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The Astros will option righty Lance McCullers Jr. to Triple-A after his rough outing last night, Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle reported on Twitter and the team later announced. Manager A.J. Hinch says that the team is hoping to provide a break to the rookie, who may not even take the hill while he’s down, as Ortiz adds (Twitter links). McCullers has been outstanding since receiving an aggressive promotion to the big leagues at age 21, putting up 76 2/3 innings of 3.17 ERA pitching with 9.3 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9, but that line looked even better prior to yesterday’s dud, in which McCullers allowed seven hits and six earned runs while recording only one out. That’s just one game, of course, and McCullers still surely features in the team’s plans the rest of the way. But Houston does need to manage his innings, as he’s already exceeded his prior career high for a single campaign, so it could be that the club will use this as an opportunity to save some bullets. There could be down-the-line implications as well, though it’s not likely a driving consideration since the team needs a fully available staff. McCullers has only picked up 78 days of service on the year thus far, and will be held under 130 total days even if he comes back right after the minimum ten day stay on optional assignment. That makes him a somewhat marginal future Super Two candidate, with any further time away from the big leagues decreasing his odds.
- It was time for the Red Sox to nudge departing President and CEO Larry Lucchino out the door, writes Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald, who says that undertones in the recent announcement suggest that ownership decided upon a change in direction. Buckley does credit Lucchino with a huge amount of credit for Boston’s successes (on and off the field) over his tenure.
- With Lucchino heading out, there could be more changes in store for the Red Sox front office, the Herald’s Michael Silverman writes. The baseball operations department is unlikely to carry forward without at least some modifications, says Silverman, who reports that a new executive could well be placed on top of or alongside GM Ben Cherington.
- While Angels lefty C.J. Wilson will seek a second opinion on his left elbow, MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez reports, but it seems unlikely at this point that he’ll decide against season-ending surgery. Though the team has floated the idea of a rehab plan that could get him back in action late in the year, says Gonzalez, Wilson does not seem favorably disposed toward that option after battling with bone chips all year. “In the meantime, I’m working out and staying in shape, just in case they come up with some other magical course of action,” Wilson said. “But it seems more like a Hail Mary at this point. I want to pitch — that’s why I’ve pitched this whole time.”
A second opinion for Clay Buchholz from Dr. James Andrews confirmed that the right-hander does not need surgery, but he’ll received a platelet-rich plasma injection and won’t throw for five to six weeks, writes Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald. As Mastrodonato points out, the Red Sox have a $13MM club option on Buchholz, so avoiding a serious injury is key for the right-hander. Buchholz hopes the option will be exercised — “I’ve definitely been here my whole career,” he said. “I don’t really want to go anywhere.” — and barring a significant injury, that seems like a foregone conclusion, Mastrodonato writes. Buchholz’s injury is a flexor strain, and the right-hander pointed to Royals lefty Jason Vargas as a reason to exercise caution: “I think it’s the exact same thing that [Royals starter Jason Vargas] got hurt the other day. That’s what he went on the DL for was flexor. Seeing that, that’s definitely not what I want to do. I’m going to take the time I need to take off for it to be better.” Vargas, of course, did originally hit the DL with a flexor strain, and he returned quickly, only he end up re-injuring his arm and requiring Tommy John surgery.
More Red Sox notes…
- The team’s second-half woes have halted its pursuit of short-term starting pitching acquisitions, sources tell WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford. The Sox had entertained the thought of a run at Johnny Cueto to give themselves an increased chance to sign him and to make a push in 2015, but that thinking has been tabled. Boston wasn’t involved in talks for Scott Kazmir, Bradford hears, although they had previously had some interest in him.
- In a second piece, Bradford urges Red Sox GM Ben Cherington to send a message to a team that looks to have lost direction by committing to a big-name starting pitcher to front the rotation — even if it means a painful parting of ways with top prospects. The Red Sox in recent years have focused too much on what might be (prospect value) as opposed to what presently is, Bradford opines, and that philosophy has led the team to its current predicament.
