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Andy Pettitte Returns: Would Jesus Montero Still Be a Yankee If He Never Left?

Andy Pettitte is one of the most popular players of the Joe Torre era that netted the Yankee franchise four World Series rings and six trips to the October classic. 

His return was met with far more excitement than skepticism; after all, Pettitte won’t be 40 until June and even though he hasn’t pitched since 2010, he managed to amass an 11-3 record and a 3.28 ERA in what was assumed to be his final season as a major league pitcher. 

Of course, all that changed yesterday when it was announced that Pettitte was returning to New York to don pinstripes and give it another go. 

It’s safe to assume that nearly every Yankee fan will be rooting for Pettitte’s success. One has to wonder if when Pettitte’s people contacted the Yankees, someone in the Yankee front office said to themselves, “Thanks a lot, Andy; you couldn’t have let us know about this three months ago?”

That’s because in the last three months, the Yankees have made some major moves that one would have to think might not have happened had the team known that Andy Pettitte was thinking about returning. 

The most significant of those moves was the trade made back in December in which the Yankees sent Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. 

It was a major trade in Yankee-land because Montero was arguably the best offensive Yankee prospect since the turn of the century. They got a pretty good player in return as well by acquiring Michael Pineda from the Mariners. Pineda was coming off a fantastic rookie season in which he made the All-Star team and finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting. 

The problem is that while Montero has amassed an OPS of .936 along with a home run and a .304 batting average this spring, Pineda has been hampered by a drop in velocity, which has people speculating that he could start the season in the minors. Those struggles coupled with some weight issues had people speculating about him starting the season in the minors before Andy Pettitte even announced his return.

Had the Yankees been aware of Pettitte’s potential return, it’s worth wondering if that trade of Montero for Pineda ever would have happened in the first place? Maybe the Yanks wouldn’t have signed Hiroki Kuroda, or maybe Raul Ibanez would be playing elsewhere since Montero’s bat probably would have made the need to add a bat far less urgent to Yankee brass.

It’s impossible to say for sure what would have happened had Pettitte voiced his thoughts about a potential return to pinstripes a few months ago.

One has to assume that Pettitte has returned to the Yankees both to satisfy his own individual competitive desires as well as to return the Yankees to glory in October, but his team might have been in a better position to do that had Pettitte been a little more forthcoming in his decision-making process a few months ago.

Regardless of how effective and what type of impact Pettitte will have on this year’s Yankee team, his timing may have had a major impact on the team’s fortunes going forward. Montero could be a major offensive star; the Yankees resisted numerous offers to deal him for years in hopes that they could find other ways to fill out their rotation while retaining Montero. Once it became apparent that they could not, they pulled the trigger on the deal for Pineda.

MIchael Pineda may bounce back from his shaky spring and have a great season, or he could struggle this season and still go on to have a great career. If that’s the case, then the Yankees won’t think twice about having made the deal, but if Pineda struggles and if Montero continues to show off his offensive abilities, then not only will the Yankees have made a bad trade, but it’s one they might not have had to make in the first place.  

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Boston Red Sox: 4 Spring Training Stories Worth Following

Watching spring training baseball is not the most intense experience when it comes to viewing live sporting events.

The fans in the stands look relaxed, the weather is warm and sunny, the players seem laid back. 

It’s enough to make one forget about what exactly is taking place. 

There are, after all, only so many spots available on the opening day roster of any baseball team and as the month of March ticks down toward the start of April, players are going to become aware of their presence on or off of that roster. 

For some players making the team is a given. Dustin Pedroia doesn’t go home at night in Fort Meyers thinking, “I sure do hope I make the club this year.” That wasn’t always the case though. Five years ago Dustin Pedroia was in that unenviable position. 

Entering the 2007 season Pedroia had started only 24 games in the majors, and while he was the favorite to become the Red Sox second baseman, he was not assured of any type of long-term stay, unless of course he performed well enough to earn it. 

Five years later after a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP, two Gold Gloves and one World Series ring, spring training is nothing more than a preseason for Pedroia. 

