Monday, November 5, 2012

Offseason Road Map


After a long time away from the redsoxmaineiacs blog, thanks to life as a high school football coach from August to November, I have had some free time and my mind has started to think about the Red Sox hot stove season.   For my return to the blog I want to take a look at the team’s needs and wants during the offseason.   Then I will put together a road map that will lead the Red Sox back to postseason play. 

I am going to break down the Red Sox needs by category.  We will take a look at catcher, infield, outfield, DH, starting pitching, bullpen, bench, manager and coaching staff.  We will explore several different ways for the Red Sox to acquire more talent and ways to improve the talent that they already have.  There is already a vibe from the people who cover the Red Sox in the media that they are rebuilding for 2014, but in this day in age of 5 teams making the playoffs in each league there is no reason to throw away the 2013 season.  I am going to put together a blueprint for Ben Cherington and John Farrell to follow that will give them a chance to make the playoffs this coming season without jeopardizing the opportunity to build an AL east champion by 2014. 

Let’s start by taking a look at the manager and coaching staff.  John Farrell may not be the best manager in the major leagues at this point in his career.  His critics will point to two poor seasons in Toronto and the history of pitching coaches as managers.   However, there is no disputing the fact that he is an upgrade over the previous manager (yes that was a deliberate omission, and I think we can all agree that we should never speak his name out loud again for the good of the franchise).  That’s what this offseason should be all about upgrading the production of the team in all areas.  The goal is to explore all possible avenues to upgrade the production without over paying for talent.  Improving the communication between the coaching staff and between the staff and players certainly won’t hurt next year’s team.   If nothing else the hiring of Farrell and his coaching staff will mean that the front office, coaching staff and players will all be on the same page and that’s a good place to start.  The hiring of the rest of the coaching staff will be key to improving team chemistry.  Here is how the coaching staff may shake down (an asterisk means they have already been hired)

Manager- John Farrell*
Bench Coach- Torey Lovullo*
3rd base Coach- Brian Butterfield**  (Unless he is named manager of the Jays)
1st base coach- Arnie Beyeler (Will be 3rd base coach if “Butter” isn’t)
Pitching Coach- Charles Nagy (Sleeper, who will need to be pried away)
Bullpen Coach- Gary Tuck
Hitting Coach- Don Baylor

The pitching coach is the key hire and the fact that there isn’t a lot of talk about this spot tells me they are shooting for the moon.   Nagy is a former teammate of Farrell’s, and he is employed by another team as a pitching coach, so it would be lateral move which isn’t easy to pull off.  Rick Peterson is another candidate but I think he and Farrell are too different to work together.  Pete Walker, the Blue Jays bullpen coach is most likely to be hired.  This coaching staff will be the key to the turnaround in '13 because the quickest way for this team to contend is for the core players to play much better.  

Catcher:
Ryan Lavarnway, Jarrod Saltalammacchia

Both of these players may be tossed around as trade bait, but if I was GM I would hold on to both of them and feel confident about my catching position going into spring training.  Lavarnway really seemed to exert himself as a catcher who can handle a pitching staff, a la Jason Varitek, during the last two months of the season.  Look for him to have a very solid rookie year as the #1 catcher.  Salty will be a solid back up catcher with power who can also provide depth at 1B and DH.  The need here will be for catching depth at Pawtucket unless of course one of them gets traded. 

Infield:
Needs: 1B, SS

Here’s where the real retooling begins.  The Red Sox have a glaring need at first base and an opening at SS.  It’s hard to tell if the Red Sox are trying to pump up Jose Iglesias’ value for trade bait or if they truly believe he can be a major league shortstop.  We know he can play the position, but can he hit enough?  I hand the job to Iglesias and find out if he can or not.  He will give you great defense and has the potential to be a second leadoff hitter out of the 9 spot.   At first base there are many possibilities including Adam LaRoche, Kevin Youkilis, Nick Swisher and James Loney.  My number 1 priority to play 1B is Nick Swisher.  I think he can do for the Red Sox clubhouse what Kevin Millar was able to do in 2003 and ’04.  Swisher is a free agent and signing him would give the Yankees a supplemental pick at the end of the first round.  The biggest obstacle will be the contract, more specifically the length of the contract.  The ideal contract for the Sox would be a two year deal, Swisher’s agent wants 4.  Let’s meet in the middle with a 3 year deal for 27 million.  The same amount we were planning on giving to Cody Ross.  If that won’t get it done then they will look to go cheap with Loney or Youkilis.  Mauro Gomez gives you insurance if you can get a lefty to platoon with him. 

