NBA star LeBron James to become part-owner of Red Sox after joining Fenway Sports Group as partner

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James is set to become a part-owner of the Boston Red Sox, according to The Boston Globe’s Michael Silverman.

Per Silverman, James was recently introduced as one of Fenway Sports Group’s newest partners and “now owns an undisclosed amount of FSG shares after previously holding an approximately 2 percent share of the Liverpool soccer franchise since 2011.”

Fenway Sports Group, which is operated by Red Sox principal owner John Henry, owns the likes of the Red Sox, Liverpool Football Club, Fenway Park, Roush Fenway Racing, Fenway Sports Management, and NESN.

By joining FSG as a partner, James, 36, now becomes a part-owner of the Red Sox as well as those previously listed subsidiaries.

Sliverman adds that Maverick Carter, James’ longtime friend and business partner, is also becoming a partner in FSG, making the pair the first Black partners in the company’s history.

This all comes as FSG recently “approved a $750 million private investment that would make RedBird Capital Partners its third-largest partner,” Silverman writes.

While this deal has been approved by FSG, it also needs to be approved by Major League Baseball, which, as Silverman notes, “could take several weeks.”

With the addition of James’ brand value and RedBird’s financial muscle, FSG could very well expand its portfolio by adding on to its already extensive list of properties.

Silverman reports that FSG — which was recently valued by Forbes at $6.6 billion —  is currently interested in acquiring “NFL and NBA franchises, another European soccer club, NHL, MLS, WNBA, and NWSL teams, plus sports betting, esports, and data analytics companies.”

(Picture of LeBron James: Aaron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Richards to start first two games of spring for Red Sox

After announcing on NESN Wednesday night that Nathan Eovaldi would be starting the Red Sox’ Grapefruit League opener against the Twins on Sunday, manager Alex Cora provided more details on what went into that decision earlier on Friday.

“It’s just the progression,” Cora said when speaking with reporters via Zoom. “It’s his turn to pitch on Sunday. Obviously, there’s a thought process, but it’s his turn to pitch. That’s it.”

Eovaldi, who turned 31 earlier this month, said over the weekend that he feels good as he prepares to embark upon his third full season with Boston.

The veteran right-hander is coming off a truncated 2020 campaign in which he posted a 3.72 ERA and 3.87 FIP over just nine starts and 48 1/3 innings pitched on account of being hampered with a right calf strain in August.

Arm-wise, though, Eovaldi is holding up just fine, and he figures to open the 2021 season as Boston’s No. 2 starter.

And not that it means much, but last spring, the Texas native put together eight scoreless innings while scattering just four hits and one walk to go along with 12 strikeouts over three Grapefruit League outings.

Cora has yet to reveal his starting lineup for Sunday’s contest against Minnesota, but he did say that Rafael Devers will play third, Enrique Hernandez will play short, Christian Arroyo will play second, Bobby Dalbec will play first, and Christian Vazquez will catch.

The starting outfield for that day has yet to be determined.

Following Eovaldi in the Sox’ early spring rotation will be fellow right-hander Garrett Richards, who gets the nod to start against the Braves and make his Red Sox debut at JetBlue Park on Monday.

“Stuff-wise, for me, he was one of the best in the league,” Cora recently said of Richards’ 2020 season — in which he produced a 4.03 ERA over 14 outings (10 starts) and 51 1/3 innings of work — with the Padres. “He’s been hurt, but what I saw last year with the Padres was eye-opening. I’m glad that he’s with us. This is a guy that when we talked to him during the offseason, he feels that there’s more. For how veteran he is and his age, he hasn’t wasted too many bullets, right? Because he’s been hurt.”

Assuming he stays healthy this spring, the 32-year-old Richards figures to open the season as Boston’s No. 3 starter behind Eovaldi.

MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo notes that “Cora has been impressed with how far along both Eovaldi and Richards are” so far this spring.

“Every year is something different, and medical-wise, we mapped it out,” said the Sox skipper. “It’s not that we’re going to rush these guys into pitching eight innings right away, but they’re in a good spot.”

Sunday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Twins will not be televised, but Monday’s game against the Braves will be on NESN.

As a matter of fact, here is a full list of all the Red Sox’ spring training games NESN will be broadcasting in March.

In total, the Sox are slated to play 29 Grapefruit League games against the Braves, Orioles, Pirates, Rays, and Twins between February 28 and March 30.

(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo discusses challenges of playing center field at Fenway Park

As Opening Day draws ever closer, it looks more and more like Alex Verdugo will be the Red Sox’ everyday centerfielder to start off the 2021 season.

