FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Good morning from the Fort, where the Red Sox will collectively do their part for the World Baseball Classic by playing an exhibition game Tuesday night against Team Puerto Rico in JetBlue Park. The game will offer the Sox a chance to visit with Mike Aviles, who was a popular figure in the Sox clubhouse before he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, the price the Jays extracted for allowing manager John Farrell out of the last year of his contract.
Aviles' time in the employ of the Blue Jays was short-lived, as they moved him 13 days later, trading him to the Cleveland Indians with utilityman Yan Gomes for pitcher Esmil Rogers, the guy whose fastball fractured the wrist of Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks.
Aviles, reunited with manager Terry Francona, appears to have found a home in Cleveland. The Tribe signed him to a two-year, $6 million deal, with an option for 2015, and Aviles is expected to be Francona’s supersub.
More Francona: Team Tito beat Team Theo, 13-5 in Arizona on Monday, the Indians putting a hurting on the Cubs. Aviles is not the only familiar face that has joined forces with Francona. The Tribe picked up reliever Matt Albers and Rich Hill, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Nate Spears are non-roster invitees. Matsuzaka has a great shot at being in the Cleveland rotation.
Francona, who had been just let go by the Red Sox at the time of his hiring, said the Cubs got the “right man” to manage in Dale Sveum, his former third-base coach. Epstein talked with Francona about the job before hiring Sveum.
“We were starting a program here where we were, in a lot of ways, starting at the ground level and building it up,” Epstein told Comcast Sports Chicago. “Sometimes it’s nice when you can have a manager that grows with the organization and grows with the big-league club. The only reason Tito and I kind of collectively decided it wasn’t the right thing was just because of where he was situated in his career and then where we were as an organization.”
Last note, Tito: His book, “Francona: The Red Sox Years,” co-authored with Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, enjoyed its fifth week on the New York Times best seller list, ranking 12th on the combined print and e-book nonfiction list. Francona has not announced what his next book will be; since Sox chairman Tom Werner labeled this one “fiction,” we’re thinking Tito will branch out and write a novel about a hitting savant who was headed for the Hall of Fame until someone spiked his Gatorade with a pregnancy medication. Working title: “Manny and Me.”
* Top Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts, meanwhile, won’t be back from the WBC any time soon as Team Netherlands advanced to the second round in their bracket, thanks in part to Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil. The Netherlands beat Australia, 4-1, with Bogaerts doubling for his first hit in three games (1 for 8, 2 walks) and Van Mil, the 7-foot-1 closer who goes by “Loek” and is now in the Reds’ system, nailed down the save, but not until Brad Harman nearly hit a game-tying three-run home run.
* John Lackey will be making his third start of the spring for the Sox, and with Puerto Rico’s roster populated with big-league hitters, including Carlos Beltran, Alex Rios, Angel Pagan, Aviles and the Molina boys, Jose and Yadier, this may offer a pretty good barometer of the progress Lackey is making in his return from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.
I just read an interesting study by Brian Cartwright and Jeff Zimmerman in the 2013 Hardball Times Baseball Annual about pitchers coming back from TJ surgery. The authors noted that typically, it isn’t until the second season back that a pitcher’s performance returns to pre-injury projections. On average, their research indicates, most of a pitcher’s stats underperform by about 5 percent in the first year. That’s based on a study of 180 pitchers who have had the surgery. By the third season, they write, the pitchers are right where they are expected to be.