Red Sox’ Garrett Whitlock once again has idol Rick Porcello’s number after losing it in spring training

It appears as though Garrett Whitlock has once again obtained the uniform number he has long yearned for.

Whitlock, who wore No. 72 in his first two seasons with the Red Sox, is now listed as No. 22 on the club’s 40-man roster, per MLB.com. The right-hander initially planned on changing his number after his rookie year, but he gave up the No. 22 after Derek Holland — who signed a minor-league deal with Boston in March — asked for it in spring training.

Holland did not make the Sox’ Opening Day roster out of camp and was granted his release in May. The No. 22 then went unclaimed until veteran outfielder Tommy Pham elected to wear it after being acquired from the Reds in early August.

Pham batted just .234/.298/.374 in 53 games with the Red Sox and became a free agent earlier this month after his mutual option was declined earlier this month. That gave Whitlock the opportunity to re-claim the number and the righty has since taken advantage of it.

Whitlock grew up a fan of longtime big-league starter Rick Porcello, who donned the No. 22 in his five seasons with the Red Sox from 2015-2019. In a conversation with The Athletic’s Chad Jennings last October, Whitlock described Porcello as his “favorite pitcher ever.”

Growing up in Georgia, Whitlock tried to watch as many Tigers and Red Sox games as possible when Porcello was on the mound. He was a sophomore at the University of Alabama at Birmingham when Porcello won the American League Cy Young Award in 2016.

After coming over from the Yankees to the Red Sox in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft, Whitlock gained an even greater respect for Porcello as teammates told him about the kind of leader he was during his time in Boston. Those same teammates encouraged Whitlock to switch to the No. 22, but Whitlock would only do so if he received permission from Porcello himself.

“The only way I’m going to change my number is if Porcello tells me, in person, ‘It’s OK for you to be 22,” Whitlock told Jennings. “And the only other number would be 48, because that’s what he was in Detroit. So, those are the only numbers I really care about that I would do. But I don’t want to taint his number. I don’t want to do anything like that, so I would only do it with his permission.”

Porcello, as it turns out, watched Whitlock from afar in 2021 and came away impressed with what he saw from the then-rookie hurler. The 12-year veteran told Jennings he wanted Whitlock to take the No. 22 since “he would do nothing but increase the value” of it.

“That number needs some steady success like he’s doing,” said Porcello. “I would love to see him wear it. He’s his own guy, too. He’s going to have his own success and carve his own path. Whatever he wants, but a number, they’re there to be worn. I hope I’ll get a chance to see him and tell him to wear it.”

While Whitlock and Porcello have yet to meet in-person, Jennings’ article was enough for Whitlock to first make the switch in the spring. It may have taken longer than expected thanks to some unique circumstances, but the 26-year-old will now have the chance to pay homage to his favorite pitcher t0 an even greater extent. He already wore three-quarter sleeves and bent the bill of his cap as a tribute to Porcello.

“Hopefully I can do No. 22 proud by him,” Whitlock told MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo back in March. “He pitched like a blue-collar guy. He pitched. He didn’t just try to throw hard. He hated walks and I loved that aspect, too. He just wanted to win. Whatever the outcome was or whatever happens, I’m going to grind it out, be a workhorse and get the W and try to put up as many innings I can in a year. I just loved that fact so that’s what I want to aspire to be.”

Whitlock has primarily been used as a reliever through the first two years of his major-league career. He made nine starts from April 23-June 7 this past season and posted a 4.15 ERA with 38 strikeouts to nine walks over 39 innings of work. The Red Sox are now planning on using Whitlock as a full-time starter heading into the 2023 campaign. This has seemingly always been the plan since Whitlock was a rotation prospect in his time with the Yankees organization and was signed to a four-year, $18.75 million contract extension in April that includes significant incentive clauses based on the number of innings he pitches moving forward.

Whitlock’s 2022 season was cut short due to a right hip impingement that ultimately required arthroscopic surgery in September. He told The Athletic’s Jen McCaffrey last week that his rehab is going well and he expects to be fully ready for spring training when pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers in February.

(Picture of Garrett Whitlock: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Red Sox to promote Ramón Vázquez to bench coach, per report

The Red Sox are promoting Ramon Vazquez from first base coach to bench coach, according to reporter Edwin Hernandez Jr. (@LBPRCinEnglish) on Twitter.

