Craig Breslow back with Red Sox

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19

BOSTON -- The Red Sox turned to a familiar face to address their need for left-handed bullpen help, coming to terms with Craig Breslow on a one-year, $2 million deal, according to agent Bob Baratta.

Breslow became a free agent when the Red Sox declined his $4 million option for 2015. But general manager Ben Cherington had made it clear from the outset of the offseason that re-signing Breslow was viable due to their conviction that his subpar 2014 season was not emblematic of his body of work.

The deal is pending a physical, Baratta said. earlier reported the agreement.

Baratta had stressed Breslow's superior performance relative to other free agent left-handed relievers in his presentation to clubs. Breslow had the lowest career ERA (3.20) in that group, the lowest hits per nine (7.99), the lowest WHIP (1.29, tied with Joe Thatcher), and the lowest opponents' batting average (.234). He also was second in left on base percentage (75.9 percent) and second in number of days spent on the disabled list.

Breslow followed what was his best season (2013) with what was unarguably his worst, when he posted a 5.96 ERA in 60 appearances, with all of his peripherals just as bad. The 34-year-old left-hander was in San Diego at the winter meetings to make his case to interested clubs.

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No-frills Red Sox roll out Porcello

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
[+] EnlargeRick Porcello
AP Photo/Elise Amendola"The winning tradition here, and everything that they're trying to do going forward, I'm extremely excited," Rick Porcello said about joining the Red Sox. "It's a great opportunity."

BOSTON -- Say this for the Boston Red Sox: They know how to save on the overhead.

On Monday, the Chicago Cubs introduced Jon Lester. Wrigley Field did not suffice for the occasion. The Cubs rented out a trendy Italian bistro on Michigan Avenue. Lester's wife and two kids were there. His parents were there. His wife's parents were there. The owner of the Cubs was in the back of the room, along with most of the front office. Lester wore an expensive suit. So did Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. The news conference, with dozens of media types in attendance, was aired on live TV. Lunch was catered by the restaurant.

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David Ross, Cubs reach deal

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
[+] EnlargeRoss
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesDavid Ross helped the Red Sox win a World Series title in 2013.

Free-agent catcher David Ross has agreed to a deal with the Chicago Cubs, he told ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes via text message.

The deal is for two years and $5 million, a source told ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers.

Fox Sports earlier reported the deal.

Ross, 37, will join recently signed left-hander Jon Lester in Chicago. He was Lester's catcher for 18 games last season with the Boston Red Sox and 29 games over the past two years.

Lester had a 2.02 ERA with Ross catching in 2014 and a 2.77 ERA overall in those 29 games.

Lester has had some of his best success recently with Ross behind the plate, and the two would bring championship experience, as they helped the Red Sox to a title in 2013.

Ross made $3.1 million last season, so he is an affordable option while the Cubs groom 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber.

Ross hit .184 with seven home runs and 15 RBIs in 50 games last season for Boston.

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Middlebrooks dealt for Ryan Hanigan

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19

Third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who earlier this month acknowledged there was no apparent fit for him on the Boston Red Sox after the club signed free agent Pablo Sandoval, will have a chance to restart his career in San Diego.

Middlebrooks is headed to the Padres in a deal for catcher Ryan Hanigan, whom the Padres had just acquired in a multiple-player trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Hanigan's acquisition closes the door on free agent David Ross returning to the Red Sox. Ross texted word Friday that he had signed with the Cubs, where he will join pitcher Jon Lester, who threw to him in 18 of his 21 starts for Boston last season before being traded to Oakland. Ross agreed to a two-year deal for $5 million, a source confirmed to Jesse Rogers of had reported earlier that Ross was signing with San Diego, before retracting that and saying he was deciding between the Cubs and Padres.

The Red Sox and Padres announced the Middlebrooks-Hanigan trade Friday night.

The Red Sox have now lost 14 of the 25 players that were on their Opening Day roster in 2014, a dramatic turnover from a team that won a World Series just 14 months ago.

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By now it's clear the Boston Red Sox's initial extension offer of four years, $70 million to left-handed pitcher Jon Lester during spring training wasn't enough for the two sides to get a deal done.

But, hypothetically, say the Red Sox offered Lester a deal similar to the one Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee got as a free agent in 2010 -- five years, $120 million. Would Lester have taken that deal?

