Sports

NICK CAFARDO | SUNDAY BASEBALL NOTES

In mediocre AL East, any team capable of breaking out

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman knows the returns of Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova will help the starting rotation, but he’s not ruling out trading for an arm, either.
Bill Kostroun/AP
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman knows the returns of Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova will help the starting rotation, but he’s not ruling out trading for an arm, either.

When John Farrell woke up Friday morning he found his team three games out of the top spot in the American League East, but four games under .500. That was after a stunning performance by rookie lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez, which was thoroughly appreciated by Farrell, a former pitcher and pitching coach.

But this notion that the Red Sox should give up and play for 2016 offers no common sense.

With tweaks, major moves, and/or simply by playing better, anyone of the five teams could emerge as the AL East winner.

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The Red Sox may be the most underachieving of the bunch based on their talent pool, which in many respects is better than that of the other four teams. It would reason that the Red Sox could rise above the rest over time, but they would have to see a marked improvement by some key players — David Ortiz in particular.

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So how do these teams try to break away in this very tight and very mediocre division?

“It has a lot to do with the usual things — health, players performing to their capabilities, players who are promoted performing, and anything you can do to improve your team from the outside and have that move click for you,” said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

Andrew Miller has a 0.84 ERA in 21 1/3 innings pitched.
Elsa/Getty Images
Andrew Miller has a 0.84 ERA in 21 1/3 innings pitched.

The Yankees have the back end of the bullpen set with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. The lineup is producing runs, but it suffered a big blow when Jacoby Ellsbury went down with a knee sprain and will need another month to recuperate.

“I don’t see us making a major acquisition for a pitcher [at this time] but I’m not going to say I wouldn’t do it,” Cashman said. The returns of Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova can improve the rotation. Top pitching prospect Luis Severino was recently moved up to Triple A and could be in New York before long.

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And despite his poor numbers, Cashman doesn’t feel CC Sabathia has pitched badly. The Yankees no longer view him as a front-end starter, more of someone who can give a good effort every fifth day.

“I think CC has pitched into a lot of bad luck,” Cashman said. “He’s pitched better than his numbers.”

More of a concern is what to do about second base, where Stephen Drew has failed to produce offensively. Cashman said he’s sticking with Didi Gregorius at shortstop because “we knew there would be some growing pains.”

Baltimore was 22-24 after 46 games. Last year at that juncture the Orioles were 24-22, and they went on to win 96 games. The Orioles have had some injuries and are finally getting some production out of slugger Chris Davis. Baltimore has gotten horrible production from left field (.212 average through Thursday), and last week Alejandro De Aza was designated for assignment.

Catcher Matt Wieters is eligible to come off the disabled list June 4, almost a year after his Tommy John surgery. He’s currently rehabbing at Double A Bowie.

The Rays moved Logan Forsythe from second base to first base.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
The Rays moved Logan Forsythe from second base to first base.
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The Rays have certainly been the most surprising team in the division, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see them fall off the pace.

With James Loney out, their lineup becomes even more suspect. They’ve had to move second baseman Logan Forsythe, one of their top performers, to first base.

The Rays look as if they’ll get Matt Moore back in about two weeks, which should help solidify the rotation. That has been their salvation. Scouts have raved about Jake Odorizzi taking the “next step” in his career.

One American League GM said, “I don’t see how the Rays can hang in long term with the other teams in that division. I may be wrong, but I don’t see it given their offense.”

The Blue Jays, much like the Red Sox, have been inconsistent. They have yet to win more than three games in a row. Their rotation is starting to pitch deeper into games, but their lineup has had to deal with injuries to Michael Saunders, Jose Bautista, and Devon Travis.

“All of the teams in the division are better than what they’ve shown,” said Toronto third base coach Luis Rivera. “Tampa Bay has played well, but the rest of us haven’t performed to the level we should be at. But I do believe we’re going to get there. You can see signs. But overall we haven’t been playing well.”

