January 30, 2012 at 9:00 AM
Plenty of moves have gone down since the last First Take, so let’s get right down to it.
The Move: Red Sox sign RHP Vicente Padilla to minor league contract with invitation to Spring Training
Padilla is the most significant addition to the Flying Spaghetti Pitching Monster the Sox are assembling to compete for spots on the staff this spring. Padilla, a workable option as a starter as recently as 2010, made 9 appearances in the majors for the Dodgers last year, all out of the bullpen, before going down in May for the season. Reportedly, the club will look at him as both a potential starter and as a reliever, and his chances of being used in the former role obviously will change based on whether the club signs a starter like Roy Oswalt or Edwin Jackson, or trades for Gavin Floyd.
As with his fellow competitors for a rotation spot, Aaron Cook and Carlos Silva, I sincerely doubt Padilla sees Pawtucket, unless it is on a rehab or short-term basis, “minor league contract” or not. If he fails to make the rotation, Padilla, who was briefly the Dodgers’ closer last spring, could slot into a middle-inning relief role in front of Andrew Bailey, Mark Melancon, and whoever of Alfredo Aceves and/or Daniel Bard goes back to the bullpen.
It may not be “great” depth, but Ben Cherington is putting together the most open pitching competition this club has seen in years.
All of the pitchers trying to make the roster, as previously discussed in this column.
The Move: Red Sox acquire RHP Clay Mortensen for IF Marco Scutaro
This one is an obvious salary dump, as Scutaro would have counted for $7.5M against the Competitive Balance Tax and the Red Sox planned on spending that money in other ways. Scutaro has been much discussed, so there is little for me to talk about here.
Mortensen’s value comes in his having one option remaining. As I will get to below, the Sox have a glut of relievers who are out of options on the 40-man roster. Mortensen, a sinkerballer, could provide a depth option both in the rotation and bullpen. He has pitched mostly as a starter, particularly in the minors, but was being used extensively in relief for the first time as a pro last June before being sent back to Triple-A, where he went back into the rotation.
Scutaro’s departure means Mike Aviles and Nick Punto stand to pick up the playing time at shortstop. However, one thing I wonder – does this give Arnie Beyeler and the Pawtucket coaching staff a tool to light a fire underneath Jose Iglesias? To be frank, there really is nothing keeping the young Cuban from the starting shortstop job in Boston at this point but himself – had he hit enough last season to earn a promotion to Boston, the trade of Scutaro would have been a foregone conclusion. Not that work ethic has been a problem, but maybe this is the carrot that will spur Iglesias to produce at the plate.
As for the pitchers – it’s been covered.
The Move: Red Sox sign OF Cody Ross to 1-year, $3-million deal; designate RHP Scott Atchison for assignment
In a move perhaps made more necessary by Carl Crawford’s wrist surgery – although he will supposedly be ready soon after the season starts – the Sox shored up their outfield by signing Ross with money that could be said to have been freed up in the Scutaro trade. Ross likely slips into the right-handed half of a platoon with Ryan Sweeney in right field once Crawford gets healthy.
As for Atchison’s DFA, this was necessitated by the aforementioned glut of pitchers without options on the 40-man roster, which still includes Matt Albers, Michael Bowden, Felix Doubront, Andrew Miller, and Franklin Morales. Assuming a 12-man staff with seven spots already locked up (Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Bard, Aceves, Bailey, and Melancon), Atchison would have had to beat at least one of those five for a roster spot or get DFA’ed anyway, and that assumes the Red Sox will not acquire another starter and ignores the presence of Padilla, Cook, and Silva. Do not be surprised if another pitcher from that group is traded or designated for assignment before pitchers and catchers report.
Darnell McDonald may no longer have a roster spot once Crawford is healthy. Atchison’s DFA creates temporary breathing room for the pitching glut, but would he accept an assignment to Pawtucket?
The Move: Red Sox sign RHP John Maine to a minor league contract
Stunningly – to me at least – this contract does not include an invite to major league camp. For a player with MLB experience like Maine, one would have expected that the club at least get a look-see at him in big league camp. However, the club is apparently committed to looking at what Maine can bring to the table as a reliever, and there appears to be some understanding that this adjustment could take some time as Maine has made all of 7 appearances out of the bullpen in 220 professional games pitched.
Again, this is one less spot on the Pawtucket pitching staff. This further fuels my speculation that the Red Sox do not intend for players like Padilla, Cook, and Silva to spend any significant length of time in Triple-A, as the team is busting at the seams now with MLB/AAA pitchers.
UPDATE, 2/1: Thanks to Tim Britton of the Providence Journal for confirming that Maine was not, in fact, invited to major league spring training. The Red Sox website is incorrect.
The Move: Red Sox sign C Max St. Pierre to a minor league contract
In the grand tradition of Michael McKenry, Paul Hoover, Gustavo Molina, and Carlos Maldonado, St. Pierre will be the third catcher on the Pawtucket roster behind Ryan Lavarnway and Luis Exposito, the equivalent of a third quarterback on an NFL roster. Although it is quite possible, even likely, that St. Pierre succumbs to the dreaded “right calf strain,” or whatever this year’s equivalent will be, and begins the year on the disabled list, do not be surprised if he stays active on the PawSox roster. The benefits would be twofold – 1) the PawSox will be able to DH Lavarnway and Exposito without worrying about injury forcing the pitcher to hit, and 2) it gives the club some more freedom to have Lavarnway get some work in at first base to give him some more bench versatility at the major league level.
To his credit, St. Pierre has played the good soldier for much of his career, and his career trajectory is somewhat fascinating. He first reached Double-A in 2002 (he technically reached Triple-A that year as well, but just played one game at that level). He remained in Double-A Erie for the next three seasons, finally getting the bump to Triple-A Toledo in 2006. He understandably sought greener pastures in 2007 in Milwaukee, but played just 10 games and went back to Detroit in 2008, splitting his time between Erie and Toledo since and even getting a September call-up in 2010. For the Sox, he’s a depth option in Pawtucket and possibly even Portland in case of injury.
None. St. Pierre is a depth signing and will probably only be active if a catcher between Boston and Portland is injured. The signing of one more high-minors catcher is no surprise.