"You go back in time and you look at it and you go, 'Probably, yes,' Lester said Thursday night in an appearance on WEEI's Hot Stove show. "But you don't know. It's one of those deals where when it's sitting in front of you, that's a lot of money to turn down. That would have made it very difficult to turn down."

Instead, after being traded to the Oakland Athletics at the trade deadline, Lester made it to free agency once the season was over, signing a six-year, $155 million deal with the Chicago Cubs. The Red Sox's final offer was for six years and $135 million, a value general manager Ben Cherington described as the best the team could do.

Although many feel the Red Sox's initial offer to Lester was an insult -- especially given how high the market went after the season -- Lester said he was in no way insulted by the offer.

"I think that's an easy topic to pick on for a lot of people. We're all men. We all understand what they were trying to do. By no means was I insulted. By no means were my feelings hurt," Lester said. "They had a game plan and we had a game plan and we went into it with our plans. Just, for whatever reason, we couldn't get anything done before the [2014] season started."

Woman sues Fenway Sports Group

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18

BOSTON -- A 22-year-old woman who fell two stories down an elevator shaft at Fenway Park and was seriously injured is suing the owner of the Boston Red Sox and an elevator company.

Elisabeth Scotland, of Brigantine, New Jersey, sued Wednesday in Superior Court in Boston against Fenway Sports Group and Otis Elevator Co. of Farmington, Connecticut. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

The suit says Scotland fell when a closed elevator door opened when she brushed up against it, and she suffered a traumatic brain injury, spinal injuries, facial fractures and dental damage.

A Red Sox spokesperson declined to comment on the accident, but said all Fenway Park elevators are safe and the team wishes Scotland well.

Otis Elevator officials said they are reviewing the lawsuit. They declined further comment.

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Path to the playoffs: AL East

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
Path to the playoffs logo

Welcome to everyone's favorite division -- or least favorite, depending on your opinion of the Yankees and Red Sox. In the past five years, four different teams have won the division. The exception is Toronto, and the Blue Jays now have the longest playoff drought in the majors, having last reached the postseason in 1993. You may remember how that season ended.

Everybody says the AL East isn't as strong as it once was. That's true. The Yankees haven't made the playoffs the past two seasons and the Red Sox have suffered two terrible seasons sandwiching a World Series title. But it wasn't the worst division in baseball this past season. The AL East was a collective 12 games over .500 outside the division; only the AL West, at plus-13, was better.

In what appears to be a wide-open race, each team doesn't have to stretch the imagination to find a path to the playoffs.

Orioles Baltimore Orioles
2014: 96-66, plus-112 run differential, lost ALCS
2015 projection from FanGraphs: 79-83, minus-18 runs

After winning their first division title since 1997 and drawing their most fans since 2005, the Orioles have responded by doing ... nothing. They've lost Nelson Cruz to the Mariners and Nick Markakis to the Braves and the biggest news was the rumor that general manager Dan Duquette was a candidate for the Blue Jays' presidency, only to see owner Peter Angelos politely remind him that he has a contract through the 2018 season.

Replacing the production from Cruz and Markakis will be a challenge, but those two also missed just a combined 10 games; replacing their presence may be the bigger challenge. While Manny Machado and Matt Wieters missed time with season-ending injuries and then Chris Davis got suspended for amphetamines, Cruz, Markakis and Adam Jones were the rocks manager Buck Showalter wrote into his lineup every day.

But they're not irreplaceable. They were worth a combined 6.8 WAR via Baseball-Reference, and Cruz wasn't a good bet to repeat his 40-homer, 4.7-WAR performance anyway. Yes, the outfield looks a little barren to Jones' left and right, with Alejandro De Aza and David Lough the best candidates to start now, with Steve Pearce, hot off his surprising 2014 performance, filling in if he's not the DH. I suspect the O's will make an addition here, whether it's signing Norichika Aoki or trading for Marlon Byrd or maybe even Justin Upton. Colby Rasmus is also an interesting buy-low free agent.

How do the O's return to the playoffs? As you can see, the projection system used at FanGraphs foresees a big decline, but some of that is the way the system views the Orioles' rotation. It's not a strikeout rotation, which outperformed its periperhals in 2014, so the system sees regression. The O's were fifth in the AL in rotation ERA and had the second-best ERA after the All-Star break. They just need to maintain and rely on that great infield defense to help out.

