As it usually is in February, but more this year than others for Schilling, it’s tough to judge how good the American League East will be. There are question marks around many of the teams in the division, and different aspects of different clubs put them in position to fight for the first spot in the division or end up at the bottom.
“I don’t know that it’s terrible,” the ESPN analyst said. “The team that, to me, that could win by 15 games and I wouldn’t be shocked is Toronto.
“If you look around the division,” Schilling continued,”in Baltimore, they have by far one of the division’s best game managers and a roster that’s talented, but there are more talented rosters. I think if you look at Boston, you have a guy who’s a great communicator, probably not even, I don’t think anybody is the game manager that Buck Showalter is, and a very talented roster, but again, it’s February and there has never been a year for me more so than this year where they’re saying, ‘Hey, I want to see where they are at the end of camp.'”
Though the Red Sox have added some offense to the lineup, Schilling isn’t as enamored with the additions as some have been.
“I think it makes their lineup deeper,” he said. “As long as they’re healthy and David [Ortiz] is David and Pedey [Dustin Pedroia] is back. I don’t know, and maybe it’s personal, I never get overly emotional about offensive signings just because you can score as many runs as you want, but if you can’t stop them from scoring it doesn’t matter.”
Stopping the other team from scoring is up to both the defense and the pitching staff, which also got a bit of a makeover after the Sox did not sign Jon Lester, whose home now is Wrigley Field. Without Lester, Boston doesn’t have a clear ace, something that Schilling says doesn’t necessarily matter from April to September but becomes vital when making a run at October.
“You don’t have to have an ace to win,” he said. “April to September, you can build a 25-man roster that wins more games than other teams in your division, but who are you giving the ball to in a one-game play-in? And if you can’t immediately answer that question, then you need somebody to either step up and mature, which, to me, on this staff it’s Joe Kelly, or you need to find that guy at the break, the deadline.”
For Schilling, an ace is someone who can “make people swing and miss.” As many of the current Red Sox rotation are ground ball pitchers, the team doesn’t seem to have that one guy. For pitchers like that, it becomes imperative that the defense is sound so that the fielders can make plays when the ball comes their way. Schilling has noticed a trend in the MLB that supports this in that teams are “stockpiling position players.”
“Batting average and balls in play is a number, you don’t have a lot of control over it, but it’s a number that you can go extremes, and if you have a staff full of guys that are relying on your defense, that defense is not the same,” he said. “I think you’ve seen a lot of clubs do that. … I’ll get me seven infielders and five that can play shortstop, you can always move somebody from shortstop.”
Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino stopped by for a visit with Dennis & Callahan from spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., on Wednesday morning and downplayed reports that his power may have been diminished in the front office. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Red Sox minority owner Michael Gordon has increased his importance since purchasing more shares of the team, but Lucchino explained that Gordon’s role is more crucial with Fenway Sports Group than the day-to-day operations of the Red Sox.
“Mike plays a new and different role than he played the first few years since he acquired a much greater interest,” Lucchino acknowledged. “John addressed that yesterday. Very active in FSG matters, particularly Liverpool. But we use him as a consultant on Red Sox matters. He’s got a terrific financial mind.”
As for Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy questioning if Lucchino is “losing a power struggle at Fenway,” Lucchino brushed off that assertion.
“He may hear rumors that he believes. Believe me, I can’t explain Dan Shaughnessy’s machinations, nor do I try,” said Lucchino, who turns 70 in September. “I certainly am getting older, that’s a fact of life. At some point there will be some changes. But I don’t know what Dan’s sources are and where he’s getting that.”
Lucchino is one of the members of the group that purchased the Pawtucket Red Sox, adding to speculation that he might be looking for another venture as he eases out of his role with the parent club. He says that’s not the case.
“It’s pretty much been the same situation that we’ve had for 14 years except that Mike is more involved now, his role in FSG has expanded,” Lucchino said. “But no, my job is pretty much the same that it has always been. And even the new Pawtucket responsibilities will be more advisory and ballpark-oriented and will not change my day-to-day job.”
