Tuesday was a fairly busy day for the Red Sox, at least in terms of whispers and minor bits of news. There was one bit of actual news that we will get to a bit further down in this post, but since Tuesday’s are also my busiest day I wasn’t able to get to any of this while it was going down. So, here I’m going to just go through a quick rundown of everything that happened and was reported relating to the team on Tuesday. And folks, I have some takes.
The Trade Rumors
The biggest piece of news coming from the Red Sox on Tuesday was in the form of a startling report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
The Boston #Redsox, trying to clear salary space for bullpen help, are openly listening to offers on Rick Porcello, and rivals insist also are willing to talk about Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 11, 2018
So, that’s a thing! Now, I should acknowledge that Nightengale doesn’t have the best track record on this sort of thing so it could be easily dismissed on those terms. However, Ken Rosenthal aka the best national reporter in the business, chimed in with slightly different wording.
Rival exec confirms #RedSox looking to cut payroll so they can make other moves (most likely in bullpen) and remain under luxury-tax threshold. Porcello and Bogaerts eligible for free agency after this season, Bradley after 2020. https://t.co/SbK4CJYvDP— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 11, 2018
Rosenthal isn’t specifically saying those players are involved in trade talks, but rather throws them out as speculation. Either way, these reports make it sound like the Red Sox need to cut payroll to get bullpen help. Now, later in the night Dave Dombrowski spoke to the media and threw some cold water on the reports. The President of Baseball Operations said that they are listening to any trade offers that come through and would like to stay under that highest luxury tax threshold ($246 million), but it’s not a mandate.
Okay, so that’s a lot of information that all contradicts himself, which is super fun. I will freely admit the Nightengale report and Rosenthal follow-up scared me. The only focus for this team right now should be winning in 2019, and even if you lose some guys for nothing but compensation picks after this season you don’t trade them if it makes the team worse for this year. Winning another World Series is Goal #1, 2 and 3. That said, Dombrowski’s comments calmed me down a bit more, though I’m still worried about this. I will say that trading Bogaerts would cause a full-blown meltdown from me while the other two would just result in obnoxious complaining, but I’d also guess the odds of a Bogaerts trade are slightly greater than zero.
If it’s true that the Red Sox want to get below that luxury tax number and still upgrade the bullpen, though, it’s impossible for it to happen without a trade or two of some sort. I’d prefer they just blow by the number again, and if it’s baseball reasons they’re worried about — i.e. dropping ten spots in the draft again — I think it’s worth it. If it’s for business reasons, well I’ll bitch about it all day long but there’s not much I can analyze in that regard.
Chris Sale just needs rest and is open to an extension
Beyond just helping the 2019 team, one of the big reasons the Red Sox could be looking to save money is that they will have to work on some extensions for stars set to hit free agency soon. Bogaerts is one of those guys, but so is Chris Sale. The team’s ace is a free agent after this coming season, and of course ended this past season with some shoulder issues. There was some fear that something major would come out about the injury over the offseason, but Evan Drellich has the scoop that should put us at ease, at least relatively speaking. The NBC Boston reporter writes that there was no structural damage to Sale’s shoulder and that he simply needs some rest this winter. He was pitching through pain in the second half of 2018, though Sale does not want to get into specifics about that with the media.
In addition to the injury news, Drellich also writes that Sale is open to an extension with the team. In fact, he is “more open more open to those talks than most players of his caliber would be when sitting just a year away from free agency.” That is very good news for the Red Sox, though given the way he has slowed down at the end of his two seasons in Boston it’s unclear how different the two sides will be in terms of dollar value. Sale signed one of the most team-friendly deals in baseball with the White Sox for his last deal, so I certainly wouldn’t blame him if he wanted to go all-out for money this time. That doesn’t appear to be the case. Extension talks are more likely to come after the New Year, but we’ll certainly monitor this situation.
Red Sox sign Gorkys Hernandez
The Red Sox made another addition to their organization on Tuesday, though not to the major-league roster. The team signed former Giants outfielder Gorkys Hernandez to a minor-league deal.
Sources: The Red Sox have agreed to a minor league deal with 31-year-old OF Gorkys Hernandez. Hit .234/.285/.391 and played all 3 OF spots for the Giants in 142 games last year. He’d make a salary of $1M if in the big leagues.— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) December 12, 2018
The deal makes some sense as a depth signing, as the Red Sox still don’t have much in terms of outfield depth that can be called up from the minors. Their top four outfielders are all obviously outstanding, and Boston was very lucky with their health in 2018. Beyond them, it thins out quickly. Hernandez has major-league experience playing in over 100 games in each of the last two years for the Giants. His numbers are not great — he has an OPS+ of 80 over those two seasons combined — but he can play all three outfield spots if needed and isn’t a total black hole at the plate. You’re obviously not getting a star waiting in the wings in the minors unless you develop them, and Boston hasn’t developed any outfielders since their three starters have come up. This is how you have to approach depth in that situation, and they’ve done relatively well here.
Plans from Alex Cora
Alex Cora also met with the media on Tuesday and is already planning out how he’s going to approach some things in 2019. Take a vacation, my man. Anyway, the big news is that he’s going to make a switch at the top of the lineup, putting Andrew Benintendi into the leadoff spot with Mookie Betts batting second. This is a change that many of us wanted to see last year, though obviously things worked out fine as they were. Still, this makes more sense with Benintendi possessing strong on-base skills but only okay power while Betts is an otherworldly hitter all-around. It’s most efficient to have your best hitter second, and this gives him more chances of hitting with a guy on base. Even if the bottom of the order is strong — and it was not for most of 2018 — the leadoff hitters is guaranteed at least 162 at bats with the bases empty. That was Cora’s logic with the change. More than anything, it’s nice to see he’s willing to make this kind of change even with the success he had last year. That kind of humility and willingness to adapt is going to be key if the Red Sox are going to repeat.
In addition to the lineup changes, Cora talked a little about the starting pitching. The pitchers obviously had a massive workload in the postseason, and he is going to use them sparingly in spring training. That was to be expected, as they were used only a little last year, and will probably be even less this year. Additionally, with the team starting on a long west coast trip with 11 days in a row of games, Cora is going to use a six-man rotation for the first turn. Presumably Steven Wright will be that sixth starter, though that’s just speculation. Still, expect a fair amount of six-man turns through the year. Cora also indicated that the hardest part of repeating is keeping everyone healthy after a long playoff run, so he could be even more extreme with rest patterns in 2019.