“I think he’s going to be an everyday player next season, no doubt about it," Cora said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “He’s going to play, and play well."
Cora’s impressions extend beyond Castillo’s skill set.
“When you have a high-profile import, usually they show up, they play, they leave," Cora said. “They don’t mingle, they could care less about teammates. With Rusney, it’s the total opposite. He’s been like an independent league pitcher who really cares about winning. He pays attention to the game, he wants to win. He’s doing everything possible to help us win games."
When Castillo injured his thumb while playing in the Arizona Fall League, Cora thought the Red Sox might elect to shut down the center fielder, and told Cherington he would understand if they did. But satisfied that the thumb had healed, Cherington opted to have Castillo go to Puerto Rico, where he has been for nearly three weeks. In his first seven games, Castillo is batting .320 (8-for-25) with a home run, stolen base and a walk. Cora has had him batting leadoff and playing center field.
“Defensively, he's been very impressive in center field," Cora said. “His instincts are great, the jumps he gets. He’s very light on his feet. Luis Matos, who played center field for Baltimore, is my hitting coach and outfield instructor, and he’s very impressed. Luis was a good outfielder.
“Offensively, he's still learning, still working on a few things. It's tough to come here midway through it. The range of stuff he’s facing goes from north to south. There are guys throwing 95 and guys throwing 82 with sinkers and sliders. But he adjusts. I really like [that] he hasn't tried to pull the ball. The only ball he tried to pull was a breaking ball that he hit for a home run to left-center. He’s been strong to the right-center gap. Of his eight hits, six have been up the middle. That’s the sign of a good hitter not trying to do too much.
“He’ll rub a few people the wrong way when he’s running from home to first. It looks like he’s not running fast. He doesn't get out of the box clean; his finish doesn't let him do that, so a lot of people may think he’s dogging to first. But first to third, second to the plate, whoa, this kid can run."
The Red Sox signed Castillo to a six-year, $72 million contract last August, so they have a pretty good feel for his on-field tools. Their knowledge of him otherwise is by necessity limited, given the prohibition on major league scouts working in Cuba. They should be heartened to hear of the positive impression Castillo has made on Cora, who also works for ESPN’s "Baseball Tonight" as an analyst, in how he approaches his job and his teammates, and how he conducts himself off the field.
“He’s more advanced than what people think," Cora said, "not only on the field but off the field. He’s a very organized kid, a family kid. He understands the whole process. Most of the time when you bring in somebody like him, he needs a driver, he needs someone who will follow him around. He needs an entourage with him.
“It’s the other way around with him. When we get imports, we put them at first in a hotel near the ballpark until they learn to drive around here. After that they usually rent a place in San Juan, about a half hour from here. Rusney, the first thing he wanted to know was, how do I get here, how do I get there, without needing anybody. He learned in two days how to get from his apartment to the ballpark, his apartment to other stadiums. He is here in an apartment with his wife.
“He’s not a prima donna. He’s just like the other guys. He shows up on time, he works out, and off the field I’m very impressed with the way he acts and who he is," said Cora.
Cora does not know Puig personally, but is well aware of the polarizing opinions that Puig has inspired in his short time with the Dodgers, some dazzled by his skills but turned off by the way he handles himself. One of Cora’s coaches, Miguel Negron, was still playing for Mayaguez when Puig joined the team.
“Miguel told us the other day that they are total opposites," Cora said. “Yasiel came down here, Miguel said he was tough, he didn't know how to act, it was all about him. This kid [Castillo] shows up and plays. That’s it."
Cora, whose Criollos de Caguas are in first place with a 20-10 record, gave his players credit for being so accepting when Castillo first arrived. But he was just as impressed by Castillo’s response.
“He clicked with the guys," Cora said. “Yeah, they're a great group of guys, but he’s not just another import. He’s a guy making $72 million. They opened their arms, but he was willing to jell with them. That’s the sign of a good guy and a good teammate."
Cora says that when he looks down the dugout bench, he sees Castillo either talking to a younger teammate or asking questions of a veteran.
"Besides the physical tools, he gets it," Cora said. “He gets baseball. It’s his passion. It’s what he lives. [Sox fans] will love him. It’s 24 hours, 7 days a week, nonstop baseball for him. He’ll be OK there."
