Daniel Nava ranked in the top 15 in the majors in batting average and OBP against righties over the final four months of the 2014 season. (Getty Images)

Daniel Nava ranked in the top 10 in the majors in batting average and OBP against righties over the final four months of the 2014 season. (Getty Images)

While Daniel Nava spent the first two months of 2014 struggling in the big leagues while shuttling to and from Triple-A, he enjoyed a strong final four months of the year, hitting .323 with a .395 OBP against right-handed pitchers from June through the end of the season. Yet the fact that he was sent down, and the Sox’ obvious need to upgrade their offense following a season in which they ranked among the worst in the American League at scoring runs, creates an expectation of change. Asked if he had a sense of his fit for the organization, Nava acknowledged that he’s unsure where he fits in the Sox’ plans for 2015.

“Yes and no,” Nava said of whether he knew his role going forward. “Yes for now, based off where I am and the situation where we are. But for next year, I think everyone knows there’s a lot of moving pieces that are going to take place, between our need for pitching, the outfield with guys returning, stuff like that. My guess is, if I were to venture what it would mean, it would mean that things have to play themselves out.

“I hope it would mean that I have a track record that’s proven I can be a part of this team next year, a valuable part, but a lot of that is probably going to be determined based on what they need and what they can get,” said Nava. “The [team's decision makers] probably know better than I do, and even they probably don’t know how things are going to play out. I hope that it’s proven that I can contribute, but just because maybe next year things don’t work out the way I want them to doesn’t mean I can’t [contribute].”

What do you think?

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Blog Author: 

Daniel Nava finished the year hitting .293 with a .372 OBP against right-handed pitchers.</p>
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The chances that Russell Martin signs with the Red Sox this offseason aren’t good.

Russell Martin will be one of the top free agents this offseason. (Getty Images)

Russell Martin will be one of the top free agents this offseason. (Getty Images)

The chances that Russell Martin signs with the Red Sox this offseason aren’t good. But that doesn’t mean such a move shouldn’t be discussed, particularly when the player represents a potential solution to a potential problem.

“It’s definitely a place to consider if the option is there,” Martin told WEEI.com during a late September interview.

(The acceptance of playing in Boston is a departure from the tone struck by Martin in 2011, as stated here.)

Martin is far and away (not even close) going to be the best catcher on the free agent market, having hit .290 with 11 home runs and an .832 OPS (.401 on-base percentage). Pittsburgh will likely offer the 31 year old the $15.3 million qualifying offer, having already stated they will stretch their payroll in an attempt to re-sign the backstop. (Some reports have stated Martin has already been offered a four-year deal from the Pirates.)

The likelihood is the Red Sox lean on Christian Vazquez for the majority of the games in 2015. The potential issues with that road, however, is the uncertainty regarding the righty hitter’s offense, and what you get to complement the young backstop.

Here are the free agent catchers not named Russell Martin: John Buck, Ryan Doumit, Gerald Laird, Wil Nieves, A.J. Pierzynski, David Ross and Geovany Soto. Nick Hundley ($5 million) and Jeff Mathis ($1.5 million) both are living under club options.

Switch-hitting Blake Swihart isn’t perceived to be quite ready for big league duty, having played 18 Triple-A games.

That leads us back to Martin.

Team sources suggest it is unlikely the Red Sox go hard after Martin, feeling he will want to go to a team guaranteeing catching around the 120 games he has averaged over the past four seasons. But they did previously explore the Canadian native’s services prior to the 2011 season before he inked a deal with the Yankees.

“I think with the injury I was coming back from, the hip injury, I think [the Red Sox] doctors were concerned and the Yankees were a bit more aggressive,” he remembered. “I think that’€™s what it came down to.

“It’€™s a great baseball town. People love their baseball. For the most part they’€™ve always been competitive. They’€™ve got a great team. [Dustin] Pedroia is one of personal favorites. I love the way he competes so it would be a pleasure playing with him.”

If the dynamic with Vazquez does change, and the Red Sox view Martin as one of the solutions for their offensive woes, there might be a built-in recruitment tool — Pedroia.

Martin has known the Red Sox second baseman since the two played in the Arizona Fall League for Scottsdale, with the duo working out together sporadically throughout recent offseasons. (Martin was part of a collection of players that included Pedroia, Conor Jackson, J.J. Hardy and Howie Kendrick who met at Andre Ethier’s Arizona home for daily workouts.)

“One of the first times I ever met [Pedroia] he was playing ping-pong with somebody and I thought he was joking around, the way he talking to the person he was playing against. He was just super feisty and cocky and everything,” Martin recalled. “It was just funny to see him go at it. It was just funny to see somebody as competitive, if not more competitive, than me. He can definitely dish it out. I just like to be there to listen.”

