Red Sox

One window the Red Sox probably won't open into a potential Mookie Betts trade

One window the Red Sox probably won't open into a potential Mookie Betts trade

Red Sox fans need no reminder of the havoc a negotiating window can wreak upon a potential trade.

In the winter of 2003, they were given 72 hours by commissioner Bud Selig to restructure the contract of Rangers superstar Alex Rodriguez, and the sides actually reached an agreement that would've sent the (then) future Hall of Famer to Boston before the union refused to allow the sport's marquee player to take a pay cut.

Sixteen years later, the Red Sox may very well swing a deal involving another MVP, but this time it's their own. And as they try to finagle the best package for Mookie Betts, it's fair to wonder if they'd be willing to allow the acquiring team to open a negotiating window with Betts on a long-term extension.

In today's information age, those windows aren't as common as they used to be. The Yankees granted one last January before sending right-hander Sonny Gray to Cincinnati, and the Reds used it to negotiate a three-year, $30.5 million extension, which paid off when Gray made the All-Star team.

The Cardinals, conversely, didn't even ask for one when acquiring slugger Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks last December, even though Goldschmidt was entering the final year of his contract and St. Louis wanted to extend him. He instead signed a five-year, $130 million extension during spring training.

"The belief is that we need to make a deal that we're comfortable with, whether he agrees to an extension or not," said Cardinals GM Mike Girsch. "It's not a two-part deal. It's got to be a stand-alone deal that you're comfortable with. We didn't ask and it wasn't part of our process.

"Everything that we knew and did research on Goldschmidt suggested that he was the type of guy who'd be comfortable in the type of environment that we have, in the location that we are. But we didn't know. We can't know. You can't talk to the player until you actually made the trade. But you can talk to his ex-teammates who are also ex-Cardinals. There are ways you can find out about somebody, and our sense was he was a guy who'd be comfortable in a midwestern city in a baseball-crazed market in a place that was competitive in the type of clubhouse environment we have. It all felt that we had a good shot at making this work, but until you meet him, you're never 100 percent sure."

The problem with granting a window is that it introduces too many potential headaches, especially in a world with 24-hour coverage putting breaking news just a smartphone alert or Ken Rosenthal tweet away. Any lag between completing a trade and negotiating a contract increases the possibility that the names of other players involved will leak, and if the negotiation collapses, it could result in hard feelings.

"Once you grab that 72-hour window, everything leaks out, it becomes a lot more complicated, and if you fail to reach an extension, the rumored players already have their names out there, and the potential issues that that creates have already arisen," said White Sox GM Rick Hahn. "The short answer is it's something we've asked for in the past and likely would ask for in the future, but it hasn't been too prevalent in recent years."

When the White Sox traded ace Chris Sale to the Red Sox in 2016, there was no need for negotiating windows because (a) Sale remained under contract through 2019, and (b) the Nationals were simultaneously offering a considerable prospect haul built around center fielder Victor Robles that left the White Sox in a position of power.

"It has become more and more rare because essentially teams have declined that request from most clubs and taken an approach almost like, 'Look, other teams are willing to do it without the window, so we're going to move him without the window,'" Hahn noted.

The whole idea of a window might not even apply to Betts, anyway, since he has repeatedly stated a desire to play out his contract and reach free agency. It's possible there's no offer he'd sign while limiting his negotiations to one club.

If it could increase the potential return, however, the Red Sox would at least have to consider it.

"If you're making a deal you're comfortable with, then you don't care whether he's going to sign," Girsch said. "It's just a whole separate negotiation. It just muddies the waters a lot of times and makes things more complicated if we make an agreement that's contingent on us making a separate agreement. And it's already hard enough to get an agreement done with the players involved. It just adds complexity."

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MLB thinks Michael Chavis can't hit high fastballs, but here's how he plans to prove them wrong

MLB thinks Michael Chavis can't hit high fastballs, but here's how he plans to prove them wrong

Michael Chavis can hit fastballs. His first swing of consequence, after all, launched a 99 mph Jose Alvarado offering to the deepest reaches of Tropicana Field for a pinch double last April.

That pitch was just above the knees, however, just where Chavis likes it, and the result helped mislead the rest of baseball for the first month of his career. "He can hit 99," the thinking went, "so let's see how he handles the soft stuff."

Ten home runs and twice as many pulverized sliders later, it was time for Plan B.

Enter the Astros.

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On May 24, the Red Sox opened a three-game series in Houston. Chavis was hitting .270 with 10 homers and a .911 OPS in 29 games, making a serious case for Rookie of the Year. He had struck out 32 times, an acceptable number for someone on pace for 40 tape-measure bombs.

Chavis led off the series against Wade Miley and struck out swinging on an elevated 92 mph fastball. He faced eventual Cy Young winner Justin Verlander three times in the finale and saw 14 pitches, all fastballs, 11 of them above the belt. He didn't put a single one in play, striking out three times and finishing with six K's in 10 at-bats. Gerrit Cole had already blown him away a couple of times earlier.

From that point forward, Chavis hit just .242 with a .681 OPS and 93 strikeouts in 236 at-bats. The book on him was translated into every one of baseball's couple dozen languages, and it consisted of just four words: can't hit high fastballs.

"I would take a shot in the dark and say I'm not the first person to struggle against them," Chavis said recently. "It was the first time I felt exposed. It's a combination, they're phenomenal pitchers, but also I'm still trying to learn how to be a big leaguer. A lot of it was just in my own head, getting in my own way."

