November 2009

Action should heat up in Indy

As the rumor mill continues to churn — are the Red Sox more interested in Matt Holliday than Jason Bay? — we should start seeing some actual moves take place soon.

Tuesday is when the Red Sox — and all teams across MLB — must offer arbitration to their free agents. If they don’t offer arbitration, teams can sign those players without giving up compensation. Of course the Sox will offer arbitration to Jason Bay and Billy Wagner, guaranteeing them compensation should those players sign with other teams.

While the Halladay story from the NY Daily News that came out a week ago certainly got the juices flowing among Sox fans, the club discreetly has told members of other media outlets that the report was exaggerated. Still, stay tuned on this one, as Halladay is sure to be dealt and you know the Red Sox will at the very least, be in the mix.

You wonder how much Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will discuss an Adrian Gonzalez deal. Of all the hitters or pitchers available on the market — trade or free agent — I think this is the guy who would be perfect for the Red Sox.

Exactly one week from today, the Winter Meetings will be underway in Indy and I will be blogging throughout the four days.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.

As for tonight’s big game? Patriots 38, Saints 34. Buckle up.

Halladay in their sights

The Red Sox are reportedly in negotiations with the Blue Jays to try to
land Roy Halladay, who is likely to be the top pitcher available on
either the trade or free agent market this winter.

According to
the New York Daily News, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein is
putting on a “full-court press” for the righty and would love to get it
done before the Winter Meetings, which commence in Indianapolis on Dec.

The question is, how far are the Red Sox willing to go to
land Halladay? The Daily News suggested that Boston might have to part
with Clay Buchholz and Casey Kelly,  two of their most promising
right-handers. Buchholz established himself in the second half of 2009,
emerging into Boston’s No. 3 starter by the postseason. Kelly, a
pitcher-shortstop, is still in the development phase after being
selected by the Red Sox in the first round (30th overall) in the
first-year player draft.  The Red Sox haven’t officially decided if
Kelly will be a pitcher or a shortstop, though wide speculation has
always been that they are leaning toward the former.

In addition
to focusing on Halladay, the Boston Herald reported that Boston has
expressed preliminary interest in another player with Toronto ties —
free agent shortstop Marco Scutaro.

The Hot Stove is at last starting to simmer. Things will likely quiet down over the Thanksgiving holiday, but at least the foundation appears to be in place for things to pick up next week.

Still waiting for the 2010 Red Sox to take shape

It has been six weeks since the Red Sox were unceremoniously dispatched by the Angels in a humbling three-game Division Series sweep and we still don’t know anything more about the 2010 team now than we did the day after the season ended.

This is the way offseasons can go. They can be slow to develop. We’ve seen some Thanksgiving blockbusters with the Red Sox in recent years. Remember Josh Beckett in 2005? Who could forget Curt Schilling two years before that? Enjoy your turkey time this year, because I would be stunned if anything develops in the next couple of days.

That said, things should start heating up next week, as GMs have to offer their six-year free agents arbitration by Dec. 1, and the Winter Meetings start on Dec. 7.

I have a feeling the Red Sox will make a very significant move this winter, but what will it be? Can they keep Bay and go out and get a star bat like Adrian Gonzalez or Miguel Cabrera? Can they land Roy Halladay and get a bat? If Bay goes, will they get Matt Holliday?

Too many balls are in the air and the first blockbuster move of the winter — no matter which team makes it — should start to set the wheels in motion.

In the meantime, have a great Thanksgiving. PItchers and catchers report on Feb. 18.

Catching up with Henry, Lucchino

I went to an event tonight in which Red Sox owner John W. Henry was given a prestigious award for his active — yet understated — role in the community. There was an opportunity to talk a little baseball with not just John, but also Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino and chairman Tom Werner.

Henry on this offseason: “I think this one is a little more difficult to predict what’s going to happen in the offseason. They are all somewhat unpredictable but this one to me is a bit of a strange offseason. Attendance was down 6.5 percent league-wide. It will be interesting to see if that has any affect. Some teams, revenues actually went up. There seems to be a transitioning going on. A little less of an emphasis on free agency and a little more of an emphasis on building from within. That may be principally because the free agent classes are so thin, seemingly”

Does Henry expect the Red Sox will make a blockbuster move? Not necessarily. That said, it’s probably too early to tell, and he certainly didn’t rule anything out.

“When we went into the playoffs, we felt like we had a great three starting pitchers, which is what you need in the playoffs. We went into the playoffs expecting to go deep and we didn’t so that was a shocking surprise. I think the ninth inning of the third game sort of summed it up. The Angels played extremely well. Sooner or later they were going to beat us. I feel we had a very good team that performed through the regular season. We scored more runs than we had in a few years though everyone seemed to complain that we didn’t have enough hitting but we scored a lot of runs. Our starting pitching looks good, our bullpen looks good.

“But every team tries to improve during the offseason. I know Theo is preparing. He’s been preparing. But it won’t be easy for anyone — from the player’s side and from our side. There’s a lot of unknowns.”

Lucchino was asked if he thinks that 2010 could be the last go-around for the team that has won the World Series twice since 2004.

“We’ve been transitioning gradually,” Lucchino said. “We don’t have to do it abruptly. There’s been a gradual transition. Our roster has older, mature veterans. Younger player in their prime. Young players about to get to their prime. So I think any transition is gradual.”

But much like Henry, Lucchino doesn’t think the 2009 team needs to be blown up just because of a highly disappointing Division Series against the Angels.

“it was a bitter pill to go out that quickly,” Lucchino said. “It left a bitter taste. But now that we’ve had some time to reflect on it, it motivates us more. We always want to play in October, now we want to go deep in October.”

What type of dynamic will there be this winter?