An in-season reunion for the two isn’t likely, but with free agency fast approaching, the Martin conversation — one involving one of the top free agents and a team boasting a significant chunk of money — is at least interesting think about.

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

Who is going to replace Greg Colbrunn?

Talking to folks throughout baseball about the Red Sox vacant hitting coach job, three names keep coming up: Chili Davis, Bill Mueller and Dave Magadan. None of these men might be ending up with the Sox, but they are being referenced throughout the industry.

Davis’ name has gained the most steam of late, with the Oakland A’s hitting coach having worked in the same capacity with the Pawtucket Red Sox in 2011. While he is still under contract with the A’s, there was reportedly some frustration from both sides during Oakland’s offensive slide during the final two months of the season. (Note: Davis could also be drawing from Theo Epstein, who hired him out of the Dodgers’ organization to work with the PawSox.)

Mueller just recently resigned from his post as hitting coach with the Cubs after the team reassigned his hand-picked assistant hitting coach, Mike Brumley. Mueller’s connection with the Red Sox is obvious — having spent three solid seasons in Boston from 2003-05.

Like Davis, Magadan is still under contract, but with a new manager slated to come in for the Rangers, Texas has given the former Red Sox hitting coach permission to look elsewhere. While it is not known if the Red Sox have formerly asked for the right to talk to Magadan, he has already drawn interest from multiple teams around the majors. It is believed he would welcome a return to Boston, particularly his wife hails from New Hampshire.

We shouldn’t forget assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez, who really developed a solid rapport with Yoenis Cespedes over the final few months.

Colbrunn wanted to prioritize being close to his South Carolina home, as was evidenced even before his illness this season. The former Sox hitting coach turned down a chance for a contract extension following the 2013 world championship season.

If you’re wondering how the process works when teams are interested in interviewing coaches from other teams: The potential new team contacts the other team and if the coach’s current team grants permission, there is a written form that they sign and gets submitted to MLB. So there you have it.

Also, in case you forgot, the last time the Red Sox had a hitting coach opening, four other candidates (besides Colbrunn) interviewed – Rick Schu, Rodriguez, Craig Counsell, and Scott Fletcher.

Schu is currently the hitting coach for the Washington Nationals, Counsell worked on the Brewers television broadcasts in 2014, and Fletcher left the Braves after this season, having served as the team’s assistant hitting coach.


Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

Andrew Miller retired the final 10 batters he faced in the American League Division Series against the Tigers. (Getty Images)Andrew Miller's dominance looked almost effortless. In his first taste of the playoffs, the 6-foot-7 left-hander faced 11 batters.

Hunter Strickland was pitching for Single-A Greenville in 2009 when the Red Sox traded him to the Pirates. (Billy Crowe/Greenville Drive)

Hunter Strickland was pitching for Single-A Greenville in 2009 when the Red Sox traded him to the Pirates. (Billy Crowe/Greenville Drive)

It has represented a parenthetical remark to an extraordinary emergence. Hunter Strickland, the Giants reliever who has been unleashing 100 mph comets in the postseason (including in his 18th-inning save on Saturday night/Sunday morning in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Nationals), was once a Red Sox.

But when he was with the Red Sox, he didn’t resemble the fire-breathing late-innings force that he’s suddenly become in the past five weeks for the Giants.

Strickland was an unheralded right-handed in Georgia when the Sox drafted him in the 18th round of the 2007 draft and signed him to a low six-figures bonus. In parts of three seasons in the Sox system — a pro debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2007, an assignment to Short-Season Single-A Lowell in 2008 and three and a half months with Single-A Greenville in 2009 — he proved a solid performer, going 10-9 with a 3.66 ERA.

But his success (at a time when he was a starter — sometimes in a piggyback role) was based on his intelligence and ability to throw strikes with a relatively modest arsenal, rather than with overwhelming power. He struck out just 6.6 batters per nine innings with 1.7 walks per nine while in the Sox system, at a time when game reports often featured him averaging 88-89 mph and topping out for much of that time around 91 mph or so. (He did show an uptick in velocity to about 93 mph in some of his starts leading up to the 2009 trade deadline.)

When Strickland was at that early stage in his pro career, he made a highly favorable impression on the Red Sox, though that impression was based as much on his personality and competitiveness as it was stuff.

“He’s one of the brightest guys — a straightforward, shake-your-hand, look-you-in-the-eye guy. He’s one of the top five guys I’ve ever had makeup-wise,” said Kevin Boles, now the manager of the Red Sox’ Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket, who had Strickland in Greenville in 2009. “He showed some pitchability. It looks to me like his arm slot has dropped a little bit. His velocity has definitely up ticked, no doubt about that. He was probably sitting high-80s, low-90s, when he was with us. He had terrific game makeup. One of the best overall guys I’ve ever had. Terrific on and off the field.”

