Red Sox

Source: Red Sox eye reliever, right-handed bench help via trade

Source: Red Sox eye reliever, right-handed bench help via trade

BOSTON — As a six-game homestand begins and trade season picks up, the Red Sox have an eye on adding a reliever and a right-handed bat, a source with knowledge of the team’s thinking said.

Trade plans can change and evolve in the next month, but the Sox see room to add a piece to complement their left-handed hitting infielders: Mitch Moreland, Rafael Devers and Brock Holt. Adding a reliever and an infielder should not mean mortgaging an already thin farm system.

Alex Cora has barely used his bench this year. The Sox are tied for the third-fewest plate appearances as a pinch hitter, at 29. The pinch hitters have also done terribly, for whatever such a small sample size is worth, with a .074/.138/.111 line. The Sox have one extra-base hit and two hits total, with the latter tying them for the fewest in the majors.

The Sox also have a .670 OPS against left-handed pitching overall, the fourth-worst mark in the majors and the worst in the American League. They may naturally rebound, but it’s a stark comparison to the two major league leaders: the Yankees, at .828, and Astros, at .805.

In a way, the Sox are in a similar position to last year: they added a right-handed bat in Eduardo Nunez and a reliever in Addison Reed. Both were solid contributors, Nunez beyond expectations. But Nunez this season has shown poor range in the field and has dipped significantly at the plate (.247). 

With uncertainty surrounding Dustin Pedroia’s health, the Sox presumably would want to add a bat that can handle second base as well as a potential corner infield spot. But, with Brock Holt competent at second base, the Sox might find it easier to find a corner infield type rather than an all-around utility infielder.

Devers is clearly a great talent who may be at the hot corner for years to come. But in the short term, the Sox have to consider late-inning defense in a playoff setting, and what can make the 2018 team the strongest it can be come October. Smart teams will find moments to target subpar defenders on the infield, and the Yankees and Astros are both smart teams. Devers may be a great defender down the road, but for now, the Sox may be wise to mitigate his learning curve.

As for the bullpen, the loss of Carson Smith for the season in combination with the slow progress of Tyler Thornburg has left a spot for the Sox to add a late-inning reliever. Arguably, that spot has existed since the offseason, when Reed left as a free agent, but Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes have stepped up admirably.

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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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