Lucchino said the PawSox venture, which includes plans to build a new park in Providence, is something he believes is a sound investment..
“There are a lot of good reasons for it,” Lucchino said. “One is baseball. It’s a great business to be in. I’ve been in it for most of my career. Doing something like this, putting a new ballpark in Providence for Rhode Island, would be a great undertaking, and I’d enjoy it. I’ve had plenty of experience doing ballparks over the years.
“Secondly, it’s a good business. I think it will be a good business for our investors and for ourselves. We think it’s a growing business. It’s been well run, certainly in Pawtucket they’ve got an experienced executive team there. But I think we can bring a few things from the Red Sox. The Red Sox are an owner of the club, one of the minority owners.”
Following are more highlights from the interview.
On John Henry saying Tuesday that the organization has “never been better”: “I think he’s talking bigger picture. I think he’s talking the internal governance, the depth of the team. We talk all the time about deep depth on the ball club, on the roster. We have that same kind of deep depth among the front office members. There are a lot of good people in important positions throughout the front office, and I think that’s what he’s talking about. And there’s a harmony and a familiarity that comes after all these years together as well. Of course, the situation with the manager and the general manager is stable and very positive. So I think that’s what he’s referring to, the front office organizational [situation].”
On manager John Farrell receiving a contract extension despite the team finishing last in 2014: “We do like stability, but we think John Farrell is a heck of a manager. And we didn’t make it easy for him on July 31st when we decided to do some other things to build for this year and the future. He’s a very solid manager and a terrific addition to this organization. It would be unfair in the extreme to blame last year’s poor performance on him.”
On the team not meeting the Cubs’ price for Jon Lester: “We made a judgment. This is an imperfect science, baseball talent evaluation. We made a judgment that we were going beyond where we were comfortable, how far beyond where we were comfortable would we go, would we be driven by other teams. We drew a line, and when it got past that we said that’s beyond what we thought was appropriate.”
On the 2015 season: “I am really eager for the season to begin, more so than I can remember. Maybe it just seems that way each spring. But there are so many questions about this team and so many interesting possibilities for this team, new players and young players. … So that makes this season I think really fascinating. I think there’s a bit of a buzz about this season going on back North as well. If I was a betting man, if you’re asking me to predict something, I think that Dustin Pedroia is finally going to be healthy, as he hasn’t been for the last two years, and I would bet on him returning to form.”
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Yoan Moncada arrived at Red Sox spring training Wednesday at 8:15 a.m., accompanied by a group that included his representative, David Hastings, and Red Sox assistant international scouting director Gus Quattlebaum.
Moncada was scheduled to take a physical in Fort Myers and then fly to Boston for a second round of medical testing.
The 19-year-old Cuban switch-hitting infielder agreed to a $31.5 million signing bonus with the Sox on Monday. After his physicals, he is slated to report to the team’s minor league camp March 2.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The way Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington sees it, the wealth of candidates for the team’s center field starting job is a good thing. He made that much clear Tuesday when he said he could envision a scenario where every outfielder remains on the organizational roster by the time the team heads north for Philadelphia and opening day April 6.
He also made it clear that he really, really thinks the world of one of the three candidates for center field, Mookie Betts. Cherington was asked about the rumored interest of the Phillies in acquiring either Betts or Blake Swihart should the Red Sox come calling for lefty ace Cole Hamels. Cherington stopped short of calling Betts untouchable but barely.
“We think he’s an exceptionally talented young player, does a lot of things well and obviously has shown an ability to make adjustments quickly and has an aptitude and gives us a chance to help us win games for a long time,” Cherington said. “That’s kind of player we want on our side. I don’t get into the whole untouchable [not] untouchable thing. I’m not even sure what it means. We know what we think he can be and we’re really happy he’s here, and we expect him to be here.”
Take away Holt, a utility player, and that’s still six outfielders. But Cherington said all of them could still be in the organization come Opening Day.
