Red Sox among teams on hand to watch Justin Verlander’s showcase in Florida

The Red Sox were one of several teams on hand to watch Justin Verlander pitch at a showcase on Monday, reports Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal (Twitter link).

Per McAdam, the Sox were one of 15-20 big-league clubs in attendance to observe Verlander’s workout at Cressey Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

According to WEEI’s Rob Bradford, Verlander threw 25 pitches while hovering around the mid-90s and topping out at 97 mph with his vaunted four-seam fastball. McAdam adds that he apparently “looked impressive.”

Verlander, who turns 39 in February, became a free-agent last week after spending the last 4 1/2 seasons with the Astros. The veteran right-hander has not appeared in a game since July 24, 2020, however, as he suffered a forearm strain that ultimately required Tommy John surgery last September.

In his most-recent full season of work, 2019, Verlander posted a 2.58 ERA and 3.27 FIP to go along with a career-best 300 strikeouts and 42 walks over 34 starts spanning 223 innings of work en route to winning his second American League Cy Young Award.

Despite the fact that he has not pitched on a major-league mound in well over a year, Verlander still received a qualifying offer from Houston. This means that if the 38-year-old were to reject it and a remain a free agent, any other team that signs him would then owe the Astros compensation in the form of a draft pick.

In the Red Sox’ case, that would require them to forfeit their second-highest available selection in next year’s draft while also having their international signing bonus pool for next year’s international signing period reduced by $500,000

When speaking with reporters (including MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith) on Sunday, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom indicated that the team was now in a better spot to pursue qualified free agents, such as Verlander, than they were a year ago.

“I think we’re in better position than we were a year ago,” Bloom said. “Even a year ago, I remember we talked about it and I said it’s certainly not something that’s off the table for us. Now at the time I said that knowing that most likely with those guys (last year’s qualified free agents), it wouldn’t line up. I don’t know how this offseason is going to play out. But I think just where we’re positioned now with the depth that we have internally, although we’re nowhere close to where we want to be, we are in a better position than where we were.

“So I think it’s likelier there could be a fit there,” he added. “But we’re just going to do as we would with any move, just access all the implications. And if it is something that makes sense for us, we’ve got to be ready to bounce.”

A client of ISE Baseball, Verlander does have some Red Sox connections, as manager Alex Cora served as Houston’s bench coach during their controversial World Series run in 2017.

Verlander, like Eduardo Rodriguez, has until November 17 to decide if he will either accept the Astros’ $18.4 million qualifying offer and remain in Houston for the 2022 campaign, or reject it and test the open market instead.

(Picture of Justin Verlander: Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Red Sox not ruling out reunion with Garrett Richards: ‘It’s certainly possible that something could line up,’ Chaim Bloom says

The Red Sox may have declined Garrett Richards’ club option for the 2022 season on Sunday, but chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has yet to rule out a potential reunion with the right-hander.

Richards, who originally signed a one-year, $8.5 million contract with the Sox in February, had a $10 million team option for 2022 attached to that deal that the Sox needed to decide on by 5 p.m. eastern time on Sunday.

Boston ultimately chose against picking up Richards’ option, thus making the 33-year-old hurler a free agent who will be receiving $1.5 million in the form of a buyout.

Still, when speaking with reporters via a Zoom call on Sunday evening, Bloom spoke highly of Richards’ 2021 season when others might view it as a rather disappointing one.

“It’s funny,” Bloom said. “When I talked to Garrett to let him know, I made sure to compliment him and credit him by telling him how I feel, which is that he really turned around his season and, in many ways, saved ours with what he did once he got comfortable in the bullpen.”

Coming out of spring training, Richards opened the year as Boston’s No. 3 starter. After a rough 2021 debut against the Orioles on April 4, he proceeded to post a 3.14 ERA and 3.90 FIP to go along with 56 strikeouts to 30 walks over his next 11 starts and 63 innings of work from April 10 through June 6.

