Red Sox

What's next for Red Sox after Chris Sale's pending contract extension?

What's next for Red Sox after Chris Sale's pending contract extension?

Dave Dombrowski couldn't resist getting involved in Extension Season.

To cap a busy week of franchise cornerstones signing long-term contract extensions -- Mike Trout, Alex Bregman and Paul Goldschmidt, to name a few -- reports surfaced Friday that the Boston Red Sox have agreed to an extension with ace Chris Sale worth $145 million over five years.

That's a lot of cash to commit to a player who turns 30 in eight days. But Sale has earned his price tag, posting a 2.56 ERA over his two seasons in Boston while finishing in the top five in American League Cy Young voting in both years.

Locking up their ace also allows the Red Sox to check the top item off their lengthy to-do list for next winter. And it's lengthy; here's a list of pending free agents after the 2019 season:

-- OF/DH J.D. Martinez (opt-out clause)
-- SS Xander Bogaerts
-- SP Rick Porcello
-- 1B Mitch Moreland
-- 2B Eduardo Nunez
-- UTIL Brock Holt
-- 1B Steve Pearce
-- RP Tyler Thornburg

Dombrowski admitted Thursday that Boston likely won't be able to re-sign one of Sale, Porcello, Martinez and Bogaerts. So, with Sale extended, which of that trio would be the odd man out?

Considering Sale, David Price, Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez all reportedly are under contract through next season for a combined $86 million, you could make a case it's Porcello.

Porcello has a 50-28 record in Boston over a three-year tenure that includes a Cy Young award. He's also an established leader in the clubhouse. His ERA has been north of 4.00 in each of the last two seasons, though, so it just might not make sense for Boston to pay him what he wants in free agency when it could pursue a back-end starter at a lower cost, especially if that gives the club flexibility to retain Martinez and re-sign Bogaerts.

There's another factor looming, of course: Mookie Betts' expected mega-payday. The Red Sox outfielder is set to hit free agency in 2020 and could command a contract in the $35 million-per-year range. If that deal is with Boston, the Sox would have three players under contract for north of $60 million combined from 2020 to at least 2022.

Dombrowski has been willing to spend big on pitching in Boston, and last year's World Series title certainly validates that strategy. But extending Sale may force the Red Sox's front office to make some tough decisions elsewhere on the pitching staff.

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Four potentially undervalued pitchers Red Sox could target this offseason

Four potentially undervalued pitchers Red Sox could target this offseason

It's time for the Red Sox to start thinking like a small-market team, because burning money in the name of their rotation could have dire consequences that stretch well into the 2020s.

With Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi set to earn $80 million annually through 2022 despite being major injury risks, the Red Sox will need to bargain hunt to fill the rest of their rotation. So where might they turn?

The key will be finding undervalued assets. One way to identify them is to look for pitchers with the biggest disparity between their ERA and FIP.

The latter — fielding independent pitching — is an ERA-like number derived from the events a pitcher can directly control: walks, strikeouts, home runs, and hit by pitches, the idea being that everything else is in the hands of the defense. FIP has its flaws, because it operates on the assumption that a pitcher can't impact balls in play, which means hurlers aren't credited for the majority of their outs, but it can still be a useful tool.

A wide spread between a pitcher's ERA and FIP can suggest bad luck or bad defense that mask some underlying strengths. The Red Sox, interestingly enough, looked a lot better as a staff via FIP than ERA, led by Chris Sale (4.40 ERA vs. 3.39 FIP), David Price (4.28 vs. 3.62), and even Rick Porcello (5.52 vs. 4.76).

Their staff ERA of 4.70 surpassed their 4.28 FIP by the widest margin of any team in baseball. Defensive metrics are notoriously spotty, but Fangraphs ranked Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts dead last at his position in defensive runs saved, saying he cost the Red Sox 19 runs. Similarly, center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (minus-2) and third baseman Rafael Devers (minus-13) were considered negatives, too. Bogaerts and Devers aren't going anywhere, but Bradley, a defending Gold Glover, is likely to be traded this winter. The Red Sox could also upgrade their defense at second base.