It’s not that way for everyone in Fort Meyers though. Especially not this year in the aftermath of the 2011 debacle, as there are numerous stories developing in the seemingly tranquil atmosphere of spring training. 

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Red Sox Baseball 2012: Thinking the Unthinkable About the End of 2011

Here’s something odd to ponder. 

Will fans, media and even perhaps members of the actual team (the ones who have remained at least) look back on the end of the 2011 season, along with all of its traumatic aftermath, and think to themselves, “we’re all better off that things went down the way they did?”

It’s not a normal way to view things that one finds to be so agitating. Make no mistake about it, unless you were one of the people for whom their actual job changed or was at least altered as a result of last season’s Red Sox implosion, then it really wasn’t that bad. 

Don’t get me wrong, it was bad. It was the worst way to end a baseball regular season that I can remember. Even worse, was the fallout. Red Sox fans had to endure the departures of long-standing favorites. Symbols of success had become ones of failure. It was a major bummer. 

With that in mind, there’s no way it could be looked at in any way as a good thing, right? 

There’s no explicit rule about what exactly makes a team mentally strong. There’s no magic formula for toughness. Bobby Valentine has arrived in Fort Meyers and has brought with him a new ban on beer in the clubhouse

His style is going to differ dramatically from that of the more laid back Terry Francona. Managers of all types have had success in Major League Baseball. Billy Martin was far more high strung than Valentine, yet he found success. Bobby Cox was not known to be the same sort of high-strung presence that Valentine is, but he was also wildly successful. 

Tony La Russa was controlling but also very cerebral. Joe Torre offered up a similar personality to that of Terry Francona. All men found varying degrees of success and failure as managers. That’s because there is no magic formula for success. 

A lot of it is on the players. Yes, there are the tangible things like maintaining physical conditioning. There’s also an attitude and a group dynamic worth thinking about also. Every team that losses doesn’t lack that cohesiveness, but those that ultimately win often do. 

The one thing that’s most apparent from last year’s collapse wasn’t that the players were fat or drunk, it was that the bond—the unity in thought and on-the-field attitude—had somehow become fractured. 

This year’s current Red Sox team has yet to play a game or even really play an inning of baseball, but already they’ve displayed something that, from the outside looking in, last year’s team lacked: unity.

There really does seem to be an edge to the team. You can see it in the nearly identical takes from members of last year’s Red Sox when it comes to the more publicized aspects of the collapse. 

It goes beyond that, though. In today’s Boston Globe, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz gets noticeably angry at long time Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy over a case of mistaken identity. It seems that Shaughnessy and fellow Globe writer Kevin DuPont had made an online video discussing the 2012 Red Sox, and in that video DuPont drew a comparison between the current David Ortiz and now-retired Red Sox slugger Jim Rice.

The comparison wasn’t all that flattering, and Ortiz was angry about it. It’s not the anger so much as what he says to Shaughnessy at one point in the column. After Shaughnessy inquires as to why Ortiz was so angry, he snaps.

“I am still here for a reason, right? Anybody can have a bad season. I work my ass off to get better every year. I always come hungry and I try to make things happen.”

Boston Globe 2/25/12

Clearly Ortiz is fired up. It’s not even March and he’s already pissed off at the press and the fans and anyone who doubts him. This attitude was alluded to by Clay Buchholz over a week ago, when he first showed up in Fort Meyers. 

“I think a lot of the guys have come here with a chip on their shoulder about it and we want to do well and we want to go to October this year.”

Boston Globe 2/16/12

Is it a stretch to suggest the possibility that a unified and somewhat angry Red Sox team with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove could be a more dangerous team this year? Is it a stretch to also suggest that their manager, who has been absent from a major league dugout for nearly a full decade, also has something to prove? Could that mix result in 5-to-10 more wins? 

That’s all it really has to do. The Red Sox, in spite of the highly publicized collapse, finished with 90 wins. A 95-100-win season would likely assure the team of, at the very least, a playoff berth. After that, who knows? Who knows whether or not last season’s collapse was the end of a great era or merely the spark to begin a new one? 

As of now, no one knows. We’re going to find out soon enough, though. 

