With all the focus squarely on the winter meetings and putting together deals during or Major league Baseball’s big get together, have we lost sight of the fact that there may be some homegrown options that Boston can leverage? Let’s look at the holes.
If the 2012 season taught Boston anything it was the old adage good pitching beats good hitting every time. Conversely, terrible pitching decidedly does not beat good hitting as Boston’s pitching staff so painfully found out last year. With the right attitude and some decent health, Boston won’t need middle and back end relief. John Farrell has already taken steps to build that framework.
Farrell has been spending time reaching out to players early and often, sometimes rekindling old relationships from his days as Boston’s pitching coach, other times engaging for the first time to establish open dialog. Speaking with Evan Drelich on Boston’s website about recent exchanges with Alfredo Aceves, Farrell said of Aceves, “We’ve had some brief conversations, a number of messages left. Colorful. He’s a talented pitcher, and he can do some things in the game that he may be the only guy that can do it. With the frequency in which he can pitch to the number of pitches thrown, he’s a talented guy. I think from my standpoint, the approach taken is to be candid with him, to be consistent with him, both in terms of how we want, what we value in guys’ approach. I think the most important thing is for him to understand where he sits with us, how we view him and what his role is. And then he can best prepare for that.” Farrell’s attitude and ability to communicate puts Boston in a distinctly different posture heading into this season. An Aceves with his head screwed on straight knowing unequivocally what to expect is indeed a valuable commodity.
Similarly, Farrell has ben talking with Jon Lester, especially in light of recent trade rumors that have surfaced. “…I think any time that first rumor gets out there, it can be a little startling for guys. But I know one thing, he’s extremely motivated, he’s working his tail off right now to have a strong year.”
While Farrell’s talk therapy is a huge step in the right direction, Boston has starting pitching issues that need fixing, making starters like Dan Harran (176 innings, 200+ in the years before that) and Kyle Losche (16-3. Not a K pitcher but keeps the ball down) viable free agent options.
While we’re being frank, the Boston shortstop controversy, at least for next season, should be put to bed now and reinforced early in the spring. Hands down Pedro Ciriaco should be Boston’s 2013 shortstop. The previous common wisdom of putting Jose Iglesias in the slot as a placeholder for the developing Xander Bogaerts doesn’t give Boston the best chance to compete next year. Iglesias, the human vacuum cleaner, can’t bat his hat size to the point where it’s a liability. Light hitting, great fielding shortstops are an MLB tradition. Igleisias’ anemic .118 average over 25 games at the end of last season gives new meaning to the term automatic out and Mendoza line.
With great range and a strong arm, Ciriaco is more than serviceable at shortstop. Last year he batted .415 against the Yankees. A .293 average in 76 games makes him a much more well-rounded option if he can get more disciplined at the plate. Ciriaco struck out a lot and swung at a ton of first pitches. With his speed if he can up his on base percentage with more walks he can become very disruptive to opposing pitchers. Close the book on this one. Oh wait, one last page. Here’s a thought. Ship Lester to Colorado and bring in Troy Tulowitzki. OK, open the book back up.
See my earlier posts on Mike Napoli and Mark Reynolds regarding Boston’s best options at first base, although Adam LaRoche now has less leverage with the Denard Span trade to the Nationals. With Span in centerfield and a near certain move of Michael Morse to first base, LaRoche will be more the hunter and not the hunted in the first base free agent sweepstakes.
Even with the purchase of Jonny Gomes, uncertainty around the corner outfield positions is a concern. If Boston wants to break out of a very mediocre corner outfield situation, they’ll either have to buy their way out of it with the likes of a risky Josh Hamilton contract for example or fully commit to and roll the dice with, say, Ryan Kalish and tell him it’s his job to lose. Kalish and the Sox have been on and off again, platooning him through injury and backup status for a few years. It’s time to find out if Kalish can make the transition full-time at the Major League level or pull the plug.
Don’t expect all the business to get done over the next week in Nashville. Sox GM Ben Cherington has said as much during a number of meetings with the press over the past few weeks. The hot stove, however, is banked and things are just starting to heat up.