NEW YORK – There’s distress everywhere in the American League East, including the Red Sox, who have more than their share.
Tampa Bay was going its merry way with terrific pitching outings by David Price and Alex Cobb, then Cobb suffered an oblique strain and he’s on a disabled list that already includes Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore, who may have season-ending Tommy John surgery.
The Red Sox are going through their own maladies. Koji Uehara’s continued shoulder stiffness could land him on the disabled list if he doesn’t pass Sunday’s test of long-tossing at his usual 200 feet.
According to a major league source, Uehara’s shoulder has always been a mess, which is why some teams have passed on him. The medicals teams share through an MLB system have always shown shoulder distress, but Uehara, to his credit, has been able to pitch through it with the exception of two years ago in Texas when he missed from June 9 through Aug. 26 with similar tightness, though he had a setback while coming back from it that extended the time missed.
Uehara didn’t take over as Boston’s closer until late June last season, so it would stand to reason the Red Sox could bide their time for two weeks while he recovers.
You now understand the caution seen last spring training when you heard quite frequently from manager John Farrell that the Sox had to be careful in the handling of Uehara, the reduction of back-to-back outings, appearances, and innings pitched. But once Uehara was into it, all of those concerns subsided and Uehara was pitching a lot, and so effectively there was no concern at all. He pitched back-to-back 15 times and three times in a row twice. He threw so few pitches there was never a concern.
The Red Sox brought him along really slowly in spring training and Uehara looked like he did last season. In his early appearances he looked the same as well.
The Jon Lester contract talks see a major gap in what the Red Sox want and what Lester wants after a Ken Rosenthal report indicated the team offered a four-year, $70 million deal. Could this wind up being a distraction?
We’re obviously in a new reality for the Red Sox. They will not allow any player to set the market for their services. Players will sign deals on the Red Sox’ terms, or not at all.
Stephen Drew has found that out. Once he declined the $14.1 million qualifying offer, any long-term discussion was off the table. Once Jacoby Ellsbury hit the market, there was no chance of a deal or the Red Sox committing to him for more than five years.
Mike Napoli accepted one year less from Boston than he could have received in Seattle or Texas. David Ortiz had to agree to a deal with plate-appearance clauses to get any longer than a one year extension.
The four years, $70 million offered Lester is not too shabby. The Red Sox are thinking why pay a pitcher who may be on the downside in three or four years? So, at this point, they won’t do it. If the deal extends beyond four years, it will be tied in to starts made or innings pitched. This is unlikely to end up a straight deal.
As Lester said Saturday, in his mind this doesn’t mean his career in Boston is over. And now the pressure is squarely on him to produce at a high level and make sure he doesn’t get injured seriously in this important contract year. So far, he’s been terrific and doesn’t seem to be bothered by a lack of a deal.
The Red Sox think very highly of their pitching prospects and are willing to roll the dice of not having Lester and relying on younger players to improve and excel as major leaguers.
For that to happen, pitchers like Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront have to take that No. 1 or 2 starter role. So far, neither has pitched to that level.
The Red Sox have become more Patriots-like in this regard. They set a value on a player and won’t extend too far over it.
From a management perspective, it’s prudent.
As long as it works.
It seems fans like this approach as well. It worked famously last season as the team won a championship in a much different way than the previous two.
If it doesn’t work beyond this season, then a major market team like the Red Sox won’t come off so well. But right now that’s the least of their concerns.
This is a team that has to get its mojo back. It’s woefully lacking. The mood, the confidence they once had isn’t there yet. Maybe it’s the injuries, maybe it’s the old year-after syndrome where the hunger isn’t quite there.
It’s really early and the whole division is bunched up. It’s a team that has missed Yankees centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and it’s a team that has missed the energy that the injured Shane Victorino brings. Victorino should be ready for activation soon, unless he has another setback.
There’s no real leadoff hitter. No game-changing speed. The Red Sox have won games with home runs, which is fine. Their starting rotation has been good, bad, and ugly, but mostly good.
They will now lean on Edward Mujica to close and hope the rest of the bullpen lines up accordingly.
It’s best to go through this adversity early.
But the Red Sox know they can’t let it linger too long.Follow Nick Cafardo on Twitter at @nickcafardo.