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Boston Red Sox: Josh Beckett Might Just Have a Point

The funny thing about the end of the 2011 Red Sox season is that there’s never really been any sort of settled story about what exactly transpired as the Red Sox stumbled to a third place American League East finish. 

Beer? Chicken? A lack of conditioning? Discord in the clubhouse? Anger at the owner? All have been discussed in various formats and forums.

We know there was a mix of all of these aspects that probably contributed in some way to the team’s poor performance. We don’t know what that mix was though. 

We don’t know if things would have turned out differently had one, two or all of these things not transpired. 

When Josh Beckett, a player whose name seemed to surface when any and all of these transgressions were brought up in the press, took to the airwaves earlier in the week to finally voice his own opinion on the accusations. There were plenty of people waiting eagerly to hear what he had to say

Apparently many were not pleased.

The Boston Globe seems to think he “missed the point.”

In Western Massachusetts, the major sports columnists also seem troubled.

To quote Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friends.”

Maybe Josh Beckett slacked off, ate bad food, got hammered and then showed up 10 minutes before first pitch with bloodshot eyes and got blitzed on the mound? I doubt it though. At this point none of it matters that much.

Players make mistakes, people make mistakes and in the end as Beckett put it, “The biggest key was—we stunk on the field. That was the bottom line. If we would have pitched better, none of that stuff would have been an issue.” 

On this point, Beckett is 100 percent right. No one would have cared if the Sox were all needing designated drivers to get home after games if they had gone 16-5 in September. In fact, if they had won the World Series there would probably be people debating the merits of excessive alcohol consumption all over New England.

Not too many people look back on David Wells’ perfect game and think he was a bad teammate because he was apparently hungover or possibly still drunk that day.

Dock Ellis has chapters of books dedicated to reliving the no-hitter he threw in 1970, while under the influence of LSD.

The 2004 Red Sox, men who are basically heroes in the eyes of nearly every Red Sox fan, apparently did shots of Jack Daniels before games. Not just pitchers who were on their off days. Players who were playing baseball, big meaningful, historically relevant baseball games were doing pregame shots of whiskey in an effort to bond as a team.

It worked and they won and thus the story works too. It’s a story of team closeness and companionship. It practically adds to the already legendary relevance of the story.

Not in 2011 though. 

No, in 2011 the drinking was bad and the fact that Beckett won’t come on television and basically tell everyone what a bad teammate he was, as well as what a bad leader he was, just isn’t acceptable. 

What’s even more interesting is that Beckett is known as a player who does step up and take responsibility. 

“Love Beckett or hate him, he has generally been accountable during his time in Boston. Nobody beats himself up more after losses. Particularly during the early part of his tenure with the Red Sox, Beckett took credit for nothing, blame for everything. He embraced the responsibility that came along with his talent. Privately, Beckett spoke of his desire to win 300 games and treated his job with the utmost professionalism, an approach that earned him the respect of his teammates, coaches and bosses.” – Boston Globe 2/10/12

So with that type of reputation, along with almost zero primary source confirmed information regarding what exactly went on behind the scenes and who it involved, then maybe Beckett is being made into a bit of a scapegoat? 

The odds are that a lot of whatever exactly was going on was going on before September. The Red Sox were doing pretty well up until that point. It might be a bit of a stretch to suggest that pitchers drinking in the clubhouse on off days automatically equals lots of losses. 

It also might be a bit of a stretch to suggest that Josh Beckett, all of a sudden, became a bad clubhouse presence, or that because he’s recently married his ability to maintain his competitive edge has been compromised.

Josh Beckett was supposed to be a positive clubhouse presence last season, but he wasn’t the only veteran presence there. There were managers, coaches,  former MVP award winners and a number of players who had been there in 2004—possibly drinking in the clubhouse, while winning the franchise’s first World Series in 86 years.

Beckett is also correct to be concerned with clubhouse leaks. The clubhouse is supposed be one of the few places that baseball players can chat and interact without the media, or cameras, constantly following them around.

