Red Sox continue to tinker with bench

By Jim Callis

July 19, 2005

While Boston fans clamor for a major trade to rejuvenate a team that has stumbled through July, the Red Sox have been content to rework their bench. Their latest move came Tuesday, when they acquired Tony Graffanino from the Royals for a pair of minor leaguers, outfielder Chip Ambres and lefthander Juan Cedeno.

Boston now has made four bench-related trades in the last two weeks. The Red Sox changed utility infielders by swapping Ramon Vazquez for Alex Cora with Cleveland on July 7, and sent disgruntled Jay Payton to Oakland last Wednesday. Earlier on Tuesday, Boston replaced Payton in the outfield by sending righthander Scott Cassidy to San Diego for Adam Hyzdu. The Red Sox had dealt Hyzdu to the Padres in March for righty Blaine Neal, one of several relievers to underachieve in Boston this year.

Graffanino, 33, will get a lot of playing time at second base while Mark Bellhorn is on the disabled list and also is capable of backing up the other three infield positions. Recovered from knee problems that bothered him throughout 2004, Graffanino has hit .298/.377/.393 with three homers and 18 RBIs in 59 games this year. He doesn’t have a standout tool but finds a way to get the job done. He’s a line-drive hitter with gap power, good control of the strike zone and more baserunning savvy than speed. Defensively, he doesn’t wow anyone with his range or arm strength but has very sure hands. A free agent after the season, he’s making $1.1 million in the final season of a two-year, $2.2 million contract that also provided him with a $400,000 bonus when he was traded. Graffanino has batted .263/.335/.388 with 38 homers and 193 RBIs in 708 career games.

Ambres, 25, was a top quarterback recruit headed to Texas A&M before signing with the Marlins after they took him 27th overall in the 1998 draft out of a Texas high school. A series of injuries stalled his progress with Florida, and he signed with the Red Sox as a six-year minor league free agent in the offseason. Ambres got off to a hot start in the first six weeks this year at Triple-A Pawtucket, and though he has cooled off he’s still enjoying the best season of his pro career. He’s hitting .294/.401/.495 with 10 homers, 50 RBIs and 19 steals in 84 games. He has solid all-around tools as well as a willingness to draw walks, though he has struck out more often as he has shown more power the last two seasons. He has split time between left and center field this year and projects more as a corner outfielder in the majors. Ambres is a late bloomer who draws mixed reviews, with some scouts projecting him as a fourth outfielder in the big leagues and others wondering if he might be able to play on a regular basis.

Cedeno, 21, opened some eyes when he blew away Joe Mauer in two matchups in instructional league in 2002, but he has stalled after a promising first full season in 2003. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2001, Cedeno was the hardest-throwing lefthander in the Red Sox system (his fastball ranged from 92-96 mph) but hasn’t consistently missed bats the last two years. He was demoted to the bullpen at high Class A Wilmington in June, and that’s his best long-term fit because he doesn’t have effective secondary pitches. In 22 games (12 starts) at Wilmington, he went 2-6, 5.49. He had a 71-37 strikeout-walk ratio in 80 innings, while opponents batted .267 with 11 homers against him.