Red Sox

Mullen: No ready prospects means no rookie program

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Mullen: No ready prospects means no rookie program

BOSTON For the last few years, the Red Sox have conducted a rookie development program for two weeks in January. It has been an immersion program designed to familiarize some of the organizations minor leaguers with life in Boston, both on and off the field. The program was not limited to the organizations top prospects, but for those who could soon within about 18 months be impacting the major league team.

The program has consisted of workouts in recent years at the Boston College bubble -- for about a dozen players, who stay with host families in the area, as well as media sessions and seminars with Sox personnel, including the major league manager and coaches, and others outside the organization. Celtic coach Doc Rivers had been a guest in recent years.

But, with the transformation, both on the field and in the front office, the organization is undergoing this offseason, the Sox have opted not to conduct the program this year, putting it on a one-year hiatus. General manager Ben Cherington is in his first year in the job, as are many of his lieutenants, although most have been with the organization for some time. New manager Bobby Valentine is still filling out his coaching staff. Naming Tim Bogar as bench coach on Wednesday, Valentine has yet to name his pitching coach and base coaches.

The Sox still have work to do filling out the major league roster, with starting pitching and bullpen help needed, along with a right fielder, and a right-handed bat.

"With all the change to coaching and medical staff we are going to focus January on making sure we are fully prepared for spring training," Sox general manager Ben Cherington said in a text. "The rookie program will return in 2013."

It could also be that the players who may benefit the most from the program have either already been through it or are not close enough to the big leagues to benefit from it now.

In previous years, some of the participants were among the organizations most highly regarded prospects, including Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard, Jose Iglesias, and Lars Anderson. Last year, the group consisted of players who at that time were less heralded --pitchersRobert Coello,Stephen Fife, Stolmy Pimentel,Jason Rice,Clevelan Santeliz, and Alex Wilson; catchersTim FederowiczandRyan Lavarnway; infieldersWill Middlebrooksand Oscar Tejeda; and outfielderJuan Linares.

Of the 11 players who participated last year, four are no longer with the organization Coello, Fife, Rice, and Federowicz. All were sent away last season in trades Coello for minor leaguer Tony Thomas; Fife and Federowicz in a three-team deal for pitcher Erik Bedard; and Rice for outfielder Conor Jackson. Lavarnway is the only one of last years class to make his big league debut, after starting the season in Double-A Portland and earning a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket, before joining the big league team on Aug. 18. (Coello had already pitched in the big leagues before participating in the program, appearing in six games in 2010 for the Sox.)

That also reflects a transformation in the Sox minor league system. Once a provider of a steady crop of young players who have helped the big league team, the farm system has been depleted by trades in recent years of high-profile players. Before the Bedard deal at the trade deadline in July, the trade in December 2010 for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez sent pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and outfielder Reymond Fuentes (along with Eric Patterson) to San Diego. In July 2009, three players right-handers Justin Masterson and Bryan Price, and lefty Nick Hagadone were packaged in a deal with the Indians for catcher Victor Martinez.

Of the Sox top 25 prospects, according to soxprospects.com, 10 Middlebrooks, Kalish (who participated twice, the second time at his request), Iglesias, Lavarnway, Wilson, Pimentel, Tejeda, Anderson, left-hander Felix Doubront, and right-hander Junichi Tazawa have already participated in the program.

Of the remaining 15, only Alex Hassan has played as high as Triple A, going hitless with an RBI in four plate appearances over three games for Pawtucket in 2010. None of the other 14 has appeared above High-A, and two right-hander Matt Barnes and lefty Henry Owens, the Sox first and third picks, respectively, in the 2011 draft have yet to make their professional debuts.

Given all the Sox have facing them, this may be the right year to put the rookie program on hiatus.

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

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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

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.