Red Sox

Drellich: Red Sox luxury-tax approach looks bad with paltry offense

Drellich: Red Sox luxury-tax approach looks bad with paltry offense

HOUSTON — Has it been worth staying under the luxury tax for Red Sox ownership? Is a first-round embarrassment worth it?

It's strange the Red Sox never came out and had the courage to say it directly: this is what we’re doing. We are staying under the luxury tax threshold, our weak offense without David Ortiz be damned.

You can draw a direct line from the imminent downfall of the 2017 Sox to saving money.

Hitting isn’t all that’s off right now. Through two games of the American League Division Series, every Sox problem can be dismissed with another complaint.

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Sure, the lineup is full of National League featherweights. But with pitching like this, the Sox could never go anywhere anyway. Yeah, that baserunning continues to be frightening, but they’re never on base enough for it to matter, so that’s dumb to focus on. No, Angel Hernandez’s strike zone didn’t help in the early going Friday. But when you’re playing the Superhuman Astros, you think the umpire is really going to swing things?

“They've done everything right and we haven't done anything right,” Dustin Pedroia said Friday.

That about sums it up.

But if you want the chicken-and-the-egg discussion, the Sox’ biggest issue is easy to identify. The Astros’ greatest strength, hitting, is the Sox’ weakness. 

"We can’t go out and bang like them and can’t do a lot of things they can do," Mookie Betts said Friday. "But we can do what we can do."

He needed help. This whole lineup did. Dating to last October, everyone figured a slugger was coming to Boston in Big Papi's place: Edwin Encarnacion, specifically.

The Sox went after Chris Sale instead. Not a bad choice. 

But they could have done both. "Instead" didn't have to be an operative word. 

They could have gotten creative and found a way to make Encarnacion’s salary work under the luxury tax threshold, if they were so concerned about staying under. 

And ownership was concerned about staying under. Executives have talked about the benefits of it. But the Sox have never said, "We’re doing this, it is our goal to stay under." They always tried to leave the door to flexibility open.

Why? Why not be direct with your fan base, with the players’ union? Is there something shameful in not spending? With a team this good, maybe.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman didn’t dance around the matter in a recent interview with the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. 

“We are getting under the threshold next year,” Cashman said.

In a sense, the Sox' 2017 offense — the 2017 season — came down to money. It came down to the Sox' preference to avoid the penalties involved with exceeding the luxury tax three straight years. 

Most people, the Sox’ own management included, didn’t expect the kind of offensive drop-off the Sox wound up having. 

But they were dealing with young players who had breakout seasons in 2016 who did not have lengthy track records previously. It’s not stunning Mookie Betts didn’t push Mike Trout in the MVP race again. It’s not stunning Xander Bogaerts had his struggles, or Jackie Bradley Jr. That all of them would have a drop-off is harder to plan for.

But the Sox had the trade deadline to react. The thinking then was the same as it was last winter: stay under that luxury tax threshold. 

Now, it’s not only money that’s at play when you exceed the threshold for multiple years. As explained previously:

The tax for spending more than $195 million this season would be 50 percent for the Red Sox on anything up to $20 million more. In dollars and cents for very wealthy owners, that’s not extreme, although it would commit the Red Sox to the same level of penalties next season.

The steeper penalties come in for teams that really blow past the threshold. In excess of $20 million, you get hit hard; and then one more tier, in excess of $40 million, you get hit the hardest.

If the Sox went above by any amount this year, their offseason could indeed be trickier —  but they wouldn't be destroyed with penalties. 

To sign a player who received a qualifying offer this winter, the Sox would have to give up their second and fifth highest draft selections, and also would see their international signing bonus money reduced by $1 million. If they stay under the threshold, the Sox would give up less to sign the same player.

Similarly, if the Sox lose a qualifying-offer player to another team, they don’t get as high a draft pick in return as they would if they were under the threshold. (Chris Young and Mitch Moreland probably aren't getting qualifying offers, though.)

In short: going over the threshold by $20 million or less doesn't bring the hammer down.

There are worthy reasons to stay under the threshold. But there are also reasons to stay over. And if you're going to stay under, at least get creative enough to cover up for the lack of spending. 

The Sox' greatest stumble this year might have been over a pile of cash.

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Khris Davis homers off Price in 8th, A's top Red Sox

Khris Davis homers off Price in 8th, A's top Red Sox

Khris Davis hit a tiebreaking, three-run homer off David Price with two outs in the eighth inning and the Oakland Athletics beat the Boston Red Sox 4-1 on Sunday.

A day after getting no-hit by Sean Manaea, Boston lost back-to-back games for the first time under new manager Alex Cora.

The Red Sox had won their first six series this season before dropping two of three at the Coliseum. They still have the best record in the majors at 17-4.

Davis had two hits and drove in all four runs for the A's. Marcus Semien and Stephen Piscotty added two hits apiece as Oakland won for the sixth time in seven games.

Semien and Piscotty hit back-to-back singles off Price (2-2) with one out in the eighth. After Jed Lowrie struck out for the third time, Davis lined the first pitch into the seats in left field for his sixth home run.

Davis also had an RBI single off Price in the first.

Price allowed nine hits and four runs over 7 2/3 innings. He struck out six and walked one.

