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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Eduardo Rodriguez unveils new slider and has an unlikely pitching coach to thank -- Dustin Pedroia

Eduardo Rodriguez unveils new slider and has an unlikely pitching coach to thank -- Dustin Pedroia

BOSTON - Eduardo Rodriguez spent spring training under the watchful eye of his rotation-mates, including Cy Young Award winners Rick Porcello and David Price, as well as perennial contender Chris Sale. They spent mornings on back fields honing E-Rod's new pitch, a slider he hoped to incorporate into his repertoire as a complement to his fastball and changeup.

Sale owns the best slider in the game. Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez even got in the fun, offering pointers on how he might grip it.

"If it works, I'll throw it," Rodriguez said in February. "It's spring training. Doesn't hurt the numbers on the back of your baseball card."

Fast-forward two months to Wednesday night, and suddenly Rodriguez's slider was no longer a theoretical offering, but a legitimate one. He threw 16 in an 11-4 victory over the Tigers, only two of which ended up in play. The pitch featured good action down and in to right-handed hitters and gave the Tigers something else to ponder as E-Rod carried a no-hitter into the fifth before settling for six innings of two-hit, one-run ball. He struck out seven and walked three.

So, who gets the credit for this new pitch? Sale? Price? Pedro?

Try Dustin Pedroia.

It sounds crazy, but Rodriguez recounted a conversation the two had in the dugout over the weekend in Tampa.

"Hey, do you want to throw a really nasty breaking ball?" Pedroia asked.

"Yeah, bro," Rodriguez replied. "I've been battling to throw a breaking ball since I got here in the big leagues, since I was in the minor leagues."

Rodriguez laughed while relaying the exchange.

"He told me to throw the ball like this and hold it like that, and two days ago I started throwing it with my knee over there, and it's funny, because the first time I threw that kind of breaking ball was today and it was working," Rodriguez said. "So I've just got to say thanks to him."

This begs so many questions. Did Pedroia actually teach him the grip?

"The grip, he showed me the grip, and I started doing it two days ago, and I told him, bro, I'm going to throw that today, and you tell me how it is, and I think it worked pretty good," Rodriguez said.

How does Pedroia know how to throw a slider?

"I don't know," Rodriguez said. "He just told me that he was throwing that when he was in school. He just told me how to throw it and I've got to say thank you to him."

Is it a slider or a curveball?

"I don't know," Rodriguez said. "Whatever you want to call it. Just something that goes right where I wanted."

This is the Rodriguez the Red Sox have been waiting to see. They've won his past three starts, and even though his ERA remains an unsightly 5.88, that's seven runs lower than it stood after his first two starts, losses to Seattle and Oakland that saw him surrender 12 runs in eight innings.

"You guys know I'm hard on him, but everybody is because we know how good he can be," said manager Alex Cora. "It's good to see him compete at this level this way and we expect him to do that every time he goes out there, to go deep into games, and dominate."

Who knew? All it took to put him over the hump was an assist from an unlikely pitching guru.

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Red Sox did something for first time this year in win over Tigers that could hold key to their entire season

Red Sox did something for first time this year in win over Tigers that could hold key to their entire season

BOSTON - If the Red Sox need a team song, Ringo Starr's "It Don't Come Easy" wouldn't be a bad choice.

They're singing the blues AND paying their dues, and their 2019 season sure as bleep hasn't come easy.

On Wednesday, they cruised past the Tigers in a game that was harder than it looked. They took command behind an outstanding start from left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez and early offense from Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.

Still, given the opportunity to blow things open early, they instead did what they've done all year, which is grind like a millstone. When Matt Barnes loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, the Tigers even brought the go-ahead run to the plate.

Barnes escaped and the offense finally exploded in the bottom of the frame. The scorebook will show a safe 11-4 victory. 

Reality tells a slightly different story, one that has repeated itself throughout this vexing young season.

A year after going 38-17 in blowouts decided by at least five runs, the Red Sox are now 1-5.

"I feel like we hadn't had a night like that this season," Martinez said. "For us to do that tonight I think is a good sign. We were kind of talking about it, joking about it today in the cage. We were like, 'This is the first night we've actually had it like this.' Last year, it felt like we had a lot like these. This is the first one. It's good."

He's not exaggerating. It's actually instructive and borderline amazing to break down their previous nine wins.

How many of these sound easy?

  • They trailed 6-2 in the eighth inning of their first victory, vs. Seattle on March 29, before Mitch Moreland's pinch three-run homer won it in the ninth.
  • Tied at 3 in the ninth with Oakland five days later, Mookie Betts squibbed a double off the third base bag that allowed the Red Sox to escape.
  • Their only other victory on the season-opening road trip came in Arizona, where Moreland's solo homer in the seventh provided the margin in a 1-0 victory.
  • A day after dropping their home opener, the Red Sox trailed the Blue Jays 6-5 in the ninth. They loaded the bases vs. closer Ken Giles and Rafael Devers won it with a chopper over a drawn-in infield.
  • A pair of victories over the woeful Orioles didn't even qualify as stress-free. On April 12, the Red Sox led 3-2 in the seventh before pulling away in a 6-4 victory that still required closer Ryan Brasier to finish things off after Tyler Thornburg served up a two-run homer in the ninth.
  • Two days later, the Red Sox found themselves clinging to a 1-0 lead in the eighth before Xander Bogaerts blasted an insurance three-run homer that provided the final margin in a 4-0 victory.
  • And finally, here's all you need to know about the weekend sweep in Tampa: all three games were tied in the eighth inning. The Red Sox won them by a combined total of four runs.

Nothing stresses a team like close games, and that's about all the Red Sox seem able to play. Just as a manager will pull a pitcher after a particularly taxing inning despite a relatively low pitch count, teams need a breather, too. If every game is a grind, the mental toll will accumulate.

We tend to focus on close wins, but easy ones help players survive a season.

"It's very important," Betts said. "Sometimes, you just want to sit back and chill and coast and know it's one of those things where you don't necessarily want to do it, but then it's also one of those things where sometimes you want to just coast through a win and today was one of those times. We'll see what happens tomorrow."

That's how the Red Sox went about their business in 2018. They followed brutal losses with easy wins. The most notable example came in the Division Series. They dropped a tense Game 2 vs. the Yankees and followed with a 16-1 drubbing in Game 3 that featured the first postseason cycle in history from Brock Holt.

Stress? What stress? The Red Sox could use many more nights like Wednesday, the kind that end with that peaceful, easy feeling, to quote some other '70s rockers.

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