Seiya Suzuki, Japanese outfielder who Red Sox have ‘thoroughly’ scouted, to be posted next week (report)

Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki will reportedly be posted by the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of Nippon Professional Baseball next week, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi.

Once posted, Suzuki would under normal circumstances have up to 30 days to negotiate with major-league clubs. However, because of the looming work stoppage, the 27-year-old and his representatives may only have until December 1 to talk with teams before the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires.

Per The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly, Major League Baseball and NPB were at one point “close to an agreement” in which the clock pertaining to Suzuki’s 30-day posting window “would be stopped in the event of an industry lockout.”

So, if Suzuki were to be posted under this scenario next Wednesday, for instance, he would then have approximately one week to negotiate with clubs before the impending lockout begins. On the other side of that, he would a little more than three weeks to talk with teams once the league and players’ association implement a new CBA.

If Suzuki has yet to sign a contract with a big-league club by the time his clock runs out, he would subsequently have to return to Hiroshima for the 2022 season.

Suzuki, who does not turn 28 until next August, is regarded as one of the top free agents in this winter’s class since he has already enjoyed quite a successful career in Japan.

This past season with the Carp, the right-handed hitter slashed .319/.436/.644 to go along with 26 doubles, a career-high 38 home runs, 88 RBIs, 77 runs scored, nine stolen bases, 88 walks, and 87 strikeouts over 133 total games spanning 535 plate appearances. He also helped Samurai Japan win a gold medal in the Olympic Games over the summer.

A native of Tokyo, Suzuki is a five-time NPB All-Star who has won four Gold Glove Awards for his defensive work in right field. The 5-foot-11, 182 pounder has primarily been an outfielder for Hiroshima since 2015 and has drawn comparisons to Braves All-Star Ronald Acuna Jr.

Earlier this month, WEEI’s Rob Bradford reported that the Red Sox were interested in Suzuki and have been “thoroughly” scouting the international star.

When broached about this topic during last week’s GM Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., Sox general manager Brian O’Halloran would not get into the specifics, but said that “we scout all markets, including the international markets, very thoroughly.”

Any club — including the Red Sox — that manages to sign Suzuki before his posting period ends would then owe the Carp additional compensation under the current MLB-NPB agreement.

According to Morosi, “the Carp would receive a release fee equal to 20% of the first $25 million in guaranteed contract value, plus 17.5% of the next $25 million, plus 15% of any amount beyond $50 million.”

(Picture of Seiya Suzuki: Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)

Eduardo Rodriguez rejects Red Sox’ $18.4 million qualifying offer, per report

Eduardo Rodriguez rejected the qualifying offer the Red Sox extended to him last weekend, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.

Per Heyman, Rodriguez rejected Boston’s one-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer during last week’s GM meetings and is now engaged with teams in multi-year contract talks.

The Red Sox initially extended the qualifying offer in Rodriguez’s direction this past Sunday, giving the left-hander 10 days — or until November 17 at 5 p.m. eastern time — to either accept it and remain with the club for an additional season or reject it and remain a free agent.

Since he has now declined Boston’s offer, Rodriguez is free to sign with another organization if he so chooses. If he were to sign elsewhere, Rodriguez’s new team would then owe the Red Sox compensation in the form of a draft pick.

Originally acquired from the Orioles in exchange for fellow lefty Andrew Miller at the 2014 trade deadline, Rodriguez has experienced plenty of ups and downs in his time with the Red Sox dating back to his major-league debut in May 2015.

Just two years removed from finishing sixth in American League Cy Young voting in 2019, Rodriguez missed the entirety of the compressed 2020 campaign after contracting myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) following a bout with COVID-19.

This past season, the now-28-year-old posted posted a 4.74 ERA and 3.32 FIP to go along with 185 strikeouts to 47 walks over 32 appearances (31 starts) spanning 157 2/3 total innings of work.

On the surface, Rodriguez’s numbers — particularly his ERA — may not look all that flattering. However, among the 18 left-handers who accrued at least 150 innings this season, the Venezuelan southpaw ranked second in strikeout rate (27.4%), third in FIP, and second in xFIP (3.43), per FanGraphs.