Beginning in mid-June, however, Major League Baseball began to crack down on pitchers using foreign substances in order to enhance their grip on baseballs. Richards wound up getting caught up in this crackdown, and it negatively affected his performance on the mound.

From June 11 until August 8, Richards struggled to the tune of a 7.15 ERA and 6.94 FIP with 29 strikeouts and 16 walks over his next 10 starts (45 1/3 innings pitched) before being removed from Boston’s starting rotation and relegated to the bullpen on Aug. 11.

As a reliever, Richards fared far in shorter burst, much to the delight of Bloom. The veteran righty put up a 3.42 ERA and 2.90 FIP while striking out nearly 25% of the batters he faced in 18 appearances and 26 1/3 innings out of the Red Sox bullpen.

“For a season in which he really struggled in a lot of ways, I think he also found a lot of success,” said Bloom. “Even before the switch to the bullpen, there was a period in the early start of the season where he was really rolling and really was a stabilizer for us. So, there were a lot of good things mixed in.”

In the postseason, Richards made Boston’s Wild Card Game roster and American League Division Series roster. He pitched a third of an inning in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Rays before suffering a left hamstring strain that forced the Red Sox to remove him from their roster and replace him with Matt Barnes.

Taking all those factors into consideration, the Sox, as Bloom explained on Sunday, felt as though it was not worth it for them to bring Richards back for the 2022 on what would essentially be a one-year, $10 million deal.

“We get to the end point with this decision, and we didn’t feel like it made sense to exercise the option,” Bloom said. “But, we’re going to stay in touch with him and it’s certainly possible that something could line up.”

Bloom, of course, is someone who likes to keep all doors open when it comes to constructing a big-league roster. And while it may be unclear at the moment if Richards — who turns 34 in May — is best suited to market himself as a starter or reliever, the Red Sox reuniting with the ISE Baseball client remains a possibility for now.

(Picture of Garrett Richards: Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

Red Sox pick up Christian Vázquez’s club option for 2022

The Red Sox have exercised catcher Christian Vazquez’s club option for the 2022 season, meaning the longest-tenured player in the organization will be returning for another year. The team made the move official earlier Sunday evening.

Originally selected by the Red Sox in the ninth round of the 2008 amateur draft out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Vazquez signed a three-year, $13.55 million contract extension with Boston in March 2018.

That extension, which did not go into effect until the 2019 season, included a club option for a potential fourth year in 2022, though the value of the option was dependent on number of plate appearances.

Since Vazquez did not reach the necessary amount of plate appearances across the 2020 and 2021 campaigns, the value of his club option for 2022 decreased from $8 million to $7 million. That likely made it an even easier decision for the Red Sox to pick it up.

This past season, the 31-year-old backstop slashed .258/.308/.352 with 23 doubles, one triple, six home runs, 49 RBI, 51 runs scored, eight stolen bases, 33 walks, and 84 strikeouts over 138 games spanning 498 trips to the plate.

While his offensive production may have dropped off from where it was in 2019 or 2020, Vazquez’s defense and ability to handle a pitching staff are still valuable. He threw out 18 of the 73 base runners who attempted to steal against him this season, for instance.

During Boston’s postseason run, the right-handed hitter out of Puerto Rico batted .281/.303/.406 with one double, one homer, six runs driven in, five runs scored, one walk, and seven strikeouts in 11 games — seven of which were starts.

His lone October home run was of the walk-off variety and came in the 13th inning of Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Rays at Fenway Park.

By retaining Vazquez’s services for 2022, the Red Sox have locked up their top catching option for another year. The 5-foot-9, 205 pounder helped Boston win a World Series title in 2018 and does not turn 32 until next August.

(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Red Sox extend qualifying offer to Eduardo Rodriguez, per report

The Red Sox have extended a qualifying offer to Eduardo Rodriguez, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.

Rodriguez, 28, filed for free agency on Wednesday, while the Red Sox had until 5 p.m. eastern time on Sunday to extend a qualifying offer towards the left-hander.

