Forget the John Farrell whispers, Red Sox should focus on upgrading their rotation

John Farrell

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Frankly, the debate over John Farrell bores me.

The far more interesting question with the Red Sox is whether president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski will trade one of the team’s two top prospects, infielder Yoan Moncada or outfielder Andrew Benintendi.

Dombrowski needs to improve the Red Sox’s rotation, which is sub-par under Farrell and would remain sub-par under Torey Lovullo or any other manager.

Not that Farrell should be safe if the team continues to sputter. I’ve always believed that there comes a tipping point when the manager’s becomes a distraction, almost suffocating the club. But the Sox are not at that point; in fact, they’ve rebounded nicely from Saturday’s humiliating 21-2 loss to the Angels with resounding back-to-back triumphs.

Dombrowski probably would prefer to be patient — he never had a chance to evaluate Farrell last season because the manager was undergoing treatment for cancer. Mercifully, Dombrowski does not appear to be conducting a Twitter or talk radio poll on whether to make a change — though, of course, the Red Sox’s reactionary ownership might be.

Yoan Moncada

Fix the pitching, then worry about the manager.

Some improvement might come from within — if left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez straightens out, if righties Joe Kelly and (ahem) Clay Buchholz prove assets in the bullpen. Athletics left-hander Rich Hill, who revived his career with the Red Sox last September, remains a perfect trade target. But the only way Dombrowski should move Moncada or Benintendi is if he can acquire the type of pitcher who does not currently appear to be available — a true, controllable ace.

Braves right-hander Julio Teheran is not at that level in the opinion of most in the industry. Neither is Athletics righty Sonny Gray nor Rays righty Chris Archer, at least not in their present forms.

Perhaps some team will fall out of the race in the next few weeks, creating new possibilities (the Mets and Matt Harvey would be a doozy). But both the Cubs and Rangers have demonstrated the value of hoarding young position players and retaining depth, flexibility and athleticism. The Red Sox, already blessed with shortstop Xander Bogaerts and outfielders Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr., are in position to do the same.

Moncada, 21, has played second base exclusively in the minors, but he is the most complete player in the Sox’s system and could be the long-term answer at third. Benintendi, who turns 22 on Wednesday, could be the everyday left fielder and serve as protection in center if Bradley got injured, with Betts remaining in right.

Clay Buchholz

Some with the Sox believe that Dombrowski is sold on Moncada becoming a superstar, and the universal feeling in the organization is that Benintendi will develop into a better all-around player than two other advanced young hitters, the Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber and Mets’ Michael Conforto.

The Sox routinely whiff on pitching prospects, but they haven’t missed lately on young hitters —€“ Bogaerts and Bradley simply required patience, and the same might be true of Blake Swihart, who is out with a sprained right ankle.

Meanwhile, the chances of landing a top starter in a trade probably will be better in the offseason, when Harvey, the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez and others might be more available.

Never mind that the Sox can use some good news at a time when their major-league team is struggling and baseball just imposed an international signing ban on the club for 2016-17 and voided the contracts of five Sox signees.

Dombrowski is too shrewd and too experienced to create a cheap headline, either by firing his manager or making a rash trade.

Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta sounded excited before his most recent outing against the Mets, saying that he expected to perform better after an encouraging bullpen session between starts.

Jake Arrieta

Arrieta told me that at times he was overstriding, releasing the ball as he landed instead of getting his foot down first, loading and exploding toward home plate. The problem, he said, stemmed from trying to add movement, add velocity —€“ in effect, trying too hard.

Well, Arrieta again experienced command issues against the Mets, allowing four runs in 5 1/3 innings. His velocity remains fairly consistent, but his walk rate has risen from 1.89 per nine innings last season to 3.49 thus far. His ERA over his last six starts: 4.05.

Is it possible that Arrieta is simply feeling the effects of his increase from 156 2/3 innings in 2014 to 248 2/3 last season, including playoffs? The Cubs do not believe that is the case; Arrieta is in fantastic shape, and his velocity has been fairly consistent.