At last week’s GM meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and general manager Brian O’Halloran expressed an interest in keeping Rodriguez in Boston for 2022 and beyond.

To that end, Heyman recently reported that Rodriguez received a multi-year contract offer from the Sox in addition to the $18.4 million qualifying offer.

MLB Trade Rumors predicts that Rodriguez will net himself a a five-year, $70 million contract this winter, while FanGraphs‘ Ben Clemens projected that the  the 6-foot-2, 231 pound hurler could get a four-year, $80 million pact if the opportunity presents itself.

In addition to the Red Sox, other clubs such as the Angels, Blue Jays, and Tigers have expressed interest in Rodriguez, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi.

A client of ISE Baseball, Rodriguez does not turn 29 until next April, so his earning window is fairly wide open as he truly prepares to immerse himself in free agency for the first time in his big-league career.

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

Where do things stand between Red Sox and Eduardo Rodriguez as qualifying offer decision looms?

The Red Sox extended a qualifying offer to Eduardo Rodriguez on November 7, giving the left-hander 10 days to either accept or reject the one-year, $18.4 million deal for 2022.

A full week has passed since Rodriguez received Boston’s qualifying offer, which means he has just three more days, or until Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. eastern time, to make his decision.

If accepted, Rodriguez would return to the Sox on that aforementioned one-year deal for the 2022 campaign. If rejected, the ISE Baseball client would remain a free agent, though any other club that signs him would then owe Boston compensation in the form of a draft pick.

In the time that has gone by since the Red Sox extended a qualifying offer in Rodriguez’s direction, the Venezuelan southpaw has also received a multi-year contract offer from Boston, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.

Rodriguez, 28, is just two years removed from finishing sixth in American League Cy Young voting in 2019, but missed all of the compressed 2020 season after contracting myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) as a result of a bout with COVID-19.

This past season, the 6-foot-2, 231 pound hurler posted a 4.74 ERA and 3.32 FIP to go along with 185 strikeouts to 47 walks over 32 appearances (31 starts) spanning 157 2/3 total innings of work.

On the surface, Rodriguez’s 4.74 ERA may seem deterring. However, among the 18 left-handers who accrued at least 150 innings this season, he ranked second in strikeout rate (27.4%), third in FIP, and second in xFIP (3.43), per FanGraphs.

Because of those improved peripherals, Rodriguez is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to net himself a five-year, $70 million contract in free agency this winter. FanGraphs‘ Ben Clemens also projects he could land a four-year, $80 million pact if the opportunity presents itself.

To that end, Red Sox general manager Brian O’Halloran told reporters (including MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith) during last week’s GM meetings that the club was engaged in contract talks with Rodriguez and that they “would love to bring him back.”

Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom added on to that, indicating that the Sox were indeed interested in bringing Rodriguez back on some sort of multi-year deal.

“I think when there’s mutual interest in some kind of longer-term deal, it makes sense to talk as much as you can and to keep that line of communication open,” Bloom said. “So I expect that will happen.”

The Red Sox originally acquired Rodriguez, then a 21-year-old pitching prospect, from the Orioles in exchange for fellow lefty Andrew Miller at the 2014 trade deadline. As an impending free agent, Miller remained in Baltimore for just a few months before signing a lucrative four-year deal with the Yankees that winter.

Rodriguez, on the other hand, has for the most part established himself as a key cog in Boston’s starting rotation since making his major-league debut in May 2015. As O’Halloran alluded to, he is clearly someone the Red Sox would like to bring back for 2022 and beyond.

That being said, Rodriguez does not turn 29 until next April, so his earning window would still be pretty wide open even if he were to accept the Sox’ qualifying offer and set himself up to hit the open market again at the conclusion of the 2022 season.

If he elects to become a free agent now by rejecting the qualifying offer, it does appear as though Rodriguez already has a number of suitors. MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported on Sunday that the Angels, Blue Jays, and Tigers were among the teams interested in Rodriguez’s services.