The benefit of playing winter ball for someone like Castillo goes beyond gaining repetitions at the plate and in the field. It’s also about learning to function in a structured environment, developing a routine, learning all the little things that go into being a big-leaguer, including interacting with clubhouse attendants. Caguas is the continuation of a process that began for Castillo in the Gulf Coast Rookie League with Lazaro Gutierrez, the Sox player development coordinator who played with Cora on a 1996 University of Miami team that made it to the finals of the College World Series.
“He’s learned how to tip," Cora said with a laugh. “There are a lot of happy people around here."
The one area where Castillo still needs to play catch-up is in his mastery of English. His use of the language is still very limited.
“He needs to get better and he knows it," Cora said. “The way it looks, [Dustin] Pedroia needs to learn Spanish."
Varvaro, 30, made 61 appearances for the Braves last season, most as a bridge to the team’s late-inning relievers, and thrived in the role for the second consecutive season. In addition to posting a 2.63 ERA, Varvaro struck out 50 batters while walking just 13 in 54 2/3 innings. He held opposing hitters to a .228 average and was especially effective against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .149 average (11 for 74), with just five extra-base hits.
Varvaro, who grew up on Staten Island and was drafted out of St. John’s University, relies primarily on his fastball, which sits at a tick above 92 miles an hour, and a pretty good curveball, mixing in a changeup on occasion. His groundball-to-fastball ratio was virtually a 50-50 split.
The Braves DFA’d Varvaro to open a spot on their 40-man roster. He was paid $515,000 last season and is not yet eligible for salary arbitration, but in Kurcz the Braves are receiving a 24-year-old pitcher who profiles in much the same way.
Kurcz was used as a reliever in Double-A Portland last season after missing all of 2013 because of Tommy John surgery. He had come to the Red Sox from the Cubs as part of the Theo Epstein compensation package and was impressive in his first season in Double-A, striking out 72 batters in 50 1/3 innings before requiring surgery.
Last season, Kurcz was 3-2 with a 2.14 ERA for the Sea Dogs. Because he was not on Boston’s 40-man roster, he was eligible for the Rule 5 draft but was not selected.
Badenhop was outstanding for the Red Sox in 2014, posting a 2.29 ERA in 70 appearances, but was paid $2.15 million last season and is in line for a raise as a free agent.
CHICAGO -- For all the talk about bad blood between Jon Lester and the Boston Red Sox stemming from a lowball offer prior to spring training, what really appears to have greased the wheels for Lester's moving on from Boston to the north side of Chicago was the July trade to the Oakland Athletics.
"I think if we finish up [the season] in Boston and you get down to this decision, I think it would be a lot harder," Lester said while draped in Cubbie pinstripes and donning his new No. 34. "Not to say it wasn't hard as it was, but I feel like that broke that barrier of, "I wonder if I can play for another team." And I think we answered those questions."
Lester added that he understood what the Red Sox were doing at the time. It made plenty of sense with them out of the playoff race to move a soon-to-be free agent and try to position themselves for 2015 and beyond while still holding out hope to re-sign Lester in the offseason. He was adamant that the trade didn't foster any ill-will for him toward the Red Sox organization.
"It didn't piss me off," Lester said. "Obviously, it's difficult in the middle of the season to pack everything up, especially when you have two young kids, and move across the country. I think it helped prepare me for the situation, as far as preparing myself to pitch in another uniform. If it didn't work out to where I went back to Boston, I know that I can perform in another uniform, in another city, for another organization. I know that seems stupid, it's done every day, but for me it was very difficult. When you're drafted by these guys and you're groomed by these guys for 12 years, to put on a different uniform, that was a little hard."
"In the end, that's important, but it's really not," Lester said. "Kind of the legacy got broken up a little bit when I went to Oakland. I understood what [Henry] was saying about that, about coming back and finishing it. And that's something that we weighed very heavily at the end. But just the idea of coming [to Chicago] and breaking their curse -- like I said earlier, I didn't get to be a part of the '04 [Red Sox championship] -- so I thought this was just something that kept pulling at us."
Lester was complimentary of Henry and said the final pitch Henry gave when he came to Lester's home in Atlanta will always be something that sticks with him.
"It was very humbling," Lester said. "He and his wife flew down and we just sat very casually around the living room and just talked. That meant a lot to me, I know it meant a lot to my wife for them to come down and do that. And in the end, that was just one more thing that made it that much more difficult for us.
"But one thing that I'll always take, and he said it to me a couple times, that I do respect and I'm truly honored that he said it to me, he said, 'No matter what your decision is, we're happy for you and you'll always be a Red Sox.' That meant a lot to me and my family that he did that."