“Good chance. One of the things that we knew needed to be better was the total output from the outfield, better in 2015,” Cherington said. “And in order to win more games, we knew we needed to get more out of the outfield, the whole [also] but the outfield was certainly one area. In order to do that, you need talent to do that and when there have been opportunities to acquire talent, we’ve pursued it, and if that means there’s some competitive aspect to spring training, or even early in the season, for playing time and that type of thing, then that’s part of it. We have a short-term focus right now in terms of what has to happen the rest of February and what has to happen in March to give our team the best chance to be successful starting in April, and that’s what we’re focused on.
“We’ll learn a lot more as we get through spring and we’ll know where everyone is as we get towards the end of March. Certainly, there’s a scenario where everyone that’s here now will be in the organization when we go to Philly.”
Castillo only got the chance to play in 10 games, racking up 40 plate appearances, in September. Not a problem according to Cherington.
“We’re not concerned,” Cherington said. “That is not an element we’re concerned with right now. He did everything we asked him to do, from the day we signed him. From going to minor leagues and then the big leagues and then Arizona and Puerto Rico and everything in between. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s in a position now where he comes to spring training, and as we met with him and told him, just be a baseball player. Try to get into some sort of baseball normalcy now. I don’t expect the number of at-bats he’s had over the last 10 months or whatever to be a factor.
“We’re short-term focused. That normalcy is going to play out in spring training first. We think he’s got a chance to be a really good major league player and we’re happy he’s here.”
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Earlier in the week, Mike Napoli made the observation that there’s a “good vibe” in Red Sox camp, even before the first full squad workout on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Napoli‘s general manager agreed.
“I think we have a lot of good players and a lot of motivated players here,” Ben Cherington said. “I think there’s a focus that we’ve seen already in camp that you can feel. But we haven’t won any games yet so we have to work hard and make good decisions and make sure that that focus stays in the right places as we prepare for April. But I believe that can happen and will happen and we have a chance to win a lot of games this year.”
Perhaps the biggest question of camp for Cherington, even more than competition in the outfield, is the pitching staff, and more specifically the starting rotation.
“We feel about good about the guys that are here. We have 29 pitchers in camp,” Cherington said Tuesday. “We’ve got we think 10, 11 or 12 guys that either are or will be or capable of being starting pitchers in the big leagues. Again, certainly some of them are still developing and haven’t reached their full maturation yet. There are guys we think there is some untapped potential with. There are guys who have been extremely successful in the major leagues, and maybe for different reasons, struggled a little bit last year and look to be pointing in the right direction now. There’s guys with different things they’re working on with different recent histories. Together we think it’s a group that can be really successful and make up a really good pitching staff.”
As for declaring a No. 1 pitcher or an Opening Day starter, Cherington is hardly concerned about that at this stage.
As John [Farrell] and Juan [Nieves] have said, we’re not that concerned about declaring someone an Opening Day starter or whatever right now,” Cherington said. “We know that by the time we get to April, we’ll have five guys in the rotation and whoever we’re playing that night, someone’s going to start and we think that we’ll have enough options where that guy’s going to give us a chance to win a game.
“We had pretty good pitching last year, for the most part. We believe this group can be a good pitching group this year. I think we look at, in all likelihood, we’re going to have 12 guys break when we go to Philly and five starters and seven guys in the pen. We feel good that we have 29 pitchers in camp that we can come up with a very strong group of 12. And, as we know, we’re going to need 20 or 25. We see a group of pitchers here that are talented, many of whom are already established. Many of whom we think are coming into their own. We think the combination is going to give us a good pitching staff and help us win a lot of games.”
Then there’s the group of pitchers, including Henry Owens that figure to start at Triple-A but could be called up sometime during the season, based on need.
“We think it’s really talented and we think that we’re going to learn more as we go through spring and even into the season as to who amongst that group is migrating to the top and provides the early season or in-season first call-up, so to speak,” Cherington said. “That’s something that needs to be determined. The guys in that group are going to end up telling us. That’ll be an element we look at this spring.”