Outfield:
Needs- at least one starting corner OF

Here lies the biggest opportunity to make an impact on the ’13 team and beyond.  The only way the Red Sox sign Josh Hamilton is to a one-year deal like they did with Adrian Beltre.  This will only happen if the market for Hamilton falls a part.  Don’t hold your breath waiting for this scenario.  The more likely scenario lies with a trade.  The Diamondbacks Justin Upton is a name that’s been out there for a couple of years and he would be a great fit for the Red Sox in RF.  He has the range and arm strength to play the position and the right-handed power that fits Fenway Park.  It will take several top prospects to pry him away.   However, the goal for the Sox right now is to find the next Justin Upton not give up prospects for him.  Again don’t hold your breath.  Would you trade Bryce Brentz, Matt Barnes and Deven Merrero for Upton?? I wouldn’t and neither will Ben Cherington.  This offseason is about making shrewd upgrades not big splashes.  It’s looking more likely that Cody Ross will not re-sign with the Sox.  There is also a strong possibility that the Sox will trade Jacoby Ellsbury this offseason.  As you can see the outfield position is a fluid situation.  My whole premise for this piece is to be the GM so I’ll stop being so wishy-washy.  Here’s my plan, keep Jacoby Ellsbury and trade for Josh Willingham from the Twins to play LF.  Which won’t be easy by the way, it will probably take at least one good prospect to get him.  I would trade Brentz and Andrew Bailey for Willingham.  Willingham is signed for two more years at a total of $14 million. So he's affordable and he's short term which is appealing and also why he will be hard to pry away from the Twins. Not feeling overwhelmed by Josh Willingham? Look up how many HR's he's hit the last two years (hint: it's 64).  Ryan Sweeney and Ryan Kalish will share RF.  

Starting Pitching:
Potential #5: Alfredo Aceves, Franklin Morales, Rubby de la Rosa
Need: A starting pitcher who can give you 175-200 quality innings

I know, I know every team is looking for that type of starting pitcher.  I encourage you to check out the Deacon’s post on the main page for a break down of available aces this offseason.  I would love to see the Sox acquire Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay from the Phillies.  However, I don’t think an “ace” is in the cards for the Sox, unless of course it is Rubby de la Rosa!  The other way to turn the Red Sox staff around is to send a quality SP out there every night.  You don’t need an ace to make the playoffs if you get good SP on a consistent basis.  I think we can all agree that Lester, Buchholz and Doubront can be a part of that type of staff.  John Lackey is another story, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he has a strong bounce back year.  I like the Red Sox starting pitching depth with Morales and de la Rosa as well as a second group that includes Allen Webster, Steven Wright and gulp Zach Stewart.  The key to improving production from some of these pitchers who have contributed to the problem the last one and a quarter seasons is the coaching.  The coaches can’t make the pitches but they can make a difference and that’s what we are counting on.  The one need that exists is for someone to beef up the rotation and push Doubront and Lackey back to the 4 and 5 spots.  I’m opening up the checkbook for Dan Haren.  If he gets a 5 year deal from someone then so be it, but I would sign him for about 3 years and 45-50 million and even include an incentive based option for a fourth year.  He has been an ace but is no longer one.  What he is is a fairly durable pitcher who has pitched 200 innings or more several times in his career and the majority of those innings will be quality ones.   If you can get 200 innings out of him for the first two years of the deal it will be worth it. 

