Cook dazzles, hurling two-hitter

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Cook dazzles, hurling two-hitter

SEATTLE -- It took almost three months for Aaron Cook to earn his first major league win this season, his path detoured by a stint in the minors, and later, a freak injury.

But Friday night at Safeco Field, he reminded people why the Red Sox were compelled to put him on their major league roster when he had a May 1 opt-out, and why so many teams were lined up to offer him a spot if the Red Sox didn't.

Cook, using his trademark sinker to great effect, allowed just two hits in a complete game shutout, as the Red Sox broke out for four homers and blanked the Seattle Mariners, 5-0. Fifteen of the 27 outs he recorded came on the ground.

Cook faced exactly one batter over the minimum, retiring the punchless Mariners in order in the first, second, third, fifth and seventh innings, while taking advantage of two double plays to face just three hitters in both the fourth and eighth innings.

The only hits against him were an infield single that Ichiro Suzuki beat out to open the fourth and a line single to right by John Jaso in the eighth.

He didn't walk a batter while striking out two.

The Sox, shutout by Felix Hernandez in the series opener Thursday night, were shut out by Seattle's Hector Noesi through the first four frames, stretching their road scoreless streak to 13 innings, and 17 innings dating back to the final game of the homestand.

But in the fifth, the Sox turned on the power, as Will Middlebrooks and Cody Ross hammered back-to-back solo homers to start the inning.

Two outs later, Daniel Nava joined them, as the Sox became the first team to hit three homers in the same game at spacious Safeco this season.

An inning later, after David Ortiz lashed a double to the gap in right-center, Jarrod Salatalamacchia joined the home run derby, going to the opposite field for a two-run shot.

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.''