TORONTO — A team source said Tuesday the Red Sox are “certainly interested” in power-hitting Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu, who has defected and started the process of becoming a free agent.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 250-pound righthanded hitter has taken up residence in Haiti, according to several reports. Over the course of the next few months, Abreu is expected to hold workouts for interested teams while his representatives get the necessary clearances from Major League Baseball and the United States government.
With Mike Napoli signed only through the end of this season, the Sox will have a need at first base in 2014. The position is perhaps the weakest in the team’s farm system.
Abreu, 26, was considered the best hitter in the Serie Nacional in Cuba. He hit .382 with an outrageous 1.270 OPS for Cienfuegos. Over 42 games, Abreu had 13 home runs.
Abreu hit .394 with a 1.379 OPS during the 2011-12 season. He had 35 home runs over 71 games.
The success of Cuban sluggers Yoenis Cespedes (Athletics) and Yasiel Puig (Dodgers) adds legitimacy to the idea that Abreu could star for a major league team next season.
Abreu could be a liability defensively and some scouts question whether he has the athleticism to catch up to major league pitching.
But he is expected to command a multi-year deal.
The Sox could look at Abreu as a first baseman with an eye on moving him to designated hitter once David Ortiz retires.
Jays change rotation
Righthander Josh Johnson, who was scheduled to start for Toronto Wednesday, was placed on the 15-day disabled list with forearm tightness.
Toronto will start either righthander Thad Weber or righthander Esmil Rogers in Johnson’s place. Weber, who was called up from Triple A Buffalo, has pitched four innings of relief for Toronto this season.
Rogers was demoted to the bullpen on Sunday. He is 3-7 with a 5.12 earned run average. In 13 starts, Rogers is 2-5 with a 5.48 ERA.
Clay Buchholz threw briefly in the bullpen before the game, mainly to smooth out some mechanical issues. He is scheduled for a longer bullpen session on Wednesday that will include some simulated innings.
If that goes well, the next step would be pitching a simulated game later in the week, probably on Friday.
“I feel fine. Everything is going really well,” said Buchholz, who has been on the disabled list since June 9 with a shoulder injury.
“Everything points to him continuing to build that foundation,” manager John Farrell said. “We don’t have a sim game planned yet. [Wednesday] will be that real first aggressive test in a bullpen setting.”
Buchholz turns 29 on Wednesday.
Concern for Kalish
The Sox have not given up on outfielder Ryan Kalish being a viable player again. But team officials acknowledge it’s a long shot after he underwent cervical fusion surgery Tuesday in Los Angeles.
The 25-year-old Kalish chose to have less-invasive surgery done on his neck 23 months ago to try to correct a disk problem. But when the situation did not improve, the fusion surgery was required.
“It’s unfortunate. It’s [a surgery] of some severity,” Farrell said. “Hopefully through the rehab he gets back to the player he was when he first came up. An exciting young player who was good on both sides of the ball.”
Kalish also has had labrum tears in both of his shoulders that required surgery. He has not played in a major league game since last Sept. 26.
Ross in action
Backup catcher David Ross continued his rehabilitation assignment with Triple A Pawtucket on Tuesday, going 0 for 3 in five innings of work. He remains on track to rejoin the team Monday in San Francisco. Ross has been out since June after suffering his second concussion of the season . . . Lefthanded reliever Matt Thornton is coming back quicker than expected from a strained rib cage muscle on his left side. He has started throwing and could return when he is eligible to be activated Aug. 19. “No symptoms,” Farrell said. “He’s advancing pretty good given our first initial thought when he walked off the mound.”
Cash for Koji
Closer Koji Uehara made his 55th appearance Tuesday night, triggering a clause guaranteeing him $4.25 million next season. “He’s more than deserving,” Farrell said. “He’s been an outstanding pitcher for us from Day 1 and we don’t foresee that changing because of the competitor he is, how talented he is, and how he prepares. He’s done one hell of a job in the roles that he’s filled.” . . . Shane Victorino is friendly with Toronto Argonauts receiver and return specialist Chad Owens, a fellow Hawaiian. He wore an Owens jersey to optional early batting practice before the game . . . Rookie righthander Brandon Workman celebrated his 25th birthday . . . MLB issued two scoring changes involving the Red Sox. Stephen Drew had an error taken away on a ball hit by Kansas City’s Alcides Escobar on Thursday. And Victorino picked up a hit in the July 31 game against Seattle. It was originally ruled an error on Mariners second baseman Nick Franklin . . . As part of a MLB initiative, the Red Sox announced an expansion of their military ticketing program online with GovX.com, a company offering online verification ticketing service for the US Military. The program will allow veterans and active members of the military to verify their military service online in order to take advantage of special pricing opportunities for regular season home games at Fenway Park. In the past, members of the military would have to show proof of service or government identification in person at the box office. Veterans and members of the military can go to redsox.com/military to purchase tickets.