"That meeting is near and dear to my heart. I could tell it took a lot for him to say the things he wanted to say," Lester added. "I will always remember and I will always cherish that meeting; it was a great meeting. Both on a professional level as far as Red Sox negotiations and on a personal level, it was just great."
While the trade to Oakland clearly made things a bit easier for Lester to choose the Cubs over the city where he'd spent nearly his entire career, one thing he says didn't weigh into his decision was the apparent lowball offer of four years, $70 million that the Red Sox made prior to the 2014 season.
"We're all grown men, I understand the business side of baseball," Lester said. "I know what they were doing, I know what they were trying to do. If you let feelings get in the way of this, then you're making the decision for a wrong reason. If I make a decision based on an offer they made in spring training, then I'm not setting myself up for the next six years to be happy.
"One thing that we tried to do is let bygones be bygones. When they walked into our house, I said, 'Listen guys, we're starting all over. Whatever happened during the season, happened during the season; we're not looking at that, we're looking at now.' I think that helped them, because I think that still tugged at them."
"I don't know if they didn't take full advantage," Lester said. "You guys [in the media] kind of hear bits and pieces of the conversation. I know everything gets focused on their first offer, but by no means was their first offer an ending point of conversations. We continued to have conversations, I talked to [general manager] Ben [Cherington], I talked to John [Henry]. The conversations were there, the effort was there, we just didn't make any headway before Opening Day. I think things are getting kind of blown out because of the second-guessing. You can always second-guess when it doesn't work out, but I think that's hard. It puts everyone in an unfair position because you can always point fingers."
One aspect that did weigh quite heavily with Lester was the trust he had built with Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, who built a strong relationship with pitcher while all were in Boston. Both Lester and Epstein used the word "belief" multiple times when talking about the pitcher's choice to come to a team that has finished at or near the bottom of its division for five straight years now.
"We knew early on it would be about belief if we were going to get him," Epstein said. "We didn't have all the evidence, tangibly, that you'd normally want to present a free agent. If he was going to come here, it was going to be because he believed in our future and he believed he wanted to be a part of doing something special. So we focused on that."
Lester said the Cubs presented him with as much information about the team as possible and really sold him on the fact that despite the recent lack of wins, the organization is on the rise and good things were coming fast. It clearly took a lot of trust on Lester's part to make that decision, but Lester had built it up with Epstein over the years and felt comfortable enough taking the leap.
"When you know somebody, you can tell if they're lying to you," Lester said. "Obviously, I felt that wasn't the case. They really sold me on the facts of their plan and what they thought this team can do in the future. That was huge for me."
In the end, relationships seemed to be the theme of this free-agent courtship. Epstein said he didn't think much about competing directly with Boston for a free agent, but he did admit it was difficult seeing a disappointed Cherington and manager John Farrell the morning after Lester's decision was announced. For Lester, the toughest part was saying goodbye to the Red Sox and the teammates he'd grown so fond of over the years.
"I wanted to call those guys that meant the most to me while I was there; I tried to do it before it came out, which was kind of hard," Lester said, singling out Dustin Pedroia as a former teammate whom it was particularly difficult to tell he wouldn't be returning to Boston. "That's what makes Pedey so great -- he can call you one minute and cuss you out for not coming back and you call him a few hours later and you're shedding tears with him. Those guys I'll love and consider my brothers until I'm dead. That one was probably the most difficult, and probably second was calling Ben [Cherington]."
The decision to leave Boston clearly wasn't an easy one for Lester. He repeatedly brought up the fact that his heart would always be in Boston, but the lure of a new challenge with a group he trusts and believes has built something real in Chicago was just too strong.
"I've had a lot of great memories [in Boston], got in a lot of great relationships there with people, and it made this decision very, very difficult," Lester said. "In the end, we just felt like this would be a new and exciting chapter for us and something that we wanted to try to conquer. That outweighed the Boston decision."
Hernandez, 22, spent 2014 as a member of the High-A Daytona Cubs, hitting .270 with three home runs, 55 RBIs and 22 stolen bases.
Doubront, a once highly touted prospect, spent 10 years in the Red Sox organization before being dealt to the Cubs. Seeing time as both a starter and reliever at the major league level, he owns a 28-23 record with a 4.78 ERA over five seasons.
Hernandez has been assigned to the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs.
