Red Sox

It's a killer rotation, all right -- Red Sox starters are an albatross, and it's worse than you think

It's a killer rotation, all right -- Red Sox starters are an albatross, and it's worse than you think

They are the three horsemen of a financial apocalypse that is galloping towards the Red Sox on thundering hooves.

We know the team is determined to shed roughly $40 million in payroll from 2018 to drop below $208 million and reset its luxury-tax schedule. To get there will require some unappetizing decisions, like potentially parting ways with both defending MVP Mookie Betts and All-Star slugger J.D. Martinez.

In a perfect world, management would cut from another part of the roster, where price, performance, and reliability are no longer moving in unison. We're talking, of course, about the starting rotation, which is effectively unmovable. We've devoted many GB of cyberspace to the damage the top three pitchers can potentially inflict to both the long- and short-term health of the franchise, but a deeper dive into the numbers suggests the situation is even worse than we thought.

In David Price, Chris Sale, and Nathan Eovaldi, the Red Sox have committed $252 million to the three biggest question marks on their roster. The trio will count for $79 million in each of the next three seasons, including $32 million for Price and $30 million annually for Sale. That led Martinez, after the season finale, to note that Betts was probably a goner because, "you can't pay three guys $30 million."

In a perfect world, the Red Sox would move a starter to free up money for one of their sluggers. But good luck finding takers for any of the above, given the health concerns associated with each.

The Red Sox have already announced they're taking it slow with Sale, who visited Dr. James Andrews in Florida after an August elbow scare. His five-year, $145 million extension begins in 2020, and it wouldn't be shocking if he ends up needing surgery. There's little incentive for the Red Sox to trade him with his value so low or another club to acquire him with his health such an unknown.

Price, with three years and $96 million remaining, has already gone under the knife to remove a cyst from his wrist. He's also lugging off-field issues, thanks to his blowup at Hall of Fame broadcaster Dennis Eckersley, which has damaged his reputation. Any team acquiring him would have to be willing to take on not only some portion of his considerable salary, but also his questionable health and negative attitude. He remains talented, but that's a lot of baggage.

Then there's Eovaldi. The right-hander parlayed a magical two weeks last postseason into a four-year, $68 million contract. He then promptly went under the knife in April to remove loose bodies from his elbow, finishing the season as a glorified opener. October of 2018 sure feels more like the exception than the rule with him.

If all three are healthy and return to form next season, the Red Sox could win the World Series. The more likely path, given their respective ages, workloads, and injury histories, is far less appealing. And those factors are unlikely to improve with the passage of time.

So just how hamstrung are the Red Sox by their rotation? With the luxury tax threshold set to rise to $210 million in 2021 before the collective bargaining agreement expires, they know they'll be devoting 38 percent of their payroll to those three pitchers in 2020 and 37.5 percent in 2021.

Only one other team will pay its pitchers more both next year and beyond, and they're in the World Series. In Max Scherzer ($42.1 million), Stephen Strasburg ($25 million), Patrick Corbin ($19.41 million), and Anibal Sanchez ($7 million), the Nats have devoted $93.5 million to their 2020 rotation, and a staggering $318 million to their top three pitchers moving forward, a number that will jump to $336 million of they exercise Sanchez's $18 million option in 2021.

The difference between the Red Sox starters and Washington starters is that the former broke down after a long World Series run, while the latter remain atop their games, although we'll find out next year if a similar fate awaits them. Washington's Big Four went 54-28 while posting ERAs between 2.92 and 3.85 and combining for nearly 750 innings.

The only other team with a situation even remotely comparable to Boston's is the Cubs, who owe their five starters $78.5 million next year (including Jose Quintana's $11.5 million option) and $182 million moving forward (that number can jump by $25 million if they exercise Jon Lester's 2021 option).

Giving the oft-injured Yu Darvish $126 million on a six-year deal that runs through 2023 looks like a mistake, but the rest of Chicago's commitments are manageable, since the only other pitcher signed beyond next year is Kyle Hendricks, who inked a four-year, $55.5 million extension before last season.

