Things picking up for Red Sox

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Things picking up for Red Sox

Now that the Winter Meetings are underway, the Red Sox have signed Mike Napoli and the offseason floodgates are officially open, it wont be long before the 2013 Sox roster rounds into shape.

Of course, thats not to say that getting there will be easy. I dont think anyone envies the position that Ben Cheringtons in right now, and what hell have to withstand in the days and weeks ahead.

Hey, Larry. I really think we should pull the trigger on Swisher . . .

No!

But Larry, I thought you said . . .

No!

OK, fine. Then what do you thin

No! And go fetch some grape juice! Me and Wally are thirsty!

Nah, Im just kidding. Its much worse than that. But despite any and all obstacles, Cherington has some work to do.

So, what should he do?

The first step in determining that is to determine what they need, and the first step in determining that is to determine what they have. On that note . . .

The Sox have four starting pitchers: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront and (gulp) John Lackey

They have a catcher (SaltyRoss), a first baseman (Napoli), a second baseman (Pedroia), a shortstop (Iglesias), a third baseman (Middlebrooks), a center fielder (Ellsbury) and two corner outfielders better suited for a platoon (GomesKalish).

They have a bullpen: Bailey, Bard, Melancon, Tazawa, Breslow and maybe Atchinson and Rich Hill. Theres also Franklin Morales, who Cherington said will kick off camp as a starter, but is just as likely to end up back in the pen. (But there's no Alfredo Aceves, who was last seen boarding a spaceship for the planet Gramula sometime in early October.)

So, thats what the Sox have.

Add it all up, and this is what they need:

1. Starting pitching

2. Another bat; an outfield bat.

Now, in a perfect world, the Sox will address both issues. In any world, theyll address both issues. But what I mean is that in a perfect world, theyll spare no cost in acquiring the best outfield bat and strongest starting arm available and re-stock the team for competition in the ever-improving AL East.

But more than likely, the Sox will prioritize.

Gordon Edes argued yesterday that Josh Hamilton would be an ideal fit for the Sox, but I disagree. In fact, I dont know how Edes could have written an entire Hamilton-to-the-Sox story, without making one mention of his off-the-field issues; that hes injury prone; that he hit .368 with 21 homer last April and May, but then .245 with only 22 homers from June through September; or that he missed important games during the heat of the 2011 pennant race (as the Rangers ship was sinking) with a sinus infection.

Ideal . . . what?

Honestly, Id rather have Nick Swisher.

On one hand, no ones crazy about the idea of giving up a second round pick to acquire the former Yankee. After all, in the past, the second round has brought Boston players like Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester. On the other hand, its also brought guys like Jeffrey Morris, Jonathan Egan and Michael Hall. Who? Exactly. Its a crap shoot.

And while, compared to Hamilton, the ceiling is much lower for Swishers production, Swishers foundation is far more solid and reliable.

Hamilton has played 150 games in a season only once in his career (2007). Swisher appeared in 150 games ever year from 2006-2011, and just missed that number last year with 148. Also, here are Swisher home run totals for the past eight years: 21, 35, 22, 24, 29, 29, 23, 24.

Thats production you can set your smart phone to, and when you consider that steady and reliable are two qualities that the Sox have yearned for over the last few years, Swisher makes more sense. At the very least, he's the safer choice.

But if were being honest (and hey, why not?), I think starting pitching should still be No. 1 on the Sox priority list.

While theres an instinct to look at the line-up and freak out over the lack of explosiveness, the truth is that power is not required to win a World Series.

Just look at the Giants: The were dead last in the majors in homers last year. The Cardinals were 13th the year before (and had only two guys go over 30). In 2010, the Giants ranked 10th in homers but were led by the mighty Aubrey Huff (26) and Juan Uribe (24).

Even if the Sox dont sign another outfielder (even though we know they will), they still have three guys in that line-up (Ellsbury, Papi and Napoli) who are capable of hitting 30 homers, as well as three guys (Salty, Pedroia and Middlebrooks) who should be good for right around 20.

The power is OK. Theyre still going to score runs. Far more important, is finding a way to stop the other guys from scoring.