“There [aren’t] words that I can tell you for you to understand how much Jon and his family mean to me and my family,” he wrote in a text message to ESPNBoston.com on Monday. “I was his host on his recruiting trip at [Arizona State], and played with him every step of the way. His focus every day was for his teammates and winning. I'm going to miss playing with him and going through the grind with him. When he called me and told me, the things he said were just proof of why he is the best.”
Pedroia and Lester spoke countless times during Lester’s free-agency period, with the second baseman putting on the full-court press to try to convince the lefty to return to Boston. Lester said at his introductory press conference in Chicago on Monday that the most difficult call he made was to Pedroia to tell him he was choosing the Cubs.
“I’d say that was the hardest,” Lester told reporters. “I wanted to call the guys that meant the most to me while I was there. And that’s what makes Pedey so great. He’ll call you one minute and cuss you out about coming back and you call him a few hours later and you’re shedding tears with him. Those guys I'll love and consider my brothers until I'm dead. But yeah, that one was probably the most difficult.”
Lester said they had some interesting talks along the way.
“In the end, he’s a good friend of mine. He’ll always be a good friend of mine. He had nothing but good things to say. He understands the process. As sad as I was to leave those guys, he was just as excited for me,” said Lester.
It's by no means a slam dunk that the Red Sox will add an ace to place on the top of their reconstructed starting rotation. At least, not any time soon.
Free agent James Shields, who turns 33 on Saturday, is an obvious match, but the Red Sox are not alone among his potential suitors, and if another club [Giants, Rangers] gives the 33-year-old right-hander five years, it's hard to see Boston following.
Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels would be a coup, but the asking price remains very high, and the Sox are committed to keeping Mookie Betts and Blake Swihart. The Dodgers, should they elect to do so, could offer the Phillies a package of prospects that would trump a Sox offer.
CHICAGO -- Jon Lester insisted there's no reason the Chicago Cubs can't contend next year and even capture their first World Series title since 1908, around the time the Model T was rolling off the assembly line.
"I'm going in with the intention of winning in 2015," he said.
The Cubs are, too.
"This signing really marks the start of a transition for the Cubs, the start of a period where we are clearly very serious about winning the World Series," President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said Monday, when the team and Lester finalized a $155 million, six-year contract. The deal, agreed to during the winter meetings last week, set baseball records for largest signing bonus and biggest upfront payment.
Chicago hired one of the game's top managers in Joe Maddon, then added Lester, a three-time All-Star who won two World Series with Boston.
"We're not hiding the ball," Epstein said. "The fact that we haven't won in so long helps define who we are. ... I think it attracts players who aren't afraid of that challenge and want to be here for the right reasons. It definitely attracted Jon Lester."
Lester receives a record $30 million signing bonus, of which $15 million is due by April 1, $2.5 million each by Dec. 31 in 2018 and 2019, and a final $10 million installment by Sept. 15, 2020.
He gets salaries of $15 million next year, $20 million each in 2016 and 2017, $22.5 apiece in 2018 and 2019 and $15 million in 2020. There is a $25 million mutual option for 2021 with a $10 million buyout, and the option would become guaranteed if Lester pitches 200 or more innings in 2020 or 400 or more in 2020-21 combined.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 15/2
Boston Red Sox: 9/1
Washington Nationals: 15/2
Chicago Cubs: 12/1
Detroit Tigers: 12/1
Los Angeles Angels: 12/1
San Francisco Giants: 14/1
Seattle Mariners: 14/1
St. Louis Cardinals: 14/1
Baltimore Orioles: 18/1
Toronto Blue Jays: 18/1
Kansas City Royals: 20/1
New York Mets: 25/1
New York Yankees: 25/1
Atlanta Braves: 28/1
Chicago White Sox: 28/1
Cleveland Indians: 33/1
Miami Marlins: 33/1
Pittsburgh Pirates: 33/1
Cincinnati Reds: 40/1
Milwaukee Brewers: 40/1
Oakland Athletics: 40/1
San Diego Padres: 40/1
Texas Rangers: 40/1
Tampa Bay Rays: 66/1
Arizona Diamondbacks: 75/1
Colorado Rockies: 100/1
Houston Astros: 150/1
Minnesota Twins: 150/1
Philadelphia Phillies: 150/1
On Oct. 30, the Cubs were 50-1. After signing Sandy Koufax and trading for Yogi Berra, they're down to 12/1. I mean, Jon Lester is a nice pitcher, but come on.
