Youth movement could spark Red Sox

Posted Dec. 15, 2013, at 4:55 p.m.

The champagne is barely dry at Fenway Park, but the Red Sox already are well into the process of assembling a roster capable of winning another World Series.

In doing so, they plan to rely on a few rookies.

Having allowed free agent Jacoby Ellsbury to bolt for a seven-year, $153 million contract from the rival New York Yankees, the Sox are banking on touted Jackie Bradley Jr. to take over in center field. Moreover, they expect 21-year-old phenom Xander Bogaerts to be in the lineup every day, either at shortstop or third base depending on whether they are able to retain free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew.

Both Bradley Jr. and Bogaerts played for the Portland Sea Dogs, Boston’s Double-A affiliate.

It’s possible that the Red Sox could also count on a bounce-back performance from young third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who followed a promising rookie year in 2012 with a disappointing season in which he posted a .271 on-base percentage that was the worst among 30 major league third basemen with at least 350 plate appearances.

Is manager John Farrell comfortable with putting so much trust in so many inexperienced players?

“Playing at their capabilities?” he said. “Yes.”

Indeed. The Red Sox have high hopes for the trio. Bogaerts, in particular, is a coveted prospect who was labeled by agent Scott Boras as someone who is “going to be one of the top five players in baseball.” In fact, Bogaerts took over for slumping Middlebrooks during the AL Championship Series and started all six World Series games at third base.

If Drew isn’t re-signed, Bogaerts figures to be the everyday shortstop, which represents his natural position. Otherwise, he will remain at third base, where he impressed Farrell by making a smooth transition despite having never played the position until this season.

“In his case, learning a new position or getting familiar with third base at the most visible time of the year speaks to his calmness and presence on the field,” Farrell said. “I don’t know that you can necessarily count postseason games as two-for-one for regular season, but he responded very well. I think we’re completely comfortable with him playing either position.”

Bradley also gained experience at the major league level last season. But unlike Bogaerts, he didn’t make a particularly favorable impression, struggling at the plate during four separate call-ups.

The Red Sox have no doubts that Bradley is a major league-caliber defender, and Farrell suggested the club isn’t expecting him to replace Ellsbury offensively. Not yet, at least.

“Defensively, no question, he showed us he’s ready each time he was on the field,” Farrell said. “And I think through this past year, the challenges he faced and the way he faced major league pitching, he swung the bat with a little more productivity late in the season in September. And if that’s the way we go, we’re more than willing to have him in center field. He’s a good player.”

Two years for Napoli

First baseman Mike Napoli officially signed a new two-year contract worth $32 million with the Boston Red Sox. The deal was made official Thursday night, nearly a week after the two sides agreed to it. To make room on the 40-man roster, the Red Sox designated outfielder Alex Castellanos for assignment.

Pierzynski to split time with Ross

Catcher A.J. Pierzynski has started at least 100 games behind the plate in 13 consecutive seasons, a testament to the durability that Red Sox GM Ben Cherington labeled “his calling card.” But the Sox want backup C David Ross to play a decent chunk of games, too, something they explained to Pierzynski before signing him to a one-year, $8.5 million contract. “We talked about that. We were on the same page,” Pierzynski said. “There wasn’t a specific number thrown out there. I’m all for what we talked about, and what we talked about — I’m sorry, I’m not going to tell you because it’s none of your business — but we talked about it. (Manager) John (Farrell) and I had a long talk with Ben, and it was a good conversation and that’s one of the reasons why I came here.”

Deal probable for Lester

Lefthanded pitcher Jon Lester isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2014 season. But the Red Sox don’t want to wait that long to offer him a contract extension. GM Ben Cherington said the club likely will broach the subject of a new deal for Lester later in the offseason or during spring training. Lester, who turns 30 in January, is coming off a postseason for the ages, having gone 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts, and figures to seek a five- or six-year contract worth at least $20 million per year. One comparable deal is the six-year, $144 million extension signed by Phillies LHP Cole Hamels midway through the 2012 season. “He’s a key guy,” Cherington said of Lester. “He’s been a horse for us for a long time and didn’t show any signs of slowing down this October. Obviously, he’s a guy we would like to keep. I think there will certainly be a willingness to have a conversation, so we’ll see where it goes.”

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