Jackie Bradley Jr. remains on the open market, and while a reunion between the Gold Glove outfielder and the Sox cannot be ruled out at this point, it appears that the club is confident that Verdugo is more than capable of taking over in center.

During a televised workout at JetBlue Park on Wednesday night, the 24-year-old spoke with NESN’s Tom Caron and Hall of Fame outfielder Jim Rice. Among other things, the two sides discussed the challenges involved in playing center field at Fenway Park.

“The challenge is you got a lot of space,” Verdugo said. “Right-center is 420′, and we got some weird dimensions in the walls. Like where the bullpen is, it kind of cuts in a little bit.”

Since making his major-league debut with the Dodgers in 2017, Verdugo has logged 556 1/3 innings in center field, only eight of which came with the Red Sox last season during a game against the Marlins in Miami in September.

When he wasn’t playing center that one time in 2020, the former second-round draft pick saw the majority of his playing time come in right field (246 2/3 innings) with 167 1/3 innings in left mixed in there as well. And while he’s never played a professional inning in center at Fenway, Verdugo seems ready for the challenge ahead.

“For me, it’s the same as going into road parks, all that,” he said. “You just got to get out there and get to the warning track, feel it out, and take a couple of balls. You just get used to it that way. For me, it’s, ‘Be the person I am, play the game that I play, and get the jumps that I know I can.’ And then I’ll be able to cover the ground out here and hopefully — these gap-to-gap balls — cut them off and hopefully get some people off trying to extend the base or something.”

In response, Rice, who spent the entirety of his 16-year Hall of Fame career with the Sox and appeared in over 1,000 games at Fenway Park while doing so, offered Verdugo some advice.

“You can helm the gap-to-gap, but I think the key thing here is to worry about the wall more than anything else,” Rice said in regards to the Green Monster in left field. “If you look at your left fielder, anything to your left fielder’s left is going to come back to him. Anything over his head to his left is going to go towards right field. So those are the only angles that you really got to worry about out there.”

“Definitely. Obviously you know, you played out here way longer than I have,” responded Verdugo. “It’s just, once you learn the angles and know how they bounce off in certain spots, it’s not too tough.”

Looking back at his final season with Los Angeles in 2019, the left-handed throwing Verdugo played 61 games and accrued 475 2/3 innings in center field that year.

Over the course of those 61 contests in center, the Arizona native was worth positive-3 defensive runs saved while posting an ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 1.1, which translates to an UZR of 3.6 over 150 defensive games, per FanGraphs.

According to Baseball Savant, Verdugo ranked 33rd among qualified major-league center fielders in 2019 in regards to outs above average (0). In other words, by that particular metric, he was average at that position two years ago.

Late last week, Red Sox manager Alex Cora stressed how important it would be for his team to improve defensively this coming season.

Verdugo, seemingly taking over for one of, if not the best defensive center fielder in team history, will likely play a key role in how much Boston’s defensive efforts improve in 2021.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Nathan Eovaldi threw to catching prospect, fellow Houston-area native Connor Wong this offseason

Despite more than six years separating them in age, Red Sox right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (31) and catching prospect Connor Wong (24) actually have a lot in common.

They both hail from the Houston-area, they both received offers to play college baseball for Houston-area schools, they were both drafted by the Dodgers, they were both traded to the Red Sox at one point in their careers, and they are both currently on Boston’s 40-man roster.

With those connections in mind, it does not come as much of a surprise to learn that the pair have virtually become bullpen partners at this point.

The first instance of this arose shortly after spring training was shut down last March due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

At that time, as previously noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, “Eovaldi returned home to Texas and completely shut down his throwing program for about a month. After ramping back up, he got together with Wong — a fellow Houston area resident — and was able to stretch himself out to five or six innings in simulated outings.”

Putting that work in during the shutdown surely helped Eovaldi put together a solid 2020 campaign in which he posted a 3.72 ERA over nine starts and 48 1/3 innings pitched and head into the offseason with a positive mindset.

Throughout this past offseason, the veteran righty again got together with Wong back home in Texas, as he told NESN’s Tom Caron on Thursday.

“Over the years, I’ve been able to acquire a pretty good workout setup in the garage and everything like that,” Eovaldi said. “So I’ve been able to get all my workouts done. And then this offseason as well, I was able to throw to Connor Wong a lot. So, that was nice having a solid catcher behind the plate and being able to work with him.”

Wong, who was part of the Mookie Betts trade with the Dodgers last February, was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster this past November in order to receive protection from the Rule 5 Draft.

The right-handed hitting backstop is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the organization’s No. 22 prospect, ranking second among catchers behind only the recently-acquired Ronaldo Hernandez.

