Red Sox Trade Rumors: Astros Have Inquired About Matt Barnes, Rays Have Interest in Christian Vazquez as Monday’s Deadline Looms

The 2020 Major League Baseball season has reached its final weekend leading up until the August 31 trade deadline. With that, a few key contributors on the Red Sox popped up in trade rumors on Friday.

According to The Athletic’s Eno Sarris and Brittany Ghiroli, the Astros have “inquired” on right-hander Matt Barnes, while the Rays “have interest” in catcher Christian Vazquez “with early discussions centering around Tampa’s pitching prospects.”

Barnes and Vazquez, who are both 30 years old, are under club control through the end of the 2021 season, with Vazquez having a $7 million team option for 2022.

Coming into Friday with the second-worst record in the American League at 10-21, the Sox seem primed to be sellers between now and Monday afternoon. They made that much apparent last week by dealing both Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman to the Phillies.

Barnes, who is good friends with both Hembree and Workman, could be the next Boston reliever to get moved.

Through his first 12 appearances of the year, the UCONN product has struggled thus far, posting a 6.00 ERA and 6.65 FIP over 12 innings of work. Still, Barnes was among the nastiest relievers in the American League in 2019, and a pitching-savvy club such as the Astros, led by renowned pitching coach Brent Strom, may be able to unlock something in the fireballer.

Vazquez, meanwhile, has a case to be made that he is more valuable to the Red Sox than Barnes is seeing how he anchors an ever-changing pitching staff.

Coming off a career year last season, the Puerto Rico native entered the weekend owning a .260/.295/.430 slash line to go along with four home runs and 12 RBI through 28 games and 105 plate appearances.

Just recently, Vazquez expressed his desire to end his career with the Red Sox, the organization he was originally drafted by 12 years ago.

“I think it’s going to be sad if I left Boston because all my career we’re here,” he said this past Tuesday. “From (2008), a young kid, I’ve been here. Only one organization. And my goal is retire here. That’s my goal in my career. Be part of one organization, have one jersey on my chest all my career. But we don’t control that.”

If chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, who used to work for the Rays, were to entertain trading Vazquez to Tampa Bay, who have the top farm system in baseball according to Baseball America, not only could the Sox possibly get a quality pitching prospect back, but they could also open the door to sign free agent-to-be J.T. Realmuto this winter if the Phillies don’t re-sign the All-Star backstop first.

That is just a distinct possibility, however, and Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy even classified Vazquez as someone “we want in Boston” when speaking with NESN’s Tom Caron on Wednesday.

With less than 72 hours to go until the trade deadline, Bloom and Co. are certainly on the clock. Even with all that has transpired over the past few days, it would be quite surprising to see the Red Sox not make any additional moves by Monday.

Jonathan Arauz Again Making Case for Spot on Red Sox’ Opening Day Roster

Jonathan Arauz is one of a handful of players who are on the Red Sox’ roster bubble as the 2020 season nears. The 21-year-old was selected by Boston in last December’s Rule 5 draft, meaning he currently has a spot on the club’s 26-man roster.

Prior to spring training being shut down in March, it looked as though the Panamanian-born infielder had a legitimate shot to make Boston’s Opening Day roster as a utilityman off the bench. Flash forward four months, and it appears that much remains true as Summer Camp winds down for the Red Sox and Opening Day looms.

Starting at second base for the Home Sox in Saturday’s four-inning intrasquad game at Fenway Park, Arauz went 1-for-2 with the biggest hit of the night, as he greeted newest Red Sox hurler Zack Godley by taking the right-hander deep to right field for a two-run, walk-off home run in the bottom half of the fourth.

That two-run blast gave the Home Sox a 2-0 victory, and it certainly improved Arauz’s chances of making his first career Opening Day roster as well.

Even before Saturday’s impressive showing, Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke sounded pleased with what he’s seen from the switch-hitter, who has never played above Double-A ball in the minors, thus far at Summer Camp when speaking to reporters earlier in the week.

“We like Jonathan,” the Sox skipper said via a Zoom call on Friday. “I’m liking what I see offensively being a switch-hitter. He’s patient. He sees the ball well. And on defense, he’s got good hands. He’s got a really good arm, an accurate arm. His mind doesn’t speed up on him. He’s pretty slow thinking, which you need to be. And for a young age, I would say he’s pretty advanced that way. We’re surprised that he’s handling being with these guys really well. So I’m hoping he can help us some this year. And certainly the future is also what we’re looking at. But those are hard questions. Hopefully we get through this and we’ll be really happy that we have him here for a long time.”