- Cherington met with the Boston media recently, and ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes has a number of highlights from his conversation, including Cherington’s thoughts on the team’s lack of front-line pitching and the possibility of moving Hanley Ramirez out of left field and to a new position. Cherington feels that Ramirez’s defense on the road is beginning to stabilize, though he admits that Ramirez faces challenges playing left field in Boston with the Green Monster. As far as the team’s rotation goes, the quest to add front-line pitching doesn’t end July 31, Cherington says, and the team will explore multiple avenues to try to acquire such an arm. He notes that the front office believes some pitchers currently in the organization could achieve the desired lofty heights. (That quote, in particular, is one that prompted the above-linked column from Bradford.)
- Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald opines that despite all of the questions surrounding Rusney Castillo, Pablo Sandoval, Ramirez and the team’s pitching staff, the biggest question facing the Sox is whether or not Cherington is the right man to lead Boston to a sustainable run of success. Lauber praises Cherington for being accountable and placing the organization’s struggles on his own shoulders, but he also notes that such accountability is easier when owner John Henry recently gave his GM a large vote of confidence.
- Shane Victorino hopes to remain with the Red Sox through the end of his current contract, he tells Bradford. As Bradford notes, even if the Red Sox do sell pieces, Victorino could very well remain in Boston, as he’s been injured for much of the past two seasons and has more than $5MM remaining on his 2015 salary.
Last night’s game between the Red Sox and Athletics was temporarily stopped in the second inning after a fan sitting near the visitors’ dugout was hit in the face by a piece of a broken bat. The woman is at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Hospital with injuries that apparently are serious, although there is currently no specific information on her condition, as the Boston Globe notes. “Our thoughts and concern and certainly our prayers go out to the woman who was struck with the bat, her, and her family,” says Red Sox manager John Farrell. “All you can think about is a family coming to a ballgame to hopefully get three hours of enjoyment and unfortunately with how close our stands are to the field of action . . . an accident like this tonight, it’s certainly disturbing.” We at MLBTR wish the fan and her family the very best in the wake of this very scary situation. Here’s more from Boston.
- GM Ben Cherington appreciates the vote of confidence he received from Sox owner John Henry this week, according to an interview on WEEI with Dennis & Callahan. “I’m not worried about job security, just worried about trying to win games, so I appreciate what he said publicly. I think it was important for John Farrell, the clubhouse, and as we talk about good clubhouses and good teams having each others’ backs,” says Cherington. The GM adds that the team has no plans to platoon David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez at DH, since he doesn’t want to reduce two proven hitters to defined part-time roles.
- The Red Sox’ season has been disappointing so far, but Cherington’s belief that the team can come back and win the AL East might not be off base, WEEI.com’s John Tomase writes. Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts have been productive lately, and so the key to the Boston offense will be the potential re-emergences of Ortiz, Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Meanwhile, Wade Miley has had a good run in his last several starts, and Clay Buchholz and newcomer Eduardo Rodriguez provide hope for the pitching staff.
- Another starter, Rick Porcello, has struggled so far, and his peripheral numbers have been unusual this season, as Tomase notes. He’s increased his K/9 from a 5.6 career rate to 7.1, but his ground ball percentage has dipped from 51.6 for his career to 43.1. He’s allowed 11 homers so far and has a 5.01 ERA, although his peripheral numbers suggest he’s been somewhat better than that, with an xFIP of 4.13 and a SIERA of 4.01. Porcello says the $82.5MM extension he signed in the spring hasn’t negatively affected his performance thus far.
Red Sox owner John Henry had a number of interesting comments yesterday, as he addressed his ballclub’s struggles. He noted, first of all, that GM Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell are not at risk of losing their jobs, as Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe tweets.