This offseason, the qualifying offer — the average salary of the highest-paid 125 players in baseball — is valued at $18.4 million, which represents a raise from the $8.3 million Rodriguez earned in 2021.

After finishing sixth in American League Cy Young Award voting in 2019 and missing all of 2020 due to myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) which came as a result of a bout with COVID-19, Rodriguez experienced plenty of ups and downs throughout the 2021 campaign.

Across 32 appearances (31 starts), Rodriguez posted a 4.74 ERA and strikeout-to-walk ratio of 185:47 over 157 1/3 innings of work. While that ERA may not look great on the surface, the Venezuelan southpaw did put up a much more respectable 3.32 FIP, 3.43 xFIP, 3.55 xERA, and 3.64 SIERA this year.

The decision made by the Red Sox to extend Rodriguez a qualifying offer does not come as much of a surprise. By doing so, Boston gives the lefty the opportunity to either return to the club on a one-year, $18.4 million deal or test the free agent waters.

Rodriguez now has 10 days, or until November 17 at the latest, to accept or reject the Sox’ qualifying offer. If accepted, he will return to Boston for the 2022 season with the chance to become a free agent again next winter and would not be able to receive a qualifying offer for a second time. If rejected, he becomes a free agent and can sign with another club immediately.

If Rodriguez, a client of ISE Baseball, were to reject Boston’s offer and sign with another team this winter, that team would then owe the Red Sox compensation in the form of a draft pick.

What Rodriguez decides to do should be interesting to say the very least. Since he does not turn 29 until next April, his earning window would still be pretty wide open even if he were to accept the qualifying offer for this season.

There have been recent instances where a player (see Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman) has accepted the qualifying offer and then put themselves in a position to cash out in free agency the following winter.

That being said, coming into this offseason, only 10 of 96 players to be extended a qualifying offer have accepted it since the system was first introduced in 2012.

(Picture of Eduardo Rodriguez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Former Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers joining Rangers in same capacity, per report

Former Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers has joined the Rangers organization in the same capacity, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

Hyers, 50, departed from the Red Sox last week even after the team made an offer for him to return in 2022. The reasoning behind his departure mainly revolved around the idea of pursuing other opportunities, as he explained to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

Less than a full week after leaving the Sox, it turns out Hyers has indeed found a new opportunity for himself. And while he reportedly drew interest from the Yankees, he ultimately lands with the Rangers.

Hyers was originally named to Red Sox manager Alex Cora’s coaching staff in November 2017 after previously serving as the club’s minor-league hitting coordinator from 2013-2015.

Over the four seasons Hyers was put in charge of their offensive approach, the Sox led all of Major League Baseball in  runs per game (5.31), batting average (.266), slugging percentage (.455), and OPS (.790). They additionally ranked third in on-base percentage (.335) and fourth in wRC+ (108) over that stretch, per FanGraphs.

In between stints as Boston’s minor-league hitting coordinator and major-league hitting coach, Hyers served as an assistant hitting coach for the Dodgers from 2016-2017. At that same time, current Rangers manager Chris Woodward served as Los Angeles’ third base coach under Dave Roberts from 2016-2018.

Any sort of relationship Hyers and Woodward established with the Dodgers presumably played a role in the former joining the latter’s coaching staff with the Rangers.

While Boston’s offense enjoyed plenty of success under Hyers in 2021, the same cannot be said for Texas, who finished the season with a record of 60-102 while regularly fielding unproductive lineups.

In the process of finishing with one of the worst records in baseball, the Rangers ranked 28th in the league in runs per game (3.86), 29th in batting average (.232), 30th in on-base percentage (.294), 28th in slugging percentage (.375) and dead last in OPS (.670). They ultimately dismissed their former hitting coach Luis Ortiz last month.

By hiring Hyers, the Rangers will obviously be hoping to have a revamped offense in 2022. The Red Sox, meanwhile, are expected to promote Peter Fatse, who served as assistant hitting coach under Hyers each of the last two seasons, to become the team’s new hitting coach.