Here are more highlights from Ben Cherington on Tuesday:
On whether he is closer to officially announcing a deal with 19-year-old Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada: “No. I know reports [from Monday]. I’m not in a position to confirm anything. We have interest and we’ll see what happens. There’s still some work to do.
“Until we can say officially something’s happened, it’s just hard to say anything. He’s a talented player and we’ve been involved as other teams have been involved in the process. We’re always looking to add talented players. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do that. Until we can say officially that something’s happened, we just can’t really say much.”
On what Cherington has seen from Moncada on scouting trips: “A 19-year-old switch-hitter with power. He’s a good athlete. He can run and he can throw. He’s played a lot of second base but I think most teams, including the Red Sox, feel like he could probably play a number of positions on the field down the road. He’s been a good performer wherever he’s been and played at a very young age in Serie Nationale. So, for all those reasons, there’s been a lot of interest in him, a lot of teams spent a lot of time on him. It’s been a competitive process.”
On learning to scout Cuban players better after experiences with Dalier Hinojosa, Rusney Castillo and Yoenis Cespedes (via trade): “Hopefully we’re getting a firmer grasp. Certainly, we’ve spent a lot of time on it. Going back a couple of years, we felt like we needed to make some adjustments to put ourselves in a better position to be able to make those decisions. So we reallocated some resources and, in particular, asked Allard Baird to get more involved and then Eddie Romero, who heads our amateur international department, the two of them have really spent a lot of time getting to know and learning about Cuba, baseball in Cuba, how it’s played, about the challenges a player might face coming out and trying to get history on as many players as possible and get to know who the players are so that if one does become a free agent, we’re not playing catch-up.
“And thanks to mostly others, we’re in a strong position to at least be involved when players come out and then that doesn’t mean you sign all of them but I feel we’re in a strong position with the background we’ve done and the knowledge of that market. But really time will tell. Look, we’ve signed a couple, Hinojosa, Rusney Castillo and obviously traded for Cespedes. But in those cases, we haven’t seen the end of the story yet. I”m sure we’ll continue to learn. Clearly, there’s good players everywhere. There’s good players all over the world, including in Cuba and if we’re going to be good consistently, we’ve got to be looking everywhere. And that’s one important area, among others.”
On budgeting for Cuban players financially: “I think the simplest way to say it is that every team is looking at talent. And every team has a budget and every team has resources they can use to try and do that. Whether you’re doing it in major league free agency or in a trade or in a draft or with a 16-year-old in the Dominican, wherever the players are coming from, you have to go through an evaluation process. You have to figure out what you think the player is worth and then if you can get that player in a range of what you think he’s worth and that’s within your budget, then you try and go do it. There are $150 million contracts that end up being good values and $500,000 contracts that end up being bad values, and everything in between. The exercise is to identify the player, identify what you think he’s worth and then see if you can acquire him for that. Obviously, it looks a little different in different demographics. Doing it in the draft is different than doing it internationally and doing it in free agency is different than doing it in a trade. That’s the basic exercise.”
On optioning younger players at end of March to protect roster: “We see ourselves just as seeing what’s out there tomorrow. We don’t even have to think about those decisions yet so we’re not going to spend a lot of time and energy doing it because we just think it gets in the way of what we need to accomplish this spring, and it gets in the way of the individual players out there need to accomplish.”
On possibly moving Blake Swihart from catcher: “Not right now. He’s a great athlete and he’s played other positions in the past. I’m sure he’s capable of doing it but right now, he’s a catcher and he’s in a really important point in his development as a catcher. Just got to Triple-A last year. We expect that he probably will have more time there this year and focus on that position, and as we all know that position is a critical position is probably a position in which more is asked of a player than just about any other. And in his case, you think about first of all playing a position that is first on the list in terms of how much we ask of players, add on top of that switch-hitting. Ask Jason Varitek, we ask more of a switch-hitting catcher than just about any other position on the field. We want to give him every chance to develop and thrive in that role, and obviously we think very highly of him. We’ll focus on catching.”