Red Sox

Chaim Bloom's GM meetings to-do list downright exhausting as 2020 Red Sox begin taking shape

Chaim Bloom's GM meetings to-do list downright exhausting as 2020 Red Sox begin taking shape

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The GM meetings are usually pretty sleepy. There's lots of groundwork-laying and tire-kicking and temperature-taking and tea-leaf-reading and trial-ballooning as teams assess what moves might be available at next month's winter meetings.

But the Red Sox and new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom need to hit the ground at a brisk jog, because their offseason projects to be about as sleepy as Al Pacino in "Insomnia." And that makes this week's meetings at the Omni Resort more intriguing for Boston than any team in baseball.

The Red Sox could be in the market for, in no particular order: a right fielder, center fielder, first baseman, second baseman, closer, starter, depth starter, swing starter, break-glass-in-case-of-emergency starter, and however many relievers they can afford with what's left.

That's a hellacious to-do list, especially since item No. 1 will come into play if defending MVP (we can still call him that for a couple of more days) Mookie Betts is traded to ease a payroll crunch that's been exacerbated by the $79 million the Red Sox will pay question-mark starters Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi. Speaking of which, the Red Sox probably wouldn't mind trading one of them.

Bloom couldn't deal Betts this early in the offseason even if he wanted to, because it would require a willing partner, and see paragraph No. 1 for insight into how most teams approach November. But that doesn't mean he can't make some moves around the margins they might nonetheless pay dividends in 2020.

The biggest area of need that can be addressed immediately is the starting rotation. The Red Sox might need to open the season with 10 viable starting options in the organization (including whoever piggybacks with an opener), and that's no exaggeration. Last season, injuries to Sale, Price, and Eovaldi forced a combined 36 starts from Hector Velazquez, Brian Johnson, Andrew Cashner, Jhoulys Chacin, Ryan Weber, Travis Lakins, Josh Smith, Josh Taylor, Darwinzon Hernandez, and Bobby Poyner. That group went 3-15 with an ERA that was . . . very bad (6.79, to be exact).

The Red Sox need to fill one actual hole in the rotation with a replacement for free agent Rick Porcello, who could return at a reduced salary, though moving on from a man who has posted a 4.79 ERA since winning the 2016 Cy Young Award probably makes sense. They then will need enough depth to account for any possible injuries to Sale, Price, and Eovaldi, two of whom underwent surgery last season and one of whom (Sale) still might.

That could mean taking a flyer on someone like former Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff, a former well-regarded prospect who just became a free agent after refusing to be outrighted to the minors. Injuries have limited him to only 11 starts over the last two years, but he's only three years removed from winning 11 games and throwing nearly 200 innings while posting a 3.65 ERA.

That's the kind of player the Red Sox will be in the market for, thanks to their self-imposed payroll limitations. Bloom helped unearth gems in Tampa over the last three years, and the Red Sox hired him to do the same here.

With free agents Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce gone, a first baseman will be on the agenda, too. While the team could go internal with some combination of Michael Chavis and Bobby Dalbec, there should be no shortage of first basemen available on the market, including 25-homer Brewers slugger Marcus Thames and National postseason hero Howie Kendrick.

As for bullpen, the Red Sox have already made one move, signing former White Sox left-hander Josh Osich. There will undoubtedly be more like him to follow as the Red Sox look to upgrade beyond top four relievers Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, Josh Taylor, and Darwinzon Hernandez.

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Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

The lawsuit against Major League Baseball filed by daily fantasy game players, who claimed to be defrauded by the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, has been dismissed, but not without harsh criticism of the teams by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in his ruling blasted the Red Sox and Astros for "shamelessly" breaking both baseball's rules and "the hearts of all true baseball fans."

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In throwing out the suit brought by five daily fantasy players, Rakoff invoked the New England Patriots "Spygate" scandal from 2007, agreeing with MLB lawyers' contention that rulings in similar suits brought by fans against the NFL after the Patriots were caught illegally taping opponents' defensive signals had set a legal precedent for this suit to be dismissed. 

While the suit charged that the Red Sox and Astros had engaged in consumer fraud that created "corrupt" and "dishonest" fantasy contest for companies such as Draft Kings, Rakoff agreed with previous decisions in the NFL cases that ruled fans should know teams will look for any advantage - even "foul deeds" - to try and win.