Fatse, 34, is a native of Hampden, Mass. and played his college baseball at the University of Connecticut before being selected by the Brewers in the 24th round of the 2009 amateur draft.

(Picture of Tim Hyers: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

J.D. Martinez opts in to final year of contract with Red Sox, per report

J.D. Martinez will remain a member of the Red Sox, as the veteran slugger has opted in to the final year of his contract with Boston, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.

Martinez had until 5 p.m. eastern time on Sunday to decide if he would stay with the Sox or exercise the opt out in his contract in order to become a free agent. In a somewhat surprising turn of events, he went with the former.

The 34-year-old designated hitter/outfielder originally inked a five-year, $110 million deal with Boston in February 2018 that afforded him the ability to opt out after the 2019, 2020, and 2021 seasons.

After electing to not opt out in 2019 or 2020, Martinez has ultimately decided to see his contract through to its completion. The expiring collective bargaining agreement and the uncertainties created by upcoming negotiations likely played a role in his decision, as hinted at by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.

This past season, the Scott Boras client enjoyed a nice bounce-back after a rather dismal and pandemic-shortened campaign in 2020. In 148 games, he slashed .286/.349/.518 to go along with 42 doubles, three triples, 28 home runs, 99 RBI, 92 runs scored, 55 walks, and 150 strikeouts over 634 total plate appearances.

During Boston’s postseason run, Martinez battled a sprained left ankle that came as a result of him tripping over the second-base bag in the team’s regular season finale against the Nationals on October 3. He was left off the Sox’ Wild Card Game roster, but returned to action in time for Game 2 of the American League Division Series.

Across nine games between the American League Division Series against the Rays and the American League Championship Series against the Rays, the right-handed hitter batted an astounding .344/.447/.688 with two doubles, three homers, 10 runs driven in, four runs scored, five walks, and 10 strikeouts in 38 total trips to the plate.

By opting in to the final year of his deal, Martinez is slated to net himself $19.375 million in 2022. The Red Sox could of course trade him, but the possibility of that happening remains to be seen as of now.

A four-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger Award winner who helped the Red Sox win a World Series title in 2018, Martinez does not turn 35 until next August.

(Picture of J.D. Martinez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox decline Garrett Richards’ club option for 2022, per report

The Red Sox have declined Garrett Richards’ club option for the 2022 season, thus making the right-hander a free agent, according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Richards, 33, originally signed a one-year, $8.5 million deal with Boston back in February that included a $10 million team option for a potential second year in 2022.

Like Martin Perez, who also had his club option declined on Sunday, Richards opened the 2021 campaign in the Sox’ starting rotation. The veteran righty posted a 5.22 ERA and 5.15 FIP to go along with 87 strikeouts and 48 walks over 22 starts spanning 110 1/3 innings of work before being demoted to the bullpen on August 11.

As a reliever, Richards improved while working in shorter bursts, putting up a more impressive 3.42 ERA and 2.90 FIP with 28 punchouts to 12 walks in 18 appearances (26 1/3 innings pitched) out of the Boston bullpen.

In the postseason, Richards was named to the Sox’ Wild Card Game roster and American League Division Series rosters. He tossed one-third of an inning in Game 1 against the Rays on October 7 before suffering a left hamstring strain that forced him to come off the club’s ALDS roster and be replaced by Matt Barnes.

With the Red Sox declining his option, Richards — who turns 34 in May — will once again be hitting the open market. He will, however, be receiving $1.5 million in the form of a buyout.

By electing to not pick up the options on either of Perez’s or Richards’ contracts, the Sox now have one more option-related decision to make before 5 p.m. eastern time on Sunday with catcher Christian Vazquez and his $7 million team option for 2022 hanging in the balance.

On top of that, Boston must also decide if they will be extending an $18.4 million qualifying offer to any player who is eligible for one, such as free agent left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez or veteran slugger J.D. Martinez if he opts out of the final year of his contract.