Every AL East team has a similar story. The injuries might be different. The areas of distress may be different. But the overall theme is the same: we’re better than what we’ve shown.

“I’d rather be where we are right now [first place] than someplace else,” Cashman said. “It doesn’t matter where you are in the standings right now. It’s up for grabs and everyone knows it. I get the feeling it might be this way all year.”

Larry Lucchino is spending a lot of time in Providence trying to gain public favor on the stadium project.
Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Larry Lucchino is spending a lot of time in Providence trying to gain public favor on the stadium project.

DESIGNING INTEREST

Lucchino pushing plan for Providence

The drumbeat among executives we spoke to recently is similar to the one that beat this offseason — that Larry Lucchino is in a diminished role with the Red Sox and soon to be devoting most of his time on the Providence Red Sox project.

Lucchino bought a major stake in the Pawtucket Red Sox but was going to stay in the background until principal owner James Skeffington died suddenly May 17.

Lucchino is spending a lot of time in Providence trying to gain public favor on the stadium project, which has been met with resistance from taxpayers opposed to any public assistance.

He spent the week with Rhode Island government officials negotiating a possible deal. There’s also a clock to beat as the state legislature is expected to adjourn by the third week of June, which may not give the sides enough time to hash things out before a state budget is passed.

Lucchino wrote an op-ed piece in the Providence Journal last Wednesday with 12 bullet points touting “a beautiful, state-of-the-art, multi-purpose, well-located ballpark near the heart of downtown Providence.”

Lucchino emphasized that he is renegotiating his original public/private partnership, and stressed the “Ben Mondor Family Plan,” which will keep 25 percent of the ballpark prices at $8 or less through the first five seasons. “Affordability, a key to Ben Mondor’s success, is a value we commit to honor,” Lucchino wrote.

Lucchino wrote that the ballpark would create economic stimulation, attracting $14.9 million in annual spending according to “credible economists” and can serve as “an anchor tenant for a downtown neighborhood.”

Tax revenues would increase from the $1.2 million estimated at the current McCoy Stadium site in Pawtucket to $2.5 million annually. Job growth was another selling point, as workers would need to be hired to operate the ballpark on a year-round basis. The plan would be for the venue to host concerts, Brown and Bryant sporting events, and other public events.

Part of Lucchino’s legacy will be that he built some of the most distinguished stadiums — Camden Yards, Petco Park, JetBlue Park. The artists’ renderings on the proposed new park in Providence look like a home run.

Apropos of nothing

1. I hear the Yankees have one of the most improved farm systems in baseball.

2. The Twins have to be happy they held on to Trevor Plouffe. It’s a great example of being patient with a kid because Plouffe has become a terrific third baseman and a force at the plate. Plouffe came up as a shortstop and battled through injuries, but he’s now one of the better third basemen in the league. That may change the Twins’ thinking on prospect Miguel Sano, a third baseman who could be in for a position change.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has been up for just six games this season.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Jackie Bradley Jr. has been up for just six games this season.

3. It’s time for the Red Sox to trade Jackie Bradley Jr., for his own good. He could blossom as a good, everyday player if he gets a chance to play more consistently.

4. A head-scratcher: The Blue Jays’ Double A team in Manchester, N.H., has featured 10 former major leaguers this season.

5. Paul Molitor was 30th in my preseason managerial rankings since I put first-time managers at the bottom of the list, but he is a contender for AL manager of the year.

6. If the Miami job opens up after the season, three guys who should get a long look are Ron Washington, Eric Wedge, and Ron Gardenhire.

7. After watching Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez on Thursday night, an AL scout compared him to David Price. “If Rodriguez could develop a curveball and just throw it a little bit like Price does, he would probably emerge as an elite pitcher,” the scout said.