From Rakoff's ruling: 

[D]id the initial efforts of those teams, and supposedly of Major League Baseball itself, to conceal these foul deeds from the simple sports bettors who wagered on fantasy baseball create a cognizable legal claim? On the allegations here made, the answer is no.

The Astros' sign-stealing scheme led MLB to fine the team $5 million and the one-year suspensions and subsequent firings of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. The Red Sox then parted ways with manager Alex Cora, who, according to MLB's findings, was the mastermind of the scheme as Houston's bench coach in 2017. 

That team won the World Series, as did the 2018 Red Sox, who are accused of using a similar system to steal signs under Cora.

MLB has yet to release a report on the Red Sox allegations. Commissioner Rob Manfred said it has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic but will be released before MLB begins its 2020 season. In comments last month in court an MLB lawyer seem to imply the Red Sox are aware of Manfred's findings and that they disagree with them.



Say hello to Arizona Red Sox? How MLB's Cactus League could save 2020 season

Say hello to Arizona Red Sox? How MLB's Cactus League could save 2020 season

Nothing says Red Sox home game like iguanas, scorpions, and cacti, but these are desperate times.

Barring millions of instant tests or a miracle cure, COVID-19 will just be a fact of our pent-up, penned-in lives for the foreseeable future.

This makes embarking on the baseball season problematic, since one infection would theoretically sideline an entire team for two weeks, and good luck staying virus-free while flying all over the country. Visiting hot spots would not only increase a player's risk of illness, it would also up the odds of one becoming a vector himself, which is bad for the brand, not to mention public health.

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But what if baseball could maintain some control over its players' whereabouts while limiting travel to a fleet of buses? Could a season happen under these tightly managed circumstances? And if so, where?

It may be a long shot, but the more one considers the alternatives, the more it sounds like the best hope we've got is for MLB to hold its entire season in Arizona.

The logistics are nightmarish regardless, but in a situation this unprecedented, the fewer variables the better. And MLB won't find a higher concentration of acceptable facilities than in the 48th state.

The Cactus League features 10 ballparks that host 15 teams in two months of spring training. Unlike the far-flung Grapefruit League, with teams scattered across Florida's east and west coasts, the Arizona sites are compact.

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Parks stretch from Mesa in the southeast to Surprise in the northwest, a drive of only 45 minutes. Everything else lies in between, a constellation of moons tightly orbiting Phoenix.

Decamping to the desert for the duration would eliminate air travel and give the league a chance to closely monitor its players. The challenge is Herculean: hosting roughly 800 players, plus at least that many coaches, staff, families, umpires, and broadcasters without anyone contracting the world's most contagious virus, against which we possess zero natural immunity.

Players would need to be quarantined in league-controlled hotels, tested constantly, and shuttled to and from the park. For such a plan to work, they'd have to sacrifice their most basic freedoms of movement, because a single failed test would grind the season to a halt while at least one team spends two weeks in isolation, potentially triggering a cascade of shutdowns, too (the mere possibility of which prompted the NBA to suspend its season, after all).

Convincing the union to sign off on such draconian restrictions won't be easy, but the alternative may very well be no baseball.

The games would be made-for-TV events without fans. If each ballpark hosted one or two games a day, a regular schedule could be played.

The challenges would be enormous. Do three teams share one clubhouse? Could ballpark and hotel staff be expected to live in isolation as well to avoid infection? How long could players live like prisoners? Will testing capacity ramp up enough to accommodate an entire league? Are the results even reliable? And how would teams keep their facilities germ-free if they're in use all day?

Politics matter, too. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey only belatedly ordered a stay-at-home order on Monday, and it has drawn criticism from the state's mayors as one of America's weakest, with exceptions for "essential" services like golf courses, nail salons, and hotels. If Arizona experiences an outbreak, then this little thought experiment dies on the vine. The same goes for extending the order past its current April 30 expiration and into the summer.

But we're here to ponder best-case scenarios, not fill your heads with more unrelenting negativity. And though the task would be monumental, if there's to be a baseball season, our best bet might be to play it in the desert.