David Ross can be anything he wants when his playing career is over — a major league manager, an excellent analyst in a broadcast booth, a great catching instructor. Ask anyone who’s associated with the Red Sox, if you have a pie for the most impactful players on the team, Ross, the backup catcher, would receive a generous slice.
It’s all about his feel for the game, feel for the players in the clubhouse, feel for the pitching staff and what makes it click. Ross fits in so well. With A.J. Pierzynski on board, Ross remains the backup, but the team will go back to its original plan (before Ross’s playing time was affected by two concussions) in which Ross will play more than a traditional backup, likely in 60-70 games.
“I honestly don’t know how many games they have in mind for me. I know A.J. is used to catching a lot of games,” Ross said. “Quite honestly, if you put me out there for 120 games, I wouldn’t be so good, so I think John [Farrell] and the coaches have a good idea of the number of games where I can be effective and where I can make a difference with the pitching staff.”
There is no “I” in Ross. And that’s what made the 2013 Red Sox so good. There was no “I” in anyone’s name.
“It was such a special group of guys,” Ross said. “We have a line of texting going on all winter and this team is fired up to get back out there. [Dustin] Pedroia sent me a voice mail the other day that got me completely fired up for the upcoming year. I can’t wait to get to spring training and start it all over again. And I know the guys, texting back and forth, feel the same way.”
Ross said he has no idea what to expect the year after a championship, since he’s never experienced it. But he said, “The way we approached every game as a single entity — how we put everything we had in each individual game — I don’t know why we’d change that approach.”
And as far as pitchers’ workloads, Ross said, “I know that guys like [Jon] Lester and [John] Lackey are built to withstand that type of workload. I’ve been around a lot of pitchers in my career and they are the two hardest-working guys I’ve ever been around.”
Ross liked how Felix Doubront finished up the year. He said Clay Buchholz could be a dominant No. 1 who can overpower and also “pitch like Jamie Moyer” when he has to. Ross feels Buchholz may have convinced himself after allowing one run in Game 4 of the World Series that he can pitch without having to be 100 percent.
“He has such great command of so many pitches that he can just beat you by pitching,” Ross said. “But the key is to get him back completely healthy so he can go out there and pitch a full season and show how dominating he can be.”
Ross acknowledges the offseason has included some distractions with so many special appearances as a result of winning the Series.
“The funny thing is everywhere I go, people are so excited about what we did and want to keep talking about it and talking about it,” Ross said. “But for us, again, just going by the conversations and the texting with the guys, we’re already looking ahead because what’s done is done. And we all know we’re going to get questions about last year all the time. People are going to be looking at us very closely for signs that we’re not the same as last year.
“I think what really prepared us for the postseason last year was the regular season. We knew in that environment in Boston that when we lost a game we were going to come under scrutiny and we were going to be asked tough questions every day. So by the time the postseason came along, we were ready for that stage, because it was no tougher for us than the regular season.”
But Ross said winning the World Series “gave me validation and confidence in what I do and how I do it. And that’s very important for a player. You think you’re doing things the right way, but then sometimes you realize maybe you’re not and you need to change. But what winning did for me and the success we had as a result of the way we did things just gave me so much confidence, and I think other guys feel that way.”
Ross said Stephen Drew remains on the texting list, and there’s been a lot of back-and-forth.
“Stephen knows we want him back and how we feel about him,” Ross said. “We know as players that these are management decisions so we stay out of that, but Stephen knows how each and everyone on this team feels about him and the way he played the game. As someone who’s calling pitches and calling a game in general, I was always mindful that we had an outstanding defensive shortstop and I adjusted some of my calls based on that fact. He’s an outstanding player and everyone feels he’s one of us and we’d love to see him back.”
As for the beards, Ross said, “I trimmed mine back around Thanksgiving. Nap [Mike Napoli] is keeping his, but there are guys who have shaved. I don’t know what we’re going to do, but you can bet this group will come up with something.”
Some teams got it right this offseason
With some moves still to come involving unsigned free agents such as Nelson Cruz, Ervin Santana, and Stephen Drew, here’s a look at the winners of the winter season:
1. New York Yankees — OK, they lost Robinson Cano, no small loss, and Alex Rodriguez, who has become addition by subtraction, but they gained outfielders Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury, catcher Brian McCann, and righthanded pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees revamped differently than the 2013 Red Sox, opting for high-priced free agents rather than value ones. After the Sox’ success, there’s the notion that going after big-name, high-priced free agents doesn’t work. But look at the quality of the players the Yankees signed, and understand that the Sox also bid on Beltran and McCann.