Boles recalled Strickland working with a mix of that pitch-to-contact fastball in the high-80s and low-90s, a changeup and a slider. He showed mound aptitude by adding and subtracting velocity and he was aggressive in attacking hitters even though, at the time, he was doing so without premium stuff.

As a pitcher in the low minors, the projections for him were hazy at best — perhaps, given his ability to command, he could become a fifth starter if his breaking ball developed (his changeup looked like it would emerge as an average pitch at the time; the breaking ball was a question). Perhaps that same command, even without an above-average pitch, would allow him to be a middle innings reliever. But Strickland struck the Sox as a player who would work to maximize his abilities.

That said, based on the projection and the stuff that he showed, Strickland was hardly going to be a deal-breaker when the Sox acquired Adam LaRoche (meant to give the Sox corner infield depth at a time when Mike Lowell‘s health was becoming a growing concern) in late-July 2009. Indeed, Strickland was viewed as the second piece in the deal, with shortstop Argenis Diaz (a gifted defender) representing the player who was considered the more valuable chip at the time.

The Pirates continued to develop him as a starter, where he performed well down the stretch in Single-A in 2009, but he struggled in two levels of A-ball the following year, had to be shut down for shoulder soreness and ultimately required a rotator cuff repair that wiped out all of his 2011 season. When he returned to the mound in 2012, he pitched well in nine starts, but his stuff became more powerful when he was shifted to a relief role that June. He got up to 95 mph and started opening eyes, to the point where the Pirates added him to their 40-man roster that offseason, and where the Giants claimed him on waivers and committed a 40-man spot to him in April 2013.

In working out of the stretch and pitching with more aggressiveness and tempo, Strickland’s delivery seemed to sync up in a way that permitted him to realize previously untapped reserves of power. He looked dominant with the Giants’ High-A affiliate in 2013, only to blow out his elbow in May, resulting in Tommy John surgery that came at a time when he seemed to be positioning himself for big league consideration.

But he evidently approached his rehab with extraordinary determination, based on the high-90s to triple digits fastball and slider combination that he’s shown since his return this year. For the first time in his life, he was able to combine health with the command he’d shown as a 20-year-old with the Red Sox and electric arm speed to yield a 55-to-4 strikeout-to-walk rate in High-A and Double-A this year. The performance was sufficiently dominating that the Giants elected to call up Strickland — who had never pitched above Single-A with the Red Sox, and who’d never pitched above Double-A in the seven-plus years since he’d signed with the Sox — to pitch in the big leagues down the stretch while now entrusting him with some of their most critical outs.

From afar, the Sox have been thrilled for the 26-year-old’s success. “It’s terrific, what I’m seeing. It’s outstanding,” said Boles. “With him, to say that I would have ever thought he’d touch 100? No. I couldn’t tell you that. I hadn’t seen that. But that’s a credit to his work ethic. He had a work ethic that was second to none. Obviously, he put the time in. … Watching him now, his arm speed has definitely picked up. He’s got a lot of velocity and a lot of real quality stuff coming out of his hand.

“To see him now on one of the biggest stages, it’s pretty special,” added Boles. “I just think that it shows you that anything is possible. There’s guys that have gotten a lot of attention. But you can never say never with guys. You can’t sell short, especially, intelligence and game makeup. Obviously, having the stuff to match that plays a key component. But you just can’t write anybody off at any given point in time. Unless they say that they’re finished, you just never know, and that’s the beauty of this. Anything is possible with these guys.”

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier

Left-hander Craig Breslow struggled through the worst season of his career in 2014.</p>
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The Red Sox announced that hitting coach Greg Colbrunn “has elected not to return to the position for the 2015 season.” According to multiple sources, he was offered a position in the organization, but d

The Red Sox announced that hitting coach Craig Colbrunn “has elected not to return to the position for the 2015 season.” One year after Colbrunn served as the hitting coach of a team that led the majors with 5.27 runs per game en route to a World Series, he oversaw a squad that managed just 3.91 runs per game, 11th in the American League. Colbrunn also spent time away from the team in June due to a brain hemorrhage that resulted in his hospitalization. Over time, upon his return to the team in July, he was able to build back to his regular duties amidst a dramatic second-half roster overhaul.

Prior to joining the Sox as the lead hitting coach of their two-coach structure (with Victor Rodriguez, a longtime Sox minor league coach and coordinator, as the assistant hitting coach), he’d spent six seasons as the hitting coach and manager of the Yankees‘ Single-A affiliate in Charleston, S.C., where Colbrunn makes his offseason home.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier