Red Sox expected ‘to take a conservative approach’ in Chris Sale’s return from Tommy John surgery, per report

Even though left-hander Chris Sale is slated to throw off a mound later this month for the first since undergoing Tommy John surgery last March, the Red Sox could be taking things slow with the starting pitcher’s rehab, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney.

Sale, who turns 32 in March, last pitched in a big-league game on August 13, 2019.

The Florida native signed a five-year, $145 million contract extension — which includes an opt-out after 2022 and a vesting option for 2025 — with Boston shortly before the start of the 2019 season.

Because of the money they have invested in him, the Red Sox, writes Olney, “would love for Sale to come back and be a factor at some point in 2021, [but are more] apt to take a conservative approach.”

Put another way, “the pace for [Sale’s] return from Tommy John surgery is expected to be deliberate, according to sources.”

As Olney notes, pitchers typically take anywhere from 12 to 15 months to recover from the elbow reconstruction that is Tommy John surgery.

With that time frame in mind, Sale, in theory, could be on track for a June or July return to the mound this coming season, especially given the hurler’s drive.

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said as much when speaking with reporters back in November.

“With Chris, we’re still looking at a midsummer return to have him fully stretched out as a starter,” said Bloom. “But everything continues going along with that. Arm’s doing great, which is awesome.”

While Sale’s arm may be “doing great” at the moment, there is a legitimate possibility that the Red Sox would not want to rush the seven-time All-Star back too soon given the fact he is still under contract for at least two more seasons, and likely more.

“Both the team and the pitcher have reason to take a long view on his recovery,” Olney wrote earlier Monday. “The bulk of the left-hander’s production for the Red Sox will happen in the last three years of the deal.”

Per Spotrac, Sale is set to earn $30 million in 2021 as well as $30 million in 2022, $27.5 million in 2023, and another $27.5 million in 2024. Good for a hefty sum of $85 million over the final three years of his contract. He has a full no-trade clause included in there as well.

Taking the idea that Sale’s time table could be pushed back further than initially expected, Boston may need to do even more to address their starting rotation needs between now and the start of the 2021 season.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora touched upon this issue when appearing on MLB Network Radio over the weekend.

“I think being deeper means the world this year,” said Cora. “You come from a short season and all of a sudden you’re asking these guys to perform at the high levels for a lot of innings. So you’ve gotta be careful. So we’re trying to do that and at the same time, compete at the highest level on a daily basis.”

Last year, Boston starters put up the second-worst ERA in baseball (5.34) while finishing second-to-last in innings pitched (246). As noted by MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, “that’s a 162-game pace of just 664.2 innings.”

(Picture of Chris Sale: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox ‘uninterested’ in exploring four-year deals for free-agent pitchers this winter, prefer ‘shorter-term deals of up to to two or three years in length’

Before coveted Japanese right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano returned to the Yomiuri Giants of the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization on Thursday, it appeared as though the Red Sox had at least some interest in signing the 31-year-old hurler before his posting period ended.

According to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, “the Sox had some interest in Sugano – who possesses excellent command of a four-pitch mix anchored by a low-90s fastball along with a slider and splitter – but his asking price exceeded the team’s level of interest.”

This is mainly the case because Sugano was reportedly seeking out a contract of four years or more from interested clubs, which apparently goes against Boston’s philosophy when it comes to signing free-agent pitchers this offseason.

In other words, the Red Sox “have been uninterested in exploring deals of that length for pitchers” and “have been focused on shorter-term deals of up to two or three years in length this winter,” per Speier.

Free-agent righty Jake Odorizzi would seemingly fit that mold after The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported on Wednesday that the 30-year-old “expects to land a three-year contract in the $36 million to $42 million range” at some point this winter.

Aside from Odorizzi, who is familiar with chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom from their time together in Tampa Bay, Speier notes that while top free-agent pitcher Trevor Bauer likely won’t garner interest from the Red Sox on account of his hefty price tag, the club is still very much in need of starting pitching help following a dismal 2020 campaign from its shorthanded rotation.

With that in mind, Boston may look into signing other veterans still on the market such as Corey Kluber or Rich Hill, both of whom reside in Massachusetts during the offseason.

Kluber, a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner, is expected to hold a workout — one in which the Red Sox will attend — for interested teams in Florida on January 13.

(Picture of Chaim Bloom: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox sign right-hander Zack Kelly to minor-league deal

The Red Sox have signed free-agent right-hander Zack Kelly to a minor-league contract, according to PNY Sports. It’s unclear at this point if this deal includes an invite to major-league spring training.