8. The Dodgers are looking for relievers and they were scouting the Red Sox in Minnesota.

9. One of the weakest things I saw this week was Yoenis Cespedes ripping Red Sox first base coach Arnie Beyeler for allegedly treating him like a rookie because he wanted him to work on his defense and take balls off the Wall. Cespedes would also not move to right field. Imagine, a coach trying to make a player better?

Updates on nine

1. Scott Kazmir, LHP, Athletics — Teams in need of front-line starting pitching were disappointed to learn Kazmir had some shoulder discomfort and will miss a start. “Any time there’s a little injury to the shoulder or elbow, you get a little gun-shy about giving up some prospects unless you know the guy is completely better,” said an NL assistant GM. “So now you approach evaluating him a little bit differently, concerning yourself more with how he’s dealing with the discomfort and whether his delivery changes.”

2. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Reds — A similar situation exists with Cueto. Because he’s had elbow stiffness (but no structural damage) teams are holding back a little in trade talks. Cueto is expected to be dealt and his $10 million salary is considered reasonable. If he shows he’s healthy over a few starts, many teams will reengage with Cincinnati.

3. Mike Leake, RHP, Reds — Despite three consecutive bad starts that raised his ERA from 2.36 to 4.66, Leake is still high atop the shopping list for many teams. He is considered one of the great gamers in baseball. “He can pitch for anyone, any time,” said one AL scout. “I don’t consider him a National League guy. He can pitch in either league with no problem. I’m gonna say there might be more action on him than any pitcher out there.”

4. Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies — Howard’s good start has thrust him back into at least trade dialogue, but whether any team is willing to take the leap is another story. The Phillies know they would have to eat most of the remaining $60 million on his contract, but they also need to get something of value back. There are a few potential fits. The Cardinals, who lost Matt Adams, would be one. The Angels could use a DH.

5. Adam Lind, 1B, Brewers — Lind could become one of the top available lefthanded bats in the next couple of months. He’s struggled in May (.218), but he’s hitting .276 overall with eight homers and 22 RBIs. Lind has problems vs. lefties (.208) but hits righthanders well (.288). He has an $8 million option for 2016 with an $800,00 buyout.

Allen Craig was hitting .315 for Pawtucket through Thursday.
Kathy Willens/AP
Allen Craig was hitting .315 for Pawtucket through Thursday.

6. Allen Craig, 1B/OF, Pawtucket — Craig was hitting .315 through Thursday and has made improvements in his swing. One thought is to send him back to the Cardinals, but the $24 million or so left on his contract — even though it’s the deal the Cardinals signed him to — is problematic. Another two weeks of good hitting could get Craig back to the majors.

7. Kris Medlen, RHP, Royals — The Royals, not big spenders, will have a month or so to evaluate Medlen, who will be returning from his second Tommy John surgery. If they feel Medlen can return to his old form, they have a decent back-of-the-rotation option.

8. Torii Hunter, OF, Twins — Hunter may be taking the remainder of his career one year at a time, but based on his performance there’s no doubt that another season wouldn’t be stretching things out too far. Hunter still catches up to fastballs and still can go get it in right field. Expect some type of negotiations, or at least an agreement to talk, between the Twins and Hunter before the season is over.

9. Scott Feldman, RHP, Astros — News of Feldman’s knee surgery and six-week absence should spur the Astros to look deeper into adding a starting pitcher. They will first try to fill from within. It doesn’t appear they would give up the prospects needed to get Cole Hamels, but another Phillie, Aaron Harang, has been linked to Houston.

Extra innings

From the Bill Chuck files — “Clayton Kershaw has now made 100 starts in which he has allowed one run or fewer, tying him with Fernando Valenzuela and Josh Beckett, among others. Roger Clemens holds the record with 255 one-run-or-fewer starts.” Also, “Jon Lester allowed 16 steals last season and has already permitted 15 this year.” . . . Happy birthday, Andrew Bailey (31), Jake Peavy (34), Dave Roberts (43), Jose Malave (44), and Tim Van Egmond (46).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.