums and others costs tallied, the Sox stand at nearly $180 million, just $15 million under the 2017 tax.

"I've said all along I've wanted to stay away from long-term contracts for hitters at this point,'' Dombrowski said of the current free agent class, "(especially) with some of the guys we have in our organization coming. I just haven't felt that that's a wise thing to do.''

The Sox saw two potential DHs come off the board over the weekend, with Carlos Beltran signing a one-year $16 million deal with Houston and Matt Holliday getting $13 million from the Yankees. Either could have filled the vacancy left by David Ortiz's retirement, but Dombrowski would also be taking on another another eight-figure salary, pushing the Sox well past the CBT.

"I figured we would wait to see what ends up taking place later on,'' said Dombrowski, "and see who's out there.''


Red Sox exercise 2018 option on John Farrell's contract

Red Sox exercise 2018 option on John Farrell's contract

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- When Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski almost casually mentioned in October that John Farrell would return for the 2017 season, he was, predictably asked about the option that the club held on the manager for 2018.

Dombrowski noted that he would speak to ownership about that matter over the off-season. Apparently, it didn't take long.

The Red Sox announced Monday that the team had, indeed, exercised the option on Farrell, putting him on a guaranteed deal through the next two seasons.

"John's done a real fine job for us,'' said Dombrowski. "We had a very good year last year. I thought he did a good job handling the club. We're in a position where we have a good working relationship. He has the respect of our players; our players played hard for him, so we're very happy to have done that.

"It puts stability to our staff going into spring training.''

Dombrowski said the issue would have been addressed sooner, but the team had to deal with the departures of former GM Mike Hazen, former bench coach Torey Lovullo and other front office members.

"There were just so many issues that happened after (the end of the season),'' he noted. "There was no rush. This didn't have to be exercised until 10 days after (the competition of the 2017 season)... (But) John has a solid presence to himself, leadership capabilities, yet I also find him very open-minded when we have conversations. I think he's done a very fine job.''

Farrell became a focal point for criticism from the team's fan base and some in the media when the Red Sox struggled to separate themselves from the rest of the American League East in the first half of the season.

After winning a World Series in his first season at the Sox' helm in 2013, Farrell managed the Sox to a last-place finish in 2014, and the team was mired in the East basement in mid-August of 2015 when it was revealed that Farrell was battling lymphoma.

He took a leave of absence for the final seven weeks of the season and when the team's record improved under Lovullo, acting as interim manager, the pressure on Farrell was turned up for 2016, with Lovullo, Farrell's long-time friend, seen as the heir apparent should the team under-perform.

That pressure remained hot until the final month when a hot streak vaulted the Sox into first place and carried them into the post-season, where the team was swept out of the Division Series by Cleveland.

"I'm thrilled that (the option) has been exercised, obviously,'' said Farrell. "I love the city, the organization, the players that we have. This is an exciting young team - the young core group of players that we talk about is developing year after year.

"(This was the) first full year that Dave and I had a chance to work together and I appreciate his confidence...We addressed and faced a lot of challenges over the course of the season and we came out of it stronger and in a better place.''

Farrell maintained that "the status of my contract never changed (how I managed) day-in, day-out. And it won't going forward. My focus is what we can do (on a given) night to win a game and put our players in the best position to succeed. And that won't change.''

In four years, Farrell owns a 339-309 record (.523 winning percentage). He joined Joe Morgan as the only Red Sox managers to guide the team to multiple division titles.