FORT MYERS, Fla. - There may not yet be answers to the questions the Red Sox faced entering spring training, but more than halfway through camp general manager Ben Cherington feels certain things are becoming clear.
In an interview Tuesday, Cherington said 1) his scouts are searching for more pitching that could be obtained in trade; 2) free agents such as Roy Oswalt still could be a possibility; 3) Daniel Bard will have to fall on his face the last few weeks in camp to not be the fourth starter; 4) Jose Iglesias is in the competition to start at shortstop; and 5) Alfredo Aceves could end up back in the bullpen.
“We’re going to keep looking,’’ Cherington said about the Sox’ pitching. “We came into spring training with the hope the solutions were here already. Nothing that has happened has convinced us otherwise, but we’re not doing our job if we’re not looking, whether that’s trade or free agent opportunities. We’re scouting other teams’ camps, but our focus remains on the guys who are here and we hope the solution is here.’’
Aceves has been Boston’s most impressive pitcher thus far. Cherington said Aceves will continue to be stretched out as a starter, but the team will use him at it sees fit.
There’s no doubt Aceves wants to start, because that’s where the money is.
“Everyone in this business is motivated by different things,’’ Cherington said. “We’re aware of that. Ultimately our job is to put players in the best roles for us to win and also to factor in that we’re trying to put together a team for six months, not just one month.
“That part of the equation is the most challenging during spring training because we’re watching games and it’s impossible not to react to what guys do. This is a marathon, not a sprint. As we know very well from last year, we need to keep building as much pitching depth as we can and maintain flexibility to get through a six-month season.
“We don’t need to have one guy be the answer to our issues. We need a collection of guys to step up and pitch in different roles. Ultimately, when the manager and pitching coach sit down with a pitcher and say, ‘This is your role,’ and, ‘This is when you’re going to be pitching,’ most major league players, no matter what the financial stakes are, they are competitors and they want to do well. When they hit the field, that’s not an issue.’’
Bard is moving from a relief role to being a starter.
“We knew it would be a step-by-step progression to get [Bard] into a starter’s routine,’’ said Cherington. “Part of it was learning to pitch out of a windup, getting comfortable, and that’s going well. Part of it was working on his changeup and developing confidence in that pitch. He’s been able to incorporate more into his last outing.
“His side work is going well where he has the mind-set that instead of having to be ready to pitch every day, he pitches every five days. So far, so good. He’s a very cerebral, mature guy, so we’re not surprised with how he’s handled it well.’’
The Iglesias vs. Mike Aviles battle at shortstop likely will come down to the wire. There’s no doubt manager Bobby Valentine is enamored with Iglesias’s defensive ability as well as his athleticism. A groin injury has set Iglesias back, while Aviles has hit the ball well.
Did Valentine give something away Monday when he said Aviles would be moved around to other positions once he feels “comfortable’’ at shortstop? There’s no debate over who the better shortstop is, Iglesias wins that hands down. The only debate is whether Iglesias is ready for full-time duty in the majors, especially in regards to his hitting.
“I think he’s one of the guys Bobby and the staff have gotten to know better,’’ Cherington said of Iglesias. “He’s fighting a sore groin, so he’ll be down two or three days, so he needs to be past that. Just because there’s a competition it doesn’t mean that everyone in the competition is on an even playing field going into it. We’re not going to limit anyone. He’s done some good things and Mike has done a lot of good things, too. Thankfully we have until the end of March and we’ll probably use that time.’’
As for the catching situation, Cherington believes Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach are the front-runners to stick with the team. Cherington and Valentine both love Ryan Lavarnway’s offense, but both believe he needs to continue to refine things defensively, which he could do in the minors.
There’s also the debate on whether Lavarnway is better suited to remain on the major league roster, with the team able to utilize his bat while he learns under Sox catching guru Gary Tuck.
“The instruction is important,’’ Cherington said, “but we have Chad Epperson coaching the same program Gary Tuck will be doing. We’re getting the benefit of Gary’s expertise at the minor league level. When players are ready for big leagues, they’re ready to take advantage of things that a coach gives them even when the coach isn’t around.’’
Would Cherington consider having Lavarnway add another position?
“We’re just focused on him being a catcher,’’ he said. “We feel he can do it. He’s worked extremely hard. He still has work to do. We believe he can be a good major league hitter.’’
And then there is the players-who-are-out-of-options situation, mainly Darnell McDonald, Felix Doubront, Michael Bowden, and Andrew Miller.
“We have guys like Doubront, Bowden, and Miller who are on the roster and out of options, and all three of those guys have a chance to make our team,’’ Cherington said. “They are talented and capable of making the team.’’
Doubront is 24 and the Red Sox love his upside and don’t want to lose him. Cherington wouldn’t guarantee that Doubront will be on the team, but he said, “He’ll have every opportunity to show us he should be on the team.’’
Miller’s potential fascinates everyone, including Valentine. A recent sore elbow set Miller back, but he’s another player the team doesn’t want to lose.
Bowden once had promise as a starter, but lately he’s been a reliever and is beginning to show he could be in a major league bullpen.
And Cherington also has veterans such as Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, and Ross Ohlendorf at his disposal.
Cook appears to be headed to Pawtucket for a while until there’s a spot in the rotation. Padilla can start or relieve, and Ohlendorf can do likewise.
Cherington thinks the competition that has been created for roster spots is good. It has brought out the best in some candidates and the worst in some. It soon will be up to Cherington and Valentine to determine who the winners are.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.