Still, it will be interesting to see if Arrieta benefits from the All-Star break and from the pending insertion of right-hander Adam Warren into the Cubs’ rotation, which could allow extra rest for all of their starters.

At 30, Arrieta is older than the Mets’ pitchers who experienced World Series hangovers to varying degrees this season. But that doesn’t mean he’s immune from some kind of carryover effect.

It’s too early for MVP talk, but Kris Bryant’s versatility and willingness to move between the infield and outfield will only enhance his candidacy.

Bryant rates as an above-average defender at both third base and left, and enjoys the challenge of playing multiple spots. He actually got excited Friday after manager Joe Maddon informed him by text that he would be in left, and remains eager to throw out his first runner at home plate from the outfield.

Kris Bryant

Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, tells a great story from Bryant’s college days at the University of San Diego, a story that Bryant confirmed and only reinforces his impeccable image.

Boras was watching Bryant in a game at UC-Irvine, about a month before the draft. The Irvine ballpark is quite large, and Bryant stunned Boras by hitting one homer and nearly three others.

Afterward, Boras told Bryant he had not seen that kind of power from a college hitter before. Bryant, without emotion, responded that he actually was a little tired. He had taken three finals that day.

It’s incorrect to say that reliever Kevin Jepsen was a mistake for the Twins — he was an excellent trade acquisition last season and seemed a reasonable bet to remain a solid contributor after the team re-signed him for $5.3125 million.

No, the Twins have made far worse moves of late, even though they still owe Jepsen $2.64 million after designating him for assignment on Sunday. In fact, a number of their evaluations have proven questionable, to say the least.

Start with the signing of Korean designated hitter Byung Ho Park, which was part of the master plan to play Miguel Sano in right field. Park cost a combined $24.85 million in posting fee and contract, and after an encouraging start — he had nine homers and a .933 OPS on May 15 —€“ the Twins sent the slumping hitter to Triple A on Monday.

Phil Hughes

Sano, meanwhile, was a bust in right field, and is now back at third base in place of Trevor Plouffe, whom the Twins declined to trade last offseason and just went on the DL with a cracked rib, likely decreasing the chances that he will be moved before Aug. 1.

Park isn’t necessarily a lost cause —€“ Hyun Soo Kim is performing well for the Orioles, perhaps because he was brought along more slowly. But the Twins remain haunted by their starting-pitching choices in recent years —€“ Ricky Nolasco for $49 million, Ervin Santana for $55 million, Phil Hughes for $58 million when he had two years left on his contract. Even the re-signing of Tommy Milone for $4.5 million backfired — the Twins sent him to Triple A after outrighting him in May, and though he is now back in the rotation, his ERA is 6.23.

Perhaps Hughes will make a strong recovery from season-ending ending surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome and prove a bargain at $13.2 million per season in the final three years of his contract. But still other questions remain.

Why is reliever Casey Fien performing better with the Dodgers than he did with the Twins? What happened to catcher John Ryan Murphy, who was acquired from the Yankees for outfielder Aaron Hicks and lasted only a month in the majors?

A low-revenue team cannot afford to miss on so many decisions.

The Indians and Orioles own the second- and third-best records in the American League, yet their average home attendance actually has declined from their final averages last season.

Teams generally experience an attendance spike the year after a breakout, but it’s still surprising and somewhat disturbing that the Indians are down 1,150 from the end of last season and the Orioles 3,610.

Inclement weather in April was a factor for both clubs, leading to postponements and numerous delays. The Indians, who rank 30th in the majors in home attendance and were 29th in 2014 and ’15, also play in a shrinking market.

The Orioles, meanwhile, had only one weekend series against the Yankees and Red Sox in the first half, and their weekend opponents generally were lesser draws; the Red Sox, in fact, will not play a weekend series at Camden Yards all season.

Progressive Field

Orioles officials say that several future series, including this weekend’s series against the Angels and the July 22-24 series against the Indians, are selling well.

