Red Sox

For Red Sox, biggest risk of opener strategy is whoever comes next

For Red Sox, biggest risk of opener strategy is whoever comes next

The term "opener" obscures the most important pitcher in the entire process. It's actually the "follower."

When the Rays popularized the concept in 2018, they recognized it would only be as strong as whoever pitched second. In most cases, the opener himself wouldn't even turn over the lineup.

In 2019, for instance, Ryne Stanek started 27 games and threw only 55.2 innings before being traded to the Marlins at the deadline. A year earlier, right-hander Diego Castillo made 11 starts totaling 19 innings.

The real work, it turns out, comes next.

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In 2018, right-hander Ryan Yarbrough won 16 games and threw 147.1 innings in 38 appearances (six starts). Last season, former Red Sox farmhand Jalen Beeks threw over 100 innings despite making just three starts, while Yarbrough once again topped 140 innings in 28 appearances split evenly between starting and relieving.

What makes this relevant to the Red Sox, of course, is dire necessity. With ace Chris Sale already ruled out for Opening Day, and with nary a fifth starter in sight, the Red Sox could devote a pair of rotation spots to openers in April.

The Rays used the system to much acclaim last season, leading the AL in ERA at 3.65, more than a full run better than the Red Sox, despite injuries that limited defending Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell to 23 starts and breakout candidate Tyler Glasnow to 12.

On Sunday, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom conducted a seminar with the coaching staff over the implementation of the opener, since he spent 15 years in Tampa and helped pioneer its use. Roenicke told reporters in Florida that Bloom's primary message was that one size does not fit all.

"There isn't a set way to do things," Roenicke said. "You have to look at who you're playing that day, who you match up against, whether you know a guy is going to pitch that day and you communicate with him that he's going to pitch, you're not sure yet whether he's going to start or come in and relieve. And there's different reasons why you would change that.

It has to do with what happens the day before, it has to do with what the matchup is that day, the lineup against you, so it's really you've got to be really flexible in how you go about it and from game to game.

The issue for the Red Sox will be finding the arms to make it work. Starting a traditional reliever may work to a platoon advantage — the Rays allowed the fewest first-inning runs (67) in the AL in 2018, dropping to sixth (86) last year — but it's the innings-eater in the middle of the game who needs to bridge the gap to the setup men in the sixth or seventh.

The problem is, were that pitcher accomplished enough, he'd simply be a starter. Even the Rays have admitted that in a perfect world, they'd just field a set rotation.

The opener is what happens when you don't quite have the arms to pull that off, since it allows the "follower" to avoid the top of the order right out of the gate, and also limits, in theory, the possibility that he'll face those hitters three times.

"I think it's the personnel," Roenicke said. "If your personnel really fits this opener-type thing, it makes sense. It makes a lot of sense. But if you have a stud fourth or fifth starter, you do it the other way."

With the Red Sox likely carrying 13 pitchers on Opening Day, they'll have some spots to play with.

The safest bets to make the roster, as things stand now, are starters Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Martin Perez, as well as closer Brandon Workman, and relievers Matt Barnes, Darwinzon Hernandez, Heath Hembree, Josh Taylor, and Marcus Walden.

That leaves four spots and multiple candidates to open, whether it's 30-year-old right-hander Chris Mazza, who made his debut with the Mets last season after eight years in the minors, 27-year-old left-hander Kyle Hart, a 2016 19th-round pick who only throws in the upper 80s but boasts decent command, or old friends Ryan Weber and Brian Johnson, a pair of soft tossers the organization knows well.

While it's entirely possible one or more of them thrive in the role, it's probably more likely that the organization's lack of pitching depth shows up in this arena, too. After all, it's not as if the simple act of employing an opener guarantees its success.

You need the horses, especially in those middle innings, and it's hard to say the Red Sox have them.

How Bobby Bonilla Day can save MLB's ongoing salary dispute

How Bobby Bonilla Day can save MLB's ongoing salary dispute

If baseball wants to solve its impasse over player compensation during the pandemic, here's a thought — make Bobby Bonilla Day a holiday.

Bonilla is the former Mets slugger who struck an incredible deal as his career wound to a close.

In exchange for waiving the final $5.9 million he was owed in 2000, Bonilla agreed to receive 25 payments of roughly $1.19 million every July 1 from 2011 through 2035.

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Why trade $6 million in 2000 for nearly $30 million later? Because Mets owner Fred Wilpon intended to invest the money with Bernie Madoff, whose funds consistently delivered massive returns. We now know Madoff was running the world's biggest Ponzi Scheme, and when his $64 billion fraud collapsed in 2008, it took hundreds of millions of Wilpon's money with it.

What's bad for him was good for Bobby Bo, however. Every summer, the six-time All-Star receives a check for over a million dollars, payments that will continue until he's 72. (The Mets, it should be noted, also agreed to make 25 annual $250,000 payments to Bret Saberhagen for similar reasons, starting in 2004.)

Here's where the current contentiousness enters the picture.

The owners want the players to take a massive pay cut in exchange for a season, arguing they can't afford to play in empty ballparks without salary concessions. The players don't want to return a penny, and in fact hope to play more than the proposed 82 games to make as much of their prorated salaries as possible.

One solution is deferrals. The players agree to put off some portion of their earnings, allowing ownership to maintain cash flow in the short term before the game's economics hopefully stabilize in the future.

And what better day to do it than Bobby Bonilla Day? Every July 1 starting next year, the players can receive a portion of their 2020 salary. Maybe it's paid in installments over three to five years, or maybe it's a lump sum.

However it's done, it could represent a meaningful olive branch from the players and a signal that they're willing to compromise in these unprecedented times.

The value for the owners is clear, because Wilpon isn't the only one who sees the allure of deferrals. The World Series champion Nationals prefer them as a rule, deferring not only $105 million of Max Scherzer's $210 million contract, but even $3 million of the $4 million they gave reliever Joe Blanton in 2017.

With players and owners at each other's throats, it could be disarming to invoke one of the game's stranger annual curiosities. And if it helps us play baseball in 2020, there's also this: Open the season on July 1 and make Bobby Bonilla Day, for one year anyway, a national holiday.

Who are the best right fielders in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5

Who are the best right fielders in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5

Corner outfielders for the Red Sox have vastly different responsibilities. 

While left fielders have to learn how to play with the Green Monster at their backs, right fielders are tasked with covering an immense amount of ground with some quirky angles —duties which require not just a mobile defender, but a fearless one. A strong arm helps, too, lest the turnstiles between first and third just spin all game.

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Fortunately for the Red Sox, there have been no shortage of exceptional right fielders over the years, including a number who didn't make our top five, like Dirt Dog Trot Nixon; postseason heroes J.D. Drew and Shane Victorino; and Earl Webb, whose 67 doubles in 1931 remain one of the longest-standing single-season records in the game.

The final list includes a Hall of Famer, two MVPs, a hometown hero, and one of the franchise's longest tenured stars.

Click here for the Top 5 right fielders in Red Sox history.