He is currently one of nine catchers (including Kevin Plawecki) at major-league camp in Fort Myers and is projected to begin the 2021 season with Double-A Portland.

As for Eovaldi, the 6-foot-2, 217 lb. hurler is about to embark upon his third full season with the Red Sox and is feeling confident going into a year that could be full of uncertainties, especially for pitchers.

“It’s kind of the unknown for everybody right now,” he said. “A lot of guys weren’t able to get the normal innings that they normally do. We haven’t talked too much about inning limits or control like that yet. And I feel really good coming into spring training. My body feels great, my arm feels fresh, so I’m definitely excited to see what we got.”

As previously mentioned, Eovaldi made just nine starts last year on account of missing a few weeks of action from late August until mid-September due to a right calf strain. But, even while being somewhat limited, the flame-throwing righty put up some of the best numbers of his career in regards to strikeout rate (26.1%), walk rate (3.5%) and swinging-strike percentage (13%).

“I go out there and I try to attack the strike zone,” stated Eovaldi. “I feel like a lot of the times I get behind guys too often and then I have to battle back, and then there’s long at-bats, which end up resulting in walks or hits. So, trying to attack the strike zone, get that first-pitch strike, and stay in the aggressive mode. I think, too, over time you just get to learn your mechanics a little bit better. You find what’s working for you. And then for me, being able to work with [pitching coach Dave Bush, assistant pitching coach-turned-bullpen coach Kevin Walker, and former bullpen coach Craig Bjornson] last year, just really working on my mechanics. And finding what works the best for me was the key to limit my walks.”

In order to replicate the same sort of success he enjoyed last year, Eovaldi will have plenty of work to do over these next few weeks in Fort Myers. He’s been limiting himself to some degree thus far, but that will soon come to an end with Opening Day just less than six weeks away.

“Arm’s ready to go. It feels great. I’ve been trying to control myself out there in the bullpen sessions, hold back a little bit, but we’re going to start ramping it up here soon,” he said.

(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox Owner John Henry in Talks With Acquisition Firm To Take Fenway Sports Group Public

Want to own a share of the Red Sox? Well, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Cara Lombardo and Miriam Gottfried, that could become a realistic possibility relatively soon.

Per Lombardo and Gottfried, Red Sox principal owner John Henry is in preliminary talks with blank-check firm RedBall Acquisition Corp. to take Fenway Sports Group public.

The plan would be for RedBall to raise $1 billion in funds that would coincide with the $575-plus million the firm raised over the summer. With those funds, RedBall in turn would be able to purchase a stake in FSG which would be worth no more than 25% of the company.

Because talks between the two sides are still ongoing, it is worth mentioning that this deal could fall apart. If talks do not fall through, though, the Red Sox could become one of the few publicly traded American sports franchises. The NFL’s Green Bay Packers are a prime example of one.

Henry, who turned 71 last month, originally purchased the Red Sox for $660 million in February 2002. Since that time, Henry has seen his club end an 86-year championship drought and win four World Series titles.

According to Forbes, the Red Sox are currently worth $3.3 billion, while Fenway Sports Group, which includes the Sox, Liverpool Football Club, Fenway Park, and New England Sports Network, is worth a total of $6.6 billion.

FSG going public with RedBall would reportedly raise its value to approximately $8 billion including debt. For more details on this, I would recommend checking out the above tweet.

Red Sox President Sam Kennedy Admits Starting Majority of Home Games at 7:30 PM ‘Wasn’t Right Decision’

At 6-12, the Red Sox are off to a dreadful start this season and are on pace to finish the year with a 20-40 record. To make things worse for fans watching at home, the average time it has taken the Sox to complete a game this year has been 3 hours and 18 minutes, which according to Baseball Reference is the fourth-highest mark in Major League Baseball behind the Astros, Angels, and Pirates.

Lengthy games that have resulted in disappointing losses two-thirds of the time are one thing, but again, to add insult to injury, the majority of Red Sox home games this season have started at 7:30 p.m. eastern time. No other team in baseball is doing this, and some are even starting games earlier than they have in the past since attendance is not an issue for the time being.

I could go on about this issue, which you can read more about here,  but what I really found interesting was how Red Sox team president and CEO Sam Kennedy conceded on Wednesday that the late start times for night games at Fenway Park may not have been the best idea in hindsight. 

Appearing on WEEI’s Greg Hill Morning Show earlier Wednesday, Kennedy addressed the issue.

“We talk about scheduling issues each and every day,” he said. “The 7:30 experiment was designed to try and capture the largest television audience possible and given the way the team has played, given maybe the nature of the pandemic with people being home more, perhaps that wasn’t the right decision. We’ll see as we go forward here.”

