The Red Sox are going to have to “be creative” in the near future when it comes to drawing up a plan for their floundering rotation, manager Alex Cora said Sunday (via Chad Jennings of The Athletic; subscription required). The club has six days off in the next three weeks, which will enable it to skip certain starters, but there’s no denying Boston’s in trouble. The reigning world champions are what could be an insurmountable 7 1/2 games back of an American League wild-card spot, in part because their rotation has endured a Murphy’s Law year. Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez have arguably been the Red Sox’s best starters, but the former hasn’t been the dominant ace we’ve grown accustomed to watching, and the latter has been more good than great. Meantime, David Price is on the injured list (and went through a horrid stretch before hitting the shelf Aug. 8), former Cy Young winner Rick Porcello has been horrid, and the pre-trade deadline acquisition of Andrew Cashner has blown up in the team’s face.
Red Sox Rumors
With over two-thirds of the 2019 season in the books, let’s check in to see how seven players are progressing towards possible vesting options in their contracts. For those unfamiliar with the term, a vesting option is an agreed-upon threshold within a player’s contract (usually based on health and/or playing time) that, if achieved, allows the player to alter the terms of the contract for the next season, and perhaps beyond in some cases.
Some vesting options aren’t reported, so it could be that more players beyond this septet could also be playing towards gaining more guaranteed money or contractual freedom for the 2020 season. For now, let’s examine just these seven names…
Yonder Alonso, Rockies: Under the terms of the two-year, $16MM deal Alonso signed with the Indians in the 2017-18 offseason, his $9MM club option (with a $1MM buyout) for 2020 becomes guaranteed if the first baseman first passes a physical, and then hit plate-appearance benchmarks. Unfortunately for Alonso, he has only 287 PA this season, so he’s on pace to fall well short of reaching either 550 PA in 2019 or 1100 total PA in 2018-19 — either of which would’ve caused his option to vest.
Andrew Cashner, Red Sox: Having struggled through six starts since coming to Boston in a trade from the Orioles, the Sox have a legitimate performance-related reason for moving Cashner out of their rotation. There would also be a financial motive involved, as Cashner’s $10MM club option for 2020 would become guaranteed if he amasses 340 total innings in 2018-19. After today’s abbreviated outing against the Angels, Cashner now has 279 2/3 IP over the last two seasons, putting him within distant range of causing his option to vest if he keeps receiving starts. (Incidentally, the option could also vest into a player option if Cashner hits the 360-inning threshold.)
Sean Doolittle, Nationals: The closer finished his league-high 47th game of the season today, giving him 82 games finished since the start of the 2018 season. Should Doolittle reach 100 games finished, the Nationals’ $6.5MM club option ($500K buyout) on Doolittle for 2020 would vest into a mutual option, giving him the opportunity to opt out of his contract and enter into free agency. This is definitely one to watch down the stretch, since with the Nats in a postseason race and the rest of their bullpen struggling, D.C. won’t hesitate to use their closer for every save situation possible. Manager Davey Martinez has used Doolittle in a traditional late-game role, so shifting him into high-leverage situations outside of the ninth inning to cut down on his games-finished numbers would be a risky (and controversial) tactic, to say the least.
Chris Iannetta, Rockies: With 110 starts at catcher since the beginning of the 2018 season, Iannetta won’t reach the 220 catching starts he needed to convert the Rockies’ $4.25MM club option on his services for 2020 into a guarantee.
Wade LeBlanc, Mariners: The unique extension signed by LeBlanc in July 2018 carried three $5MM club option years for 2020-22 that can all vest into guarantees. That 2020 option turns into guaranteed money if LeBlanc throws 160 innings in 2019 and doesn’t have a left arm injury at season’s end. A month-long IL stint due to an oblique strain earlier this season almost certainly ended LeBlanc’s chance at the 160-inning plateau, as he has only 98 IP thus far. While he’s still eating a good share of innings as a “bulk pitcher” behind an opener in most outings, it seems likely that LeBlanc won’t reach his vesting threshold.
Brandon Morrow, Cubs: Morrow’s two-year, $21MM deal carried a 2020 vesting option worth $12MM, or a $3MM buyout. It wasn’t actually known what the terms were of this option, though since injuries have kept Morrow from pitching since July 15, 2018, it’s safe to assume the option won’t vest, and Morrow will be a free agent this winter.
Oliver Perez, Indians: The veteran southpaw appeared in his 49th game of the season today, so barring injury, he’s a lock to hit the 55 appearances required to guarantee his $2.75MM club option for 2020. He also seems like a pretty safe bet to lock in even more money, as that option will be guaranteed at $3MM if Perez pitches in 60 games. The Tribe likely won’t at all mind having Perez back for another season, as the reliever continues to dominate left-handed batters.
