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Wed, 02/29/2012 - 2:50pm  

Verducci on M&M: Sox third best in AL East

In an interview with Mut & Merloni Wednesday, Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci said he believes the Red Sox are the third-best team in the American League East going into the season.

“Boston to me is third, because I don't like the shortstop situation,” Verducci said. “It's too important of a position to try to move people around, and certainly to force people in when they are not ready. In terms of [Jose] Iglesias, I don't like that situation. And they're going to need 90 starts from [Clay] Buchholz, [Jon] Lester and [Josh] Beckett. Anything less than that and they are going to be really in trouble and be less than a 90-win team.”

With so many storylines percolating around the Red Sox, Verducci said Carl Crawford's comments about last season and his place in the batting order showed a lack of closure from his disappointing 2011 campaign.

“I just don't know if [Crawford's] comfortable yet,” Verducci said. “I haven't heard the kind of comments. [He should] put the last year behind him and not even address those issues. I'd rather see him just move on, and take the new year for what it is -- a new opportunity.”

Although Verducci's predictions didn't suggest a trip to the World Series, he said Bobby Valentine is the right manager to help restore order in the Red Sox clubhouse, and also that former skipper Terry Francona would become a candidate elsewhere -- possibly as soon as this summer.

“In 2012, I think Valentine is the right guy,” he said. “Especially to get them out from beyond the garbage of last September. I like both guys. Terry is going to be a great candidate for somebody, at some point -- maybe as early as July this year. He'll be that Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden guy who is sitting up in the booth waiting for the next job on everybody's list. And he'll be better for it. I do think there needs to be attention to detail and things cleaned up around the Red Sox, and that's what Bobby does really, really well.

Looking at baseball's big national story, Verducci said he thought Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun shouldn't have taken an aggressive stance in his press conference following the victory of his appeal on a drug test that showed high testosterone levels.

“He went too far,” Verducci said. “All he needed to say was, 'Listen, I've been cleared by the arbitrator. The case was found not have any merit. I've said from the beginning I'm innocent. The arbitrator agreed with me. It's time to move on.' Leave it at that. Just don't throw out innuendos that something nefarious was going on here or we found some things out about the collector himself that makes us suspicious. There was no need to go down that path. And that turns out that it has come back to blow back on him.”

Verducci said even though he is told MLB will not pursue any legal action against Braun, its response to the ordeal illuminated how it felt about the 2011 MVP's acquittal.

“Major League Baseball left it clear that they believe Ryan Braun was a doper and got caught,” he said. “And he got off on a technicality. I think they made their position really clear, and that is unusual in this case.”

The league's vote to have a second wild card team is supposed to be held by March 1. Verducci said he feels the change is imminent, and the reaction from most has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The thing [general managers and players] really like about it is that it really puts a premium on 162 games and winning your division,” Verducci said. “That's where you really separate who the best team is. Now teams are going to play it out down the stretch to make sure they win the division and not finish second.”

To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. For more Red Sox news, visit the team page at

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