Interest from the Red Sox and other clubs aside, Rodriguez is technically still on the clock as those involved anxiously await the result of his decision, which is due no later than Wednesday evening.

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

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo named fourth-best center fielder in baseball heading into 2021 season by MLB Network

Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo has been named the fourth-best center fielder in baseball headed into the 2021 season by MLB Network.

The 24-year-old, finishing behind the likes of Mike Trout, former teammate Cody Bellinger, and George Springer, only started one game in center field for Boston last year during his debut season with the club.

In said start, which came on the road against the Marlins on September 16, Verdugo went 1-for-1 in his defensive chances, recording a putout on a Miguel Rojas pop fly in the first inning of what would turn out to be an 8-4 defeat.

Per Baseball Savant, Rojas’ pop fly off of left-hander Mike Kickham left his bat with an exit velocity of 84.7 mph, giving Verdugo a 99% chance to catch it, which he did after jogging a few steps to his left.

Other than that, the rest of Verdugo’s playing time came in 2020 came in left or right field, where he did a decent job showing off his arm strength en route to recording seven outfield assists.

Prior to coming over from the Dodgers in that infamous trade last February, the former second-round draft pick patrolled center field quite a bit for Los Angeles in 2019.

Over a 61-game sample size (52 starts), Verdugo logged 475 2/3 innings in center, where he posted a positive-3 defensive runs saved as well as a 1.1 ultimate zone rating, which translates to an ultimate zone rating of 3.6 over 150 defensive games, per FanGraphs.

In that same stretch of games in center for the Dodgers, Verdugo was worth zero outs above average, according to Baseball Savant, which essentially means he was average at that position defensively.

Even with those numbers in mind, the Arizona native appears to be the frontrunner to become the Sox’ everyday center fielder in 2021.

This being the case because Jackie Bradley Jr. still remains unsigned while Andrew Benintendi could apparently be traded any day now.

Take those two options away, and outside of Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe, J.D. Martinez are the only other two outfielders on Boston’s 40-man roster who have major-league experience.

Having said all that, it’s safe to assume that The Shredder, MLB Network’s “player rating formula,” ran with the notion that Verdugo will fill the void left by Bradley Jr. come Opening Day in April.

Seeing how Bradley Jr. is a Gold Glove Award winner and one of, if not the best defensive center fielder in baseball, that could be a sizable void to fill, but Red Sox officials seem confident that Verdugo could handle it if given the opportunity.

“I think Verdugo’s probably the one who — if we were starting today — would probably be most suited to it,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said last month when asked who on the Red Sox could play center field on a consistent basis. “But, it’s just great to have a group of athletes that you feel confident that they could all cover it.”

Red Sox general manager and Bloom’s right-hand man Brian O’Halloran echoed this same sort of sentiment when speaking with reporters in early December.

“I think he did a really good job. He’s obviously a very athletic outfielder who moves around very well,” O’Halloran said of the fiery outfielder. “I have not seen him play center field, but I believe that he could do it. And in terms of evaluations, this year I thought he did a terrific job both offensively and defensively.”

Verdugo’s manager, Alex Cora, also expressed optimism that the 6-foot, 192. lb. left-handed hitter would be able to handle things as the anchor of the Red Sox outfield this coming season.

“We do believe that he’s athletic enough to do that,” said Cora, when appearing on MLB Network Radio in December. “He’s got the instincts. His first step is pretty good. He can do it… We do feel comfortable with Alex playing center field.”

There is still plenty of time for the Red Sox’ outfield outlook to change during these winter months, but for now, let’s just roll with the idea that Verdugo will be Boston’s Opening Day center fielder, likely batting leadoff or out of the two-hole.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Red Sox among clubs that have ‘been involved to some extent in negotiations’ with free-agent infielder Marcus Semien, per report

The Red Sox are among the clubs that have been “involved to some extent in negotiations with free-agent infielder Marcus Semien,” according to The Athletic’s Jim Bowden.

Bowden additionally reports that the Athletics, Philles, and Reds have also been negotiating in some capacity with Semien, while “there are probably more clubs interested due to his versatility, athleticism, and durability.”

Semien, 30, was projected by MLB Trade Rumors back in November to net himself a one-year, $14 million deal this offseason.

The Bay Area native is coming off a 2020 campaign with the Athletics in which he posted an underwhelming .223/.305/.374 slash line in the wake of finishing third in American League MVP voting in 2019. He clubbed just seven home runs and drove in 28 RBI over 53 games played this past season.

That said, Semien improved his stock in October, as he went 11-for-27 (.407) at the plate while putting up an OPS of 1.151 in seven games against the White Sox and Astros in the American League Wild Card and Divisional Series’.

Bowden notes that this “strong postseason helped him” in terms of garnering interest as a free agent in addition to his past reputation as one of the more solid middle infielders in the American League.

The Athletic’s Peter Gammons was the first to report Boston’s interest in Semien late last month, tweeting that the “Sox like him” and view him as a second baseman despite his experience at shortstop with the A’s.

Gammons added that while attending the University of California, Berkeley, Semien was roommates with Red Sox amateur scouting director and former Golden Bear Paul Toboni. So there is a connection there.

At the time of this tweet, Gammons reported that the Red Sox did not yet know how much money it would take to sign Semien, but perhaps that dollar figure is starting to become more clear as spring training quicky approaches.

As currently constructed, the Sox’ 40-man roster is somewhat lousy with infielders capable of playing second base, but none have established themselves of being able to play the position on an everyday basis in the major-leagues. Christian Arroyo and Michael Chavis are among those in the organization that fit this description.

“We definitely have some options internally,” general manager Brian O’Halloran said in December in regards to Boston’s outlook at second base. “But we’re also open-minded. And this is not exclusive to second base. We’re open minded to different ways of improving the club.”

If they were to sign Semien, who has played 29 career games and has logged 236 2/3 career innings at second (none since 2014), to a short-term deal to primarily play that position, then perhaps the Red Sox’ plan would be for the former sixth-round draft pick to serve as somewhat of a bridge to top prospect Jeter Downs.

That all depends on what chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and the rest of Boston’s baseball operations department have in store, though.

ESPN’s Buster Olney did tweet on Tuesday night that the expectation around baseball was that the Red Sox are preparing to make a series of roster moves to upgrade the club’s roster for the 2021 season.

(Picture of Marcus Semien: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Red Sox manager Alex Cora wants to see Andrew Benintendi return to October 2018 form

Even though spring training is still two months away, it’s safe to say the spotlight will be on Andrew Benintendi headed into the 2021 major-league season.

Coming off an injury-shortened 2020 campaign in which he mustered all of two hits in 52 trips to the plate, the Red Sox outfielder has been a focal point in conversations between reporters and club officials since the start of the offseason.

Back in late September, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said he would not let 2020 change his opinion on Benintendi, who he views as having “great, all-around ability.” Last week, general manager Brian O’Halloran said something along these same lines to kick off the virtual winter meetings.

“Andrew has proven he’s a very capable outfielder,” said O’Halloran via a Zoom call. “Obviously it was a tough year for Andrew all around [in 2020]. The injury and sort of a lost season unfortunately due to that injury. We expect that he’s healthy, he comes back again. We expect big things out of Andrew. As of right now, he’s expected to be our left fielder. Can’t rule anything out going forward. But that’s the plan for right now.”

And on Thursday, Benintendi’s manager, Alex Cora, also expressed confidence that the 26-year-old can bounce back next year despite the fact he has been on the decline going back to 2019.

“The Andrew that we saw in October 2018, that’s the Andrew we want,” Cora said. “I know a lot people talk about the second half [of 2018], I don’t think it was that bad. In ’19, talking to him, he tried to make some adjustments as far as hitting the ball in the air. You saw him, he became a little bit stronger. He wasn’t out of shape, actually, he was in great shape. But, I think his mindset was a little bit different.”

