Instead of waiting a year too long to move on from Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox fired their team president Sunday night. It was a rather stunning decision, given that the 2018 Red Sox have a good argument for being the best team in franchise history, but it makes a lot of sense, assuming that one of Boston’s big goals here is to avoid losing a ton of money while trying to negotiate the luxury tax these next few years.
Though Dombrowski obviously has his strengths, they don’t lie in player development and bargain hunting, which are two areas in which the Red Sox are going to have to excel in order to contend if the $80 million-per-year commitment to Chris Sale, David Price and Nathan Eovaldi fails to pay big dividends.
The Red Sox will have a franchise-defining decision to make on Mookie Betts, who should make about $30 million next year in his final season of arbitration. Keeping him and maintaining a well-rounded roster will almost surely demand paying the luxury tax through the end of the current CBA. One would hope they’d be willing to go that far, even if they do want to shed something off this year’s $240 million payroll in 2020.
Most likely, J.D. Martinez will opt out of the final three years of his contract this winter, taking a big chunk of Boston’s offense with him but also giving the team some much needed financial flexibility. Martinez is absolutely worth the $23.75 million the Red Sox would have to pay him next year, but cheap first baseman/DH options are going to be plentiful in free agency and the Red Sox will also have Bobby Dalbec to break in at some point.
If I’m the Red Sox, I’d hold onto Betts and do my best to retain him in free agency, even though that will likely result in a $35 million-per-year salary. It would mean giving up on adding big-ticket items for the foreseeable future, but that’s fine. With so many veterans falling through the cracks in free agency these days, the Red Sox can fill their holes with $2 million-$5 million players, and trying to figure out who among those kinds of players is going to improve upon their production is a job for a more analytically inclined general manager.
American League notes
- A healthy Byron Buxton was every bit the player the Twins and fantasy leaguers hoped he’d be this season, hitting .262/.314/.513 with 10 homers and 14 steals in 295 plate appearances before a shoulder subluxation and labrum tear suffered Aug. 1 essentially ended his season. He also missed two weeks in June with a wrist contusion and two more in July due to a concussion. While so much of what happened on the field was encouraging, the way his body keeps failing him seems like a bad sign for the future. He’s still just 25, and he wouldn’t be the first player to shake an early career injury-prone tag (for inspiration there, he need only look across the dugout at Nelson Cruz). Unfortunately, the labrum surgery leaves him iffy for next spring. Even if he seems fine then, I still probably won’t project him for more than 120-130 games. However, he could fall into the undervalued pile anyway; he’d be capable of reaching 20 homers and 20 steals even while missing 40 games.
- Jesus Luzardo, who missed the first two months and also most of July with shoulder strains, is finally up with the A’s after posting a 2.51 ERA and a 57/8 K/BB ratio in 43 innings in the minors. That doesn’t count his postseason start for Triple-A Las Vegas, in which he allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings and struck out seven. He fanned 10 while pitching six innings of one-run ball in his outing before that. If the A’s were going to plug him into the rotation, he’d be worth a late flier here. However, it looks like he’ll pitch in relief for now.
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- It was a real bummer to see Mike Tauchman go down to an apparently season-ending calf strain after such a strong run. Tauchman ended up hitting .277/.361/.504 in 296 plate appearances while also playing excellent defense. I don’t think his bat is truly that exceptional; given that he’s hit just four balls over 385 feet this year, he seems like one guy who would lose much of his power if the balls are unjuiced at all. He’s a nice all-around player, though, and the Yankees will be fortunate to have him at the minimum salary for a couple of more years.
- The Mariners called up top prospects Justin Dunn and Kyle Lewis before Tuesday’s game. It sounds like Dunn, who went 9-5 with a 3.55 ERA and a 158/39 K/BB ratio in 132 innings in Double-A, will finish out the season working 2-4 innings at a time as a starter or bulk guy. He should have a shot at claiming a rotation spot out of spring training, and it’s possible he’ll have some mixed-league value before next season is over. Lewis, a 2016 first-round pick, managed to stay healthy this season, but he hit a modest .263/.342/.398 with 152 strikeouts as a 23-year-old in Double-A. He no longer seems like a realistic option as a major league center fielder after his unfortunate knee injury, so he’ll need to take a considerable step forward with the bat next year in Triple-A in order to deserve a shot. It could well happen if he can avoid the injury bug.
- Royals outfielder Bubba Starling, the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft, was written off by most years ago, but he kept at it and has gotten a look in the majors after hitting .310/.358/.448 in 285 plate appearances in Triple-A this year. What’s become clear since is that the Royals would be crazy to include him in any future plans. Starling’s .206/.245/.290 line isn’t quite the worst in the league, but he’s one of just two players with an average exit velocity under 80 mph in a significant number of at-bats (the other is Billy Hamilton), and he’s combined that extremely weak contact with a 31% strikeout rate. He’s not a burner in the outfield, either. There won’t be much reason to keep him on the 40-man this winter.
National League notes
- This section of the column was originally a lengthy screed trying to figure out what the heck was going on with Hunter Renfroe and the Padres, but since the team finally revealed Tuesday that he’s sitting out with an ankle injury, that’s all moot now. I’d still like to know why they’ve covered up his ailments, which also reportedly include an elbow injury, and how that all meshes with MLB’s recent gambling partnerships.
- The Dodgers don’t seem very optimistic about getting Alex Verdugo back from his oblique and back injuries. That should lead to an even lengthier opportunity for Gavin Lux, who smacked his first big-league homer Tuesday.
- Austin Riley has rejoined the Braves and is due to get another chance in left field, something that might not have come if not for Ender Inciarte joining Nick Markakis on the IL. Riley wasn’t any good at all in the two months before he went down with a knee injury, but there is a chance that he’ll again start to harness his ample power like he did when he burst onto the scene in mid-May. He’s a decent mixed-league pickup for those in need of homers.
- One sees plenty of balls painfully fouled off legs every night across baseball, but to suffer a fractured kneecap on such a play rates as a tremendous fluke. Unfortunately, that’s what happened to Christian Yelich on Tuesday, and it could cost the Brewers’ right fielder a second consecutive MVP award. It’s more bad luck for a Brewers team that’s been short two of its most productive hitters in Mike Moustakas (hand) and Keston Hiura (hamstring). Moustakas appeared as a pinch-hitter Tuesday and could rejoin the starting lineup in a day or two, but it doesn’t appear likely that he’ll be playing at anything close to 100 percent.
- With Javier Baez (thumb) and Addison Russell (head) out of commission, the Cubs brought up 2018 first-rounder Nico Hoerner on Monday. Hoerner, who missed time earlier this year with a wrist fracture, amassed only modest numbers as a 22-year-old in Double-A, hitting .284/.344/.399 with three homers in 294 plate appearances. His ceiling is limited by his lack of power and range at shortstop, but he seems like a sure thing to be a useful player with his contact ability and his potential to play solid defense at several positions. He might overtake the alternatives and become the Cubs’ second baseman at some point during 2020.
- I find it surprising that the Rockies have picked Jairo Diaz over Carlos Estevez as their closer with Scott Oberg out, but I am happy for Diaz, who deserves every bit of this success and more. There seemed to be very little chance of this materializing a year ago.