The Red Sox didn’t have to be first in naming a new manager, but the fact that they will be last has to be distracting in terms of trying to set their team for 2012.
It’s not that they haven’t done their due diligence in contacting free agents and other teams regarding deals. But clearly the focus is on a manager, and one would think Bobby Valentine is the lead dog right now, unless philosophical differences derail him.
Already, the Sox have lost their closer to the Phillies, who are as fast as the Sox are methodical. At some point soon, the Sox are going to have to start addressing needs. Their decision to offer David Ortiz arbitration certainly speaks of their desire to keep him as their DH (or at least receive compensation if he departs).
Here’s one man’s view of what the Sox should do:
BULLPEN - Unless Daniel Bard is made a starter, not giving him the closer job would be a slap in the face. He may not have been at his best late in the year, but the Sox realized they were only a few mechanical tweaks away from getting him back on track.
If the Sox move to a different closer, it would be a sign that they don’t think he has the makeup to be the man at the end. We’ve all been waiting for Jonathan Papelbon to leave in free agency and Bard to take over, right? So why wouldn’t that happen now?
The closers on the market don’t wow you, with the exception of Heath Bell. Yes, he pitched in San Diego’s cavernous Petco Park, but he would probably be worth making a pitch for. But then the Sox would have to explain to Bard that he remains the set-up man.
The Sox would appear to be better off surrounding Bard with good set-up men. One could be Alfredo Aceves, if he’s not pegged as a starter. They could sign Brad Lidge, who appears to be healthy, if he would accept the set-up role.
Matt Capps has been a very good set-up man as well as a closer. Jonathan Broxton could be interesting, and because he’s been injured the past two seasons, it may be easier to sell him on a set-up role.
They could try to convince Ryan Madson to assume that role. Madson did a terrific job closing in Philadelphia, but the fact that the Phillies thought Papelbon was better speaks volumes.
The Sox still have Bobby Jenks in the mix. He will have back surgery soon and should be recovered sometime in spring training. Last year was a wasted season for him, but he still has a good arm and good stuff.
RIGHT FIELD - The choice here is Michael Cuddyer, with Carlos Beltran running second.
Cuddyer is precisely the type of player - given his dirt-dog mentality - that would be a nice fit at this juncture. On a team that suffered from a lack of confidence in September, Cuddyer would bring a positive fresh approach. He has the arm to handle right field at Fenway, and his righthanded bat would be welcome.
The Phillies do not appear to be players for Cuddyer after obtaining Ty Wigginton from Colorado last week.
Last season, Cuddyer had a .993 OPS vs. lefthanded pitchers, hitting .311 with 10 homers and 22 RBIs in 151 at-bats. He will be 33 March 27, so a three-year deal seems to be the maximum he could be offered. Would three years and $30 million do the trick? The Twins are very interested in keeping him, but they would like to offer a two-year deal.
Beltran is attractive because he’s a switch hitter with power, a guy who takes the game much more seriously than he did in his youth. His injury history is a concern, however.
But on a team that still has Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish waiting in the wings, is Beltran a gamble worth taking for two years? He played in 142 games last season after playing in a combined 145 the previous two.
Beltran, who will be 35 on April 24, could flourish playing 81 games at Fenway Park. He has spent the last five years at Shea Stadium/Citi Field and then San Francisco. The Giants are trying to re-sign him.
A third option could be a deal for Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier. The Dodgers just spent $160 million on Matt Kemp, and Ethier is a year away from free agency. Can the Dodgers afford to keep both?
Ethier’s power numbers slipped badly last season (11 homers and 62 RBIs), but a knee injury that required season-ending arthroscopic surgery might have been the culprit. We all know Ethier’s best friend is Dustin Pedroia, who has been in management’s ear about obtaining him.
Do the Sox have enough in their farm system to give up for Ethier, and would they want to? Or are those chips better served to obtain pitching?
STARTING PITCHING - Leaving Aceves in the bullpen would be the preference, because he’s so valuable there. If that’s the case, the Sox would need two starters to fill out the rotation and maybe a third for depth.