Arauz, formerly with the Astros’ organization, became the first player taken by the Red Sox in the major-league phase of a Rule 5 draft since Josh Rutledge in 2016.

Boston paid Houston $100,000 in order to make that happen, and if they feel as though Arauz is no longer worthy of a spot on the active roster at any point this season, they will have to offer him back to the ‘Stros for $50,000 if he clears waivers.

If Houston does not want Arauz back in this scenario, the Sox would then be able to option him to the minor leagues, which in 2020 would essentially be the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket, I think.

It’s definitely a confusing process, but as a soon-to-be 22-year-old who is regarded by MLB Pipeline as the No. 30 prospect in Boston’s farm system, Arauz should be someone the Red Sox want to hold on to, even if it may be tough to find him playing time at the major-league level this year.

 

Former Red Sox Manager Alex Cora Speaks on Fallout of Astros’ Sign-Stealing Fiasco

For one of the first times since he was relieved of his duties back in January, former Red Sox manager Alex Cora spoke publicly about the fallout of Major League Baseball’s recent investigation into the Houston Astros.

Cora, who served as Houston’s bench coach under A.J. Hinch during the 2017 season, was handed down a one-year ban in April from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred for the role he played in the club’s illegal stealing of signs, not for what he did in his first year as Red Sox manager in 2018.

From the time he and the Sox parted ways, Cora has kept relatively quiet up until now, and he has a solid reason for that.

“Out of respect for the investigation, I decided to stay out of the spotlight. Talking about it wasn’t going to change anything,” Cora told ESPN’s Marly Rivera. “I deserve my suspension and I’m paying the price for my actions. And I am not proud of what happened. We made a mistake as a group, the entire [Astros] team. What happened was something that, if you ask anyone involved, no one is proud of it. We’re all at fault. Everybody. We’re all responsible. Everyone who was part of the team from around mid-May until the end of the season, we are all responsible.”

One thing Cora takes issue with though, is the notion that he and ex-Mets manager Carlos Beltran, who played for Houston in 2017, were the only two individuals behind the Astros’ misdoings, as has been thrown out there by former ‘Stros general manager Jeff Lunhow.

“There has been a narrative out there of what happened. Ever since mid-November until the commissioner announced the results of the Red Sox investigation, I have read many things that are true and many others that are not,” Cora stated. “Out of this whole process, if there is one thing that I completely reject and disagree with is people within the Astros’ organization singling me out, particularly Jeff Luhnow, as if I were the sole mastermind. The commissioner’s report sort of explained, in its own way, what happened.

“”If there is one thing I am absolutely sure of, it is that it was not a two-man show. We all did it. And let me be very clear that I am not denying my responsibility, because we were all responsible.”

Cora will be eligible to return to baseball in 2021. And with rumors of a potential reunion with the Red Sox ever prevalent, his thought’s on the club’s punishments, which included video replay room coordinator J.T. Watkins also getting suspended, are something I think many would like to hear about.

However, the only thing he really said about the commissioner’s report into Boston’s illegal use of the video replay room in 2018 is that it “speaks for itself.”

Current Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke, who was officially named manager by chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom back in February, is under contract with Boston through the end of 2020.

As already mentioned, there has been plenty of speculation that Cora will return to his old post next year, but for the time being, the 2018 World Series-winning manager says “all I care about is my personal life and my family,” and he “absolutely” wants to return to the game in the future.

Red Sox Sign-Stealing Penalties Revealed: Second-Round Draft Pick Stripped, Alex Cora Handed Down One-Year Ban, and Replay Operator Deemed ‘Rogue Employee’

At long last, the results of the MLB-led investigation into the 2018 Red Sox have finally been revealed, and according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the penalties are light.

As mentioned in the tweet above, the Sox were docked just a second-round pick in this year’s draft, while team replay operator J.T. Watkins was handed down a ban through the 2020 postseason in addition to not being able to return to the same position in 2021, and perhaps most importantly, Alex Cora was also handed down a one-year ban through the 2020 playoffs, but only for his conduct with the Astros, not for what he did as manager of the Red Sox in 2018.

Per Rosenthal, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred “found that Watkins, on at least some occasions during the 2018 regular season, illegally utilized game feeds in the replay room to help players during games” and “acted as a rogue employee” in doing so. In other words, what the Red Sox did was not as egregious as what Houston did in 2017.

Despite illegally utilizing the video replay room throughout the 2018 regular season, “The league did not find that Boston’s impermissible conduct continued during the 2018 postseason or 2019 regular season.”

In a formal statement, Red Sox president Sam Kennedy addressed the results of the investigation Wednesday, saying that “As an organization, we strive for 100% compliance with the rules. MLB’s investigation concluded that in isolated instances during the 2018 regular season, sign sequences were decoded through the use of live game video rather than through permissible means.

“MLB acknowledged the front office’s extensive efforts to communicate and enforce the rules and concluded that Alex Cora, the coaching staff, and most of the players did not engage in, nor were they aware of, any violations. Regardless, these rule violations are unacceptable. We apologize to our fans and Major League Baseball, and accept the Commissioner’s ruling.”

The Red Sox and Cora agreed to mutually part ways back in January shortly after Manfred handed down his punishment to the Astros, which included the docking of first and second-round picks in this year’s draft, as well as a $5 million fine and one-year suspensions for then-general manager Jeff Lunhow and then-manager A.J. Hinch.

Compared to what the Astros got, what just got handed down to the Red Sox does not seem all that bad. In fact, it does not seem out of the realm of possibilities that Cora could return to manage the Sox once again in 2021.

For now, it will be interesting to see how long it takes Boston to remove the ‘interim’ tag from interim manager Ron Roenicke’s title.

UPDATE: Well I guess that answers that.

Red Sox Fail to Muster Any Offense in 5-0 Loss to Astros

After falling to the Tigers on Wednesday, the Red Sox saw their losing streak grow to three games on Thursday following a 5-0 defeat at the hands of the Houston Astros at JetBlue Park. They are now 4-8-2 in Grapefruit League play.

Making his first start and third overall appearance for Boston was Kyle Hart, coming off two scoreless innings of relief in his last time out against the Twins this past Friday.

Working the first three innings in this one, the left-hander surrendered two runs, both of which were earned, on three hits and two walks to go along with three strikeouts on the afternoon.

Both of those Astros runs came on one swing of the bat in the top half of the third, when after retiring six of the first nine hitters he faced, Hart yielded a one-out walk to Myles Straw and followed that up by serving up a two-run home run to Kyle Tucker.

That mistake gave Houston the only lead they would need, but Hart was able to rebound by getting the final two outs of the frame in order to end his outing on a more positive note.

As one of several candidates still vying for a spot in the Sox’ rotation, Hart, 27, will probably appear in another game sometime early next week.

In relief of Hart, Brandon Workman tossed a scoreless fourth inning and yielded one run on three hits and a sacrifice fly in the fifth before minor-leaguer Tom Windle came on and finished the inning for him.

From there, Marcus Walden sat down the only three hitters he faced in order in the sixth, left-hander Brian Johnson appeared to be on top of things in the seventh and eighth, but ended up being charged with two runs on three hits and a walk in the ninth before Konner Wade relieved him, allowed an inherited runner to score, and finished up the inning by getting Grae Kessinger to fly out to left.

All in all, Red Sox pitching combined to allow five earned runs on 12 hits, three walks, and 10 strikeouts over nine total innings pitched.

On the other side of things, a Red Sox starting lineup that featured plenty of regulars in Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Michael Chavis, Christian Vazquez, Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Pillar, and Jose Peraza was matched up against Astros right-hander Josh James to begin things on Thursday.

Despite having all those regulars in the lineup though, the Boston bats could not muster much against James, or any other Houston pitcher they faced for that matter.

Five hits, only one of which went for extra base hits, one walk drawn, and one HBP. That’s it.

That lone extra base hit belonged to Michael Chavis, who doubled off James with one out in the second and was subsequently picked off by Garrett Stubbs at third on a failed stolen base attempt.

Other than that, the Sox sent three batters to hit in five of their nine trips to the plate on Thursday. Not much to write home about in what wound up being a 5-0 shutout loss.

Some observations from this defeat:

This game was not televised, so I really do not have much to add here, but I will say that the Red Sox went 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position on Thursday.

Xander Bogaerts in his first start at shortstop this spring: 0-for-2 with another pair of strikeouts.

Out of the 31 players the Astros sent from West Palm Beach for this contest, none were on the team in 2017, so from what I heard on the radio, there didn’t appear to be too many boos from the crowd at JetBlue Park.

Next up for the Red Sox, they’ll head to North Port to take on the Atlanta Braves at their new spring training facility on Friday afternoon.

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez is set to get the start for Boston, while Atlanta has yet to name a starter.

Rodriguez impressed in his spring debut against the Yankees last Saturday, fanning six over three scoreless innings at Fort Myers.

Matt Barnes, Colten Brewer, and R.J. Alvarez are among the Sox pitchers who will follow Rodriguez.

First pitch Friday is scheduled for 1:05 PM EST on ESPN.

Red Sox Add Collin McHugh on One-Year Deal, Designate Hector Velazquez for Assignment

The Red Sox have agreed to a one-year major-league deal with right-hander Collin McHugh. To make room for McHugh on the 40-man roster, fellow right-hander Hector Velazquez was designated for assignment. The club made the transaction official earlier Thursday.

McHugh, 32, had spent the previous six seasons with the Astros, and most recently posted a 4.70 ERA and 4.34 xFIP over 35 appearances (eight starts) and 74 2/3 innings pitched in an injury-shortened 2019 campaign.

According to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, McHugh will earn a base salary of $600,000 in 2020, “though performance bonuses related to innings and active days could drive that higher.”

He probably won’t be ready for the start of the season after just recently being cleared to throw following an offseason tenex procedure that alleviated an elbow concern, but once he is up to speed, McHugh is a solid piece to fill out the Sox’ starting rotation in the wake of the concerns surrounding left-hander Chris Sale.

As for Velazquez, the 31-year-old was a potential candidate to take one of those rotation spots, but will now likely begin the year with Triple-A Pawtucket if he does clear waivers.

 

Red Sox Free Agency Targets: Collin McHugh

It’s pretty late to do being one of these with spring training well underway and less than a month ago until Opening Day, but with the news that ace left-hander Chris Sale will start the 2020 season on the injured list, the Red Sox find themselves in need of starting pitching help.

With the news of Sale starting the year on the shelf, in addition to trading David Price to the Dodgers earlier in the month, the Sox’ starting rotation only has three established starting pitchers at the moment in Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Martin Perez.

Guys like Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez could fill in in either the No. 4 or No. 5 spots, and it also appears likely that an opener or two could be used, but that shouldn’t stop chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom from looking at external options as well.

Obviously, with it being the last day of February and all, the free-agent market has essentially been thinned out, but there is still one intriguing name out there in former Astros right-hander Collin McHugh.

According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, the 32-year-old has “recently been given the go-ahead to begin throwing after a [non-surgical] tenex procedure alleviated an elbow concern” and “nearly every team has checked in” on him thanks to his versatility.

Appearing in 35 games, eight of which were starts, for Houston last year, McHugh posted a 4.70 ERA and 4.34 xFIP over 74 2/3 total innings of work while dealing with ongoing right elbow discomfort.

His days of pitching anywhere between 150 to 200 innings in a season are probably behind him and he likely wouldn’t be ready for the start of the 2020 season if he were to sign soon, but there are still plenty of things working in McHugh’s favor.

First off, there’s the versatility piece I mentioned earlier. Maybe it’s just me, but I could see McHugh starting, serving as an opener, or working in relief once he gets up to speed with whatever club he signs with this year.

Second, he probably won’t be demanding much as a free agent. A one-year deal for cheap or even a minor-league deal could get it done. That way, if things didn’t work out, it would not be all that costly to cut ties.

Per MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, the Red Sox now have a little more than $13 million in payroll flexibility to work with before reaching that $208 million luxury tax threshold they got under by dealing Price and Mookie Betts to Los Angeles.

McHugh would surely not command more than 25% of that $13 million as a free agent, so the rewards in this case would far outweigh the risks, in my opinion.

Outside of McHugh, free agent starting pitchers who remain unsigned include old friends Clay Buccholz and Andrew Cashner, Jason Vargas, Clayton Richard, and Marco Estrada.

Red Sox Part Ways With Alex Cora

The Red Sox and manager Alex Cora have mutually agreed to part ways, per a team release.

This news comes in the wake of the Houston Astros firing general manager Jeff Lunhow and manager AJ Hinch on Monday after both were handed down one-year suspensions by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred for the roles they played in Houston’s sign-stealing scandal during the 2017 season.

Cora, who served as Hinch’s bench coach in 2017, played a key role in, “developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit sign,” according to Manfred.

Because of this, the Astros were stripped of their 2020 and 2021 first and second-round picks and fined $5 million.

Although Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Red Sox’ use of illegally decoding signs through the club’s video replay room during the 2018 season is still ongoing, it is believed that Cora is facing ‘harsh’ discipline, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

In his two seasons at the helm with Boston, Cora led the Sox to a historic 119-win season capped off by the club clinching their ninth World Series title in 2018 and followed that with a sub-par 84-win campaign last year.

“I want to thank John, Tom, Sam, the players, our coaching staff and the entire Red Sox organization,” Cora said in a statement Tuesday. “I especially want to thank my family for their love and support.

“I do not want to be a distraction to the Red Sox as they move forward,” added Cora. My two years as manager were the best years of my life. It was an honor to manage these teams and help bring a World Series Championship back to Boston. I will forever be indebted to the organization and the fans who supported me as a player, a manager and in my efforts to help Puerto Rico.

“This is a special place. There is nothing like it in all of baseball, and I will miss it dearly,” he concluded.

Now just about a month out from when pitchers and catchers are due to report in at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Sox ownership and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom have found themselves in quite the predicament with no manager currently in place.

Ron Roenicke, who served as Cora’s bench coach the last two seasons and has managerial experience with the Milwaukee Brewers from 2011 until 2015, is an obvious candidate. He is scheduled to attend Red Sox Winter Weekend at MGM Springfield.

In a span of four months, the Red Sox have parted ways with both the architect and leader of their 2018 World Series-winning team in Dave Dombrowski and Cora.

Now, as the 2020 season looms, turbulent times may be on the horizon with plenty of decisions still to make.

Red Sox Used Video Room Illegally in 2018, per Report

The Red Sox reportedly used their video replay room illegally during the 2018 season, according to The Athletic’s Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal.

According to one source who was with the Red Sox during the 2018 season, the club, under new manager Alex Cora, employed a system where, “A staff member in the Red Sox’s video replay room would tell a player the current sign sequence. The player would return to the dugout, delivering the message on foot, rather than through a wearable device or a phone.” Then, “Someone in the [Red Sox’] dugout would relay the information to the baserunner, leaving the runner with two easy steps: Watch the catcher’s signs and, with body movements, tell the hitter what’s coming.”

The baserunner, either on first or second base in this case, would step off the bag with either his left or right foot to let the hitter at the plate know what type of pitch was coming.

If the opposition managed to change up their signs in the middle of a game, the Red Sox would send a player from the dugout to the video replay room to decipher the new signals. A process that surely did not take all that long, as Boston’s video room is just a few feet away from the dugout entrance.

Rosenthal does note that Major League Baseball began to implement in-game, in-person video security at the start of the 2018 postseason play, and club sources did say that, “this system did not appear to be effective or even viable,” that October, when the Red Sox went on to win the World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games.

Despite that though, one Red Sox source did tell The Athletic that the team had video monitors in their “back pocket,” meaning they could still act if they could still turn to the video if they felt inclined to do so.

This news comes nearly two months after Drellich and Rosenthal reported that three major-league managers, including Cora, were a part of the league’s investigation into the Astros stealing signs in 2017.

At that time, Cora served as Houston’s bench coach under AJ Hinch, and the third-year manager did not comment about the ongoing investigation at the Winter Meetings in San Diego last month.

As things stand right now, it seems as though this drama could drag out for quite some time. Stay tuned if more information becomes available in the meantime.

Red Sox Manager Alex Cora Reportedly Played ‘Key Role’ in Astros’ Sign Stealing Fiasco in 2017

Red Sox manager Alex Cora will be interviewed by Major League Baseball as part of the league’s investigation into the Houston Astros stealing signs throughout the 2017 season, per The Athletic’s Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal.

According to the report, Cora, “played a key role in devising the sign-stealing system the team used that season.”

Cora served as bench coach under manager A.J. Hinch during the Astros’ World Series-winning campaign in 2017. New Mets manager Carlos Beltran, who played his final season with Houston as the team’s designated hitter, will also be interviewed.

In case you missed this news from Tuesday, the basic premise is that the Astros had a system at Minute Maid Park where a camera was set up in the outfield so that it could capture what the opposing team’s catcher was laying down to his pitcher. With that information coming through on a monitor and some decoding of said signs, someone in the Astros dugout could signal to the hitter at the plate what kind of pitch was on the way, which was done through making, “a loud noise — specifically, banging on a trash can, which sat in the tunnel,” behind Houston’s dugout.

This much was confirmed by former Astros right-hander Mike Fiers, who was with the club from July 2015 until the end of the 2017 season.

What does this have to do with Cora and the Red Sox? Well, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the league spoke with Sox bullpen coach Craig Bjornson, who came over from Houston with Cora back in 2017, on Wednesday.

Cora appeared on WEEI’s Dale & Keefe show on Thursday, and was asked about his involvement in what is currently transpiring.

“I appreciate the question,” Cora said. “…I have talked to MLB and I’ll leave it at that.”

As for what is in store for Cora and the Sox, more is sure to come as the league’s investigation progresses, so stay tuned for that.