2. Oakland Athletics — Emerging as the team to beat in the American League, general manager Billy Beane and his staff appear to have hit a few out of the park. They let Grant Balfour go after he notched 38 saves, but got two-time 50-save closer Jim Johnson from the Orioles while giving up little (Jemile Weeks was the principal player). It’s a gamble with veteran lefthander Scott Kazmir (10-9, 4.04 ERA) replacing Bartolo Colon in the rotation, but the A’s are deep. Some under-the-radar moves included signing rehabbing lefty reliever Eric O’Flaherty, trading for catcher John Jaso, and adding setup man Luke Gregerson.
3. Texas Rangers — GM Jon Daniels is one of the best, and it’s reflected in his work in dealing for Prince Fielder for the middle of the order and then inking Shin-Soo Choo, the best on-base guy in baseball. The loss of Cruz’s righthanded power may be felt, though he could still wind up back on a shorter deal as the DH or in some type of platoon with Mitch Moreland. Don’t bet against Daniels adding another starting pitcher.
4. Tampa Bay Rays — GM Andrew Friedman again did a nice job with limited resources. The Rays waited out the market on James Loney and re-signed him to another team-friendly deal. They have eliminated some of their shaky bullpen pieces and added more stable ones in veteran Heath Bell and Balfour, who is in his second tour of duty in Tampa Bay. For the first time in a while, Friedman addressed the catching situation, trading for Andover native Ryan Hanigan, who is considered one of the best defensively in the game. Along with Jose Lobaton and standby Jose Molina, it should be a strong unit to handle a talented pitching staff.
5. Los Angeles Angels — The Angels needed a makeover and GM Jerry Dipoto did a nice job giving them one. A team with enough power, and the likelihood that Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols could rebound, traded Mark Trumbo in a three-way deal with the Diamondbacks and White Sox, and revamped the rotation with young starters Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs (who has some maturing to do). Dipoto also acquired David Freese to play third, which should make up somewhat for the loss of Trumbo, and setup man Joe Smith.
Apropos of nothing
1. We all know by now that David Ortiz wants a contract extension, as he’s made his winter media tour expressing that sentiment over and over. And really, Ortiz has a point. Even agent Scott Boras, who doesn’t represent him, feels Ortiz has been underpaid given his contribution. What’s interesting, as my New York friend Harvey Ludwin points out, is that Carlos Beltran, who will be 37 on April 24, received a three-year, $45 million deal from the Yankees. Ortiz’s résumé probably warrants a salary in the $20 million range.
2. Former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt would like to get back to owning a sports franchise, but for now he does have his hand in a few sports ventures. He said he just landed the Olympic marathon trials for 2016, and he still owns the Los Angeles Marathon. McCourt, who splits his time between Miami, LA, New York, and Cape Cod, is still trying to develop the land he owns around Dodger Stadium.
3. You can pick through the free agent scrap heap and find Fernando Rodney, Jose Valverde, Francisco Rodriguez, Carlos Marmol, Brandon Lyon, Mitchell Boggs, Ryan Madson, Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Rafael Betancourt (likely to miss all of 2014 after Tommy John surgery), and Bobby Jenks — all guys who have been closers in the majors. Lefty Oliver Perez and righty Luis Ayala are also still available. You can also dig through the rubble and find Paul Maholm, Erik Bedard, Joe Saunders, Jeff Niemann, Jake Westbrook, Chris Capuano, Johan Santana, A.J. Burnett, Carl Pavano, Jeff Karstens, and Tommy Hanson. Could Juan Pierre still fill a need? Andres Torres? Sometimes the “tack-ons” can produce unexpected success.
4. A career well done, Michael Young. And you too, Lance Berkman. Two of the best almost-Red Sox, along with Todd Helton.
5. John Farrell said he has not seen the new padded feature for pitchers’ hats to protect against line drives. “Not sure how much it weighs and if it would feel awkward or cumbersome for a pitcher,” he said.
6. Look at Wayne Krivsky’s body of work in Cincinnati (remember Wily Mo Pena for Bronson Arroyo?) and tell me why he doesn’t deserve another chance to be a GM?