After nearly making his first All-Star team while playing a pivotal role for Boston during their World Series-winning run in 2018, Benintendi fell back down to earth in 2019. Over 138 games played, the Cincinnati native posted a .774 OPS and league-average 100 wRC+ to go along with 13 home runs and 68 RBI.

Headed into the 2019/2020 offseason, Benintendi intended to slim down, and he did so. Bloom had even said that he thought the outfielder “looked great” during spring training and summer camp, but that obviously did not translate to positive results.

In addition to a miserable start to the 2020 campaign, Benintendi suffered a right rib cage strain on August 11, which would wind up costing him the remainder of the shortened 60-game season.

While he was playing though, Benintendi was striking out nearly 33% of the time while swinging and missing at a 13.5% clip, both of which were uncharacteristic and career-worsts for the University of Arkansas product.

“Last year (2020), talking to him, he never felt right at the batter’s box, although it was 50-something at-bats,” Cora said of his conversations with Benintendi. “The swings-and-misses — we talked about it in ’19, we saw it in ’20 — we need to find a balance between driving the ball and not swinging and missing. I’ll take Andrew Benintendi, the complete player. I don’t want Andrew to hit 35-40 home runs. I want him to get on base, be fast in the base paths, steal bases, play better defense — the way he played in October [2018] — and if we get that guy back, we’re in a good position.”

From the time the Red Sox departed from Houston after evening up the American League Championship Series against the Astros on October 14 until the final out of the 2018 World Series was recorded in Los Angeles on October 28, Benintendi batted .303 while scoring nine runs and making multiple superb defensive plays in left field. Boston went unbeaten in all seven games he started. This is the kind of player the club would like to get back in 2021.

“As you know, I’m a big fan of Andrew,” Cora added. “At 7:05 or 7:35, I know he gives his best, but we need him to get back to staying level in the strike zone, drive the ball all over the field, run around, and be a complete player. I don’t want him to be one-dimensional.”

Benintendi, who doesn’t turn 27 until July and is under team control through 2022, is about to embark on his fifth full season as a member of the Red Sox organization. He was selected by Boston with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 amateur draft out of Arkansas and quickly rose through the minor-league ranks before making his big-league debut the following summer. The fact that he was a first-round pick proves to Cora that the potential is still there.

“When this kid got drafted, he was probably the best hitting prospect coming out of college,” stated the Sox skipper. “Like I always said, those first-rounders, they don’t get lucky, they’re good. I still believe Andrew Benintendi is a good player. I think Andrew Benintendi is an impactful player, and we got to get him back to that mindset that he had in ’18 — and even in ’17.”

Red Sox ‘feel comfortable’ with Alex Verdugo playing center field, Alex Cora says

Even as the Red Sox remain interested in bringing back Jackie Bradley Jr. this winter, club officials appear confident that fellow outfielder Alex Verdugo can take the Gold Glover’s spot in center if needed in 2021.

“One of the great things is [Verdugo, Andrew Benintendi, and Hunter Renfroe] all could do it,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said via Zoom earlier this week when asked who stands out as the primary centerfield option at this point. “I think Verdugo’s probably the one who — if we were starting today — would probably be most suited to it. But, it’s just great to have a group of athletes that you feel confident that they could all cover it.”

Bloom’s right-hand man, Sox general manager Brian O’Halloran praised Verdugo for what he did on both sides of the ball in his debut season with Boston when speaking with reporters last week.

“I think he did a really good job. He’s obviously a very athletic outfielder who moves around very well,” O’Halloran said of the fiery 24-year-old. “I have not seen him play center field, but I believe that he could do it. And in terms of evaluations, this year I thought he did a terrific job both offensively and defensively.”

Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who described Verdugo as the team’s 2020 MVP back in November, echoed this same sort of sentiment on Tuesday when appearing on MLB Network Radio.

“We do believe that he’s athletic enough to do that,” the Sox skipper said of Verdugo’s ability to play center field. “He’s got the instincts. His first step is pretty good. He can do it.”

This past season, Verdugo managed to start just one game in center for now-ousted manager Ron Roenicke against the Marlins on September 16, a contest in which the Arizona native made one putout over eight innings of work.

