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

Blakely: This could be the start of something big for Celtics

Blakely: This could be the start of something big for Celtics

BOSTON -- Prior to this year, the Celtics hadn't been to the Eastern Conference finals since 2012. That trip served as a curtain call of sorts for the last great C's dynasty.
 
But this one, which ended with Cleveland's emphatic 135-102 Game 5 victory Thursday at TD Garden, is very different.
 
Rather than closing another chapter in the Celtics' longstanding legacy of greatness, it could serve as the beginning of a new narrative in the franchise's steady growth.
 
"For us to be in the Eastern Conference finals after the first year of this team really being together, adding additions like Al Horford and Gerald Green . . . I can go down the list of guys that we needed to learn to play with, and for us to talk about where we wanted to be and actually make it, it's a big-time accomplishment," said Avery Bradley.
 
Boston has been among the younger teams in the NBA, with the 31-year-old Green being the oldest player on the roster.
 
But what the Celtics lacked in experience, they made up for with great effort.
 
"The great thing about this is the experience," Bradley said. "We were able to go to the Eastern Conference finals, learned a lot about being in this position, and I feel like it's going to help us for next year."
 
But as we all know, the Celtics will look to strengthen themsevles this offseason, which means there's a very good chance they'll have a different look when they gather again in the fall.
 
How different is anyone's guess.
 
"It's difficult every year whenever you don't have guys back," said coach Brad Stevens. "I think you share a bond (over the course of a season)."
 
Stevens and this group have been together for eight months. Eight months of struggles, successes, frustrating defeats and euphoric victories that brought them to the conference finals, which is where their season came to an end.
 
But as disappointed as the players and coaches are inow, there's definite excitement about this franchise in the very near future.
 
Boston has the No. 1 overall pick in next month's draft, with all indications -- for now -- pointing to Washington's Markelle Fultz as their choice.
 
And their top first-round pick from a year ago, Jaylen Brown, seemed to steadily improve as the season progressed. It was one of the few times in his life where minutes weren't just handed to him, which he admits was a learning experience unlike anything he had ever had, yet he adjusted and played better as the year went along.

"I've had ups, I've had downs, I've had opportunities, I've had mistakes," said Brown. "So I've been learning and growing and improving all year and I'm going to continue growing and improving and prove people wrong, prove doubters wrong."
 
Having the season end the way it did has indeed left a bad taste in the mouths of many Celtics.
 
"I can use it as fuel," Brown said, adding: "I want to get back to the same place I'm at now."
 
Bradley, who was on the 2012 team that lost to the Miami Heat in the conference finals, knows the Celtics are going to do whatever they feel is necessary to give them the best chance at competing for a title.
 
"It's out of our control as players," Bradley said. "We had a great year together. If guys are here, if guys aren't, we all wish the best for each other.

"But I do feel this is a special group. We all gave our heart every single night, played as hard as we could. I respect all my teammates, and I really appreciated playing with all the guys I had a chance to play with this year; a special group."