Red Sox

Red Sox rotation hasn't even hit rock bottom, which portends disaster in 2020

Red Sox rotation hasn't even hit rock bottom, which portends disaster in 2020

BOSTON -- The Red Sox have devoted more than $400 million to the top three pitchers in their rotation.

Whoever takes over as GM this winter will be lucky to find $10 million for their replacements.

Tuesday highlighted what kind of challenge awaits the baseball operations department. Before an endless 7-6 loss to the Giants in 15 innings, manager Alex Cora revealed that left-hander David Price ($217 million) might need offseason surgery to address a cyst on his left wrist. He also noted that fellow southpaw Chris Sale ($145 million) remains in Fort Myers and isn't yet due for a follow-up with Dr. James Andrews to ascertain the state of his troublesome elbow, though he'll meet the team in Tampa this weekend.

Once the game started, right-hander Nathan Eovaldi ($68 million) allowed five runs on seven hits, including a pair of homers, in only four innings. His ERA rose to 6.19 and the best he could say was that he had made a memory for Mike Yastrzemski, serving up a mammoth homer to straightaway center for the grandson of Yaz.

It's hard to overstate just how dire an issue the rotation is setting up to be next season. The Red Sox are stuck in a position where their current starters are immovable from a salary standpoint and unreliable from a physical one. 

The team must count on them to deliver while also planning for the eventuality that anywhere from one to three of them probably won't.

To quote the great Dennis Eckersley: "Yuck."

When we talk about Dave Dombrowski leaving the Red Sox in a hole, what we're really talking about is the rotation. The offense will be stacked even if J.D. Martinez or Mookie Betts depart this winter. (Losing both would be a different story...) The starting rotation, however, is shaping up like one giant cinderblock that's about to drag down the entire roster.

So what can the Red Sox do? The prospect of replacing any one of the Big Three with an opener every five days is distasteful, and the Red Sox shouldn't subject their fans to it, not with one of the few legitimate big-market payrolls in the game. Leave the openers to the Tampas and Oaklands of the world (although they are playoff teams …). The Red Sox should be able to afford five serviceable starters.

The problem is they might need eight. That means scouring the non-tender wire and the shallow end of the free agency pool to find arms that can basically form a shadow rotation in support of the one that we can only trust with a giant leap of faith.

Any surgery Price might need sounds minor, but once that ball starts rolling...

"That's something we're going to talk about, if that's an option, if we need it," Cora said. "Obviously [the injury] has limited him as far as being able to compete and I think it actually kind of limited him when he was pitching, what he was able to do. We saw it with command and that's not him. He can get hit, that's part of it. But with command, he was way off. He didn't have that two-seamer in the whole season and that's a pitch that throughout his career, he always aced it. That's a pitch, a put-away pitch against right-handed hitters and he didn't have it. We'll talk about it. We'll see what we're going to do. Obviously, everything that can benefit from him will be great for the organization."

Eovaldi, meanwhile, remains an enigma. He routinely hit 98 mph on Tuesday, but the Giants knocked him around anyway because he spent too much time down in the strike zone. His ERA ranks in the bottom 15 in baseball and his inability to stay healthy feels like a problem will only intensify as he ages.

"When he's dominating, when he got here last year against the Twins, he was up [in the zone]," Cora said after the game. "Against the Yankees, the eight innings, it was up in the zone. Against the Dodgers, in the playoffs, it was up in the zone. We have to do that. We live in an era that if you pitch on plane, the guys are going to catch up regardless of whether you're throwing 100 or 91. There's a lot of foul balls, too. That's part of the mix.  There's nothing we can do with that. But we'll get it right, we'll finish on a positive note, and he'll be ready for the offseason to work on the things that he has to work, and he's a guy that is very important for us in the coming years."

As for Sale, we still don't know if he needs Tommy John surgery. What we do know is the longer the Red Sox wait to make a decision, the greater the likelihood that he'll miss two seasons instead of one if he goes under the knife.

That's a worst-case scenario, and the fact that Sale has felt well enough to play catch is encouraging, but let's be real: a bad shoulder effectively cost him the final three months of 2018, and a bad elbow shut him down this August.

Two years, two serious injuries. The Red Sox have no idea what to expect from Sale in 2020. The same can be said of Eovaldi. The same can be said of Price.

That's the heart and soul of your rotation. It's a massive percentage of your payroll. It's supposed to be the strength of your team.

That's a terrible place to be.

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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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Report: Red Sox hire new assistant hitting coach

Report: Red Sox hire new assistant hitting coach

Three weeks after parting ways with Andy Barkett, the Boston Red Sox reportedly have their new assistant hitting coach.

The team has hired Peter Fatse as Barkett's replacement according to Brandon Warne of Zone Coverage. Fatse, who hails from Wilbraham, Mass., served as the minor league hitting coordinator for the Minnesota Twins in 2019.

Fatse will assist Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers.

His hiring kicks off what's set to be an active offseason for the Red Sox following an underwhelming campaign in which they finished 84-78 and failed to clinch a playoff berth. Boston's remaining openings include pitching coach, assistant pitching coach, and general manager.

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