Prior to coming over to Boston back in February, though, Verdugo actually saw the majority of his playing time for the Dodgers in 2019 come in center field.

Across 61 games in which he logged 475 2/3 innings in center for Los Angeles, Verdugo posted a positive-3 defensive runs saved and 1.1 ultimate zone rating, which translates to an ultimate zone rating of 3.6 over 150 defensive games, per FanGraphs.

Baseball Savant, meanwhile, states that Verdugo was worth zero outs above average as a center fielder last year, which essentially means he was average at that position in terms of defensive capabilities.

With that in mind, it would appear that the Red Sox would indeed benefit from bringing back Bradley Jr. to regularly patrol center field, and there’s still time to make that happen.

As of now, however, Boston’s current, everyday outfield alignment would have Benintendi in left, Verdugo in center, and the recently-signed Renfroe in right.

“That’s a pretty solid outfield,” Cora said Tuesday. “But obviously the season doesn’t start tomorrow. Let’s see what the offseason brings and what Chaim and the group decide to do. But we do feel comfortable with Alex playing center field.”

Blogging the Red Sox presents: A discussion with Brian O’Halloran

To say Red Sox general manager Brian O’Halloran’s baseball journey has been unique to this point would be an understatement.

Whether it be studying abroad in the then-Soviet Republic of Georgia, working for an international logistics company in Moscow, or substitute teaching in his hometown, the Weymouth native has certainly seen plenty on his way to spending the past 19 years with the Red Sox occupying the following positions:

  • Baseball operations assistant (2002-2006)
  • Director of baseball operations (2006-2010)
  • Vice president of baseball operations (2011)
  • Assistant general manager (2011-2019)
  • General manager (2019-)

A member of four World Series-winning front offices in Boston, O’Halloran, affectionately known as “BOH,” recently took some time out of his busy offseason schedule to answer a handful of questions from yours truly via email.

Among the topics discussed were O’Halloran’s upbringing in Weymouth, his experience overseas, getting his foot in the door with the Red Sox, what it has been like working under Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington, Dave Dombrowski, and Chaim Bloom, and focusing on team goals over individual ones. Enjoy.

What do your favorite memories of growing up in Weymouth entail?

Brian O’Halloran: That could be a really long answer, so I will try to keep it short! I loved growing up in Weymouth. My favorite memories mostly center around my group of close friends I grew up with, many of whom I am still close with today. This includes a few that I’ve been friends with since elementary school at the old Hunt School. I have a lot of great memories around sports – youth soccer and little league baseball in particular. Perhaps the most notable is being a member of the 1983 Eagles of East Weymouth Little League, with an undefeated regular season and a hard-fought win in the championship series, two games to one, against a very game Weymouth Elks club lead by head coach and Weymouth sports legend Mark Ducharme.

Is there anything that you learned or picked up while living in Georgia or Russia that you apply to your role as general manager of the Red Sox?

O’Halloran: I think my experience overseas helps me every day. Living and working in a totally different culture, far from home, and meeting people with all different backgrounds, provides great perspective and opportunity for growth as a person. I encourage anyone who can get such an experience to jump at the chance.

What were some of the benefits and challenges of working unusual hours when you first joined the Red Sox?

O’Halloran: There definitely were challenges — some nights I would work until 5 a.m. and then substitute teach in Weymouth a few hours later. I guess the benefit was that I got an opportunity to show my level of commitment to working in baseball.

On that note, does the Red Sox’ baseball operations department still work out of the Fenway Park basement?

O’Halloran: No, we are upstairs now.

What role, in baseball, politics, etc., do you think Theo Epstein will pursue next?

O’Halloran: I don’t know, but whatever he does, I’m sure he will be successful at it!

Speaking of Epstein, what have been the similarities and differences between working with him, Ben Cherington, Dave Dombrowski, and now Chaim Bloom?

O’Halloran: The biggest similarities are competitiveness and burning desire to win, as well as a love of and commitment to the game of baseball. Of course they are all different personalities with different ways of going about their jobs. I certainly have learned a lot from all of them!