(Picture of Garrett Richards: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Red Sox pitching prospect Josh Winckowski involved in benches-clearing brawl in Arizona Fall League action

Red Sox pitching prospect Josh Winckowski was involved in a benches-clearing brawl in the ninth inning of an Arizona Fall League game between the Scottsdale Scorpions and Peoria Javelinas on Saturday afternoon.

Winckowski, making his sixth relief appearance of the Arizona Fall League season, recorded the final two outs of the eighth inning before being deployed back out for the ninth in hopes of securing an 11-7 win for the Scorpions in front of 705 spectators at Scottsdale Stadium.

As he came back out for the ninth, the right-hander immediately plunked the pinch-hitting Pirates prospect Canaan Smith-Njigba near the head and on the shoulder on a first-pitch fastball that was too far up and in.

Smith-Njigba took exception to this, promptly charging the mound and throwing a punch at Winckowski before taking the 6-foot-4, 202 pound hurler down to the ground and throwing another punch. This resulted in both the Javelinas and Scorpions’ benches clearing as players and coaches dashed on to the field.

According to Baseball America’s Josh Norris, who was on-hand for the debacle, it took umpires several minutes to separate the teams and break up the scuffle between Smith-Njigba and Winckowski. The umpires then convened with Arizona Fall League officials before making the decision to eject both players from the contest.

In Peoria’s dugout, Smith-Njigba could apparently be heard yelling about how something like this has happened two days in a row. That being the case because on Friday, Smith-Njigba’s teammate and fellow Pirates prospect Nick Gonzales was beaned by Scorpions reliever Matthew Peguero.

Additionally, as noted by Norris, the only other instance of a Scottsdale pitcher hitting a Peoria batter arose this past Thursday at Peoria Stadium when left-hander Seth Corry struck Phillies prospect Bryson Stott.

That said, what occurred on Saturday was rather unprecedented for the AFL. Smith-Njigba wound up getting replaced at first base by pinch-runner Jose Caballero, while former Red Sox prospect and current Giants right-hander Gregory Santos took over for Winckowski and put the finishing touches on an 11-7 victory for the Scorpions.

The older brother of standout Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Canaan Smith-Njigba is currently regarded by Baseball America as the 29th-ranked prospect in the Pittsburgh farm system. The 22-year-old was acquired by the Pirates in the trade that sent right-hander Jameson Taillon to the Yankees back in January.

Winckowski, meanwhile, is at the moment regarded by Baseball America as the No. 16 prospect in Boston’s farm system, ranking ninth among pitchers in the organization.

In February, the Red Sox acquired Winckowski from the Mets in the three-team, seven-player trade that jettisoned outfielder Andrew Benintendi to the Royals ahead of the start of spring training.

After a solid 2021 campaign spent between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Worcester, Winckowski has posted a 6.55 ERA and 1.73 WHIP to go along with three strikeouts and four walks over six outings spanning 11 innings of work for the Scorpions in his first taste of Arizona Fall League action.

Per SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall, Winckowski was hovering around 98-99 mph with his heater on Saturday, which might explain why Smith-Njigba was not pleased with the location of the pitch that hit him.

The 23-year-old can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the second time in his professional career this winter if the Red Sox do not add him to their 40-man roster by the November 19 deadline to do so. He was left unprotected and went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft as a member of the Blue Jays organization last year.

(Picture of Josh Winckowski: Norm Hall/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Martín Pérez switches agencies with Red Sox expected to decline left-hander’s club option for 2022

Red Sox left-hander Martin Perez has switched agencies at a time where he could be headed towards free agency, per MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Perez, previously represented by Miami-based OL Baseball Group, recently made the switch to Octagon. The agency actually announced the move last month on Instagram.

The Red Sox have until this coming Sunday at 5 p.m. eastern time to decide whether they will accept or decline the $6 million club option attached to the one-year, $4.5 million deal they signed Perez to back in February.

