Red Sox catching prospect Jhonny Pereda takes home Venezuelan winter ball Rookie of the Year honors

Red Sox catching prospect Jhonny Pereda took home Rookie of the Year honors in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League Saturday night.

The 24-year-old, playing for Leones del Caracas, slashed an impressive .338/.421/.421 to go along with one home run and 16 RBI over 39 games and 153 plate appearances this season, which ended on January 10.

He also threw out six of a possible 13 runners on the base paths, which translates to a 46% success rate.

Pereda received 37 of 50 possible first-place votes in the league’s MVP race while also finishing with 205 voting points, 105 more than the runner-up.

“This makes me very happy because last year was a strong year because of the virus. There were no minor-leagues and that affected many players, both me and many, because there was no season,” Pereda said (in Spanish) of winning the award. “But I kept working to come to Venezuela. Thank God and Leones, who gave me the opportunity to play here.”

The Red Sox originally acquired Pereda from the Cubs back in March as the player to be named later in a January trade that involved right-hander Travis Lakins.

The club briefly released the Venezuelan from his contract on July 15 only to re-sign him to a two-year minor-league deal on July 17 and promptly add him to their 60-man player pool. He would go on to spend the rest of the summer at the alternate training site in Pawtucket.

After baseball activities ended at the alternate training site in late September, Pereda did not attend the Red Sox’ fall instructional league in Fort Myers, but he did receive an invite to major-league spring training in December.

In addition to his catching abilities that netted him a minor-league Gold Glove Award in 2019, the right-handed hitting backstop can play a little first base as well, as evidenced by what he did this winter.

Going into spring training next month, Pereda should figure to be an intriguing component of the Red Sox’ catching depth equation given the fact Deivy Grullon was lost on a waiver claim by the Cincinnati Reds in December.

As of this writing, the 6-foot-1, 202 lb. catcher is Boston’s top backstop not included on their 40-man roster, according to SoxProspects.com’s depth charts.

Pereda, along with fellow catching prospect Connor Wong, is expected to begin the 2021 minor-league season with Triple-A Pawtucket.

“I know that this season here in Venezuela will help me. It gave me many experiences that I will put into practice in the training field,” said Pereda (in Spanish) of his time in his home country. “I played with a very experienced team. I had teammates who have played in the major-leagues, who have been in pro ball for many years and I always tried to listen to what they talked about baseball, and those little details that can help me.”

(Picture of Jhonny Pereda: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Former Red Sox right-hander Robert Stock claimed off waivers by Cubs

A week after he was designated for assignment, former Red Sox right-hander Robert Stock was claimed off waivers by the Cubs earlier Wednesday afternoon.

Stock, 31, was originally claimed off waivers by Boston from the Phillies back in late July.

In his debut season with the Sox, the flame-throwing righty allowed nine runs (seven earned) on 16 hits and 10 walks over 10 relief appearances and 13 1/3 total innings of work spanning three major-league stints. That’s good for a 4.73 ERA, but a 101 ERA+ and 3.34 FIP as well.

Noted for his fastball velocity since being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the second round of the 2009 amateur draft, Stock averaged 96.8 mph with his heater this past season while topping out at 99 mph with the pitch.

Now a member of the Cubs’ 40-man roster, the University of Southern California product will presumably have the opportunity to compete for a spot in Chicago’s Opening Day bullpen.

With the loss of Stock, the Red Sox have now in one way or the other removed 11 pitchers — Stock, Domingo Tapia, Matt Hall, Ryan Weber, Robinson Leyer, Andrew Triggs, Mike Kickham, Kyle Hart, Zack Godley, Dylan Covey, and Martin Perez (player option declined) — from their own 40-man roster since the start of the offseason.