There is the possibility, however, that the rotation does improve. Kevin Gausman should spend the entire season in the rotation for the first time, and he has potential to develop into a No. 1 or 2 starter. Dylan Bundy is healthy, and the top prospect could make an impact at some point. Plus, there is depth here in numbers. Unlike other teams, the Orioles can afford the inevitable injury attrition.

There are four primary reasons the offense can pick up after Cruz and Markakis:

1. Davis rebounds. An MVP candidate in 2013 after hitting 53 home runs, his OPS fell 300 points. The Steamer projection foresees a .242 average with 32 home runs, or about a two-win upgrade from 2014 (although still four wins below his 2013 level). The upside, of course, is even higher.

2. Wieters returns. He was off to the best season of his career when he went down in late May and had Tommy John surgery. He'll give the team more offense at catcher and be able to DH on his off days.

3. Jonathan Schoop improves. Rushed to the majors, he hit .209/.244/.354. His power (16 home runs) was a bright spot, but he has to improve his 122/13 strikeout/walk ratio.

4. Machado plays more games. He appeared in just 82 last year before injuring his knee.

The projections don't like the Orioles. But they didn't like them this past season, and Baltimore won 96 games.

Yankees New York Yankees
2014: 84-78, minus-31 run differential
2015 projection: 83-79, plus-17

Odd fact: The Yankees became the first team to get outscored in consecutive seasons and finish over .500 both years.

Prediction: It won't happen three years in a row. Which means the Yankees have to score more runs and/or allow fewer just to stay at 84 wins.

So far, they lost closer David Robertson but signed Andrew Miller, coming off his season of destruction. They re-signed third baseman Chase Headley and pitcher Chris Capuano and acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius from Arizona. Yankees fans will be thrilled to see what a shortstop who can go to his left actually looks like. Oh, and Alex Rodriguez returns to baseball. He's not the reason to predict a path to the playoffs.

This is:

Masahiro Tanaka
CC Sabathia
Michael Pineda
David Phelps
Max Scherzer

Yes, you read that correctly. I'd say Scherzer would make for a pretty nice No. 5 starter. The list of potential suitors for the ace right-hander is limited, given his reported asking price of $200 million, give or take a small mansion. The Yankees say they're not interested. The Yankees always say they aren't interested until they are. They have the money if they want to spend it: Their projected payroll right now is $38 million less than the Dodgers' payroll, and there's no reason they can't spend what the Dodgers are spending, so that leaves plenty of room to sign Scherzer and still have money left over for a nice dinner at NYY Steak.

Anyway: Scherzer, a healthy CC, a healthy Tanaka, a full season from Pineda ... that's a scary rotation.

Beyond that: Full seasons from Headley and Martin Prado and the addition of Gregorius will make the infield much better (don't be surprised if Gregorius even outhits 2014 Derek Jeter); Brian McCann, just 31, is certainly capable of a better season; Carlos Beltran is getting up there in age (37), but Steamer projects better numbers for him; Jacoby Ellsbury's first year in the Bronx was so-so; and Dellin Betances and Miller -- 6-foot-8 and 6-7, respectively -- may be the most intimidating bullpen duo in the majors.

There are obviously injury concerns with Sabathia, Tanaka and Pineda. But we keep trying to kill off the Yankees and they haven't completely capitulated just yet. If that group stays healthy and they bring in Scherzer to lead the way, it could be the Yankees in the East.

Blue Jays Toronto Blue Jays
2014: 83-79, plus-37 run differential
2015 projection: 84-78, plus-29

Nobody can hit these days. The Angels led the majors with 773 runs. In 2009, that would have ranked 12th. In 2004, that would have ranked 18th. So teams are starving for offense.

But the Blue Jays have hitters. Among players with 400 plate appearances, Jose Bautista ranked fifth in the majors in wOBA (weighted on-base average, a metric that captures a players complete hitting performance); Edwin Encarnacion was 12th; Russell Martin 19th; and Josh Donaldson (48th), with the A's last season, now moves to a better hitter's park. Bautista and Martin ranked third and fourth in OBP; Bautista, Encarnacion and Donaldson all ranked in the top 12 in home runs.