Vazquez, who has been managing the Criollos de Caguas of the Puerto Rican Winter League this offseason, will be taking over for Will Venable. After serving as Boston’s bench coach for the last two seasons, Venable left the club earlier this month to become the associate manager of the Rangers under Bruce Bochy.

A native of Puerto Rico himself, Vazquez first joined manager Alex Cora’s coaching staff as a statistical analysis coordinator in November 2017. He remained in that role for three seasons before taking on more responsibility as a quality control coach in 2021. When Tom Goodwin’s unvaccinated status kept him off the field, Vazquez filled in as the first base coach for the entirety of the Sox’ postseason run. He was named the full-time first base coach last December after the club elected to part ways with Goodwin.

Prior to joining the Red Sox as a coach, Vazquez spent three seasons (2014-2016) in the Astros organization. He served as Houston’s developmental specialist from 2014-15 and then managed its High-A minor-league affiliate in 2016. The following season, Vazquez got his first taste of life as a big-league coach with the Padres while working under Andy Green.

Going back to his playing days, the 46-year-old Vazquez is a veteran of nine major-league seasons (2001-2009) between the Mariners, Padres, Red Sox, Guardians, Rangers, and Pirates. In July 2005, Vazquez was traded from Boston to Cleveland in exchange for a fellow infielder (and Puerto Rican) in Cora.

In becoming the Red Sox’ next bench coach, Vazquez has opted to step down as Caguas’ manager in order to focus on his new duties. This comes just 10 months after he became the third manager ever to win four titles in the Puerto Rican Winter League.

With Vazquez taking over for Venable as Cora’s top lieutenant, the Red Sox now have an opening at first base coach. It remains to be seen how they will go about filling that vacancy. As far as internal candidates are concerned, major-league field coordinator Andy Fox and Triple-A Worcester bench coach Jose David Flores could garner consideration since they have prior experience at the position. Fox was the Marlins’ first base coach from 2007-2009 while Flores served in the role with the Phillies in 2018.

(Picture of Ramon Vazquez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Should the Red Sox be in the mix for Cody Bellinger?

The New York Post’s Jon Heyman reported on Friday that free agent outfielder Cody Bellinger has drawn interest from up to 11 teams. Could the Red Sox be among this group? If not, should they be?

Bellinger, 27, was non-tendered by the Dodgers last week after spending six seasons with the club. The former fourth-round draft pick was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $18.1 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility, which would represent a 6.5 percent increase from the $17 million salary he received in 2022.

Rather than give him a raise, the Dodgers elected to make Bellinger a free agent by not tendering him a contract. The left-handed hitter is coming off a disappointing season in which he batted just .210/.265/.389 with 27 doubles, three triples, 19 home runs, 68 RBIs, 70 runs scored, 14 stolen bases, 38 walks, and 150 strikeouts over 144 games (550 plate appearances). His 6.9 percent walk rate and 27.3 percent strikeout rate were the worst of his career.

When he first broke in with the Dodgers as a 21-year-old in 2017, Bellinger quickly established himself as one of the best young players in baseball. He took home National League Rookie of the Year honors in his debut season and was then named league MVP two years later. From 2017-2019, Bellinger slashed .278/.369/.559 with 111 homers and 288 runs driven in across 450 total games.

Bellinger’s production began to fall during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, as he hit .239/.333/.455 with 12 home runs and 30 RBIs over 56 games. During the Dodgers’ run to the World Series that October, Bellinger dislocated his right shoulder in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Braves while celebrating a home run with former teammate and current Red Sox utility man Enrique Hernandez. He was able to play out the rest of the postseason, but underwent arthroscopic surgery that November.

Despite missing some time the following spring, Bellinger made Los Angeles’ 2021 Opening Day roster. But he fractured his left fibula in early April and was sidelined until late May as a result. He also missed time with left hamstring tightness and a left rib fracture. Those injuries played a role in Bellinger posting a career-worst .542 OPS in 95 games. The Dodgers were optimistic that Bellinger would be able to bounce back this season, but that never really happened.

“Obviously, it’s been a unique path for Cody as he’s battled through injuries and worked diligently over the past few years to return to his All-Star-caliber performance,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told reporters (including MLB.com’s Juan Toribio) earlier this month. “However, it hasn’t played out as well as we would’ve hoped or expected, and therefore we had to make a difficult decision of non-tendering.”