Here’s more from the Boston owner and other notes from the team:
- The Red Sox seem as an organization to have identified some problems in their recent moves, but it’s not yet clear that they have a new, positive vision, Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald suggests in his piece on Henry. Addressing last year’s increasingly questionable series of transactions (running from the trade deadline through the winter), Henry acknowledged that it is not to soon to wonder whether the right calls had been made. “At this point, you can question that, and you should, we should question that,” Henry said. “They’re going to have to prove it on the field that we made the right decisions, and they’ll prove us right or they’ll prove us wrong.”
- Looking further into Henry’s comments, Lauber’s colleague John Tomase writes that the Red Sox seem to be late in responding to some significant developments league-wide — particularly, the expanding strike zone and increasing availability of power relief arms. “The way you win games in 2003 is different from the way you win games in 2015,” Henry said. “And we have to make those adjustments as an organization. … The strike zone is larger than it used to be, so you can’t be as patient as you used to. The game of baseball has changed a lot. The standings reflect that.” The trouble, says Tomase, is that adapting will require a fairly drastic shift in the approach of numerous key hitters — along with longer-timeline changes in organizational thinking.
- DH David Ortiz says he still does not have set plans on when he’d like to retire, Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com reports. Of course, that question has been asked with somewhat greater urgency given that the seemingly-ageless (but actually 39-year-old) slugger is off to a rough .224/.308/.379 start to the year. Ortiz dismissed those concerns with typical wit and wisdom. “A lot of people looked at me like that [six] years ago, and here I am still,” he said. “I don’t have no timetable for [retirement]. I don’t think anybody has it, either. If it happens, who cares, man, I’m just another player that comes in and comes out. Everybody’s time is up at some point. I don’t think that’s my problem, though. I’ll keep on trying like I normally do.”
After covering five postseason games in St. Petersburg, Florida and two exhibition games at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com is convinced there is a greater passion for the game in Montreal than in Tampa Bay. The Rays aren’t heading north of the border anytime soon; but, in Morosi’s view, this weekend’s big turnout in the Expos’ former home showed that Montrealers feel a greater connection to the team they lost than Tampa Bay fans do for the team they still have.
Here’s more from the AL East:
- The Orioles are still trying to make a trade to give them some flexibility, writes Britt Ghiroli of MLB.com. Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette confirmed to reporters, including MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko (via Twitter), submitting the Opening Day roster does not prevent him from making moves. “Once you submit your roster it’s like the regular season,” said Duquette. “You can make moves anytime after you get your roster submitted.” Baltimore will need to make a roster move after its first contest, as Chris Davis will have completed his 25-game suspension for Adderall use.
- The Red Sox didn’t trade Lars Anderson or Ryan Lavarnway at the peak of their value and they have rebuffed whatever advances the Phillies have made toward Blake Swihart in a Cole Hamels deal. Despite outside pressure from some fans, GM Ben Cherington has always erred on the side of patience, according to Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal. “The reason that you fight back against trading a young player you believe in,” Cherington said, “is that, when it does happen, when it works the way you hope it works and the way you think it might work at the major-league level, it’s really impactful. If we think a guy has a good shot to be successful in Boston, we are going to have a presumption to try to keep them.”
- The Rays appeared to be in learn-now, win-later mode early in the offseason, but they also made several present-day improvements to put themselves in position to win in 2014, opines Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The Rays now believe they have put together a team that is deeper offensively, more athletic, and improved defensively. The pitching situation also appeared to be improved, though the Rays currently have three starters on the shelf.
- The New York Post’s Joel Sherman posits the Yankees coud miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season and finish with a losing record for the first time since 1992, but their long-term future looks more encouraging that it has in a decade.
Despite the glut of outfielders the Red Sox have, GM Ben Cherington thinks it’s possible that all of them could still be with the organization when the season starts, Ian Browne of MLB.com writes. “Good chance,” said Cherington. “I think, as I said before, look, one of the things that we knew needed to be better was the sort of total output from the outfield in 2015. In order to win more games, we needed to get more out of the outfield — the whole team, but the outfield certainly was one area.” There has been a great deal of speculation about Shane Victorino as a trade possibility, but publicly the Red Sox have repeatedly said that they’re willing to roll with the group they have, even if there aren’t enough spots to accommodate everyone. More from Boston..
