Sunday baseball notes

Lavarnway and Iglesias could offer major help

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / March 25, 2012
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The two best players at the catcher and shortstop positions in the Red Sox organization are Ryan Lavarnway and Jose Iglesias. If they don’t make the final 25-man roster, you have to wonder what’s going on.

Iglesias saves runs, will likely hit better than people think, and is almost necessary for what could be a challenged starting rotation. In other words, the pitchers are going to need help.

You can’t have balls trickle through the shortstop hole or go up the middle uncontested. You can’t have pop-ups falling in for base hits. You can’t extend innings for this pitching staff, especially when you reach the back of the rotation.

Mike Aviles is a nice player who can provide some offensive benefit as a utility player. The Phillies, for one, would love to have him as they try to plug a gaping hole with Chase Utley likely to miss the opener.

But to say he can be an everyday shortstop? Not many scouts would agree with that, especially for a team that doesn’t have much range on that side of the infield and has a pitching staff that’s going to need every advantage it can get.

Ask the pitchers in the clubhouse whom they would like to see playing shortstop.

As for Lavarnway, the upside is tremendous. The power, the pure hitting are already there. The defense has to catch up, but as a National League scout pointed out, “Is there that much of a difference defensively between [Jarrod] Saltalamacchia and Lavarnway?’’

Saltalamacchia is more experienced and may know the pitching staff better. But at some point, you have to throw Lavarnway out there and let him learn the pitchers. There have been no complaints that I’m aware of that Lavarnway, a Yale graduate, can’t manage a staff and call a game.

According to manager Bobby Valentine and the coaches, catching guru Gary Tuck has given Lavarnway improved grades in all aspects of his defense.

Will going to Pawtucket for a couple of months be that beneficial for Lavarnway? He already has been catching Triple A pitchers.

Do the Red Sox really believe that a Saltalamacchia-Kelly Shoppach tandem will be better than a Saltalamacchia-Lavarnway tandem?

And do they really believe that Aviles is a better choice at shortstop over Iglesias? Going with Aviles would continue the organization’s recent indifferent approach to the position.

There were short stints by Orlando Cabrera and Alex Gonzalez, but for the most part, the Sox have gone with the “fill-in’’ guy with more offensive capabilities.

They traded their starter, Marco Scutaro, feeling that Aviles would be about a wash.

But there comes a point at which you have to believe your guys are ready. A predominantly veteran lineup with firepower should be able to absorb whatever growing pains the two young players have to go through. And there will be growing pains.

The feeling is that Iglesias can do things with the bat. At first, he will be asked to move runners along, hit and run, bunt for a hit. As he gets more comfortable, he’ll likely feel he can do more and start driving the ball. The hope is that he can at least extend his at-bats and make the pitcher work deep into the count.

Iglesias has a tremendous ally in Valentine, who obviously sees his former Mets shortstop, Rey Ordonez, in him, though Valentine feels there’s more upside offensively.

It’s not a stretch to think he also sees former Met Mike Piazza in Lavarnway, an offensive catcher who can win games with his bat.

Valentine is a superb talent evaluator and has a lot of faith in these two. Shouldn’t the manager be given the 25 players he wants when camp breaks?

The flip side of the argument is that it’s difficult to go with both a rookie shortstop and catcher. The Reds have this right now with Zack Cozart scheduled to start at short and Devin Mesoraco likely to split the catching duties with Ryan Hanigan.

Granted, Cozart is 25, three years older than Iglesias, and he spent two seasons at Triple A, while Mesoraco, 23, hit 15 homers and knocked in 71 runs at Triple A last season.

Nobody wants to be accused of rushing a player to the big leagues, because if the player flops, teams fear there will be stories about how the organization “ruined’’ that player. This is rarely the case.

Former Expos and Giants manager Felipe Alou, who really knew young players, always fought to get a young player up to the majors a year early. His feeling was, let the kid experience the majors and let me get him ready for next year.

It also could be good for Saltalamacchia to be challenged by a guy who could take his job in a few months. Not that Saltalamacchia needs that motivation, because there may not be a harder-working, more dedicated player on the team. But Lavarnway’s upside far exceeds what Saltalamacchia can offer.

“Some organizations have trouble pulling the trigger on their young players, especially in high-profile places where there’s a lot of scrutiny,’’ said an American League general manager. “But you have to be able to struggle for a while with your young players until they’re able to figure it out on the major league level.

“And that’s going to happen no matter how much time they spend in the minors. You have to get that major league experience - the speed of the game, the nuances you just can’t experience until you’re there.

