Red Sox

Red Sox and Astros have similar rosters, but very different paths and leaders


Red Sox and Astros have similar rosters, but very different paths and leaders

BOSTON — Early on, the Astros’ rebuilding project sounded like a machine that would just pump out affordable big leaguers. Free agency would be a last resort, and trading prospects would be a sin. Homegrown or bust. 

Why then, on the eve of their American League Division Series opener, do the Red Sox and Astros appear to have similar roster builds?

The Red Sox have Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi. The Astros have Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. Both club traded for star pitchers, Chris Sale and Justin Verlander.

Some veterans, some kids. Some free-agent signings, some prospects dealt away.

That sounds strange, because the Red Sox and Astros are run by polar opposites.

That’s not to say Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski ignores the input of statistics beyond, say, RBIs. That’s not to say Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow completely eschews empirical observations in his decision-making process.

But there are no baseball heads further apart philosophically. For example: Dombrowski, who's been in the game 40 years, relies on a small army of scouts, and is known to call his scouts directly. Luhnow, a businessman turned baseball executive who maintains a small inner circle, is restructuring the pro scouting department. He's pivoting to video and other information streams that require fewer games to be attended.

So in the big picture, did Luhnow’s Astros, labeled as an experiment for so long, wind up just like every other team — just like Dombrowski’s Red Sox?

Luhnow said he didn't know the Sox front office well enough to make a comparison. But the roster likeness rings true for him.

“Yeah, I think they are similar,” Luhnow said. “The Red Sox spent a large part of the last 10 years building up an elite farm system, which is what we’ve been trying to do for the last six or seven years. Add they’ve been consistently ranked as one of the best systems in baseball. We’ve been consistently ranked that the last few years. 

“And they went out, made a big trade using their farm system to get Sale. And we’ve used our farm system to get Verlander. So there are commonalities there. We both dipped into the free-agent pool, when necessary. So yeah, there’s definitely some common themes.”

Actions and looks (or thematic looks) are two different matters. The Sox and Astros appear somewhat similar right now. They’ve acted differently, and probably will continue to.

For one, the Sox farm-building Luhnow referred to took place under former general manager Ben Cherington, and Theo Epstein before him.

Dombrowski is Dealer Dave. Go down the list of deals, but you already know them: Sale, Craig Kimbrel, a bunch of other relievers. That’s from just his time in Boston. 

Luhnow, meanwhile, is reticent to deal prospects, to the point his players complained at this year’s non-waiver trade deadline when no move was made. He has one signature trade under his belt now. Even that Verlander deal — completed in August at the waiver deadline for prospects Franklin Perez, outfielder Daz Cameron and catcher Jake Rogers — is hard to justify when it comes to an isolated evaluation of player value.

"The math doesn’t necessarily ever work when you’re trading for an elite player, trying to accomplish short term goals,” Luhnow said. “You give up a lot of future value, and we did in this deal. We were pretty disciplined about looking at all of our alternatives and trying to pick the deal that we give up the least amount of future value for the most amount of present value. And I think we were able to do that. But you know it goes beyond math when you’re trying to win a championship in the short term.”

The math also becomes more complicated when you have a good team, and the only way to upgrade in a meaningful way is to obtain an elite player. Your baseline player isn’t a replacement player, it’s someone better.

Dombrowski's not one to express a feeling the math for a star player he acquired might not work.

Sure, the Astros and Sox have both spent some money. The former has spent very little, the latter a ton.

The $217 million contract David Price received in Boston is more than four times greater than the single largest free-agent deal Luhnow has given out, a $52 million deal for outfielder Josh Reddick before this season.

Nonetheless, the Astros touted building from within for so long, particularly in the early years when Luhnow took over, that people might have expected the team to have fewer outside additions. Luhnow said the number of homegrown players on the Astros (whose playoff roster has not been announced yet) is about what he expected. Even if that's not the case, his process is still unfolding.

Luhnow did always plan to add via free agency and trades, and the moves he has made in those arenas are much more reserved compared to those Dombrowski has made. They're less risky, too.

“We did tell people from the beginning when the time is right, the payroll will increase,” Luhnow said. "We’re going to make trades and we’re going to sign free agents. But until you start doing that, nobody believes you. And especially because we hadn’t really done it, we had such a low payroll for a couple of those years. I mean, I understand the skepticism. We tried to communicate our plan as best we could. I think it was, once we started to do it for real, the people started to realize that was part of it.”

The Astros didn’t entirely reinvent the wheel. Perhaps too many people thought they would as a product of their own marketing. A lot of current Astros stars were in the organization when Luhnow took over.

But what they're doing is different from the Red Sox.

Forget the roster snapshot. A better way to judge the Sox and Astros roster-building strategies is sustainability. 

See if, in five years, Luhnow’s farm system keeps pumping out players as free agents leave. See if he gives in and trades away more prospects with greater frequency.