While the Dodgers opted to make Bellinger a free agent, Friedman and Co. remain interested in bringing him back at a cheaper price, which could prove to be difficult given the reported number of potential suitors. Heyman lists the Astros, Cubs, and Giants as three of the 11 teams who are in play for Bellinger’s services.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say this is the closing of the chapter of Cody and the Dodgers,” said Friedman. “We still very much believe in the talent of Cody and his competitive makeup, and we have interest in a reunion and will continue talks with Cody and his group. And he gets to discuss this on his end.”

Bellinger, who does not turn 28 until next July, is represented by super-agent Scott Boras. Last weekend, Boras told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal that Bellinger has already received a number of multi-year deals, but he wants his client to take a one-year deal so that he can reset his value and hit the open market again next winter.

“I’ve already been offered multi-years,” Boras said. “Most likely, because of his age, we don’t want a multi-year.”

Going back to this month’s GM meetings in Las Vegas, Boras believes that Bellinger’s lack of production over the last two seasons has more to do with the lack of strength in his shoulder as opposed to his level of talent.

“Talents are so hard to find,” Boras said, via The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya. “You just don’t find talents like this. He’s 26, 27 years old. It’s really about getting his strength back so he can repeat his skill level.”

Even with the lackluster numbers at the plate in recent years, Bellinger has still proven to be one of the sport’s better defensive center fielders. This past season, the 6-foot-4, 203-pounder was worth seven outs above average at the position, which ranked 13th in Major League Baseball, per Statcast.

The Red Sox already have Hernandez in the fold as the everyday center fielder in 2023, but adding Bellinger to the mix would allow Alex Cora to move Hernandez back to the infield on occasion if necessary. If, for example, Xander Bogaerts were to leave Boston in free agency, Hernandez would provide the Sox with insurance at shortstop. Bellinger also has prior experience at first base and at both corner outfield spots, so he and Hernandez could always share the outfield grass.

As a former early draft pick and top prospect who grew up in the Dodgers organization, Bellinger — in certain respects — represents the kind of player the Red Sox have coveted under chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. If healthy, his potential is through the roof. And he has the versatility to play multiple positions — and one important one in particular — at a high level.

Bellinger’s 19 home runs this season would have ranked second on the 2022 Red Sox. His 14 stolen bases would have led the team. So, if Bloom and Co. are looking to inject more power and speed into their lineup heading into the spring, bringing in Bellinger on a one-year deal makes all the sense in the world.

(Picture of Cody Bellinger: Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Red Sox acquire Hoy Park from Pirates in exchange for pitching prospect Inmer Lobo

The Red Sox have acquired infielder/outfielder Hoy Park from the Pirates in exchange for pitching prospect Inmer Lobo, the club announced on Wednesday.

Park, 26, was just designated for assignment by Pittsburgh on Tuesday. He has been added to Boston’s 40-man roster, which is now at full capacity after left-handed reliever Joely Rodriguez was signed to a one-year deal earlier Wednesday morning.

A native of S0uth Korea, Park was originally signed by the Yankees as an international free agent in July 2014. He was regarded by Baseball America as the No. 25 prospect in New York’s farm system in 2016 and made his major-league debut last July.

After just one game in pinstripes, though, Park and fellow infielder Diego Castillo were traded to the Pirates for All-Star reliever Clay Holmes last July. Park appeared in 44 games for Pittsburgh down the stretch last season and batted .197/.299/.339 with five doubles, two triples, three home runs, 14 RBIs, 16 runs scored, one stolen base, 18 walks, and 38 strikeouts across 149 trips to the plate.

Park made the Pirates’ Opening Day roster out of spring training this year but was sent down to Triple-A Indianapolis before the end of April. In four separate stints with the big-league club, the left-handed hitter slashed .216/.276/.373 with two doubles, two homers, six runs driven in, seven runs scored, one stolen base, four walks, and 15 strikeouts over 23 games and 60 plate appearances.

On the other side of the ball, Park has major-league experience at six different positions. This past season in Pittsburgh, the versatile 6-foot-1, 200-pounder logged 61 innings at second base, 39 innings at third base, 22 innings at shortstop, and 12 innings in right field. He also saw playing time in left field and in center field last year.