Baseball players live most of their lives in the public spotlight. It’s one of the things they sign up for when they become baseball players. The players are all very well compensated and in all likelihood realize that the constant media scrutiny is just part of the deal. No job is perfect—even professional baseball. Yet the clubhouse should allow for some modicum of privacy. There’s nothing wrong with Beckett being concerned about leaks within it’s confines.

Perhaps Red Sox fans should at least wait to see what happens in the upcoming season before declaring Beckett to be a negative influence or presence?

It’s Truck Day so fans won’t have to wait that much longer.  

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Boston Red Sox 2012 Rotation: There’s a Big 3 Up Front

It’s not that there aren’t some legitimate questions about the Red Sox and their rotation heading into the 2012 season. 

It’s not that the two pitchers who eventually end up getting the bulk of the starts out of the number four and number five slots in the rotation won’t have a dramatic impact on how the upcoming season pans out. 

It’s just that it’s also important to remember that the first three slots in the starting pitching rotation otherwise known as “the heart of the rotation” for the bulk of major league teams is or could be pretty darned good.

Yes, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka are hurt, and no, the Sox never did land any of the high profile starting pitchers that dotted the free-agent landscape for just over three months.

John Maine, Vicente Padilla and Aaron Cook are on the list of potential back-of-the-rotation starters. It’s the type of list that might elicit one of those “Who the heck are these guys??” types of statements as seen in the movie Major League.

There are three guys who will definitely start this season. In fact they’re going to be called the “number one, number two and number three starters.” They’re pretty good too. Who are they? Well in case you forgot…. 

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Boston Red Sox: Does a Bad Offseason Matter as Much as We Think?

By late January of last season most Red Sox fans were already counting the days until Spring Training. 

The Bruins and Celtics were both smack dab in the midst of the long NBA and NHL regular seasons. The New England Patriots had just absorbed a nightmarish ending to a promising season at the hands of their hated rival—the New York Jets. 

The Red Sox were front and center. They had traded for Adrian Gonzalez and signed outfielder Carl Crawford. John Lackey had looked decent at the end of the 2010 season and Jacoby Ellsbury was healthy as well. 

Winning the American League East had already become an almost foregone conclusion in the minds of many fans and baseball writers. The Red Sox were picked to make the World Series by numerous publications and predictors. 

Things are a little different this January. 

The Patriots, in case anyone was not aware, are preparing to play in one of the most heavily hyped Super Bowls of all time. A rematch of the 2008 Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants

The Celtics are mired in an up-and-down lockout shortened season. It’s possible that members of the “Big Three” will be dealt.

The Bruins are once again among the NHL’s top teams and as the defending Stanley Cup Champions, they recently visited the White House. That routine action was made none-too-routine when goalie Tim Thomas chose to make a personal political statement and sit out the Oval Office appearance. 

The Red Sox? 

Well earlier this evening they inked former Met and Oriole John Maine to a minor league contract. If that seems somewhat underwhelming it’s because it is, as was the recent signing of former Giant Cody Ross.

The Red Sox have made numerous moves this season. Fans can debate whether or not the moves are “good” or “bad”. None of them have been earth shattering though. There’s been no Carl Crawford type of signing, there’s been no Adrian Gonzalez type of trade.

In the aftermath of all these moves the Red Sox are likely to enter the 2012 season with far more questions than they had at the outset of the 2011 season. New general manager, new manager, new closer, new right fielder, new shortstop and probably some new starting pitchers as well.

So what?

The 2011 team was at its best before it ever took the field. Its best baseball was played in the hopeful imaginations of Red Sox fans in January, February and March of 2011. That was before the team started 2-10. Before they battled back to move into first place through the summer and well before the cataclysmic collapse of September.

The 2012 team is nowhere near as good as the 2011 team was back in January, February and March of 2011. Will they start 2-10? Will they go 7-20 in September? It’s hard to know. One thing Sox fans should remember is that being wildly optimistic one year ago had no bearing on the end results of last season. Entering the 2012 season pessimistic probably won’t have much of an impact either.

The 2012 Red Sox are going to start the season with a lot more questions than the 2011 Red Sox did but hopefully they’ll end the season with less questions and more answers.  