The Red Sox announced they have the selected the contract of utilityman Chris Owings. First baseman Steve Pearce was transferred to the 60-day injured list to create 40-man roster space. Right-hander Hector Velázquez was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket in a corresponding active roster move.
Owings, who’s immediately getting a chance to start at second base and lead off for Boston in this afternoon’s game against the Angels, played his way back to the big leagues with a monster showing in Triple-A. The 27 year-old slashed .325/.385/.595 over 183 plate appearances with Pawtucket, blasting 11 home runs along the way. He also struck out in 27.3% of his Triple-A plate appearances, though, and he’s never been much of a power threat before his barrage in the International League. Clearly, the introduction of the MLB ball to Triple-A has inflated Owings’ power output, but he’ll obviously have the luxury of hitting with the same ball at the game’s highest level.
Even still, it’s tough to imagine Owings emerging as a major offensive threat in Boston. The 27 year-old was a below-average hitter every year with the Diamondbacks between 2014 and 2018, and he struggled mightily after signing a one-year contract this offseason with the Royals. Owings slashed .133/.193/.222 with a 37.9% strikeout rate over 145 plate appearances before being released June 4. Only Zack Cozart (-13 wRC+) has put up a worse offensive performance than Owings (6 wRC+) among players with at least 100 plate appearances this year.
Even if he’s not much of a threat in the box, though, Owings is a plus baserunner with ample experience up-the-middle defensively. Defensive metrics haven’t traditionally loved him at shortstop, but he’s rated well at the keystone, where he seems likely to get the most work in Boston. He also transitioned well to center field in Arizona, giving the Red Sox some additional outfield depth on hand, even if it’s tough to imagine him spending much time on the grass in Fenway.
The IL transfer for Pearce is entirely procedural. He hit the 10-day IL June 1 with a lower back strain, so he’s already exceeded the 60-day minimum on the shelf. We last heard about Pearce a month ago, when the organization confirmed he was “nowhere close” to returning. It’s been a lost season for the reigning World Series MVP, who hit just .180/.245/.258 before hitting the shelf for the long haul.
Velázquez has logged 48 big league innings in 2019 as a swingman. He’ll be optioned for the second time this year, reflecting his subpar MLB results. Velázquez has worked to a 5.81 ERA with mediocre strikeout (21.6%) and walk (10.6%) rates.
The offseason could come sooner than expected for the reigning World Series champion Red Sox, whose playoff chances have dwindled in the year’s second half. Losers of nine of their past 11, the Red Sox sit a stunning 16 games behind the Yankees in the AL East and 5 1/2 back of a wild-card spot. The club has already lost more games in 2019 (56) than it did last regular season (54), and it still has 45 games to go.
Boston’s fall certainly hasn’t been the fault of designated hitter J.D. Martinez, who has been on another of his signature offensive rampages of late. After four straight multi-hit games, his line has climbed to .304/.379/.547 – one of its highest points of the season. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, these may be the final weeks with the club for Martinez. He’ll dive back into free agency if he opts out of his contract after the season, though he’s far from a lock to abandon his deal.
Returning to the open market – where the former Astro, Tiger and Diamondback joined the Red Sox on a five-year, $110MM contract back in February 2018 – would mean leaving a substantial amount of money on the table. However, while Martinez will still have another three years and $62.5MM left when this season concludes, he’s not ruling out another stab at free agency. Martinez said last month he plans to leave his future in the hands of famed agent Scott Boras.
Based on his production, Martinez has a case for more money than he stands to earn on his current deal. Martinez was one of the game’s greatest hitters in the handful of years preceding his Boston deal, and that hasn’t changed. Although Martinez’s numbers have markedly fallen off compared to where they were from 2017-18, that’s more a compliment to his output then than an indictment on what he has done this year. With 25 home runs in 479 plate appearances, Martinez is on pace for his third straight year with at least 30 HRs. His wRC+ (136) is tied with Anthony Rizzo and Josh Bell for 19th among qualified hitters, and his .408 expected weighted on-base average ranks quite a bit higher. Only fellow offensive luminaries Mike Trout, Cody Bellinger, Nelson Cruz, Christian Yelich, Anthony Rendon, Yordan Alvarez and Aaron Judge rank above Martinez in that department.