Park, who turns 27 in April, has two minor-league options remaining, meaning he could provide the Red Sox with both infield and outfield depth at Triple-A Worcester next season. For his minor-league career, Park is a lifetime .255/.384/.417 hitter in 145 games at the Triple-A level.

Lobo, 18, was signed by the Red Sox for $10,000 out of Venezuela back in January. The left-hander spent the entirety of his first pro season in the Dominican Summer League and posted a 0.82 ERA with 28 strikeouts to two walks over five starts spanning 22 innings of work.

(Picture of Hoy Park: Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Red Sox sign former Cubs outfielder Narciso Crook to minor-league deal

The Red Sox have signed free agent outfielder Narciso Crook to a minor-league contract for the 2023 season, per the team’s transactions log on MLB.com. It’s unclear if the deal includes an invite to major-league spring training, but Crook has been assigned to Triple-A Worcester.

Crook, 27, made his big-league debut for the Cubs over the summer. In just four games (including three against the Red Sox from July 1-3) with Chicago, the right-handed hitter went 2-for-8 (.250) with one double, two RBIs, one run scored, zero walks, and three strikeouts. He was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on July 4 and was later outrighted off the Cubs’ 40-man roster after the season ended.

As a veteran of eight minor-league seasons, Crook had the right to elect free agency, which he did two weeks before officially landing with the Red Sox on Tuesday.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Crook was originally selected by the Reds in the 23rd round of the 2013 amateur draft out of Rowan College of South Jersey. He spent the first seven seasons of his professional career in Cincinnati’s farm system and was once touted as a top-30 prospect within the organization before reaching minor-league free agency for the first time last November.

Crook ultimately spent the majority of the 2022 season in the minors but made the most of it, as he batted .260/.345/.492 with 21 doubles, three triples, 19 home runs, 67 runs driven in, 61 runs scored, 13 stolen bases, 36 walks, and 124 strikeouts across 101 games (409 plate appearances) with the Iowa Cubs.

Between the major- and minor-leagues, Crook has experience at all three outfield positions. The majority of Crook’s playing at Triple-A this year time came in right field, though the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder also logged 77 innings at first base.

Crook, who does not turn 28 until next July, figures to start the 2023 season with the WooSox. He should provide Boston with experienced depth in an outfield mix that currently consists of Alex Verdugo, Enrique Hernandez, Rob Refsnyder, and Jarren Duran.

In addition to Crook, the Red Sox also signed left-handed reliever Joely Rodriguez to a one-year major-league deal that comes with a club option for 2024 on Wednesday.

(Picture of Narciso Crook: Matt Dirksen/Getty Images)

Red Sox sign lefty reliever Joely Rodriguez to one-year deal with club option for 2024

The Red Sox have signed left-handed reliever Joely Rodriguez to a one-year contract for the 2023 season, the club announced on Wednesday. The deal comes with a club option for 2024 as well.

Rodriguez, who turned 31 earlier this month, will make at least $2 million in guaranteed money with the Red Sox. His contract includes a base salary of $1.5 million in 2023 and up to $2 million in active roster bonuses, according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo. The Red Sox then hold a $4.25 million option over Rodriguez for 2024. If they decline that, Rodriguez will receive $500,000 in the form of a buyout. When taking other performance bonuses into account, Rodriguez’s deal can max out at $8.25 million over the next two seasons.

After finishing with the fifth-worst bullpen ERA (4.59) this year, the Red Sox have elected to make Rodriguez their first free agent addition of the offseason. The Dominican-born southpaw spent the entirety of the 2022 campaign with the Mets and posted a 4.47 ERA and 3.23 FIP to go along with 57 strikeouts to 26 walks over 55 relief appearances spanning 50 1/3 innings of work.

Rodriguez was initially one of 12 pitchers to make the Mets’ Wild Card series roster last month, but he was removed from it following Game 1 due to an unspecified shoulder issue that ultimately required minor surgery after the season, per The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

Listed at 6-foot-1, and 200 pounds, Rodriguez operates with a four-pitch mix that consists of a sinker and changeup — his two most frequently-used offerings — as well as a four-seam fastball and slider. This past season, Rodriguez limited opposing hitters to an average exit velocity of 85.3 mph, a hard-hit rate of 31.8 percent, and a barrel rate of 3.8 percent, per Baseball Savant. His chase rate of 34.7 percent also ranked in the 94th percentile of the league.

