December 9, 2012

ON BASEBALL: Sox haven't won winter, but they're building

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Do you like how general manager Ben Cherington has infused new talent into the Boston Red Sox so far?

click image to enlarge

BUILDING HIS TEAM: Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington has not made any splashy moves this offseason, but he hasn’t traded away any prospects either.

AP photo

Let's make a list and check it twice. Cherington has signed five free agents this offseason:

* David Ross. A back-up catcher.

* Jonny Gomes. An outfielder who is limited defensively and batted .209 against right-handed pitching last year.

* Mike Napoli. A catcher who plays first base; neither very well, we're told. And he batted .227 last year.

* Shane Victorino. An outfielder whose numbers are trending down, hitting .255 last year, with an unimpressive .667 OPS (combined on-base percentage and slugging average).

* Koji Uehara. A reliever who not only missed 2 1/2 months to injury (lat muscle strain) last season, but who turns 38 next April.

Impressed?

Well, you're not supposed to be. But that does not mean Boston won't win with these players, plus those returning -- and those coming up through the system.

Notice that not one Red Sox prospect was dealt to obtain a player.

No big splash, but no losses for the organization, either.

Making a big impression in the off-season means signing big-name free agents, or trading for them, and then inking them to long-term deals.

The Red Sox have been there, done that, and lost. Where did Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez get Boston?

Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona reportedly told a group of reporters at last week's winter meetings in Nashville, "as I found out the hard way, the team that wins in the winter doesn't always win the season ... Sometimes it makes you an analyst."

Maybe these players won't wow anyone now. But they could win in 2013.

What Cherington appears to be building is a team that could be a winner?hat do you want, a guarantee, like that 2011 club that was going to win 100 games? -- and continue winning, with new blood constantly coming in.

The free agents he signed may have their weaknesses, but they do have an upside, and most of them are considered leaders who have played on winning teams ... qualities the Red Sox could use, especially as they mentor younger players.

Here is what Boston has at the moment:

* Catcher: The newly-acquired Ross brings a reputation as a solid receiver who handles a pitching staff well. Boston's pitching can use all the help it can get. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is a free agent after the 2013 season, could be traded or held onto for one more season. If he stays, Ryan Lavarnway will go back to Pawtucket.

Down the road, Lavarnway could be a power-hitting All-Star, with other prospects (Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart) coming up.

* First base: Napoli is there and there is concern defensively, especially after Boston infielders have been spoiled by the error-preventing ways of first basemen Kevin Youkilis and Gonzalez.

Down the road, the best prospect is Travis Shaw, who barely tasted Double-A ball last season, with 31 games in Portland.

* Second base: Dustin Pedroia has the job. Period. Pedroia, 29, is signed through 2014 (club option for 2015) and Boston will likely re-negotiate that deal soon.

Down the road, prospect Sean Coyle, 20, is coming along, maybe reaching Portland by the end of the 2013 season.

* Shortstop: It looks like Jose Iglesias will finally be given a chance to show off his dazzling fielding at Fenway. His bat may come around. Boston would be foolish not to be patient.

Down the road, Xander Bogaerts awaits. He is Boston's No. 1 prospect. Not as slick a fielder as Iglesias, but with a potential All-Star bat. His development will be one of the most highly-monitored in Red Sox Nation.

(Continued on page 2)

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