Red Sox

Red Sox appear poised to deal for pitching help

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Red Sox appear poised to deal for pitching help

Now that the general manager's meetings are over - generating far more talk and activity than any other in recent history -- the Red Sox have a much better sense of how their winter will play out.

In most other years, the Sox -- and others -- might have had to wait until the winter meetings in December to determine their next move.

But the overriding sense in Boca Raton, Fla., this week was that plenty of activity could take place in the coming weeks, perhaps even days.

Several in the industry have theorized that the unusually high turnover among baseball executives -- fully one-third of the 30 decision-makers were not in their current positions a year ago -- coupled with the increasing parity in the game would lead to a quickened timetable for trades and signings.

Typically, the GM meetings serve as an opportunity to begin discussions and lay groundwork for conversations to be resumed the following month at the winter meetings.

But already, a number of significant deals have been made, with the promise of more to come -- some, perhaps, involving the Red Sox.

Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski spoke with virtually every team at the GM meetings, in addition to huddling with several agents.

Unsurprisingly, though the Sox were linked to some position players (free agent outfielder Chris Young, for one), most of Dombrowski's work centered around obtaining pitching -- both starters and relievers.

Indications are that the Red Sox are serious players for Cincinnati reliever Aroldis Chapman. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Sox were doing their due diligence -- reviewing medicals, etc. -- on Chapman, with the anticipation that Chapman could be dealt before the start of next week.

Chapman is one of a handful of closers being made available -- for various reasons - this offseason. San Diego's Craig Kimbrel, Pittsburgh's Mark Melancon, Washington's Drew Storen and even the Yankees' Andrew Miller are all thought to be on the market.

The Yankees aren't about to deal Miller back to Boston and the Sox have already had a season -- 2012 -- with Melancon, one in which he pitched poorly. The feeling is that while Melancon has pitched well in the National League, his success doesn't translate to the American League, or, for that matter, to a market like Boston.

That leaves Kimbrel as the other option, but because he's signed for two more years at $25 million ($11 million in 2016, $13 million in 2017, with a $1 million buyout for 2018 or an option for $13 million), he will be more costly, since an acquiring team could be controlling him for as many as three more seasons. Chapman, by contrast, would be under control for just 2016.

By all accounts, the Sox are more involved on Chapman than Kimbrel, perhaps precisely because the asking price will be more tenable.

Chapman won't come cheaply, of course. He's arguably the most dominant closer in the game, with a career WHIP of 1.016 and a strikeout rate of 15.4 per nine innings over parts of six big-league seasons.

More to the point, at a time when power arms are in vogue, Chapman last season averaged 99.5 mph with his fastball.

It's unknown what the acquisition cost would be for Chapman, though it will be predictably steep with Toronto, Detroit, Arizona and others said to be interested.

Still, it's likely the Sox could land Chapman without having to sacrifice either of their two foundational players: Shortstop Xander Bogaerts and outfielder Mookie Betts.

The Reds are said to be seeking position players, meaning the Sox could interest them with outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., or a package that would include some younger prospects (Manuel Margot) who are a year or so away from contributing at the major-league level.

That the Sox have such obvious interest in a closer with a one-year deal is the clearest sign yet that they intend to attempt to compete in 2016, and not embark on a longer-term rebuild.

Precisely where the Sox stand on finding a true No. 1 starter is less clear.

Dombrowski seemed to indicate the Sox might indeed be players for some of the top-of-the-market, free-agent starters (David Price, Johnny Cueto, Zack Greinke), despite the cost and the organization's stated philosophical aversion to signing pitchers 30 years or older.

At the GM meetings, several teams with prospective No. 1 starters indicated an unwillingness to deal. Oakland (Sonny Gray) and the New York Mets (who boast a deep, immensely talented rotation) gave clear signs that they would not be willing to move their aces.

The Chicago White Sox were less definitive when it comes to Chris Sale, with GM Rich Hahn suggesting that he would be willing to at least listen on anybody. That stance, coupled with the Red Sox prospect-laden system, had led Comcast SportsNet Chicago to theorize that the Red Sox are in better position than almost any other team to put together a package for Sale.

The White Sox, according to CSN Chicago, have identified Blake Swihart as someone who would have to be in a deal for Sale, though there would need to be much more coming from Boston in order to pry loose the All-Star lefty.

