- “Unless something completely unanticipated happened,” Dave Dombrowski figures the Red Sox will halt all extension talks by Opening Day, the team president of baseball operations told the media (including Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com). Most players like to have any negotiations wrapped up before the actual games begin, with Dombrowski also citing his preference for a lack of distractions. Xander Bogaerts, Rick Porcello, and potentially J.D. Martinez (if he exercises an opt-out clause) are all scheduled for free agency after the season. Talks with Bogaerts earlier this winter failed to materialize into an extension, while the Sox hadn’t yet discussed a new contract with Porcello as of late February. Of course, the Red Sox already took care of one major 2019-20 free agent by inking Chris Sale to a new deal that will keep the southpaw in Boston through the 2024 season.
Red Sox Rumors
TODAY: The Red Sox have officially announced Sale’s new contract.
FRIDAY, 9:01pm: Sale has passed his physical, Rosenthal tweets, so all that remains is for the contract to be announced. Sale will earn $30MM in each of the first three seasons of the deal, after which time he has the right to opt out of the remaining two seasons. Those campaigns are valued at $27.5MM, meaning Sale will be deciding on two years and $55MM versus a trip onto the open market.
There’s further upside in the deal as well, ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan reports (Twitter links). It includes a vesting option at a floating value (minimum $20MM) based upon games started. There are also Cy Young-based escalators in years 2021-24 and in the option year. Sale receives full no-trade protection beginning in the middle of the 2020 season.
There are competing reports on the accounting of the deal. Rosenthal and others say the deal will wrap in Sale’s preexisting 2019 salary, creating a readjustment of his luxury tax hit for the present season (and pushing the team into the highest level of penalties). That’s not the case, though, per Speier (Twitter link). He reports that the Boston organization will elect to keep the ’19 season separate, which will avoid immediate tax entanglements but increase the luxury tax hit over the new years of the deal, potentially leading to future luxury obligations.
2:30pm: The Red Sox and ace Chris Sale are closing in on a contract extension, as first reported by Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. Sale, a client of Jet Sports Management, will receive $145MM over five seasons (2020-24) if he passes a physical, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports (Twitter links).
Earlier this spring, both Sale and the Red Sox expressed mutual interest in working out a long-term arrangement that’d keep the left-hander, who is slated to become a free agent at season’s end, in Boston for the long term. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently broke down several possible scenarios when exploring what a Sale extension would cost the Sox.
Sale, 30 next week, has been among the game’s elite starters since moving to the rotation with the White Sox back in 2012. He’s made seven consecutive All-Star teams and registered six consecutive Top-5 finishes in American League Cy Young voting, though he’s somewhat incredibly never taken home a Cy Young trophy himself.
Since being traded to Boston in the 2016 blockbuster that sent Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz to Chicago, Sale has pitched to a brilliant 2.56 ERA while averaging 13.2 strikeouts and just 1.9 walks per nine innings pitched. That level of K/BB excellence is nothing new for Sale, who holds the all-time Major League records for both K/9 (10.88) and K/BB ratio (5.31) among pitchers with at least 1000 innings pitched.
Any extension for Sale would begin in his age-31 season — he’ll pitch the 2019 season at age 30 — and figures to come with as much as a 100 percent increase over this year’s $15MM salary. The length of the contract was surely a sticking point in negotiations between Sale and the Sox, given last season’s shoulder troubles that limited him to 158 regular-season innings. Beyond that, his age likely gives Boston some degree of pause, as teams have become increasingly reluctant to guarantee players — particularly pitchers — significant salaries into their late 30s.
The luxury tax also undoubtedly plays a factor in negotiations, as the Red Sox’ payroll currently carries about $240.8MM in annual values that count against the tax ledger (as MLBTR recently examined when highlighting the unlikelihood of a Craig Kimbrel reunion). Should the Sox cross the $246MM threshold, they’d move into the top bracket of luxury penalization, which would include a 75 percent tax on any dollars spent beyond that point and would also cause their top pick in the 2020 draft to be pushed back by 10 spots, though for the Sox, keeping Sale from testing the open market looks to have been deemed worth of incurring that level of penalization.
It’s still possible that the Sox manage to lessen the luxury hit, though; Boston is reportedly shopping catcher Sandy Leon and his $2.475MM salary, and trimming that off the books would lighten the sting in terms of luxury payments on a new contract for Sale. A theoretical $30MM annual value for Sale would effectively take his luxury hit from $15MM (his current one-year salary, as options are treated in the CBA) to $27.5MM (the five-year, $150MM term plus this year’s $15MM salary divided over a six-year span). That $12.5MM increase currently stands to put the Red Sox about $6.5MM over the top luxury line, so shedding Leon’s contract could ultimately leave Boston’s luxury commitments at about $250-251MM. That’s still a huge penalty, but they’d only be paying the 75 percent tax on about $4-5MM of expenditures in that scenario.
