Red Sox

Does Tony La Russa push Red Sox forward?

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Does Tony La Russa push Red Sox forward?

Dave Dombrowski’s decision to hire Tony La Russa creates another moment when you can wonder if Dombrowski is really leading the Sox beyond the crowd and ahead of the pack.

New viewpoints are good. But La Russa’s not joining an organization lacking in baseball experience. His boss has tons. The question, as it has been ever since Ben Cherington was let go, is whether Dombrowski is focused enough on innovation and pushing the organization forward.

La Russa might be a fine addition to the brain trust, and there’s nothing wrong with expanding the brain trust. But does he move the needle? Not every front-office addition must. But some should.

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Let’s assume La Russa will stay in his lane when it comes to first-time manager Alex Cora. Just because La Russa has managed before does not necessarily mean La Russa will be an overbearing presence. If Cora and La Russa approach their time together with open minds and respect, the Red Sox — and Cora specifically — should gain.

La Russa’s time running the Diamondbacks as chief baseball officer, from 2014-16 did not go well. That’s why it lasted only three years. He, like Dombrowski does now, made virtually every trip with the club. 

But that’s not part of the new job description for La Russa, and it wasn’t part of his most recent job description, either. Former Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen took over baseball ops for Arizona ahead of the 2017 season, with former Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo in the dugout. La Russa moved into an advisory role with Arizona at that point, and he indeed knew where the boundary was with Lovullo, beyond just lip service.

“I thought last year was very smart, Mike Hazen and the guys up there, the idea was to be sure — and I think it’s the way to do it here, too — to be sure that Alex and his major league coaches are clearly in charge of the major league situation,” La Russa said on a conference call Thursday. “They’re the people who are going to be there every day creating relationships with their players. So any of us that are on the periphery, you’re there to help without getting in the way. That’s what it was last year with Torey. 

“Torey, I have a great relationship with Torey. We would talk whenever there was something he wanted to ask, but I rarely went in the clubhouse. Most of the time, Torey and the coaches  said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to come down more.’ You don’t want players confused about who’s making decisions and who’s talking strategy. So I think you just stay out of the way and you contribute when you’re asked, or you suggest something and you know it will be considered. But you don’t get in the way.”

So give La Russa the benefit of the doubt when it comes to Cora. And if that proves a mistake, it’s on Dombrowski to quickly rectify the situation.

La Russa’s job title — vice president, special assistant to Dombrowski — sounds all-encompassing. He’ll do some work on the farm system, talking to instructors, players. He’s a presence.

There’s potential value there. But what the Sox need to avoid is homogenous thinking, and it’s hard to tell how well they’re doing that. 

When Cherington brought on Eddie Bane (who’s still with the organization) ahead of the 2013 season, Cherington had a feeling the Sox needed varied perspectives. Is that the case again? 

The different perspectives probably exist in-house, truth be told.

The Sox have a terrific scouting group and front-office backbone in place. Zack Scott leads the analytics department, which is expected to grow further this offseason, with Cora's input. Gus Quattlebaum’s pro scouts remain integral, and for that Dombrowski should be praised. Dombrowski is known to directly reach out to his scouts for their opinions.

But it all comes back to a question of who, and what, Dombrowski relies on in his final decision-making process. You can have all the information in your hands, subjective and objective, but how do you then combine it all, and pick out what matters most? One baseball source noted Dombrowski is using new-age thinking more than people realize. It’s also a fact that the Sox have green-lighted expansion of their analytics department under Dombrowski.

Nonetheless, the optics do jump out. 

Hazen and Amiel Sawdaye, part of the Theo Epstein tree, leave the Red Sox to go run the show in Arizona, supplanting La Russa and his operation. Arizona has a huge turnaround season in ‘17 (which is owed in part to the foundation La Russa left, if we’re being fair). La Russa, in turn, comes to the Sox. 

There was no stopping Hazen and Sawdaye from spreading their wings. But again, optics.

Because the Astros won the World Series, analytics will be a constant buzzword this winter, even more than normal. It’s too simplistic to boil down forward-thinking organizations to just that word. But, as it turns out, La Russa’s Diamondbacks really weren’t using much in the way of analytics. Hazen and Sawdaye and Lovullo helped change that.