Red Sox Managerial Search: Padres Associate Manager Skip Schumaker, Twins Bench Coach Mike Bell, and Marlins Bench Coach James Rowson Have All Interviewed for Opening, per Report

The Red Sox have reportedly interviewed three more candidates for their managerial opening. Those three candidates? Padres associate manager Skip Schumaker, Twins bench coach Mike Bell, and Marlins bench coach James Rowson, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Kevin Acee and The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

Per Acee, Schumaker has already ‘interviewed for multiple managerial vacancies’ thus far, with the Red Sox being the latest.

The former big-league outfielder, who turns 41 in February, has spent the last five seasons with the Padres organization in both a front office and coaching capacity. His past roles with San Diego include assistant to baseball operations and player development under A.J. Preller, third base coach under Andy Green, and associate manager under Jayce Tingler.

Before embarking on his coaching career, Schumaker enjoyed an 11-year major-league career in which he racked up 905 hits in 1,149 games between the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Reds.

Bell, meanwhile, served as Twins manager Rocco Baldelli’s bench coach this past season in Minnesota. Prior to that, the soon-to-be 46-year-old had spent the previous 13 years with the Diamondbacks organization as a minor-league manager, minor-league field coordinator, director of player development, and vice president of player development.

Given all the time he spent in Arizona, Bell likely formed some sort of relationship with current Diamondbacks and former Red Sox general manager Mike Hazen, who was hired away from Boston back in October 2016.

A native of Cincinnati who was a former first-round draft pick of the Rangers in 1993, Bell comes from quite the baseball family. His grandfather, Gus, was a four-time All-Star over the course of a 15-year major-league career. His father, Buddy, was a five-time All-Star as a player who also managed the Tigers, Rockies, and Royals for a total of nine seasons between 1998 and 2007. And his brother, David, is the current manager of the Reds.

Finally, we arrive at Rowson, who also has one of year of major-league coaching under his belt, which he accrued under Don Mattingly in Miami this year.

Prior to joining Mattingly’s coaching staff, the 44-year-old out of Mount Vernon, NY spent three seasons as hitting coach in Minnesota. In 2019, Rowson, under Baldelli, oversaw a Twins offense that clubbed a major-league record 307 home runs while leading the league in RBI (906) en route to an American League Central crown.

Rowson’s coaching career also includes stints as Yankees’ minor-league hitting coordinator and Cubs’ minor-league hitting coordinator and major-league hitting coach.

In addition to Rowson, Bell, and Schumaker, the Red Sox have also interviewed Cubs third base coach Will Venable, Pirates bench coach Don Kelly, and Diamondbacks Luis Urueata for their vacancy at manager.

That means at least six candidates have been interviewed, and assuming no one is hired between now and the end of the World Series, former Sox skipper Alex Cora could very well be the seventh, eighth, or ninth individual interviewed for the position. Whoever else Boston interviews is obviously up to chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and whoever he may consult in seeking out additional candidates.

Red Sox Managerial Opening: Cubs Coach, Former Major-League Outfielder Will Venable Has Been Interviewed for Job, per Report

The Red Sox have reportedly interviewed Cubs third base coach Will Venable for their managerial opening, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.

Per Heyman, Venable has already interviewed for the job, while the likes of Dodgers first base coach George Lombard and Pirates bench coach Don Kelly, among others, are thought to be on Boston’s short list of other potential candidates.

Venable, who turns 38 later this month, has spent the last three seasons with the Cubs as both a first and third base coach.

Prior to beginning his coaching career, the former outfielder enjoyed a nine-year major-league career from 2008 until 2016 in which he spent time with the Padres, Rangers, and Dodgers.

An alumnus of Princeton University, Venable was a two-sport athlete in college, excelling in both baseball and basketball prior to getting drafted by San Diego in the seventh round of the 2005 amateur draft.

Even though he has no previous big-league managerial experience, Venable is an appealing candidate for the Sox’ opening based solely on the fact he’s the first person not named Alex Cora to be legitimately linked to the job.

Of course, the Red Sox can not speak to Cora about a potential reunion until the conclusion of this year’s World Series due to the fact that Cora was handed down a one-year suspension by Major League Baseball back in April for the role he played in the Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing scandal.

