The sun is shining, spring is on the horizon. It feels like a good day for baseball.
To celebrate what would have been Opening Day, the Globe hosted a live chat with Red Sox beat writer Alex Speier.
Thanks for all your questions. Here’s a playback. Questions are in bold, and are shown as submitted.
Speier: Greetings on what would have been Opening Day. For so many reasons, I wish that we had more to offer than this chat. First and foremost, I hope everyone taking part in this is healthy and safe, even if bewildered by the circumstances that have us here. (Along those lines: If I go silent for a few minutes during this, it’s likely because I’m under siege by my 9-year-old and 6-year-old.) That said, on a day that is typically a celebration of spring and a renewed opportunity to get together, I’m grateful for the chance to do that with you here.
So: Baseball. Weird offseason, no? With Chris Sale undergoing Tommy John surgery, Fangraphs projected the Red Sox as an 80-82 team in 2020 – a projection that is CERTAIN to be wrong, given that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has already acknowledged that the season won’t be 162 games. (Neither he nor anyone else knows what form the actual season might take.) I can’t remember a more pessimistic data-driven forecast for the Sox in the 19 seasons I’ve covered them.
Projections aren’t crystal balls, however, so I identified some potential scenarios that could allow the Sox to surpass that rather uninspiring forecast.
Had the Red Sox been in Toronto facing the Blue Jays today, here’s my best guess about the lineups that would’ve been taking the field – accounting for the matchup of two lefthanded starters:
Kevin Pillar, RF
Rafael Devers, 3B
Xander Bogaerts, SS
J.D. Martinez, DH
Michael Chavis, 1B
Jose Peraza, 2B
Andrew Benintendi, LF
Christian Vazquez, C
Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
Eduardo Rodriguez, SP
Bo Bichette, SS
Cavan Biggio, 2B
Lourdes Gurriel Jr., LF
Vlad Guerrero Jr., 3B
Randal Grichuk, CF
Teoscar Hernandez, RF
Travis Shaw, 1B
Danny Jansen, C
Brandon Drury, DH
Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP
Enough preamble – thanks again for joining! Fire away with questions…
Are the players being paid per normal or is each player being paid differently or at all??
Compensation is being worked out between the Players Association and MLB. Right now, players on the big league 40-man roster are getting their spring training allowances... but it remains to be seen what kind of salary arrangement is reached, something that will depend on the length of the season.
I’m skipping ahead eight months to ask this question: What are the chances the Sox will go after Mookie Betts in free agency?
Before the world was upended, I wouldn’t have thought it likely that the Sox would end up as one of the finalists for Betts. I think the team is leery of a commitment that likely will surpass $400 million for anyone -- including one of the best few players in baseball. But, there’s an X factor, which is that the national economic climate could severely impact free agency -- something that happened earlier this century, when the A-Rod/Manny free agent rush of the 2000-01 offseason gave way to relatively short dollars for Vlad Guerrero by 2002-03. Still, I’d guess other teams -- perhaps most notably, the Dodgers, who have lots of $ but few long-term commitments -- will be bigger players.
MLB has just concluded its investigation into sign stealing for the 2018 Red Sox. MLB has said it will announce its findings before the season starts. Could you speculate on what you think their findings might show??
I don’t like to speculate on this for the simple reason that I can’t say with certainty. There have been a lot of people, on and off the record, around the Red Sox who believe that the team wasn’t guilty of significant wrongdoing, and certainly nothing at the level of nefariousness of Houston. But even if the Sox engaged in a form of behavior that many believe was widespread -- players cracking sign-sequence codes in real time while looking at the video replay live feed, for instance -- MLB might be inclined to come down with a heavy hammer given that the Sox had already been put on notice that any illegal sign-stealing behavior after Sept. 2017 would be punished heavily. So, even a relatively modest offense could result in a significant punishment -- but I don’t know what MLB has found.
Hey, Alex. I just ordered a copy of your recent book, Homegrown, about the present BoSox homegrown talent. With the virus situation ongoing, what writing project might you be developing with the current flexibility in your sked?
Nice of you to ask, but I’ve been deeply enmeshed in reporting and writing for the Globe. The COVID-19 pandemic, obviously, is unlike anything that any of us has seen, with implications for every aspect of society including the sporting world. So, between that and the daily parental responsibilities... there’s not a lot of flexibility going on. But it’s nice to daydream about a return to having some!
Why isn’t tj surgery more often at end of season, for example Sale, & what accounts for longer games than in past?
Both good questions. Re: Tommy John surgery -- you can’t order it if there’s no medical information that suggests it’s needed, even if that means it’s not done on a convenient schedule. In the case of Sale, there was no visual evidence in his MRI either last August or this March of a UCL tear that would necessitate surgery. That doesn’t mean there *wasn’t* a tear, but MRIs can’t always *see* the tears, particularly if they’re partial rather than complete. No doctor will order TJ if they can’t see a tear to justify a procedure with a 14-15 month rehab timeline. So, Sale was prescribed rest and rehab both last August (along with a PRP injection) and in March. But when his elbow kept hurting, it was obvious that there was a UCL tear that couldn’t be seen, requiring surgery. As for time of game... too many factors to answer right now, but a good topic for another day!
