Red Sox

Moreland ready to take care of 'unfinished business' in new deal with Red Sox

Moreland ready to take care of 'unfinished business' in new deal with Red Sox

It’s the move before the move. It has to be.

Mitch Moreland’s quietly strong 2017 season led to a reunion with the Red Sox on Monday, when a two-year, $13 million deal through 2019 plus another potential $1 million in incentives became official.

"I was hoping so,” Moreland said of a return to Boston. “Going into the offseason, obviously had a few questions about it there at the end of the season, and I'll echo what I said then: I loved playing here, loved the guys — everything about it. We had a pretty successful year obviously, didn't finish the way we wanted. Looking forward to being back and maybe taking care of some unfinished business.”

The move gives the Red Sox a reliable first base option, although it does not give the fan base the news its been dying for to this point: the addition of a tremendous power hitter.

Likely, that addition is still to come, although it clearly won’t be at first base, where free agent Eric Hosmer is one of the top names on the market. 

“We still continue to feel that we have the opportunity to add someone else to our club from an offensive perspective that won’t be a first baseman, but we feel we have a DH, that between Hanley [Ramirez] and if I could find someone else, outfield spots, that would give us plenty of at-bats and opportunities for somebody to contribute in a full-time fashion,” Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “I don’t know if it will happen or not, but there are some names out there, people from a trade and free agent perspective that we’ll continue to talk to.”

The Red Sox did look elsewhere for a first baseman before going back to Moreland.

“We’ve stayed in contact with Mitch’s representative really all offseason,” Dombrowski said. “We liked the job that Mitch did for us last year. We knew he wanted to come back here. We wanted to explore some other options, which they were aware [of], and so we did that.”

The deal started to pickup steam Friday, per Dombrowski. Dombrowski suspected teams that missed out on Carlos Santana, who signed with the Phillies, jumped into the fray.

Dombrowski said he would be comfortable with the lineup as it is today, but that might just be his way of attempting to create a bit of leverage. Realistically, most everyone knows the Red Sox need another big bat.

“Yeah, I'd feel comfortable with it,” Dombrowski said of his lineup as currently constituted. “I do believe a lot of our people will be better internally than last year. We are looking to improve it … but yeah, I feel comfortable. I think you also have to combine offense with defense and I think we have a good defensive ball club. I think when people look at Mitch sometimes there are a couple guys out there that hit more home runs. (Guys who) from an offensive perspective, that people could think may be more appealing.

“But for us, we really like the all-around game that Mitch brings to us offensively and defensively. But yeah, I'd feel comfortable. We do have a variety of ways that we could go and explore different ways as we go forward. But I also think, at least right now, we're in a position that we could go forward as we are now.”

How exactly the Sox will use Moreland is to be determined. A share situation with Ramirez seems viable.

Moreland’s production in 2017, his first season in Boston, was better than expected. Now entering his age-32 season, Moreland hit .246 with 22 home runs, and set career-highs in games (149), doubles (34) and walks (57). He also did well in the postseason, going 5-for-13 against the Astros in the first round.

A fractured left toe slowed Moreland and messed up his mechanics for a time, but he played through pain and skipped the disabled list. Moreland said he had a minor procedure after the season to repair a small meniscus tear in his left knee.

“That was the most he ever played,” Dombrowski said of 2017. “He's really a gamer. He'll play all the time. He played injured. But I think you always have to be careful.”

Moreland’s incentives are built around time on the field. Moreland makes $6.5 million in each of 2018 and 2019, plus another potential $1 million in incentives, sources said. He can make up to $500,000 each year: if he reaches 500 plate appearances in either season, he gets $250,000, and he gets another $250,000 if he reaches 550 plate appearances.

A platoon situation would allow Moreland and Ramirez, who have both had health issues, to rest more than normal. It would also provide depth if one of them does wind up on the disabled list.

Ramirez’s contract is basically unmovable because of a $22 million vesting option that kicks in for 2019 if he has 497 plate appearances in 2018. The option calls for 1,050 plate appearances combined between 2017-18, plus passing a physical.

