Red Sox

Avoiding arbitration with all players gives Red Sox cost certainty

Avoiding arbitration with all players gives Red Sox cost certainty

BOSTON — Besides avoiding the overstated acrimony and understated hassle of an arbitration hearing, the Red Sox on Friday arrived in a potentially helpful position for the rest of their offseason.

They know where they stand in terms of financial commitments as they pursue relief pitchers.

By settling on a salary with all their arbitration-eligible players, the Sox have cost certainty. Unlike this time last year, there’s no situation to prepare for where Mookie Betts could make one of two of dollar figures in 2019, several millions apart — the scenario the Sox faced with their star right fielder (and to a lesser extent anyone else) had they no reached an agreement.

Betts, the reigning American League MVP, will in fact make $20 million in 2019, a record for a player arbitration-eligible for the second time. 

But by settling on a figure with all twelve players — a few were already handled earlier this offseason, leaving nine to be made official on Friday — the Sox also know how much daylight they have, roughly, between their current payroll and the highest luxury tax threshold of $246 million.

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While no public estimate is ever exactly accurate, Cot’s Contracts pegs the Sox at being at roughly $238 million for luxury tax purposes in 2017. The salaries the Sox settled on Friday keep that number in line, going by the Cot’s estimate. (Average annual value is what matters in luxury tax calculations, not the actual salary that year.)

Is it the end of the world if the Sox surpass the highest luxury tax again in 2019, as they did in 2018? No. It might even be likely, given the state of their bullpen. But whatever the case ends up being, any negotiation they undertake from here on out is a little easier for them because there’s no surprises waiting on an arbitration case yet to be settled

The optics of avoiding any hearings are good for the Sox.

There was a little hubbub in the fan and media sphere last year when the Sox and Betts went to an arbitration hearing. The notion was that the Red Sox — who have long a track record of almost always settling with a player before a hearing — were essentially angering their best talent needlessly.

In reality, the Sox were playing along with the system. Betts won his case, life went on. Going to a hearing again this year — two years in a row — probably would have been gratuitous, though, particularly after Betts not only won an MVP award, but the Sox also won the World Series.

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Chris Sale appears poised to make his real 2019 debut, and Alex Cora called it

Chris Sale appears poised to make his real 2019 debut, and Alex Cora called it

When it comes to Monday's start against the Tigers (weather permitting), you're either with Chris Sale or Alex Cora.

Sign me up for Team Cora.

Let's explain: Last week in New York, Sale lost his fourth straight outing to open the season. This one differed from its predecessors in that Sale routinely hit 97 mph and featured better action on his slider. Command remained an issue, however, and the Yankees teed off for seven mostly loud hits and four runs in five innings, including a homer by Clint Frazier, in an 8-0 victory over the Red Sox.

Afterwards, you could choose from two options. Cora took the long view. Sale threw hard and rediscovered most of his arsenal. We'd be seeing the perennial Cy Young candidate real soon.

"I'm not going to be surprised if his next outing he's right where we need him to be," Cora said after the whitewashing. "Stuff-wise, compare it to the first three -- the velocity was there, the slider was a lot better, he's very close to the quote-unquote real Chris Sale."

Then there was the Sale approach of self-flagellation.

"It sucks!" he said. "I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I just flat-out stink right now. I don't know what it is. When you're going good, it's good. When you're going bad, it's pretty bad. You know, show up tomorrow, put on the shoes and get back after it."

Did he share his manager's confidence in a quick turnaround?

"We better (expletive) hope so," he declared.

So which is it? Cora's optimism or Sale's fatalism?

There was simply more to feel good about than bad last Tuesday, no matter the final numbers. The Sale who struggled to throw 89 mph fastballs in Oakland -- thanks to illness, we now know -- had us worried about the health of his shoulder. He finished last year injured and then started this one throwing like Frank Tanana. Not good, especially in light of a five-year, $145 million extension. His transformation from machine-gunner to tactician was at least supposed to wait until the new deal actually kicked in next year.

Sale didn't exhibit those same underlying physical issues on Tuesday, though. He threw 23 fastballs of at least 95 mph and six times topped 97. Per Baseball Savant, he hadn't thrown a single 95-mph fastball all season.

The problem was location and the Yankees unloaded, ripping seven balls with exit velocities of at least 100 mph. Five of them went for hits, including Frazier's homer, which came on a hanging changeup. Sale also hung a slider to Mike Tauchman, who bounced a double into the right field corner.

New York's other five hits came on fastballs. As a means of comparison, Sale allowed an average exit velocity of only 84.7 mph last year, which ranked fifth among starters.

"Need to get results," Sale said on Tuesday. "Doesn't matter how hard you throw or how fancy, you need to throw up zeroes."

While that's true, we need to see Sale's starts in context. Last week's was the first that featured something approximating his healthy arsenal. Given his track record -- six straight top-five finishes in the Cy Young voting, three straight All-Star Game starts -- it's fair to assume that if he continues throwing that hard with that much movement on his slider, he'll look like Chris Sale again sooner than later.

Let's also not underestimate the value of his other attributes, like competitiveness, mental toughness, and tenacity. A  1-0 loss to Oakland showed that he can still record outs while barely breaking 90 mph, because he knows how to pitch.

Cora is betting on it all coming together in his next start. A snarling Sale refuses to make any assumptions, because that's not how he's wired.

The manager is paid to see the big picture, though, and in this case I'm with him -- it may have taken a month, but don't be surprised if the real Chris Sale finally makes his 2019 debut this week.

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J.D. Martinez's strong start to 2019 season just hit a historic level

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J.D. Martinez's strong start to 2019 season just hit a historic level

Amid the Boston Red Sox's inconsistent start to the 2019 season, there's been one constant: J.D. Martinez getting on base.

The Red Sox designated hitter leads the club in batting average (.350), on-base percentage (.441) and OPS (1.003) through 22 games played. But here's Martinez's most impressive stat: He's reached base via a hit or walk in every game this season.

That puts the veteran slugger in some elite company.

Martinez's streak is one we haven't seen since 2001, when Manny Ramirez reached base in Boston's first 24 games. What makes Martinez's run even more impressive: He's recorded a hit in 21 of those 22 games, joining another shortlist in Red Sox franchise history.

Martinez currently is riding an American League-best 11-game hitting streak and actually passed Carl Reynolds on that list above after going 1-for-5 on Sunday.

The 31-year-old is coming off the best hitting season of his career in 2018 and has been a constant source of productivity since coming to Boston before the 2018 season. It appears he shows no signs of slowing down.

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