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.

Granderson's 10th-inning homer lifts Blue Jays over Red Sox, 4-3

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Granderson's 10th-inning homer lifts Blue Jays over Red Sox, 4-3

TORONTO -- With one big throw, and an even bigger swing, Curtis Granderson gave a somber city reason to smile.

Granderson threw out the potential go-ahead run at the plate in the top of the ninth inning, then hit a walk-off homer in the 10th to give the Toronto Blue Jays a 4-3 win over Boston on Tuesday night and hand the Red Sox their season-worst third straight defeat.

It was the first game for the Blue Jays following Monday's deadly van attack in Toronto that killed 10 people and injured 14.

"The city's hurting," left-hander J.A. Happ said. "This was a meaningful win."

Boston (17-5) still owns the best record in the majors.

Granderon's his third home run of the season came on a 2-0 pitch from Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel (0-1), a towering solo blast off the facing of the third deck in right field. Granderson went 3 for 5 with three RBIs.

"Trying to just do anything I can to help the team win," said Granderson, who entered 0 for 5 with three strikeouts in his career against Kimbrel.

Kimbrel allowed his first earned run of the season and suffered his first blown save since Aug. 1, 2017, against Cleveland. The loss was Kimbrel's first since Oct. 1, 2016, against Toronto.

"You fall behind anybody, it's no good," Kimbrel said. "I threw a ball in there to get back in the count and it was game over."

Tyler Clippard (3-0) worked a scoreless 10th for the win as Toronto snapped a seven-game home losing streak against the Red Sox.

Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna was handed a 3-1 lead in the ninth but allowed the Red Sox to tie it, his first blown save in seven chances.

"It's a big game for us," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "If you don't win that one, that's a kick in the teeth."

Hanley Ramirez singled to begin the ninth, went to third on a one-out hit by Rafael Devers and scored on Eduardo Nunez's single to right. It was the first run off Osuna this season.

Jackie Bradley Jr. struck out and Nunez stole second before Christian Vazquez walked to load the bases for Brock Holt, who scored Devers with an RBI single to left. Left fielder Granderson threw out Nunez at the plate to prevent Boston from taking the lead.

"You have to challenge Granderson," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. "You've been challenging Granderson for more than five years. He made a perfect throw and threw him out."

Happ struck out a season-high 10 over seven innings. He walked none and allowed four hits and one run in his longest outing of the season.

Boston's Rick Porcello allowed three runs and three hits in seven innings. Porcello walked three, two more than he'd walked in his previous four starts combined, and struck out a season-high nine, including five straight in the third and fourth.

"Those two guys, that was a pitching clinic," Cora said. "Happ was tremendous."

Porcello extended his scoreless innings streak to 14 by pitching around a one-out walk in the first but couldn't escape the second. One run scored on Kevin Pillar's fielder's choice, and Granderson added a two-run single that bounced off Devers' glove and rolled into shallow left field.

Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and is 0 for 11 with eight strikeouts over his past three games.

Boston finished with a season-worst 14 strikeouts. The Red Sox have fanned 10 or more times in three straight.


Red Sox: SS Xander Bogaerts (left ankle) went 2 for 3 with an RBI in a six-inning stint with Triple-A Pawtucket, and remains on track to rejoin the Red Sox on Friday.

Blue Jays: 3B Josh Donaldson (right shoulder) could begin a minor league rehab assignment later this week, Gibbons said.


Before the game, the Blue Jays honored the victims of Monday's deadly attack and some of the first responders who rushed to the scene. Players from both teams stood in front of the dugouts as four Toronto police officers and two paramedics stood between second base and the pitcher's mound and were introduced to cheering fans. Following a video message and a moment of silence, a group of high school students sang the national anthems.

Blue Jays pitcher Marco Estrada greeted the first responders as they left the field

A blue banner reading "(hash)TORONTOSTRONG" was hung from the second deck in center field, and similar signs were hung on the wall behind home plate. The same message was also printed in white on the back of the mound.


Two-time Gold Glove winner Mookie Betts made a diving, backhanded catch to retire Teoscar Hernandez in the fifth.


Red Sox: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (2-0, 3.45) is 1-3 with a 5.67 ERA in eight career games against Toronto.

Blue Jays: RHP Aaron Sanchez (1-2, 3.86) will face his fourth AL East opponent in five starts when he takes the mound Wednesday. Sanchez has faced New York twice and Baltimore once.


Dana LeVangie's Red Sox pitchers dominating with individualized approach

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Dana LeVangie's Red Sox pitchers dominating with individualized approach

As Red Sox hitters swing earlier in counts, there doesn’t appear to be a comparable, broad change in philosophy on the pitching side. Their arms are doing just fine with personalized alterations (which, to be fair, have always been in place for hitters too). 

In his first year as pitching coach, Dana LeVangie presides over a staff that carried the third-best ERA in the majors entering Tuesday, 2.75.

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Rick Porcello’s throwing his changeup from a lowered arm slot while commanding both his sinker and his four-seam fastball better than last year, to great effect. 

Heath Hembree is throwing his slider lower than he has before, per's figures, and he’s getting more whiffs per swing on it than he has before, 43.75 percent. LeVangie noted that sliders with depth may be more effective than those with stronger lateral movement. 

Eduardo Rodriguez is healthy and he gained a much better feel for his changeup ahead of his most recent start. The list goes on.

“We just hammer in on guys attacking to their strengths and dominating to their strengths and dominating each pitch they throw,” said LeVangie, who was born in Brockton and has spent all 28 years of his pro baseball career with the Red Sox. “Everyone’s going to have failure at times, and we’re not going to panic because a guy doesn’t have success one day. We feel like every guy out in that bullpen has the ability to get outs, even later in the game. We trust. We trust guys. And that’s what it’s all about.”