Bullpen:
Needs: Closer
Not all of these pitchers will be on the opening day roster, but the pieces for an excellent bullpen are all there.  John Farrell already said he felt like the bullpen is the strength of the team and I agree with him.  The recovery of Daniel Bard will be key to this group as well as the integration of hard throwing young pitchers like de la Rosa and Chris Carpenter.  Another key will be if Junichi Tazawa can duplicate the year that he had in ‘12.  As far as needs I don’t see any glaring ones, but I would go after free agent closer Rafeal Soriano, who had a great year replacing Mariano Rivera with the Yankees and with Rivera announcing his intention to return I’m sure Soriano wants the chance to close and what better way for him to show up the Yankees than signing with the Red Sox.  Premier closers don't come on to the market very often I have a sneaking suspicion that the Red Sox will make a hard push to sign him for 3 years at 40 million. 

Designated Hitter:  David Ortiz
Mauro Gomez and Salty provide a little depth in this department in case Papi doesn’t get back to full strength from his Achilles injury.  There are no needs at this position now that Papi is signed for the next two years. 

Bench: Salty, Ciriaco, Kalish, Nava, Ivan de Jesus, Jerry Sands

The Bench and spare parts are sure to change throughout the course of the season.  There are no particular needs for this group. 

Final Synopsis:  After not writing anything on this blog for the last 3 months I’ve clearly gone a little overboard with the length of this piece.  I gave a little thought to breaking it up into different segments and breaking each position down one week at a time, but by then moves will have been made which will change the entire outlook of the offseason. 

The map to an improved team:
Hire a new manager and coaching staff.  Done and almost done.
Improve the pitching staff by signing Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano.
Acquire outfield and infield help.  Lots of options here but I trade for Josh Willingham and sign free agent Nick Swisher.
Count on two young players to fill key roles up the middle of the field.  Ryan Lavarnway at catcher and Jose Iglesias at SS. 

The free agent signings above all hinge on these players being a good value to the Red Sox.  Not just for cheap dollars but more importantly for short years (Less than 4 years).   

Lineup:
Ellsbury CF
Pedroia 2B
Ortiz DH
Willingham LF
Swisher 1B
Middlebrooks 3B
Lavarnway C
Sweeney RF
Iglesias SS

This lineup doesn’t blow your doors off, but remember the key to the whole turn around will be the starting pitching. 

Rotation:
Lester
Haren
Buchholz
Doubront
Lackey
(I predict Franklin Morales and Rubby de la Rosa will have key roles in the rotation at some point this year)

Bullpen:
Soriano
Tazawa
Bard
Miller
Melancon
Breslow
Morales
(Bailey and Aceves get traded. Hill, Atchison, de la Rosa, Mortensen and Carpenter get stored at Pawtucket)

Bench:
Salty
Ciriaco
Kalish
Sands

There you have it. The road map back to competitiveness…Good Luck John Farrell

19 comments:

  1. Barry, lots of good hot stove logs on the fire!!

    As I discussed in detail elsewhere the Red Sox likely need another starter. But despite the rotation being the single biggest 2012 culprit , if we could only guarantee that Lester, Buchholz, and Lackey return to expected form the starters along wth Doubront, Morales, de la Rosa, etc. could be a strength and no additions would be needed. But Cherington has all but promised to add "external" help for the rotation. I think it might be a trade rather than a free agent.

    Continuing on the subject of pitching, I think the bullpen is plenty deep and talented enough as is. Especially if Farrell/Nieves can rescue Daniel Bard. I do not think they need to add a closer. Andrew Bailey will be the closer, unless he is traded ( and almost everyone is a trade candidate). If the Sox had a philosophy of paying huge cash to a closer, they would have kept Paplebon. One possible sleeper closer candidate if not Bailey: Junichi Tazawa.

    I agree that the Sox are settled enough at catcher with Salty and Lavarnway. Although the Mets for one have shown interest in Salty in the past.

    The most set positions Boston has are 2B, DH, and 3B ( Pedey, Papi, Will Middlebrooks). Pedroia and Ortiz are mortal locks, however if the Sox look to swing a huge trade Felix Hernandez, Justin Upton, or something big and out of the blue, I could see the Sox including Middlebrooks.

