Jon Lester

Jon Lester comes off DL, Clay Buchholz makes progress for Boston

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The American League’s best team seems poised to get a little better.

The Red Sox activated Jon Lester from the disabled list in advance of his start Monday against the Royals.  He’s slated to throw 80-85 pitches tonight, manager Terry Francona told CSNNE.com.

Lester missed three weeks with a left lat strain.

“Kind of stating the obvious that we’re really excited to have him back,” Francona said. “The only limitation we have tonight is probably a pitch count and that’s just because of common sense. But he feels good and there’s no restrictions pitching physically. There’s no issues there. Hopefully get back in a rhythm and get him back where he was in and turn him loose. Our guys have done a great job filling in for him but you need guys like Lester.”

As expected, J.D. Drew was placed on the DL to make room for Lester on the roster. Kyle Weiland was shifted to the bullpen for now.

But Lester’s return wasn’t the only good news for Boston today.  Clay Buchholz, out five weeks with a strained back, threw 30 pitches in a bullpen session and said it’s the best he’s felt.

“I think this is the biggest step in the right direction so far in this process,” Buchholz said. “I don’t feel like there was any hitch in the delivery. It was what I wanted to go out there and do.”

There is no timetable for Buchholz’s return.  From what he was telling the Boston Globe, he’s still a few weeks away.

“I want to be ready to go,” he said. “If it’s the middle of August, that’s good. If it’s September, that’s good, too. I want to try to come back and help this team get to the postseason and work our way from there.”

Shohei Otani may come to the United States after 2017

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Last week it was widely speculated that Shohei Otani, the highly-touted Japanese pitcher/designated hitter who stars for the Nippon Ham Fighters, would not come to the United States to play due to changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The upshot: the new CBA caps money available to international free agents under age 25 at $5-6 million and Otani, 22, would be worth way more than that, so why take the pay cut?

Now, however, Jeff Passan of Yahoo reports that the Fighters are set to post Shotei Otani following the 2017 season. Passan says that his sources have told him that there are potential ways around the limit on spending for under-25 players like Shohei Otani and he links a Japanese article from Sponichi which says the Fighters would post him after the 2017 season.

It’d be interesting to see what that loophole is. Without knowing the exact terms of the CBA on this score it’s impossible to know, but one possibility is that there are different rules applicable to those with professional experience in other countries as opposed to amateur free agents.

Whatever the case, the notion that we could see Otani in the U.S. at age 23 or 24 is pretty exciting.

Report: Phillies close to signing Joaquin Benoit

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Joaquin Benoit #53 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the seventh inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 15, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reports that the Phillies are close to signing free agent reliever Joaquin Benoit. An announcement is expected before the winter meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, has quietly been among the better relievers in baseball over the past seven years. This past season with the Mariners and Blue Jays, the right-hander put up an aggregate 2.81 ERA with a 52/24 K/BB ratio in 48 innings. That included a 0.38 ERA in 23 2/3 innings after the Jays acquired him from the Mariners.

Benoit suffered a torn calf muscle during a benches-clearing brawl with the Yankees near the end of the regular season. He’s expected to be healthy for spring training.

The Phillies have now added three relievers this offseason with Benoit, Pat Neshek, and David Rollins.