The gut feeling here is that the Sox will move on from Tim Wakefield if they can find two relatively low-cost starters.
Not that he would be low-cost, but the first choice here would be Roy Oswalt. The Phillies did not pick up his $16 million option and bought him out for $2 million.
Oswalt, 34, might accept a two-year deal. It might have to be in the $28 million-$30 million range, but he is a proven winner whose veteran leadership and professionalism would serve the Sox staff well.
Oswalt made 23 starts last season and went 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA. He missed a week in June and all of July with a back injury and didn’t return until Aug. 7.
Two interesting names that could be had in deals are Arizona’s Joe Saunders and Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano.
Liriano has never been able to put it all together and repeat his delivery, but his upside has always been very good. He may just need the right pitching coach.
The Twins’ patience with him has just about run out. As a fifth guy? Might be worth the gamble.
SOX SKEW YOUNG
In front office, veterans scarce
The Red Sox announced their front office promotions last week, and one thing that hits you is the youth and lack of veteran baseball people in the organization.
Oh, there is Allard Baird, now vice president of player personnel, and David Finley, director of player personnel, and CEO Larry Lucchino has Jeremy Kapstein as a senior adviser. All are well-respected in the industry. But are there enough truebloods in the organization?
The Red Sox employ a lot of smart young executives, such as Mike Hazen, Brian O’Halloran, Ben Crockett, and Jared Porter, but the old-time guys like the late Bill Lajoie appear to be missing.
General manager Ben Cherington indicated early on that he would hire one or two more veterans to augment his staff.
The Sox have considered former Mets GM Omar Minaya, but that deal hasn’t been sealed. There are certainly a lot of people who could fill those roles.
If the Red Sox hire Bobby Valentine to manage, he will be another adult voice, though a manager is not really part of the front office.
The Red Sox may or may not see experience as an issue, but from the outside looking in, it appears to be an area that could be enhanced for an elite organization.
New CBA isn’t draft-friendly
If you’re trying to rebuild a farm system, the new labor agreement is not your friend.
A team like the Cubs, for instance, will need more time to get its system deep in amateur players because of the spending limitations imposed by the agreement and the taxes and penalties for going over a set allotment.
So if Cubs president of operations Theo Epstein is hesitant to give up a lot of compensation to the Red Sox, you can understand why.
While the agreement seemed to be intended to limit the spending of big-market teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox in the draft, it may hurt smaller-market teams such as Pittsburgh and Kansas City, who have spent a lot of money in the draft recently.
There are five levels of taxes, ranging from 75 percent for teams that exceed the specific team threshold by 0-5 percent, to a maximum of 100 percent tax on the gross amount of the signing bonuses paid that exceed the bonus threshold - as well as the loss of future first-round draft picks.
For players selected in the 11th round and beyond, teams may issue signing bonuses of up to $100,000 without the signing bonus counting against the team threshold.
Teams could willingly incur a tax or loss of draft picks by exceeding the threshold if they feel a given draft is better than the next year’s.
The other significant item in the new agreement regarding the draft is the moving up of signing dates from mid-August to July 12-18. This means teams can’t watch a youngster they’ve drafted pitch or play over the summer before they commit big dollars.
“It’s a credit to Ron Manfred and Michael Weiner they were able to work so hard and diligently to get an agreement done some three weeks before the old agreement expired without a work stoppage,’’ said former agent Gregg Clifton, now chairman of the Jackson Lewis sports practice group.
Apropos of nothing
1. Every time I see it, it amazes me: Andy Hawkins allowed 18 earned runs in one inning over three career starts at Fenway Park; 2. Good to see Red Sox minor league coach Tom Goodwin hook on as a major league coach with the Mets; 3. I could envision Jason Varitek backing up Matt Wieters in Baltimore; 4. Best wishes to Massachusetts native Matt Klentak, who left the Orioles to become assistant GM with the Angels; 5. David Ortiz is still very much in play with the Orioles.
