Red Sox

Drellich: The case for the Red Sox to sign more free agents

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USA TODAY Sports photo

Drellich: The case for the Red Sox to sign more free agents

Moneyball was all about market inefficiency, right? Not fat catchers and on-base percentage, but market inefficiency.

There is a case to be made for the Red Sox continuing to spend in free agency. Right now. The argument centers on the depressed free-agent market and how far the Sox' free-agent dollar could stretch this year, in combination with their win-now build and a specific benefit they received from staying under the luxury tax this past season.

The Royals, who were entering a rebuild, just brought back Mike Moustakas for one year and a guaranteed $6.5 million, far less than anyone expected he would receive at the winter’s outset. 

He’s not a piece that would have made a ton of sense for the Sox. Few position players would make sense. But he was a steal, and there may be other steals to be had. The Sox' pitching situation can more readily be improved. An extra starter wouldn’t be so bad. 

Look at the Astros, who have six, and the Rangers, who are planning a six-man rotation. Guys get hurt, as the Sox well know. Eduardo Rodriguez in a bullpen role, if only temporarily once he’s back from surgery, could be swell.

If, say, Jake Arrieta can be had at a discounted price that may never be seen again, if we then believe the market will never be quite this paltry, there’s bang for your buck in spending now rather than next year, when the Yankees and Dodgers are back playing in the big-dollar sandbox. Alex Cobb is out there, Lance Lynn too.

Brand-name players, the Red Sox are well aware, do excite the fanbase — particularly when they arrive as a surprise. A mid-spring addition of Arrieta would add a buzz beyond J.D. Martinez, whose addition created a stir but was also anything but a surprise. The Sox don’t play for buzz, but intrigue should not be discounted — particularly when it can be acquired at, well, a discount.

Then there’s the bullpen. Here’s betting that as they stand now, the Sox will need to add a reliever in-season. They brought in Fernando Abad and Brad Ziegler in 2016, and Addison Reed in 2017.

The Sox said at the start of the winter they wanted a lefty reliever and they instead added no relievers. Greg Holland isn't a lefty, but he can help.

Alex Speier of the Boston Globe recently noted the Sox may have less than $5 million to spend on an in-season addition, presumably to be acquired via trade.

“With the spring training additions of J.D. Martinez and Eduardo Nunez, the Red Sox are on track to have the highest payroll in Major League Baseball [in 2018] and in team history,” Speier wrote. “As of now, the team has more than $230 million committed to its payroll as calculated for luxury tax purposes — more than $25 million beyond any level at which the team has previously spent.” 

So, why wait?

It’s always easier to spend someone else’s money, but there could be advantages to crossing the $237 million barrier now. 

If it is inevitable, or at least a significant possibility, the team reaches the $237 million mark in-season, it’s better to acquire talent now for the full year and without the cost of trading prospects, which aren’t exactly abundant.

As of now, the Sox are paying a 20 percent tax on their payroll above $197 million, and 32 percent on their payroll above $217 million. If they cross $237 million — the next demarkation in a tiered system — they still pay those amounts, and then 62.5 percent on anything above $237 million. Not 62.5 percent on everything above $197, to be clear, just on how much they go beyond $237 million. 

The real harm at $237 million? The Sox would also see their draft pick in 2019 drop 10 spots. But the Sox won’t be picking very high anyway in 2019 because they’re a contending team. Draft order is based on the previous year’s record. Are they really losing that much with a draft pick at say, No. 37 rather than No. 27?

Here’s the other thing: if the Red Sox today signed someone who received a qualifying offer, such as Cobb or Arrieta, they would be doing so with the lowest possible penalty.

How much you give up when you sign a qualifying-offer player is tied, in part, to whether you went beyond the luxury tax in the most recent year. The Sox were under in 2017. Right now, the Sox would have to give up their second-highest draft pick and $500,000 in international money.

Had they been over (as they will be this year and presumably several years going forward) they would be required to surrender their second and fifth-highest draft picks, plus suffer a deduction of $1 million in international money.

The Sox would be in rare territory if they went this route: Dodgers and Yankees territory. And they probably won't go this route. But there's something potentially exciting about Boston flexing its big-market muscle in an unexpected way. And there's something to be said for maximizing the benefit of their choice to stay under the luxury tax in 2017, which had its drawbacks. 

“There have only been two [teams] that have gone $40 [million] or more over,” union head Tony Clark noted recently. “So everybody seems to be playing in that first $20 million buffer.” 

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Comparing Chris Sale to '04, '07, and '13 Red Sox aces

Comparing Chris Sale to '04, '07, and '13 Red Sox aces

For the next few days, we'll be reminiscing on 2004, 2007, and 2013 Red Sox champions at each position and seeing how they stack up against their 2018 counterparts. Today, we discuss the aces of the starting rotations. . .