Before the Sox can move on to the rotation, it would seem Dombrowski is first intent on addressing an upgrade at a bullpen. It might not take long to see what he meant when he said: "At some point, we're going to most likely do something that is painful one way or another.''

Red Sox flight to Houston diverted due to mechanical issues, per report

Red Sox flight to Houston diverted due to mechanical issues, per report

The Boston Red Sox played at 12:37 p.m. ET on Thursday to get a head start on their weekend trip to Houston.

But travel plans don't always cooperate.

The Red Sox's charter plane bound for Houston from Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Thursday night diverted course and made an unscheduled landing in Detroit.

The diversion was caused by a potential mechanical issue, according to WBZ-TV.

Delta Flight 8884 carrying the Red Sox departed Toronto at 6:18 p.m. ET, a few hours after Boston defeated the Blue Jays 8-2 in their series finale. But the plane deviated from its flight plan and landed at Detroit's Metropolitan Wayne County Airport about two hours later.

According to FlightAware, the Red Sox had a layover of several hours in Detroit and finally continued their trip at 10:47 p.m., arriving in Houston just after midnight local time (1 a.m. ET).

The Sox will spend the morning resting up before beginning a three-game set with the Astros on Friday night.

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Ryan Weber offers Red Sox a reminder that lighting up a radar gun isn't everything

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USA TODAY Sports photo

Ryan Weber offers Red Sox a reminder that lighting up a radar gun isn't everything

The Washington Post's Dave Sheinin this week took a fascinating deep dive into baseball's toxic love affair with velocity, the force at the root of the game's decline as entertainment.

With more pitchers than ever throwing at least 95 mph, hitters are left with two choices: marry launch angle with exit velocity in the hopes of leaving the park, or find a new line of work. Pitchers roll off a similarly homogenous assembly line, with one 6-foot-4 reliever after another throwing gas. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground.

Then there's Ryan Weber.

The 28-year-old baby-faced right-hander did not reach the big leagues on the strength of his arm so much as the dexterity of his fingers. He breaks 90 mph with his fastball about as often as most of us do on the highway.

He's a throwback to a time when baseball made room for pitchers who didn't max out the radar gun, and rotations craved variety: the flame-throwing right-hander, followed by the crafty lefty, followed by the innings-eater, followed by the forkball specialist, etc. . .

That would seemingly crowd out someone like Webber, who instead relies on the precise location of his sinker, changeup, and curveball. And it's not like opportunities have been plentiful for the former Brave, Mariner, and Ray. Since being drafted in the 22nd round of the 2009 draft by Atlanta, Weber has appeared in only 28 games.

He opened this season as Triple-A depth, and the Red Sox summoned him after injuries to Nathan Eovaldi and David Price thinned the rotation's ranks.

Following three solid relief outings, Weber received the call to start on Thursday against the Blue Jays, where his peculiar set of skills were on full display. Weber reached 90 mph exactly once in 93 pitches. He mostly lived at 86-88 mph with a ton of movement as he worked the corners, stayed out of the middle of the plate, and kept the ball down.

In an age where even accomplished sinkerballers like Rick Porcello feel no choice but to live up in the strike zone, Weber did things his way on Thursday with smashing success. One night after the Red Sox burned through six pitchers in a 13-inning marathon win over the Jays, Weber delivered six innings of one-run ball, limiting the Jays to three hits and striking out four in an 8-2 victory.

"It's different," manager Alex Cora told reporters in Toronto. "It's not that vertical attack, fastballs up, breaking balls down. It's more about pitching east-west and changing speeds. It's like a little bit of old school."

Weber earned his first victory as a starter after spending parts of the last four seasons with the Braves, Mariners, and Rays. If there's one common element to each pitch in his repertoire, it's that nothing is straight. Weber can generate movement to either side of the plate, and he does not let his lack of velocity keep him from throwing front-door two-seamers that start inside to left-handers hitters before zipping back over the corner.

"Just giving the team a chance to win and saving the bullpen was really my main goal," Weber told reporters. "And doing that, I'm excited and proud of what I did."

"Everything felt good," Weber added. "Arm felt great. First win as a starter feels nice."

With Eovaldi making progress in his return from elbow surgery and Price already back in the rotation, the Red Sox hope not to need a rotating fifth starter for much longer. If nothing else, Weber reminded the organization that there's more than one way to be successful, should the need arise again.

"Amazing," Cora said. "He did a good job changing speeds, moving the ball around the strike zone, changing eye level. He can pitch."

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