Hi Alex. Bob Tichell ‘54 here. What is the reasoning behind letting Brock Holt walk ? He seemed to have recovered well from his concussion and was hitting well.doing his usual good job playing all over the field, probably the best utility guy since Billy Dale Goodman.
A couple factors. First, early in the offseason, Holt was looking for more money than what he ended up getting (1-year, $3.25M from the Brewers). The Sox hadn’t traded Betts and Price yet and were at a point in the offseason where they were being somewhat thrifty. So, when they had an opportunity to land Peraza -- a player whose 2018 season suggested greater upside than Holt thanks to greater power, even if a lower baseline performance level -- they moved early and quickly to land him at $3M. Peraza also gives the Sox potentially multiple years of control in what might be his mid- to late-20s prime, whereas Holt is on the wrong side of 30. But Holt owns a special place in the team’s recent history -- and had one of the most remarkable connections I’ve ever seen outside of Fenway Park to the region.
Alex is it true that the longer the virus keeps things locked down, the longer the “Second Spring” training is likely to have to be? Is there concern among players (pitchers especially) that things will then be rushed by the league and owners?
There’s a sense that the shutdown is going to be long enough that players will need at least a few weeks to get ready again. When the 1994-95 strike ended in March 1995, there was an abbreviated spring training of roughly that duration. From what I could glean, there weren’t an abnormal number of injuries that season -- though there were a greater-than-usual number of shoulder injuries to pitchers, at least in the context of the 1990s. Wrote about that a bit here.
Why don’t teams learn to bunt the opposite way to beat shifts? Jackie B could bat 50 points higher, and holes would begin to reopen if most players increased this skill.
Bunting with any precision against mid- to high-90s with wipeout breaking pitches is hard. An attempt to bunt isn’t the same as a successful bunt for a hit. There might be a marginal increase in batting average... though there also might be a number of at-bats where players were just giving away a strike or two, which is bad news given the devastating nature of swing-and-miss arsenals right now. Moreover, the likelihood of generating a run through a bunt single compared to taking a shot at swinging away -- which could result not just in a single but also potentially an extra base hit -- is marginal. So... the potential payoff doesn’t necessarily justify the sacrificed opportunity that comes with it. That said: Bradley is way better when he uses the whole field in his approach. If he does that while swinging away, he’s the best version of himself.
What is the latest date on which the Red Sox would be willing to start the season?
It’s not really up to the Sox. It’s up to MLB. It’s sort of hard for me to imagine that MLB would commit to a season that was less than half its typical length, but the league and players are open-minded about extending the regular season and running a number of double-headers in an effort to get a season in. My guess is that it wouldn’t make much sense to start a season after July, but a June or July starting date would be workable.
How much did unfortunate (reckless?) timing of Chris Sales’s current contract contribute to the trade that sent Mookie Betts to the Dodgers? If Dombrowski had held off on signing Sales or made the contract contingent on several performance goals, would it have been even necessary to trade Mookie?
It’s a great, unanswerable question. The fact that the Sox re-signed Eovaldi and extended Sale and Bogaerts between Dec. 2018 and March 2019 ensured that they would be over the luxury tax threshold unless they traded one or two of their bigger contracts. But the idea of resetting the luxury tax threshold was only part of the team’s calculus. The club’s prospect pipeline is no longer filled at the upper levels -- a major part of why the team felt compelled to make the deal and get potential impact talent for Betts rather than letting him walk in free agency for virtually nothing. I do think the Sox would have been open to the possibility of dealing Betts even if they hadn’t re-signed Sale -- but perhaps not as open as they ended up being.
Also, given the thinking that David Price was a negative asset and was actually a drag on what the Sox received as compensation in the trade, why didn’t the Sox just hold onto to him until the trade deadline?
From what I understand, Price wasn’t a drag on compensation -- more of a neutral asset. And they weren’t sure they’d have another opportunity to move him at the deadline (what if he is injured?) if they didn’t trade him in this deal. Still, it’s a fair question -- more than Betts, the decision to move Price seemed motivated by a desire to free resources and to reset the team’s payroll below the luxury tax threshold.
Why are games so much longer now, statistical correlation to # pitchers, time between pitches, or something else, and length of games?
OK, let’s loop back to this. A lot of reasons: Length of commercial breaks. Number of pitching changes. Increasing number of pitches per plate appearance in an era where there are a ton of swings-and-misses as well as foul balls (a reflection of the quality of pitches). Time taken by pitchers between pitches (not an accident -- a lot of teams encouraged their pitchers to work more deliberately, since more time between pitches is believed to correlate with both more velocity/power and less injury risk). Managers waiting for word from the video replay room about whether to challenge a call. And on. And on.
