FORT MYERS, Fla. — Greetings from Red Sox training camp.
We found out Monday that Koji Uehara was injured (lower back issue) during his poor stretch of pitching late last season.
Did the Red Sox know about this? If they did, why wasn’t he shut down? My sources tell me they knew he was “fighting through some things,” but didn’t feel it was a major issue. And while he was shut down for about eight days, why didn’t Uehara shut himself down while he was experiencing symptoms?
The team was in last place. No reason to be out there.
During the course of his problems, all we heard was that it was more mechanical — he couldn’t finish off his splitter, probably because he was favoring his back.
Also, I have been very impressed with Hanley Ramirez’s dedication to making himself a left fielder. He really is a monster — a strong, strong man.
I had a long chat with Luis Tiant, a Red Sox spring training instructor. Two interesting things he said. First, he doesn’t believe pitchers throw harder now than when he pitched early in his career, mentioning names such as Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana. Second, he still believes pitchers don’t throw enough, which is why they break down.
Here are your questions:
What do you see the Red Sox doing with their crowded outfield?
Jerry, Austin, Texas
NC: Daniel Nava stays, I think, because he gives the Sox a lefthanded-hitting option, which they need. Then they probably need to move Allen Craig, Shane Victorino, or both, because if Brock Holt is used as the backup infielder and outfielder, they’re probably not going to carry a sixth guy who plays the outfield, which means Jackie Bradley Jr. likely starts at Pawtucket.
How do you see Shane Victorino’s role with the team this year?
NC: Well, I think if he’s healthy, he needs to play. He’s a Gold Glove center fielder, a right fielder, a sparkplug, etc. If he’s healthy and not playing, I don’t think he’d take too well to that. So if healthy, he either needs to play a lot or they need to deal him. I don’t think he could come off the bench. He’s also making $13 million. So if the Sox deal him, they’d have to eat money. If he’s not healthy after major back surgery, then the Sox don’t have to worry about those issues. But let me say this: Victorino is a winning ballplayer. He made a huge impact on the 2013 team.
Will Clay Buchholz ever be a leader?
NC: I wrote about this recently. His biggest influences and/or friends are Jon Lester and John Lackey, two of the most competitive pitchers in the game, and that never rubbed off on Buchholz. Jake Peavy, also extremely competitive, couldn’t seem to instill that killer instinct in him. It is not in his DNA, but now he is the old guy here. Maybe maturity will trigger the leadership. He’s so talented, it’s a shame he doesn’t have the fire of those guys.
How do you see the bullpen after Uehara?
Sean, Tallahassee, Fla.
NC: Just wrote about this recently too. A few question marks. There are a lot better bullpens around the league. Obviously, Alexi Ogando is a reclamation project. Robbie Ross has to be converted from starter back to the bullpen. Brandon Workman had a bad year last season and has to return to top form out of the pen. Craig Breslow has to rebound from a poor season. Edward Mujica had a good second half, but a poor first half. Junichi Tazawa has been consistent and solid, making 71 appearances in each of the last two years. If it all comes together, terrific. They’ll be fine. The absence of a power lefty such as Andrew Miller could come back to bite them.
With the signing of Alexi Ogando, could he become the Sox’ go-to closer, over Koji Uehara, by the start of the season?
Adam Lewis, Gardner
NC: Only if Koji is hurt or ineffective. Ogando, if healthy, should be effective as a set-up guy or seventh-inning guy.
Do you see the price tag for Cole Hamels possibly eroding, in which case the Red Sox and Phillies may be able to work a deal without including a Blake Swihart or Mookie Betts?
NC: I suppose that could happen, but I don’t see the Phillies caving in, at least not before the late July trade deadline. Sources with the Phillies tell me there’s no hurry for them to deal Hamels, and they’ve proven that. He’s been on the trade market a long time. The Phillies are right to hold off for top prospects. This guy is a heck of a pitcher. He’s their biggest asset. So why would they trade him for less than what they want?
The A’s gave up their best prospect — Addison Russell — to obtain Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammels. I understand they acquired two pitchers, but the A’s didn’t hesitate to do what they had to do to make the deal happen.
The Phillies will wait it out. They’ll see if a starter gets hurt somewhere in spring training. They’ll see if desperation can be created. They will also have Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, and Chad Billingsley to sell off. I think they’ve done a good job being patient.
It’s not as if they can’t carry Hamels because of financial reasons; they’re a big-market team with a lot of resources. So you start the season with Hamels and Lee as your 1-2 starters (vs. Boston, interestingly enough). They’re likely to pitch well. Value goes up.
Do you think trading Jon Lester last year messed up the Red Sox’ chances of re-signing him in the long run?
Sean, Stratford, Conn.
NC: He made the comment that the trade might have been a factor in his decision to sign with Chicago because once he left here, he knew there was life outside of Boston. So in that respect, yes. If the Red Sox’ offer was closer to the Cubs’ offer, what would he have done? I guess we’ll never know. He did take the biggest offer. The Giants matched the Cubs, but didn’t offer the seventh-year option.
Would it be a good idea to have Blake Swihart pick up a first baseman’s glove while he is in Pawtucket?
Rob, Fort Pierce, Fla.
NC: I think that’s in the works. The organization has discussed it as a way of keeping Swihart’s bat in the lineup when he’s not catching. But they want to make sure it doesn’t affect his catching because he should be a starting player for many years to come.
How do your sources rate the Red Sox’ pitching prospects? Also, do you see Christian Vazquez and Swihart in the Sox’ everyday lineup down the road?
NC: I always try to get a perspective from scouts from other organizations who are assigned to assess the Red Sox system. All the feedback I get on the pitchers is favorable, with some ranking them higher than others. Eduardo Rodriguez has gotten the best feedback because he’s a hard thrower and has potential to be a No. 1. Henry Owens and Brian Johnson get good reviews overall, but some are mixed on where they would place in a rotation. Usually I get 3’s and 4’s on them. With Matt Barnes, I get a lot of “closer” comments because scouts love his fastball and are not sure he can make it as a starter.
The Sox like all of these pitchers as starters, and feel they could all be top-of-the-rotation types.
As for Vazquez/Swihart, sure, I could see them being a tandem down the road. For Vazquez, his long-term status as the No. 1 depends on his offensive ability matching his great catching ability. It’ll be interesting to see this season the split between Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan. It could be closer to 50/50 than you think.
Will Pedro Martinez, Wade Boggs, or Roger Clemens have their numbers retired by the Red Sox?
NC: The Red Sox’ number retirement policy has a few flaws, as you may have noticed. Boggs is wearing a Red Sox cap in the Hall of Fame yet his number is given out to every Tom, Dick, and Harry. Clemens’s number is not given out to anyone, but he’s not in the Hall of Fame, which is part of the criteria for the Red Sox to retire a number. The Sox made exceptions for Johnny Pesky and for Carlton Fisk, who did not end his career with the Red Sox, which is the other criteria. So short answer is, I have no idea. Pedro didn’t end his career with the Red Sox either, but he’s wearing a Red Sox cap in the Hall of Fame. I’m sure there will be an exception in his case.
Follow Nick Cafardo on Twitter @nickcafardo.