Otherwise, just one other team has more than $100 million committed to its starters, and that's the Astros, who will likely lose co-ace Gerrit Cole in free agency, but still owe two more seasons and $136 million to veterans Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke.

Everywhere else, the best big-market teams in the game have minimized their risk when it comes to long-term pitching contracts. The Yankees will pay Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, and Luis Severino $50.5 million next year, with only Severino remaining on the books thereafter for the final two seasons of his four-year, $40 million extension.

The Dodgers have committed only $34 million to 2020, and the bulk of it belongs to former Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who will make $31 million in both 2020 and 2021 as part of a three-year, $93 million extension. Kershaw and Kenta Maeda are the only two Dodgers starters making guaranteed money, and they're only owed $74.5 million moving forward.

Everywhere you look, baseball's most nimble organizations have left themselves with financial flexibility in the rotation. But not the Red Sox. They're locked in to the Three Horseman, and the apocalypse feels inevitable.

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MLB Rumors: Ex-Red GM Ben Cherington accepts Pirates general manager job

MLB Rumors: Ex-Red GM Ben Cherington accepts Pirates general manager job

Ben Cherington has moved on from the American League East.

The former Boston Red Sox general manager has accepted the Pittsburgh Pirates' offer to be their next GM, Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Friday.

Cherington takes over for former Pirates GM Neal Huntington, who was fired in October.

The New Hampshire native and Amherst College alum rose to prominence in Boston, taking the Red Sox GM job in 2011 and helping the club win a World Series title in 2013.

Cherington resigned amid Boston's second consecutive losing season in August 2015, shortly after the team hired Dave Dombrowski to run its baseball operations.

The 45-year-old executive spent the last two seasons as the Toronto Blue Jays' vice president of baseball operations, and now will be tasked with rebuilding a Pirates team that won just 69 games in 2019.

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Three teams, 7 players, 1 home run: What complicated trade tells us about Red Sox's Chaim Bloom

Three teams, 7 players, 1 home run: What complicated trade tells us about Red Sox's Chaim Bloom

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Chaim Bloom impressed Red Sox ownership during his interview by dissecting a handful of deals with the Rays that revealed the kind of creativity John Henry wanted to add to Boston's front office.

One was the pursuit of Charlie Morton, Houston's All-Star right-hander, who received one of the biggest pitching contracts in Tampa history at a modest two years and $30 million. The 35-year-old rewarded Tampa's faith with a third place finish in the Cy Young Award voting.

Another was a complicated three-way trade with the A's and Rangers that sent second baseman Jurickson Profar to Oakland, prospects to Texas, and reliever Emilio Pagan to the Rays. A compensatory pick and international bonus money changed hands, too, for good measure.

It is that second deal and its many moving parts that caught the eye of Red Sox chairman Tom Werner.

"We studied decisions that they made and we were impressed," Werner said. "The total decision-making was impressive. They went out in the free agent market and got Charlie Morton. They made a great three-way trade for Pagan. You can just go up and down that roster and say they found talent in very creative ways."

So how did it happen? The four executives primarily involved — Texas GM Jon Daniels, Oakland counterpart David Forst, and the Tampa duo of Bloom and GM Erik Neander — weighed in from the GM meetings this week. Their observations and recollections shed light on the kind of decision-maker Bloom will be in Boston — nimble, inventive, and connected.

"Very smart and very creative," Forst said. "I've always respected Chaim. He has always dealt honestly with us and been up front."

Merely reading the summary of the trade illustrates its complexity. The A's sent Pagan and a competitive balance pick to Tampa, and infielder/outfielder Eli White and international bonus money to the Rangers. The Rangers sent minor league pitcher Rollie Lacy to the Rays and received three prospects in return: left-handers Brock Burke and Kyle Bird, and right-hander Yoel Espinal, which helped Tampa relieve a roster crunch.

Got all that? Good. The first thing worth noting is that most three-way deals are born of failure, and this was no exception.

"Typically, they don't happen overnight," Neander said. "I don't think anyone's seeking that. There's a sincere interest in finding common ground between two clubs. You run the well dry, and then it's like, 'Alright, do we have any other business going on that we could introduce to this negotiation to find a way to get over the finish line?' And that's effectively what happened."