As you see former colleagues such as Mike Hazen and Jed Hoyer become heads of baseball operations for different clubs, do you start to wonder when you will get that opportunity?

O’Halloran: No, not really. Although I am happy for my friends and colleagues who earn such great opportunities. Personally, I am 100% focused on working with Chaim and our group to bring more championships to Boston. I have always tried to focus on team goals over individual ones. When the team succeeds, individuals who have contributed tend to get increased opportunities, either within their current organization or outside it.

Finally, what do your December plans look like now that there will be no in-person winter meetings?

O’Halloran: Our day-to-day is very similar to usual, except we are working from home. We are talking to other teams and agents, looking for any opportunities to improve the team and achieve our goal of building a sustainable, championship caliber team year-in and year-out. It’s a little strange not to be able to do that in the office or at in-person winter meetings, but it’s 2020, we have to adapt! That includes adjusting to the fact that my office-mates now include two teenagers (doing distance learning from home) and a dog!

Thank you to Brian O’Halloran, who recently teamed up with the Red Sox Foundation to offer fans the chance to win his personal collection of over 20,000 baseball cards in support of the foundation’s ongoing commitment to Social Justice, Equity and Inclusion, for making this possible.

That sweepstakes has since ended, but a pretty nice gesture nonetheless.

Red Sox could target minor-leaguers with local connections in upcoming Rule 5 Draft

The 2020 Rule 5 Draft, which provides clubs without a full 40-man roster to add unprotected, non-40-man roster players from other clubs, is this coming Thursday.

The Red Sox, having traded left-hander Yoan Aybar to the Rockies and outrighted utilityman Yairo Munoz to Triple-A Pawtucket on Monday, have opened up two spots on their 40-man roster as the (virtual) Winter Meetings’ closing event draws ever closer.

Opening up those two spots, which brings Boston’s 40-man roster down to 38 players ahead of Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft, would seem to indicate that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. are going to be busy the rest of the week.

Bloom’s general manager, Weymouth native Brian O’Halloran, was rather coy when asked about the possibility of the Sox targeting someone in the Rule 5 Draft.

“I would not rule that out,” he said when speaking with reporters via Zoom on Monday.

Right around this time last year, the Red Sox selected then-infield prospect Jonathan Aruaz from the Astros organization in the 2019 Rule 5 Draft. Arauz, 22, was able to remain on Boston’s active roster for the entirety of the 2020 season, meaning the club now has full control of him moving forward.

All things considered, it may have been easier for the Sox to keep Arauz on their major-league roster this past season considering how non-competitive they were. Given the team’s expectations for 2021, holding on to a Rule 5 player may be a tougher task for a club planning to contend for a World Series title.

“Generally speaking, it’s a little bit harder to carry a Rule 5 player when you have a team that’s built to compete for a championship and the postseason,” O’Halloran said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. Circumstances matter, certainly the player matters. Who the player is and whether he can compete and how you think he can hold his own in the big-leagues, what he brings to the table. But it definitely can be more of a challenge for sure.”

Again, in Bloom’s first offseason as chief baseball officer, the Red Sox did not hesitate to add a Rule 5 player. Doing so this year may be more of a challenge initially, but as O’Halloran said, that possibility cannot be ruled out. Especially when you consider the fact that Boston will have the fourth-highest priority, or fourth overall pick, in this year’s Rule 5 Draft since they finished with the fourth-worst record in baseball in 2020.

Regarding who the Red Sox could target in the upcoming Rule 5, there are two players I would like to highlight here, both of whom hail from Massachusetts.

First off, there’s Malden native Paul Campbell, who was left off the Rays’ 40-man roster last month.

The 25-year-old right-handed pitching prospect was originally drafted by Tampa Bay out of Clemson University in the 21st round of the 2017 amateur draft.

Regarded by MLB Pipeline as the Rays’ No. 24 prospect at the moment, Campbell most recently posted a 3.67 ERA and .238 batting average against over 27 outings (20 starts) and 144 2/3 innings of work between High-A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery in 2019.

