The Red Sox have hired Jerry Narron to serve as Ron Roenicke’s bench coach, according to Chris Cotillo of MassLive.
More to come.
The Red Sox have hired Jerry Narron to serve as Ron Roenicke’s bench coach, according to Chris Cotillo of MassLive.
More to come.
At first glance, the Athletics didn’t really do much of note this winter. The club retained southpaw Jake Diekman and picked up infielders Tony Kemp and … picked up a club option over Yusmeiro Petit and … umm …. signed Ryan Goins to a minor-league deal.
Viewed through another lens, though, the notoriously low-budget A’s had a blockbuster, all-in offseason. Which lens is that? The one through which Red Sox owner John Henry views the game of baseball.
After trading away homegrown superstar Mookie Betts, Henry conveyed his cherished memories of Stan The Man for brownie points with the Boston fanbase. Saying his young heart would’ve shattered had childhood hero Stan Musial “ever been traded — for any reason,” the now-grown Henry … well, gave some reasons why Betts was sent west by one of the richest teams in sports.
It wasn’t about getting under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold, Henry says. Rather, it’s just the sort of thing that is foisted upon MLB teams — even those “consistently among the highest-spending clubs in baseball” — by the collective bargaining agreement (a deal those same teams negotiated to their general advantage).
The Red Sox, per Henry, were forced to “make hard judgments about competing for the future as well as the present.” Their hands were tied by the fact that, “In today’s game there is a cost to losing a great player to free agency — one that cannot nearly be made up by the draft pick given.” Ultimately, Henry said of the organization’s leadership: “we could not sit on our hands and lose [Betts] next offseason without getting value in return to help us on our path forward.”
There are many ways to approach and discuss these comments. For our purposes here, we’re not even going to consider what they mean for the Red Sox or the game of baseball. There’s no need to call for pitchforks; that statement has already had its day in the news cycle anyway. The Boston club certainly has spent and put a winner on the field of late. And Henry at least fessed up to the fact that the team simply decided to punt near-term performance for future value, even if he didn’t want to acknowledge the rather obvious financial component of that calculus.
What’s most interesting to me about the comments is that … holy smokes, the Oakland Athletics really believe! If Henry is to be taken at his word, then the A’s are making one heckuva roll of the dice by keeping, rather than trading, their own pending free agent star: shortstop Marcus Semien.
True, Semien almost assuredly isn’t as good as Betts, but the former actually contributed a full fWAR more than the latter in 2019. Semien is only earning $13MM, just under half the $27MM Betts will receive. But it’s a much bigger portion of the Oakland payroll than Betts was to the Boston budget. (That’s true just based upon simple math, but that tends to undersell the impact. The A’s have to consider every dollar spent over league minimum, while the Red Sox have far greater operating leeway to shoehorn in cost-efficient but more-than-minimum players.)
What of the odds of success in 2020, which is obviously a huge component of this decision? The Red Sox are well behind the Yankees on paper. But the A’s are chasing an uber-talented Astros team that remains mighty even without its crack signals operations unit. Both of these teams are unlikely to take their division, but each is a solid Wild Card contender. Fangraphs’ postseason odds aren’t gospel and obviously must be taken only as a guide to true roster capability (as they are intended) … but wait, how does this make sense? The Red Sox, sans Betts, project at about a coin flip of making the postseason. That tops the A’s, even with Semien! You might quibble with the projections and point to the upside on the Oakland roster. But don’t the Red Sox still have Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers?
So, even as the Red Sox determined they couldn’t “sit on [their] hands and lose” Betts without adequate compensation after the coming season, the Athletics decided to keep Semien in roughly analogous circumstances. Well, analogous from a roster talent and postseason odds perspective. The low-budget A’s are the sort of team that’s typically forced to take its Betts-type players off the table on the rationale set forth by Henry, even if it stings, in order to preserve a long-term flow of talent and keep up with deeper-pocketed rivals. Instead, they’re letting their version of Betts ride.
It’s quite the juxtaposition. Perhaps the A’s still have designs on a Semien extension, but it’s far from inevitable and we haven’t heard indication that a deal is particularly likely. And if one is to be struck, it’ll require convincing him to forego free agency … which will assuredly require the kind of price that makes the A’s squirm (even if they can now finally see a new ballpark on the horizon). A mid-summer trade fall-back is available but isn’t exactly plan A. All things considered, in relative terms, the situation is quite similar to that which would’ve faced the Red Sox on Betts.
Look, I don’t really have a Take here. I’m not here to call the Oakland front office reckless or label Henry’s explanation feckless. My point is only this: given those two teams’ divergent approaches, doesn’t Henry’s statement suggest that one or the other is true?