Coming off Manaea's gem, the A's got another strong pitching performance against the hard-hitting Red Sox. Daniel Mengden gave up one run in 6 1/3 innings and Blake Treinen (1-1), Oakland's third reliever, retired five batters to win.

Treinen appeared to injure his left ankle while fielding Blake Swinhart's comebacker but remained in the game and got Christian Vazquez to fly out to end it.

Mitch Moreland had two hits and Brock Holt drove in Boston's lone run.

Mengden allowed a pair of first-inning singles, then retired 16 of 17 before yielding back-to-back hits in the seventh. He left after giving up Holt's tying RBI double in the seventh.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: LHP Bobby Poyner was activated off the disabled list and optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket. He had been out with a left hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: RHP Rick Porcello (4-0, 1.40) pitches the opener of a three-game series in Toronto on Tuesday. He has thrown 13 consecutive scoreless innings over his previous two starts.

Athletics: RHP Trevor Cahill (1-0, 0.00) makes his second start of the season Monday at Texas. It's the first time this season that the A's will leave the West Coast.

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Red Sox fall victim to no-hitter for first time since 1993

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AP Photo

Red Sox fall victim to no-hitter for first time since 1993

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Sean Manaea might've been the only person at the Oakland Coliseum who didn't realize he was still working on a no-hitter.

After a dropped popup in the fifth inning, the Athletics lefty figured it was over.

"I didn't even think about it until I looked up in the seventh or eighth," Manaea said, "and I was like, `Oh my God, why is there still a zero on there?'"

Because it was ruled an error. And his shot at history remained intact.

Manaea pitched the first no-hitter against Boston in almost exactly 25 years, with an overturned call on the bases preserving the gem Saturday night in Oakland's 3-0 win over the sizzling Red Sox.

Manaea struck out 10, walked two and threw 108 pitches to finish off Oakland's first no-no since Dallas Braden tossed a perfect game against Tampa Bay in 2010.

Manaea got Hanley Ramirez to ground out to complete the first no-hitter versus the Red Sox since Seattle's Chris Bosio did it on April 22, 1993.

"I just telling myself, keep everything the same, and not let anything get too big for me," Manaea said.

Boston looked as if it had a hit with two outs in the sixth at the Oakland Coliseum. Andrew Benintendi hit a grounder to the right side, tried to dodge a tag by first baseman Matt Olson and was called safe.

After the umpires conferred, Benintendi was ruled out for going wide of the baseline. Benintendi ran onto the grass in foul territory to get around Olson.

"Do I agree with it? No," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. "It is what it is."

Said Benintendi: "It's just a missed call."

Sandy Leon reached in the Red Sox fifth when A's shortstop Marcus Semien ranged into shallow center field and dropped a popup trying to make an over-the-shoulder catch. The play was scored as an error.

Manaea said he figured it was a hit. A few innings later, he noticed what everybody else already knew -- no-hitter in progress.

"So after that, my adrenaline started pumping a little bit again, and I really wanted to finish this thing out," he said.

Manaea (3-2) had been battered by Boston in three previous starts, going 1-2 with a 13.50 ERA.

But the 26-year-old cooled off a Red Sox team that had won eight in a row and 17 of 18. Boston began the game with a major league-best .293 batting average.

Manaea retired 14 straight batters after walking Mookie Betts leading off the game.

A lot of Red Sox fans were in the announced crowd of 25,746, and many rose to their feet when Manaea took the mound in the ninth.

Betts hit a ball to the warning track with one out in the ninth. After Benintendi walked with two outs on a full count, Ramirez hit a grounder to Semien for an easy force play at second.

"My heart was beating out of my chest and I was trying to do everything I could (to stay calm)," Manaea said before he was interrupted by teammates who smeared celebratory shaving cream in his face, dumped water and Gatorade on his head and left him with a plastic bubble gum tub for a hat.

It was the 12th no-hitter by the Athletics franchise and the 12th thrown against the Red Sox.

This was the first no-hitter in the majors since Miami's Edinson Volquez pitched the only one of the 2017 season against Arizona on June 3.

Chris Sale (1-1) struck out 10 and gave up three runs on six hits and one walk in seven innings.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: SS Xander Bogaerts (left ankle) will play for Triple-A Pawtucket on a rehab assignment on Tuesday and Wednesday. If all goes well he'll be activated when the team opens a six-game homestand on Friday, Cora said. . RHP Steven Wright (left knee surgery) left a rehab game at Triple-A Pawtucket on Friday with back tightness. . RHP Tyler Thornburg (right shoulder surgery), who's at the team's extended spring training facility in Fort Myers, Florida, will join the team on Friday and could throw batting practice, Cora said.

Athletics: RHP Yusmeiro Petit was activated from the family emergency list on Saturday. . RHP Josh Lucas was sent to Triple-A Nashville in a corresponding move. . RHP Paul Blackburn (right forearm strain) threw on flat ground for a second straight day on Saturday, but the A's haven't established a timetable for his return, manager Bob Melvin said.

UP NEXT

LHP David Price (2-1, 2.25 ERA) will pitch for Boston in Sunday's series finale. RHP Daniel Mengden (2-2, 4.50) will pitch for Oakland.

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