Dombrowski said he did not feel it would be necessary to move someone currently on the team to make an addition.

“There's a lot of things to be done in the industry between now and spring training and we'll keep abreast of what those things are and see if we can still help ourselves,” Dombrowski said.

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Mookie Betts hits 2 HRs to power Red Sox to 4-3 win over Blue Jays

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Mookie Betts hits 2 HRs to power Red Sox to 4-3 win over Blue Jays

TORONTO -- After six home runs in his last seven games, it seems Mookie Betts' isn't impressing his teammates anymore.

"We don't care about Mookie, we care about the Bruins," Hanley Ramirez joked in the locker room after Betts' latest offensive outburst helped the Boston Red Sox snap their season-high three-game losing streak with a 4-3 over the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

Betts homered twice and drove in three runs as the Red Sox improved to 6-1 in one-run games and got their 18th win of the season, tying the franchise record for victories before May 1.

While the Red Sox outfielder has reached base in each of his last 19 games against the Blue Jays, he said he feels he is starting to tap into the power side of his game.

"I think so. A lot of learning with the new hitting [coaches], and with [new teammate] J.D. [Martinez], just putting things together," he said. "Actually learning how to use my strength versus going off ability."

Betts got the Red Sox on the scoreboard with leadoff homer in the first -- his third such shot of the season and 14th of his career --over the left-field fence. He then put the Red Sox in front for good in the seventh, taking reliever Danny Barnes (1-1) deep over the right-field wall for his eighth homer of the season, a two-run shot that also drove in Brock Holt.

Alex Cora said it is games like this that has Betts keeping the very best of company in the major leagues.

"They're special," the Red Sox manager said. "The Trouts, the Altuves, the more at-bats they get the better you feel about it,"

Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez (3-0) gave up three runs and six hits in 6 2/3 innings, throwing a season-high 106 pitches.

One night after giving up a walk-off home run to Curtis Granderson, closer Craig Kimbrel worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his sixth save of the season.

Though Boston has now won all of Rodriguez's four starts this season, after the recent losing skid, the left-hander was more than happy to give credit to the guy who jump-started the offense.

"We needed something like that, somebody to get us in front and do it like he did it today," he said.

However, Yangervis Solarte wasn't handing out much credit after the game. The third baseman's sixth home run of the season into the second deck of left field in the sixth inning gave Toronto its only lead of the game at 3-2.

"I think [Rodriguez] got lucky a couple of times and we didn't take advantage of it," he said. "I think we made the adjustment a little bit. But I think he got lucky more than us getting beat."

Aaron Sanchez lasted six innings for the Blue Jays, giving up just three hits and two runs, while striking out a season-high eight.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: SS Xander Bogaerts might be in the Boston lineup Friday, but lost his chance for another rehab appearance with Triple-A Pawtucket's game rained out on Wednesday and the team off Thursday. Manager Alex Cora said Bogaerts would visit the doctor before making a determination on his availability. He has been out since fracturing his ankle on April 8.

Blue Jays: 3B Josh Donaldson should be ready to begin a rehab assignment later this week, according to manager John Gibbons. The former AL MVP has been out since April 10 with right shoulder inflammation. ... SS Troy Tulowitzki has been cleared to begin light baseball activities, according to a team spokesperson. Tulowitzki, currently on the 60-day DL after having bone spurs removed from both feet during spring training, will be monitored and re-evaluated after four weeks.

OUTRIGHT THIEVERY

With steals of both second and third base in the seventh inning by Andrew Benitendi, the Red Sox have now converted 20 of their last 20 stolen-base attempts against Toronto.

NOT O-K?

The Red Sox struck out 10 times and has now done so in each of their last four games, after reaching that mark just two in their first 19 contests.

HIGHLIGHT REEL

Just missing leading off the bottom of the first with a home run, Steve Pearce instead decided to make a play for second as the ball caromed off the left-field wall. But with left fielder Benitendi making a good, one-hop throw to second, only a nifty hook slide around the tag of Eduardo Nunez prevented the out.