Remember Rusney Castillo? Signed to a seven-year, $72.5MM contract in August 2014, the Cuban outfielder had a rough season in the majors with the Red Sox the next year and has barely appeared in the majors since. The Red Sox have minimized their luxury-tax bill by keeping Castillo in the minors, and he’s likely to stay with Triple-A Pawtucket this season, but he’ll be a free agent thereafter. The 32-year-old discussed his status with Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald, saying: “My goal remains the same: I want to make it to the big leagues. And if given the opportunity, give 100% to Boston. That’s the goal, to get up there.” As Mastrodonato notes, there’s at least an outside chance Castillo will return to Boston late in the season if the team’s well under the tax threshold by then (he’s due a $14.3MM salary, so it could be a tall order to fit him in). Castillo will first have to impress in Pawtucket for that to happen, though. He wasn’t great at the highest level of the minors in 2019, when he hit .278/.321/.448 with 17 home runs in 493 plate appearances.
4:50pm: Lucroy would earn a $1.5MM base salary were he to crack the Major League roster, Rob Bradford of WEEI reports (via Twitter).
February 19, 1:30pm: The Red Sox have formally announced the deal. They’re now up to 67 players in Major League camp.
February 18: The Red Sox have a minor-league deal in place with free agent backstop Jonathan Lucroy. Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com (via Twitter) first reported it was coming close; Jon Heyman of MLB Network added on Twitter that a minors pact had been completed.
At 33 years of age, Lucroy is no longer the multi-dimensional performer he once was. One of the game’s best all-around backstops from 2012 through 2016, the vet has since settled into a journeyman existence.
Over the past three seasons, Lucroy carries a cumulative .248/.315/.350 batting line over 1,263 plate appearances. He’s still tough to strike out but just doesn’t make the kind of contact he once did. That’s reflected in declines in his power numbers, batting average and on-base percentage.
Lucroy’s once-vaunted skills behind the dish have also diminished. Although he was at one point the face of the pitch-framing awakening and a highly regarded smotherer of errant pitches, Lucroy has in recent years consistently graded in the negative in both areas (by measure of Baseball Prospectus).
If that’s all a bit negative, it’s because Lucroy set such a high standard earlier in his career. He promises to represent worthwhile catching depth for the Red Sox and could perhaps even challenge for a roster spot if there’s an injury or the team considers a third catcher behind Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki.
FEBRUARY 19: The Pads are indeed interested in both Lindor and Senzel, Dennis Lin of The Athletic reports (subscription link). It’s even possible that the Myers talks with the Red Sox could morph into a three-team arrangement involving the Reds, Lin adds.
FEBRUARY 18: Spring Training is now upon us. Prior talks failed to result in a deal. And yet the Red Sox are still holding talks with the Padres about a potential deal that would send first baseman/outfielder Wil Myers to Boston, according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Details are about as firm as you could ever hope to see them in a rumor of a potential swap. As before, the Friars want the Sox to take over about half of Myers’s salary (total guarantee of $61MM) over the next three years. Young talent would go to Boston to sweeten the pot. Players that have been discussed include Cal Quantrill, Luis Campusano, and Gabriel Arias, though it’s not clear which would be included and the Sox wouldn’t be able to obtain all of them just to take on half of what’s owed Myers.
That leaves out one major component of the as-yet-uncompleted trade talks: what would come back from the Red Sox? The original chatter between these teams involved Mookie Betts, who is no longer in the Boston stable. There’s no real indication just yet as to what current Red Sox might pique the interest of Padres GM A.J. Preller.
Yet more intriguing? The real goal, per Acee, is to swing a blockbuster for a high-level talent. He notes Nick Senzel of the Reds and Francisco Lindor of the Indians as longstanding targets, but it’s not really clear whether either is realistically available at this point. There aren’t many other conceivable candidates to be acquired who’d meet the description of a “difference-making” performer.
It’s fair to hold some skepticism here, especially as to the possible second prong of this scenario. Then again, Preller once pulled off a trade for Craig Kimbrel just before the start of a season, so it’s tough to rule out any mid-spring fireworks.
Apparently not content to let Jim Crane draw all the headlines for ownership comments worthy of skepticism, Red Sox principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president/CEO Sam Kennedy on Monday all denied that the trade of Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers was driven by a desire to dip south of the luxury tax barrier.
In a lengthy prepared statement released on Twitter, Henry appealed directly to Red Sox fans, speaking of the “extraordinary challenges” with which the team was faced this winter and praising the work of chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, general manager Brian O’Halloran and the rest of the team’s baseball operations department.
Henry attempted to connect to the fan base by reminding that everyone in the ownership group was first a fan, thus making them empathetic toward the pain and frustration fans have voiced in the days since the trade. “I grew up a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals,” said Henry. “My favorite player was Stan Musial. My heart would have been broken if Stan the Man had ever been traded — for any reason.”