The trade started with Daniels, who played the role of go-between. The A's wanted Profar to be their everyday second baseman, but they lacked the pieces to complete a deal on their own. Because Daniels had maintained regular contact with the Tampa front office — primarily Neander — he knew the Rays wanted Pagan, a hard-throwing reliever who hadn't quite put it together in his first two seasons. And the Rays knew which prospects Daniels valued, primarily Burke.

"Jon Daniels was in the middle," Forst said. "All we knew was there was a team on the other side. Everything went through Jon. We talked to him about Profar and Pagan and the comp pick, and he said, 'Look, to be up front, some of these pieces are going elsewhere.' Anytime you have a three-team deal, sometimes everybody knows, but a lot of times there's kind of a middle manager working both sides. So Jon deserves a lot of credit for working with us and working with Chaim and Erik on that side."

The deal would not have happened without steady communication, a skill Bloom will bring to Boston.

"They've always done a good job of constant dialogue over the year," Daniels said of Bloom and Neander. "Not just trade deadline. Not just winter meetings. Constant dialogue, understanding what your goals are, being up front about their goals. It's where I think they have a lot of information. The way they've built their club, they have a heavy-transactional process, if that's what you want to call it, and more information allows them to make better decisions. Sometimes you'll deal with a club and you'll feel like it's one-way, that they're just pulling information out. I've always felt good dealing with them that it's two-way. They want to know what you're looking at, but they're also happy to share what their goals are."

Added Bloom: "I think a lot of that fell out of our organization having good communication with both organizations, but especially with Texas, who was trying to broker it."

Striking a deal is only half the battle, though. The Rays had to identify the right target, and in Pagan, they hit a home run. Tampa represented his third team in three years, and he was coming off a so-so 2018 that saw him go 3-1 with a 4.35 ERA while flashing intermittent command.

But he blossomed in Tampa. His max velocity jumped from 96 to 99 mph and he ended up posting a career-low 2.31 ERA while saving 20 games and striking out a career-best 12.3 batters per nine.

"He stood out as someone who had a chance to have a little more success than he'd had to date," Bloom said. "We knew towards the end of the season that that harder breaking ball was coming into play more. I don't think any of us, if we're being honest, could have expected that he'd turn in the season that he did. That just speaks to getting a great result from hopefully a good and rigorous process."

The Rays preach organizational humility — it's why they might be the worst team in the league at stealing signs, because it's simply not part of their culture — and they'd be the first to note that they got a little lucky with Pagan, who actually opened the season in Triple-A. But they saw an opportunity for growth if he could reshape his breaking ball, a hard slider that he throws with more of a cutter grip, and the results were tremendous.

"I'm not at all surprised that the Rays got themselves involved," Forst said. "We always felt like we and the Rays see things similarly in how we evaluate players. We didn't like giving up Pagan — I didn't know he was going to be throwing 99 and closing games — but we liked Pagan and obviously there's value in the comp pick. So not surprised at all that Chaim and Erik had their fingers in our business."

The comp pick presented its own challenges, because it cannot be traded more than once and thus had to move as part of one big deal. Awarded to the smallest-market and lowest-revenue teams, this particular pick landed at No. 40 overall, the area of the draft where Tampa had previously nabbed stalwarts like All-Star Carl Crawford and Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell. The Rays used the pick on college right-hander Seth Johnson, allowing them to build for the future even as they hoped Pagan would help in the present.

Speaking of which, when Forst discovered Tampa was the third team in the deal, did he pause to question what he and his own evaluators had missed?

"Absolutely," he admitted. "There's a number of teams we feel that way about, where they pick up a player and you go, 'Huh, should we have been involved?' It's not unique to Tampa, but they're a team that we see similar to us in the way they operate."

The Pagan trade is the kind of move the Red Sox will have to make to remain competitive with ownership intent on slashing payroll. Fortunately, they now employ one of its architects.

"Chaim will do really well, because at the end of the day, he's consistent, he communicates well, it's clear," Neander said. "He's trustworthy. There's no agenda. The purpose of the call is whatever's laid out. These relationships are built on trust, and he's someone that can be trusted."

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