My good buys right now: Pirates and Indians at 33-1. The Pirates have made the playoffs the past two years, have a superstar in Andrew McCutchen and some young guys who could improve. The Indians won 85 games in 2014 and their starting rotation really came together in the second half. Obviously, the odds are somewhat reflective of market size, which is why Pittsburgh and Cleveland have longer odds right now. And teams that have made a big splash so far in the offseason seemed to have gotten a big boost in their odds.
Bad buys: Tigers at 12-1 and Braves at 28-1. The Tigers have been busy so far but have mostly just been spinning their wheels, while likely losing Max Scherzer. With the Indians and White Sox potentially stronger, the Tigers' grip on the division is more tenuous than it's been in years. The Braves have lost their best player in Jason Heyward and still have big issues on offense while coming off a sub-.500 season in a division where the Marlins and Mets should both be better.
The offseason is young. Lots of free agent signings and trades to come. We'll see how the odds change before Opening Day.
By now you might think you know all you need to know about the Boston Red Sox’s three newest starting pitchers.
In Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson, the Red Sox are getting a trio of inning-eating, worm-killing, under-30-year-old arms that, when calculated with projected arbitration salaries, will earn less combined than the average annual value of the six-year, $155 million deal that Jon Lester signed with the Chicago Cubs.
But that’s not all there is to know about these three hurlers. So we provide some fun facts about Miley, Porcello and Masterson for you to put to good use at the water cooler Monday morning when you’re asked your thoughts on the Red Sox’s new-look rotation.
A True All-Star: When Miley was selected to the National League All-Star team in 2012, it wasn’t just because he was the only member of the Arizona Diamondbacks worthy. In the first half of that season, Miley went 9-5 with a 3.04 ERA, ranking him 14th among NL pitchers with 10 games started up until that point in the season. His 1.09 WHIP at the time was seventh in the league, the result of a low base on balls per nine inning rate (1.88) that had him ranked right behind some guy named Cliff Lee (1.85).
The (almost) Rookie of the Year: In recognition of his efforts during the 2012 season, Miley received 12 first-place votes for NL Rookie of the Year; he fell just seven points shy of eventual winner Bryce Harper for the award. The decision is among the most controversial in recent years, as Harper had been a midseason call-up while Miley performed well at the major-league level from the start of the season.
Harper’s margin of victory over Miley is the closest in the award’s voting over the last seven years.
Feats from Down Under: With the Diamondbacks last season, Miley served as Opening Day starter opposite the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw in the league’s season opener played at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground in Australia.
Despite the neutral ground, Arizona was designated the home team for the game, meaning Miley took the mound first. He struck out Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig on three pitches to start the game, registering the first major-league regular-season strikeout on Australian soil.
Bonus baby: In his high school days at Seton Hall Preparatory School in West Orange, New Jersey, Porcello had scouts drooling over his potential on the mound. Ranked as the top high school prospect in the country entering the 2007 draft, Porcello had signed a letter of intent to play at the University of North Carolina, although he indicated to teams that he would like to start his professional career. However, the team that drafted him would have to pay, and he hired super agent Scott Boras as an advisor to ensure this (relax Red Sox fans, Boras is not his current agent).
At $11.1 million, the total value of the deal made Porcello the highest-paid high schooler in the sport’s history.
Lights out in May: For whatever reason, Porcello consistently has proven himself to be a dominant pitcher during the month of May. Over his six-year major league career, Porcello has gone 18-7 with a 3.23 ERA in May, compared to 58-56 with a 4.53 ERA in all other months combined.
In his 2009 rookie season, Porcello went 5-0 in five May starts as a 20-year-old, becoming the first pitcher age 20 or younger to win five starts in a row since Dwight Gooden won seven in a row in 1985.
Mr. 300?: It’s a long shot, but considering Porcello’s 76 wins at the age of 25 (he turns 26 in December), there’s a remote possibility Porcello could become a 300-game winner. If the right-hander were to average 15 wins over the next 15 seasons -- bringing him through his age-40 season -- he would be able to claim that honor.
Much easier said than done, but it’s feasible enough for numbers to rationalize.
Red Sox killer: Having been traded by the Red Sox to the Cleveland Indians as part of the Victor Martinez deal back in 2009, Masterson always seemed to save his best stuff for when he was facing his former team.
