February 19. 2018 10:32PM

Mike Shalin's Working Press: Finally, Red Sox get their slugger

By MIKE SHALIN


ON THE DAY baseball announced its moves to quicken the pace of play, starting with the coming exhibition games, the Red Sox were reportedly close to finally adding that big bat.

Late Monday afternoon, after a day of speculation that all seemed to be pointing at J.D. Martinez coming to Boston, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports tweeted the Red Sox were close to finally nailing down the deal with the righty slugger, who would be the club’s new DH.

The deal was for a reported five years and $110 million, with an opt-out after two years.

A right-handed slugger at Fenway Park. Right in the middle of a lineup that won 93 games again last year, even with David Ortiz gone.

The new Big Papi. Well, at least in terms of being the club’s DH.

Remember, at one point Martinez said he had had it with the Red Sox over their lollygagging. But that’s the way these things go sometimes — and the Sox appeared to be on the verge of answering the Giancarlo Stanton-to-the-Yankees hoopla.

Red Sox-Yankees. Now it’s REALLY back on.

Column pal Jonny Miller just sent me the new Baseball Prospectus, which arrived at my door just about the time of Heyman’s tweet. It projected Martinez, who hit 45 homers last year, would bat .281 with 28 homers, 80 RBIs and an .889 OPS this season — for the Diamondbacks.

Clearly, the Red Sox, with Martinez at Fenway, would be expecting more.

Ch-ch-changes

MLB announced its pace-of-play changes Monday. The moves did NOT include a pitch clock.

What WAS in the announcement was a limit of six visits to the mound, for anything, by anybody that didn’t involve a pitching change. Exceptions will be made by the home plate umpire if he deems the catcher has been crossed up by the pitcher, something that could seriously injure either the catcher or umpire.

If a player needs to clean his cleats on a rainy day, he can do it and it doesn’t count toward the six.

The penalty for a seventh mound visit? There doesn’t seem to be one, except for small fines.

Time between half innings will be shortened and players — both the pitcher and batter — have to be ready to go. There will be an attempt to shorten the time eaten up on reviews — and a monitored phone line to the dugout, an attempt to curtail sign stealing (NOT known as the Red Sox Rule).

“I am pleased that we were able to reach an understanding with the Players Association to take concrete steps to address pace of play with the cooperation of players,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “My strong preference is to continue to have ongoing dialogue with players on this topic to find mutually acceptable solutions.”

There is a strong undercurrent here of the game counting on its players to police themselves in an attempt to get games under three hours on average.

Said players association chief Tony Clark: “Players were involved in the pace of game discussion from Day 1, and are committed to playing a crisp and exciting brand of baseball for the fans, but they remain concerned about rule changes that could alter the outcome of games and the fabric of the game itself — now or in the future.”

New format worked

The cheesiness of the announcement of the players and Fergie’s butchering of the national anthem aside (she apologized Monday), the NBA All-Star Game was actually worth watching Sunday night.

For one thing, they cut 40 points per team off the final score, thus ending all fears of one team actually scoring 200 in one of these games. And they tried to win at the end of the game.

In short, they put on a show. And the only thing that could make it better would be having the “draft” of the players actually take place on the court before the game. Sure, they’d lose their chance to have a little practice time together, but this could really be fun. Imagine LeBron James and Steph Curry actually out on the floor, “choosing up sides” like we used to do when we were kids.

While the All-Star Game changes have already been made, commissioner Adam Silver said over the weekend his league is considering going to a 1-through-16 playoff format.

In other words, the divisions and conferences could turn out to be meaningless — and the Celtics could meet the Trail Blazers in the first round.

“When we get to the playoffs should we be taking either the best 16 teams, or even if we go eight from the West, eight from the East, seeding 1-16 going into the playoffs?” Silver said. “That is something that has gotten serious attention, not just recently but over the last few years at the league office.”

Regardless of what they do, all-time great Jerry West — for our young readers, that’s his silhouette that is the NBA logo — thinks his sport is on the verge of something special.

“Years ago when I came to the city of Los Angeles, we were nobody. Last page of two newspapers. Had no writers, no coverage at all.

“And to see the way this game has changed and grown, and to see the strides that have been made for people who truly were able to contribute a different way is truly remarkable.

“I want to say this. I don’t like to say things that are controversial at all. But this game is going to overtake all the other sports.”

Not surprised

Devin McCourty said the Super Bowl benching of Malcolm Butler wasn’t a shock to the rest of the Patriots.

“We all knew he wasn’t starting all week,” McCourty told NJ.com. “That wasn’t a secret to the guys on the team.”

He added: “I get why people are fishing. The guy played 98 percent of the plays. ... It’s just not true. As far as I know — and I was there all week — not one time did anything come up.”

Pats’ Nate Solder, tweeting about things off the football field: “I feel strongly about the state of our country, but I don’t know what to say or do. Am I alone?”

Celtics impress

Despite their recent struggles, the Celtics, who resume play Friday night, are not being counted out by others around the league.

Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald spoke to Warriors’ All-Stars and the theme was clear.

“They’re a very good team,” said Draymond Green. “They’re young. This is their first year together. Obviously Kyrie (Irving) is one of the few guys, if not the only guy, with championship experience, so it takes a little experience to kind of figure things out.”

Said Klay Thompson: “Obviously they have a great coach in Brad Stevens and an amazing scorer-slash-leader in Kyrie, and I’m very impressed with their young guys. (Jayson) Tatum and (Jaylen) Brown are making a huge impact, and to do that in their first and second years is incredible. And my guy (fellow former Washington State player Aron) Baynes has also carved himself a nice little niche out there, and they’ve got another All-Star in Al Horford.”

Bruins rebound

As you probably know, even the good teams in sports can have their heads handed to them on any given night.

The REAL good teams bounce back. It’s starting to look like the Bruins are a real good team.

It took savior-like goaltending by Tuukka Rask in overtime to bail his team out Monday, but the Bruins bounced back from that Saturday Night Typhoid Fever in Vancouver with a win in Calgary.

The victory lifted the Bruins to 15-3-3 after losses and 8-2-2 after losses by more than one goal. Impressive stuff.

By the way, Rask gave up four goals on eight shots Saturday night, which is pretty bad. But the next day, Dallas’ Ben Bishop was chased after also allowed four goals — but did it on just FIVE shots.

Finally, kudos to security at the United Center in Chicago. With four idiots hitting Washington’s Devante Smith-Pelly with a racial slur, the four were tossed from the building. Smith-Pelly, who is black, was hit with “Basketball, basketball, basketball” taunts after entering the penalty box after a fight.

Said Caps coach Barry Trotz: “There’s absolutely no place in a game of hockey, or a country, for racism. I think it’s disgusting. There’s no place for it. The athletes in this country don’t deserve that. It just shows ignorance.”

Yes, folks, we still have that in our country.

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is shalinmike@yahoo.com.