As for Lombard, the 45-year-old has spent the last five seasons with the Dodgers as a coach, but he also spent parts of six seasons as a minor-league coach for the Red Sox from 2010 until 2015.

Kelly, meanwhile, served as Derek Shelton’s bench coach in Pittsburgh this past season after coaching first base for the Astros in 2019. The former big-leaguer, who is brothers-in-law with Neil Walker, also has experience as a professional scout.

Now that we have gotten our first insight into who chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. are targeting for the Red Sox’ managerial opening, it should be fascinating to see how much this search heats up once this year’s World Series between the Dodgers and Rays comes to a close.

Red Sox Sign Reliever Caleb Simpson, Add Him to Summer Camp Player Pool as Non-Roster Invitee

The Red Sox have signed right-handed reliever Caleb Simpson to a minor-league deal and have added him to their Summer Camp player pool as a non-roster invitee. The club made the signing official earlier Saturday.

Simpson, 28, was released by the Cubs back in May at that time when teams across baseball were parting ways with dozens of their minor-league players.

The former Giants farmhand was a 21st-round draft selection out of Seminole State Junior Colege (Okla.) by San Francisco back in 2013.

Across four minor-league levels spanning five seasons, Simpson owns a career 3.41 ERA and .180 batting average against over 121 relief appearances and 145 1/3 innings of work.

Most recently, the 6’4″, 231 lb. righty posted a 3.00 ERA over 34 outings and 42 innings pitched between High-A San Jose and Double-A Richmond last season.

Throughout his minor-league career, Simpson has dealt with his fair share of injury troubles. He underwent Tommy John surgery in March of 2015, which resulted in him missing the 2015 season and a portion of the 2016 season.

By adding Simpson to their player pool, the Red Sox now have 49 players at Summer Camp, meaning they still have 11 open slots to work with.

Former Red Sox Ace Jon Lester Open to Reunion With Organization He Began Career With

Former Red Sox ace and current Cubs left-hander Jon Lester is open to a potential reunion with Boston this winter, he said in a radio interview with WEEI’s Rob Bradford.

Lester, who turns 37 in January, is entering the final year of the six-year, $155 million deal he signed with Chicago back in December 14. That contract includes a $25 million vesting option for 2021 if Lester were to pitch 200 innings this year or 400 innings between the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Even if those numbers wind up getting prorated due to the coronavirus-induced shutdown, it seems unlikely that he would reach that mark, thus making him a free agent later in the year.

“We’ve got a lot of what-if’s going on right now,” Lester told Bradford. “For me, I don’t know what is going to happen next year. I know I have the team option, the player option, that sort of thing. We’ll figure that out one way or the other. I will either be here or be a free agent. Obviously everything is open. I’m open-minded to anything.”

Drafted by Boston in the second round of the 2002 amateur draft out of Bellarmine High School in Tacoma, Wa., Lester won two World Series titles and made two All-Star teams in his first go-around with the Red Sox.

As you may recall, Sox brass famously low-balled Lester in the spring of 2014 as he was nearing free agency and coming off a 2013 campaign in which he was an All-Star, helped Boston win another World Series, and finished fourth in American League Cy Young voting.

At that time, principal owner John Henry and Co. offered the lefty a four-year, $70 million extension, good for an average annual value of $15 million.

Even after publicly expressing that he’d be willing to take a discount to keep the Red Sox as competitive as possible, that offer was still downright disrespectful, to be blunt. Especially when Lester had just seen the Yankees sign international free agent Masahiro Tanaka, then 25, to a seven-year, $155 million contract that January.

So after botching those extension talks, the Red Sox wound up dealing Lester to the Oakland Athletics prior to the 2014 trade deadline, and the Washington native went on to sign that aforementioned six-year deal with the Cubs a few months later.

As productive as Lester has been since joining the North Siders, his 2019 campaign was not the most memorable.