Kelly, 25, was cut loose by the Angels organization back in May when most clubs released a good number of their minor-leaguers in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Virginia native was originally signed by the Oakland Athletics for just $500 as an undrafted free agent out of Newberry College (SC) in June 2017. He posted a 3.77 ERA and 4.07 xFIP over 13 appearances and 28 2/3 innings pitched for the Arizona League A’s that summer before getting released the following April.

Signed to a minor-league pact by Los Angeles later that month, Kelly had worked his way up to the Double-A level as recently as 2019.

Across 2o outings (13 starts) and 75 1/3 innings for Double-A Mobile, the righty posted a 3.82 ERA and a much more impressive 3.17 xFIP while averaging nearly 10 punchouts per nine frames of work.

Having put up those numbers in ’19, Kelly likely thought big things were on the horizon this year. Instead, he suffered an elbow injury in spring training which would later require surgery and, as previously mentioned, was released by the Angels in May as part of that mass exodus of minor-league cuts across baseball.

“It’s kind of frustrating because I felt like I had a career that wasn’t worthy of getting released at this point,” Kelly told The New York Times’ James Wagner in June.

Though it’s not clear which kind of surgery Kelly underwent over the summer, he was apparently throwing off a mound in November.

So, it would appear that the 6-foot-3, 205 lb. hurler could be ready for spring training workouts in Fort Myers come February.

So far this offseason, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have either signed or re-signed the following players to minor-league contracts (h/t SoxProspects.com):

C Roldani Baldwin
C Jhonny Pereda
1B Joey Meneses
1B Josh Ockimey
OF Cesar Puello
OF Michael Gettys
OF Johan Mieses
LHP Emmanuel De Jesus
LHP Stephen Gonsalves
RHP Kevin McCarthy
RHP Seth Blair
RHP Raynel Espinal
RHP Caleb Simpson
RHP Zack Kelly

Red Sox decline to pick up Martín Pérez’s 2021 option, making left-hander a free agent

The Red Sox have declined left-hander Martin Perez’s team option for the 2021 season, therefore making him a free agent, the club announced earlier Sunday evening.

Perez, who would have been in line to earn $6.85 million next season if his club option had been picked up, now hits the open market as one of the more intriguing southpaws available.

The 29-year-old posted a 4.50 ERA and .744 OPS against over 12 starts and 62 innings pitched in his first season with Boston after a signing a one-year deal last December.

Outside of a poor 2020 finale in which he yielded six runs to the Orioles on September 24, Perez proved to be one of, if not the most consistent starter on the Sox’ pitching staff.

Despite receiving that level of consistency when the team’s pitching was, for the most part, dismal all year, Boston did not reward the Venezuelan hurler by picking up his option.

Instead, as previously mentioned, Perez is now a free agent for the second time in 12 months.

Perhaps chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. will look to bring the lefty back on a cheaper deal, but even if they do not, rotation additions and/or upgrades are still likely to happen regardless.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, Perez becoming a free agent lowers the Red Sox’ current projected 2021 payroll down to $167.175 million, which as of now is well below the $210 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold.

Additionally, Perez hitting the open market now means that the Sox have 36 players on their 40-man roster, so there is plenty of space to work with on both of those fronts.

Former Red Sox Left-Hander Brian Johnson Opens up About Asking for Release From Team That Drafted Him

Going back to August 10, the Red Sox came into the week having gotten their 2020 season off to a disappointing 6-9 start even after a walk-off victory over the Blue Jays the day before.

Through the club’s first 15 games, Boston pitchers had posted an ERA and xFIP of 4.74, good for the third and sixth-highest marks in the American League, respectively.

Despite those early struggles, the Sox opted to give unfamiliar names a shot at the major-league level while keeping others with major-league experience down at the alternate training site in Pawtucket.

One of said pitchers who spent a good portion of his summer in Pawtucket was none other than Brian Johnson. The 29-year-old southpaw was less than two full years removed from serving as a valuable swingman who could make spot starts and pitch out of the bullpen when needed for the eventual 2018 World Series champions.

Injuries and illness derailed Johnson’s 2019 campaign, though, and with a new head of baseball operations at the helm in chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, the former top prospect was stripped of his spot on Boston’s 40-man roster and was ultimately outrighted to the minors.

Even with that demotion in his pocket as he reported to Fort Myers in February, Johnson looked solid in his spring outings and again at Summer Camp following the pandemic-induced hiatus.