Then, on Aug. 4, 2011, Masterson committed one of baseball’s rarer feats against the Red Sox. In the bottom of the second inning, Masterson struck out Josh Reddick swinging before a wild pitch allowed Reddick to reach first on the play. He then proceeded to strike out Jason Varitek, Marco Scutaro and Jacoby Ellsbury -- all swinging -- to end the inning, making him one of 68 pitchers in major league history to strike out four batters in a single inning.
Then, on June 2 last season, Masterson recorded 10 strikeouts against the Red Sox, including a fourth inning in which he struck out Jonny Gomes, Grady Sizemore and Stephen Drew on nine pitches, thus recording what is called an “immaculate inning.” Only 72 pitchers in major league history have accomplished that feat.
Ace-caliber?: The burning question in Red Sox Nation is whether the team needs a true ace pitcher to match up against the league’s other elite starters. Perhaps the Sox found one in Masterson.
In 2013, Masterson, the Indians’ Opening Day starter, defeated Toronto Blue Jays ace R.A Dickey to earn his first win of the season. Dickey, traded to Toronto from the New York Mets in the offseason, had just come off an NL Cy Young season. In his next start, Masterson defeated Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price for his second win of the season. Price was named the AL Cy Young winner the season prior. In doing so, Masterson became the third pitcher in major league history to beat both reigning Cy Young winners in the same season, and the first to do so in his first two starts of the season. Sure sounds like an ace to us ...
Consummate good guy: Here’s something you probably already know about Masterson: He’s a really good guy. Masterson, along with his wife Meryl, is involved in a number of charitable organizations. When he was traded last season from Cleveland to the St. Louis Cardinals, Masterson’s Indians teammates all donned his trademark high-sock style in their next game to honor what he meant to the team. And, even though he was largely ineffective on the mound for the Cardinals, Masterson did help teach now-former Cardinal Shelby Miller his sinkerball grip.
In his conference call with Red Sox reporters Friday evening, Masterson ended the call by saying, “Good job” to Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington.
Oh, and if you haven’t heard, Meryl apparently makes the best cookies. Just ask Red Sox broadcasters Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy.
In 52 games, Betts showed a keen batting eye, some occasional pop, the ability to make contact and enough speed on the basepaths to present a consistent threat. Consider those qualities and you've got yourself the prototypical major league leadoff hitter. That's a sentiment that Red Sox manager John Farrell would agree with.
"He's clearly a candidate for us," Farrell said of Betts on Saturday at the team's annual Christmas at Fenway event. "[Former leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury] did such a great job for us for a number of years and when he signed elsewhere we went through a little bit of a search to get those skills."
Brock Holt, who figures to enter next year as a super utility player off the bench. The second was Betts, who took over the spot after Holt sustained a concussion late in the season.
In 22 games out of the leadoff spot, Betts hit .310 with a .388 on-base percentage and low strikeout ratio (16 in 98 plate appearances). And, perhaps more importantly, he showed that he has what it takes to handle the role.
"He's got some natural confidence, there's no question," Farrell said. "I think, because of that confidence, he's somewhat fearless. Now that doesn't mean he's reckless, but he doesn't balk at the challenge that he's been faced with.
"The aggressiveness is combined with some overall awareness and that's the thing you see for a young guy that's so exciting is that there's a game awareness that exists that is pretty unique."
The issue in simply handing Betts the leadoff role, however, is handing Betts a starting job. Having fully transitioned to an outfielder last season, Betts figures to be fourth on the team's depth chart behind Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo and a healthy Shane Victorino.
Of course, plenty could still change before the season starts. For now, Betts has at least caught Farrell's eye as an option to jump-start the Sox's offense, something that is a result of what he showed across his several stints with Boston last season.
"We saw improvement each of the three times he came back to us," Farrell said. "That on-base/speed combination to be a little bit of a base-stealing threat. They are rare. Some strength and speed combination doesn't come along with a lot of guys that come to the big leagues."
Over the past week, Farrell went from having two sure bets for his 2015 rotation in Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly to having a full-fledged staff with the acquisitions of Justin Masterson, Wade Miley and Rick Porcello, courtesy of his general manager Ben Cherington.
"Every guy that evolved into a No. 1 type of starting pitcher, they had opportunity, they had support around them and they performed their way into those roles," Farrell said Saturday at the team's annual Christmas at Fenway event. "We feel like there are candidates currently right now in our rotation that can emerge into that type of performer.
