- Matt Barnes has tested positive for COVID-19, Red Sox manager Alex Cora announced to reporters (including Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com and Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe) this morning. Barnes is currently asymptomatic, but he obviously won’t be available for Opening Day. Matt Andriese is among those who’ll be away from the team temporarily as a close contact. Barnes entered Spring Training competing with offseason trade acquisition Adam Ottavino for the closer role in Boston.
Red Sox Rumors
The Red Sox have scratched lefty Eduardo Rodriguez from his Opening Day start due to a “dead arm,” manager Alex Cora announced to reporters this morning (Twitter links via MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo). Fellow veteran Nathan Eovaldi will instead take the mound for the season opener. At this point, the Sox are calling the move precautionary and aren’t even certain that Rodriguez will be placed on the injured list. He’ll throw a bullpen in the coming days, and the team will evaluate him once they see how his arm responds. It’s possible Rodriguez will simply just have his first start of the season pushed back, but there won’t be any clarity on the matter for a few days.
The 27-year-old Rodriguez did not pitch in 2020 after being diagnosed with Covid-19 and then developing a subsequent case of myocarditis — an enlargement of the heart — in the aftermath. Rodriguez not only appeared to be healthy for most of Spring Training but looked quite impressive, tossing 13 2/3 innings and holding opponents to four earned runs on 11 hits and two walks with 15 strikeouts. He’s slated to become a free agent after the 2021 season.
A couple more notes on the Red Sox…
- There have been no talks of an extension with Rafael Devers this spring, as the third baseman himself revealed this week (via Cotillo). Devers added that he’s very much open to discussing a deal, however. The 24-year-old is still controlled through the 2023 season, so there’s no immediate rush for the Red Sox to get him locked into a long-term deal. That said, he’s also reached the point of his career where he’s begun to build the financial safety net that removes some of a player’s incentive to take an early deal. Devers reached arbitration eligibility this winter and agreed to a one-year, $4.575MM contract for the 2021 season. So long as he remains healthy and approaches the .298/.348/.536 output he produced in 2019-20, he should be in for a sizable raise on that sum next winter as well.
- The Red Sox have informed Rule 5 Draft pick Garrett Whitlock that he has made the Opening Day roster, Cora also revealed in talking with reporters this morning (Twitter link via the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham). That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the outstanding spring that the right-hander has put together. Whitlock, an 18th-round pick of the rival Yankees in 2017, has pitched in four games with the Sox and tallied nine innings, allowing one run on eight hits and no walks with a dozen strikeouts. The 24-year-old is likely ticketed for the Boston bullpen to begin the season, but he’s worked almost exclusively as a starter in the Yankees’ system, so it’s possible he’ll eventually work out of the rotation in Boston — if he sticks on the roster for the long haul.
- After signing Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez in the offseason, the Red Sox might have another super-utilityman on hand in Christian Arroyo, as manager Alex Cora told reporters (including MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo) that Arroyo had recently asked about getting some work as a left fielder. Over his 85 career big league games and 445 games in the minors, Arroyo has played a lot of third base, second base, and shortstop, but no outfield work. Adding another position surely can’t hurt Arroyo going forward, whether to carve a future niche for himself as an even more versatile player, or just as a short-term method of earning extra playing time for the Sox this year.
- Righty Garrett Whitlock has emerged as a lock to make the Red Sox bullpen, according to Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com. Whitlock – whom the Red Sox took from the Yankees in last December’s Rule 5 Draft – has starred so far this spring, having allowed one earned run while striking out 12 over nine innings. The 24-year-old has also put up stellar numbers in the minors, where he owns a 2.41 ERA in 205 1/3 innings, but hasn’t pitched professionally since he underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2019. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen ranked Whitley as Boston’s No. 30 prospect in January.
Flexibility (both on the field and on the payroll ledger) was the key word in a very active Red Sox offseason.
Major League Signings
- Enrique Hernandez, IF/OF: Two years, $14MM
- Garrett Richards, SP: One year, $10MM (includes $1.5MM buyout of $10MM club option for 2022; option and buyout totals could increase based on performance escalators)
- Martin Perez, SP: One year, $5MM (includes $500K buyout of $6MM club option for 2022)
- Hunter Renfroe, OF: One year, $3.1MM
- Hirokazu Sawamura, RP: Two years, $3MM (includes a dual club option/player option worth at least $600K for the 2023 season; buyout increases based on roster bonus and appearance incentives)
- Marwin Gonzalez, IF/OF: One year, $3MM
- Matt Andriese, SP/RP: One year, $2.1MM (includes $250K buyout of $3.5MM club option for 2022; value of club option can increase based on innings totals)
- Total spend: $40.2MM
Trades & Claims
- Acquired OF Franchy Cordero, SP Josh Winckowski, and three players to be named later from the Royals and Mets as part of a three-team trade. The Royals acquired OF Andrew Benintendi and $2.8MM from the Red Sox. The Mets acquired OF Khalil Lee from the Royals.