The Red Sox, per Cotillo, are intrigued by Rodriguez’s pitch mix and his ability to induce ground balls, soft contact, and whiffs. They are optimistic that his performance will be more in line with his Statcast numbers as opposed to his 4.56 career ERA moving forward. They also believe in his ability to get both right-handed and left-handed hitters out, as he held righties to a .625 OPS against and lefties to a .645 OPS in 2022.

A native of Santo Domingo, Rodriguez first signed with the Pirates as an international free agent in March 2009. He was traded to the Phillies in 2014 and made his major-league debut two years later. In June 2017, Rodriguez was traded to the Rangers and became a free agent at the end of the season. He spent part of the 2018 campaign in the Orioles system before signing with the Chunichi Dragons of Nippon Professional Baseball.

After spending the remainder of 2018 and the entirety of 2019 in Japan, Rodriguez returned to the major-leagues in 2020 with the Rangers. Texas traded him and Joey Gallo to the Yankees at the 2021 trade deadline. New York then flipped him to the Mets for fellow reliever Miguel Castro back in April.

All told, Rodriguez owns a 4.56 ERA and 3.65 FIP across 157 career appearances (146 innings) in five seasons at the big-league level. The lefty will now join a Red Sox bullpen that at the moment includes the likes of Matt Barnes, John Schreiber, Tanner Houck, Ryan Brasier, Darwinzon Hernandez, Josh Taylor, and Zack Kelly, among others.

While that group could still undergo a dramatic change between now and Opening Day, Rodriguez is line to provide Boston with a left-handed relief option in 2023. With the addition of Rodriguez, the Red Sox currently have 39 platers on their 40-man roster.

(Picture of Joely Rodriguez: Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Red Sox have been in contact with Japanese right-hander Kodai Senga, per report

The Red Sox have been in contact with the representatives for Japanese pitcher Kodai Senga, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported on Monday.

Senga, who turns 30 in January, has drawn widespread interest from MLB teams this winter and is viewed as one of the top free agent starting pitchers on the market. The hard-throwing right-hander is represented by Joel Wolfe, who told NBC Sports Chicago’s Gordon Wittenmyer earlier this month that his client “has a great deal of interest in being in a big market” playing for a contender.

Boston represents one of the larger media markets in the major-leagues, as does New York City. The Yankees, like the Red Sox, have made contact with Senga’s representatives, per Morosi. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal previously reported that Senga has already met with the Mets, as well as the Padres and Rangers. The Blue Jays, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, and Mariners are also believed to be interested in the righty’s services.

A native of Gamagori, Senga spent the first 11 seasons of his professional career with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of Nippon Professional Baseball after debuting with the club as a 19-year-old in 2012. The 6-foot, 178-pound hurler posted a 1.94 ERA with 156 strikeouts to 49 walks over 22 starts (144 innings) in 2022. For his career, he owns a lifetime 2.59 ERA to go along with a 28.2 percent strikeout rate and a 9.3 walk rate across 224 outings (1,089 innings) at Japan’s highest level.

Equipped with a four-pitch mix that consists of a high-90s fastball, a low-90s cutter, a low-80s slider, and a plus splitter, Senga opted out of his contract with the Hawks and became a free agent in October. Because of that opt-out decision, Senga is not subject to the NPB-MLB posting system.

The Red Sox have had past success when it comes to signing Japanese-born pitchers. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara all played significant roles on World Series-winning teams during their respective times in Boston.

Under chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, the Red Sox have been linked to several Japanese pitchers — such as Kohei Arihara and Tomoyuki Sugano — in recent offseasons. Last February, right-handed reliever Hirokazu Sawamura joined the Sox on a multi-year deal and spent the majority of the last two seasons in Boston’s bullpen before being released in September.

“Without getting into any specific player, it is a market where we’re very engaged,” Bloom said at the GM meetings in Las Vegas earlier this month. “I think we’ve shown over the years, well before I was here, that this organization, for a lot of reasons, is really well-positioned to support a Japanese player both from what we can provide from a staff standpoint and environment. Players who have played here coming over from the NPB will speak to that and have been allies for us telling players how awesome it is to play in Boston.”

It remains to be seen just how interested the Red Sox are in Senga, who Bloom described as “just a really impressive arm” with “super talented, athletic, power stuff.” MLB Trade Rumors projects that the 29-year-old will receive a five-year deal in the range of $75 million from whichever team signs him.