"The guy that goes to the mound tonight, he's the No. 1 starter for us regardless of what someone puts as a ranking or a label on them."
That being said, it should come as little surprise that Farrell was excited to talk about his team's new acquisitions. There's Masterson, a guy Farrell is extremely familiar with as his pitching coach during his first stint with the team in 2008-09.
"Having firsthand knowledge of when he was first coming up and getting established here, certainly he went on to become an All-Star caliber in Cleveland," Farrell said. "We feel like he's primed for a bounce back and getting past some of the physical ailments that I think restricted him somewhat last year."
Then there's Miley, an innings-eating southpaw who's making his way over from the National League.
"A left-hander that gives us that presence in the rotation now that we can kind of start to line up some things," Farrell said. "We feel like his stuff is going to translate well to the American League. The durability is a main trait that attracted us to him."
And finally there's Porcello, who emerged from the shadow of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in Detroit last year to show what he's capable of.
"I think for any pitcher, they begin to mature, they begin to understand what their strengths are," Farrell said. "And I think the one thing with Rick is that the more consistent use of his curveball has really allowed him to be that much more efficient."
It's no coincidence that the three, in addition to Buchholz and Kelly, all have two significant things in common. For one, they've all shown a tendency to keep the ball on the ground. And second, they're all 30 years old or younger, aside from Buchholz, who turned 30 in August.
Farrell said the emphasis on these qualities was by design, as ground-ball pitchers figure to benefit from the Red Sox's above-average infield defense behind them, and pitchers under 30 have typically proved to be the type who excel late in the season.
With that in mind, it seems the Red Sox will be happy with what they have next year, ace or no ace. And Farrell will just be happy to get five names to choose from that he figures he can trust on any given day.
"In a short period of time, Ben has done a great job of being able to build a rotation," Farrell said. "Looking forward to getting things started."
"We didn't succeed, so I don't give us a very good grade," Lucchino said Saturday at the team's annual Christmas at Fenway event.
"We were trying sincerely to get him signed. We wanted him to come back here.
"We were absolutely hopeful that Jon, once he got a sense of what the market would be, would be more inclined to sign with us. As it turned out, that was erroneous."
In the process of signing with the Chicago Cubs for six years and $155 million earlier this week, Lester turned down Boston's six-year, $135 million offer to return to the Red Sox, the team he spent his first nine years in the majors with. The Red Sox traded Lester to the Oakland Athletics at the trade deadline last season.
Lucchino expressed his gratitude toward Lester for what he was able to accomplish in Boston.
"I have some regrets here and there as to how it all went down, but right now I'm trying to focus on the future and express a sense of gratitude to Jon Lester for all he did for us, for the horse that he was for us for so many years, the successful pitcher and person that he was," Lucchino said. "I wish him luck, and I'm glad it's in the other league and not in our league. That's cold comfort but some comfort."
"As Ben said, it was just a starting point," Lucchino said of the initial offer. "Throw out a number to get a process of sequential negotiations beginning. It didn't result in that, so obviously that was unfortunate.
"Just look at the end result. We failed to get done what was our goal, so we are subject to criticism, and rightly so, for that. There's so many steps along the way that could have gone differently."
Lester and his camp turned down requests to negotiate once the season started.
Lucchino said that any criticism the team has received is fair because, in the end, Lester opted to sign with Chicago over Boston.
A league source told ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes that the Red Sox's final offer to Lester was for six years and $135 million with no vesting option. While the offer was larger than the Red Sox anticipated, Lucchino said the team would have been comfortable to give Lester that kind of money.
"If he would have accepted, we would have been very pleased," Lucchino said.
In the aftermath of Lester's signing with the Cubs, the Red Sox have been active in building their rotation, acquiring Rick Porcello and Wade Miley via trade and signing free-agent right-hander Justin Masterson.
"It's been a sort of unpredictable offseason in a lot of ways," Lucchino said. "So much of it was centered on our effort to sign Jon Lester. When we did not succeed in that, we had to revert to Plan B, with respect to pitching."
Whether the Red Sox elect to pursue the type of front-line starter Lester would have represented remains to be seen. However, Lucchino did indicate that there were still moves to be made regarding next year's team.
"It is only December," Lucchino said. "A lot of important moves are made after the spotlight goes away from the winter meetings and the buildup to the winter meetings. We're still in the hunt for players that will make this team stronger in 2015."