No, 2015 isn't 2014, but that projects as the best middle of the order in the majors.

Did I mention Josh Donaldson? He ranks second in Baseball-Reference WAR among position players the past two seasons, behind only Mike Trout. How can you not get all dreamy over that trade if you're the Blue Jays? Donaldson was about four wins above average last season; Blue Jays third basemen were about average, so Donaldson is a four-win upgrade, given similar rates of production.

The Jays lost Melky Cabrera via free agency but made a sneaky good pickup in Michael Saunders, a guy who could have a big season as he leaves the marine layer in the Pacific Northwest. If he stays healthy, don't be surprised if he replaces Cabrera's value -- less average, but a little more power and better defense.

Everyone says the Jays don't have an ace -- not that you need an ace to make the postseason. But maybe they do have one: Marcus Stroman may be only 5-9 but he had a big rookie season, posting a 3.65 ERA in 130.2 innings. His FIP was even better, at 2.84. He has six pitches and throws hard and throws strikes. Don't be surprised if he's a top-10 starter in the AL.

Drew Hutchison had a fine season in his return from Tommy John surgery; he'll do better than 11-13 with a 4.48 ERA. Veterans Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey provide durability and stability. Lefty Daniel Norris, one of the best pitching prospects in the game, jumped from Class A to the majors after striking out 163 in 124.2 innings; he could be this year's Stroman. Aaron Sanchez looks like a shutdown reliever the team needs after allowing just 14 hits in 33 innings after his recall to the majors.

The Jays could use a second baseman, maybe free agent Asdrubal Cabrera, which would mean a lineup something like this:

SS Jose Reyes
C Russell Martin
RF Jose Bautista
1B Edwin Encarnacion
3B Josh Donaldson
LF Michael Saunders
2B Asdrubal Cabrera
DH Dioner Navarro/Justin Smoak
CF Dalton Pompey

That's an offense that can score runs. The 22-year-old drought may be over.

Rays Tampa Bay Rays
2014: 77-85, minus-13 run differential
2015 projection: 83-79, plus-13

Everyone seems down on the Rays. David Price is gone, Matt Joyce was shipped out, Wil Myers just got dealt and manager Joe Maddon opted out of his contract. The Rays can't spend like the big boys and they're coming off their worst season since they were the Devil Rays.

A few reasons to believe in a path to the playoffs:

1. The rotation could still be the best in the league. Alex Cobb -- with a 2.82 ERA the past two seasons -- has an argument as the best starter in the division. The Rays have four starters lining up behind Cobb and coming into their own at the same time: Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi and Matt Moore (coming off Tommy John surgery).

2. Evan Longoria will return to being an MVP candidate.

3. They'll hit better with runners in scoring position. They hit .241 with runners in scoring position this past season, including the worst wOBA with the bases loaded in the AL. Both figures were below their overall season totals, so expect some of that bad luck to reverse.

4. Ben Zobrist is still a good player.

5. Nick Franklin may become a good player.

6. They traded Myers but picked up a guy named Steven Souza from the Nationals. After crushing Triple-A pitching, he projects to be just as good as Myers, if not slightly better.

7. Catcher Rene Rivera, acquired from the Padres in the three-way deal that sent them Myers, is one of the best pitch-framers in the business. And he will hit better than the dearly departed Jose Molina.

8. That projection above suggests the Rays will be in the race (it doesn't include Wednesday's trade). Given the potential of the rotation, the Rays can win 90 again, just like they did in each from 2010 to 2013.

Red Sox Boston Red Sox
2014: 71-91, minus-81 run differential
2015 projection: 87-75, plus-53 runs

Boston's busy offseason has been much discussed. Many believe the Red Sox still need to pick up another starter to anchor the rotation, but FanGraphs already projects them as the best team in the division.

That may be surprising after this past season's last-place finish, but general manager Ben Cherington has done a nice job reconstructing his starting rotation. Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson aren't flashy but should be a durable and reliable trio (especially if Masterson's knee, which bothered him in 2014, is healthy).


Right now, who is your pick to win the AL East?


Discuss (Total votes: 16,358)

Plus, the Red Sox can dream on these possibilities:

1. Mookie Betts, All-Star. Yes, he's that good.

2. Xander Bogaerts, All-Star. His rookie season was a disappointment. He also just turned 22. It all comes together this year.

