- Red Sox setup man Koji Uehara hasn’t looked like a sure bet to return this season since landing on the shelf with a strained pectoral in late July, but there is progress on that front, per Scott Lauber of ESPN.com. Uehara threw 53 pitches off a mound “with good intensity” Friday, said manager John Farrell. Uehara will throw again Monday and is “making some pretty good strides,” Farrell added. With a 4.50 ERA to accompany a bloated home run to fly ball rate (16.3 percent) and a minuscule ground-ball percentage (19.0), the battle-tested Uehara hasn’t been nearly as effective in 2016 as he was in previous seasons. On the positive side, the 41-year-old has posted outstanding strikeout and walk numbers (12.75 K/9 and 2.25 BB/9) across 36 innings.
TODAY: Boston got fairly promising news on Benintendi, as manager John Farrell told reports including Tim Britton of the Providence Journal (Twitter link). The injury has been diagnosed as a knee sprain, with a litany of tests revealing no structural damage.
Per Farrell the organization is both relieved and optimistic that the young phenom can return this season. Boston is in solid enough shape without the 22-year-old, who has played in just 21 big league games, but he has provided a big jolt to the club and already seems an important part of the roster for the stretch run.
YESTERDAY: The Red Sox have placed left fielder Andrew Benintendi on the disabled list following last night’s knee injury, the team told reporters, including Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald (Twitter link). Benintendi, who was initially diagnosed with a left knee sprain, underwent an MRI this morning, and while the results are still being evaluated, the Sox felt it was a serious enough injury to warrant this move. Infielder Marco Hernandez is being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket in his place.
Mastrodonato tweets that Chris Young will receive the majority of the at-bats in left field with Benintendi on the shelf, with Brock Holt getting some occasional time there as well as he bounces around the diamond. Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe tweets that manager John Farrell said that the Sox are hoping this isn’t a season-ending injury for their standout rookie, but Abraham adds that said sentiment seems to be “more wishful thinking than anything.”
Benintendi suffered the injury while attempting to get back to second base on what ultimately went down as a ground-ball double play. Benintendi had to be helped off the field after his ankle rolled significantly and his knee bent in an awkward direction (video link), though Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald tweets that his ankle is “fine.” Benintendi hasn’t been with the Sox long, debuting on Aug. 2, but his production will nonetheless be difficult to replace. In 74 plate appearances, the 2015 No. 7 overall pick is hitting .324/.365/.485 with a homer, six doubles and a triple already to his credit.
Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi had to be helped off the field last night following a slip on the basepaths during which his ankle rolled significantly and his knee bent in an awkward direction (video link). The Red Sox are calling the injury a left knee sprain, writes Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe. Abraham also tweets that with Benintendi sure to be out of the lineup for Thursday’s afternoon game, the team could wait until Friday’s return to Boston to send Benintendi for an MRI. The 22-year-old Benintendi, whom the Sox selected with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2015 draft, has batted an outstanding .324/.365/.485 through his first 74 big league plate appearances. The Red Sox did just get Chris Young back from the disabled list, but losing Benintendi for any significant period of time would of course be a substantial setback for Boston.
The Red Sox are still amenable to reaching a deal with free agent reliever Jonathan Papelbon, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski suggested in comments to MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM (Twitter link).
Last we checked in, a return of Papelbon to Boston — where he made his name as a big leaguer — seemed unlikely. And that may still be the case, especially since the longer Papelbon goes without joining an organization, the more time (and less opportunity) he’ll have to ramp up.
[Related: Up-to-Date Red Sox Depth Chart]
It seems that the ball remains in Papelbon’s court to move his career forward, as at least the Red Sox, and possibly other organizations, remain interested in signing him. As Dombrowski put it, “he has to decide what he wants to do.” If he has any hopes of throwing in the playoffs, moreover, Papelbon will need to sign within the next week, as post-season rosters cannot include players that joined an organization after the end of August.
Whether Papelbon and his representatives are holding out for more favorable terms, or have other considerations in mind, isn’t really known. But the long-time closer doesn’t seem to have much leverage. Teams may not be willing to give him assurances of how often he’ll pitch or in what role, if they are even willing to commit a major league deal to a hurler who had turned in a career-worst 4.37 ERA and hasn’t pitched in nearly three weeks.
Barring a string of injuries, it’s not clear that the offers will improve, at least from the Red Sox. As Dombrowski characterized things, there doesn’t appear to be much room for negotiation: “We are open, we did call, he has to decide.”
Red Sox owner John Henry discussed a variety of topics in an exchange with Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald (read more here and here). Fans of the team and those interested in the interaction of the front office and upper management will certainly want to give the Q&A a full read, but here are some of the highlights:
Henry discussed the baseball operations department quite a bit. He credited former GM Ben Cherington for his “discipline” during his tenure running the team. Indeed, Boston has benefited from the strong play of several young players who were often mentioned as possible trade pieces. Upon taking the helm, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has “done a very good job of bringing the clubhouse and front office together,” says Henry.