    That leaves 1B, SS, and at least both corner outfield spots, if not all three, depending on Jacoby Ellsbury being traded or not. I think if enough offense can be acquired for the 1B/LF/RF holes the Sox will insert Jose Iglesias at shortstop. With no other black holes in the lineup, Iggy's defense would also help boost the pitching staff.

    The fate of Ellsbury can be a long post on its own, but for now let say I think he is traded for a pitcher.

    There have been nearly two dozen names mentioned as Red Sox options for these corner jobs, either free agents or trade candidates. The first base solution I would like to see is trading for Justin Morneau of the Twins. He is owed $14 million for next year and the Twins only MLB ready prospect in the field is a first baseman, Chris Parmalee. Because of this the Sox should be to trade for Morneau for a warm body or two just to take his contract. If he cannot be acquired for minimal player cost, I would move on. As a platoon partner of sorts, I would try to sign Mike Napoli to a two year deal. Napoli also helps out at catcher, maybe allowing you to deal one of the current catchers.

    The corner outfielder I would like to acquire is LF Alex Gordon. He is signed for 3 or 4 more years, but getting expensive for KC plus they need pitching badly. I would offer either Doubront or Morales ( not both) for Gordon. In 2012 Gordon hit 14-72-.294 with 51 doubles and won the Gold Glove. I would maybe add someone like Drake Britton or Stolmy Pimental if needed.

    If Gordon does not work out, or maybe even if he does, I work a deal with Tito Francona's Indians to get Shin-Soo Choo ( and Justin Masterson). Terry knows our players well and I expect to start the package with Choo's Cleveland replacement, Ryan Kalish. There is some talk of the Tribe looking to deal Carlos Santana, if so, maybe a Sox catcher is added to the deal. If the KC deal is not made either Doubront or Morales could also be included. This year Choo hit 16-67-.283 with a OBP of .373 and 21 stolen bases. Choo is also a top defender and could handle RF at Fenway. Choo is a free agent after 2013 which may lower the price.

    If the Sox do decide to try the free agent OF market, Torii Hunter and yes, Melky Cabrera on a one year deal could come into play. And yes, Barry I think if the price and length of contract stays reasonable, Nick Swisher because of his ability to play first and OF is a possible target.

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    1. Even though the plan I laid out included the signing of about 3 free agents I do believe that the Sox will be more active in the trade market than the FA one. I agree that almost everyone on the roster is in play for trades (which is what made it so hard to predict what the Sox will do). The value of all potential trades depends on who we have to give up of course, just like all FA signing hinge on how many years and how much money it will take to sign a player. With that being said I like the idea of trading for Gordon and I love the idea of getting Carlos Santana. Just like you mentioned in the ace breakdown, I think the hiring of Francona makes it less likely that the Sox can acquire Masterson. Choo is also a good option, however the idea of trading for Morneau scares me, but at least it's a short term investment and you may not have to give up much to get him.

      As far as the closer position I don't think it was the big money that scared the Sox away from Papelbon it was the length of the contract. If they can get Soriano (who is a proven AL east closer unlike Bailey) on a creative 2 year deal with 1 or 2 option years I think they will take a serious look at it even if the money is high. With the rest of the pitching staff I agree with Cherington that they need to make an "external" improvement. I do believe that the current SP's have the "potential" to greatly improve under Farrell/Nieves, but that's not a gamble I'm willing to take after their performance the last two years. One good acquisition combined with the improvement of the current pitchers could lead to a very strong starting pitching staff.

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    2. One more thing, I also like Napoli a lot and would be more than happy to add him as a RH hitting 1B,C,DH which would allow you to explore trade possibilities with Salty and Lavarnway.

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  2. Barry, on the coaching front with Juan Nieves named as pitching coach today, your prediction of Charles Nagy did not come true, but I think you hit the nail on the head on Rick Peterson being too strong a personality to mesh with John Farrell. I had my own sleeper pick for batting coach, it was John Valentin, but he is apparently joining the Dodgers as assistant hitting coach. LA is joining the trend of having two hitting coaches, and from some of Cherington's quotes, the Sox may well follow suit. As a guess on a couple of sleepers try Matt Stairs and Rich Gedman, who coached at Salem this year.

