People are getting a bit loopy in anticipation of the Red Sox' opener on April 5 in Detroit. So, while the coming days will make most of the murkiness increasingly clearer, we can take a moment to clarify some of the hot-button topics hovering around this 10-10 spring training team.
THERE IS NO POWER STRUGGLE
As polarizing as Bobby Valentine can be, whether it be in the media or within his own organization, do you really think that he would engage in a my-way-or-the-highway-type of maneuver with the front office of a team he has only been managing for a few months? The answer is no chance.
Sure, Valentine likes Jose Iglesias. Most could have told you before the first February ground ball was gloved that the manager would be enamored of the slick-fielding shortstop. And there is no doubt he can see the value of putting the youngster at shortstop behind the Red Sox pitching staff. But just because Valentine likes Iglesias doesn't mean he is going to ignore the other decision-makers, most of whom have been charged with monitoring Iglesias' development since he signed with the Sox.
Understand this: Mike Aviles has played in twice the amount of innings (91) as Iglesias this spring (45). That reflects in part on the fact that Iglesias missed a few days with a groin injury, but there's more to it than that. That playing time allocation reaffirms the notion that this decision has always been less about Iglesias -- who has sparkled with the glove and improved with the bat -- and more about Aviles.
Could the former Royal competently handle the position? That was the biggest factor, not even close. That's why you had Aviles playing nine innings of an early March game. And thus far, he has done everything asked. For example, there has been just one Aviles error (.980 fielding percentage) and he has participated in eight double plays.
Also, remember: Aviles is obviously going to be on the team regardless of Iglesias, and if that is the case then why has he played just the one position? If there was a chance that the righty hitter wouldn't be the starting shortstop, don't you think Valentine would have given him some time at third base, second base or outfield? It's not as if the manager has taken a conservative approach to giving a variety of players at least a taste of multiple positions (see Lars Anderson, David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez).
This is how it works: When Valentine sits in the room with general manager Ben Cherington and others to decide on the Opening Day roster, ideas will be exchanged and praise will be given. Much of it will surely include the propping up of Iglesias. But even without living through Iglesias' previous two spring trainings, Valentine must know that having a player the likes of Aviles is exactly what an organization needs when attempting to keep a prospect on the right track.
DANIEL BARD HAS SHOWN HE IS EQUIPPED TO START
When the Red Sox were analyzing Jonathan Papelbon's foray into starting during the 2007 spring training, it was determined that his third pitch, the curveball, was never going to be good enough to rely on more than a few times an outing. Bard had to show the Sox his third-best offering, the changeup, wasn't in the same classification. Sunday, the righty went a long way in accomplishing that feat.
Bard only threw 10 changeups in his outing against Toronto, a few of which went horribly awry. But for the most part he was not only able to control the pitch, it actually proved to be of swing-and-miss quality. Add in the fact that he was able to use a two-seamer for pitch count purposes, and, despite the five runs allowed, Bard did exhibit the qualities the team was looking for when evaluating the pitcher's ability to start a game.
He got swings and misses on his slider when facing right-handed hitters, got whiffs from lefties when throwing the changeup and ground balls when using the two-seamer. As Valentine noted, Bard looked like a starter. Case closed.
What should be understood if Bard does end up in the rotation is that there are going to be these types of six-inning, five-run outings along the way. When Texas moved C.J. Wilson to the rotation from the bullpen, one of the things that made it work was the lefty's understanding that there were multiple elements that had to be considered if he was to make the change.
Ask the Rangers folks what made Wilson's switch work and they will point to the pitcher's intelligence. Bard is cut from the same cloth.
While many might think the success Bard has enjoyed since 2009 is strictly a product of his 100 mph arm, the fact is that he has adjusted and grown as a pitcher along the way. When he went through his worst slump as a major leaguer during the latter months of '11, it wasn't because he suddenly didn't know what he was doing. That bump in the road was due to an inability to physically keep his arm slot at a high level due to fatigue, causing a three-quarters delivery that, in turn made the plane of his pitches easier for hitters to identify.
And there will be more adjustments. But, even with Alfredo Aceves' electric stuff and extensive pitch-mix, it is Bard who has the best chance to enter into the world of top-of-the-rotation starter. It might take some time, but whether they believe it or not, it's a wait that should be worthwhile.