- Though the news of Cherington’s extension didn’t come out until manager John Farrell got his new deal on Saturday, it actually happened eight or nine months ago, Browne writes. Owner John Henry declined to discuss the length of the pact, however, only referring to it as a “long-term deal.”
- Henry told reporters, including Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com, that Larry Lucchino is “in charge and continues to be in charge” of the organization. Henry shot down reports of inner turmoil earlier this week as well when he spoke with Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.
- The Yankees probably had the biggest need for Yoan Moncada, the Dodgers probably had more money to offer, and the Padres offered a clearer path to playing time, but he is still a strong fit for the Red Sox’s plan, Ben Carsley of Just A Bit Outside writes.
- With the Moncada signing, the Red Sox basically paid to get a No. 1 pick, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe writes.
GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox at some point agreed to a contract extension beyond 2015, Alex Speier of the Boston Globe reports. When Cherington agreed to the deal isn’t known, and neither are its terms. Cherington received a contract upon becoming GM in 2011, but he is now signed to a new deal that hadn’t previously been made public.
“I’m under contract. I have a contract,” said Cherington at a press conference today to discuss manager John Farrell’s new deal. “We understand that contracts for people in uniform are important and need to be discussed. … I have a contract. I’m in good shape. There’s no issue. Glad to be working with [principal owner John Henry] and the rest of the group.”
Since Cherington became general manager, the Red Sox have had two losing seasons out of three, but Cherington’s moves to remake the team following an ugly 2012 season helped the Red Sox to a 2013 World Series win and Cherington to a Sporting News Executive of the Year award. This offseason, his big acquisitions have included Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson and Wade Miley, and he signed Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo late last season.
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington indicates he wouldn’t hesitate to deal for a starter who is under contract for just one more year, according to Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com. “I think there’s actual some real value in a guy who’s not signed long-term, if they fit in the rotation, because it gives you a chance to get to know him and see if it could be a fit…I don’t think we’d necessarily need a negotiation wind-down to consider (a deal for one).” Here’s more from around the Majors.
- Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said he has received calls on every one of the M’s young relievers as well as shortstops Brad Miller and Chris Taylor, according to Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times (on Twitter).
- Dan Uggla intends to make a comeback and five teams are interested, agent Terry Bross tells Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter).
- Padres GM A.J. Preller is hard at work at the Winter Meetings, but he’s also taking the long view of the winter, writes Corey Brock of MLB.com. “The offseason is a long offseason, and it doesn’t end with the Winter Meetings,” Preller cautioned. “In an ideal world, we get something done this week that improves the team. But, ultimately, it may not be this week or this month.“
- When asked if he’s talking trade with the Rangers, Padres GM A.J. Preller said “Honestly, we haven’t talked players yet today,” according to Dennis Lin of U-T San Diego (via Twitter).
- The Pirates are working multiple angles, as Tom Singer of MLB.com writes. “And it’s not just the top-tier free agents,” GM Neal Huntington said. “It’s also the guys who could be traded; a lot of pitchers are in their free-agent walk years, and there are various ongoing conversations in the industry. We’re engaged on a bunch of different fronts.”
- Trading Dillon Gee would give the Mets flexibility this offseason, opines Anthony DiComo of MLB.com. The Mets could still shop Jon Niese or Bartolo Colon, but GM Sandy Alderson says that he likes Niese’s left arm and team-friendly contract, and that he isn’t trying to trade Colon.
- The Marlins are trying to fill one void without creating another, writes Joe Frisaro of MLB.com.
If the offseason felt long to you, imagine how Stephen Drew must have felt. Today, the shortstop’s extended spring officially came to a close when the Red Sox announced that they signed him to a one-year deal, reportedly worth the prorated portion of the $14.1MM qualifying offer ($10.1MM). The Red Sox, who had a significant need on the left side of the infield and didn’t have to forfeit a pick to sign their own free agent, have been regarded as a frontrunner for months, but there wasn’t a lot of foreshadowing in recent days. On a conference call this afternoon, I asked General Manager Ben Cherington when the talks got more serious between him and agent Scott Boras.