For whatever reason, I'm optimistic about Jon Lester this year. With the return of Farrell, the absence of Beckett (although itd be nice if Lackey was gone), Lester's poised for a bounce back season. I also think that Clay Buchholz, another year older, wiser and stronger, will continue to challenge Lester for the title of proverbial ace.

But after that . . . ehhhh . . .

Doubront had a promising rookie season, but there are still questions. John Lackey hasnt pitched in a year and wasnt very good before that. Is Morales the answer at No. 5? Maybe in spurts, but regardless, the Sox need pitching more than they need another big bat.

Of course, the bad news is that theres really not an impact starter out there. That is, unless you consider Zach Grienke an impact starter, but even then, hes not a good fit for Boston.

Dan Haren might have been good for a quick fix, but he reportedly just signed a one-year deal with the Nationals.

After that:

Kyle Lohse, who's coming off a fantastic season in St. Louis (16-3, 2.86 ERA), might work, but he'll be asking for a lot, is 34 years old and spent the last seven years pitching in the NL.

How about Brandon McCarthy? The 29-year-old has been effective these last three years in Oakland and Texas (last season, with the A's, he was 8-6 with a 3.24 ERA). He also has a great personality and attitude that might be a boon for the Sox depressing rotation. On the down side, over these last three years, McCarthy's made 17, 25 and 18 starts, respectively. So durability could be an issue. (Although last year's freak line-drive accident was hardly avoidable)

Anibal Sanchez is young and exciting but he's reportedly asking for 90M (no thanks). Ryan Dempster is old and probably better suited for the National League. Freddy Garcia? Good lord, no!

I'll tell you who I kind of like: Shaun Marcum. He's still youngish (he turns 31 next week), he has experience pitching in the AL East with Toronto and in the three years since his Tommy John surgery, he's gone 33-19 with a sub-3.70 ERA.

For short money, come on Ben, why not take a chance?

Right after you're done grabbing Wally's grape juice.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

NFL combine preview: Tight ends

NFL combine preview: Tight ends

With the NFL combine about to begin -- and the NFL Draft just about two months away -- we'll take a daily look at the collegiate talent available at positions where the Patriots might be looking for help. We start today with: Tight ends.

On Tuesday, players will arrive in Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, with on-field workouts beginning Friday. 

The second group to take the field is the tight end group, which should be worth watching for a number of reasons. For starters, Todd McShay says that this is “a good year to need a tight end” given that there could be three first-rounders in O.J. Howard, David Njoku and Jake Butt.

Furthermore, Martellus Bennett’s potential departure and Rob Gronkowski’s durability questions make tight end a position the Patriots could target early come April 27. 

Here’s a quick look at each of the 19 tight ends invited to the combine: 

O.J. Howard, Alabama, 6-foot-6, 249 pounds

- NFL.com describes him as an “exceptionally gifted athlete” and says that his “play speed resembles a wide receiver’s when the ball is in the air.” They add he “appears passive” as a blocker and “need more muscle and mass to be an in-line blocker as a pro.”

David Njoku, Miami, 6-foot-4, 245 pounds

- Not the biggest guy in the world at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, but is considered a top-end athlete. NFL.com says he “should annihilate the combine with monster numbers in speed and explosion.”

Jake Butt, Michigan, 6-foot-6, 250 pounds 

- Does everything well, but could stand to fill out his frame a bit more. 

Jordan Leggett, Clemson, 6-foot-5, 250 pounds

- Not considered a great blocker and has admitted that he’s played lazily. Could the Pats fix his motor? 

Gerald Everett, South Alabama, 6-foot-3, 227 pounds

- Very interesting prospect. Primarily a basketball player in high school who played just one year of football (insert Antonio Gates basketball reference), Everett played at Alabama-Birmingham before the school cut its football program. Upon transferring to South Alabama, Everett showed his skills as a pass-catching tight end. 

Evan Engram, Mississippi, 6-foot-3, 236 pounds

- Itty bitty for a tight end, and he doesn’t have the greatest hands either. Described as a “move tight end only who lacks dependability as a blocker.”   

He was one of five who for second in the nation among tight ends with eight touchdowns last season. Other guys in that group were Njoku, Hayden Plinke,  Cole Hikutini and UMass’ Adam Breneman.

Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech, 6-foot-7, 245 pounds

- Just your average quarterback-turned-tight-end. The lanky Hodges would be a good fit for the Patriots simply because it would give Julian Edelman a break from the constant mention during broadcasts that he used to be a QB. 

Cole Hikutini, Louisville, 6-foot-5, 248 pounds

- A good athlete who isn’t much of a blocker.

Adam Shaheen, Ashland, 6-foot-6, 277 pounds

- Former college basketball player transferred from Pittsburgh-Johnstown to Ashland to focus on football and eventually established himself as a dominant player at the Division II level. He’s certainly got the size and strength, but questions will persist about just how similarly he holds up going from Division II to the NFL. 

Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas, 6-foot-5, 265 pounds

- Big, physical tight end with a solid stiff arm. Sprinkle was suspended by Arkansas for the Belk Bowl because he stole from a Belk department store after each player had been given $450 to spend there. He was arrested for the incident, as he stole $260 worth of extra items.

Pharoh Brown, Oregon, 6-foot-6, 245 pounds

- Not considered the athlete he was prior to a 2014 injury that nearly resulted in his leg being amputated. 

Michael Roberts, Toledo, 6-foot-4, 261 pounds

- Huge hands, which he uses to catch better than block. He led all FBS tight ends with 16 touchdowns last season. 

Jonnu Smith, Florida International, 6-foot-3, 245 pounds

- College career was ended prematurely when his pregnant girlfriend poured boiling water on him, resulting in severe burns throughout his upper body, including his head. He has good speed, but drops were an issue in college. 

Scott Orndoff, Pittsburgh, 6-foot-5, 256 pounds

- Figures to be a solid blocking tight end, but he also had five receiving touchdowns as a senior. 

Eric Saubert, Drake, 6-foot-5, 251 pounds

- Every draft pick is a gamble, but Saubert might be more so than others. An AFC regional scout says that Saubert is “body beautiful but he can’t catch. I don’t think it’s correctable, either.”

Cethan Carter, Nebraska, 6-foot-4, 240 pounds

- Elbow injuries figure to be a topic at the combine, and he had various injuries throughout his college career. 

Darrell Daniels, Washington, 6-foot-4, 246 pounds

- A scout told NFL.com that Daniels is "going to test through the roof and he's going to get overdrafted on the traits.” The Patriots don’t typically fall into such traps. 

George Kittle, Iowa, 6-foot-4, 250 pounds

- Only had one drop as a senior, but then again being believed to have had no drops in college doesn’t make a guy an NFL stud. 

Hayden Plinke, UTEP, 6-foot-4, 265 pounds

- Transferred twice in his college career, starting at Boise State, then Portland State and finally UTEP. Is considered a good blocker who grabbed eight touchdowns as a senior. 
 

Haggerty's Morning Skate: Two AHL teams recreate Slap Shot on the movie's anniversary

Haggerty's Morning Skate: Two AHL teams recreate Slap Shot on the movie's anniversary

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while so glad to see Dave Strader getting the play-by-play call in this afternoon’s national NBC broadcast of Stars and Bruins from Dallas.
 
-- Jeremy Roenick weighs in with some trade possibilities involving Avalanche and Blues players in what could be a blockbuster at the deadline.
 
-- Antoine Vermette acknowledges his wrongdoing in making a statement about his 10-game suspension for slashing an official, but feels like the punishment was too severe.
 
-- Don Cherry wishes a happy 40th anniversary to Slap Shot while wearing a Charleston Chiefs jersey as he hosts Coaches Corner.
 
-- Speaking of Slap Shot, what an Old Time Hockey fight between the AHL's Iowa Wild and Chicago Wolves. It spilled into the hallway afterward . . . that’s when things get real.

-- I've been asked multiple times about the white Boston hat David Pastrnak is always wearing in the Bruins dressing room, so here it is.

 -- Here’s all the Dallas Stars info you need ahead of this afternoon’s 11:30 a.m. local start in Dallas for the Stars and Bruins.

-- PHT writer Cam Tucker has Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning indicating that the mumps outbreak for his team won’t impact the trade deadline.
 
-- For something completely different: the headline seems a little click baity to me, but I’ll read about anything involving Homer Simpson and the Baseball Hall of Fame.