Some Sox velocities have been down to begin the year, but LeVangie indicated no alarm. Chris Sale is sitting at 93 mph this season, although that includes one start in weather Sale said was the worst he had pitched in. He averaged 95 mph in April 2017, and he sat at 95 in his most recent start.

“I think he sees the big picture,” LeVangie said of Sale. “That he can still compete in April, not showing 97 consistently, and maybe that lasts to the end of the season.

“He controls his throwing program really well. He’s not a big thrower in bullpens. … Doesn’t overthrow. Takes days off, days after he pitches. Goes about it the right way.”

Craig Kimbrel, who missed most of spring training, never had a month averaging below 98 mph in 2017 and sits at 96 mph now. Not that it’s hurt his effectiveness: he hasn’t allowed an earned run and has 10 strikeouts in eight innings.

"Yeah I mean, I think you can look at a lot of our guys, you know velocities might be down a little bit,” LeVangie said when asked about David Price, who’s sitting at 93 mph, down a full tick. “But you know, maybe a month or two from now, when they start getting into [summer], things will increase. Craig’s velocity is down. I mean, in a matter of month or so it’s going to be back where it needs to be. David’s just in a really good spot right now.”

Elevated from bullpen coach to pitching coach as the Sox transitioned from John Farrell to Alex Cora, LeVangie said he does all the same things that he used to. The 48-year-old’s placement during the game is naturally different, and he’s generally communicating a little more with the starters than he had before — more often in group settings rather than one on one.

Both he and Cora are filling their respective roles for the first time in the majors. Their frequency of communication in-game, a matter of preference where there’s no right or wrong choice, is better described as intermittent than nonstop.

“It’s leading up to a guy’s pitch count,” LeVangie said, “the match-ups that we feel are best. And we sort of go over it beforehand so we’re not caught off guard heading into it.”

As a staff holdover, LeVangie is better positioned than most to explain the difference for the 17-4 Sox compared to a year ago. As a group, the 2018 Sox have at times looked unstoppable. A focus on the players not as a unit, but as individuals — from everything from mechanics to long-term goals — seems a driving force behind what amounts to a group effort.

“Most everyone pulling in the same direction. Most everybody’s rooting for one another to have success,” LeVangie said. “There’s a lot of talk in the dugout during the game. There’s a lot of communication during, before, about individuals, and not just team. And there’s just a lot of guys buying in and we got a really good team.”

It’s unrealistic for everything to always be about the team and not the individual. Take Drew Pomeranz, for example. Cora and LeVangie both noted the importance of Pomeranz being extra careful returning from injury as an impending free agent. As important as Pomeranz is to the 2018 Sox, this season will have a ripple effect on the rest of his career earnings.

“It comes with patience,” LeVangie said of Pomeranz’s continued ability to return from forearm injuries. “Because Drew likes to compete and it was really important that, as a group, we talked about the patience that he needs to make sure that he’s going about this the right way. I mean, it’s his career. 

“Yeah, his success for us is really important. But also going into free agency, he’s got to go about this the right way. Him going about having patience and making sure he goes through the whole process was the right approach.”

It was the staff’s choice to be cautious and pull another lefty, Price, who had a circulation issue on a cold night against the Yankees. He couldn’t grip the ball. Theoretically, they could have forced Price to stay out there and eat innings, but that wouldn’t have been smart for anyone. 

The numbness Price felt is not something the Sox can definitively prevent in the future.

“That’s a hit or miss, because it doesn’t happen all the time. And it’s happened only twice,” LeVangie said. “Once in Detroit, once here. So it’s something that doesn’t come all the time, but you just never know. Our training staff does a tremendous job with every one of those guys. But they’re constantly communicating with those guys during the game, keeping ‘em hot, as hot as possible. Heat packs, rub downs during the game. Constant.”

One other example of the individual’s needs showing up? Kimbrel’s usage. Not using him in the eighth inning (and just the eighth inning) is in part an appeal to the importance of other relievers.

“Me personally, getting four outs, yeah,” LeVangie said when asked if Kimbrel could come in for the eighth. “To lead off the eighth? I want to believe and trust that our eighth-inning guys, our seventh-inning guys, can get those guys out. Because the longer we can trust those guys, it pays off big time down the stretch. Because we can’t win this thing by one guy. And I’m not sure how many relievers pitched in the eighth inning last year with Craig’s [stuff], who he is. Not too many. And it usually only happens maybe September or October when it does happen."

The eighth inning does present a different challenge than the ninth, LeVangie said.

“What’s the panic of the hitter in the eighth inning to the ninth inning? The eighth inning could be tougher," LeVangie said. "Those last three outs, guys have the willingness to expand the strike zone a little bit more because it’s on the line. The game’s not on the line at times in the eighth inning. The zone’s become a little bit more [tight] because they know they have a chance in the ninth. Koji [Uehara outside the ninth] had a tough time. Guys who live outside the strike zone, it’s a little bit tougher because they have three more outs to get.”

Kimbrel is so dominant, though, it’s hard to imagine him struggling because of an inning. Consider one other point, though: he’s on track to be one of the greatest of all-time. 

The righty is four saves shy of 300 for his career, with a 91.1 percent success rate (296 of 325 opportunities). Amongst pitchers with at least 300-plus saves, that mark would be tops. Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan own the highest save percentage at the moment, at 89.1.

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The Red Sox are paying attention to what matters to the individual. Like Pomeranz, Kimbrel is a free agent after the season. And saves matter to him.

"Oh yeah, no question, no question,” LeVangie said. “Craig wants to win a World Series, but he also wants to get in the Hall of Fame. And he’s going to get in the Hall of Fame. We just need to win a World Series for him."