- Acquired RP Adam Ottavino, SP Frank German, and $850K from the Yankees for a player to be named later
- Acquired C Ronaldo Hernandez and IF Nick Sogard from the Rays for SP Chris Mazza and RP Jeffrey Springs
- Acquired a player to be named later from the Phillies for IF C.J. Chatham
- Acquired IF Christian Koss from the Rockies for RP Yoan Aybar
- Acquired RP Zach Bryant from the Cubs as the player to be named later in last August’s Josh Osich trade
- Claimed RP John Schreiber off waivers from the Tigers
- Selected SP Garrett Whitlock from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft
Notable Minor League Signings
- Danny Santana, Kevin McCarthy, Chris Herrmann, Daniel Gossett, Zac Grotz, Jett Bandy, Matt Carasiti, Cesar Puello, Stephen Gonsalves, Michael Gettys
- Jackie Bradley Jr., Collin McHugh, Jose Peraza, Rusney Castillo, Robert Stock, Deivy Grullon, Dustin Pedroia (retirement)
Continuing the trend of player turnover that marked Chaim Bloom’s first year as Boston’s chief baseball officer, Bloom’s second offseason running the team’s front office saw quite a few new faces arrives as familiar faces departed. Most notably, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi will both be playing elsewhere in 2021, so in combination with last winter’s Mookie Betts trade, the Red Sox have now said goodbye to all three members of the superb offensive and defensive outfield that was such a big part of their 2018 championship team.
Bradley’s extended stay on the free agent market — he didn’t sign his two-year, $24MM deal with the Brewers until early March — created some speculation that the former Gold Glover could end up returning to Boston, and the Sox reportedly stayed in touch with Bradley’s representatives throughout the winter. However, the signing of Hunter Renfroe in mid-December was an early indicator that the Red Sox were looking beyond the JBJ era, and the team’s subsequent addition of several other outfield-capable players seemed to further limit the chances of a Bradley reunion.
As for Benintendi, his departure from Boston also began to seem more like a reality as the offseason wore on, and trade rumors continued to swirl about his availability. The Royals ended up landing the former seventh overall pick, joining forces with the Mets to work out a three-team swap that saw the Red Sox walk away with an injury-prone but intriguing power bat in Franchy Cordero, a young minor league starter in Josh Winckowski, and three other minor leaguers to be named later.
It wasn’t nearly the trade package that Benintendi would have commanded following his outstanding 2018 season, when the Red Sox were seeing him as a future cornerstone rather than as a trade chip. Benintendi’s value diminished after a pretty average 2019 season and then an injury-shortened 2020 campaign that saw him hit just .103/.314/.128 in 52 plate appearances.
In one sense, the Red Sox were selling low on Benintendi, and an argument could certainly be made that the outfielder should have been retained in order to see if he could bounce back when healthy (and in a season played under less unusual circumstances than 2020). But, after two down years in a row, Bloom might have simply felt Benintendi had already peaked, and moving him now allowed the Sox to obtain multiple minor leaguers while more struggles in 2021 would have cratered Benintendi’s trade value.
There was also a financial element to the move, as even though the Red Sox included $2.8MM in the trade to help the Royals cover Benintendi’s salary $6.6MM, that still left $3.8MM in savings. That $3.8MM figure happens to exactly match the total of Cordero’s $800K salary and the $3MM the Sox gave to free agent Marwin Gonzalez. This type of valuation was prototypical of Boston’s offseason, as the club spread its money around to several players rather than focus the majority of its available dollars on any particular big-name signing.
This strategy manifested in the types of player Boston pursued, as the Red Sox went after multi-positional types that could help out at several spots around the diamond. At the cost of a two-year $14MM deal, Enrique Hernandez was the priciest of the bunch, but the super-utilityman can and has played every position but catcher over his seven MLB seasons with the Dodgers.
Between Hernandez, Gonzalez, and minor league signing Danny Santana, manager Alex Cora can now approach the left field and second base positions in a number of different ways. Hernandez will probably get the bulk of time at second base, though he could also occasionally spell Alex Verdugo in center field. Verdugo could get an off-day or move to a corner outfield spot in that scenario, which would then give Renfroe, Cordero or Gonzalez a breather. It’s also possible for each of those players are all still in the lineup and another regular gets a day off. In short, the Red Sox now have quite a bit of depth built into the roster in the event of injury or if one or more players are slumping.
