Bullpen blues return

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Bullpen blues return

The numbers, viewed as a whole, tell one story.
The results, particularly in the last week, tell another.
The Boston bullpen, abysmal in the first three weeks of the
season, has improved greatly since then. Dating to April
23, Red Sox relievers have pitched to a 2.01 ERA, lowering their
collective ERA from 8.44 to 3.09 in that span.
That's the macro view.
Up close and recently, it's not nearly as pretty.
Friday night, the Sox gave up a one-run lead in the seventh
as the Yankees scored four times and took a 10-8 decision in the
opener of a four-game series.
It was the fourth straight loss by the Red Sox, and the fourth
time in the last six losses in which a reliever has been pinned with
the loss.
On the team's disappointing 2-5 trip, much of the fault was
rightly attributed to the anemic offense, which hit .200 in the
seven games and managed to score more than two runs just once.
When an offense isn't producing runs, it stands to reason that
a team is going to lose close-scoring games in the late innings.
But the relievers were allowing the Mariners and Athletics, two of
the worst lineups in the league to score in the late innings, they're
at least somewhat to blame, too.
Alfredo Aceves entered two tie games on the trip and couldn't
keep either tied, dropping to 0-6.
Friday night, back home, it was Vicente Padilla's turn.
All season long, Padilla has been masterful with inherited runners,
stranding 18-of-19. That statistic, in many ways, is the best measure
of a middle or set-up reliever's effectiveness and points to how
valuable Padillas has been to the Sox this season.
But Friday night, in a big spot, he faltered. Brought in to face
Mark Teixeira, he yielded a two-run triple to the triangle, as the
Sox went from leading 7-6 to trailing 8-7.
It then got worse as Padilla allowed an RBI-double to Raul
Ibanez, who later scored on an Eric Chavez single off Scott Atchison.
Of course, Josh Beckett had put both the hitters and the bullpen
in a hole when he allowed six runs in the first two innings. The hitters
had to make up a big deficit, and Beckett's high pitch count forced the
bullpen to have to cover the final four innings.
And that's part of the problem. While manager Bobby Valentine has
done a nice job slotting relievers into the right roles in the wake of
the injury to Andrew Bailey, there's evidence to suggest that the poor
work by the starting rotation (a 4.64 ERA before Friday night,
good for fourth worst among American League teams) has had a negative
effect on the Boston bullpen.
Before Friday's action, the Sox relievers had pitched 253 13
innings, good enough for sixth in the league.
But of the five teams ahead of them in bullpen workload, three
went into Friday with losing records (Detroit, Kansas City and
Minnesota), and another was behind the Red Sox in the standings (Toronto).
The inference is clear: the more you ask of your bullpen, the
harder it is to win.
That's especially true as the season wears on and the hot weather
arrives.
For the Red Sox beleaguered relievers, it would seem, the "Dog
Days'' have already arrived.

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

When it comes to Pablo Sandoval and his weight, a picture is worth a thousand words.

During spring training it wasn’t a good thing. Sandoval made headlines when a number of photos revealed significant weight gain for the Red Sox third baseman.

But the last two images have been more positive for Sandoval.

In October, a noticeably thinner Sandoval was photographed at an FC Barcelona game.

On Monday, Dan Roche of WBZ tweeted a more recent picture of the new-look Sandoval.

Sandoval, 30, is entering the third season of a five-year, $95 million contract. In his lone full season in Boston, 2015, Sandoval hit .245/.292/.366 with 10 homers and 47 RBI.

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The newly agreed upon Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement features higher taxes and additional penalties for exceeding the competitive balance threshold -- and don't think the Red Sox haven't noticed.

The Red Sox went over the threshold in both 2015 and 2016, and should they do so again in 2017, they would face their highest tax rate yet at 50 percent. Additionally, there are provisions that could cost a team in such a situation to forfeit draft picks as well as a reduced pool of money to sign its picks.

None of which means that the Red Sox won't definitively stay under the $195 million threshold for the upcoming season. At the same time, however, it remains a consideration, acknowledged Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

"You would always like to be under the CBT (competitive balance tax) if you could,'' offered Dombrowski. "And the reason why is that are penalties attached for going over, so nobody likes to (pay) penalties.

"However, the Red Sox, if you follow history, have been up-and-down, right around that number. We were over it last year and the year before that. So I would prefer (to be under in 2017). However, a little bit more driving force in that regard is that there are stricter penalties now attached to going over. And some of them involve, for the first time, differences in draft choices and sacrificing money to sign players and that type of thing. So there's a little bit more drive (to stay under).

"But I can't tell you where we're going to end up. Eventually, does it factor (in)? Yeah. But until we really get into the winter time and see where we are, will I make an unequivocal (statement about staying under the CBT)? Maybe we won't. But there are penalties that I would rather not be in position to incur.''

Dombrowski stressed that he's not under a "mandate'' from ownership to stay under the CBT.

"But I am under an awareness of the penalties,'' he said. "Last year, I would have preferred to be under, too, but it just worked for us to be above it, because we thought that would be the best way to win a championship at the time.''

He added: "I think we're going to have a good club either way.''

But it's clear that the CBT is part of the reason the Red Sox aren't being more aggressive toward some premium free agents such as first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion, who is said to be looking for at least a four-year deal at an annual average value of more than $20 million.

Currently, the Red Sox have nearly $150 million in guaranteed contracts for 2017, plus a handful of arbitration-eligible players, some of whom (Drew Pomeranz, Jackie Bradley Jr.) will see significant raises.

Together, with insurance premiums and others costs tallied, the Sox stand at nearly $180 million, just $15 million under the 2017 tax.

"I've said all along I've wanted to stay away from long-term contracts for hitters at this point,'' Dombrowski said of the current free agent class, "(especially) with some of the guys we have in our organization coming. I just haven't felt that that's a wise thing to do.''

The Sox saw two potential DHs come off the board over the weekend, with Carlos Beltran signing a one-year $16 million deal with Houston and Matt Holliday getting $13 million from the Yankees. Either could have filled the vacancy left by David Ortiz's retirement, but Dombrowski would also be taking on another another eight-figure salary, pushing the Sox well past the CBT.

"I figured we would wait to see what ends up taking place later on,'' said Dombrowski, "and see who's out there.''