As Chavis embarks on his second season, he's well aware of this presumed deficiency in his game. And he has learned some important lessons that he believes will make a difference in 2020 as he looks to stick as a utility infielder or maybe even the starting second baseman if he can outplay Jose Peraza.

"You can't hit the ones that aren't a strike," Chavis said. "Essentially what I was trying to do was cover everything. I tried to cover the fastball middle in, the fastball up and in, the fastball up and away, I tried to cover everything and I started expanding up. So then I started getting worried about expanding down, and it snowballed.

"It's not that I can't hit a high fastball. You can find plenty of videos of me hitting high fastballs. My best talent is probably my fast hands, which goes very well with hitting high fastballs. A lot of it was just an approach of trying to do too much and getting in my own way."

Part of what made Chavis so impressive last April and May was his ability to lay off the high hard ones. But once he started swinging, he couldn't stop. Per Brooks Baseball, Chavis hit just .113 (6 for 53) on four-seam fastballs above the belt. In the upper third of the strike zone alone, he swung and missed at a staggering 39 percent of four-seamers. As a means of comparison, teammate Xander Bogaerts -- a tremendous high fastball hitter -- swung and missed there less than 10 percent of the time.

Manager Ron Roenicke believes the key for Chavis in 2020 isn't so much catching up to those pitches, but ignoring them.

"Nobody hits the fastball at the top of the zone, maybe Bogey, but there aren't many, and so if you're not really good at this pitch, which hardly anybody is, you really have to lay off it," Roenicke said. "So it's more the discipline part of it."

Chavis admits the struggles wormed their way into his head and took root.

"When I started expanding the zone, that's just timidness, trying to be too protective, and it was compounded by the results I was having -- striking out more, having tough ABs, falling into two-strike counts really early," he said. "That's something that was frustrating. I told myself I was really tired of falling behind 0-2, 1-2. Even when you're going good, that's a tough AB. One thing I remember telling myself is to be aggressive early, so I started being too aggressive chasing pitches out of the zone, and next thing I know, he hasn't thrown a strike and I'm sitting there 0-2."

While Chavis was no stranger to struggles -- he hit just .223 in his full-season debut after being taken in the first round of the 2014 draft -- he had never struggled with such high stakes, and he admits that it affected him.

In the minors, after all, wins and losses don't matter. Development does. In the big leagues, that equation inverts.

"We're not working on progression, we're working on winning ballgames," he said. "I have to find a way where even though I don't feel good and I don't really know what's going on with my swing, I still have to find a way to compete, and that was something I still had to learn.

"Then when it gets exposed, that's when I don't want to get sent down. I felt like I was fighting for my life. Realistically, that's what it was every single day, that's what I was thinking about. And that more than anything is what got in my way, where I'm so worried about being sent down. I started making up scenarios in my head that aren't even real."

And so as Chavis prepares for 2020, he enters with a clear mind. The fastball above the belt that's so tempting must become a take so pitchers attack him where he can do damage.

"I'd say that's the normal me," he said. "It's not like I need to bring that guy back, but just allow myself to play. When I'm smiling on the field, when I'm relaxed, I'm not getting in my own way. I'm not getting the high fastball and trying to hammer it for a home run and getting all muscly. I just let it flow and make contact. It's frustrating, because you can say it's just me getting in my own way, but it's not as easy as saying don't think that way. It's like asking someone not to think about a pink elephant."

Call it the pink elephant in the room, then. Chavis knows how pitchers will attack him, and they're not going to change until he makes them.

Chris Sale's illness-related setback a 'gut punch' to Red Sox ace

Chris Sale's illness-related setback a 'gut punch' to Red Sox ace

The Boston Red Sox need a new Opening Day starter.

Chris Sale will begin the 2020 season on the injured list as he recovers from the pneumonia he contracted earlier this month, Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke told reporters Thursday.

Sale had hoped to be ready for Opening Day as he works back from an elbow injury that shut him down last August. But the 30-year-old missed two weeks of rehab due to his pneumonia, which means his first start of 2020 will be pushed back.

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"We didn’t think four starts in Spring Training was fair to him to make him start the season," Roenicke told reporters, via WEEI's Rob Bradford. "He’ll open up on the DL. We can backdate it three days. We’ll try to figure out exactly where that puts him."

The good news is that Sale's elbow appears to be in a good place: He's set to throw to live batting practice Saturday, and if he follows Roenicke's timeline, his 2020 debut could come April 6 in Boston's home game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

But someone other than Sale will start for the Red Sox on Opening Day for the first time since 2017, which isn't sitting well with the veteran hurler.

"It was a gut punch," Sale said, per Bradford. " ... The only thing that hurts is my ego, and that doesn't matter."

" ... Do I like it? Absolutely not. Do I respect it? 100 percent."

Sale's setback also is an unfortunate development for a Red Sox rotation that already lost David Price and Rick Porcello this offseason.

Eduardo Rodriguez figures to make his first career Opening Day start in Sale's stead, while Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez are Boston's only other healthy starting pitchers.

The Red Sox still don't have a fifth starter, and Roenicke's club may have to operate with just three legitimate starters for the first two weeks of the season.

That's not exactly a promising scenario for a team that's already taken plenty of lumps this offseason.