“The longer you put that off, the more you’re putting off the advent of what could be a significant player for your team. This, of course, is if the player is just about ready. And the Red Sox seem to have two players who are ‘just about ready.’

“Listen, we hope they keep those guys in Triple A all season.’’

It’ll be interesting to see how this roster battle turns out, how much disagreement will come about from different factions of the organization.

But it’s obvious that Iglesias and Lavarnway are the best of what Boston has at two of the most critical positions on the field.


On Sox topics, survey says . . .

Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C., polled 936 Massachusetts voters from March 16-18 on a variety of Red Sox subjects, and got some interesting results:

■ 81 percent consider themselves Red Sox fans, and 19 percent do not. The firm considers that an amazing percentage.

■ Red Sox fans still love Terry Francona; 69 percent have a favorable opinion of him, and only 7 percent unfavorable. As for Bobby Valentine, he got favorable responses from 44 percent, and unfavorable from only 6 percent, but 50 percent were undecided. Asked whom they’d rather have as manager, fans went for Francona over Valentine, 39 percent to 28 percent.

■ 72 percent of Sox fans support Valentine’s move to ban alcohol. Only 10 percent disagree, and 18 percent are not sure.

■ 82 percent think the Red Sox will make the postseason, but only 39 percent think they will win the American League pennant, and just 20 percent think they’ll win the World Series.

■ 29 percent say Jacoby Ellsbury is their favorite player, to 25 percent for Dustin Pedroia. David Ortiz was the only other player in double digits, at 16 percent. Kevin Youkilis got 6 percent, Josh Beckett 5 percent, Jon Lester 4 percent, and Clay Buchholz and Adrian Gonzalez 2 percent.

■ The best Red Sox player of all time? Ted Williams wins easily with 45 percent, to 17 percent for Carl Yastrzemski, 12 percent for Babe Ruth, 6 percent for Carlton Fisk, 5 percent for Johnny Pesky, Jim Rice, and Joe Cronin, 4 percent for Bobby Doerr, and 2 percent for Roger Clemens.

■ Pollsters also asked about Red Sox greats turned Yankee players. Sox fans still love Ruth, giving him a 68/12 favorable/unfavorable split. Feelings about Wade Boggs were more mixed; 35 percent of fans think his number should be retired, but 29 percent are opposed, and 36 percent unsure. Clemens is now a target of scorn among his former fans; only 23 percent see him favorably, while 56 percent have a negative opinion.


Apropos of nothing

1. Will Albert Pujols do for Howie Kendrick what Barry Bonds did for Rich Aurilia? In 2001, Aurilia hit .324 with 37 homers, 97 RBIs, and a .941 OPS batting in front of Bonds, who hit 73 homers and knocked in 137 runs.

2. Speaking of the Angels, young Garrett Richards could edge out Jerome Williams for the fifth spot in the rotation, as Williams is nursing a strained hamstring. The Halos might be in the hunt for someone like John Lannan (also on Detroit’s radar) or Joe Blanton for end-of-the-rotation help.

3. White Sox reliever Will Ohman has played for the following managers: Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, and Ozzie Guillen.

4. The Red Sox may be destined for the same pitching woes they had last season.

5. Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin is the best strike-thrower in the game, averaging 1.1 walks per nine innings. Yet he may be throwing too many strikes. In four spring starts, he has a 10.50 ERA, giving up 26 hits and 17 runs in 12 innings. Tomlin, who had some elbow soreness at the end of last season, hasn’t walked a batter, however. The Indians hope it’s just one of those things and that he doesn’t change his approach.

6. The Pirates have to be concerned with third baseman Pedro Alvarez. After hitting .191 last season, he started this spring 4 for 30 with 13 strikeouts and was expected to miss the weekend with minor knee inflammation.

7. The Phillies say they will go with young Freddy Galvis at second base - and absolutely nobody believes them. “What they’re saying publicly and what they’re doing behind the scenes are two different things,’’ said an AL scout. “They’re actively looking for an infielder. I wouldn’t be shocked if they came up with a starting-caliber-type player.’’ Let’s solve the problem: Blanton for Mike Aviles.

8. The Giants are looking for a big righthanded bat. Could Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds fit the bill?

9. Lefty relievers, middle infielders, and back-end starters. Those seem to be the areas of need for many teams.

10. The Red Sox really missed the boat on Hiroki Kuroda, a 200-inning starter who cost the Yankees only $10 million. After the surprise of Boston not signing him, the Yankees swooped in for what they consider a bargain.