The decision to add Dombrowski not only represented a switch at the top of baseball ops, but also led Boston to join an increasing number of teams in utilizing a president of baseball operations as well as a general manager. C“I think most big clubs now realize that the traditional GM role was just too large and demanding,” Henry explains while noting that he has been impressed by the performance of new GM Mike Hazen, who was Cherington’s top lieutenant but ended up being retained and promoted by Dombrowski.
Henry also touched upon the status of injured and embattled Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval. The 30-year-old is an important part of the near future for Boston, Henry says. That’s self-evident to some extent, as Sandoval is owed $58MM over the next three seasons (including the buyout of a 2020 club option). But the Sox owner suggests that the organization has expectations that Sandoval can return to being the “supremely talented veteran and a proven winner” that the club signed up for in the first place. “This year and last were frustrating for him and frustrating for us,” Henry says of Sandoval. “We need him next year.”
Sandoval’s importance is heightened by the fact that David Ortiz is set to retire after the year, Henry suggests. Big Papi is in the midst of an all-time age-40 season — he currently leads the league with a 1.050 OPS — and that obviously represents a more-or-less irreplaceable source of offense, though the free agent market does promise to offer several big bats. Sandoval certainly doesn’t look like a direct substitute, but a typical pre-Boston season from the Panda would go a long way toward making up for the loss.
Ortiz’s monster season has inevitably raised questions about whether he’ll reconsider his decision to hang ’em up. While Henry says that he would invite that, it doesn’t sound as if anything is actually under consideration with Ortiz still battling through pain to make it on the field. “If at some point he seriously considers coming back, it would be a great day for the organization,” said Henry. “But, unfortunately, I don’t think that is in the cards.”
Even as the Sox bid adieu to Big Papi, they have some immensely talented, younger position players like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. on hand to constitute a new core. The natural question is whether and when Boston will aim to extend some of these regulars. While Henry declined to answer in any detail, he did note that, “if this group wants to play together for a long-time, we’ll do everything we can to make it happen.”
It’s rather easy to make a case for offering new, long-term deals to any of those three players, each of whom has now performed in the majors for a reasonably extended stretch — thus seemingly making good on their promise as prospects. But the Red Sox organization has a much less impressive record in developing pitching than in churning out bats from the farm. Unsurprisingly, Henry labeled that a “problem.” While he didn’t divulge much, he suggested that it’s a priority for the team to figure out how to draft and develop young arms.
- The Nationals’ trade of Sandy Leon to the Red Sox for cash considerations in March 2015 drew little attention at the time, though it has become an unexpectedly important deal given how Leon has blossomed in Boston. Leon entered the day with a stunning 1.088 OPS over 158 plate appearances this season, completely dwarfing anything he’d done at the major or minor league levels. “I personally signed Sandy Leon when he was 16½ years old…My name is on that one,” Nats GM Mike Rizzo said. “He was a good catch-and-throw kid, and what a kid. He’s one of the greatest young men I’ve ever been around. I’m so happy he’s doing well especially offensively, but I never saw it coming.”
- The Red Sox could fill David Ortiz’s big shoes by DH at pursuing free agents Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Carlos Beltran, Mike Napoli or Mark Trumbo this winter, as Cafardo feels the team will look for an external solution. The simplest move would be to move Hanley Ramirez to DH, though that leaves both corner infield spots up in the air given the uncertainty around Pablo Sandoval’s weight, Travis Shaw’s ability to play every day and the development of prospects Yoan Moncada and Sam Travis.
A reunion between the playoff-contending Red Sox and their former closer, free agent Jonathan Papelbon, doesn’t appear to be in the offing, according to Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald. Papelbon, whom the Nationals released last Saturday, hasn’t pitched in two-plus weeks (Aug. 6) and there’s concern within the Boston organization that he won’t have enough time to prepare for the rest of the season in the event they do pick him up. The Red Sox believe Papelbon would need at least a week-long tuneup in the minors if they were to sign him.
General manager Mike Hazen said earlier this week that the club was “just kind of in a wait-and-see” situation with Papelbon, whom manager John Farrell has spoken with since he hit the open market. Farrell also acknowledged then that team brass broached the idea of adding Papelbon.
“We’ve talked about it, there’s some real strong points to ’Pap’ that could be an addition here,” he said.
There wouldn’t be much financial risk in adding Papelbon, who would cost the Red Sox the prorated portion of the league minimum. But the 35-year-old is only in position to sign for a cheap sum because his effectiveness has dwindled, which caused the playoff-bound Nationals to drop him. In his final five appearances with the Nats, Papelbon’s ERA rose from 2.56 to 4.37 as he yielded nine runs in 3 1/3 innings. That’s a far cry from the Papelbon who pitched for the Red Sox from 2005-11. During that seven-year period, the 2003 fourth-round pick threw 429 1/3 frames and registered a 2.33 ERA, 10.67 K/9 and 2.41 BB/9. He also helped Boston to a World Series title in 2007 and converted a franchise-record 219 regular-season saves in 248 attempts – good for a sterling 88-plus percent success rate. However, Papelbon’s fastball velocity, strikeout and walk rates, and ground-ball percentage have all declined significantly since then.
