If Disney World is the happiest place on earth, Red Sox camp has been a narrow runner-up this spring.
One year removed from a 93-loss season under manager Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox are experiencing a quiet camp under new skipper John Farrell. In fact, team president Larry Lucchino recently referred to “good vibrations” emanating from JetBlue Park, but not even The Beach Boys could do justice to the mood.
“Everyone’s positive,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia told the Boston Herald, “and when you’re around people that are positive, you want to go out there and push yourself and do all you can do to not let them down.”
The spring training harmony doesn’t guarantee the Red Sox will have a winning season, but it’s also a stark contrast to a year ago. Looking back, several players admitted to the Herald that they didn’t trust Valentine, believing that he had a hidden agenda. Valentine’s look-at-me personality proved irritating and divisive, and his inability to communicate clearly left players guessing about how they were regarded.
“Even when camp broke, some guys were in positions that they weren’t quite comfortable with,” reliever Daniel Bard told the newspaper. “Nothing felt really set in stone. It felt like we were just winging it to start the season. I don’t think we’ll have that feeling as much this year.”
Farrell is a bear of a man, 6-foot-4 with broad shoulders, big hands, a square jaw and a steady gaze. He speaks in thoughtful run-on sentences, not pithy sound bites, and he’s a straight talker, so direct that right-hander Clay Buchholz cops to having once been scared of him.
But Farrell also is the anti-Valentine, both in words and deeds. He’s direct and low-key, and he has placed an emphasis on substance rather than style.
Farrell held a 50-minute team meeting Feb. 15 before the first full-squad workout. He stressed two rules: be on time and be professional. In return, several players said Farrell pledged to be honest.
“Coming in last year, we didn’t know Bobby. We only heard stories,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “You don’t want to judge someone before you meet him, but sometimes it was tough to approach him. It was tough to talk to him about things. That was a little different for guys.
“A lot of guys know Farrell, and even if you don’t, he’s real approachable. He’s a guy that you can sit and talk to and have normal conversation and not feel anything other than what it was. He lets you know where you stand, too. It’s a great atmosphere here, and that’s what John brings.”
Red Sox notebook
— OF/1B Mike Carp was acquired by the Red Sox on Feb. 20, and he has a strong chance to make the team as a backup left fielder/first baseman. The Red Sox picked up Carp from the Mariners for cash or a player to be named, one week after the 26-year-old had been designated for assignment by Seattle. Carp is a .255 hitter with a .327 on-base percentage and 18 homers in 608 plate appearances in the majors, all with the Mariners. He struggled last season, batting.213 with a .312 OBP and five homers in 164 at-bats, likely as a result of shoulder and groin injuries. However, he also is only two years removed from a 12-homer season in part-time duty with Seattle.
Carp could fill a need for the Red Sox as a lefty-hitting alternative to LF Jonny Gomes and 1B Mike Napoli. He will compete for a roster spot with 1B Lyle Overbay, who has no major league experience as an outfielder. Also, Carp can’t be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers, which may give him a leg up on Overbay.
“We’ve been able to add a talented player, someone we’ve had conversations about throughout the course of the offseason,” manager John Farrell said. “Finally he became available, another left-handed hitter that has that versatility on the defensive side. It increases the competition, particularly at first and left field.”
— RHP Alfredo Aceves didn’t waste much time becoming a distraction in Red Sox camp. Aceves was among the pitchers scheduled to throw live batting practice Feb. 17, an exercise that involves unleashing a relatively full repertoire against hitters. But when it came time for Aceves to take the mound, he merely lobbed pitches to the plate as though he were playing catch, not even working from a full windup. After a brief mound conversation in Spanish with pitching coach Juan Nieves, Aceves resumed the drill and threw about 12 pitches at full intensity. Then, upon walking off the mound, he stood and talked with both manager John Farrell and Nieves, neither of whom was pleased with the eccentric right-hander. Perhaps Aceves was trying to test Farrell.
“The one thing I’ll say is he didn’t go through the drill as intended, and we’ve addressed it,” Farrell said. “He’s healthy. With the designed effort level that every pitcher goes through, it was better the last few (pitches). And it’s been discussed.”
One day later, GM Ben Cherington met with Aceves’ agent, Tom O’Connell, and reiterated that the club values Aceves but that it wouldn’t tolerate insubordination.
— LHP Felix Doubront annoyed the Red Sox in 2011 by reporting to camp in less than optimal physical condition. It has happened again. Fresh off his first full season in the majors, Doubront exhibited minor soreness in his shoulder upon his arrival. As a precaution, the 25-year-old was held back from throwing off a mound for at least a few days. “When he’s with us and we ask him to do stuff, he always does it with intensity,” GM Ben Cherington said. “There’s plenty of time between now and Opening Day for him to do what he needs to do to put himself in position to be one of our starters and a guy we can rely on.” The Red Sox have had Doubront work with newly named special assistant Pedro Martinez, who has stressed the importance of offseason conditioning.