11. Players Association executive director Michael Weiner sure does lay things out simply and easily when speaking about labor issues. Weiner has a lot of experience with arbitration, and you could see him getting wide-eyed when the topic of a David Ortiz arbitration hearing came up. Had the case gone to a hearing, said Weiner, it would have been “one for the ages.’’

12. Joba Chamberlain is just one of those snakebitten guys. Dislocated ankle on a trampoline? Can certainly see how it could happen. Trampolines are tricky. So why was he on one?

13. Owners never accepted Jeff Moorad as a buyer for the Padres. Moorad stepped down as CEO last week and does not appear to be in line to buy the team from John Moores. The team is still for sale, and don’t be surprised if a few of the Dodgers runner-ups get involved.

14. Potential Dodgers owner Steve Cohen is a friend of Bobby Valentine.

15. Holy undeserving! Erik Bedard is Pittsburgh’s Opening Day starter.

Updates on nine

1. Bryan LaHair, 1B, Cubs - LaHair, who hit 38 homers last season in Triple A and had a very good September, has slumped recently but is still slated to start on Opening Day. LaHair has hit only .200 through 40 at-bats. He eventually will have to worry about Anthony Rizzo, who has hit .364 with two homers but is scheduled to go back to Triple A. LaHair has to pick it up.

2. Kevin Slowey, RHP, Indians - He appeared to be a shoo-in for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, but now he’s going to have to earn it. He has a 6.75 ERA and opponents are hitting .352 against him. Slowey, who is out of options, could be one of those guys swapped for another out-of-options pitcher.

3. Kurt Suzuki, C, A’s - The Rays have been trying hard to get him, but Oakland isn’t crazy about Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann in return. As one National League GM pointed out, “The Davises and Niemanns are the type of pitchers that Billy [Beane] winds up trading. He wants a higher grade of pitcher.’’ Right now, the Rays aren’t willing to go there.

4. Roy Oswalt, RHP, free agent - To land him, Red Sox ownership has to loosen the purse strings. Simple as that. The geographic argument - that he wants to play in the Midwest or South - can be overcome with money, according to a major league source. Oswalt has yet to hear the number that will coax him out of retirement, but the Red Sox are going into the season deficient in pitching (compared with the Rays and Yankees) because they don’t have a veteran like Oswalt.

5. Freddy Garcia, RHP, Yankees - The Yankees are being a little careful about trading their pitching depth, but it appears Garcia would be available at the right price, which may be high. It looks more and more like they want Phil Hughes in the rotation, and with Andy Pettitte getting ready in the minors, Garcia could be someone’s back-end piece.

6. Jordan Zimmerman, RHP, Nationals - You can’t blame the Angels for asking about him, but there’s no chance unless tremendous talent (say, Mike Trout) goes back to Washington, and that’s not about to happen. The Angels want a young, controllable pitcher, even though they have a fairly deep staff.

7. Darnell McDonald, OF, Red Sox - If the Red Sox need to weed out some outfielders, or if they decide to make Mike Aviles the platoon right fielder, there would be a market for McDonald. He can hit lefthanded pitching, and the Indians, Giants, and Braves are all looking for a righthanded-hitting outfielder.

8. Kevin Correia, RHP, Pirates - The Pirates would entertain a deal for the veteran righty, according to major league sources. A serviceable pitcher, Correia could be a back-end piece. You can add him to the mix of available guys of that ilk (Blanton, Lannan, Slowey, etc.).

9. Gavin Floyd, RHP, and John Danks, LHP, White Sox - They’re both available in the right deal, but according to one GM, “You’d have to load up the package with at least two A-level prospects and a third that’s a notch below, and that might not get it done. Kenny Williams will trade anyone on that team for the right price, but he knows he’s got some assets there and he’s going to get top value.’’

Short hops

From the Bill Chuck files: “In 2010, there were eight catchers with 300 plate appearances who had an OPS over .800. Last season, there were seven: Mike Napoli (1.046), Alex Avila (.895), Nick Hundley (.824), Miguel Montero (.820), Brian McCann (.817), Yadier Molina (.814), and Carlos Santana (.808). The only repeater was McCann.’’ Also, “Of the eight active players with 1,100 runs, 1,100 RBIs, and 1,100 walks - Lance Berkman, Jim Thome, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, Chipper Jones, and Todd Helton - the only one without 1,100 strikeouts is Berkman (1,044).’’ . . . Happy 64th birthday, Mike Nagy.

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