Red Sox

Salty credits success to Varitek's support

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Salty credits success to Varitek's support

BOSTON -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia made a point of seeking out Jason Varitek and Sox catching instructor Gary Tuck on his first visit to Fenway Park as an Atlanta Braves rookie way back in 2007.

He wanted to formally introduce himself to both icons of the catching fraternity for totally different reasons.

Varitek was Saltalamacchias switch-hitting catcher role model while growing up in Florida, and Tuck was a coach renowned for his work with top-notch catchers.

That little show of respect, homage and admiration won Saltalamacchia a lot of fans within the Red Sox organization, and was one of the first events that put the young backstop on Bostons radar.

So it was fitting Saltalamacchia nearly authored the stereotypical happy ending to Jason Varitek Day at Fenway Park on Saturday night when he blasted a three-run homer in the second inning. The three-run homer gave the Sox an early 3-0 lead and might have owed an assist to the 15-minute pregame ceremony honoring the retired Varitek.

It was pretty cool. I had goose bumps the whole time Aaron Cook was warming up. I am happy that Varitek calls me a friend. Hes a great guy, said Saltalamacchia, who was the one player that didnt have any offensive explaining to do in another Red Sox loss. Varitek had a huge impact. He was the first guy that really built my confidence back up againhim and Gary Tuck.

Saltalamacchia was, of course, a little of a technical mess when he arrived in Boston from the Texas Rangers organization. A hand injury and a case of the yips left him with problems throwing the ball from behind the plate, and both men worked tirelessly to refine and streamline his catching mechanics.

Thats something the 27-year-old isnt likely to forget anytime soon, and could have pushed him out of baseball prematurely if he didnt land with the right people.

They were the two guys together in my corner and really rooting for me. That felt good. Given everything that hes accomplished in his career he still took the time to work with me, said Saltalamacchia. Things he said compliment-wise couldnt help but make me feel better about myself. Hes just an all-around great ballplayer, great friend and a great teammate.

The Sox eventually fell by a 7-3 score against Toronto, but it was Saltalamacchia that nearly became the focal point in carrying the day for the Sox with the home run. The long ball over the right field wall snapped him out an 0-for-14 funk, and was his first home run since smacking a three-run bomb against the New York Yankees back on July 6.

Having two runners in scoring position allowed the catcher to simply think about getting some lift on the ball for a potential sacrifice fly, but instead he got the four-bag bonus plan.

I was trying to score those guys. He left a slider up and I was able to do some damage, said Saltalamacchia. Thats about it.

If only it were always that simple.

The home run arrived in his first at-bat back in the starting lineup after hed been prescribed some mandatory rest.

Bobby Valentine had given the fatigued Saltalamacchia a rest in the previous three games after watching the catchers batting average plummet below .230. That appeared to be the right call given his first swing back after watching backup catcher Kelly Shoppach string together a few starts in a row.

Fittingly the second inning slam was Saltalamacchias career-high 18th home run of the season, and marks the most round-trippers smacked by a Sox backstop since Varitek hit 22 bombs during an All-Star season in 2005. The home run also keeps Salty on a 31 home run pace for the season that would shatter the single-season franchise record held by Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk.

The offense from Saltalamacchia is nice, according to Varitek. But its the little things that the retired backstop now takes pleasure in watching as his protg keeps the catching gospel of Varitek and Tuck alive along Yawkey Way.

Everybody has started appreciating a little more what Salty was doing when he had 10, 12 or 13 home runs, said Varitek. He was catching the ball, throwing the ball and doing things very well behind the plate well before then. The offensive recognition is now giving him a different kind of recognition for things that hes been doing superbly behind the plate.

Those arent statistics, though. Those arent things that people can hold onto. But to see those intangible things was such a job. Just watching him catch at the beginning of the season and watching the way hes doing things. Its nice. His work and everything that hes gone through the last year-and-half while being here looks really good.

Style-wise Saltalamacchia and Varitek are certainly different players at both the offensive and defensive end. But its fitting that Saltalamacchia is flirting with club records held by guys named Fisk and Varitek, and the young apprentice did his very best to make his mentor proud one last time on his Fenway name day.

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

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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.

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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

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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