Sale is far from the lone key Red Sox player who is (or was) slated to hit the open market following the 2019 season, but given the luxury implications another extension would present, he may be the only one to sign a long-term deal. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts and right-hander Rick Porcello are also free agents following the 2019 campaign, while designated hitter J.D. Martinez has the ability to opt out of the remaining three years and $62.5MM on his contract. Looking further down the line, reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts will become a free agent following the 2020 season, though Betts flatly stated this week that he doesn’t expect to sign an extension before free agency.
In the now likely event that a Sale extension is finalized, it would mark the 17th contract extension signed by a player this spring alone, including the sixth by a would-be free agent and the fifth worth greater than $100MM in total guarantees (as shown in MLBTR’s Extension Tracker). Players throughout the league have become frustrated with the slow pace of free agency and the lack of spending outside of the very top tiers of the free-agent market. Rather than test what has become a largely stagnant market, many players are simply opting into long-term arrangements with their current club, thus forgoing the stress and oft-disappointing outcomes free agency has presented over the past two years.
- Rob Bradford of WEEI spoke to J.D. Martinez about the opt-out clause in his contract with the Red Sox at the end of the season. Martinez, who can opt out of the remaining three years and $62.5MM on his current deal, said there haven’t been any discussions about an extension or a restructuring of the contract to this point. Unlike last summer, however, he at least left open a slight window for in-season talks in his most recent interview with Bradford. Martinez has an opt-out after the third year of his contract as well, at which point there’d be two years and $38.75MM remaining on the deal.
- Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi was drafted five spot behind Alex Bregman and reached the Majors barely a week after the Astros’ third baseman, but Benintendi tells Bradford that his those similarities didn’t make him take particular note of Bregman’s $100MM extension. Rather, the 24-year-old Benintendi says it’s “fun to watch all these guys sign some deals” in a nod to the bevy of extensions throughout MLB. Benintendi and his reps have not discussed an extension with the Sox this winter, though he tells Bradford that he would “definitely” listen if the Sox initiated talks.
- MLB Network’s Jon Heyman spoke to Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski about the team’s current slate of extension candidates (all links to Twitter). While it’s common for players to place Opening Day deadlines on extension talks, Dombrowski somewhat unusually took a similar stance. “We’re focused on winning this year,” he said. “…Unless something unexpected happens, we’re not going to do anything once the season starts.” Heyman notes that Xander Bogaerts, specifically, has stated an aversion to in-season negotiating. Regarding Martinez, Dombrowski merely stated that the Sox are “hopeful” he won’t opt out of his contract.
As has long been anticipated, something will have to give with regard to Boston’s catching situation between now and Opening Day. The Sox are carrying three catchers at the moment in Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart.
While the Boston organization managed to hang onto those three players for the entirety of the 2018 season, doing so more or less meant punting a roster spot. Swihart was so seldom used early on that he tallied all of 48 plate appearances through the season’s first two months.
A repeat of that approach has never seemed desirable. The precise resolution, though, remains unclear. Vazquez is projected to be the starter in Boston, and both Leon and Swihart are out of minor league options, making a trade or even just a straight release of Leon both plausible outcomes.
Leon, 30, struggled through an awful season at the plate in 2018, hitting just .177/.232/.279 through 288 PAs. His bat has continually declined since what now looks like a clear outlier campaign in 2016, but he’s regarded as a terrific defender in terms of limiting the running game, framing pitches, and managing a staff.
Leon agreed to a $2.475MM salary to avoid arbitration this winter. That may represent a palatable sum for a trade partner seeking a defensive-minded backup catcher, though it’s just barely shy of the deal Martin Maldonado signed few weeks back. Maldonado is also highly regarded behind the dish and is also a more accomplished (albeit still well-below-average) hitter.
Arbitration salaries aren’t fully guaranteed until Opening Day, though, so if the Sox were to move on, they’d only be on the hook for 45 days’ termination pay — a total of about $599K. To be clear, there’s no indication that the Sox have given serious thought to cutting Leon loose, but if they’re indeed planning on carrying just two catchers this winter (Vazquez and Swihart), that possibility would need to be considered if the trade route doesn’t bear fruit.
In the midst of a run of extensions around the game — in particular, yesterday’s $360MM Mike Trout agreement — Red Sox star Mookie Betts faced another round of questions about his future in Boston from reporters including Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald (links to Twitter). While he again expressed that he’s fond of the organization, Betts left little doubt that he’s not moving off of his price point for his post-arbitration years.
