Red Sox

Red Sox willing to pay highest luxury tax, weighing need for starting pitcher

Red Sox willing to pay highest luxury tax, weighing need for starting pitcher

WASHINGTON — As Chris Sale gets ready for his third consecutive All-Star start, his bosses are contemplating the need to add to the rotation behind him.

With the best record in baseball (68-30) and 64 games remaining, the Red Sox have a willingness to cross baseball’s highest luxury tax threshold and take on a payroll above $237 million this year, team president and CEO Sam Kennedy said. 

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski prefers not to make the jump if avoidable, as most anyone would, but Dombrowski has never shut the door on climbing payroll further. Now, with two weeks until the non-waiver trade deadline, the Sox have to weigh a new wrinkle: the potential need for a starting pitcher, because of an ankle injury to Eduardo Rodriguez that involves serious ligament damage.

“There’s a willingness from our bosses,” Kennedy told NBC Sports Boston in Washington D.C., where he was on hand for an All-Star Game loaded with Sox. “John [Henry] and Tom [Werner] have made very clear to me and to Dave: Look, let’s see how the market develops, and we want to do what it takes to try and win a fourth World Series championship. I don’t know how the market’s going to play out, but we’re getting close here. 

“But there would be a willingness to do that if it meant, in our estimation, making a decision that could really help put us over the edge, over the top, this year and the postseason. You know, we had the taste of October the last two years. There’s no question, we’re hungry for October success.”

There is no such thing as an over-the-top postseason move, because of the uncertainty of a short-series format. The Sox already had interest in adding a reliever for their bullpen. But adding a rotation piece may be more relevant to the goal that has less randomness at play with about 40 percent of the season remaining: holding on to the division.

How much faith the Sox have in both Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright to return to health and effectiveness may be discernible based on the team’s actions, or non-actions, via trade.

“Right now, we will analyze our situation and see what happens,” Dombrowski wrote in an email when asked about his interest in a starter and the outlook for Pomeranz and Wright.

"Dave and I have had lots of discussions about it, and to me, from looking back to the years where we have gotten over the hump in the postseason, a lot of times it’s the obscure speed-on-the-bases [type] or you know, last guy out of the bullpen,” Kennedy said. “But when it comes to October, pitching, pitching, is probably — we’ll see. 

“It depends what happens with Steven Wright, Drew Pomeranz. We got a little bit of time to figure that out. I think if you held a gun to my head, I would always support more pitching. Pitching pitching pitching. Dave and Alex Cora, they’ll make their assessment. 

“I can tell you one thing, John [Henry] and Tom [Werner] and I will be there at the ready to support what they want to do. This obviously has the makings of a very special, special season.”

E-Rod may be out until September. Even if he returns quickly, how effective he is coming off an injury may be something of a wild card. The Sox have seen firsthand this year how players returning from injuries can experience complications. 

Rodriguez had a history of knee subluxations, and his confidence on the mound coming back from those subluxations was low. Still, that was likely in part because the chance of recurrence was particularly high. Rodriguez's history does not necessarily mean that every injury he faces will provide a confidence issue. 

Nonetheless, his ankle injury is to the same right leg that he had surgery on to prevent knee subluxations.

One gamble the Sox could take: if they believe E-Rod can return this year, he could be a decent bullpen addition because of his strikeout stuff. If the Sox believed E-Rod could mentally and physically handle that transition coming off an injury, they could prioritize adding a starting pitcher over a reliever, on the hopes that the bullpen will gain help from E-Rod, or perhaps from Pomeranz or Wright. But that would be a gamble, and adding both a starter and reliever would be safest.

“In regards to E-Rod pitching in relief, it is much too early to answer that question,” Dombrowski wrote.

Going over the $237 million threshold (as calculated for luxury tax purposes, which is slightly different than the actual dollar figure the Sox are paying players this season) would mean the Sox would pick 10 spots lower in next year’s amateur draft. As Alex Speier of the Boston Globe has noted, the difference between a pick near No. 30 (the best teams receive the lowest picks), as opposed to No. 40, historically has not been large. 

In the case of the Sox this year, they would pay a 62.5 percent tax on every dollar spent above $237 million. They are already paying a 20 percent tax on every dollar from $197 million up to $217 (so, $4 million), and 32 percent on every dollar above $217 million (roughly $6 million, depending on where exactly they stand today).

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Most under-appreciated Red Sox of 2018? Rick Porcello

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Most under-appreciated Red Sox of 2018? Rick Porcello

PHILADELPHIA — Red Sox manager Alex Cora threw Brian Johnson’s name into the Red Sox MVP conversation before Tuesday’s game. From the sound of it, Cora was speaking more to the condition of being under-appreciated by the masses, of being a subtly important contributor.

Such discussion is a rabbit hole that leads to Average Al Horford hand-wringing and circular arguments about the need for the little things, as they say.

Here's fuel for the fire. On a night when Rick Porcello said that Sandy Leon is “the best catcher I’ve ever thrown to” — Leon not only homered, but ended the game with a fantastic play to finish a strikeout on a ball that got away — and on a night when Brock Holt also hit the Red Sox’ first pinch-hit home run of the season, here's another nominee for most under-appreciated member of the 2018 Red Sox. Porcello himself, the former Cy Young winner.

The most news Porcello has made in 2018 is for his double off Max Scherzer. Right?

He was at it again Tuesday night in a 2-1 Sox win over the Phillies. Hitting. He doubled again, finishing with a flop of a dive into second base in the third inning off starter Nick Pivetta. Everyone had a hoot.