Given the depleted state of the Red Sox starting rotation with Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez sidelined for different reasons, the Florida native appeared primed for a bounce-back year in 2020 while primarily operating as a back-end starter.

Alas, that possibility never came to fruition, as Johnson was not named to Boston’s Opening Day roster in late July and was instead sent off to Pawtucket.


A little over two weeks had passed since the 2020 major-league season had kicked off, and still nothing. Johnson found himself toiling away at McCoy Stadium, wondering if he was going to get another shot anytime soon with the team that had drafted him eight years ago.

When August 10 arrived, it was first reported that Johnson had left the alternate training site for an undisclosed reason, but it was later revealed and made official that he had asked for and granted his release from the Red Sox.

“Sometimes you need to go other places to have a better opportunity,” then-Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said of Johnson at the time. “He asked for his release. Chaim did not want to keep him from an opportunity to get back to the big-leagues. Although we would like him here for depth, that’s the decision Brian wanted.”

Roenicke also cited the fact that Johnson was out of minor-league options and was off the Sox’ 40-man roster as reasons for why the southpaw had slipped down the organization’s pitching ranks.

Johnson himself recounted how things transpired over the summer, from not making the Sox’ Opening Day roster to asking for his release, when speaking with WEEI’s Rob Bradford on the most recent installment of the Bradfo Sho podcast.

“Everyone has a reason for doing things,” he said. “The Red Sox can do what’s best for the Red Sox, and Brian needs to do what’s best for Brian. They just thought going that route was better for them, which I understand. They wanted to see what they had in guys that Chaim brought over, which is totally understandable. I don’t hold any grudge or ill will. The whole process was very professional on both ends. There was no bad blood. I talked to Chaim and [Brian O’Halloran] throughout the whole process along with my agent. Everything was talked out at length and it was very professional on both sides.”

Arriving at the decision to request his release from the only organization he had ever known was no easy quest for Johnson. His path to the big-leagues was filled with adversity both on and off the field, and the Red Sox had helped him fight those battles.

“It sucks, because there have been so many ups and downs in my career with the Red Sox,” he continued. “I said this years ago, that they helped me so much in a lot of ways. So it was like I felt guilty doing it, but at what point in time do you have to do what you feel is right for you? I felt like I hit that breaking point to where I wasn’t doing what I wanted. So I made that decision.”

After not getting picked up by another club over the remainder of the 2020 season, Johnson is about to embark on something he has never experienced before: an offseason without a team to turn to, although he is receiving interest from a handful of potential suitors.

“At first I was nervous,” he said. “But now I do have teams calling to sign me for next year, so I feel more confident that that happens. Once those first few phone calls come in, you feel more confident… What we experienced this year, there’s never been anything to judge it off of, you’re learning as you go, so I was nervous.”

Whichever team winds up signing Johnson, presumably to a minor-league deal, should be something worth monitoring over the winter and into the spring.

Red Sox’ Tanner Houck Leaning on Nathan Eovaldi To Help Develop Splitter

As rookie right-hander Tanner Houck prepares to make his third and final start of the 2020 season against the Braves on Saturday, he is also looking ahead to the offseason.

The 24-year-old has impressed during his first two turns through the Red Sox rotation, yielding just one unearned run on three hits and six walks to go along with 11 strikeouts over 11 total innings pitched.

Houck has thrown 171 pitches in those two starts, and according to Statcast, 33% of those pitches have been sliders, 32% have been four-seam fastballs, 30% have been sinkers, and 5% have been split-finger fastballs.

That splitter, Houck’s newest and least-used pitch thus far, is something the former first-round pick is looking to continue to develop over the winter, and he’s seeking out advice from a fellow Red Sox rotation mate in order to do so.

“The main focus is continuing to develop the splitter,” Houck said of his offseason plans when speaking to reporters via Zoom on Friday. “That’s been a pitch that I started throwing during spring training 1.0 of this year. I’ve seen a lot of growth with it. A guy that I’ve talked to a lot about with the splitter is [Nathan] Eovaldi. He’s a great guy to talk about pitching and he has one of the nastiest splits, so I’ve been bouncing questions off him, how he holds it, what he’s thinking whenever he throws it. That’s step No. 1, to just develop that third pitch along with continuing to develop a feel for a two-seam going glove side, a four-seam going arm side, and just being able to move the ball around.”

Per Statcast, Houck is averaging a velocity of 87.1 mph and a spin rate of 1,571 revolutions per minute with the eight splitters he has thrown so far this year. Eovaldi, meanwhile, is averaging a velocity of 87.9 mph and a spin rate of 1,486 revolutions per minute with the 105 splitters he has thrown in 2020.