Regardless of whether they bring back Papelbon, the Red Sox will have some questions at the back end of their bullpen. To name a trio of prominent ones, Junichi Tazawa has allowed seven earned runs over his past four appearances (two innings); July acquisition Fernando Abad hasn’t yet carried his success from Minnesota to Boston; and 41-year-old Koji Uehara hasn’t pitched since July 19 because of a pectoral strain. Even before landing on the disabled list, Uehara’s ERA was a career-worst 4.50 across 36 innings, during which he yielded eight home runs and posted a personal-low 19 percent ground-ball rate. Moreover, Uehara excelled at generating infield pop-ups in previous years, but that figure has dropped from 16.1 percent in 2015 to 8.2 percent this season.
As Mastrodonato notes, though, the Red Sox have potential in-house solutions in a pair of right-handers, Heath Hembree and Joe Kelly, and lefty Brian Johnson. Hembree is currently in the club’s bullpen, while Kelly and Johnson are candidates to come up when rosters expand in September.
- Of the five young Red Sox international signees who were recently returned to the open market as a penalty for the team’s signing violations, only one — righty Cesar Gonzalez — had failed to sign with a new organization in the immediate aftermath of the move. As Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald recently reported, Gonzalez has now found a new home with the Padres. The 17-year-old was not considered a significant prospect, and landed only $25K from San Diego, per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (via Twitter), though he’ll also get to hold onto his original signing bonus from Boston and will get a fresh start with a new organization.
Former Nationals reliever Jonathan Papelbon remains unsigned, though he hasn’t been on the open market for long and is still assessing his options. While a near-term signing may still be anticipated, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com notes on Twitter that the veteran’s timetable for joining a new organization appears to have shifted back somewhat.
One team that will not be considering the former star closer is the Rangers. According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, via Twitter, Texas has no interest whatsoever.
The Red Sox, though, continue to be linked to a pitcher who made his name in Boston. As Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald reports, GM Mike Hazen told WEEI’s Lou Merloni and Mike Mutnansky that the club is “just kind of in a wait-and-see” situation after having expressed interest.
Hazen did note that the Sox are looking at ways to bolster their pen, with the idea being to build as much depth as possible. It has seemingly been tough going on the fickle August trade market, making the freely-available Papelbon a more appealing target.
Though questions have understandably been raised not only as to Papelbon’s effectiveness but also whether he’d be a good clubhouse presence, his former employers and teammates haven’t shied away. After a previous statements of support from Cubs lefty Jon Lester, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz says that his former teammate would be a welcome addition, as ESPN.com’s Scott Lauber writes.
4:13pm: The Red Sox certainly appear to have fairly strong interest, as manager John Farrell told reporters today that he has spoken with the former Boston standout. Though it isn’t immediately clear whether the club has an offer on the table, that level of dialogue suggests there could be a match.
11:53am: Via Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com/CBS Chicago, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he hasn’t been told of any talks with Papelbon but also wouldn’t totally discount the notion of the right-hander joining the Cubs (Twitter link). Red Sox skipper John Farrell, meanwhile, more strongly hinted at the possibility that Papelbon could join his club (Twitter link via MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM): “We’ve talked about it, there’s some real strong points to ’Pap’ that could be an addition here.”
9:37am: Recently released Nationals right-hander Jonathan Papelbon is nearing a decision and is likely to sign with a new team in the next 24 hours, reports Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. Bradford doesn’t specify how many teams have made an offer or are showing interest in the 35-year-old.
The Nats cut Papelbon loose last week, and he’s been somewhat speculatively linked to the Cubs, while Bradford reported not long after his release that Papelbon would welcome a return to Boston. (Notably, he writes today that it’s not clear if the Sox have any interest in a reunion.) It seems likely that Papelbon will land with a contending club, as there’s little sense in a rebuilding team adding a 35-year-old to its bullpen just seven weeks before he hits free agency. And from Papelbon’s perspective, joining a club with a shot at the postseason is a logical course of action.
There are plenty of red flags surrounding Papelbon, who has seen his fastball velocity, strikeout rate, walk rate and ground-ball rate all trend in the wrong direction over the past couple of years. The result in 2016 was an earned run average that quickly ballooned from 2.56 to 4.37 after he allowed nine runs in 3 1/3 innings over his final five outings with Washington. Many have questioned Papelbon’s clubhouse presence over the years as well, particularly following last year’s dugout altercation with Bryce Harper, but Nationals teammates defended Papelbon’s character to to the media following his release, and Cubs lefty Jon Lester gave him a nice endorsement as a teammate just yesterday. Beyond that, whatever team signs Papelbon would only need to pay him the pro-rated portion of the league minimum for the remainder of the season, so the most he’d cost a new team would be just $130K through season’s end.