Red Sox

Red Sox can't wait for aces in free agency

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Red Sox can't wait for aces in free agency

If it hasn't already, the news that the Seattle Mariners had agreed with pitcher Felix Hernandez on a contract extension last week worth 175 million should make two important points.

One: Thanks to revenue sharing and the general health of the game, almost any team can afford the occasional mega-deal for a
player it covets.

Two: The days of waiting for an ace to hit free agency are essentially over. Big market teams accustomed to poaching All-Star starting pitchers who have outgrown their small- and medium-market teams had better change their approach.

The latter, of course, is a teachable moment for the Red Sox. Some fans were counting the days until Hernandez -- or Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw -- were eligible for free agency, believing that all the Red Sox (or the Yankees) had to do was unholster their checkbook and pick their choice of ace.

But the days of the game's best pitchers taking their talents to market are essentially over. When teams are faced with the prospect of losing a true No. 1 starter, they generally do what they must to retain such a valuable commodity.

In the last few years, Jered Weaver stayed with the Angels, Matt Cain got extended by the Giants and CC Sabathia remained with the Yankees. And is there any doubt that, sometime between now and the end of 2014, the Tigers and Dodgers will pay what they must to keep, respectively, Verlander and Kershaw?

Said one baseball executive: "When you have one of those guys, you have to do whatever it takes to keep them when the time comes."

In truth, this might not be as problematic for the Red Sox as it seems. Having been repeatedly burned on eight- and nine-figure free agent deals -- Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, John Lackey, etc -- to the point where they were driven to unload three big contracts last August, the Sox are naturally wary of such gambles.

That's especially true of the quality of pitchers who do reach free agency, who typically qualify as overpriced innings eaters (think: Mark Buehrle or Edwin Jackson) but often fail to be worth the investment made in them.

All of which will force the Red Sox to get creative in their search for the next starting pitcher to lead the team back to championship status. It's worth noting that, since the mid-1980s, of the four best Red Sox starters (Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Beckett), none was a free agent and only one (Clemens) was drafted and developed by the Sox.

Among the organization's top pitching prospects in the system, Matt Barnes is probably the closest to impacting the big league staff, and even he, having not pitched above high Single A, is probably a year and a half -- at minimum -- away from getting to Boston.

Henry Owens and Anthony Renaudo have similar developmental steps to take.

So, with Jon Lester -- signed through 2013 with an options for 2014 in place -- two years away from free agency himself, where do the Red Sox find their next ace?

They could use some of their top positional player prospects in a deal for an established front-line starter as they did in the deal for Beckett after 2005, or the way the Yankees did with Michael Pineda after 2011.

Or, they could use their first-round pick this June on a top-of-the rotation starter. With the No. 8 overall pick, the Sox will be selecting higher in the first round than they have since 1993, when they chose Trot Nixon.

But both paths have drawbacks and risks. To obtain a true elite young starter, the Sox would probably have to sacrifice shortstop Xander Bogaerts -- and possibly more. The Sox envision Bogaerts being a franchise player, around which they can build for the next decade. Dealing him for an ace would be an enormous risk and could potentially leave the shortstop position as the perennial black hole it's been since 2004.

And, if the Sox use their first-round pick to select a can't-miss starting pitcher, that means they wouldn't be able to select a power bat, the likes of which aren't usually available after the first dozen or so selections in the draft.

Every Red Sox World Series team of the last 46 years has been fronted by a true No. 1 starter, from Jim Lonborg in 1967 to Luis Tiant in 1975 to Clemens in 1986, to Schilling and Martinez in 2004 and Beckett in 2007.

Finding the next one will not be easy or cheap, and, as the Red Sox now know, it almost certainly won't come via free agency.

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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