It’s fair to say Martinez remains an absolute force at the plate, then, and it would surely help his cause that he’d be a big fish in a fairly small free-agent pond. Aside from Rendon, a fellow Boras client and the lone pending free-agent position player who looks like a shoo-in for a $100MM-plus contract, Martinez would be the second-most appealing hitter available. Still, the soon-to-be 32-year-old and Boras might be leery of taking advantage of his opt-out. Free agency has been tough on even highly decorated 30-somethings in recent years, especially those who come with qualifying offers attached (just ask Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel).
Martinez didn’t receive a QO in his previous trip to free agency because it came after a midseason trade, but the Red Sox would no doubt saddle him with one during the upcoming winter. Plus, although he remains among the majors’ most formidable hitters, that’s essentially where all of Martinez’s on-field value comes from. Formerly a regular in the outfield, he’s easily on pace for his second straight season of fewer than 500 innings in the grass. That doesn’t mean Martinez’s offense won’t continue to make him immensely valuable going forward – former Red Sox DH David Ortiz and the aforementioned Cruz are two examples of offense-only players who’ve been tremendous even in the twilight of their careers. The lack of a real position still won’t do Martinez’s market any favors, though, especially considering there aren’t any near-term plans for the National League to implement the DH.
There’s no easy answer here for the Martinez-Boras tandem, who can either choose the bird-in-hand route or take a gamble on his bat leading him to even more cash than he’s due on his present pact. Without question, it’ll be one of the most interesting early offseason situations to watch. As of now, how do you expect it to play out?
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The Red Sox announced that left-hander David Price has been placed on the 10-day injured list due to a left wrist injury. The placement is retroactive to August 5. Price received a cortisone shot after an MRI revealed a TFCC cyst within his wrist. Righty Hector Velazquez has been called up from Triple-A Pawtucket to take Price’s spot on Boston’s roster.
This will be Price’s second IL stint of the year, following a relatively minor two-week absence in May to recover from left elbow tendinitis. This current injury also doesn’t seem overtly serious, though losing Price for any amount of time is another blow to a Red Sox team that is falling further and further back in the AL wild card race.
It’s been a decent, if somewhat unlucky, season for Price, as he has a 4.36 ERA that advanced metrics (3.64 FIP, 3.67 xFIP, 3.81 SIERA) suggest should be lower, plus his .310 xwOBA is slightly outperforming his .324 wOBA. Price’s 10.77 K/9 is the highest of his career, though he has also posted career highs in hard-hit ball rate (37.2%) and home run rate (15%).
Price hasn’t pitched well since the All-Star break, as he has a whopping 10.59 ERA over his last four starts (17 innings). The southpaw’s struggles have contributed to the overall desultory recent performance of Boston’s starting pitching, as Red Sox started have a combined 6.24 ERA over the last 30 days, the third-worst mark of any club in baseball over that timeframe. Velazquez will try and fill Price’s shoes in the rotation, though the swingman has also had a rough go of it in 2019, with a 5.67 ERA over 46 innings this season.
7:40pm: The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier reports several details on the procedure performed on Pedroia. The 35-year-old underwent a “relatively new” surgery called a “subchondroplasty” aimed at repairing multiple hairline fractures that had formed and strengthening the bones in his knee. He also had several bone spurs removed. Speier also quotes an orthopedic surgeon (Twitter link) in calling today’s surgery a “much bigger” procedure than the previous surgeries performed on Pedroia’s knee. The Globe’s Peter Abraham tweets that this particular surgery is sometimes performed as an alternative to a knee replacement.
12:35pm: Red Sox second bagger Dustin Pedroia has undergone another procedure on his balky left knee, according to a team announcement. A “joint preservation procedure” was performed yesterday.
Pedroia’s status has remained unclear amidst ongoing knee problems. Most recently, he acknowledged the possibility that he may never return to the MLB field of play. The plans aren’t yet entirely clear, but it sounds as if Pedroia will at least give a shot at a comeback. The announcement specifies that the veteran “will begin his rehabilitation in Arizona.”
Incredibly, this marks the fifth knee operation that Pedroia has undergone since the 2016-17 offseason. He’s only been able to suit up for a total of nine games in 2018-19, and his last (mostly) healthy season in 2017 featured one of the weakest offensive showings of his career. He’s under contract through the 2021 season after signing an eight-year, $110MM extension back in July 2013.
The Red Sox have signed former Phillies 1B Tommy Joseph to a minors pact, MLBTR has learned. Joseph, 28, was released by the LG Twins of the KBO in mid-July.
A former second-round pick of the Giants in 2009 who was shipped to Philly in the 2012 Hunter Pence trade, Joseph made 880 plate appearances for the Fightins in 2016-17, slashing .247/.297/.460 (96 wRC+) with 43 homers. His lack of plate discipline and defensive ability held him thereafter in the minors, though, and Joseph opted for a Korea stint after a solid Triple-A season in the Rangers organization last season. For LG, Joseph posted a .274/.332/.426 line in 217 plate appearances before his July release.
