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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Lou Merloni destroys MLB, players for bickering over 2020 return plan

Lou Merloni destroys MLB, players for bickering over 2020 return plan

As the NBA, NHL, NFL and MLS prepare to resume play in the near future, Major League Baseball still can't get out of its own way.

MLB reportedly rejected the Players Association's proposal Wednesday for a 114-game season in 2020 and apparently doesn't plan to make a counter-offer.

The league and the players have refused to budge on the issues dividing them: Players don't want to take an additional pay cut after agreeing to prorated salaries in March, while the owners are wary of extending the season too long due to the coronavirus pandemic and want players to agree to further reduced salaries to mitigate lost revenue.

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That stalemate has cost MLB valuable time, however, as the league doesn't appear close to beginning its 2020 regular season as the calendar turns to June.

So, who's to blame here? Lou Merloni believes it's everyone involved.

The former Boston Red Sox infielder ripped into both the league and the union Wednesday night during an appearance on NBC Sports Boston.

"Both sides suck, OK? That's the bottom line," Merloni said. "The Players Association comes back and says, 'Not 82 (games), we want 114' when they know that's the non-starter. The owners don't want to sit there and play until November. They're worried about the pandemic; they've got to get the playoffs in. And then the owners come back and say we're not even going to counter?

"Jesus, we're like a month into this thing. Can you string this thing out (any longer)? How about go in one room together and try to figure this out in a day or two?"

Compounding MLB's issue is that the NBA is expected to announce a return-to-play plan Thursday that would resume the 2019-20 season in late July. The MLS and NHL also have made headwinds toward resuming their seasons this summer -- which means baseball is wasting a much-needed opportunity to showcase itself as the only active pro sports league.

"I mean, you're running out of time and you're only screwing yourself. Even if baseball does come back, people have already said, 'I've had enough of you.' It's been like a month, a year, and you guys talk and bitch about this thing publicly. I don't give a crap anymore. I've got hockey, basketball, football is around the corner, hell, soccer is around the corner. I'm good.

"They don't even realize it! It's like they're in this bubble and they don't even realize what's going on around them right now. Figure this thing out: 70 games, 65, prorated (salaries), start playing some baseball, because your ass better be first coming back. If not, people are going to be done."

There's reportedly some optimism that the players and the union will resolve their differences and put a return plan in place. But with nearly one-third of the season already lost, the clock is ticking.

Check out Merloni's full comments in the video player above.

Who are the best designated hitters in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5

Who are the best designated hitters in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5

There's only one choice for best designated hitter in Red Sox history, but just in case there's any doubt, we'll quote broadcaster Dave O'Brien with the signature call from his WEEI days: "DAVID ORTIZ! DAVID ORTIZ! DAVID ORTIZ!"

No sense in even pretending there's any suspense on this one.

What's fascinating about ranking the Red Sox DHs, however, is just how few of them have actually held down the position for any length of time over the years.

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Only nine players have made at least 200 appearances there with the Red Sox since the DH was introduced in 1973, and four of them — Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, and Manny Ramirez — have already appeared elsewhere in our outfield rankings.

That leaves five men to fill out the list, and about the only difficult omission is slugger Jose Canseco, who made 184 appearances between 1995 and 1996.

Click here for the Top 5 DHs in Red Sox history.