"We've been able to acquire the three starters that we have this week while still maintaining what we consider the top end of our young pitching," Cherington said in a conference call with reporters Friday night. "And still have what we think is really good, young pitching depth beyond the five guys that will likely begin the season in the rotation."
That rotation, comprised of Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly along with newcomers Wade Miley, Justin Masterson and Rick Porcello, figures to be a significant improvement over last year's staff, which ranked among the worst in the league in many statistical categories. Meanwhile, the team's top-end young pitching, led by Henry Owens, Brian Johnson and Eduardo Rodriguez, has indeed remained intact, although the Sox did swap talented-yet-unproven arms in Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa for Miley.
"Once Opening Day is gone the whole No. 1 starter thing kind of is overrated," Cherington said. "Whoever takes the ball that night, it's his responsibility to help us win and pitch every five days, so the order really doesn't mean as much once you get past Opening Day. We feel like we have a rotation now that can help us win every game."
But do they have a pitcher who can win the big game when it matters most? Can the staff go toe-to-toe with another rotation in a five- or seven-game series? These are the questions Cherington is still facing, even after this week's roster overhaul. While he seemed pleased with his ability to hold on to his top prospects to this point, that surplus of young talent could potentially open the door for the Red Sox to still be able to acquire a front-line starter if they so desire.
Philadelphia Phillies veteran Cole Hamels remains the hot name on the trade market. A left-hander who has proven he can win on the largest stage, Hamels could easily slide to the top of the Red Sox's rotation for years to come, as he is signed through at least 2018, with a team option for 2019. Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds is another popular name. The 2014 National League Cy Young runner-up, Cueto, too, could slot into the role of team ace before hitting free agency following 2015.
Of course, a deal for either of those two starters would likely require at least one of Boston's top pitching prospects, in addition to a number of talented position player prospects as well.
The decision is Cherington's to make. Sure, free agents Max Scherzer and James Shields remain options as well, but for how much longer? Same goes for Cueto and Hamels.
Whether or not the Red Sox are the team to pull the trigger remains to be seen. For now, they stand poised to start the season with a solid rotation, ace or no ace.
"We feel like the five guys that we have right now that you put in the rotation ... any of those five guys can help us win a game on any given day," Cherington said. "But we'll figure out the order in spring training."
BOSTON -- Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington made it perfectly clear Friday that pitcher Justin Masterson will be in the rotation for the 2015 season, despite the right-hander's subpar performance in 2014.
During a conference call to reintroduce Masterson, Cherington called the 29-year-old an "impressive human being" and said "we're excited to have him back." The Red Sox signed the free-agent pitcher to a one-year deal worth a reported $9.5 million, with $2.5 million in total possible incentives based on innings pitched.
A former reliever for the Red Sox before the club traded him to Cleveland in 2009, Masterson will start for the Red Sox.
"We clearly see Justin as a starter," Cherington said. "That's what he's really been just about all the time since he was traded, so that's the role we expect him to be in, and if he's what we think he will be then he'll be a good one. Justin has had experience pitching out of the bullpen, so obviously he can do that, but we're signing him to be a starter."
Starting is the role Masterson envisions when he arrives at spring training, and he doesn't expect anything to change once the season begins.
"The assurance is that if I pitch the way I'm supposed to then I'll be a starter," he said. "If not, then decisions will be made and I won't be having fun anyways, so that would not be enjoyable because that means I'm not pitching well."
SAN DIEGO -- Clearly, it's an unpopular sentiment in the week that Jon Lester takes up residency in Wrigley Field, but may we offer an alternative narrative to the "Sox owners are idiots" storyline?
How about this one: The Boston Red Sox were willing once again to risk the wrath of their fan base -- as they did most famously in 2004 when they traded Nomar Garciaparra three months before winning their first World Series -- because they have a pretty good idea of how to build a winning baseball team.
In the span of four months, the Sox have added a gifted Cuban center fielder, one of the top right-handed bats in the game and an All-Star third baseman and great October performer, and they will go into 2015 with five veteran starting pitchers, none of whom are older than 30 years old. And an ace to stick on the top of that rotation is within their grasp.
Would this all look better if they had kept Lester, too? Of course. But while no Sox player in recent history (ever?) stayed above the fray of free agency any better than Lester, who even after agreeing with the Cubs spent hours exchanging tweets with disconsolate Sox fans, there are some debatable assumptions being made about how the Sox bollixed negotiations.