Red Sox

The perfect Red Sox GM candidate just became a free agent -- Dodgers boss Andrew Friedman

The perfect Red Sox GM candidate just became a free agent -- Dodgers boss Andrew Friedman

The shocking elimination of the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLDS on Wednesday creates an opening for the Red Sox to pursue their white whale -- Andrew Friedman.

L.A.'s president of baseball operations is widely considered the shrewdest executive in the game, and he has built a juggernaut out west, with the Dodgers simultaneously cutting payroll and competing for World Series titles on an annual basis.

His contract happens to be up, and there's some unease about why he hasn't yet agreed to an extension. A couple of weeks ago, all involved expressed optimism to the L.A. Times that Friedman would return, albeit in less than absolute terms; president Stan Kasten said he was "pretty confident" Friedman would be back.

And if he's not? Expect the Red Sox to be first in line.

The 42-year-old cut his teeth over a decade ago with the Rays, becoming their general manager in 2005 at age 28 and building the 2008 team that beat the Red Sox in the ALCS to reach the World Series. Friedman worked wonders in the small-market setting en route to four playoff appearances before joining the Dodgers in 2014.

All he has done since is build one of the game's most sustainable success stories. L.A. has won seven straight division titles, first by spending limitless amounts of money -- their $291 million payroll in 2015 remains the highest ever -- and then by doing it in a way that should certainly capture the attention of Red Sox owner John Henry.

From that high four years ago, the Dodgers have steadily dropped, culminating in 2018, when they dropped below the luxury tax threshold with a $195 million payroll to reset their penalties. They barely surpassed the limit this year, checking in at about $210 million. That's where Henry would like to get the Red Sox, who hope to drop from $242 million to $208 million.

Friedman did it by building a powerhouse player development system that has produced stars like MVP favorite Cody Bellinger, All-Star right-hander Walker Bueller, and slugging shortstop Corey Seager. Friedman's Dodgers have also been opportunistic on the margins, adding stalwarts Max Muncy and Justin Turner for nothing after they were jettisoned by the A's and Mets, respectively.

The Dodgers are set up to maintain their success, too, with $113 million committed to next season, $89.5 million on the books in 2021, and only $20 million committed to 2022 (per Baseball-Reference). Compare that to the Red Sox, who have $118 million in guarantees committed to 2022 as part of a bloated payroll that's the reason they're seeking new leadership in the first place.

The Dodgers do not have a single player on a $100 million contract. Their highest-paid player is left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who signed a three-year, $93 million extension before this season. His two remaining years are eminently more manageable than, say, the five years for Chris Sale staring at the Red Sox.

In Los Angeles, Friedman built an All-Star front office featuring no fewer than five former GMs: Josh Byrnes, Alex Anthopoulos, Tommy Lasorda, Ned Colletti, and Gerry Hunsicker. He hired liberally from the Red Sox, stealing respected figures like Dave Finley and Galen Carr. He has built the Dodgers into an analytics-driven powerhouse, which is how they ended up on the forefront of the launch angle revolution.

Friedman has proven he can win with baseball's smallest payroll and its largest payroll. He has laid out a blueprint for shedding salary while remaining competitive -- his first act as Dodgers boss was to rid the organization of bloat like Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Dan Haren, acquiring young talent such as Yasmani Grandal and Kike Hernandez in return -- and it's hard to imagine a more qualified candidate emerging for the task now confronting the Red Sox.

The Dodgers could render this entire discussion moot by agreeing to an extension with Friedman tomorrow. But until that happens, consider him the most important free agent of the offseason if you're the Red Sox.

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Alex Cora sees Chris Sale as a man 'on a mission' after resuming throwing program

Alex Cora sees Chris Sale as a man 'on a mission' after resuming throwing program

SAN DIEGO -- Chris Sale recently cleared a major hurdle and resumed throwing. Manager Alex Cora can already see the noted competitor's fire burning bright as he looks to make amends for a shockingly mediocre 2019.

"I hate to say he's on a mission, but obviously he wasn't happy with the way the season went last year," Cora said. "He was trending up when he got hurt at the end. So hopefully he can bounce back, be ready for spring training, and be ready for the opening series."

Sale went just 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA in what was easily the worst season of his career before shutting it down in late August with a sore elbow. Dr. James Andrews prescribed rest and said he'd reevaluate Sale in six weeks, an aggressive timetable that was abandoned when it became clear the Red Sox would not make the playoffs.

Until Sale had his follow-up and started throwing again, however, concerns would linger that perhaps he'd still require a surgical procedure or be unready to start the season with the team. The start of throwing, however, has him back on track.

Sale is working out at the team's spring training facility in Fort Myers, where Sale makes his home. He and his wife recently donated $1 million to his alma mater, Florida Gulf Coast University.

"I texted him the other day," Cora said. "What he did to his university, that was amazing, not forgetting where you come from. That was great. Physically, he's in a good spot. He's in a good place. He's been very consistent with his rehab. Obviously, not sleeping that much because of the birth of the baby. We've got a few guys like that, but physically he's in a good spot. Mentally he's in a good spot."

Soon enough we'll find out if he's putting himself in a position to say mission accomplished.

***

Sale isn't the only pitcher who recently started throwing again. David Price, a couple of months removed from a procedure to remove a cyst on his wrist, is playing catch.

"The feeling is different," Cora said. "Obviously, he's been dealing with this for a while, and it's been a grind for David to go out there and perform. He feels a little bit looser with the wrist. The feel of the ball is different, and there haven't been setbacks. As of now, everything is trending the right way. The goal is for him to be ready for the opening series."

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How future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre quietly helped turn around Rafael Devers' season

How future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre quietly helped turn around Rafael Devers' season

SAN DIEGO -- It was easily one of the low points of Rafael Devers' otherwise breakout 2019, but it led to a phone call that changed his season.

On May 2 in Chicago, Devers booted a ground with one out in the ninth and the Red Sox holding a 4-3 lead over the White Sox. Two batters later, Nick Delmonico launched a walkoff three-run homer, and a disconsolate Devers admitted that he "played a significant role in the loss."

Teammate Mitch Moreland, however, saw an opportunity. He put Devers in touch with a former Rangers teammate who knows a thing or two about manning the hot corner -- five-time Gold Glover and future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre.

The two spoke a couple of times a month for the rest of the season, and Red Sox manager Alex Cora is excited to see what impact Beltre's wisdom will have on Devers in 20202.

"He took it personally," Cora said of the Chicago error. "And I'll say it now, after that, Mitch actually, he made a phone call to the Dominican Republic and talked to Adrian, and Adrian talked to Raffy, and from there on, the communication was on an every-other-week basis, and there's a few things that Adrian told him to do in the offseason and what he should do in spring training, and looking forward for him to work that way and see where it takes him."

After making nine errors in his first 31 games, Devers made just 13 the rest of the way, and the Red Sox expect he'll continue making strides next season.

"As far as like moving and decisions and what he did last year compared to where he was in my first year, it's night and day," Cora said. "The confidence, too."

Tomase: Sox offseason plans could come into focus this week>>>

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