- “I felt great. I felt normal,” Drew Pomeranz told media (including the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman) after a 33-pitch simulated throwing session today. The Red Sox southpaw has missed time with a mild flexor strain and his status for the start of the season is still in question, though today’s result was a good step for Pomeranz. Between this outing and the positive updates on Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez yesterday, there is a chance Boston could begin the year without having to turn to minor league depth starters Hector Velazquez or Brian Johnson.
Red Sox Rumors
- Red Sox infielder Deven Marrero is drawing interest from other clubs, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports. Marrero’s out of options, meaning the Red Sox will have to roster him, deal him or risk losing him for nothing in the coming week-plus. The 27-year-old saw action across the infield with the Red Sox from 2015-17, but he produced a meager .208/.259/.309 batting line over that 258-plate appearance sample size.
- Red Sox reliever Bobby Poyner is “a legitimate candidate” to earn a roster spot, Ian Browne of MLB.com writes. The 25-year-old left-hander entered camp as a non-roster invitee, but he has since thrown 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball during spring action, which has put him “in the mix” for a big league role, according to manager Alex Cora. Poyner, whom the Red Sox selected in the 14th round of the 2015 draft, hasn’t even garnered any Triple-A experience to this point. He divided last season between High-A and Double-A, combining for a 1.49 ERA with 12.5 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9 over 60 1/3 innings.
- Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright may open the season in the team’s rotation, Ian Browne of MLB.com writes. Wright, who has been working back from the season-ending left knee surgery he underwent last May, threw three innings of live batting practice Saturday and called it “a huge, huge step in the right direction.” There’s also optimism about left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who had knee surgery last October. Of Rodriguez, manager Alex Cora said, “It seems like Eddie, he’s in a sprint right now, which is great.” Meanwhile, lefty Drew Pomeranz – yet another injured Red Sox starter – will throw a minor league game Sunday as he attempts to bounce back from a mild flexor strain. Cora noted that “you can’t rule out” Pomeranz or either of the other banged-up starters from beginning the year in Boston’s rotation.
First baseman Logan Morrison ended up with the Twins, but many expected the Red Sox to pursue him more aggressively than they did. Alex Speier of the Boston Globe has some interesting quotes from LoMo, who smacked 38 homers for the Rays last season but ultimately settled for a meager $6.5MM guarantee with performance escalators and a vesting option. Morrison says he himself didn’t have any conversations with Boston. His agent spoke with the club during the winter meetings, but apparently “that was it,” and clearly that discussion didn’t culminate in any serious offers. “Am I surprised? I guess. I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know if it was the most shocking thing I saw [in the market].” The Sox ended up re-signing Mitch Moreland to play first base for them on a two-year, $13MM contract.
Some other American League-related items…
- James Fegan of The Athletic has an insightful rundown of some young White Sox arms. Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech and Dane Dunning have all had their ups and downs this spring, and Fegan was able to get quotes from all of them on some recent performances in camp. For instance, Giolito spoke about his latest outing during which he allowed two runs in the first inning. “It’s one of those days where like, if one pitching isn’t working you can go to the other ones and I was able to do that for the most part after the first inning,” he said. Kopech offered some confidence in his performance. Threw a lot of changeups, changeups were good,” Kopech said. “My main two focuses were fastball command and changeup command. Both were really good. Got a lot of swings and misses on the changeup.” Anyone looking for more quotes from these young pitchers should give the article a full read.
- The Yankees have officially tabbed right-hander Luis Severino to be the club’s Opening Day starter. Bryan Hoch of MLB.com has some notable quotes from manager Aaron Boone on the subject. “”We feel like it’s his time for it,” Boone said. “With what he was able to do last year, we feel like he’s in a really good place now. We just felt like now is the time for him to take on that role and we think he’s ready for it.” While it’s hardly surprising to hear that the third-place finisher in 2017’s Cy Young voting will throw his club’s first game of the season, the announcement also comes with the news that lefty Jordan Montgomery will officially be given the club’s fifth rotation spot and start the Yankees’ home opener.
- Addison Reed tells Alex Speier of the Boston Globe that playing for the Red Sox and pitching at the hallowed grounds of Fenway Park exceeded his expectations in 2017, adding: “…and I expected it to be pretty damn good.” However, Reed openly admits that a return to Boston wasn’t high on his list as he headed into free agency this winter. While he had nothing against the Red Sox and spoke glowingly of the organization, his preference was to end up with a Midwest team. (Speier notes that his wife is from Ohio.) Reed achieved that feat by landing a two-year deal with the Twins, and while he took a shorter deal than most predicted, it seems possible that that outcome was in part due to his self-imposed geographic limitations.
With the big exception of a prominent new slugger, the Red Sox will head into 2018 with largely the same roster that won them the AL East last season.