New Dodgers right-hander Bud Norris has a history of rubbing teammates, coaches and managers the wrong way, particularly when he is not pitching well. But give Norris credit for perseverance; he never stopped fighting to become a starter again

Norris, 31, had his best season with the Orioles in 2014. That offseason, he went to Thailand and came down with a bad stomach virus, according to a source. He never got right, the Orioles released him in August and the Padres signed him as a reliever. It worked out OK — in 16 2/3 innings, he struck out 21 and walked six.

Most teams then viewed Norris as a reliever in free agency, but he signed with the Braves because they gave him a chance to start. The early results were disastrous, and the Braves removed him from their rotation in late April. But Norris rallied as a reliever, then was quite effective in his return to the rotation, in part because he ditched his changeup for a cutter, as noted by Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan.

Mets first baseman James Loney said that he has no hard feelings toward the Rays, who released him on Opening Day after they could not trade him.

Most teams had set their rosters by then, and the Rays’ delay forced Loney to sign a minor-league deal with the Padres and play at Triple A for the first time since 2007.

Bud Norris

"I get it —€“ they weren’t worried about me," Loney said of the Rays. "But if I could do it all over again, I’d do it again the same way. Believe me, I’d rather be here."

The Rays are paying the vast majority of Loney’s $8 million salary; the Mets owe him only a pro-rated portion of the $507,500 minimum.

Loney, 32, batted .294 with an .828 OPS in 31 games with the Mets.

• One reason the Rays are ready to trade a starting pitcher, besides their putrid play, is that their surplus of starters is only growing.

James Loney

Left-hander Blake Snell is now in the rotation, with righty Matt Andriese lurking in the bullpen and righty Alex Cobb is starting a rehabilitation assignment Wednesday as he nears his return from Tommy John surgery.

• The Cubs’ revised plan is to start Willson Contreras about 60 percent of the time at catcher, with David Ross continuing to work with Jon Lester and Miguel Montero staying with Jake Arrieta.

Contreras, 24, began his professional career as an infielder in 2009 before converting to catching in ’12. The Cubs view him as functional in left; Contreras is more athletic than Kyle Schwarber and has a better arm.

The concern with Contreras, at least for this season, is catching him too much. He has never caught more than 75 games in a season, and already has started 50 between the majors and Triple A.

• Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon looks so portly and goofy, it’s easy to underestimate his pitching savvy.

The Mets rave about that side of Colon, saying that he even will use the wind to his advantage, use it to enhance the movement on his pitches.

Alex Cobb

"You can see him paying attention to it," reliever Jerry Blevins says. "He’s so smart when it comes to pitching, it’s almost laughbable. For him to make adjustments on wind speed and direction, it’s almost absurd."

• By now you’re familiar with the Rangers’ top youngsters —€“ Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson. But they are not the only Texas prospects drawing interest from clubs, according to major-league sources.

High A right-hander Ariel Jurado, 20, has perhaps the most impressive numbers —€“ he has struck out 237, walked 39 and produced a 2.54 ERA in four professional seasons.

Other names who could be in play: Double A outfielder Ryan Cordell, first baseman Ronald Guzman and right-hander Connor Sadzeck and High A catcher Jose Trevino.

• One rival executive says of the Indians’ relievers, "Let’s see how they are over time. Then again, great starting pitching makes the bullpen better."

The Indians’ rotation ranks first in the AL in ERA and second in innings to the Blue Jays’. The bullpen ranks seventh in opponents’ OPS.

The team likely will seek to add another reliever as well as a hitter before the Aug. 1 non-waiver deadline.

• The R.A. Dickey trade from Dec. 2012 could end up being the gift that keeps on giving for the Mets.

Jurickson Profar

Right-hander Noah Syndergaard and catcher Travis d’Arnaud both arrived in the deal, and the Blue Jays also included outfielder Wuilmer Becerra, whose future seemed limited after the Mets declined to add him to their 40-man roster last December, exposing him to the Rule 5 draft.

Well, Becerra is starting to emerge as a better prospect, with a .774 OPS at High A St. Lucie at age 21.