According to WEEI’s Rob Bradford, the Red Sox have scouted Senga “heavily” in recent years. Over the weekend, The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier reported that the club was “unlikely to enter the bidding” for the top four free agent starters in Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom, Carlos Rodon, and Chris Bassitt.

Given his projected price tag, Senga wound seemingly fit a need for the Red Sox, especially if Nathan Eovaldi signs elsewhere in free agency. As noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, though, Boston already has several other rotation candidates on their roster at the moment.

With the likes of Nick Pivetta, Brayan Bello, Chris Sale, James Paxton, Garrett Whitlock, and Tanner Houck vying for spots, Senga would have to come in and compete for a spot of his own if he were to sign with the Sox, who are still interested in bringing back Eovaldi, Rich Hill, and Michael Wacha.

Taking all that into consideration, it seems likely that the Red Sox will have a better understanding of Senga’s market once the Winter Meetings get underway in San Diego next month.

(Picture of Kodai Senga: Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)

Red Sox keeping 7:10 p.m. as standard start time for Fenway Park night games in 2023

The Red Sox will keep 7:10 p.m. as their standard first pitch time for weekday home games at Fenway Park, according to The Eagle-Tribune’s Mac Cerullo.

A team spokesperson confirmed to Cerullo on Tuesday that the club’s default start times for the 2023 season will be 7:10 p.m. on weekdays, 4:10 p.m. on Saturdays, and 1:35 p.m. on Sundays, just as they were in 2021 and 2022.

There are still a number of games with start times to be determined, but the Red Sox are planning on trying out an earlier 6:10 p.m. start time for at least three midweek night games next season, per Cerullo. Those will happen against the Blue Jays on Thursday, May 4, against the Marlins on Thursday, June 29, and against the Rays on Wednesday, September 27. All three of those games will take place before the start of a road trip.

The Red Sox also plan on hosting two midweek, non-holiday games that will start at 1:35 p.m. The first will come against the Pirates on Wednesday, April 5, and the second will come against the Twins on Thursday, April 20. Both of those contests fall on getaway days as well.

As far as holiday games are concerned, Boston will be hosting the Angels on Patriots’ Day (April 17), the Cardinals on Mother’s Day (May 14), the Yankees on Father’s Day (June 18), and the Rangers on Independence Day (July 4).

The decision for the Red Sox to keep start times the same as they have been comes at a time when other clubs across Major League Baseball have elected to do the opposite. The Rays, for instance, experimented with a 6:40 p.m. start time for the majority of their home games at Tropicana Field this past season and will keep things the same in 2023.

Clubs have begun starting night games earlier in an effort to keep fans at the ballpark for entire games. Team president and CEO Sam Kennedy acknowledged last month that the Red Sox were looking into a similar change after averaging the second-highest time of game (3 hours and 11 minutes) in the American League.

“We’re looking at start times in the context of what’s best for our fans, what’s best for the baseball operation,” Kennedy told reporters (including MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo) at the club’s end-of-season press conference. “We’ve had lots of discussions with players and (Alex Cora) and his staff and baseball operations. We are looking at potentially some different start times next year.”

Though they ultimately decided against moving up the start time of weekday night games in 2023, the Red Sox are optimistic that MLB’s new pace-of-play initiatives (such as the pitch clock) will enhance the in-game viewing experience for fans beginning next season.

With that being said, the Red Sox are scheduled to open the 2023 campaign against the Orioles on March 30 at Fenway Park.

(Picture of Fenway Park: Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Former Red Sox minor-leaguers Brian Keller, Johan Mieses close to signing with NPB’s Hanshin Tigers, per report

The Hanshin Tigers of Nippon Professional Baseball are expected to sign a pair of former Red Sox minor-leaguers in Brian Keller and Johan Mieses, according to Yahoo! Japan (and relayed by Yakyu Cosmopolitan on Twitter).

Keller, 28, was selected by the Red Sox in the minor-league phase of last December’s Rule 5 Draft. The right-hander was originally taken by the Yankees in the 39th round of the 2016 amateur draft out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He spent the first six years of his career in the New York organization and made it as far as Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before being scooped up by Boston a little more than 11 months ago.