Betts acknowledged having received prior offers from the Red Sox. To this point, they simply haven’t met his understandably lofty self-valuation. It was reported yesterday that the team dangled $200MM in advance of the 2018 season. That was a hefty offer under the circumstances, but Betts has little cause to regret turning it down. He went on to turn in a hugely productive season and take home American League MVP honors, setting himself up for a record-setting run through arbitration and untold riches thereafter.
When asked whether he expects to open the present season without a long-term deal, Betts responded:
“That’s exactly what I expect. Didn’t expect anything to happen until I’m a free agent.”
It certainly doesn’t sound as if there’s much cause for optimism for a deal to come together before Betts hits the open market after the 2020 season. While nothing can be ruled out, as the 26-year-old hasn’t indicated that he’s altogether opposed to listening to offers, he’ll evidently demand that the Red Sox put quite a bit more money on the table than they have to this point.
Betts offered another hint about his own views on his value and how he intends to pursue a contract that matches it. While he called some of the recent extensions “great deals” for the players involved, he also noted that “some of them could’ve gotten more.”
As part of the day’s chatter surrounding Mike Trout’s new deal with the Angels, Joel Sherman of the New York Post took a look back at some of the Red Sox’ attempts to hammer out a contract with their own star outfielder. Mookie Betts has rebuffed several prior efforts from the Boston organization, it seems.
In particular, per Sherman, Betts said no to an eye-popping offer after the 2017 campaign. The proposal was worth $200MM over eight years for Betts, who was then heading into his first season of arbitration eligibility on the heels of a good but not great season. Assuming that there was fully $200MM in guaranteed money involved, that would have easily set a new high-water mark for a first-time arb-eligible player, topping Buster Posey’s $159MM contract (as a Super Two) and Freddie Freeman’s $135MM deal (3+ service class).
Betts instead preferred to take the arbitration route, defeating the club in a hearing and earning a $10.5MM salary as a first-year arb player. After putting up a monster 2018 season and taking home MVP honors, he agreed to a cool $20MM salary for 2019 — his second (and second-to-last) season of arb eligibility.
With over $30MM in career earnings already in his pocket, and Trout no longer looming as a co-star in the 2020-21 free agent market, the 26-year-old Betts could ultimately command a record-setting deal of his own. One wonders whether the Sox would have to beat the Trout deal (ten years, $360MM in new money) to keep Betts from testing free agency — if he’s willing even to consider new offers before hitting the open market.
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia will open the season on the injured list, manager Alex Cora announced to reporters today (link via WEEI’s Rob Bradford). Cora stressed that there have been no setbacks for Pedroia in his return from the knee issues that limited him to three games last season. Rather, the veteran is simply still in the process of building up to be able to handle a full workload. He’ll play in games every other day for the remainder of exhibition games before returning to extended Spring Training to continue building up strength. Pedroia, Bradford writes, feels he will be sufficiently built up but didn’t voice frustration with the team’s decision to proceed with caution. Based on his comments, it doesn’t sound like he’s looking at a particularly lengthy absence to open the year. “It’s only, I think, a week or something, the plan that they set,” said Pedroia. “If it’s being smart for a week and we make sure I respond great to everything thrown at me then it’s a good decision.”
- It isn’t yet clear if Dustin Pedroia will be on the Opening Day roster, or if the longtime Red Sox second baseman could get more Spring Training prep time, MLB.com’s Ian Browne writes. Pedroia missed all but three games last season due to knee problems, first recovering from October 2017 surgery and then another knee procedure last July. With this in mind, the veteran has been brought along slowly this spring, appearing in four games and accumulating only seven plate appearances. Pedroia did play five innings in the field on Saturday, however.
- Nathan Eovaldi re-signed with the Red Sox on a four-year, $68MM contract in December, but only after the right-hander drew serious interest from elsewhere. The Angels and Phillies “really wanted” Eovaldi, per Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, though the feeling wasn’t mutual. During the free-agent process, Eovaldi informed his agency, ACES, he only wanted to sign with the Red Sox or his hometown Astros, according to Bradford. But the Astros, despite the questions in their rotation, didn’t pursue the 29-year-old. “Houston is home for me,” Eovaldi told Bradford. “I would have had more talks with the Astros but they just didn’t want any part of it so they were out of the question. While Eovaldi added that he was “a little surprised” the Astros ignored him, he’s happy to be back in Boston after helping the club to a championship in 2018.
- Red Sox right-hander Brandon Workman opened Spring Training with a fastball that was sitting 92 to 93 mph, writes Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald, but his velocity has dipped substantially in recent outings. Workman has averaged 87 to 89 mph on his fastball in his past two outings, and manager Alex Cora spoke to Mastrodonato about the current “dead arm” Workman is attempting to overcome. As Mastrodonato points out, the majority of Boston’s candidates for the bullpen have struggled this spring, which at least has the potential to open the door for a prospect like Darwinzon Hernandez to get a look.