Sticking with the Musial thread, Henry went on to lament the unfair system that prevented Musial and other players from generations past from being paid at their market rate and present the decision to part with Betts as the type of choice all clubs are forced to make “in this economic system.” To quote Henry at greater length:
“We were faced with a difficult choice. You can talk about dollars. You can talk about metrics and value. But in the end, even though we are consistently among the highest-spending clubs in baseball — with this year being no exception — we have to make hard judgments about competing for the future as well as the present. … In today’s game there is a cost to losing a great player to free agency — one that cannot nearly be made up by the draft pick given. We’ve seen other examples of this recently. … We felt we could not sit on our hands and lose [Betts] next offseason without getting value in return to help us on our path forward. We carefully considered the alternative over the last year and made a decision when this opportunity presented itself to acquire substantial, young talent for the years ahead.”
Werner suggested that the team had other ways to shed salary if that had been the main goal, noting that they could “hypothetically” have traded Price without moving Betts as well (Twitter link via WEEI’s John Tomase). Kennedy at least appeared to acknowledge that the financial element of the trade played a role, noting that the trade wasn’t “exclusively” about resetting the team’s penalty level (Twitter link, with video, via NBC Sports Boston):
“There are clearly certain advantages by resetting and getting under [the luxury tax], but we’ve tried to be clear that this was not exclusively about the CBT and getting under that CBT threshold. There would’ve been other ways to have done that. You don’t trade Mookie Betts to get under the CBT. We traded Mookie Betts and David Price and got back significant value in return.”
Of course, all of this comes fewer than five months after Henry said unequivocally that the Red Sox “need to be under” the $208MM luxury tax threshold for the upcoming 2020 season (link via the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier). “We’ve known for some time now we needed to reset [the penalties by staying under the threshold], as other clubs have done,” Henry said as recently Sept. 27.
Months later, Henry tried to walk that statement back, emphasizing that the team was more focused on “competitiveness” than resetting its luxury penalty in 2020. Red Sox brass will surely argue that the team is indeed better-poised to compete over the next half decade with Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong now in the organization, but there’s no doubt that the Boston club is a demonstrably worse team in 2020 without Betts in right field and without Price in the rotation. Perhaps the Red Sox could chase a Wild Card spot if things break right, but they look to be squarely behind the Yankees and Rays, at the very least, and the competition for the Wild Card spots in the AL will be steeper after active offseasons from the White Sox, Blue Jays, Rangers and Angels.
It seems particularly important to point out that Red Sox brass has sought to paint this as an either-or scenario: either trade Betts (and, ahem, $48MM of the $96MM owed to Price) now or risk losing Betts as a free agent this winter. That seems to ignore the possibility of taking aim at a rebound effort in 2020 with Betts and Price in the mix, then trading Betts at the deadline if the division looks out of hand. The return, of course, would be diminished, but the Sox would surely have been able to extract some long-term pieces while endeavoring for a competitive 2020 season.
It would be inaccurate to call the Betts/Price trade a pure salary dump. Henry, Werner, Kennedy and other Red Sox officials have a legitimate point when highlighting the long-term value they received in dealing away that pair of highly paid stars. But it also feels disingenuous not to acknowledge that dropping below the CBT threshold was a key — perhaps even the key — in making this deal. After all, Boston has previously let key players walk as free agents for minimal or no compensation — Craig Kimbrel and Jacoby Ellsbury come to mind — and they traded Jon Lester midseason in 2014 after spring extension talks didn’t come to fruition.
As for where they stand in the 2020 season, Henry didn’t want to concede that the Sox might be taking a step back, instead rhetorically asking reporters (Twitter link via the Boston Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato: “Don’t you think this would be a record payroll for a bridge year?” That’s not exactly a declaration that the team is all-in on winning in 2020, but it’s also less than an acknowledgment that this diminished version of the Red Sox is clearly something less than a division contender.
In an interview with ESPN’s Karl Ravech and during a press conference at the Braves’ Spring Training camp earlier today, commissioner Rob Manfred discussed a number of topics surrounding the game, but the bulk of attention was directly on the ongoing fallout from the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
Asked by Ravech why no Astros players were suspended or fined as part of the league’s investigation, Manfred said that “in a perfect world it would have happened. We ended up where we ended up in pursuit of really, I think, the most important goal of getting the facts and getting them out there for people to know it.”
Players were given immunity so that the league could freely acquire information on the details of the now-infamous sign-stealing process, which involved Astros players alerting (using signals ranging from whistling to banging a trash can) teammates at the plate as to what pitches were coming, after the Astros used real-time video technology to observe rival catchers’ signs. Such use of available video was forbade in a memo sent from the Commissioner’s Office to teams in 2017, but Manfred said Astros players weren’t made aware of the seriousness of the offense.