A FOUR-GONE CONCLUSION?

Despite posting a 13-0 record when plating four or more runs, the Blue Jays dropped to 1-9 when scoring less than four.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: LHP Chris Sale (1-1, 1.86) takes the mound for the series finale looking to improve on his 4-1 record with a 0.96 ERA in seven appearances in Toronto.

Blue Jays: RHP Marco Estrada (2-1, 5.32) is looking for his first win against the Red Sox since June 5, 2016, after going 0-1 against them in four starts last season.

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Drellich: Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez control Blake Swihart's future

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Drellich: Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez control Blake Swihart's future

If the Red Sox really believed in Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon long term, would Blake Swihart still be here? 

Swihart is static. There’s an idea of what he can be someday, but he’s not presently growing as a bench player. Whether his future lies with the Red Sox, then, appears to depend entirely on others: Leon and Vazquez. At some point, one of the trio needs to be moved, be it during the season or in the winter at latest.

Less than a month into 2018, Swihart is getting even fewer opportunities than anticipated. Manager Alex Cora didn’t use Swihart in the field during blowouts to start the road trip: not behind the plate, not at third base, not in left field. Some at-bats at DH were Swihart’s pittance as the Red Sox trounced the Angels.

Cora’s going out of his way to get most everyone playing time, but Swihart’s mostly spectating.

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“We’re in such a good groove on the mound, and you don't want to break the rhythm,” Cora said in Anaheim. “It’s a tough one. It’s one I’m fighting on a daily basis, and I’m trying to keep the communication there. But as a player, as a utility guy back in the day, sometimes I had great days. Some days I didn't want to see the manager. I know that. If there's a day I look and he doesn’t want to talk to me, I understand. I’ve been in his shoes before.”

Now, Cora doesn’t control the roster, Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski does. And the roster overall is doing just fine with Swihart in limited use. But there must be some sort of plan if Swihart’s going to continue in this non-role for an entire season. There has to be a pay-off for the Red Sox, considering Swihart’s trade value isn’t getting any better. What else could the Sox be thinking about, aside from uncertainty in Vazquez and Leon? (Simply hoping and praying for a better trade offer for Swihart doesn't sound reasonable.)

“I’m fighting the situation, but it’s not like we’re feeling sorry,” Cora said. “He’s part of this group and he’s important. There’s more that comes into the equation and he knows that, the way the game goes he has to be ready. A pinch-hit appearance, to run. … He has to stay sharp. He’s playing for the Boston Red Sox and he’s a part of this team.”

For now. Another five months this way sounds crazy. But maybe that’s what the Sox need to make up their minds.

Again, the evaluation at this point isn’t about Swihart. You can’t evaluate a player who is not playing. But the Sox know he has upside. The choice centers on Leon and Vazquez, whose receiving skills are lauded and appreciated by the pitching staff, but whose bats may be too weak to justify their tandem beyond this year. Or for even the length of this year. 

The Sox’ .439 OPS from their backstops was the worst in the majors entering Wednesday. They were hitting a combined .179.

Cora on WEEI’s Dale and Keefe on Wednesday that the Sox are not considering Swihart behind the plate, as of now. The Sox offense may be able to power them through 2018 without Leon or Vazquez hitting well. Perhaps with Craig Kimbrel and Drew Pomeranz looking at free agency (and at least the potential for David Price to opt out), the Sox feel 2019 is a time they could more easily work in Swihart and live with presumed growing pains behind the plate.

Cora says Swihart has handled everything well.

“Excellent,” Cora said. “Some guys, there are guys who can suck the air out of the clubhouse because of their situation, but he's the other way around. He’s catching bullpens and taking ground balls at second. … He’s showing up early. You have to give him credit, because it’s not easy.”

Credit is nice. An opportunity is what he needs. Swihart cannot earn one on his own unless one of the two catchers in front of him gets hurt or squanders his own.

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