When asked about moving games up in order to avoid playing at the same time as the Bruins or Celtics, Kennedy said, ” Because we play every day, it is really hard for us to adjust on the fly. We have done that in years past. But, sometimes you find yourselves in a situation like the Bruins yesterday when they were set to play late in the day and then they played at 11 o’clock in the morning given the overtime game.”

In his closing statement, Kennedy emphasized how fluid things have been in terms of scheduling since the 2020 MLB season began last month. While some teams like the Red Sox are closing in on 20 games played, other teams like the Cardinals have only played five due to a COVID-19 outbreak within their ranks.

“We’re literally in a day-to-day situation over here trying to work our way through what is a highly unusual season,” he stated. “Yes, we do talk about changes to the schedule and being flexible.”

If the Red Sox continue to fall out of contention as they are on pace to do, it will be interesting to see how long it will take for any schedule adjustments to be made, if there are any at all.

Jackie Bradley Jr. to Wear Microphone During Red Sox’ Home Opener on Friday

With no fans allowed in ballparks for at least the opening stages of the 2020 season, MLB clubs are going to try to do their part in keeping spectators attuned to what’s transpiring on the field.

The Red Sox, for instance, will be miking up players and coaches during select home games throughout the 2020 season, the club announced via a press release Thursday.

As noted in this tweet from The Boston Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. will be receiving the honors for this experience first during Friday night’s season opener against the Orioles at Fenway Park

In what could be his final Opening Day as a member of the Red Sox, it will be interesting to see what Bradley Jr. has to say with a microphone attached to his jersey collar and how often NESN utilizes his sound bites.

Given the fact that Bradley Jr. will be mic’d up in a regular season game, I can’t imagine he will be partaking in any on-field interviews with Dave O’Brien, Jerry Remy, or Dennis Eckersley, but it should still be entertaining considering the level of access the 30-year-old Gold Glover could provide to fans watching the game on television.

Speaking of in-game interviews, Bradley Jr. does have some experience being mic’d up, as he chatted with the ESPN broadcast team during a Grapefruit League game against the Pirates last year.

Red Sox Pushed Back Start Time of Night Games at Fenway Park to ‘Have Greater Prime-Time Window for NESN’

Note: This is more of a rant than anything. 

The Red Sox have moved the start of home night games this season from 7:10 p.m to 7:30 p.m. eastern time. The reason for that?

Well, according to The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham, the Red Sox pushed back the start time of their night games at Fenway Park by 20 minutes to “have a greater prime-time window for NESN.”

Even worse, as Abraham notes, the Sox “have three 7:30 p.m. [home] games on getaway days with a road game the next day.”

In addition to that, as previously mentioned in my last post, 23 of the 30 home games the Red Sox are supposed to play at Fenway Park this year will start at 7:30 p.m.

It’s only a twenty-minute difference from what we’re used to for night games, sure, but when you see clubs like the Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays move up the start time of their weeknight home games to 6:40 p.m, the move by the Red Sox to push back the start time becomes even more questionable.

I mean, what is the point of doing this when you are not even going to have fans at the ballpark? What good is it to make fans wait even longer to watch the Red Sox on a weeknight when many will have to wake up early the following morning for work or school?

It’s definitely confusing, that’s for sure. Over The Monster’s Matt Collins aptly sums it all up in this tweet:

As for what’s next, maybe backlash from people on the internet can get the Red Sox to move up the start time of their night games at Fenway Park? Probably won’t happen, but a man can hope.

End rant.

UPDATE:

Red Sox’ Mitch Moreland Named 2020 Jimmy Fund Captain

Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland has been named the Jimmy Fund captain for the 2020 season, the organization announced earlier Friday.

Moreland, who has spent the past three seasons with the Red Sox and re-signed with the club in Januray, will become Jimmy Fund captain for the first time. The spot opened up when former Boston utilityman Brock Holt inked a one-year deal with the Brewers back in February.

As Jimmy Fund captain, Moreland’s responsibilities will include “attend[ing] fundraising events, visit[ing] patients and build[ing] support for cancer care and research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute” in addition to “encourag[ing] fans to step up to the plate and help strike out cancer by getting involved with Jimmy Fund events.”

The Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund have been charitable partners since 1953. Their relationship is probably most signified by the annual WEEI / NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon, which began in 2002 and has raised millions for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Moreland took to Instagram to celebrate the announcement, writing, “Grateful for the opportunity to be a part of @thejimmyfund Thank you for giving me the role as the 2020 Captain.”

Given the current circumstances, it’s difficult to say what Moreland’s role with the Jimmy Fund will look like in 2020. Still, he was a great choice to fill the captain vacancy nonetheless.