Red Sox

Sox have options replacing Middlebrooks

755390.jpg

Sox have options replacing Middlebrooks

CLEVELAND So Will Middlebrooks will be the next Red Sox player to go down with an injury during a star-crossed season?

Middlebrooks suffered a fractured right wrist after taking a fastball off the bony part of his lower hand in the ninth inning of Friday nights win over the Indians.

The Red Sox will call up recently acquired Danny Valencia for the open roster spot, but theyve got several options to choose from while scattering to replace one of Bostons best hitters this season. Middlebrooks is hitting .288.325.509 with 15 home runs and 54 RBIs in 267 at bats as an energizing rookie in the Sox mix, and hes been one of the consistent bright spots on an otherwise mediocre baseball club.

So how do the Sox replace him?

Theyve got a number of different possibilities.

Surely the Sox will want to get a look at Valencia after acquiring him during the August waiver deadline. The former Twins third baseman was hitting .198.212.310 in 34 games with the Twins this season, and went 3-for-7 in his first two games with Triple-A Pawtucket before his promotion. Theres also Nick Punto, but hes more of a stopgap solution than a guy the Sox are willing to play over the next seven weeks.

Mike Aviles also sits as a potential option at third base given his versatility across the infield, and the potential that the Sox could call up Jose Iglesias to play some shortstop.
The Sox shortstop prospect has picked it up offensively at Pawtucket, and his promotion would fit right in with a youth movement Boston should be embracing given their present state of going nowhere in the standings.

Hes actually hitting .300 with an OPS over .700 in his last seven games, and has raised his overall season batting average to the .259 mark at Triple-A.

Theres also the possibility of sliding PedroCiriaco in as the permanent shortstop, and moving Aviles over to third base on a regular basis. It would give the Sox a chance to truly evaluate Ciriaco, and what the future holds for him in Boston. Hes only played a handful of games at third base over the last two seasons in the Pirates organization, and hes looked comfortable at shortstop.

The timing is interesting given Bobby Valentines musings prior to Friday nights win when he wondered aloud whether Ciriaco had a future as some kind of super-utility guy. Hes been working with coach Alex Ochoa on getting comfortable playing in the outfield with an eye toward being able to play Ciriaco five or six days a week while shifting him all over the field.Hes getting a little more playing time with DH-ing and hes been very productive. I talked to him about playing left field on Friday. I almost did it. If hed given me a little more assurance after working out there for a couple of days that hed be able to do the job, I would have started him. But he isnt there yet, said Valentine. He talks a little more time than youd like to see getting rid of the ball at shortstop. His release is a little slow, but he can work on that.

Hes a pretty good player. When we had him earlier this year in a perfect world he should have been playing the outfield and some third base, but they needed him at second base. Maybe well get some winter time ball to do that. He seems to be way too valuable to not be too versatile.

That kind of versatility from a player could be highly useful as injuries this season continue to tie the managers hands behind his back. Valentine also wanted to be careful not to rule out the 26-year-old Ciriaco still developing into an every day player after his short stint in Boston. Hes hitting .341.349.482 in 28 games and the Sox want to get a longer look at him before making any kind of determinations.

There are a lot of everyday players that dont have his skill, said Valentine. He runs fast enough. He throws well enough to play in the outfield. It depends on how his workouts go with Ochoa.

But no matter what the Sox do, theres no denying that the loss of Middlebrooks is dealing a fatal blow to a team that had only a sliver of playoff hope to begin with.

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