Red Sox

McAdam: Sox target bullpen help at trade deadline

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McAdam: Sox target bullpen help at trade deadline

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
As the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline draws closer, the temptation is to view a team's needs through the prism of the present.

But for the Red Sox, that's the wrong bit of perspective. After exactly 100 games, it would take a collapse of historic proportions for the team not to qualify for the post-season.

The important math isn't the team's two-game lead over the second-place New York Yankees; it's the 8 12 game edge they hold over the wild-card runners-up.

Essentially, the Red Sox and Yankees will spend the final 10 weeks of the season for the privilege of having home-field advantage.

The Sox, then, aren't seeking help for August or September; they're shopping with an eye toward October.

That's why addressing the bullpen -- and not right field -- is paramount for the Sox. It's far more likely that a playoff game could be won or lost by a reliever than it is for an outfielder.

With almost no contributions from the right field spot -- until Josh Reddick more or less took over the job in the past week -- the Red Sox still lead the American League in every significant offensive category. And since it's reasonable to expect that Reddick will give them more than Drew did going forward, the team's focus is elsewhere.

BULLPEN
Closer Jonathan Papelbon is solid -- just one blown save nearly two-thirds of the way through the season -- and set-up man Daniel Bard has been otherworldly.

In the absence of Bobby Jenks (currently on his third DL stint), Matt Albers has emerged as the team's mainstay for the seventh inning.

What's missing, for now, is a dependable lefty. Franklin Morales can possess devastating stuff, but his command is often spotty. The last thing a manager wants when he summons a matchup lefty in a big spot is an inability to throw strikes.

A look at some lefties believed to be available at the deadline:

Craig Breslow, Oakland A's
The A's are open for business and are attracting plenty of interest in their relievers.

Breslow was with the Sox in 2006 and has experience. In his career, he's held lefty hitters to a .222 batting average. This season, however, Breslow has struggled against lefties, who have hit him at an alarming .390 clip.

That could force the A's to lower their asking price, or, if the Sox' scouting reports aren't good, eliminate any interest the Sox might have had.

Grant Balfour, Oakland A's
Signed as a free agent last winter, the righthanded Balfour has pitched well, with a 2.08 ERA and a WHIP of 1.077. Even more impressive is his success against lefties, having limited them to a .162 batting average.

There are two caveats on Balfour. One A.L. West source is unsure whether the A's will deal him, since they have him under control through the end of next season.

In a related issue, Balfour signed a two-year deal with a team option for 2013. That would leave the Sox on the hook for 1.25 million for the remainder of the season, 4 million next year, plus a 350,000 buyout on a team option for 4.5 million in 2013.

Total minimum investment for the Sox: 5.6 million. For a team watching its payroll expenditures and attempting to avoid the luxury tax, will that be a factor?

OUTFIELDERS
Reddick has earned the majority of playing time in right, and Drew will be available next month as a late-inning defensive replacement.

The Sox don't need a star player like Carlos Beltran, or even an everyday player like San Diego's Ryan Ludwick.

Instead, they'll be looking for a more affordable option who can hit left-handed pitching to serve as a platoon partner with Reddick.

An ideal target would be Jeff Baker, but the Cubs have already told the Red Sox -- and anyone else who's inquired -- that Baker won't be moved.
Reed Johnson, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs won't move Baker, but Johnson is said to be available. He's not a great outfielder, but the Sox could probably live with his defense.

What's most attractive is his ability to hit lefties -- he has a .929 OPS against lefties this season.

It doesn't hurt that given his supremely affordable contract (900,000), he would cost the Sox a little more than 300,000 to rent.

Jeff Francoeur, Kansas City Royals
Francoeur profiles more as an everyday player, and there are concerns about how he would respond to part-time duty -- both in terms of attitude and production.

On the plus side, he's a good outfielder with a plus arm who could handle the spacious dimensions of right field in Fenway. Another positive: he has post-season experience with Atlanta (2005) and Texas (last year).

His 2.5 million deal translates into a cost of about 800,000 for the final two months, affordable enough.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

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MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

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Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

Max Scherzer heard his name and thrust his arms in the air, shouting and smiling big before turning to kiss his wife.

Corey Kluber, on the other hand, gulped once and blinked.

Two aces, two different styles - and now another Cy Young Award for each.

The animated Scherzer of the Washington Nationals coasted to his third Cy Young, winning Wednesday for the second straight year in the National League. He breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Kluber's win was even more of a runaway. The Cleveland Indians ace took 28 first-place votes, easily outpacing Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox for his second AL Cy Young.

Scherzer yelled "yes!" when his award was announced on MLB Network, a reaction in keeping with his expressive reputation. He showed that intensity often this year, whether he was cursing under his breath like a madman during his delivery or demanding - also with expletives - that manager Dusty Baker leave him in the game.

Just a little different than the pitcher they call "Klubot." Kluber was stoic as ever when announced as the AL winner. He swallowed hard but otherwise didn't react, only showing the hint of a smile moments later when answering questions.

Not that he wasn't thrilled.

"Winning a second one maybe, for me personally, kind of validates the first one," Kluber said.

Scherzer's win moves him into rare company. He's the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs, and among the other nine, only Kershaw and Roger Clemens aren't in the Hall of Fame.

"That's why I'm drinking a lot of champagne tonight," Scherzer said.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit.

"This one is special," he said. "When you start talking about winning three times, I can't even comprehend it at this point."

Scherzer was 16-6 with a career-best 2.51 ERA this year. The 33-year-old righty struck out a league-leading 268 for the NL East champion Nationals, and in an era noted for declining pitcher durability, he eclipsed 200 innings for the fifth straight season. He had to overcome a variety of ailments to get there, and Washington's training staff was high on his thank-you list.

"Everybody had a role in keeping me out on the field," he said. "I'm very thankful for all their hard work."

Kershaw has won three NL Cy Youngs and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts. This is his second runner-up finish. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals finished third.

Kluber missed a month of the season with back pain and still easily won the AL award over Sale and third-place finisher Luis Severino of the New York Yankees. Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball. He added to the Cy Young he won with the Indians in 2014 and is the 19th pitcher to win multiple times.

The 31-year-old Kluber was especially dominant down the stretch, closing out the season by going 11-1 to help Cleveland win the AL Central. He and Minnesota's Ervin Santana tied for the major league lead with five complete games - nobody else had more than two. Kluber also led the majors with 8.0 wins above replacement, per baseball-reference.com.

Kluber and Scherzer both had rough outings in the playoffs. Kluber gave up nine runs over two starts in an AL Division Series against the Yankees, and Scherzer blew a save in the decisive Game 5 of an NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Scherzer said he couldn't even watch the League Championship Series, although he did tune in for the World Series.

"That will eat at me this whole offseason," he said.

Voting for the awards was completed before the postseason began.

The final BBWAA honors will come Thursday when the MVP awards are announced in the AL and NL.

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