Brayan Bello is performing well enough in his first full season that the Red Sox seem to have interest in signing him to a long-term deal, with the club’s assistant general manager Eddie Romero saying as much to Jen McCaffrey of The Athletic.
“It’s all case-by-case, there’s no guidebook for it, but I think Brayan is a special case and we’ll make efforts to talk to him and his group,” Romero said. “He’s basically done what he needs to do and what we would want of a young starting pitcher in this organization and he’s gone about it the right way, he’s a great teammate and he’s improved the quality of his repertoire, he’s a very hard worker, and he’s earned the respect of everybody here so he’s the kind we want to stick around obviously.”
Those talks are unlikely to ramp up at the moment, since Bello’s preference is to focus on his performance while the season is still in progress. “If (the Red Sox) did speak to my representatives I don’t know,” he says, “because I told them if there are any extension talks I don’t want to hear about it in-season, because I want to focus on finishing my season good so that good things can happen for me.” But once the offseason rolls around, it appears he is indeed open to an extension. “I do want to stay here long-term,” he said. “This is the organization that gave me a chance to be somebody so I’d love to stay here.” Bello also expressed his openness to an extension with Rob Bradford of WEEI a couple of weeks ago.
It’s hardly a surprise that the Sox are interested in getting Bello to put pen to paper, given his strong results and the club’s need for long-term pitching solutions. He debuted in July of last year and make 13 appearances in the second half of the season, including 11 starts, posting a 4.71 earned run average in 57 1/3 innings. His 20.5% strikeout rate and 10.1% walk rate were both a bit below average but he kept the ball on the ground at an excellent 55.7% clip.
Here in 2023, he’s made 15 more starts with his strikeout and ground ball rates essentially holding steady but his walk rate dropping to 6.1%. That’s helped him drop his ERA by more than a full run to 3.14 for the season. He’s now been in the majors for just over a year and has a combined 3.77 ERA in 143 1/3 innings in that time and only celebrated his 24th birthday in May.
The rotation in Boston has many question marks at the moment. James Paxton is pitching well but is an impending free agent. Chris Sale still has one more guaranteed season on his contract and an option for 2025 but has been hurt quite often in recent years. The last time he reached 60 innings pitched in an individual campaign was 2019. Corey Kluber and Nick Pivetta have been moved to the bullpen, with Pivetta likely to stay there since he’s thriving and Kluber likely to have his option declined this fall. Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock each have plenty of club control remaining but both have struggled to stay healthy to the point that neither has hit 80 innings in a major league season yet. Kutter Crawford has a 3.74 ERA this year overall but a 4.73 mark as a starter.
Looking even further ahead, there doesn’t seem to be much immediate help coming from the farm. Bryan Mata is on the 40-man roster but has a 5.61 ERA in Triple-A this year. Brandon Walter is working out of the major league bullpen right now but has a 6.08 ERA in Triple-A this year. Some other non-roster depth pieces have also struggled, leading the club to sign journeymen like Dinelson Lamet and Kyle Barraclough to minor league deals.
Taking all those factors into consideration, it’s understandable why the club would want to keep Bello around. There shouldn’t be any terrible urgency, as he will finish this season with one year and 82 days of service time. That means he won’t be slated for arbitration until after 2025 or free agency until after 2028. But like all players, he will only increase his earning power as he moves closer to those dates, as long as he stays healthy and effective. Hunter Greene and the Reds recently agreed to a six-year, $53MM extension when he had five years of club control remaining, where Bello will be this winter. But players in their arb years can generally go beyond that, such as the $90MM guarantee secured by Logan Webb when he was between three and four years of service time or the $108MM that Luis Castillo got when he was beyond four years. That’s not to say that Bello is the same caliber of pitcher as those guys or that the Sox would have to pay that kind of money, but it does highlight the way that prices will escalate as potential free agency gets closer.
The Sox already have some significant long-term contracts on the books, with Trevor Story, Masataka Yoshida and Rafael Devers each making $18MM or more for each future season through 2027. But extensions for pre-arb players generally have the salaries ramping up gradually, roughly mirroring the scaling up process of the arbitration system. A theoretical Bello extension would likely see him earn modest pay bumps over the first few seasons and the most significant salaries would be after Story and Yoshida are off the books. Devers’ contract goes through 2033 but is the only Boston player guaranteed a contract in 2028 and beyond.
Given the aforementioned rotation uncertainty, the Sox seem like a candidate to look for starting pitching in free agency this winter, but they may also look to use a few dollars to lock up their best internal candidate as well.