3. Rusney Castillo does the job in center field with a solid all-around season (that 87-win projection actually includes Castillo being only a replacement-level player).

4. David Ortiz has one more big season.

5. Pablo Sandoval thrives, hitting doubles off the Green Monster.

6. Hanley Ramirez is motivated and healthy and hits and plays left field at least as well as Manny Ramirez did. OK, better than Manny.

7. Dustin Pedroia goes back to hitting .290-.300 with 15-20 home runs.

8. One or two of the young pitching prospects -- Henry Owens, Matt Barnes, Eduardo Rodriguez, Anthony Ranaudo -- makes a big impact, either in the rotation or bullpen.

And then they may add Cole Hamels, or trade for a starter during the season ...

Cora on Castillo: 'He's not a prima donna'

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
Alex Cora, who played 14 seasons in the big leagues, including four with the Red Sox, on Wednesday gave a strong endorsement to Rusney Castillo, the Cuban outfielder who is playing for Cora in Puerto Rico as he prepares for his first spring training with the Red Sox.

“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."

[+] EnlargeRusney Castillo
Mike Janes/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesCastillo may have signed a six-year, $72 million contract with the Sox, but according to Alex Cora, "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."
Cora, whose playing career ended when he was released by the Cardinals in spring training 2012, is in his first season of managing Caguas, his hometown team in the Liga de Beisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente, the winter league on the island. He also has served as GM for the past three seasons, and after Castillo signed with the Red Sox in August, Cora texted Sox GM Ben Cherington, offering Caguas as a place where Castillo could get some playing time. Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, like Castillo a native of Cuba, had come to Puerto Rico in 2012 and played for Mayaguez in preparation for his first season, so Cora expected Cherington would be looking to place Castillo as well.

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."

Sox acquire reliever Varvaro from Braves

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
The Boston Red Sox on Tuesday acquired middle reliever Anthony Varvaro from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for minor-league reliever Aaron Kurcz and cash considerations, which would appear to close the door on free agent Burke Badenhop’s return to the Sox. The Braves had designated Varvaro for assignment on Monday.

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.

Trade to A's made it easier for Jon Lester to chose Cubs over Red Sox in free agency

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15

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."

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
David Banks/Getty ImagesJon Lester said his longstanding trust in Theo Epstein made it easier to believe that good things are in on the way in the Cubs' future.
Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry was pretty open that while trying to lure Lester back to town, he kept pushing the idea of finishing off his legacy in Boston. Having already won two championships with the Red Sox, the possibility of finishing off his career at Fenway and potentially being part of a dynasty had to tug at Lester's heart. Lester admitted that everything weighed into his decision-making, but in his mind, the legacy aspect had already lost some weight.

"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."


With Jon Lester saying the midseason trade to Oakland made it easier for him to sign with Chicago over Boston this offseason, do you wish the Sox never would have dealt him?


Discuss (Total votes: 12,184)

Lester said that money was not discussed during the meeting, which he felt was very important and added to how much the sit-down meant to him.

"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."

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
David Banks/Getty Images"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," Jon Lester said about the Cubs. "That outweighed the Boston decision."
With all that said, it's hard not to feel that the Red Sox didn't capitalize on their longstanding relationship with Lester and an exclusive negotiating window with him last season. Add in the fact that he stated a desire to remain with the club, potentially at a discount, in January and it feels all the more like a missed opportunity.

"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."
The Boston Red Sox announced Monday the acquisition of Chicago Cubs minor league shortstop Marco Hernandez as the player to be named later in the teams' July 30 trade that sent left-handed pitcher Felix Doubront to Chicago.

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.
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia took the news hard that former teammate and close friend Jon Lester was signing with the Chicago Cubs rather than returning to Boston.

“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 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.

State of the Red Sox rotation

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
[+] EnlargeRick Porcello
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesIf the Red Sox don't add another starter, Rick Porcello is the man most likely to emerge as the ace of the staff, according to an poll.

Here's something to consider, on a day that the Chicago Cubs commandeered a swanky Michigan Avenue bistro to introduce Jon 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.

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Jon Lester bought in to Cubs' plan

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15

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.

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