“I would say that talks picked up over the weekend and into the early part of the week,” the GM said. “We know Stephen well. He did a great job for us last year and he’s a very good Major League shortstop and a good teammate and does a lot of good things that we value…We have a high degree of respect for Stephen, what he can do on the field, and what he can do for our team. We’re happy to have him back on the team.”
The signing of Drew will have a reverb effect for other Red Sox players. Xander Bogaerts, who was charged with manning shortstop in 2014, will shift over to third base, bumping the injured Will Middlebrooks out of the starting lineup. Drew’s arrival also backs things up for well-regarded third base prospect Garin Cecchini. When it comes to Bogaerts, Cherington says that after this season, his future could still very well be at shortstop.
“We believe that he can play shortstop well, things have stabilized there. I know he made a couple of errors last night but we believed last year and during Spring Training that he can play shortstop, we still believe that. This move with Stephen is not in any way about a lack of belief that Xander can play short,” Cherington said. “Xander’s ability to play short and third base allowed us to consider different options and alternatives. Stephen just happened to be the one we pursued.”
When asked if Drew’s arrival could signal some sort of position change for Middlebrooks, Cherington was non-committal and said that his main focus was getting the 25-year-old healthy.
As for Drew himself, Cherington confirmed that he’ll be on the Major League roster tonight but won’t be in the lineup against the Blue Jays. Drew will ultimately have a stint in the minors to warm up to big league action, but because of “administrative steps” that need to take place, there’s not an exact timetable for that just yet.
Presumably, Cherington is referring to the fact that Drew needs to pass through optional waivers, which take 48 hours, as the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo reported earlier this afternoon (Twitter link). Cafardo noted that Drew has consented to head to the minors to pick up 25 at-bats before playing with the big league club.
Five years ago today, Alex Rodriguez admitted and apologized for using PEDs during his tenure with the Rangers. Rodriguez blamed the pressure of trying to fulfill the expectations created by his then-record 10-year, $252MM contract. Two days ago, Rodriguez voluntarily dismissed his federal lawsuit against MLB, the Commissioner's Office, and the MLBPA and will serve his 162-game suspension stemming from his role in the Biogenesis affair. Here's the latest from the American League:
- Red Sox GM Ben Cherington told Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette of MLB Network Radio (Twitter link) he doesn't expect anything to happen with Stephen Drew before the start of Spring Training; but, out of respect for the shortstop, has maintained a dialogue with agent Scott Boras.
- Cherington also told the pair he is working the phones to add another reliever (via a Bowden tweet).
- The Red Sox's starting rotation, currently flush with experienced hurlers, could take on a much younger and cheaper look in the next 12-18 months, writes the Boston Herald's Scott Lauber. Left-hander Henry Owens headlines the list of Boston's pitching prospects on the verge of reaching the Majors, according to Lauber.
- Having lost out on Bronson Arroyo and entering the second week of February without a truly significant free agent acquisition, the Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck opines it's fair to wonder how much the Orioles really want to win this year.
- Tigers President/CEO/GM Dave Dombrowski told reporters recently, including Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press, the Prince Fielder–Ian Kinsler trade set the tone for the other moves he made this offseason. "If that move wasn’t made, you’re really in a position where you’re kind of back to where you were. It was one move that set off our plans in place." One part of that plan has received much scrutiny: dealing Doug Fister to the Nationals. Dombrowski said Fister was expendable because the Tigers have six solid starters with three of them (Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and Drew Smyly) under contract for at least the next four years while also proclaiming he'd love to have Max Scherzer "stay as a Tiger for a long time."
- Johnny Damon, whose last MLB appearance was with the Indians in 2012, is open to managing or resuming his playing career, but only on the Major League level, reports the Tampa Bay Times' Marc Topkin.