Joseph’ll head to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he’ll likely spend the rest of the minor league season. A September platoon with Mitch Moreland could be in the cards, especially if current partner Sam Travis continues to perform at his languid pace.
The Red Sox reinstated left-hander Brian Johnson from the 10-day injured list and activated him as the 26th man for today’s doubleheader against the Yankees, the team announced. Johnson will pitch the evening portion of the twin bill in New York. Chris Sale is slated to start the afternoon game.
Johnson has been out of game action since June 27 with an intestinal issue that was labeled a non-baseball related medical matter. The issue was discovered during routine testing by the team.
After being up-and-down throughout his first couple seasons, Johnson seemed to make strides last season in sticking with the big league except during a short stint on the IL in July. He threw a career-high 99 1/3 innings over 38 appearances (13 starts) in 2018, taking home a 4-5 record with a 4.17 ERA (4.68 FIP).
Johnson, 28, has spent more time in the minors this season than with the big league club, however. In just 14 innings with the Red Sox, Johnson holds a 6.43 ERA (5.43 FIP) while surrendering 22 hits including 3 home runs over that span. He’ll audition for a larger role with his return start tonight, though there does not appear to be room in the BoSox rotation at present unless Andrew Cashner moves to the bullpen – which has not been the plan as indicated by Boston as of yet.
Red Sox right-hander Heath Hembree is headed back to the injured list due to an elbow strain, reports Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. Hembree also missed about three weeks earlier this summer owing to a similar injury.
Hembree, 30, hasn’t looked right whatsoever in his return from that prior IL stint. He’s made a dozen appearances and totaled only nine innings while yielding 10 runs (nine earned) on 14 hits (including three homers) and six walks with 10 strikeouts. As Speier points out, he’s also displayed diminished velocity readings since being activated.
Hembree punched out 35 hitters and logged a 2.51 ERA through 28 2/3 innings prior to that initial injury. It’s not clear how long he’s expected to miss, but the injury is yet another setback to a Red Sox relief corps that surprisingly went unaddressed at the trade deadline (and in the offseason). The elimination of August trade waivers all but eliminates the possibility of Boston adding any truly notable help to the relief corps, although there are still some ways to add some depth to what they already have in house.
The Red Sox may not be able to land Mets closer Edwin Diaz by the trade deadline, so they’re turning their attention to other relievers on the market. San Francisco closer Will Smith is the reliever who has “most intrigued” the Red Sox over the past week, Sean McAdam of BostonSportsJournal.com tweets. The Red Sox have also shown interest in Diamondbacks left-hander Andrew Chafin, per McAdam, and Blue Jays right-hander Daniel Hudson, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription link).
Smith would clearly give the Red Sox the stable game-ending option they’ve lacked this year, but it doesn’t appear the team will be able to swing a deal for him. They’ve found the Giants’ asking price for Smith to be prohibitive, McAdam reports. Smith isn’t signed past this season – one of the reasons the Red Sox aren’t aggressively pursuing him – though it’s no surprise the Giants want a haul back for him. They’re still in playoff contention, for one, and Smith’s eminently affordable ($4.225MM) and highly effective. The 30-year-old has logged a 2.72 ERA/2.77 FIP with 12.82 K/9 and 2.14 BB/9 in 46 1/3 innings this season. He has also converted 26 of 28 save opportunities.
Meanwhile, either Chafin or Hudson could help improve the Red Sox’s setup situation. This is the latest in a growing line of solid seasons for the 29-year-old Chafin, who has pitched to a 4.17 ERA/3.69 FIP with 11.05 K/9 and 3.19 BB/9 across 36 2/3 frames. He also ranks second among all relievers in infield fly rate (24.2 percent), has held left-handed batters to a subpar .272 weighted on-base average, earns a relatively meager salary ($1.945MM) and comes with another year of arbitration control. Unsurprisingly, Chafin’s drawing plenty of interest from around the league – not just Boston – Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports.
Hudson, 32, would be the easiest reliever in this trio to acquire. He’s had a productive year, though peripherals don’t quite back up his above-average run prevention, and would be a pure rental for his next team. Nevertheless, Hudson’s the cheapest of the group ($1.5MM salary) and has been popular in the rumor mill leading up to the deadline. The hard-throwing journeyman has notched a 3.00 ERA/4.21 FIP with 9.0 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9 over 48 innings. Righties have mustered a weak .276 wOBA off him.