December 2012

Mark Melancon grew as pitcher, person in Boston

Mark Melancon’s on the move again, to his fourth Major League team in five years, as part of the six-player deal between the Red Sox and Pirates that lands Joel Hanrahan in Boston. A closer with the Astros before he came to the Red Sox, Melancon acknowledged his struggles with the Sox outside the closer’s role, but said they helped him grow tremendously.

“Obviously I got off to a rough start,” Melancon told MLB.com on Wednesday. “So you know, I don’t think they treated me unfairly. It’s hard for me because I feel like I didn’t produce as well as I should have and so there’s nobody to blame but myself. Obviously baseball is a game that’s built on failure, so you have to understand that too. It’s exciting for me because I had a great last half of the season last year, and that’s kind of who I am and who I anticipate being. Not only to build off of that last half of the season, but also I feel like I have a lot to prove. Being a closer, late-game guy, that’s kind of my mentality. Prove to people who I am and prove to them what I can do.”

Melancon spent Christmas in Hawaii with his family. The right-hander would like the chance to close again and was a much improved pitcher as the season went on.

“Being out of that situation — I learned a lot out of that situation in Boston,” Melancon said. “I learned a lot about who I am and myself and I had to combat those things. Cause when you don’t have that situation, that high pressure situation, things are a lot different. Mentality is a lot different. It’s a different ballgame. I learned how to combat that and it took me a little while understandably, but it made me a better pitcher and a better person. In my mind there wasn’t a whole bad other than I let down some of the team. Which is never fun. But I think as a whole I got a lot better.”

– Evan Drellich

Tito insightful, candid at Winter Meetings

Indians manager — yes, it still sounds a little weird to call him that — Terry Francona held court at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday in a media session that lasted nearly a half hour.

Francona spoke in-depth about his new challenges with the Indians while looking back fondly at his time in Boston, and sounding more at peace with how things ended with the Red Sox than he did a year ago.

Here is a sampling:

The swing of emotions from September of 2011 to a year as an ESPN commentator to, now, the manager of the Indians:  “Uneven.  A little bit of a roller coaster.  I think you go back to September of ’11, and that was tough, man.  I don’t care what city you’re in.  When you go 7 and whatever, 20, if you’re the manager, you’re wide open for criticism.  That’s just the way it is. And the way things ended was difficult.  I thought stepping back was probably a smart thing.  It’s not necessarily the easiest thing in the world to tell yourself you need to do that, but it was, I think, really healthy for me.  I know I get back into it now feeling like I’m better prepared to do the job correctly because it’s got to be almost 24 hours a day to do it right, at least I think so.  I was pretty beaten up by the end of that last year.”

Now on the other market of the small market/big market race, and losing out on Victorino to the Red Sox. “[Jerks],” quipped Francona. “You know what, it’s kind of hard to fault a guy like Shane Victorino for going to Boston.  When guys get to be a free agent, they earn that right to go wherever they want, and it’s a great baseball town. Again, I have a lot of respect for him and the way he went about his decision.  So it’s kind of hard to fault somebody for that.”

Difference in managing the Indians and the Red Sox? “When I took the job in Boston, the expectations were win or go home.  I remember being very thankful that Dave Roberts was safe.  I probably would have gone home.  This is a little different now.  We’re younger.  We’re not in the same position.  But our expectations, at least in my opinion, are still the same.  We’re supposed to try to win.  So Chris and I and all the guys are trying to put together the best roster we can, and when it’s time to put a uniform on, that’s when I get really excited, and we try to have our guys play the game correctly.”

People were surprised you took the Indians job? “First of all, people may not have known me as well as they thought they did, and the hurdle don’t scare me.  I know they’re there, the challenges, but I wanted to do it with a group of people where I knew I’d be comfortable, and I wanted to be part of the solution.  I didn’t want to be like a quick fix.  When Chris and I talked, it became evident to me real quick ‑‑ again, I was either going to take this job or not this year.  And I’m very comfortable with where I’m at.  Again, having a challenge isn’t bad.  Trying to find a way to tackle them is actually pretty exciting. And I’m not delusional.  We have challenges.  We have some things we’ve got to overcome, but trying to do that, I’m looking forward to it.”

