Red Sox

Lester ready to lead Red Sox pitching staff

883523.jpg

Lester ready to lead Red Sox pitching staff

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For as long as Jon Lester has been a member of the Red Sox pitching staff, there's been another pitcher in charge.

In 2006 and 2007, it was Curt Schilling. Since then, it's been Josh Beckett.

But with Schilling long retired and Beckett dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers last August, Lester, about to begin his eighth season with the Red Sox, is now the club's longest-tenured starter.

At 29, Lester is, finally, the staff leader.

"Since Josh left,'' said Lester Wednesday, "I'm kind of the highest-tenured Red Sox as far as that pitching staff. Yeah, I inherit that responsibility. I take it in full stride.''

Teammate John Lackey may have more experience in the big leagues, but no one has been a Red Sox starter longer than Lester.

"I don't want to call myself a leader,'' he said. "I think the people who nominate themselves to be leaders are kind of false leaders. The guys, kind of like (Jason Varitek), they go out, play hurt, bust their butt, and show everybody that they're the guy, everybody puts that (label) on him. That's what I kind of hope happens. If it doesn't, I'm still going to try to do all those things.''

But even if he's not seeking an official title, Lester seemed to embrace the role.

"I take responsiblity for that,'' he said. "That will be something fun to take on if it is given.''

Before he can set an example, however, Lester acknowledged that he needs to make some changes of his own.

"Obviously, there's a lot of things I can improve on as far as my on-field actions," said Lester. "I know I have had some problems with umpires, some problems with body language at times. I think a lot of people have. It's something we all struggle with. It's something that I can get better with. But you get caught in those moments and being competitive, you kind of throw all that stuff out the window."

Conscious that he needs to make some changes, Lester will focus on setting a good example, a list that includes "taking the ball every five days, grinding every pitch out, trying to be that guy on the field -- whether it's on Field 6 (here) or at Fenway Park -- of good body language, not cussing out the umpires, not throwing fits in the dugout, doing those little things.''

At times, Lester has come off too business-like, almost joyless, as though he's not enjoying his job or the demending city in which he plays.

"I love baseball. I love Boston,'' he said. "People don't see me other than the fifth day. When I'm out there, I'm not out there to joke around with hitters. It may not look like it, but I'm having fun. I love to pitch. I love everything that there is about pitching.

"But I don't want to come across as aloof and (that) I don't care about working hard. I take everything do very seriously.''

Attitude and approach aside, there's also the matter of performance. By his own admission, the 2012 season was not a good one for Lester. He recorded just nine wins and posted an ERA of 4.83, his highest since making the big leagues. His strikeouts were down, his hits allowed were up and there wasn't a lot to like.

And that, emphasized Lester, was nobody's fault but his.

"I didn't really like what happened last year as far as the way I pitched,'' he said. "It's solely on me. That's not on anybody else. That's not on the recolving door of pitching coaches; that's not on our manager; that's not on anybody but myself.

"There's a little bit of a chip there. I want to prove that last year was a fluke and that's not going to happen again."

Lester gets a sense that the players with whom he's grown up in the organization are as determined as he is to put 2012 behind them.

"I don't think it's a matter of talking about last year,'' he said. "You can just see it in some guys. I've played with David (Ortiz), Pedey (Dustin Pedroia) and Ells (Jacoby Ellsbury). We've never -- minor leagues and big leagues -- we've never had a season like that. We've never gotten our ass kicked that bad. It's frustrating and humbling.

"But I think it can be a positive, because no one wants to be that team. I think it gets guys back in the right mindset. Look, we need to play with a chip on our shoulders, we need to not back down when people are trying to step on us. We need to do the little things right. I think you can kind of see that from the first few days. A lot of little things are being done right with good intensity and good tempo.

''I don't think anybody wants to be in the position we were in last year. We want to be on top.''

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

pat-neshek-mike-minor-112217.jpg

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

MORE RED SOX:

Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel. 

HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

cincinnati-reds-joe-morgan-hall-of-fame.jpg

HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is urging voters to keep “known steroid users” out of Cooperstown.

A day after the Hall revealed its 33-man ballot for the 2018 class, the 74-year-old Morgan argued against the inclusion of players implicated during baseball’s steroid era in a letter to voters with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The letter from the vice chairman of the Hall’s board of directors was sent Tuesday using a Hall email address.

Read the full text of Morgan's letter here. 

“Steroid users don’t belong here,” Morgan wrote. “What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change for the worse.”

Hall voters have been wrestling with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for several years. Baseball held a survey drug test in 2003 and the sport began testing for banned steroids the following year with penalties. Accusations connected to some of the candidates for the Hall vary in strength from allegations with no evidence to positive tests that caused suspensions.

About 430 ballots are being sent to voters, who must have been members of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years, and a player needs at least 75 percent for election. Ballots are due by Dec. 31 and results will be announced Jan. 24.

Writers who had not been covering the game for more than a decade were eliminated from the rolls in 2015, creating a younger electorate that has shown more willingness to vote for players tainted by accusations of steroid use. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each received a majority of votes for the first time in 2017 in their fifth year on the ballot.

Morgan said he isn’t speaking for every Hall of Famer, but many of them feel the same way that he does.

“Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in,” Morgan wrote. “Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.”

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were inducted into the Hall of Fame in July. They were joined by former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta executive John Schuerholz, who were voted in by a veterans committee.

Some baseball writers said the election of Selig, who presided over the steroids era, influenced their view of whether tainted stars should gain entry to the Hall.

Morgan praised BBWAA voters and acknowledged they are facing a “tricky issue,” but he also warned some Hall of Famers might not make the trip to Cooperstown if steroid users are elected.

“The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too,” he wrote. “The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.”

© 2017 by The Associated Press