A graduate of Salisbury High School in Connecticut, Campbell worked almost exclusively as a long reliever in college, which would likely be his role on a major-league roster in 2021.

Per his MLB Pipeline scouting report, the 6-foot, 210 lb. righty’s pitch mix includes a 92-95 mph fastball with elite spin rate, an 89-90 mph cutter, a changeup, and a curveball.

Given the fact that he is still a member of the Rays organization, Campbell likely knows Bloom in some capacity, so there could be something there depending on the Sox’ level of interest.

Next, there’s West Roxbury native Packy Naughton, who was left off the Angels’ 40-man roster just months after being acquired from the Reds in exchange for outfielder Brian Goodwin.

Another pitcher, the 24-year-old left-handed pitching prospect was originally selected by Cincinnati in the ninth round of the 2017 amateur draft out of Virginia Tech.

Prior to getting dealt to the Halos, Naughton worked exclusively as a starter in 2019, posting a solid 3.32 ERA over 28 outings and 157 innings pitched between High-A Daytona and Double-A Chattanooga. He recorded 131 punchouts in those 157 frames of work.

An alumnus of Boston Latin School, the 6-foot-2, 195 lb. southpaw is currently regarded by MLB Pipeline as the Angels’ No. 12 prospect. Per his FanGraphs scouting report, Naughton, who has experience as a reliever in college, is “funky and deceptive, hides the ball well, creates tough angle in on righties’ hands, and then drops that changeup on them.”

His pitch mix — fastball, slider, changeup — may not be all that electric, but Naughton has shown the ability to record outs in crucial situations while also being quite athletic for a pitcher. At the major-league level, he could undertake “a multi-inning relief role a la Ryan Yarbrough.”

So, here we have just two candidates with local connections that the Red Sox could consider taking in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. There are other interesting unprotected prospects up for grabs as well, such as former first-round draft pick Riley Pint, but for the time being I simply wanted to highlight Campbell and Naughton.

Red Sox expected to be aggressive in their pursuit of Japanese right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano, per report

The Red Sox are expected to be aggressive in their pursuit of Japanese right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano, according to Boston Sports Journal’s Sean McAdam.

Sugano, 31, has been posted by the Yomiuri Giants of Nippon Professional Baseball, effective Tuesday morning at 8 am eastern time, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi.

The veteran hurler is coming off a 2020 campaign in which he posted a 1.97 ERA and recorded 131 strikeouts over 20 outings and 137 1/3 innings of work for Yomiuri.

In his eight-year professional career, Sugano has taken home two Sawamura Awards — the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award — in 2017 and 2018 as well as the Central League MVP Award in 2014.

A six-time All-Star in Japan, Sugano is projected to be a No. 3 or No. 4 starter stateside as he becomes one of the better starting pitchers available on the free agent market.

As you may already be aware, the Red Sox are a team in need of starting pitching this offseason. General manager Brian O’Halloran said as much when addressing reporters via Zoom earlier Monday.

“There are certainly a number of starting pitching options out there of various stripes, and also, of course, there’s a trade market,” said O’Halloran. “Several of those pitchers have signed but there are plenty of opportunities to delve into that market further, either via free agency or trade. Starting pitching and pitching in general is an area we’d like to improve and add depth to. We continue to work on that.”

Sugano would certainly fit that need given his accomplished career in Japan. But, as McAdam notes, “the Red Sox won’t be alone in their bidding” for him.

More specifically, per McAdam, “While multiple industry sources confirm the Red Sox have extensive scouting reports on the righthander and intend to be aggressive in their pursuit, other teams — including many big market teams, have similar levels of interest.”

ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel predicted over the weekend that a two-year, $24 million deal could be enough for a team to land Sugano’s services as a result of the revenue losses Major League Baseball and its clubs suffered in 2020.

Of course, any club interested in pursuing Sugano, such as the Red Sox, will beginning on Tuesday have until January 7 at 5 pm eastern time to negotiate a contract with the 6-foot-1, 183 lb. hurler.

Should be something to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.