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2012 MLB Hall of Fame Ballot: 10 Worst Players on the Ballot

Every year there’s a new Hall of Fame Ballot for the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to choose players from to induct into the hall. 

The ballot is generally made up of some pretty good former major league players. Then again there are always some odd names on it ballot as well. 

This year is no different. 

Sure, you’ve got guys like Lee Smith, Barry Larkin, Jack Morris, Alan Trammel, Jeff Bagwell and Bernie Williams. All of them were very good players who are deserving of being in the discussion for induction into the Hall. 

There are also some puzzling names as well. Any player with more than 10 years of experience in Major League Baseball has the opportunity to pass through a screening committee and end up on the ballot. That’s fine, those are the rules. In general, the Hall of Fame gets it right more often than they get it wrong. 

People will always obsess over the one or two inductees or snubs they most vehemently disagree with, but the hall is well-stocked with plenty of worthy members. 

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some amusing names on the ballot.

Don’t believe me? 

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MLB 2011: 5 Biggest Stories of the Year

Baseball is a sport that inspires its fans, at least its most passionate and ardent ones to follow it year round. 

For those fans the 2011 season started on Jan. 1, 2011 and will end at midnight on Dec. 31, 2011. In that one-year span, there are numerous stories. Each franchise has a storyline for the whole year. Some teams had more memorable years than others, but the most passionate fans of every team will leave 2011 with memories. 

For some fans 2011 won’t be that memorable. Maybe if you’re an Astros or Twins fan the 2011 season, or the whole year actually may be worth forgetting. 

For other fans, 2011 will be unforgettable for the wrong reasons. Braves and Red Sox fans own this title. 

For fans of the Tigers, Rangers, Rays, Diamondbacks and  of course the St. Louis Cardinals, 2011 was not just unforgettable but also memorable. 

Lots of good stories were written in the year 2011, it’s hard to narrow it down to the five biggest, but it’s worth trying. 

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Mat Latos to Cincinnati: What This Trade Means for the Reds

There are times when Major League Baseball’s propensity for showcasing all things Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Phillies and Cardinals make sense. 

There are also times when it becomes painfully clear that some teams just don’t get the same recognition they deserve.

If the New York Yankees had traded a top hitting prospect as part of a package for a very talented potential No. 1 or 2 starter this afternoon, there would be news bulletins everywhere. 

Instead there was just moderate attention given to a fairly significant five-player deal completed between the Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres Saturday.

The Reds acquired one of the better pitchers in the National League, Mat Latos, in exchange for a very nice set of young players who will likely play major roles in San Diego both this season and the future. 

The Reds had to part with Edinson Volquez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger.

The trade signals that the Reds are going to try and take full advantage of the total chaos their division’s hierarchy has plunged into since the 2011 season ended.

The World Champion St. Louis Cardinals have lost both their future Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa and their future Hall of Fame first baseman Albert Pujols.

The Milwaukee Brewers, the defending division champs, are highly likely to lose their prolific power-hitting first baseman Prince Fielder in free agency, and there is very legitimate concern that they could lose the reigning National League MVP Ryan Braun for the first 50 games of the 2012 season due to a positive initial test for a performance enhancing drug.

That leaves a real power vacuum at the top of the NL Central standings. The Cubs are in a rebuilding mode, the Pirates will be a tough team but seem somewhat unlikely to compete at the top of the division, and the Astros may lose over 100 games.

That gives the Reds a big opening and this trade is a strong signal that they intend to try and take full advantage of it.

Latos will pair with Johnny Cueto at the top of an increasingly solid rotation. Starting pitching was a major problem for the Reds last season, but with those two anchoring the rotation it looks much stronger. Now, the Reds don’t have to worry as much about the performances of Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, Travis Wood or Homer Bailey.

Having strong starters also takes pressure of the bullpen. Being able to count on a couple of back-to-back starts in which the starter can go seven innings and keep the team in the game means less appearances for the middle relievers and shorter appearances for the late-inning guys as well.

What this deal really signals though is that the Reds fully intend to sign the 2010 National League MVP Joey Votto to a contract extension.