“Every offseason has its own personality depending on economic circumstances, the quality of the class, the free agents available, the nature of the trade market and it’s too early to predict what’s going to happen in this offseason. I don’t think anyone would have predicted the offseason that unfolded last year.”

Would Lucchino like to see Jason Bay patrolling the Green Monster again in 2010?

“Very much so,” Lucchino said. “We’d love to have him back. He’s in many ways the personification of the type of player we want here.”

You can find some Tom Werner quotes in my story about Henry’s award, but I didn’t want to torture him by asking him baseball questions because he was battling a very sore throat and it was a struggle for him to speak sentences over a loud crowd during the cocktail reception.

FYI, with reports circulating this week that the Royals have been awarded the 2012 All-Star Game, all Lucchino would say is that he’s heard nothing from Major League Baseball and his only knowledge of the game being given to the Royals was through media reports. The Red Sox made a bid to get the ’12 Game in Boston, because it will be the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park.

All is quiet — for now

I know everyone is getting restless because the speculation is out there on the Hot Stove front but not a whole lot has happened yet. This is the calm before the storm.

At the end of Thursday — when midnight turns to Friday — all free agents will be eligible to sign with other teams. This is where things will start to pick up.

Obviously with the Red Sox, the big domino is Jason Bay. Will they be able to keep him, and if not, who plays left field?

The Billy Wagner situation is also interesting. Could he actually stay in Boston? The likelihood is still that he will go somewhere else and the Red Sox will get compensatory draft picks.

Then, there is the shortstop situation. Who will it be? Alex Gonzalez? Omar Vizquel? Marco Scutaro? One reason I don’t see them signing Scutaro is because they are so high on Julio Iglesias as the shortstop of the future, and Iglesias might only be a year or two away.

They spoke with John Lackey’s agent, but I don’t see that as a vialbe option. As the most accomplished starter on the market, Lackey is likely going to get big bucks from someone this winter, and when it comes to starting pitchers in their 30s, that someone is usually not the Red Sox.

Now that one Jason is back, what becomes of the other?

The catching situation is now finalized. Jason Varitek has agreed to be a $3 million backup for next season. Now, on to some of the other matters of the offseason.

What will it take to keep Jason Bay under the employ of the Boston Red Sox? There have been several reports — though none substantiated — that Boston has made an offer somewhere around four years at $60 million. If that is indeed the case, I’m very encouraged that they can get something done.

If not, Holliday is not a bad alternative. Not at all. But Bay has already proved he can play in Boston while Holliday might need an adjustment period.

What else does Theo Epstein have up his sleeve this winter? I just get the feeling there is going to be a major move or two, but it’s too early to say what. The market needs to play itself out for a while.

If the Captain returns, will he keep his C?

Jason Varitek is one phone call away from putting himself back on the Red Sox’s roster for 2009. He simply has to tell the club he will exercise his $3 million player option.

At the GM Meetings in Chicago yesterday, general manager Theo Epstein made it clear that Victor Martinez will be a full-time catcher, which leaves Varitek playing once or maybe twice a week.

Under that scenario, would Varitek feel awkward keeping the C on his jersey? Knowing how much pride that man has, I think he might pass it on to Pedroia or simply give up his captainship.

Varitek knows better than anyone how important it is to be in the trenches every day, and my personal feeling is that he might feel sheepish about being a captain with a highly reduced role.

At any rate, Varitek has earned the right to do what makes him comfortable. He has until Saturday to inform the Red Sox if he will accept his option or become a free agent.

Stay tuned.

Two more years of knuckleballs at Fenway

Great to hear that the Red Sox and Tim Wakefield have reached agreement on a two-year deal. Wakefield has been a class act his entire time in Boston, and one of the most loyal players in franchise history.

With 175 wins in a Boston uniform, it is very realistic that he can get the 18 necessary to set the team’s all-time win record over the next two years.

Few athletes have appreciated what it means to play for the Red Sox more than Wakefield. Hopefully, for his sake, his body will hold up a little better over the next couple of years than it has for the last three or four.

For years, Wakefield had left his retirement as open-ended .But now, it appears set in his mind that he will step down after the 2011 season.

Red Sox are back in season

Now that the Yankees have capped off their 27th World Series championship, the work begins all over again for 30 general managers. This is their time of year. Free agents can’t start filing as early as today.

Jason Bay and Boston’s other eligible free agents aren’t eligible to sign with another team until Nov. 19.

What will this Hot Stove season bring? While the lasting image of the 2009 Red Sox is a sweep by the Angels in the Division Series, the fact of the matter is that this team is in pretty good shape going forward.

That being said, you know Theo Epstein will do something significant. The question is, exactly what?

Will there be major changes or subtle tweaks?

On a side note, it was too bad that Pedro just didn’t have it last night. I could tell from the first pitch it wasn’t going to be his night. He didn’t have that look of excitement he normally has when he knows he has his good stuff. He was so deliberate between pitches. There was little to no life on his fastball. And Matsui got him.

The next baseball game we will see will take place under the warm sun of Fort Myers. Bundle up until then!

Pedro on deck as the drama builds

Now, we have ourselves a full-fledged World Series. This, thanks to Chase Utley and Cliff Lee, who have, in tandem, kept the Phillies in this series.

Pedro Martinez will pitch Game 6 again in enemy territory at Yankee Stadium with a chance to make this Fall Classic truly classic and force a Game 7. The Yankees will counter with Andy Pettitte, and you wonder how he will fare on three days rest at this stage of his career.

Obviously not having a fourth starter is a glaring hole for the Yankees. The next couple of days will tell us if it is a fatal hole.

I’m thinking Game 6 gets the best ratings in the New England market for any non-Red Sox World Series game ever. Still a whole lot of Pedro fans in the Nation.