The question now becomes whether this depth can be productive or if these new additions could be notable for versatility alone. Hernandez, Renfroe, Gonzalez, and Santana are all looking to bounce back from poor seasons at the plate. Platooning and juggling the lineup could put any of the quartet into optimal hitting situations and get them back on a good offensive track, plus the likes of Christian Arroyo, Michael Chavis, Jonathan Arauz, and Yairo Munoz are also available to provide even more options for Cora. Top prospect Jeter Downs is also expected to arrive in the majors at some point in the 2021 season, so the Red Sox might have another position spoken for if Downs can hold his own as a semi-regular second baseman.
Bloom took the same wide-ranging approach to his pitching acquisitions, as Boston’s costliest arm of the offseason was Garrett Richards on a $10MM salary. Richards and the re-signed Martin Perez are penciled into the rotation along with Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi. Swingman Matt Andriese could get some spot starts or potentially end up replacing Perez or Nick Pivetta at the back end of the rotation.
It’s safe to assume that these six pitchers and other depth options like Tanner Houck, Daniel Gossett, Connor Seabold and company will all get some action as the Red Sox try to rebuild everyone’s arm strength and keep everyone healthy in going from a 60-game season to 162 games. (Chris Sale is also expected to be back from Tommy John rehab around midseason.) Indeed, signing an unspectacular innings-eater like Perez may have been almost a necessity considering how Richards and Eovaldi have struggled to stay healthy during their careers, and Rodriguez missed all of 2020 due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis and myocarditis. Thankfully, E-Rod has looked in prime form during Spring Training and appears to be ready to roll as Boston’s Opening Day starter.
Some of the depth starters might eventually join Andriese in contributing out of the bullpen, which will introduce a couple of external arrivals in Hirokazu Sawamura and Adam Ottavino. Sawamura comes to the majors after nine NPB seasons and with a distinguished track record as a relief pitcher, making him a potential bargain investment for the Red Sox if he can come close to replicating his numbers from Japan.
The Ottavino trade would have been notable solely for being a rare deal between the Red Sox and Yankees, but the financial elements add more interesting wrinkles. With New York paying $850K of Ottavino’s $8MM salary, the remaining $7.15MM price tag makes Ottavino the second highest-paid player of any of Boston’s new additions for 2021, behind only Richards. While the “buy a prospect” (namely young righty Frank German) element is certainly at play, the Sox wouldn’t pay that much for a reliever coming off a 5.89 ERA season if they didn’t think Ottavino could be a productive player in 2021.
Many of Ottavino’s advanced metrics from 2020, in fact, are pretty close to his career averages. The righty was hampered by some bad luck (.375 BABIP) and by one ERA-inflating nightmare of an outing on September 7, when Ottavino allowed six runs to the Blue Jays without recording a single out. With this in mind, the Sox are certainly hoping Ottavino can get back to his 2018-19 level, and provide the bullpen with either a quality setup man or perhaps even a closer candidate to share save chances with Matt Barnes.
Trading Ottavino helped the Yankees ease some of their luxury tax burden, while Ottavino’s addition brought the Red Sox a bit closer to the $210MM Competitive Balance Tax threshold. The Sox reset their tax “penalty clock” by spending under the limit in 2020, but the team has seemed loath to surpass the threshold again so quickly. Their volume of offseason moves has brought the Red Sox within range of $210MM; Cot’s Baseball Contracts has Boston’s tax number at roughly $204.3MM, while Roster Resource’s calculation of around $207.6MM leaves the Sox with even less breathing room for further spending. That proximity to the threshold was among the reasons that a late reunion with Bradley simply didn’t seem likely.
Of course, over a year after the Betts trade, Boston fans are more than a little sick of hearing about the luxury tax, and undoubtedly many of the Fenway faithful are wondering why the team wasn’t more outwardly aggressive in responding to a last-place finish in the AL East. Signing DJ LeMahieu (in whom the Red Sox had at least some cursory interest) or Connecticut native George Springer would’ve been a much easier sell to fans than a collection of multi-positional players who all struggled in 2020.
As MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes has outlined, it’s quite arguable that no big-market team should be worried about a luxury tax overage this year, considering both the small actual price in tax dollars and how the CBT system could be altered significantly in the next set of collective bargaining talks. It could be that Boston’s upper management has decided that there isn’t any value in exceeding the CBT threshold unless the Red Sox look like a surefire World Series contender.
Bigger spending might come next year when Sale will theoretically be fully healthy, Dustin Pedroia’s contract will be off the books, and the Red Sox know more about what they have in Downs, Bobby Dalbec, Jarren Duran, and other promising youngsters. Of course, the Sox will also have to replace Rodriguez in the rotation, as he’s set to hit free agency following the 2021 season. They’ll also have to patch the many holes left by all the current players on one-year deals.