7. Good to see Rich Hill back competing for a bullpen job with the Red Sox. Milton’s own is one of the class acts in baseball. What he seems to need is to get back to that sidearm motion than made him so effective.
Updates on nine
1. A.J. Burnett, RHP, free agent — We mentioned last week that the Orioles could be the wild card for Burnett because he lives in Baltimore. And it’s really looking like a Baltimore-Philadelphia-Pittsburgh runoff for his services. Landing Burnett would be a coup for the Orioles, who need a top pitcher to compete with the Red Sox, Rays, and Yankees. Of course, as in all things Orioles, it comes down to money. It also wouldn’t shock this reporter if the Yankees were trying to get Burnett back.
2. Nelson Cruz, OF, free agent — Momentum is starting to build in Cruz’s favor. While a one-year deal somewhere is still not out of the question, there are teams with righthanded power needs, and Cruz could benefit. The Mariners remain interested, but according to one major league source, “there could be up to four or five teams who could take the plunge in the end.”
3. Bronson Arroyo, RHP, free agent – The Diamondbacks are the latest team to kick the tires on Arroyo, as I tweeted late Friday. What’s holding things up, according to a major league source, is the vesting option and/or third year he’s been asking for. It appears a straight two-year deal might be beneficial in getting it done. The Dodgers are very interested but don’t want a third year. They are interested because they know how quickly you can go through starting pitchers, as happened early last season. Chad Billingsley won’t be ready until June, and there’s no telling how Josh Beckett will respond in his comeback. If the Dodgers landed Arroyo, they would potentially have four starters who could produce 200 innings.
4. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox — The feeling is the Red Sox will continue to hold on to Middlebrooks even if they re-sign Stephen Drew. Teams ask about Middlebrooks, but the Red Sox haven’t pulled the trigger, feeling Middlebooks has power and they’d hate to lose that. The Marlins have asked a lot about Middlebrooks, but there’s no clear match unless it’s part of a Giancarlo Stanton deal, which isn’t happening. The Red Sox believe they could move Xander Bogaerts to third and still give Middlebrooks enough at-bats to make his power work by alternating him between the corners.
5. Ryan Lavarnway, C, Red Sox — GM Ben Cherington confirmed that Lavarnway will be getting used to a first baseman’s mitt this spring. There’s no room on the major league roster for him as a catcher unless there’s an injury to A.J. Pierzynski or David Ross, and Triple A is full if Christian Vazquez and Daniel Butler play there. The Sox could experiment with Lavarnway as Pawtucket’s first baseman. They’re wondering where Lavarnway’s power has gone.
6. Grady Sizemore, CF, Red Sox — As we reported last week, the Red Sox loved Sizemore’s speed and explosion during workouts, but what’s left unsaid is how he will react to playing on a daily basis again. This is a tricky roster spot. If Sizemore wins the center field job in camp, it appears Jackie Bradley Jr., who is already working out in Fort Myers, will start the season in Pawtucket. Also, it’s hard to see a way Sizemore makes the roster if he’s not the starter, unless the Red Sox do something with Mike Carp.
7. Jon Lester, LHP, Red Sox — It’s interesting that most of the media dwelled on the fact that Lester was willing to take a hometown discount to stay with the Red Sox, but seemed to bury the other thing he said: “You never want to be the guy that takes the market backward. With the way the game’s gone the past couple years, just the revenue and TV deals and everything, you’re only going to see those deals kind of creep up.” So on the one hand, he’ll take a hometown discount, but don’t expect it to be one that takes down a pitching market, which is off the charts at the moment.
8. Daniel Bard, RHP, Rangers — Bard will get another chance to get over his throwing disorder with the Rangers giving him a minor league deal. The Red Sox and the Cubs failed to cure him. The Rangers have a very good pitching coach in Mike Maddux and perhaps he has new ideas to get Bard, once the premier setup man in baseball, back on track. Bard recently had thoracic outlet syndrome surgery to correct a nerve issue.
9. Fernando Rodney, RHP, free agent — There’s a feeling that a team like the Yankees may pluck Rodney, or someone of his ilk, to ensure they have another closer in case Dave Robertson breaks down or isn’t up to the task.
From the Bill Chuck files — “ Masahiro Tanaka has thrown an average of 113.5 pitches per start over the last five seasons. Over that same span, Justin Verlander leads the majors, averaging 112.9 pitches per start.” . . . Happy 60th birthday, John Tudor.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.