This isn’t the first time Eovaldi has doled out veteran wisdom to a younger Red Sox hurler, either. Back in August, rookie southpaw Kyle Hart said that the 30-year-old had helped him better understand the system some of the club’s starting pitchers use to scout other teams.

Red Sox Rookie Tanner Houck Planning on Attacking Strike Zone Against Yankees in First Fenway Park Start

Red Sox rookie right-hander Tanner Houck is coming off a superb major-league debut against the Marlins last Tuesday in which he collected seven strikeouts over five scoreless innings en route to picking up his first career victory.

Following that impressive showing, a new challenge for Houck awaits on Sunday, as the 24-year-old hurler will be going up against a red-hot Yankees team in the finale of a three-game series at Fenway Park.

With a 6-5, 12-inning win over Boston on Friday, New York extended their current winning streak to a season-best nine consecutive games. Over that dominant stretch, which goes back to September 9, the Bronx Bombers are slashing an absurd .314/.401/.711 against opposing right-handed pitchers while clubbing 25 home runs and posting a 194 wRC+. These numbers are something Houck will have to keep in mind when he takes the Fenway Park mound for the first time.

“For me, nothing really changes,” Houck said of his mindset going into his first home start of the season. “As long as you go out there and attack the zone, I think good things happen. If you go right at people, get them on their heels early, it sets up a lot more. Typically, whenever you’re behind in the count, a lot of people become more dangerous. So, go out there, attack right away and I’ll definitely real confident.”

In his debut against Miami last Tuesday, Houck faced 19 batters. Among those 19 batters, the former first-round pick fell behind the count on several occasions, but he did manage to limit the opposition to just three walks while mixing in his four-seam and split-finger fastball as well as his sinker and slider.

Limiting traffic on the base paths could prove to be pivotal for the Illinois native on Sunday, as the Yankees have accrued the second-highest walk percentage in the American League (11.9%) going back to the start of their current winning streak.

To construct a proper game plan for a team as dangerous as New York, Houck will need to be diligent in his preparations. He does however have one tool that he did not have available to him in the minor-leagues: advanced analytics.

“It’s definitely got its new challenges with everything,” the Mizzou product said of his introduction to the majors. “There’s a lot more scouting report info to take in, which I love. Being able to go out there and know my opponent just a little bit more helps me set up a game plan a lot.”

On top of the insights he has received from the Red Sox’ analytics department, Houck has also gotten some helpful advice from fellow former Missouri Tigers in the majors, such as Nationals ace Max Scherzer and Rangers right-hander Kyle Gibson.

“Having guys like that reach out is truly an honor,” Houck added. “I’m truly blessed to be a part of that brotherhood. I’ve definitely gotten to talk to Gibson and Scherzer over the years having that Mizzou connection, and just kind of bouncing ideas off them is truly great. It’s more people to learn from and this is a game that you got to learn from your elders a little bit, see what they’ve done and just try to learn from that.”

Houck will get the ball against the Yankees and fellow rookie righty Deivi Garcia on Sunday afternoon.

Red Sox Recall Jeffrey Springs, Robert Stock From Alternate Training Site

One day after trading two of their better relievers — Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman — to the Philles on Friday, the Red Sox have recalled left-hander Jeffrey Springs and right-hander Robert Stock from the club’s alternate training site ahead of Saturday night’s game against the Orioles.

Both Springs and Stock will be making their second major-league stint with the Sox this season after the former was optioned to Pawtucket on August 11 and the latter was optioned on August 13.

In his first four relief outings with Boston, Springs, who turns 28 next month, posted a 15.43 ERA and 1.164 OPS against over 4 2/3 total innings pitched from July 27 until August 11. The North Carolina native was originally acquired by the Sox from the Rangers in exchange for Sam Travis back in January.

Stock, meanwhile, made just one appearance for Boston while he was up with the big-league club from August 11 until August 13.

In that one outing against the Rays on August 11, the 30-year-old hurler yielded one unearned run on two hits, three walks and three strikeouts over 1 1/3 total innings of work.

A former second-round draft pick out of the University of Southern California back in 2009, Stock was claimed off waivers by the Red Sox from the Phillies on July 27.

With these moves made, the Red Sox once again have 28 players on their active roster, 15 of which are pitchers.

Red Sox Trade Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman, Cash To Phillies in Exchange for Right-Handers Nick Pivetta and Connor Seabold

The Red Sox have traded right-handed relievers Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman, as well as cash considerations and a player to be named later or cash considerations, to the Phillies for right-hander Nick Pivetta and right-handed pitching prospect Connor Seabold, the club announced Friday night.