“It was bad," Cora said. "It was really bad."

But Porcello is not making news outside of his slugging because he just doesn’t stand out like his rotation peers. 

Chris Sale is a monster. David Price is pitching well and never far from the spotlight. Nathan Eovaldi is the new guy with a perky cutter. Porcello’s just getting the job done, against every team that’s not the Blue Jays.

Except that description doesn’t aptly serve the strength of his season. With 10 strikeouts on Tuesday in seven innings, Porcello recorded his fifth career double-digit strikeout performance and his first since 2015. (Not 2016, his Cy Young season, but 2015.)

“Just pitched a lot better,” Porcello said, referring to his seven runs in four innings against the Jays in his previous outing. “You saw both games. I was throwing pitches right down the middle and walking guys in Toronto. Today for the most part I was able to stay out of the middle of the plate, not give up any free passes.”

He’s doing more than that, though. More than ever has in his career, Porcello is striking batters out — the currency for pitchers — now at a rate of 8.9 per nine innings. That’s better than the Phillies’ Aaron Nola (8.71), than Corey Kluber (8.57) and Jon Lester (7.03). It’s very close to David Price (8.98), Cole Hamels (9.11) and Zack Greinke (9.12).

Among 43 pitchers with 130 innings on the season as a starter, Porcello’s strikeout rate ranks 19th. His rebound from last year was expected, but not a given. 

This is the second straight season Porcello has improved his K rate, jumping from 7.6 per nine just two years ago. His walk rate is where it was last year, but he’s allowing fewer hits all-around, home runs included.

At 151 2/3 innings and a 4.04 ERA, Porcello has been a picture of middle-of-the-rotation steadiness. Even when he's not doubling.

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Holt's pinch-hit homer lifts Red Sox over Phillies, 2-1

Holt's pinch-hit homer lifts Red Sox over Phillies, 2-1

PHILADELPHIA -- Brock Holt took advantage of a rare opportunity.

Holt belted a pinch-hit tiebreaking homer, Rick Porcello threw seven impressive innings and the major league-leading Boston Red Sox beat the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1 Tuesday night.

Sandy Leon also went deep for Boston, which improved to 86-35. The Red Sox increased their total to 168 homers, matching their number from last year when they hit an AL-low 168.

Porcello (15-5) gave up one run and two hits, striking out 10. He tied Max Scherzer and Luis Severino for most wins in the majors.

Rhys Hoskins homered, but the Phillies wasted a solid outing from Nick Pivetta. He allowed one run and three hits in six innings.

Holt hit the first pitch he saw from Tommy Hunter (3-2) in the eighth off the video screen on the facing of the second deck in right field.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Holt wouldn't have been used in that spot in an American League ballpark because he wouldn't have removed Porcello after only 90 pitches.

"We don't have a lot of opportunities to pinch-hit in the AL so I was in the cage, taking flips, staying loose, trying to stay more ready than normal," Holt said. "Just wanted to be ready for a good pitch to hit. Pinch-hitting is a tough job."

Heath Hembree tossed a perfect eighth, striking out Odubel Herrera swinging at a pitch that hit his left foot. Craig Kimbrel finished the two-hitter for his 36th save in 40 chances. He's 41 for 41 in interleague games in his career.

Leon gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead in the third. The least dangerous hitter in Boston's lineup sent a 95 mph fastball into the seats in right-center for his fifth homer.

Porcello followed with a liner over right fielder Nick Williams' head and slid headfirst into second base for his second career extra-base hit.

"I got lucky," Porcello said.

Cora was afraid Porcello might get hurt when he saw him start to dive.

"That slide was horrible," Cora said. "He was ready to hit. He's a good athlete, he competes."

Porcello retired his first 12 batters before Hoskins drove his 23rd homer out to left in the fifth.

The Phillies have lost five of seven to fall into second place in the NL East behind Atlanta.

"I don't see us pressing," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I see us competing and staying in the game to the end. We lost to one of the best teams in baseball."

CATCHER APPRECIATION

Porcello on Leon: "No disrespect to any catcher I've ever thrown to, but he's the best. He's the heartbeat of the pitching staff. He always knows what to throw. We rely on him. He's as good a game-caller as there is."

NL DOMINANCE

The Red Sox have won 20 of their last 23 interleague games.

ROSTER MOVES

The Phillies traded righty Jake Thompson to the Milwaukee Brewers for cash. Thompson was acquired in the trade that sent former ace Cole Hamels to Texas in 2015. He was 7-8 with a 4.87 ERA in 30 appearances, including 18 starts, in three seasons in Philadelphia. ... Former Phillies closer Hector Neris was recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley and infielder J.P. Crawford was sent down.

LINEUP SHUFFLE

Kapler moved Williams up to No. 2 and Asdrubal Cabrera to No. 3. Hoskins went from second to cleanup and Carlos Santana dropped from No. 4 to fifth in the order.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox:Blake Swihart was activated from the disabled list and C Dan Butler was designated for assignment. ... 2B Ian Kinsler could return Wednesday from a strained left hamstring.

Phillies: C Wilson Ramos was 4 for 9 with three doubles in three rehab games for Single-A Clearwater and could join the lineup Wednesday. The two-time All-Star catcher hasn't played since being acquired from Tampa Bay on July 31 because of a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

RHP Nathan Eovaldi (5-4, 3.74 ERA) makes his fourth start for the Red Sox since arriving in a trade from Tampa Bay while RHP Vince Velasquez (8-9, 3.98 ERA) goes for the Phillies on Wednesday night.

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