And the Astros are the other side of the optics here: La Russa and Astros GM Jeff Luhnow worked together in St. Louis, with Luhnow arriving in 2003 and working his way up as an outsider in an insider’s game. Luhnow and former Cardinals boss Walt Jocketty clashed. La Russa sat in camp Jocketty. Jocketty left and Luhnow stayed, for a time. 

Both Luhnow and La Russa left after the 2011 season, with Luhnow exiting because he had a chance to go run the Astros.

Dombrowski and La Russa have known each other forever, because they’ve been in the game forever. Experience is a tremendous asset. So too are people who challenge viewpoints created by experience, and it's uncertain that Dombrowski relies on those people enough.

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Red Sox open spring training with wins over Northeastern and Boston College

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via Twitter (@RedSox)

Red Sox open spring training with wins over Northeastern and Boston College

The Red Sox started off spring training with a doubleheader on Thursday, beating both Northeastern and Boston College.

Boston beat Northeastern 15-2 in the opener, scoring seven runs in the first inning. Highlights included a grand slam from minor league outfielder Kyri Washington, an RBI triple from Blake Swihart, and RBI doubles from Brock Holt and minor league catcher Austin Rei.

In game two, the Red Sox beat Boston College by a score of 4-2. Sam Travis contributed with an RBI double.

Boston takes on the Minnesota Twins on Friday at JetBlue Park.

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Blake Swihart would benefit from a trade, and his trade value may never be higher

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Blake Swihart would benefit from a trade, and his trade value may never be higher

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Blake Swihart would be better off in another organization. The best time to trade him could be now, as well.

He might have a lowered chance of a World Series ring in the immediate future if he's sent away. But for Swihart's personal development, the Red Sox are not his ideal base. 

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Naturally, the Sox have to prioritize their needs. To do that with Swihart, they need to examine the future.

A switch-hitter staring at a bench role with the Sox, Swihart's value remains high because other teams see his potential as a catcher. He turns 26 years old on April 3. A year in a utility role in the majors would not kill him, but it would not help him blossom as a catcher — and therefore, would not help his trade value in the future. He's not old, but he's getting older.

If Christian Vazquez is the Sox’ catcher of the present and the future, Swihart today might well be more valuable to another team than he is to the Sox. It would be up to a potential trade partner to prove as much.

Swihart has said he wants to catch, and has also said he’ll do whatever the team wants. He’s doing catching drills every day in Florida. He also does one of either outfield work or infield work daily, on top of the backstop drills. So far, he hasn't ventured beyond first base on the infield.

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Alex Cora and several members of the coaching staff coordinate on Swihart’s plan. 

“They’re in touch [about] what they have planned for me, so they don’t kill me out there catching a ton of bullpens,” Swihart said Thursday. “I think everyone is kind of involved.”

But the Sox must realize they run the risk of creating a jack of all trades and a master of none. Maybe in the short term, that's what they want. But if so, there is a potential cost in the future: slowed development. Super utility players are nice, but catchers with Swihart's skillset are probably nicer.

Someone, somewhere, is going to carry Swihart on a major league roster this year.

If the Sox have one position-player injury in spring, they can carry all three of Swihart, Brock Holt and Deven Marrero on their opening day roster. Without an injury, the Sox would appear to have three players for just two spots. Swihart and Marrero are both out of minor league options.

“Yeah. I’m not really thinking about that, but yeah,” Swihart said when asked if being out of options is a good thing. “I’ve got to prove myself, still. I’ve got a job to do.”

Swihart’s upside is tantalizing and hard to part with. He tripled and walked twice Thursday in a 15-2, seven-inning win over Northeastern, the Sox’ first game of the spring

Whether it was intentional or not, Holt batted behind Swihart and Marrero directly followed Holt. Swihart’s triple was immediately followed by one of Swihart’s two hits, a double. Marrero, whose value lies in an extraordinary glove, went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts.

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Results are virtually meaningless now, but after injuries held Swihart back the last two years, he seems rejuvenated. 

"Especially when I’m healthy, I love playing," Swihart said Thursday. "If I can go out there and get as many reps as I can, it’s almost like a tryout for me. I want to go out there and treat it like that, just go out there and do everything I know I can do.”

Other teams know what he can do, too — behind the plate particularly.

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