This past season, his second with Boston, proved to be a turbulent one for Perez. After opening the year as the team’s fifth starter, the 30-year-old southpaw posted a 4.77 ERA and 4.91 FIP to go along with 85 strikeouts to 33 walks over 22 starts spanning 100 innings of work.

Since he was averaging fewer than five innings per start while proving to be ineffective throughout the months of June and July, Perez was moved to the Red Sox bullpen full-time beginning on August 6.

As a reliever, Perez was primarily used by manager Alex Cora in low-leverage situations. Still, the Venezuelan hurler put up a 4.50 ERA and 4.17 FIP with 12 strikeouts and three walks in 14 innings pitched out of the bullpen to close out the season. He also missed time from Aug. 30 until September 14 on account of testing positive for COVID-19.

In the postseason, Perez was left off Boston’s roster for the Wild Card Game against the Yankees, but made both the American League Division Series and Championship Series rosters.

While Perez did not appear in the Sox’ four-game triumph of the Rays, he was used on four separate occasions against the Astros, allowing a total of five runs — four of which were earned — on six hits, four walks, and zero strikeouts over three total innings of work. That’s good for an ERA of 12.00.

All told, it seems unlikely that the Red Sox will pick up Perez’s team option for next season, which is exactly what they did around this same time last year as well.

Instead, if they do indeed allow the lefty to hit the open marker for the fourth consecutive off-season, Boston will then owe Perez $500,000 in the form of a buyout.

Again, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have until Sunday to make up their mind on this. The same can be said for right-hander Garrett Richards ($10 million) and catcher Christian Vazquez ($7 million), who also have club options that need to be decided on by the end of the weekend.

(Picture of Martin Perez: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox slugger Kyle Schwarber becomes free agent after declining $11.5 million mutual option for 2022 season

Kyle Schwarber has officially become a free agent after declining his $11.5 million mutual option for 2022, the Associated Press reported earlier Friday morning.

Schwarber, 28, had until Sunday to decide on accepting his end of the mutual option that was part of the one-year, $10 million deal he signed with the Nationals back in January.

It was expected that Schwarber would decline it and instead test the free agency waters based off the strong 2021 season he put together between the Nationals and Red Sox.

After getting traded from Washington to Boston in exchange for pitching prospect Aldo Ramirez in late July, Schwarber later made his Red Sox debut on August 13, as he had previously been on the injured list due to a right hamstring strain.

Upon being inserted into manager Alex Cora’s lineup, Schwarber made his impact felt right away and quickly became a fan favorite in Boston as a result of doing so. In 41 games for the Sox, the left-handed hitter slashed an impressive .291/.435/.522 with 10 doubles, seven home runs, 18 RBI, 34 runs scored, 33 walks, and 39 strikeouts across 168 plate appearances.

Defensively, Schwarber appeared in 15 games in left field and an additional 10 at first base, a position he was learning on the fly so that the Red Sox could get his bat into the lineup regularly without altering their regular outfield picture too much.

In the postseason, the 6-foot, 299 pound slugger batted .205/.286/.432 to go along with one double, three homers, six RBI, eight runs scored, one stolen base, five walks, and 11 strikeouts over 11 games (49 plate appearances) spanning the American League Wild Card Game against the Yankees, the American League Division Series against the Rays, and the American League Championship Series against the Astros.

Because the Red Sox acquired Schwarber, who does not turn 29 until March, midseason, they cannot extend him an $18.4 million qualifying offer. They can, however, make an attempt to bring him back for the 2022 season and beyond.

When the Red Sox were eliminated by the Astros in Game 6 of the ALCS last month, Schwarber did indicate that he would be open to remaining in Boston if the opportunity presented itself.

“This is definitely a clubhouse that I could see myself wanting to stay in,” Schwarber told reporters (including MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith. “These guys are amazing. I said this, it’s two World Series teams going at it. This is a World Series clubhouse, and I would love to hopefully see if that opportunity comes back.”

(Picture of Kyle Schwarber: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)