What about the staff John Farrell has put together in Boston? “I want to be careful on rating everything that Boston does.  That’s not my job anymore.  I’m a manager of another team.  I think, being totally honest, I think Boston’s biggest weakness is their manager,” Francona said to a chorus of laughs.  “I want to kind of stay away from that.  I don’t need to rate everything John does.  That’s not going to work.”

Your upcoming book with the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy: “I don’t know.  I hope people want to buy it.”

Do you expect fallout? “Fallout?  I hope people buy it.  I spent a lot of time.  No, I think it’s more ‑‑ it’s eight years of a lot of funny, some emotional, a couple sad things.  I think Dan busted his rear end on this thing. The fact that, first of all, me and him were together doing it was a shock to me. First time I picked him up, I told him, you have to blackout the windows because I don’t want people to see you driving me around.  It ended up being probably ‑‑ I had a year where I could do it because under normal circumstances, you can’t do it.  And it ended up being kind of fun. I think, for the most part, if somebody ends up being bent out of shape, that was not ever the intent.  It was just to kind of tell the story, and I hope that people take it that way because I think it’s a really good story.”

Did you gain perspective on managing in your year away?  “It’s hard to sit and just say, I should have put a hit and run on on April 13th or something like that.  But in our game, the communication is so important, and if you get away from that at all, that can ‑‑ again, your talent level, if you don’t have enough talent, it’s going to get exposed at some point during a long season, but as a manager, if you have get your guys to play to most of their ability more often, you’re doing your job right.”

More at peace now with your departure from Boston? “You know what, I never had a problem.  I think it’s a little bit of a misrepresentation.  If you really think about it, it wasn’t like all of September me and you guys were feuding.  We had a really tough September.  It was a rough, uphill battle for us.  We were leaking oil like every day, but our biggest concern was to trying to get to the playoffs. We didn’t deal with any of those issues until after the season.  So it was kind of weird.  I didn’t have a chance to like sit back and think about not having that job.  Two days later, I was defending myself.  So it was hurtful.  And where it went from there was disappointing, but time does have a way of ‑‑ I don’t want to go through life being ‑‑ I don’t know if vindictive is the right word.  I don’t know if that’s healthy. I have too many people there that are too special.  I was disappointed with the way it ended, and I’ll probably always feel that way, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great seven years and five months.”

Coming back to Fenway for the 100th anniversary: “I was conflicted.  I’ll be pretty honest about it.  I wasn’t planning on doing it.  I talked to some people who told me maybe I was a being a little too self‑centered.  I wasn’t too thrilled about that.  I was glad to be there, and I was glad to leave.  But I’ve never felt like ‑‑ besides that one guy in the third row that used to scream at me, I thought Boston ‑‑ it’s a wonderful place.  If you care about baseball, it’s a wonderful place.  Sometimes things happen in that city.  You can’t have all that good without having some of the bad, and I got caught up in it.”

Gain additional perspective on managing while working in the broadcast booth? “I hate to say this.  I hope it makes me more respectful to the media’s job.  Not you personally.  Actually, it was a great learning year.  One, you’re looking at a game not emotionally because, when the season starts, I don’t care what manager you talk to, you have no ability to view the game without emotion.  When you lose, you’re beat up personally.  You take it personally.  Whether you have enough talent or not, you try to make it work.  I also got to see what goes into putting that game on.  I used to think those guys showed up and did the game, and it was a lot of work, but I learned a lot, and I was with people that were unbelievably good to me.  So it was a great year. I just missed being on the field a lot, and that’s not a bad thing.  I was kind of hoping I would.  But I had a wonderful year.”