The inclusion of highly touted first base prospect Yonder Alonso means that the guy who would have been faced with the daunting task of replacing Votto is now in San Diego. If the Reds were intending to shop Votto in lieu of his free agency in 2014 then one would think they’d have held on to a player of Alonso’s caliber.

The rest of the package the Reds dealt is solid as well. Edinson Volquez has struggled with injuries the past few seasons but it was only two seasons ago when he put together an impressive 17-win season with a 3.21 ERA and 206 strikeouts.

The other two minor leaguers are both well regarded too. Yasmani Gradal was the Reds’ first-round pick in 2010 and could be a solid major league catcher. Brad Boxberger was one of the Reds’ first-round picks in the 2009 draft and may end up as a solid starting pitcher.

The Reds were willing to part with all of that potential talent in exchange for some that has already been realized at the major league level.

Mat Latos is already on the cusp of bona fide “ace” status and he’s not even 24 years old yet. He’s not a free agent until 2016 and last season, playing for a Padres team with an absolutely awful offense, he managed to finish with a flourish.

Latos started the season off with a few bouts of inconsistency but in the second half of the season he really seemed to find his groove when he had an ERA of 2.87 and a whip ratio of 1.000; as well as 92 strikeouts in 94 innings pitched. 

The Reds clearly see a pitcher on the verge of really coming into his own and it appears that mirrors their view of the team as a whole. Is “The Big Red Machine” back? Not yet but it’s heading in a very positive direction.


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Baseball Winter Meetings: Red Sox Will Meet with the Agent for Oswalt and Wilson

With baseball’s winter meetings poised to begin in Dallas on Monday, the rumor mill is already heating up. 

Michael Silverman of The Boston Herald is reporting that the Boston Red Sox have scheduled a meeting with agent Bob Garber. Garber is the agent who represents both C.J. Wilson and Roy Oswalt. Oswalt and Wilson are two of the highest profile free agent pitchers on the market this winter.

The Red Sox promise to be among the most active of teams in the coming weeks. The recent hiring of Bobby Valentine as manager brings a final completion of the restructuring of the general manager and managerial position.

With those positions filled, the Red Sox can begin the process of trying to find answers for the numerous questions raised both by the poor play last September and the spate of rumors involving clubhouse discord and apathy that emerged in the aftermath of the team’s collapse. Add to that the departure of veteran closer Jonathan Papelbon and an injury to John Lackey that will require him to miss the entire 2012 season, and the Red Sox have plenty of work laid out in front of them.

Oswalt and Wilson would both be high-profile and high-cost solutions to the pitching problems that plagued the Red Sox down the stretch in 2011, as well as throughout parts of the 2010 and 2009 seasons.

The Red Sox starting rotation has been a mysterious mix of both talent and inconsistency over the past few seasons. Talented pitchers such as John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka seem to under perform. Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz have problems staying consistently healthy and even Jon Lester was rumored to be fatigued down the stretch last season.

Under former GM Theo Epstein, high-profile, big-ticket free agents were rarely the answer to when it came to problems on the Red Sox. Bringing either of these pitchers would elicit an avalanche of well-deserved skepticism.

Oswalt has had a very good career, but he’s never pitched in the American League. His health has been an issue the past few seasons and his walks and hits allowed were both higher than his career averages last season.

Wilson would bring a different set of questions with him to Boston. While his numbers as a starting pitcher have been quite good, his overall body of work is only two seasons. He’s had difficulty pitching in the postseason and pitching in the American League West means he gets to face some of the American League’s weakest offenses frequently. Whether Wilson is good or not, there’s no question at all that New York, Toronto and Baltimore are tougher teams to face off against with regularity than Oakland, Los Angeles and Seattle are.

There’s almost no question that the Red Sox will have some new faces in the starting rotation next year. Oswalt or Wilson would both represent high-profile and high-cost solutions. On the plus side, both pitchers are free agents, which means that signing them will not require the Red Sox to part with any of their promising young players.

The Winter Meetings don’t start for another two days, but the Red Sox are already showing a willingness to wheel and deal.

It should be an interesting week.  

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