FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With Friday the official reporting date for Red Sox pitchers and catchers, the clubhouse at Jet Blue Park was open for media inspection for the first time this year.
We can reliably report a Phillies jersey was not hanging in Blake Swihart's locker.
And Sox clubhouse man Tom McLaughlin had not reserved a space on Pitchers Row for Cole Hamels.
That may come as something of a surprise in the wake of constant speculation that Swihart, who made everybody’s preseason list as Boston’s top prospect, was inevitably bound for Philadelphia in exchange for the Phillies left-hander, who earlier this week declared his wish to be traded and satisfies Boston’s perceived need for an ace. Judging from all the noise, the only person who hasn’t signed off on the deal is Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, whose desire to hold on to the switch-hitting catcher, who turns 23 on April 3, has so far trumped any covetous designs on Hamels and the $96 million still left on his contract.
When it was John Farrell's turn to address the topic, the Red Sox manager deftly navigated the company line that acquiring Hamels is not a prerequisite for the Sox to have a successful season in 2015.
"I’m excited about the five guys in the rotation," Farrell said. "I think this is a group that has established themselves individually on the big league level. There’s been All-Star-performance capability to that level. There’s been a lot of talk that we lack a true No. 1 guy. I like the fact that this is a deep and talented rotation and [am] confident in it."
So, Farrell was asked, has the front office told him not to expect a Hamels sighting this spring?
"He’s a member of the Phillies," Farrell said, "and we’re concerned and focused on the guys inside this clubhouse, no one else at this point."
And that won’t change?
"I’m not counting on it," he said. "I’m happy with the guys we have and looking forward to how they perform. I think Ben uses the phrase, 'Happy but never satisfied.' Where that leads us to any other situation, I don’t know anything specific, but I like the guys we have here right now."
The Sox don’t have a readily identifiable ace, Farrell agreed, but that doesn’t mean one of the pitchers in camp isn’t in the process of becoming one. Boston's aces of the recent past -- Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester -- were made, he said, not bred.
"If you look at each one of the names mentioned, they were in similar situations to some of the guys in the rotation now," Farrell said. "They evolved to garner the label of No. 1 starter.
"I think we have those abilities in here. I think what Rick Porcello is going through, he’s evolving into that type of guy. Joe Kelly has the ingredients to be that type of pitcher, but that’s going to come through an earned label. You have to earn it, you have to do it with consistent performance. The raw abilities are here. It’s how we develop one or more to their capability."
Farrell’s enthusiasm for such a potentially high ceiling for Porcello, Kelly, etc., is not widely shared outside the 617 area code, where one is more likely to encounter a recitation of how flawed the Sox rotation could be. Kelly has not had close to a 200-inning season, Wade Miley's stat line has trended downward the past two seasons, Justin Masterson has had major health issues, Porcello has never had to carry a staff and Clay Buchholz is too fragile to do so. The addition of Hamels -- with five straight 200-inning seasons, three 200-strikeout seasons and a career-best 2.46 ERA last season -- would have a profound effect on the collective.
But for both sides of a potential Hamels-Swihart swap, there is a high degree of uncertainty to the risk being taken. What if Hamels, who is north of 30, gets hurt or is overtaken by mediocrity? What if the Phillies elect to take a package that doesn’t include Swihart (built around, say, Mookie Betts and Henry Owens) only to watch Swihart become Buster Posey 2.0? The Sox traded two top prospects in recent years, Hanley Ramirez and Anthony Rizzo, both of whom became big stars. Do they want to watch Swihart to blossom into another?
So this becomes a waiting game. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro holds fast to his bottom line of elite prospects. The Sox hold on to Swihart and Betts and Owens, and hope the price drops.
On Friday morning, Swihart was playing catch with Matt Spring, this spring’s Crash Davis. Spring is 30 years old and an 11-year minor leaguer invited to his first big league camp. This may be as good as it gets for him.
Everybody’s top Sox prospect, meanwhile, was asked what it has been like to be at the vortex of the Hamels rumors.
"You can’t focus on that," Swihart said. "You’ve got to focus on where you’re at. I’m here. I’m focusing on being here. I don’t really look into all that other stuff."
He doesn’t have to. The people who have his cell number, email address or access to his Facebook account are keeping him abreast of the latest.
"He has a good outlook," said Ryan Hanigan, the Andover native and veteran presence in the Sox catching corps. “He’s not carried away by any of that.
“Sure, that other stuff is unavoidable -- who knows what’s going to happen --- but the vibe I get is that he has a good head on his shoulders. He’ll just try to do his daily work."