See if, in five years, the Sox are rebuilding like the Tigers, Dombrowski’s former team, are today.

Even if both franchises are still competitive half a decade from now, it may be for different reasons. Dombrowski’s payroll grants him freedom to operate with less efficiency.

For nine figures, Dallas Keuchel could look great in a Sox uniform in 2019.

Tyler Thornburg wants a normal spring, but don't be surprised if it's bumpy


Tyler Thornburg wants a normal spring, but don't be surprised if it's bumpy

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Don’t confuse the goal of a normal spring training with the likelihood one will follow.

Tyler Thornburg’s time with the Red Sox has been an ordeal. He’s optimistic he can have a regular spring training after undergoing surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome in June, a surgery that included the removal of a rib which is now on display at his parents’ house. 

He said Saturday, in fact, there’s a “very good chance” of a normal spring. But there’s also a chance his build up to regular-season form runs unevenly. And that would be OK.

“I started throwing Oct. 2, that’s when they kind of gave me the go-ahead to go tossing,” Thornburg said Saturday at Winter Weekend. “So I’ve been building up slowly since then, just trying to make sure we don’t have any setbacks or things like that, and ramp it up at a good pace. I’m throwing at 120-140 feet, so it’s about the pace I’d normally be on, granted I’d know 100 percent before where I was [under normal circumstances]. So things could be a little different."

Consider a few other things Thornburg said Saturday at Foxwoods.

“I don’t really think any of us really know how quick I’m going to bounce back necessarily as far as how quickly the recovery’s going to go in spring training after an outing,” Thornburg said. “But hopefully I mean it’s fantastic, and we can kind of just keep going.”

A bit of natural uncertainty. He missed an entire season, and the reason he missed an entire season is had a lot going on medically. 

What appeared to be a shoulder injury was far from your usual, say, rotator cuff matter. His was a nerve issue.

“Two of the neck muscles were incredibly hypertrophied, like overgrown, and they just started squeezing on the brachial plexus, where all the nerves run down,” Thornburg said. “I’d be sitting there watching a game and just a nerve thing would hit me and I’d almost get knocked over by it. As well as the first rib was getting pulled up and my hand would just turn red some days if I was just standing there, cutting off the blood circulation. Then all the scar tissue and buildup along the nerves they had to go and dissect all that off there.”

So the injury wasn’t simple, and now, the recovery process is really a whole body matter. 

"There’s a lot off things your arm has to get used to between using different muscles, as well as my arm was kind of working through a scenario where it was trying to overcompensate for this and [trying] to relieve that,” Thornburg said. “So just worked a different way. Now your body has to remember how to actually properly work again. It’s a lot of neuromuscular stuff.”

Thornburg noted the possibility too he could be ready to go to start the season but not really ready to go back to back yet. Would the Sox then carry him on the big league roster, or continue to build him up elsewhere? 

Velocity won’t be there right away for Thornburg, he said: “But I mean that’s what spring training is for for most guys anyway.”

There’s a lot of optimism, but naturally, there’s a lot to be seen. 

“The rehab process, it's been a massive rollercoaster,” Thornburg said. “It really has. But I mean, I've been trying to take it week to week which has been a lot easier. There's the good days and bad days, just different kinds.”


Kimbrel's newborn daughter treated in Boston for heart condition


Kimbrel's newborn daughter treated in Boston for heart condition

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Coming off a phenomenal season, Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel spent the offseason in Boston. Not to be closer to Fenway Park, but for proximity to something far more important: the city’s first-rate medical community.

Kimbrel’s daughter, Lydia Joy, was born in November with a heart issue.


“It’s been a lot,” Kimbrel said Saturday at Red Sox Winter Weekend at Foxwoods. “My wife and I, we’ve kept it kind of private. But when she was born, she had some heart defects so we decided to stay in Boston and work with Children’s Hospital and just been going through that ordeal and it’s had its ups and downs but she’s doing great right now."

Focusing wasn't always easy in season, but Kimbrel said his daughter's condition has motivated him even more.

“They always say when you have a child, things change and they have," he said. "I’m definitely more focused towards her and her needs and our family needs. It’s just one day at a time and give everything I got. It’s real easy to look at her and understand everything I’m doing is for her and it makes it a lot easier.”

Kimbrel and his wife, Ashley, found out early in the 2017 season that they would be staying in Boston for the winter and were preparing.

“Everything has kind of gone as planned so far,” Kimbrel said. “She’ll have another surgery during spring training, so I’ll come back to Boston for a week and do that, but it’s been good. It’s definitely been tough, but one of the happiest, joyful times of our life.”

"Being in Boston, we feel blessed, because the doctors are the best in the world. Being able to work with them has been great.”

Kimbrel said his wife has stayed in touch with Travis Shaw’s wife. The Shaw family has had a similar experience, Kimbrel said.

“It seems like they’re doing pretty good,” Kimbrel said. “It’s been very encouraging to see.”