Updates on nine
1. Bobby Valentine, ESPN analyst - Interesting to look back at some of his former coaches. Some of the long-running ones included Tom Robson, former Red Sox coach Dave Oliver, Mookie Wilson, John Stearns, Art Howe, Rich Donnelly, and Joe Ferguson. His pitching coaches included Dave Wallace, Bob Apodaca, Charlie Hough, and Tom House. Interesting to see whom Valentine will name if he gets the Boston job.
2. Don Baylor, hitting coach, Arizona - Give him a lot of credit. He is an experienced major league manager yet took a job in winter ball in Venezuela. Baylor would have been a good choice to interview with the Red Sox. He is a great presence and has learned from his past managerial experiences in Colorado and Chicago. Said one veteran baseball person, “He’d be a combination Charlie Manuel-Cito Gaston, with a good hitting background and a presence about him. People have missed the boat there.’’
3. Jose Reyes, SS, free agent - Baseball people we talked to seem to think that if the Marlins are thinking big, Reyes is the most logical signing for them, with Hanley Ramirez moving to third. Reyes’s injury history scares one and all, but what an exciting player. With the likelihood of losing Prince Fielder, would the Brewers take the plunge? They are at least talking about him.
4. Jed Lowrie, INF, Red Sox - There were many scouts and GMs in the Dominican Republic recently, and Lowrie came up often as a possible shortstop/third base candidate. Teams like his offense and are skeptical about his defense, but are more concerned about his mental toughness and his ability to play through injury. Lowrie may become a chip for the Red Sox in a deal.
5. Wandy Rodriguez, LHP, Astros - The Astros are getting more and more inquiries about his availability. The Red Sox are one of the teams that have asked.
6. Brad Mills, manager, Astros - Mills, GM Ed Wade, and many scouts and organizational people in Houston are awaiting their fate now that Jim Crane has taken over as owner. It was thought that there would be no changes organizationally until next season, but most staffers are on pins and needles.
7. John Farrell, manager, Toronto - The Red Sox tried to get him early in the process, couldn’t come close to agreeing on compensation, and now are trying again? Farrell may fit what Ben Cherington’s staff is looking for in a manager, but Valentine provides far more excitement.
8. Gene Lamont, third base coach, Tigers - Word from major league sources is that he was extremely impressive in his first interview with the Red Sox, which is why he got a second one. Jim Leyland is pushing for Lamont big-time and has never understood why Lamont has not worked as a manager since his stints with Chicago and Pittsburgh.
9. Gio Gonzalez, LHP, Oakland - He has been a big topic of conversation in winter ball among scouts and GMs who believe that Billy Beane would indeed deal him for the right price. “That’s 100 percent legitimate,’’ said a National League talent evaluator of Gonzalez’s availability. “He’d be at the top of a lot of teams’ lists, and with reason. He’s really been a steady pitcher with upside at his age .’’
From the Bill Chuck files: “Since 2007, Ryan Braun, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada all have a .371 OBP. J.D. Drew is at .370.’’ Also, “Seibu Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima and Yakult Swallows outfielder Norichika Aoki have been given permission to use the posting system to make a move to the major leagues. Nakajima, a 29-year-old shortstop, hit .297 with 16 home runs and 27 doubles in 2011. Aoki, 29, a lefthanded-hitting, righthanded-throwing center fielder, hit .358 with 14 homers, 63 RBIs, and 19 steals in 2010 but dropped to .292 with 4 homers and 8 steals in 2011.’’ And, “Who went 8-8 with a 5.38 ERA for Baltimore in 2006-08 but hit .306 with 17 homers for Triple A Las Vegas this season? Former Jay and new Mets outfielder Adam Loewen, that’s who.’’ . . . Tony La Russa, who ranks third in all-time victories by a major league manager, will attend the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner Jan. 19 to accept the Judge Emil Fuchs Award for long and meritorious service to baseball. The 73d dinner begins at 7 p.m. at the Westin Copley Hotel. Tickets are $175 each and are available by sending a check made out to Rusty Sullivan to The Sports Museum, 100 Legends Way, Boston 02114 . . . Happy birthday, Jonathan Van Every (32), Jose Tartabull (73), and Bill Short (74).