Do you think that given the high profile Tommy John surgeries happening around now, that teams may more closely evaluate the need for the surgery at the end of a season? Or is it already settled that it is best in these cases to shut down a pitcher for 5 months or so and hope for the best?
There are some misconceptions about Tommy John, including that it’s a turnkey procedure. If I recall correctly, there’s something like a 25 percent fail rate in Tommy John surgeries, meaning that pitchers who undergo them never return to their prior highest competitive level (i.e., AAA pitcher who gets it returns to AAA, MLB pitcher who gets it returns to MLB). And there are many cases of rest and recovery permitting pitchers to get back on the mound and pitch without missing a year or year and a half. So, the conservative course is the preferred course for those who do the operations like Andrews, ElAttrache, etc. If there’s a chance you might be able to pitch without the surgery, you don’t get the surgery. Consider David Price: Many thought TJ was inevitable for him in 2017. Had he undergone it proactively, he wouldn’t have been part of the 2018 Red Sox, and the story of that year might have been very different.
The trend of the last several years to have an at-bat end in either a homer or a strikeout is making MLB a tough sell to new fans. Is MLB considering making any adjustments to the game to increase the number of balls in play?
Yes. MLB bought the independent Atlantic League in hopes of testing a number of concepts, including moving the mound back further from the plate -- one intended to generate increasing contact -- and banning pickoff throws. Everyone wants to see more multifarious action on the field.
Will the postponement of the season complicate scouting operations? What’s the plan for the MLB draft?
Kiley McDaniel of ESPN reported today that MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to push the draft back by about a month (which might allow teams to scout players in either workouts or summer leagues, depending on the path of the pandemic) and reduce it from 40 rounds to perhaps as few as 10. If scouts are able to start going back to work to see players, there would be a frenzied schedule to do so given how few looks a team might have. But teams are also confident in their ability to work with multi-year histories that they have with players. That said, it would be a very different draft than it might be with a full season of games to scout. In 2015, BEnintendi was a draft-eligible sophomore at Arkansas who’d hit for no power as a freshman. He was seen as maybe a day two pick -- round five or so. He was the most dominant player in college that year, flying up the board and getting taken by the Sox at No. 7. Players won’t have an opportunity for that sort of surge this year.
How is it possible that syndergaard got TJ surgery while hospitals are fighting coronavirus?
Important question. Essentially, though most states have put holds on elective surgeries, hospitals and doctors have some discretion in defining what qualifies as elective and what qualifies as urgent. I have an article going up shortly on the subject. There’s no chance a Mass.-licensed doctor would have been allowed to perform TJ in-state, but in Florida, doctors are being given a bit more freedom to perform such procedures.
Assuming we do get to watch baseball sometime in 2020 .......... who are the prospects who may end up getting called up to the Red Sox? Anyone who can help the rotation?
The 2020 season will be an interesting one from the standpoint of starting pitcher development for the Red Sox, as I believe the team is prepared to commit more fully than it has in years to letting pitchers learn (and, at times, fail) at the big league level. Kyle Hart will be an early-season consideration as starting pitching depth. A bit down the road, Tanner Houck (2017 first rounder, RHP) may get a look. If the team is in contention, then there’s a chance that RHP Bryan Mata (the team’s top pitching prospect, expected to open the year in Double-A; he turns 21 in May) could get a shot.
Bobby Dalbec (1B/3B) is also likely to get an opportunity to help when/if there’s a season.
When will the report on the Red Sox be released? I saw Manfred said yesterday that it was finished
Manfred said that the investigation was done but that the report hasn’t been written. He said it would be published before the start of the season, though obviously, there’s a wide range of outcomes in that potential date.
How was the pitcher that the Sox were going to get from Minnesota in the original Betts trade, Brusdar Graterol, doing this spring before spring training was suspended?
Graterol had three scoreless one-inning appearances with three strikeouts and huge, triple-digits velo for the Dodgers before camps were shut down. L.A. is using him strictly as a reliever.
Like millions of others, I really liked Alex Cora as the Sox manager. What are the chances the Sox would rehire him after he serves whatever sentence is handed down by MLB for his role in the Astros’s sign-stealing scheme? Which also begs the question, am I selling Ron Roenicke short?
Fascinating question. Chaim Bloom said the potential re-hiring of Cora wasn’t a factor in selecting Roenicke, but let’s put it this way: Cora has incredibly strong relationships throughout the Red Sox organization. No one would be surprised if he returned to Boston. As for Roenicke: He was widely respected among Brewers players, and he represented a very clear choice for hiring at a time of Red Sox instability. He’ll be given opportunities with this Red Sox roster to show how adeptly he can squeeze wins after a group that may require some creativity to compete (openers, etc.).
Thanks to all for the great questions! Here’s hoping that there’s a *true* Opening Day before too long that will afford another opportunity to chat.