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    1. I really didn't have anyone in mind for the hitting coach position so I threw Don Baylor's name out there. Now that Nieves is hired as pitching coach I think we will start to see some names for potential hitting coaches. I like the idea of going with two hitting coaches and I think that Stairs and Gedman would be good candidates as asst. hitting coaches. The only other name I could think of was former Sox hitting coach Ron Jackson.

      With the hiring of Nieves I have to believe that Farrell is going to be more involved in the pitching than he led us to believe during his opening press conference. I think that is a good thing.

      It sure is going to be an interesting hot stove season and with the GM meetings this week we should start to get some idea as to what the Red Sox intend to do.

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    2. So far it seems that Farrell is being allowed to pick his own coaching staff or at least he is HEAVILY involved in hiring them. That in itself is a huge improvement compared to what last year's manager had to deal with and should lead to the clubhouse chemistry being greatly improved.

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  3. Good work Barry! Although I have to disagree with at least one of your suggestions. First off, I wouldn't touch Nick Swisher with a ten foot pole. I know he is known as a good chemistry guy, but I just hate him. I would have to look it up, but I'm pretty sure he was gawd awful down the stretch this season.

    You claim that the only way the Red Sox sign Josh Hamilton is if it's on a one-year deal. I diagree. I would sign him for 3 years and $60 million in a heartbeat. Who else are they going to acquire to play corner outfield with an MVP caliber bat? Three years isn't too long to endure if it falls apart with his off-field issues and $60 million is a drop in the pan with the budget they have to work with this off season. I would probably even go 3 years $70 million, or maybe even 4 years $80 million.

    Interesting article on ESPN.com today about the Dodgers pursuing Torii Hunter, who is friends with Matt Kemp and owns a home in Cali. Sounds like they have a good chance of getting him. The article also states Andre Either is on the trade market, who would be an intriguing candidate for a RF. He is 30 years old, which is older than I thought, but he hit 20 homers last year with a .284/.351/.460 slash line. He would look pretty good in Fenway's RF. Not sure what it would take to get him, but a trade for Either and a Hamilton signing and all of sudden we're looking at a Hamilton, Ellsbury, Either outfield. Not too damn shabby.

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    1. I would give Nick Swisher 3 years at 60 million before I would Josh Hamilton. I feel like Hamilton is just a house of cards waiting to fall off the PED cart a la Lance Armstrong. Not to mention his other drug habits. I would love to sign Nick Swisher. Obviously not for 20 million a year, but I feel like he's the type of guy they could use to help get them back to the time of team chemistry they had from '03 to '08.

      I know there have been some rumors about Torii Hunter joining old friend David Ortiz in Boston, but I say no thank you to Mike Cameron 2.0. Maybe the Dodgers will do us another favor and sign him so we can't.

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    2. Josh Hamilton is the next Lance Armstrong? Really? Where did you get this inside information that Hamilton has been using PED's? Don't you think with all the resources the Rangers assigned to keep Hamilton drug free that somebody would have noticed? The guy is drug tested more than a Chinese weightlifter.

      Let's make a little bet that we'll probably never follow through on: let's keep track of Josh Hamilton's and Nick Swisher's batting statistics the next three years. Swisher is little more than a replacement level player and Hamilton is an MVP candidate, so I will love to see the gaping disparity between their power numbers and slash lines for the next three years.

      Nick Swisher is J.D. Drew with a personality. Hamilton could be a white, left-handed Manny Ramirez - a guy with a troubled off-field reputation who crushes in Fenway.

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    3. One other quick note on Either, he is the best friend and workout partner of one, Dustin Pedroia. For a reasonable package I would be all for reuniting Pedey and Either, although I was also surprisd AE is 30.