Curt Schilling, 2004

Regular season: 21-6, 3.26 ERA, 203 SO

Playoffs: 3-1, 3.57 ERA

Year in summary: The highlight of Curt Schilling's 2004 season came in Game 6 of the ALCS, AKA the "Bloody Sock Game." While that game undoubtedly will live on forever in Red Sox history, Schilling's dominance throughout his first season in Boston shouldn't be overlooked. 

Josh Beckett, 2007

Regular season: 20-7, 3.27 ERA, 194 SO

Playoffs: 4-0, 1.20 ERA

Year in summary:  Josh Beckett enjoyed a stellar 2007 regular season, but his postseason performance was one for the ages. Beckett finished second in Cy Young award voting behind then-Indians ace CC Sabathia.

Jon Lester, 2013

Regular season: 15-8, 3.75 ERA, 177 SO

Playoffs: 4-1, 1.56 ERA

Year in summary: 2013 wasn't the best statistical season of Lester's Red Sox career, but it sure was the sweetest. That's because the left-hander turned back into his shutdown self in the postseason and was a key part of Boston bringing home its third World Series title in nine years.

Chris Sale, 2018

Regular season: 12-4, 2.00 ERA, 229 SO

Year in summary: Chris Sale (per usual) has enjoyed a dominant regular season, particularly in the first half. Shoulder inflammation limited the Red Sox southpaw in the second half, but the perennial Cy Young candidate finally looks ready to help the winningest team in Sox history win when it matters most.

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Playoff debates: Why Red Sox should choose Eovaldi over E-Rod in rotation

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Playoff debates: Why Red Sox should choose Eovaldi over E-Rod in rotation

With the playoffs approaching, Evan Drellich will look at various decisions the Red Sox are going to have to make on their postseason roster. We start today with: The rotation.

BOSTON — Nate Eovaldi may keep his spot in the rotation for the same reason the Red Sox move forward without a lefty specialist in the 'pen: the number of scary lefty bats the Sox can face in the first round are minimal.

The Yankees and A’s are righty heavy, and Eovaldi in particular would probably be preparing for a scenario to pitch on the road. The Sox have seen up close how the Yankees can just wait back and drive lefty pitches out to right field.

Since joining the Red Sox, Eovaldi leads the team in the fewest percentage of fly balls to become home runs, at 5.5 percent, regardless of lefty-righty match-ups. E-Rod is nearly double that, at 10.6 percent.

“One of the teams we know, we know really well,” Alex Cora said on Monday generally. “The other one, we don’t know honestly. So we’ll talk about it. But I think small sample size really doesn’t matter.”

Eovaldi’s final pitch Monday night against the Orioles was a backdoor cutter to Cedric Mullins, who went down looking. Mullins, a switch-hitter, was batting lefthanded. It was an excellent night overall for the right-handed and cutter-heavy Eovaldi in a 6-2 win, even though he was facing a terrible team. He had 10 strikeouts in five innings.

Eduardo Rodriguez following Eovaldi in relief on Monday was also a clear signal the Red Sox are looking at keeping Eovaldi in the Division Series rotation and taking E-Rod out.

“I really had everything working today,” Eovaldi said. “I was able to locate the fastball up. Had a really good feel for my curveball, my split today. So with those two pitches, being able to get them off my fastball and the cutter, I felt like it’s a good success tonight.”

Both historically and in 2018, Eovaldi has been better vs. right-handed batters, who carry a .631 OPS against him this season. Lefties (and switch-hitters) are his potential weakness, with a .751 OPS. The numbers in Eovaldi’s time in Boston and in his career are virtually identical, a roughly .100 point OPS gap.

Will that really matter in the Division Series?

The Yankees have Aaron Hicks and Neil Walker as switch-hitters. Hicks has an .837 OPS vs. righties, Walker a .693 OPS. 

The Yanks’ best threat purely from the left side, Didi Gregorious and his .864 OPS against righties, may be out for the season. Brett Gardner, meanwhile, has got a .704 OPS against righties.

“We don't know who we're going to play, but we understand the match-ups and where we can go,” Cora said when asked if Eovaldi is making a case to stay in the rotation. “He’s been great. He's a guy that, first of all, he's a workhorse. We can use him out of the bullpen, and then we can use him in the rotation. I love the fact that his last two outings, they made some adjustments, and he's actually pitching to what we wanted, up in the zone and down, so he's making it very interesting now.”

Matt Olson and Nick Martini of the A’s both have done well as lefties vs. righties this year, the former with an .828 OPS and the latter .824. Switch-hitter Jed Lowrie’s right there with them at .846.

So the A's might make the choice a little tougher than the Yankees. But the biggest bats on both teams — Khris Davis and Matt Chapman, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton — are righty, and righties aren't the reason to remove Eovaldi.

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