In the meantime, Bloom will surely continue to tinker throughout the year on a roster that looks improved from last season, but still seems at least a couple of steps behind the Yankees, Rays, and Blue Jays in the AL East.
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- Righty Tanner Houck was among the players the Red Sox sent down Wednesday, leaving fellow RHP Nick Pivetta as a lock to open the season as their fifth starter, Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com writes. Pivetta, whom the Red Sox acquired from the Phillies last summer, endured his share of struggles during the first four years of his career, but he finished 2020 in encouraging fashion and has continued to turn heads this spring. Houck, meanwhile, was outstanding during a three-start, 17-inning major league debut last year, when he pitched to a near-spotless 0.53 ERA and struck out 33.3 percent of the batters he faced. However, unlike Pivetta, Houck has minor league options remaining – which surely impacted Boston’s decision.
TODAY: Santana is being released from hospital today, as reported by multiple reporters (including MLB.com’s Ian Browne). Santana will still have stitches for the next two weeks.
MARCH 15: Recently-signed Red Sox utility man Danny Santana is in the hospital with a foot infection, per Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal (via Twitter). He is currently being treated with antibiotics, and there’s no timetable for his return. Barring any complications, however, it’s reasonable to expect a relatively short layoff for Santana.
Boston signed Santana earlier this month with an eye on adding him to their pool of short-bench candidates capable of playing both the infield and the outfield. It’s now worth wondering if Santana will be able to get ready in time to fully compete for an opening day roster spot. He has only two plate appearances in spring training since suiting up.
Whenever Santana does return, he’ll audition to be a right-handed complement for the bench. Especially with left fielder Franchy Cordero expected to miss the beginning of the season, there will be some playing time to be had in the outfield. That will likely go to Marwin Gonzalez unless Santana makes a very speedy recovery. Boston also has the option of moving Enrique Hernandez to left and giving some additional playing time to Christian Arroyo or another bench bat.
Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James is now a part-owner of the Red Sox, Michael Silverman of the Boston Globe reports. James agreed to purchase “an undisclosed amount of” shares in the John Henry-led Fenway Sports Group, according to Silverman, who adds that Major League Baseball first has to approve the accord. The deal also includes pieces of the New England Sports Network, the Liverpool Football Club, Fenway Sports Management and Roush Fenway Racing.
The 36-year-old James, one of the NBA’s all-time greatest players, will reportedly surpass the $1 billion mark in career earnings in 2021, putting him in position to make this type of investment. Of course, it’s interesting that James will join a Boston franchise when you consider his history. James had his share of battles with the Boston Celtics when he was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, while the Celtics and Lakers have been longtime rivals. Plus, James has been a fan of the Yankees, the Red Sox’s archnemesis.
Should MLB sign off on this deal, James will be the second MVP-level athlete from another sport to join an MLB ownership in the past year. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes became part-owner of the Royals last July.
- Red Sox reliever Ryan Brasier seems unlikely to be ready for Opening Day, per Chris Cotillo of MassLive and Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. Manager Alex Cora revealed this morning that Brasier fractured a pinky over the offseason and was also absent early in camp for personal reasons. That pair of obstacles has delayed his ramp-up process, and it doesn’t seem he’ll be able to build up sufficient strength in time for April 1. The right-hander posted a decent 3.96 ERA/3.86 SIERA over 25 innings last season.
The Red Sox were one of a number of teams to make their first round of roster cuts today. Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom announced the assignment of 12 players to minor league camp.
There are unlikely to be many surprises from this early round of cuts. For Boston, catchers Roldani Baldwin and Austin Rei, and pitchers Seth Blair, Matt Carasiti, Raynel Espinal, Durbin Feltman, Franklin German, Zac Grotz, Kaleb Ort, Andrew Politi, Thaddeus Ward, and Josh Winckowski were re-assigned to minor league camp. No one from this group was on their 40-man roster.
You might recognize Winckowski, who’s been quite the traveler this winter. He went from the Blue Jays to the Mets as part of the Steven Matz trade. Two weeks later, he found himself in Boston as part of the return for Andrew Benintendi (by way of the Royals and Khalil Lee). The 22-year-old has yet to play a pro game above High-A. Though he may eventually work his way into a swingman role, Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen suggests he’s bound for a relief role unless he can develop a more consistent third offering.
German may also ring a few bells, as he came to the Red Sox from the Yankees as the contract tax for Adam Ottavino. Fangraphs has German as the 25th-ranked prospect in Boston’s system. Like Winckowski, however, German has yet to appear above High-A. Fangraphs also lists relievers Feltman and Politi among Boston’s top 47 prospects.