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    4. I have a gut feeling that there is more going on behind the scenes with Josh Hamilton and obviously there is a history of drug use in his past. Do you have inside information that he gets drug tested every day?? The fact that the Rangers are in no rush to retain him must tell you something. Not to mention that everyone else who has followed Hamilton's career path has been linked to PED's. He was an amazing talent out of H.S. and then was a major flop due to a nasty drug habit. Then he magically becomes the best left handed hitter since Ted Williams?? Major red flag. Jose Bautista is in the same boat and he constantly has to answer to the rumors. Just because Josh Hamilton has a sensitive past we are not allowed to bring it up?

      My comparison between Swisher and Hamilton has nothing to do with numbers. Brandon, you understand team chemistry as good as anyone and I think that Swisher would do wonders for the clubhouse and he would be less of a risk. By all accounts Hamilton is a good clubhouse guy as well, but I think that signing him is too much of a risk unless it is to a very short deal. Which if Scott Boras called up Ben Cherington and said you can have Josh Hamilton if you offer 3 years and 75 million right now. It would certainly be tempting, but I for one would say no thank you.

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  4. I forgot to mention that I am alllllll in on going after Mike Napoli. We need pop and he's got it. His BA and OBP are in the toilet, but he can play 1B and C and would be a right handed bat available for a one-year contract most likely. Related to going after Napoli is getting rid of Salty and/or Lavarnway. I suppose it is too early to give up on Lavarnway, but he was super crappy in 2012, and Salty was a joke after July also. Get rid of either or both of those bums.

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    1. You may very well get your wish on Napoli and it looks like the Sox and Yanks might be getting into a good ol' fashion bidding war for his services. The Sox may have to go all in to get him. Although I don't think he'll be catching much with the addition of David Ross. Napoli would fill a major offensive need at 1B, but his defense is pretty poor.

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  5. So far my road map looks like more of a smoke screen to throw people off of Ben Cherington's scent. He's clearly not following my plan. The Red Sox have signed back up catcher David Ross on a 2 year 6.2 million dollar deal. This opens up the window for the Sox to trade some of their Catching depth. Some of the names being tossed around as possible targets are Ike Davis of the NYM, Matt Garza of the Cubs and Gavin Floyd of the White Sox. All of those guys will require more than just Lavarnway or Salty in return. Who do you want the Sox to trade for?

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  6. First base has very limited options versus available OFers. LaRoche, Napoli, and if you chose to use him there, Swisher is about it. So it may be worth cashing in a prospect or two for someone like Ike Davis. Also I thought it was interesting that Nick Cafardo in his Sunday notes column in a long list of known available players, threw in the middle of his paragraph the possibility of " trading for Brandon Belt" ( but it was it just Nick being Nick, have heard this option nowhere else). I have a feeling Ben C. is gonna acquire a young cost controlled player that is completely unexpected before the year is out.

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  7. Here's an update on the coaching staff since this post was published:

    Manager- John Farrell
    Bench Coach- Torey Lovullo
    Pitching Coach- Juan Nieves
    3rd Base Coach- Brian Butterfield (If he doesn't get Toronto job)
    1st Base Coach- TBD (Arnie Beyeler seems to be a fit)
    Bullpen Coach- Gary Tuck
    Hitting Coach- TBD (Rick Schu is the only person interviewed)
    Asst. Hitting Coach- TBD (Rich Gedman and Matt Stairs are names thrown out by the Deacon)

    1st Base Coach and Hitting coach(es) are the only apparent openings at this point and the feeling here is that those spots are filled before Thanksgiving.

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    1. Per Brian MacPherson on Twitter: the Sox interviewed Victor Rodriquez for the hitting coach job today and there will be 1-2 more players to be interviewed.

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    2. Former big league players Scott Fletcher, Craig Counsell and Greg Colbrunn will also be interviewed by the Red Sox.

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  8. Arnie Beyeler has officially been named the 1st base coach on John Farrell's staff and since Brian Butterfield did not get the Blue Jays manager job he is now 100% on board. Now they only need to hire a hitting coach and perhaps and assistant hitting coach and the staff will be complete.

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