With this trade made, the first domino has fell for chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. leading up to the August 31 trading deadline.

Workman was set to become a free agent this winter, while Hembree is under team control through the end of the 2021 season.

The Phillies, who came into the weekend with the worst bullpen ERA in baseball (8.07), are clearly trying to upgrade their pen as they look to vie for a playoff spot despite a 9-12 start to the season.

By acquiring Hembree and Workman from Boston, Philadelphia has accomplished this in at least some capacity.

Hembree, 31, carried a 1.86 ERA and .503 OPS against through his first 10 appearances and 9 2/3 innings of the year before getting lit up for four runs against the Phils on Tuesday.

Workman, meanwhile, turned 32 last week and had yielded three runs on eight hits, four walks, and eight strikeouts through his first seven outings and 6 2/3 innings of 2020. That’s good for a 4.05 ERA and 2.57 FIP.

The two now-former Sox hurlers will likely become two of the top late-inning relief options out of the Phillies bullpen from now until the end of the season.

As for what the Red Sox got back in this deal, let’s start with Nick Pivetta.

A 27-year-old right-hander out of British Columbia, Pivetta appeared in three games for the Phillies prior to being optioned to the club’s alternate training site on August 11.

In those three outings, the former fourth-round pick surrendered 10 earned runs over just 5 2/3 innings of work.

Prior to 2020, Pivetta owned a 5.34 ERA and 4.56 FIP through his first 89 appearances (71 starts) and 390 2/3 innings with the Phillies dating back to 2017.

Per Statcast, Pivetta, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 214 lbs., is a four-pitch pitcher who primarily relies on his four-seam fastball and has a curveball, changeup, and slider in his arsenal as well.

Turning to Connor Seabold now, the 24-year-old was the Phillies’ third-round pick in the 2017 amateur draft out of Cal State Fullerton.

Regarded by MLB Pipeine as Philadelphia’s No. 23 prospect, Seabold, listed at 6-foor-2 and 190 lbs., posted a 2.24 ERA and .224 batting average against in 12 total appearances (11 starts) and 56 1/3 innings pitched between three minor-league levels in 2019.

Per his MLB Pipeline scouting report, Seabold “will always be a command and control pitcher, one who has to rely on changing speeds and keeping hitters off-balance. His swing-and-miss rate went up in the Arizona Fall League and if that’s for real, he could fit into the back end of a big league rotation soon.”

Because the Red Sox traded Hembree and Workman, they opened up two spots on their 60-man player pool, which will now presumably be filled by Pivetta and Seabold. The former was on Philly’s 40-man roster, while the latter was not.

Update: For clarity, Pivetta was optioned to the Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket following the move.

Red Sox Claim Right-Hander Andrew Triggs off Waivers From Giants, Designate Left-Hander Stephen Gonsalves for Assignment

The Red Sox have claimed right-hander Andrew Triggs off waivers from the San Francisco Giants. In order to make room for Triggs on the 40-man roster, left-hander Stephen Gonsalves was designated for assignment. The club made this transaction official earlier Wednesday.

Triggs, 31, was designated by San Francisco last Wednesday, 10 days after he yielded three earned runs on three hits and three walks in just 1/3 of an inning in his 2020 debut on August 2.

Prior to the 2020 season, Triggs, a three-time draftee out of the University of Southern California, made 45 appearances (27 starts) for the Oakland Athletics from 2016 through 2018.

In those 45 outings over the course of three seasons with the A’s, the Tennessee native posted a 4.53 ERA and 4.12 FIP over 163 total innings pitched.

Obviously capable of both pitching out of the rotation and bullpen based off his track record, Triggs owns a lifetime 4.28 ERA and .693 OPS against as a starter, and a lifetime 6.39 ERA and .839 OPS against as a reliever.

Last season, Triggs made just three appearances with Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas before getting released in August. That in turn led him to sign a minor-league deal with the Giants in January, but his tenure there clearly did not last all that long given Wednesday’s news.

Per Statcast, Triggs is a three-pitch pitcher, as he primarily works from a three-quarters arm slot and has a sinker, slider, and curveball in his arsenal.

With this roster move made, Triggs is now on the Sox’ 40-man roster and has been optioned to the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket.

Gonsalves, meanwhile, was removed from Boston’s 40-man roster nearly four weeks after he was originally claimed off waivers from the Mets. The 26-year-old had been working out at McCoy Stadium, and he will likely clear waivers unless he piques another club’s interest.