Ben Cherington says Red Sox have 'a lot of motivated players' in camp, not worried about Opening Day starter

Mike Petraglia
February 24, 2015 - 11:24 am
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Earlier in the week, Mike Napoli made the observation that there's a "good vibe" in Red Sox camp, even before the first full squad workout on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Napoli's general manager agreed. "I think we have a lot of good players and a lot of motivated players here," Ben Cherington said. "I think there's a focus that we've seen already in camp that you can feel. But we haven't won any games yet so we have to work hard and make good decisions and make sure that that focus stays in the right places as we prepare for April. But I believe that can happen and will happen and we have a chance to win a lot of games this year." Perhaps the biggest question of camp for Cherington, even more than competition in the outfield, is the pitching staff, and more specifically the starting rotation. "We feel about good about the guys that are here. We have 29 pitchers in camp," Cherington said Tuesday. "We've got we think 10, 11 or 12 guys that either are or will be or capable of being starting pitchers in the big leagues. Again, certainly some of them are still developing and haven't reached their full maturation yet. There are guys we think there is some untapped potential with. There are guys who have been extremely successful in the major leagues, and maybe for different reasons, struggled a little bit last year and look to be pointing in the right direction now. There's guys with different things they're working on with different recent histories. Together we think it's a group that can be really successful and make up a really good pitching staff." As for declaring a No. 1 pitcher or an Opening Day starter, Cherington is hardly concerned about that at this stage. As John [Farrell] and Juan [Nieves] have said, we're not that concerned about declaring someone an Opening Day starter or whatever right now," Cherington said. "We know that by the time we get to April, we'll have five guys in the rotation and whoever we're playing that night, someone's going to start and we think that we'll have enough options where that guy's going to give us a chance to win a game. "We had pretty good pitching last year, for the most part. We believe this group can be a good pitching group this year. I think we look at, in all likelihood, we're going to have 12 guys break when we go to Philly and five starters and seven guys in the pen. We feel good that we have 29 pitchers in camp that we can come up with a very strong group of 12. And, as we know, we're going to need 20 or 25. We see a group of pitchers here that are talented, many of whom are already established. Many of whom we think are coming into their own. We think the combination is going to give us a good pitching staff and help us win a lot of games." Then there's the group of pitchers, including Henry Owens that figure to start at Triple-A but could be called up sometime during the season, based on need. "We think it's really talented and we think that we're going to learn more as we go through spring and even into the season as to who amongst that group is migrating to the top and provides the early season or in-season first call-up, so to speak," Cherington said. "That's something that needs to be determined. The guys in that group are going to end up telling us. That'll be an element we look at this spring." Here are more highlights from Ben Cherington on Tuesday: On whether he is closer to officially announcing a deal with 19-year-old Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada: "No. I know reports [from Monday]. I'm not in a position to confirm anything. We have interest and we'll see what happens. There's still some work to do. "Until we can say officially something's happened, it's just hard to say anything. He's a talented player and we've been involved as other teams have been involved in the process. We're always looking to add talented players. Hopefully, we'll be able to do that. Until we can say officially that something's happened, we just can't really say much." On what Cherington has seen from Moncada on scouting trips: "A 19-year-old switch-hitter with power. He's a good athlete. He can run and he can throw. He's played a lot of second base but I think most teams, including the Red Sox, feel like he could probably play a number of positions on the field down the road. He's been a good performer wherever he's been and played at a very young age in Serie Nationale. So, for all those reasons, there's been a lot of interest in him, a lot of teams spent a lot of time on him. It's been a competitive process." On learning to scout Cuban players better after experiences with Dalier Hinojosa, Rusney Castillo and Yoenis Cespedes (via trade): "Hopefully we're getting a firmer grasp. Certainly, we've spent a lot of time on it. Going back a couple of years, we felt like we needed to make some adjustments to put ourselves in a better position to be able to make those decisions. So we reallocated some resources and, in particular, asked Allard Baird to get more involved and then Eddie Romero, who heads our amateur international department, the two of them have really spent a lot of time getting to know and learning about Cuba, baseball in Cuba, how it's played, about the challenges a player might face coming out and trying to get history on as many players as possible and get to know who the players are so that if one does become a free agent, we're not playing catch-up. "And thanks to mostly others, we're in a strong position to at least be involved when players come out and then that doesn't mean you sign all of them but I feel we're in a strong position with the background we've done and the knowledge of that market. But really time will tell. Look, we've signed a couple, Hinojosa, Rusney Castillo and obviously traded for Cespedes. But in those cases, we haven't seen the end of the story yet. I"m sure we'll continue to learn. Clearly, there's good players everywhere. There's good players all over the world, including in Cuba and if we're going to be good consistently, we've got to be looking everywhere. And that's one important area, among others." On budgeting for Cuban players financially: "I think the simplest way to say it is that every team is looking at talent. And every team has a budget and every team has resources they can use to try and do that. Whether you're doing it in major league free agency or in a trade or in a draft or with a 16-year-old in the Dominican, wherever the players are coming from, you have to go through an evaluation process. You have to figure out what you think the player is worth and then if you can get that player in a range of what you think he's worth and that's within your budget, then you try and go do it. There are $150 million contracts that end up being good values and $500,000 contracts that end up being bad values, and everything in between. The exercise is to identify the player, identify what you think he's worth and then see if you can acquire him for that. Obviously, it looks a little different in different demographics. Doing it in the draft is different than doing it internationally and doing it in free agency is different than doing it in a trade. That's the basic exercise." On optioning younger players at end of March to protect roster: "We see ourselves just as seeing what's out there tomorrow. We don't even have to think about those decisions yet so we're not going to spend a lot of time and energy doing it because we just think it gets in the way of what we need to accomplish this spring, and it gets in the way of the individual players out there need to accomplish." On possibly moving Blake Swihart from catcher: "Not right now. He's a great athlete and he's played other positions in the past. I'm sure he's capable of doing it but right now, he's a catcher and he's in a really important point in his development as a catcher. Just got to Triple-A last year. We expect that he probably will have more time there this year and focus on that position, and as we all know that position is a critical position is probably a position in which more is asked of a player than just about any other. And in his case, you think about first of all playing a position that is first on the list in terms of how much we ask of players, add on top of that switch-hitting. Ask Jason Varitek, we ask more of a switch-hitting catcher than just about any other position on the field. We want to give him every chance to develop and thrive in that role, and obviously we think very highly of him. We'll focus on catching."