Major League Signings
- J.D. Martinez, OF/DH: Five years, $110MM (deal contains player opt-out clauses after the second, third, and fourth seasons; Red Sox can potentially convert fourth and fifth seasons into mutual options)
- Mitch Moreland, 1B: Two years, $13MM
- Eduardo Nunez, IF: Two years, $8MM (Nunez can exercise $2MM buyout and opt out of contract after 2018)
- Total spend: $131MM
Trades And Claims
Notable Minor League Signings
- Addison Reed, Chris Young, Rajai Davis, Doug Fister, Blaine Boyer, Fernando Abad, Robbie Ross, Josh Rutledge, Henry Owens, Ben Taylor
It isn’t a stretch to say that Boston’s entire offseason revolved around a single player. While the Red Sox did their due diligence by checking in on some other big free agent bats (such as Carlos Santana, Eric Hosmer, and Logan Morrison), J.D. Martinez had long seemed like a natural fit, particularly given his past association with Dave Dombrowski. As well, Martinez’s numbers over the last four seasons — .300/.362/.574 with 128 homers — set him apart as the consistent, elite bat that the Sox were lacking last season in the wake of David Ortiz’s retirement.
It did take a while for the deal to be struck, both because agent Scott Boras was surely trying to find at least one more big-money suitor for his client and because the Red Sox saw no reason to offer anything close to Boras’s initial $200MM asking price for Martinez given the lack of competition. The Diamondbacks were the only other team that seemed like a serious consideration for Martinez, but even they were a longshot due to a lack of payroll flexibility.
Even once a deal was struck, it still took another week for contractual terms to be fully worked out, resulting in quite a bit of flexibility for both sides. Martinez can opt out of the deal after the 2019, 2020, and 2021 seasons, while the Red Sox can turn the contract’s final two years into mutual options should Martinez spend significant time on the DL due to injuries related to the Lisfranc foot problem that sidelined him for part of the 2017 campaign. These terms reflect some extra caution for a franchise that has been burned on several expensive free agent signings in recent years, and if Martinez plays well enough to opt out at the first opportunity, the Red Sox would have to feel pretty satisfied at getting elite production on what would become a two-year, $50MM commitment without having to worry about a decline on the contract’s back end.
Martinez will spend most of his time as a designated hitter, occasionally stepping into some corner outfield duty to spell Andrew Benintendi or Jackie Bradley Jr. against left-handed pitching. Bradley was himself the subject of some trade speculation this winter, though the Sox never seemed particularly keen on the idea of moving a controllable player who offers outstanding baserunning and defense, plus some above-average hitting numbers in the past. With Martinez willing to accept a role as the primary DH (but also eager to improve upon his recent poor showing as a defender), the Red Sox were able to both upgrade their lineup while also keeping their elite defensive outfield formation of Benintendi/Bradley/Mookie Betts intact.
While Boston had been linked to several first base names earlier in the offseason, the team made the somewhat surprising move (two months before signing Martinez) of bringing Mitch Moreland back into the fold on a two-year deal. Moreland provides solid numbers against right-handed pitching and a very good glove at first base, but his contract landed a fair sight higher than other, similarly productive first basemen. In any event, he’ll now participate in some sort of timeshare with Hanley Ramirez at first, with Ramirez also seeing time at DH when Martinez is in the field.
Also returning to the infield mix is Eduardo Nunez, who will eventually settle into a utilityman role but will suit up as Boston’s starting second baseman for at least the first few weeks of the regular season. Dustin Pedroia is hopeful that his recovery from knee surgery will allow him to return a bit earlier than the originally-projected seven-month timeframe, but if not, the Sox now have a very solid replacement at the keystone in Nunez. With Marco Hernandez out until May due to shoulder surgery, Nunez will provide the Sox with some valuable infield depth, including at third base should Rafael Devers have a sophomore slump.
Dombrowski has spoken in the past about how Boston’s established pitching staff makes it hard for the club to attract notable veterans as minor league depth, as those pitchers prefer to join teams that provide clearer opportunities to win big league jobs. This particular issue could become an early problem for the Sox given that two members of their projected starting five could now begin the season on the disabled list. Drew Pomeranz’s spring work was delayed by a mild flexor strain, and it isn’t known if he’ll be ready by Opening Day. Meanwhile Eduardo Rodriguez and sixth starter Steven Wright were already expected to start the year on the DL as they continue to recover from knee and shoulder surgeries, respectively.
While none of these seem like terribly long-term problems, it isn’t a good sign given that Pomeranz and Rodriguez have both dealt with multiple injury concerns in the past. David Price is also looking to return to health (and effectiveness) after a 2017 season marred by elbow problems. With Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez currently representing Boston’s top starting pitching depth options, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Sox make a signing later this spring or even into April — especially should Pomeranz, Rodriguez or even Wright experience a setback. Some pretty significant names still remain in the free agent pitching market at this late stage. It’s also possible that starting pitching could be targeted as needed at the trade deadline.
Turning to the relief corps, Robby Scott is the only left-hander currently projected as a member of Boston’s Opening Day bullpen, with Roenis Elias and rookie Williams Jerez also representing southpaw options on the 40-man roster. Beyond that pair, 25-year-old Bobby Poyner has opened some eyes in camp, per MLB.com’s Ian Browne (via Twitter). The Sox didn’t make a particular push to add any relief help this winter given that they already have several pen options on hand, and while Elias could re-emerge after an injury-plagued 2017, left-handed relief could be another area to watch come the July trade deadline.
Between Moreland at first base and Martinez at DH, it remains to be seen how big a factor Ramirez will be this season, and the playing-time arrangement could make it difficult for Ramirez to reach the 497 plate appearances he requires for his $22MM option for 2019 to vest. Ramirez’s three years in Boston have seen him sandwich an excellent 2016 season in between disappointing performances in 2015 and 2017, so it’s hard to know what to really expect from the veteran slugger this season. New manager Alex Cora still sees Ramirez as a major part of the team’s lineup, and since Ramirez underwent shoulder surgery last October, it could be that his bat will reawaken now that he’s healthy. The odds are good, though, that the organization will not allow his option to vest even if he’s healthy and productive.
While many big-market teams looked to get under the $197MM luxury tax threshold this offseason, as the Red Sox did last year, Boston will once more sail over the tax line with just over $237MM in projected salary for 2018. Quite a bit of money will come off the books after the season (Ramirez if his option doesn’t vest, plus Pomeranz and Craig Kimbrel will be free agents), though several key players on the roster will absorb a lot of that freed-up money in the form of arbitration raises. While the Sox clearly have an internal budget, they haven’t shown much hesitation in spending heavily to remain competitive. Having recently re-set their tax rate, the Red Sox likely won’t weigh CBT considerations too heavily, though they are close to pushing their payroll high enough to trigger some additional penalties.
It was a pretty quiet winter overall for the Red Sox, as they didn’t really have too many glaring needs to fill on an already-deep roster. Cora’s hiring, a renewed focus on analytics, and better luck avoiding the injury bug could be all Boston needs to revive a lineup that had trouble hitting the ball out of the park last year, though obviously Martinez’s addition will greatly help in the thunder department. The other question is if the Sox did enough to keep pace in the division, as the back-to-back AL East champs now find themselves as underdogs against a Yankees team that became even more fearsome this winter.
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Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
- The Red Sox would like to stash some MLB rotation depth at Triple-A but are having a tough time getting deals done, Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston writes. Remaining hurlers are understandably interested in joining teams where they’ll have a reasonably achievable path to the Majors. Boston entered the winter with a rather full set of starters, though as Drellich notes, there’s increasingly more opportunity to offer with a variety of (hopefully) minor injuries cropping up. The Sox faced a similar struggle in attracting veterans on minor league deals last winter, Drellich notes.
- Former Mariners starter Roenis Elias has become somewhat of an afterthought since the Red Sox acquired him prior to 2016, but the left-hander could reemerge this year out of the bullpen. Elias is now working as a reliever, owing in part to a newfound commitment to using a sidearm delivery against same-sided hitters, per Chad Jennings of the Boston Herald. The only lefty reliever on Boston’s projected roster is Robby Scott, which could help give Elias a path back to the majors. After appearing in 51 games and making 49 starts from 2014-15 in Seattle, with which he pitched to a 3.97 ERA across 279 innings, Elias has only thrown eight frames in two years with the Red Sox. The 29-year-old spent nearly all of 2016-17 with Triple-A Pawtucket.
Red Sox lefty Drew Pomeranz could attempt to throw two innings of live batting practice next week, writes Scott Lauber of ESPN. That would be a notable progression in his rehab back from a flexor strain, though it’s not yet clear whether he’ll be ready to take the mound for his first start of the season (Lauber notes that this would be either April 1st or April 2nd). Pomeranz is set to become a free agent following this season, and he’ll certainly want to avoid any injury-related question marks as he hits free agency amidst a free agent pitching class that could potentially include Clayton Kershaw and fellow Red Sox left-hander David Price.
Elsewhere along the Atlantic shoreline…
- There’s no timetable for Koda Glover to begin throwing again, Jamal Collier writes in his latest inbox column for MLB.com. Collier adds that all signs point to Glover being out of the bullpen mix to start the 2018 season. The 24-year-old right-hander was expected by many to emerge as a closer option for the Nationals last season, but injuries cut his season short, and his 5.12 ERA across 19 1/3 innings doesn’t look pretty. However, his 4.25 K/BB ratio stands out as excellent; the Nats are surely hoping he can return soon to deliver on his potential.
- Frecier Perez, the Yankees’ No. 9 prospect, is now represented by The Legacy Agency, Robert Murray of FanRag Sports tweets. The towering 6’8″ right-hander has risen rapidly across the Bombers’ prospect list thanks to his projectable frame and ability to consistently throw 100 MPH. Perez is 21 years old and was signed in 2014 out of the Dominican Republic for just $10K. Current Yankees scout Dan Giese spoke highly of Perez earlier this winter, citing his ability to throw strikes and feel for his change-up as reasons for optimism. He spent most of last season at Low-A Charleston.