In any event, we're drifting a little far afield. The point is finding opposing pitchers who significantly underperformed their FIP, which could make them targets this winter. Here are four names to remember.

1. Joe Musgrove, RHP, Pirates

A first-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2011, Musgrove was traded to the Astros a year later before joining Pittsburgh as the centerpiece in the 2018 Gerrit Cole blockbuster. He made a career-high 31 starts this year, going 11-12 with a 4.44 ERA that masked a 3.82 FIP.

Those relatively middling numbers still established the 26-year-old as Pittsburgh's most effective starter, and he remains under team control through 2022.

With the Pirates in what feels like an eternal rebuild, it's hard to imagine they'd consider any player untouchable. Musgrove could make for an intriguing target.

2. Kevin Gausman, RHP, Reds

Gausman is a non-tender candidate, since he's set to make at least $10 million in his final year of arbitration. Chosen fourth overall in the 2012 draft by the Orioles, Gausman was once considered a top-10 prospect.

He has yet to live up to that hype, but he's better than the numbers suggested last year between Atlanta, where he posted a 6.19 ERA (and 4.20 FIP) in 16 starts, and Cincinnati, where he found use as a reliever (4.03 ERA, 3.17 FIP). Gausman struck out a career-high 10 batters per nine innings and is still only 28, so perhaps a flyer is in order, particularly if other teams are viewing him as a reliever and the Red Sox give him an opportunity to start.

3. Spencer Turnbull, RHP, Tigers

How does the AL's loss leader sound? Pitching for a woeful team, Turnbull went just 3-17 with a 4.61 ERA in 30 starts. His 3.99 FIP suggests better stuff than results, however, and he doesn't become a free agent until 2025.

Turnbull throws 95-97 and is considered a piece of Detroit's future, but it never hurts to ask. The 27-year-old went winless in his final 18 starts and is a late bloomer who was still pitching in Double A at age 25.

4. Pablo Lopez, RHP, Marlins

The rookie went 5-8 with a 5.09 ERA in 21 starts, but his 4.28 FIP and low walk rates (2.2 per nine innings) suggest some promise. The 23-year-old hails from Venezuela and can't become a free agent until 2025. He features a low-90s fastball and changeup, and the Marlins like his competitiveness. Being the Marlins means they're in perpetual fire-sale mode, however, and Lopez is worth a look.

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Andrew Friedman announces he's staying with Dodgers, taking biggest name off board for Red Sox

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USA Today Sports Images

Andrew Friedman announces he's staying with Dodgers, taking biggest name off board for Red Sox

The Red Sox can cross the biggest name off their GM search before he was ever even an option.

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman announced on Monday that he will finalize a deal to stay in L.A. "in the next couple of days." Friedman had technically become a free agent after the Dodgers' season ending in shocking fashion against the Nationals last week.

His five-year, $35 million contract expired, but the Dodgers moved quickly to lock up the 43-year-old, who has built consistent winners in both Tampa and Los Angeles and was considered the most intriguing candidate for the job of running the Red Sox, which opened up when the team parted ways with Dave Dombrowski in September.

With Friedman off the board and the Twins reportedly nearing a deal to extend Lynn native Derek Falvey as their chief baseball officer, the Red Sox have seen the candidate pool for their opening diminish before their search even starts. Before the season ended, the Diamondbacks took another name out of play by extending GM Mike Hazen, a Massachusetts native and former Red Sox executive. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein also declared his commitment to Chicago, though his contractual status hasn't changed.

One name that hasn't been taken off the board is Chaim Bloom, Tampa's VP of baseball operations. The 36-year-old Yale graduate oversees Tampa's baseball operations alongside Erik Neander, and the two guided the Rays to a wild card before taking the Astros to Game 5 of the ALDS.

Widely considered one of the most innovative franchises in the game, the Rays have reached 90 wins in two straight seasons despite fielding one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

This team makes sense for J.D. Martinez in 2020>>>

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