After receiving an invite to major-league spring training, Keller broke camp with Triple-A Worcester in April. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound righty spent the entirety of the 2022 season with the WooSox and posted a 3.27 ERA and 3.76 FIP to go along with 126 strikeouts to 53 walks over 31 appearances (20 starts) spanning 113 innings of work.

Keller, who does not turn 29 until next June, operates with a five-pitch mix that consists of a 91-93 mph fastball that tops out at 95 mph, a low-70s curveball, a low-80s changeup, a cutter, and a slider. He became a minor-league free agent for the first time earlier this month. It is unclear if the Red Sox attempted to bring Keller back on another minors pact for 2023, but the native Wisconsinite will now try to make his mark overseas.

Mieses, on the other hand, first joined the Red Sox organization as a minor-league free agent in November 2019. The former Dodgers and Cardinals outfield prospect did not make his organizational debut until last May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he proved to be a solid power source over the last two years.

Appearing in 60 games for the WooSox this past season, the right-handed hitting Mieses slashed a respectable .271/.387/.536 (144 wRC+) with 15 doubles, 12 home runs, 35 RBIs, 32 runs scored, five stolen bases, 32 walks, and 60 strikeouts across 230 trips to the plate. His 31 homers since the start of the 2021 campaign rank eighth among all Red Sox minor-leaguers, per FanGraphs.

Mieses, who turned 27 in July, became a minor-league free agent like Keller five days after the World Series ended. Rather than explore other opportunities in affiliated ball, the burly slugger elected to take his talents to Japan, where he helped his native Dominican Republic win a bronze medal at the 2020 Summer Olympics.

In addition to Keller and Mieses, it also appears that Hanshin is interested in former Red Sox reliever Phillips Valdez. Valdez was claimed off waivers by the Mariners in July and was outrighted off Seattle’s 40-man roster in October. He, too, is a minor-league free agent.

(Picture of Brian Keller: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox showing interest in Corey Kluber

The Red Sox have had some contact with free agent starting pitcher Corey Kluber this winter, according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

Kluber, 36, makes his offseason home in Winchester, Mass., where his wife, Amanda, is from. The veteran right-hander has discussed potential deals with the Red Sox in each of his last two trips to free agency before ultimately deciding to sign elsewhere.

In January 2021, Kluber inked a one-year deal with the Yankees. After posting a 3.83 ERA in 16 starts (80 innings) for New York, the righty signed another one-year pact with the Rays last December and pitched to a 4.34 ERA with 139 strikeouts to just 21 walks over 31 starts (164 innings) for Tampa Bay this past season.

Kluber may no longer the dominant ace who won two Cy Young Awards in a span of four seasons with the Guardians from 2014-2017. But the three-time All Star has seemingly expressed a desire to pitch in Boston and could still provide the Red Sox with value as a steady rotation presence.

“I think they’re well aware of how I feel [about pitching close to home],” Kluber told Speier.

So far this offseason, the Red Sox have worked to solidify their starting rotation. They welcomed James Paxton back after he exercised his $4 million player option and revealed at the GM meetings that they planned on using Garrett Whitlock as a starter next season. Speier notes that the club has shown interest in free agent lefty Andrew Heaney and remains in contact with Nathan Eovaldi about a potential multi-year deal to return to Boston.

The Red Sox, according to Speier,  are “expected to be one of the biggest spenders this winter.” But that spending is expected to be spread across several areas, meaning those within the industry are not anticipating high-end free agent starters such as Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom, Carlos Rodon, or Chris Bassitt to be pursued by Boston anytime soon. Instead, it seems as though chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. are focused on veteran, mid-rotation options like Eovaldi, Heaney, and Kluber.

Kluber, who turns 37 in April, could land a one-year deal or a one-year deal with an option attached in free agency this winter. He earned a base salary of $8 million with the Rays this season and is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to receive $12 million in 2023.

Back in July, Kluber — who was born in Alabama — told MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo that he enjoyed spending his winters in Massachisetts and that Fenway Park was one of his favorite places to visit while on the road during the baseball season.

“I think it’s an awesome city. I think it’s a great place,” he said. “During the summer time, during baseball season, it’s hard to find a better place. I enjoy going there as a visitor. Fenway is one of, if not my favorite park in the big leagues. Just the environment, the history of it, all that sort of stuff. I just think it’s a very cool place.”

(Picture of Corey Kluber: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)