Red Sox

Chaim Bloom's Rays pioneered the opener — could it be a regular sight for Red Sox in 2020?

Chaim Bloom's Rays pioneered the opener — could it be a regular sight for Red Sox in 2020?

Baseball purists shudder at the mere mention of the "The Opener," the concept of using a reliever for an inning or two before handing the ball off to the rest of the bullpen. It was pioneered by the Tampa Bay Rays during the tenure of new Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, and to great success.

Of the 14 pitchers to make a start for the Rays last year, 11 of them also pitched in relief. All-Star Charlie Morton, defending Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, and breakout candidate Tyler Glasnow were the only Rays used exclusively as starters.

The results have produced some statistical oddities. Former Red Sox farmhand Jalen Beeks pitched over 100 innings despite making only three starts last year, right-hander Ryan Yarbrough has more wins (27) than starts (20) over the last two seasons, and right-hander Ryan Stanek accounted for only two decisions despite making 27 starts in 2019. But there's no arguing the bottom line, with Tampa cracking 90 wins in each of the last two seasons.

With Bloom taking over in Boston, a natural question is if we should expect to see more openers. He's not going there, yet, though he may not have a choice.

"We said it with the Rays, and I and a number of other people are on record about that," he said. "It was always about just trying to figure out how you could take the strengths of the players on your roster and go win as many baseball games as you could. Nothing more, nothing less. In this game now, the more this game evolves, teams are being open to a larger menu of options of how to do that. But there's not necessarily any one right way. It's really just about going into it with a mindset of using everyone's strengths whichever way is going to give you the best chance to win."

The Red Sox belatedly joined the opener bandwagon last season out of necessity. By September, injuries had shelved David Price and Chris Sale and limited Nathan Eovaldi. The only healthy starters on the roster were Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello, necessitating September starts from the likes of Jhoulys Chacin, Travis Lakins, and Bobby Poyner.

In a perfect world, Sale, Price, and Eovaldi will each make 30-plus starts in 2020, but that's a big ask, given the various injuries they battled in 2019. Which means we might be looking another season of openers as the Red Sox piece together a rotation.

The concept has merit, especially if your staff is deep enough to pull it off, which Boston's decidedly was not last year. Let a reliever trained to deliver 1-2-3 innings handle the top of the order before yielding to a more traditional starter or long reliever for multiple frames. This increases the likelihood that if the pitcher after the opener turns over the lineup a dreaded third time, he'll be seeing the bottom of the order and not the top.

The approach turned the game on its head — Tampa's Sergio Romo memorably followed 588 straight relief appearances with starts on consecutive days in 2018 — but it also maximized Tampa's chances to win, especially when Snell and Glasnow landed on the IL last season.

The Red Sox could find themselves with more openers in 2020 if the rotation can't stay healthy.

"I don't know yet," Bloom said. "This is something as we talk and work together, we're going to figure out the best way to think about things. Certainly, when we played our last homestand with the Rays, we played the Red Sox and there were a lot of bullpen games and a lot of pitchers being used on both sides. There were a lot of different ways that this team had been doing it. I don't necessarily think it would be anything new to think about that. But it's really just going to come out of our collective discussions."

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MLB rumors: Latest Red Sox asking price for a Mookie Betts trade revealed

MLB rumors: Latest Red Sox asking price for a Mookie Betts trade revealed

Mookie Betts' future with the Boston Red Sox beyond 2020 remains uncertain, and if another team wants to make a trade for the former American League MVP, it's going to cost quite a bit.

The Red Sox are in an interesting spot with Betts. He's a five-tool player with incredible offensive talents and plays Gold Glove-level defense in the outfield. However, if it looks like he's going to test free agency after next season, exploring a trade makes sense. Allowing a player of Betts' caliber to leave as an unrestricted free agent and get nothing of value in return would be a huge setback for the Red Sox.

The asking price the Red Sox currently have for Betts doesn't just involve getting quality talent in return, it also includes a team taking starting pitcher David Price's contract, according to ESPN's Buster Olney (subscription required).

Boston has indicated to other teams, according to sources, that any team that lands Betts will also have to take David Price (or Nathan Eovaldi presumably), with either most or all of the money owed to Price, $96 million. 

Olney also added Boston is "asking for two high-end prospects to front the deal."

It makes sense for Boston to find a taker for Price's contract. Price is still a quality pitcher, but he's no longer a $30-plus million type of starter, and getting rid of his salary would allow the Sox to invest in younger talent. He's also started more than 22 games just once over the last three years, which isn't the most ideal trend for a 34-year-old pitcher who's played more than 10 major league seasons.

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said in a press conference Wednesday that Betts being on the Opening Day roster has "really been my expectation all along.” Boston should do everything it can to extend Betts' contract and keep him in Boston for a long time. He's a top-five position player in baseball, and he's finished in the top eight of AL MVP voting each of the last four years. The 27-year-old superstar also owns four Gold Glove awards and three Silver Slugger awards.

Betts' future doesn't need to be decided right now, though. The trade deadline isn't until July 31. The priority for Boston is finding a new manager to replace Alex Cora. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than a month.

J.D. Martinez: Red Sox will be exonerated by MLB investigation

J.D. Martinez states without equivocation that Red Sox will be exonerated by MLB investigation

J.D. Martinez states without equivocation that Red Sox will be exonerated by MLB investigation

SPRINGFIELD -- For five hours on Saturday morning at Winter Weekend, Red Sox players and coaches delivered basically the same message in regards to the 2018 cheating scandal: We're not at liberty to say anything until the league finishes its investigation.

And then J.D. Martinez stepped in front of the cameras.

The slugging DH, who earlier this offseason chose to remain in Boston rather than exercise an opt-out in his contract, minced no words when asked if the Red Sox did anything wrong during their championship 2018 season.

"You know, it sucks, to be honest with you," he said of the investigation. "It does suck. But you know what? I know I'm excited for the investigation to be over with just so that they can see that there was nothing going on here."

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So he believes the team is innocent of the charges that it used the replay room to steal opposing signs in real time?

"I believe that, yes," Martinez said.

And what gives Martinez this confidence, despite a report to the contrary in The Athletic claiming that the Red Sox stole signs?

"Because I was in there," he said. "I saw what was. . . . Straight up, everyone seems to forget that in 2017 and '16 this team was a really good team. This team won 93 games those two years and then we just got better."

Martinez spoke without hesitation, and also saluted departed manager Alex Cora, while offering some insight into why Cora decided to leave the team.

"Kind of heartbroken about it," he said. "I talked to him before and I understood his side of it. He didn't want to be a distraction going into the season. I know it was wearing on him and his family, so I obviously feel for him and I wish him the best. But I know he played a big, big role for our team and he was one of my favorites, if not my favorite manager that I've had. It's going to be tough."