Sox get Millwood, Morales in flurry of moves

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Sox get Millwood, Morales in flurry of moves

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- The game itself -- featuring a blown two-run lead in the top of the eighth, followed in short order by a walkoffrally in the bottom of the ninth -- was crazy enough.

But in the aftermath the 4-3 Red Sox' victory, their sixth straight -- and third straight secured in their final at-bat -- things got really chaotic.

It was then that the Red Sox:

Confirmed the signing of veteran pitcher Kevin Millwood to a minor-league deal.

Announced the acquisition of lefty reliever Franklin Morales from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for a player to be named later or cash.

Designated left-hander Hideki Okajima for assignment to clear space for Morales on the 40-man roster.

Prepared to make two more roster moves Friday before the start of a weekend interleague series with the Chicago Cubs, one of which will involve sending shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias back to Pawtucket.

Millwood will report to the team's spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., with an eye toward providing additional starting depth for a team which earlier this week placed two starters -- John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka -- on the disabled list.

Last month, Millwood pitched in the New York Yankees' system with mixed results (a 4.50 ERA in three minor league starts), but opted out of his deal May 1 when the Yankees didn't promote him to the big-league roster.

Should he join the Red Sox, Millwood is scheduled to make 500,000 plus additional performance bonuses.

Millwood last pitched in the big leagues in 2010, when he went 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA.

Of more long-term interest to the Red Sox is Morales, who only a few seasons ago was regarded as one of the top young pitching prospects in the game.

As a 21-year old, Morales was tagged by the Sox for seven runs in two-thirds of an inning in Game 1 of the 2007 World Series. He later tossed 2 13 innings of scoreless relief in Game 3.

In 102 games -- mostly as a reliever -- over five seasons, Morales is 7-11 with a 4.83 ERA. He's averaged more than a strikeout per inning in 2009, but has also had difficulty commanding his pitches, resulting in a 5.3 walks-per-nine-innings ratio.

"The key is to get him to repeat his delivery and throw strikes," said general manager Theo Epstein. "He's tough to hit. He's a very hard thrower. When he throws strikes, he's hard to hit. He's been a little erratic with his strike-throwing, but I think there's a chance to capture some upside there. He makes some sense for us."

Morales will team with Rich Hill to give the Sox two lefties in the bullpen.

The Sox have 10 days to trade, release or place Okajima on waivers.

His salary of 1.75 million may make him difficult to move, as teams generally prefer more inexpensive costs at the set-up and middle-inning roles.

Should the Sox not find a deal for him, it's possible that Okajima's salary would preclude him from being claimed on waivers. If Okajima clears waivers, he could remain in the organization. He began the year at Pawtucket before being recalled in mid-April.

Okajima, 35, was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in seven games with the Sox this season, his fifth in Boston. In his first three years with the Sox, he averaged 66 appearances and was a key member of the bullpen.

But injuries and ineffectiveness reduced his role in 2010 and it was a surprise to many when, after non-tendering him last fall, the Sox chose to re-sign him in January.

Okajima was warming in the bullpen in the ninth inning and would have pitched the 10th inning Thursday night had not the Sox won the game in the bottom of the ninth.

"It's my first time in this situation," said Okajima through a club interpreter, "so I'm not sure of what happens next . . . Having re-signed with Boston during the offseason, it is disappointing that this is happening, but signing here was not a mistake. I am very grateful to the opportunity the Red Sox have given me over five years."

Finally, the Sox will make two most roster moves Friday: shortstop Jose Iglesias will be optioned to Pawtucket and replaced on the Boston roster by utility man Drew Sutton; also, Dan Wheeler will end his minor-league rehab assignment and be activated, with Michael Bowden, promoted from Pawtucket Tuesday, being returned to Triple A.

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.