Starting 31 games, Lester posted a 4.46 ERA and 4.35 xFIP over 171 2/3 innings of work. Not terrible numbers by any means, but it certainly would appear that the southpaw is on the decline at this stage in his career.

Preferably, Lester would like to prove that last year was just a blip and not the way things are trending for him, but his chances to do that are growing slimmer and slimmer as each day passes with no plan for a 2020 season in place.

“On a personal level, this hurts me,” he said of the shutdown. “I’m not getting any younger and coming off a year like I had last year, this isn’t going to help me.”

Because of that uncertainty, I’m sure Lester has had more time to think about different things while waiting this pandemic out from his Georgia home, and it certainly seems like returning to Boston has crossed his mind more than once.

“Absolutely it would be cool to go back and finish my career where it all started,” he said. “But, I’ve got a little time before I really have to sit down and weigh that decision, even if it’s something where they want me back. Hopefully, I’m still a good enough caliber pitcher that the want of my services will still be out there for people. We’ll see.”

We will have to wait and see. I mean, who knows what the market for a veteran 37-year-old left-hander with 2,500+ innings under his belt will look like come free agency? How much would Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom be willing to dish out for someone like that if he feels like Lester fits a team need? Both are unknowns at this point in time.

Former Red Sox Prospect and Cubs Star Anthony Rizzo Donates Meals to Doctors and Nurses Across Maine

Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has not been part of the Red Sox organization for more than nine years, but that did not stop the three-time All-Star from keeping his past in mind as part of his efforts to aid in coronavirus containment efforts through the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation.

On Friday, Rizzo donated lunches and dinners to several hospitals across the state of Maine, including the Central Maine Heart and Vascular Institute in Lewinston.

Dr. Paul Weldner, whose family hosted Rizzo when Rizzo played for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs in 2010, is a cardiologist at CMHVI. The two still stay in touch to this day, and Rizzo recently reached out to his former host parent about how he could help in the midst of this pandemic.

“He basically reached out to me and said, ‘Paul I am giving out meals to a bunch of hospitals in your area and I would like your unit to benefit from it,'” Weldner told the Sun Journal’s Nathan Fournier. “So, we arranged it and that happened [Friday].”

Food was ordered from a popular local spot among the nurses, and “They ordered two sets of meals,” Weldner said. “One for the afternoon shift and I guess another meal is coming for the evening shift. And they just ordered a whole bunch of individual meals so people didn’t have to gather in one place.”

Weldner, who went to see Rizzo play in Game 4 of the 2016 World Series in Chicago and attended Rizzo’s wedding in 2018, was also gifted an engraved baseball from the first baseman.

Per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal:

“As of Friday, the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation will have delivered approximately 3,500 meals to front-line workers at 23 hospitals in six different states (Florida, Arizona, New York, New Jersey and Maine), according to executive director Abby Suarez.

Friday’s efforts also will include a shipment of 1,000 boxes of medical gloves to Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, with 50 gallons of hand sanitizer set to be delivered to the same facility on Monday. Next week, the foundation plans to expand its delivery of meals to nursing homes. It also is preparing care packages for pediatric cancer families and seeking to purchase a large amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) to donate, Suarez said.”

For a little more background, the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation was founded in 2012, four years after Rizzo was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma as an 18-year-old in April 2008, just as he was about to begin his first full season as a professional in the Red Sox organization.

Fortunately, Rizzo was able to overcome that adversity and was told by his doctor that he “could live a normal life” again that November.

The main goal of Rizzo’s foundation is to “support pediatric cancer patients and their families,” but in these unprecedented times, it’s certainly encouraging to see them broadening their horizons.

For more information on the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation, click here.

Red Sox Acquire Catcher Jhonny Pereda From Cubs to Complete Travis Lakins Trade

The Red Sox have acquired minor-league catcher Jhonny Pereda from the Cubs to complete the trade that sent right-hander Travis Lakins to Chicago back in January. The club made the transaction official earlier Monday.

Pereda, who turns 24 in April, was originally signed by the Cubs as an international free agent out of Venezuela in April 2013.