“The memorandum went to the general manager, and then nothing was done from the GM down,” Manfred said. “So we knew if we had disciplined the players in all likelihood we were going to have grievances and grievances that we were going to lose on the basis that we never properly informed them of the rules. Given those two things, No. 1, I knew where, or I’m certain where the responsibilities should lay in the first instance and given the fact we didn’t think we could make discipline stick with the players, we made the decision we made.”
Since the league’s ruling on the Astros’ punishment last month, Major League Baseball has faced widespread criticism from both fans and rival players about not only a seeming lack of discipline directed towards Houston players, but also at the franchise itself. While the Astros were fined $5MM and lost four draft picks, the fact that the organization wasn’t formally stripped of its 2017 World Series title has not sat well with many around the sport.
As Manfred told the Associated Press and other journalists, the league considered such a singular measure but decided against taking the championship away from the Astros.
“First of all, it had never happened in baseball,” Manfred said. “I am a precedent guy. The 2017 World Series will always be looked at as different, whether not you put an asterisk or ask for the trophy back. Once you go down that road as for changing the result on the field, I just don’t know where you stop.”
In regards to Astros players, Manfred told Ravech that the outrage directed at the team has served as a measure of additional punishment unto itself. “I think if you watch the players, watch their faces when they have to deal with this issue publicly, they have paid a price,” Manfred said. “To think they’re skipping down the road into spring training, happy, that’s just a mischaracterization of where we are.”
The early response to Manfred’s comments have not been positive, with particular criticism directed towards his rather flippant description of the Commissioner’s Trophy (as Manfred told Ravech, “The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act“). As much as the league and the Astros would like to put the incident behind them, that outcome doesn’t seem possible in the near future given the amount of attention that several of the game’s biggest stars continue to focus on the situation. It also doesn’t help that Astros management and players continue to dig themselves into deeper public relations holes on a near-daily basis, whether it’s giving non-specific apologies during awkward press conferences, being unduly outraged at being accused of different methods of cheating during the 2017-19 span, and all the while insisting that the 2017 World Series was legitimately won.
The heated comments between the Astros and rival players has troubled Manfred, particularly statements from such pitchers as Ross Stripling and Mike Clevinger that Astros players might be hit by pitches as retaliation. Manfred met with several MLB managers today, and told reporters at Sunday’s press event that, “I hope that I made it extremely clear to them that retaliation in-game by throwing at a batter intentionally will not be tolerated, whether it’s Houston or anybody else. It’s dangerous and it is not helpful to the current situation.”
In addition, Manfred told Ravech that the league is preparing “a memorandum about intentionally throwing at batters. It’s really dangerous. Completely independent from the Astros investigation, we’ll be issuing a memorandum on hit by pitches which will increase the disciplinary ramifications of that type of behavior. I think that will be a tool for dealing with whatever flows from the Houston situation.”
If the Astros controversy wasn’t enough, there’s also the other ongoing league investigation into another championship team’s alleged improper use of video equipment, namely the 2018 Red Sox. Manfred said that he hopes that investigation will be concluded within two weeks’ time. It isn’t known what punishment could await the Boston organization, though as with the Astros case, Red Sox players were also given immunity in exchange for their insight on the matter.
Chris Sale’s 2019 season came to an end in August when he hit the shelf with left elbow inflammation. Fortunately, he was able to treat the injury with a PRP injection and rest. The Red Sox ace began a throwing program in December, and he told reporters today (including Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe) his elbow is now fine. Tommy John surgery was never on the table, Sale said (via Chris Cotillo of MassLive).
More recently, though, the 30-year-old (31 in March) came down with a mild case of pneumonia, reports Christopher Smith of MassLive. Boston won’t ramp him up too hard during spring training, manager Ron Roenicke told Smith, preferring to cautiously monitor as he rebuilds strength. Roenicke acknowledged that conservative build-up leaves open the possibility Sale could miss Opening Day. Nevertheless, the left-hander expressed hope (via Cotillo) he will indeed be ready for the start of the season.
A return to form for Sale is critical if the Red Sox are to compete for a playoff spot. He posted only a 4.40 ERA in 2019, nearly a full run higher than his previous career-worst mark. Of course, Sale’s peripherals tell a different story. His 35.6% strikeout rate trailed only Gerrit Cole’s 39.9% mark (minimum 100 innings). Sale’s 6.1% walk rate, too, was much better than average. Even with an uptick in home runs to a career-worst 1.47/9, Sale’s 3.39 FIP was among the top 20 in the league.
He, Eduardo Rodríguez, and Nathan Eovaldi will lead a rotation with a fair bit of upside but ample uncertainty. A healthy, productive season from Sale is all the more important in the wake of the recent Mookie Betts/David Price trade.