Gomes has Millar-like intangibles

Let’s face it — the Red Sox’ clubhouse has not exactly had that 2003-04 vibe to it the last couple of years. So an important side benefit to the recent signing of Jonny Gomes is that he can loosen up a team during the heat of summer, much like Kevin Millar, Johnny Damon and some others used to do back in the day.

Fittingly, Millar has been ever-present around the proceedings at the Winter Meetings, doing a light-hearted interview with Sox general manager Ben Cherington on Monday.

“There’s something about Jonny, yeah.  I saw Millar right there.  I was thinking of Millar right there,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon.  “Jonny Gomes, he’s a different cat. He really cares. He really cares about the rest of the group. Kind of like what I described with David Price, what he does, the lunacy in the clubhouse, et cetera, which is a very positive way.”

Maddon also thinks Gomes has become a much better hitter than when he managed him in Tampa Bay from 2006-08.

“And furthermore, I think he’s really improved his batting stance and shortness of his swing the last couple of years have been more effective, and I know the kind of hitter that he plays in that ballpark.  I know he’s going to ingratiate himself to the fans there.  He’s the perfect guy.  John is going to fit in really well there.  Good for the Red Sox,” Maddon said.

Reds manager Dusty Baker is another former manager of Gomes.

“Jonny’s a great teammate,” said Baker. “I had somebody call me this winter and ask me what does Jonny Gomes bring to the team?  He brings a positive attitude.  He may not like how he’s used, but he’s never a distraction.  He never brings the team down. Jonny Gomes is one of the best guys I’ve ever had on the team.  And I talked to Chili Davis this winter, and Chili feels the same way about him.  A guy that can help your young players learn how to be professional.  He can teach them how, hopefully, which is one of the toughest things to do, teach them how to be an unselfish player, especially in a selfish society, that’s very tough to do.  Jonny Gomes is one of the best.”

Cherington on Napoli

The Red Sox never confirm a signing until a player passes a physical, but Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington was at least willing to speak about the pending Mike Napoli signing in general terms in a meeting with beat reporters earlier tonight.

“We’ve made some progress and he’s a guy who gets on base, has power, could be a good fit for our  ballpark. We knew when we made the Dodgers trade, and moved Gonzalez, we were going to have to try to find a way to replace that offense and as we got into the offseason, we understood that that was probably going to have to come from a combination of guys and maybe not one guy. So that’s part of what we’ve been trying to do this offseason is add offense at a number of spots on the roster so we’re hopeful we can continue to do that.”

Will Napoli catch, or focus on first base? “He could catch, he can play first. If he’s here, we imagine he’d do some of both but that would be up to our manager to figure out.”

More details, please! “Hard to say. Obviously we’re not ready to announce anything. we can envision …there have been years when he’s caught a number of games, a lot, and there’s been years he’s caught less. We like his offense in Fenway, we like the versatility, so I’m going to say we’re hopeful to make some progress there.”

The Red Sox have a lot of catchers. Will they trade any of them. “We’ll see. I don’t have a good feel for that yet. It could be that that presents opportunities because of a potential surplus in that area, but I don’t know if that will turn into anything yet.”

The Red Sox have coveted Napoli for a long time. In fact, they claimed Napoli on waivers in 2010, but couldn’t work out a deal with the Angels at the time.

“Again we don’t have anything to announce,” Cherington said. “If we were to progress there, we’re looking at on-base, power, positional versatility and to collectively replace some of the offense we lost with Gonzalez and improve on the overall lineup performance. Someone like that can help us in a number of those areas.”

Red Sox reel in Napoli

The Red Sox landed one of their top targets of the winter, agreeing to terms on a three-year deal. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported that the deal is worth $39 million.

Napoli gives the Red Sox the type of power they need, and is a right-handed bat who can complement star lefty slugger David Ortiz.

While Napoli has primarily been a catcher in his career, there’s a strong chance he will get the bulk of his playing time in Boston at first base.

With Napoli on board, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington can now focus on other needs, such as finding an outfielder, a starting pitcher and possibly a shortstop.

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