In 98 games with Double-A Tennessee last year, the backstop slashed .241/.336/.305 with two home runs and 39 RBI. He was also the recipient of the 2019 Minor League Rawlings Gold Glove Award for catcher, as he threw out 44 of the 132 (33.3%) of the runners who attempted to steal against him last year.

A right-handed hitter, Pereda also played eight games at first base in 2019 as well as two games at third base in 2017.

As for Lakins, the 25-year-old was dealt to the Cubs in January in exchange for cash considerations or a player to be named later. Pereda turned out to be that PTBNL, but Lakins has since been waived by Chicago and claimed off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles.

Red Sox Free Agency Targets: Pedro Strop

MLB Trade Rumors on Tuesday released their annual predictions for where this year’s crop of top 50 free agents will land this winter.

As it is already known, the Red Sox find themselves needing help out of the bullpen. That much is evident by how team chairman Tom Werner said that, ” we’re going to hopefully supplement our relief pitching,” back in September.

Whether adding new arms to the mix comes via trade or free agency has yet to be determined, but that should not stop new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom from exploring his options.

Last month, I brought up the idea of the club reaching out to right-handed reliever and Massachusetts native Steve Cishek. Now, I am going to throw out another name who also spent the 2019 season with the Chicago Cubs in right-hander Pedro Strop.

MLBTR has the 34-year-old inking a one-year, $5 million deal with the Sox this winter.

Strop is coming off a 2019 campaign in which he posted a 4.97 ERA and 4.53 FIP over 50 relief appearances and 41 2/3 innings of work. Those numbers may not seem great on the surface, but it is worth mentioning that Strop did spend time on the injured list twice this year due to a left hamstring strain in May and left neck tightness in late July/early August.

Before that though, the Dominican Republic native had established himself as one of the better relievers in the National League since joining the Cubs from the Baltimore Orioles as part of the Jake Arrieta trade in July 2013.

Strop’s pitch arsenal includes a slider, four-seam fastball, cutter, sinker, and split-finger fastball. He certainly appears to be someone who could very well bounce back in 2020.

Although Strop was the only free agent directly linked to the Sox by MLBTR, other named that Boston could be interested in include Zack Wheeler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Will Smith, Cole Hamels, Jose Abreu, Daniel Hudson, Brock Holt, and Rich Hill.

Theo Epstein Shoots Down Red Sox Rumors Amid Speculation Surrounding Potential Reunion

In the last few weeks following the firing of now ex-president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, rumors had been swirling that the Red Sox were interested in a potential reunion with former general manager and current Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein.

Epstein himself shut down those reports on Wednesday, telling reporters before the Cubs took on the Pittsburgh Pirates that, “I’m here. We have a lot we need to work on to get back to the level we’re accustomed to. I’m invested in that. That’s what I’m focused on.”

The Brookline, Ma. native’s current contract with Chicago runs through the end of the 2021 season. He initially joined the Cubs back on October 21st, 2011, the same day he resigned from the post as GM of the Red Sox for a second time.

At just 45-years of age, Epstein has already established himself as one of the more accomplished baseball executives of the 21st century, snapping an 86-year World Series drought with the Sox in 2004, winning another in 2007, and snapping a 106-year drought with the Cubs in 2016.

As you may have already guessed, the Red Sox are going to need someone to lead their baseball operations department ahead of what looks to be a crucial winter for the club with plenty of important decisions to be made.

And with that bit of knowledge, Epstein also confirmed Wednesday that, “neither he, GM Jed Hoyer or executive Jason McLeod were linked to the Red Sox position,” per the Chicago Sun-Times’ Gordon Wittenmyer.

“I have really good relationships with a lot of people there,” Epstein said. “And I certainly wish them the best, but there’s nothing to that story.”

So, unless something dramatic happens relatively soon, it seems as though the Red Sox will have to look elsewhere for a new head of baseball operations. Perhaps Eddie Romero, an internal option, is a viable choice?