BELIEVE OR NOT, LARS ANDERSON COULD MAKE THE TEAM
All kinds of names are being thrown about regarding the possible 25th man on the roster. Players such as Pedro Ciriaco, Josh Kroeger, Nate Spears and Jason Repko are being mentioned as possibilities to fill the final positional spot until Carl Crawford returns. And all could very well be in the mix.
But what has to be considered is the team's 40-man roster situation. And that's where Anderson comes in.
The Sox are at their 40-man limit, meaning a move would have to made if any player signed to a minor league deal (which is the case with all the aforementioned candidates) were to be added to the roster. And while you might not value the futures of a Clayton Mortensen or Luis Exposito, they certainly show enough potential to not be sacrificed off the 40-man just so a player can be added for a couple of weeks.
That leaves the Red Sox with three viable candidates who are position players and on the 40-man: Anderson, Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway.
Perhaps the team believes it is more valuable for Iglesias or Lavarnway serve as spare parts for a few weeks to start their seasons than it is to have them jump into their life as an everyday minor leaguer right out of the shoot. Iglesias could pinch-run, and Lavarnway could serve as a right-handed bat off the bench. But, considering the desperate need for Iglesias to get as many at-bats as possible, and Valentine's assertion that he will not carry three catchers, and the general sense that Lavarnway could use more time refining his game-calling, neither move seems likely.
Anderson, on the other hand, has left the kind of impression on Valentine this spring that would suggest the first baseman could serve as a viable left-handed-hitting option off the bench. (The 24-year-old is hitting .344 with a .964 OPS this spring.) And add in the fact he has shown some ability to play left field, a position he had manned until his junior year of high school, and the value is subtly increased. And in terms of losing two weeks or so of at-bats to start the season, Anderson isn't as dependent on repetition in the minors as either Iglesias or Lavarnway at this point in his professional career.
Now, regarding the 40-man dilemma …
It should be noted that at least one move will have to be made, assuming Vicente Padilla makes the team. Other possible pitching additions that would require a 40-man transaction would be Doug Mathis or Justin Thomas. The dynamic is also why Michael Bowden has probably shown enough to make the team, with the 25-year-old on the 40-man and out of options.
One maneuver the Red Sox could implement when searching for room that wouldn't require having to potentially jettison a current member of the 40-man roster involves putting Rich Hill and/or Daisuke Matsuzaka on the 60-day disabled list. If the team was to do that it would prevent either pitcher from returning prior to June 5 (the timetable for the 60-man starts on Opening Day), a date before which both were seemingly hoping to return.
If the DL move, or the removal of players from the 40-man, are executed, Ciriaco might have the upper hand considering his performance this spring and versatility. He is hitting .441 with a 1.134 OPS and five stolen bases, and has played outfield in the major leagues.
VALENTINE HASN'T BEEN AS CONTROVERSIAL AS SOME MIGHT BELIEVE
Every time the manager says anything about any player following a game, it has been dissected and analyzed by those waiting for the Bobby V clubhouse tornado. Too many times, however, there simply hasn't been as much to the comments as many are leading you to believe.
Saying Mark Melancon's outing was highlighted by him backing up the bases. The next day, the reliever clarified that he had planted that joke in Valentine's head, so when the manager was asked about the performance it was on the tip of his tongue. The criticism regarding Valentine's execution should be centered around his inability to identify that it was the reliever's joke, not his.
Calling out Iglesias for missing a sign. As much as the manager has praised his young shortstop, it was baffling that people used this as an example of Valentine being too harsh. This was simply an example of how his mind works after games. He is like a golfer going through his round, verbalizing the instant recall he had regarding the actions of the day.
Wanting Bard to throw more changeups. There was nothing wrong with Valentine explaining that he hoped his pitcher threw more changeups, but where the problem came was him not communicating that with Bard prior to explaining that to the media. The next day, the hurler had a perfectly logical explanation for his approach, one that Valentine could have been able to articulate while offering his analysis if a quick dugout conversation was had.
Besides the inevitable uneasiness that comes with change, the only legitimate concern that has emanated from Valentine's style is the potential need for players to constantly answer questions about the manager's off-the-cuff analysis. It might be tolerable now, but over the course of a season it is a responsibility most players don't want added to their days. It was one of the traits of Terry Francona's managing style that his players enjoyed immensely.
The true judgment in how Valentine's managing style will manifest itself in the clubhouse won't come until the first regular-season streak, not after a 10th-inning walk-off loss in Dunedin.