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.

Red Sox hire Alex Cora as their new manager

Red Sox hire Alex Cora as their new manager

BOSTON -- Alex Cora is the 47th manager in Red Sox history, charged with reinvigorating a young clubhouse and improving on consecutive 93-win seasons that fizzled in the first round of the playoffs.

The team made the hiring of the 42-year-old Astros bench coach official on Sunday, a day after Houston advanced to the World Series and two days before the start of the Fall Classic. Cora will remain with the Astros until the Series is finished and has a three-year deal, with a club option for 2021.

A 14-year big leaguer from Puerto Rico, Cora is the first Latin manager in club history. He hit .252 in 301 games for the Sox from 2005-08. He was the most sought-after managerial candidate this offseason and arrives with a great reputation based on his personality, his prior experience in Boston and his season with the Astros. 


He knows Sox second baseman and leader Dustin Pedroia well. The last time Cora was in the World Series prior to this year was 2007. On Saturday, exactly 10 years after the Red Sox came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Indians in the American League Championship Series, the Astros finished off a rally after falling behind 3-2 in the series.

"You know, we've never been through this," Dustin Pedroia said after the Sox won Game 7 in 2007. "This is on the biggest stage. Everyone is watching these games. I remember the Angels series, I was nervous. Alex Cora told me, 'Hey, settle down, be yourself, have fun. This game is meant to be played, have fun. Play as hard as you can and leave it out there on the field. If we lose, we lose. Don't have any regrets.'

"Ever since then I kind of went out there, and I don't worry about anything but playing hard. I think everybody is doing that. Nobody cares about anything, just picking each other up and playing the game to win."

Early on, Cora will have to prove that his inexperience is not a stumbling block for a club in a win-now mindset. This season was Cora's only as a major-league coach. He's the first Sox manager to take the big job without prior major-league managing experience since Grady Little in 2002. 

Cora's ability to bond with players is his hallmark.

"Alex brings a lot to the table," Astros outfielder Carlos Beltran said. "He's a guy that always is looking for information that he could use against the opposite team. And he's also, he provides that information to the player, which is great. He has good communication with the guys, respects the guys. He's always in the clubhouse getting to know the players, getting to know which buttons he could push on each player to make them go out there and play the game hard, which is great.

"I think I always feel that sometimes managers, they draw a very defined line between players and manager. And sometimes they get caught up not going to the clubhouse because they don't want to feel like they're invading their space. But as a player, I love when managers come to the clubhouse, sit down, talk to us, get to know us, ask about our family, about everything. And that really, for me, means a lot. So Alex does that real well."

Cora's hiring comes five years and a day after the Red Sox hired John Farrell. The choice could have been announced prior to Sunday, but the Red Sox were being respectful of the Astros' playoff run. 

In a statement released by the Red Sox, Cora said: “I am extremely honored and humbled to be named manager of the Boston Red Sox and I want to thank Dave, John Henry, Tom Werner, and Sam Kennedy for giving me such a tremendous opportunity. Returning to the Red Sox and the city of Boston is a dream come true for me and my family and I look forward to working towards the ultimate goal of winning another championship for this city and its great fans. At the same time, I want to express my appreciation for Jim Crane, Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Hinch, and the entire Houston Astros organization for giving me the chance to start my coaching career. It has been a very special season and an incredible organization to be a part of and I am looking forward to the World Series and winning with this group.”

“We were very impressed when we interviewed Alex,” Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said in the statement. “He came to us as a highly-regarded candidate, and from speaking with him throughout this process, we found him to be very knowledgeable, driven, and deserving of this opportunity. He is a highly respected and hardworking individual who has experience playing in Boston. Alex also has a full appreciation for the use of analytical information in today's game and his ability to communicate and relate to both young players and veterans is a plus. Finally, the fact that he is bilingual is very significant for our club.”

“As someone who has played in Boston and knows what it takes to win here, Alex is uniquely positioned to instill a championship culture,” team chairman Werner added in the statement. “Baseball is in his blood and we could not be more pleased to have found someone so accomplished to lead our team. Welcome home, Alex.” 



Astros beat Yankees, 4-0, in Game 7 to advance to World Series


Astros beat Yankees, 4-0, in Game 7 to advance to World Series

HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve embraced Justin Verlander as confetti rained down. An improbable thought just a few years ago, the Houston Astros are headed to the World Series.

Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. combined on a three-hitter, Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Astros reached the World Series for only the second time by blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Verlander, the ALCS MVP , and fellow Houston ace Dallas Keuchel will have plenty of rest before the World Series begins at sweltering Dodger Stadium.

"I love our personality," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We have the right amount of fun, the right amount of seriousness, the right amount of perspective when we need it. This is a very, very unique group. To win 100 games and still be hungry is pretty remarkable."

The Astros will try for their first World Series title, thanks in large part to Altuve , the diminutive second baseman who swings a potent bat, and Verlander, who switched teams for the first time in his career to chase a ring.

Four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees on consecutive nights after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first crown, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

"This city, they deserve this," McCullers said.

Clutch defensive plays by third baseman Alex Bregman and center fielder George Springer helped Houston improve to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and become the fifth team in major league history to capture a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four. A noted curveballer, McCullers finished up with 24 straight breaking pitches to earn his first major league save.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron JudgeGary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

"I know people are going to talk about how we didn't win many games on the road. There were some other teams that haven't won many games on the road, either. We just happened to run into a very good team that just beat us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

The Astros also eliminated New York in the 2015 postseason, with Keuchel winning the AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia entered 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double. He snapped an 0-for-20 skid with an RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night in a 7-1 win.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York went 1-6 on the road this postseason.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of "MVP" rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann's two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who lost to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS exactly 13 years earlier.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston's lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird's cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh.

With McCullers in charge, the Astros soon closed it out.

"It's not easy to get here. And I don't take any of this for granted. And this is what we play for," Verlander said. "These are the experiences that you remember at the end of your career when you look back, winning these games, just playing the World Series. Hopefully winning the World Series."