First pitch: New rules change MLB's trade deadline


First pitch: New rules change MLB's trade deadline

Less than two weeks remain before the non-waiver trading deadline of July 31, which means it's about time for rumors to pile up and moves are made.

But for any number of reasons, this will be a trading deadline like few others in recent seasons.

A look at how the rules -- and the environment -- have changed and what it means to the Red Sox:

The introduction of the second wild card spot in each league has, to date, had the desired effect: it's created closer races and more competition for the post-season.

In the American League, 11 teams are, this morning, within two games of a playoff spot. Just three A.L. teams would appear out of the running for the post-season: Kansas City, Minnesota and Oakland.

That means, too, that there are fewer teams intent on selling at the deadline, and more teams looking to buy, believing that they, like so many others, are just one acquisition away from a pennant or world championship.

In theory, that should drive up the prices for teams in ''sell'' mode -- like the Twins, or, in the National League, the Chicago Cubs.

But it also may impact the deadline in other ways. With so many teams looking to add -- and, conversely, so few teams giving up on the season and looking to subtract -- the nature of the trades made is going to change.

In recent seasons, the typical deadline deal often involved a big-market team sending prospects to a out-of-contention small-market team in exchange for a player headed for free agency.

Those deals, however, are going to be rare this summer, for reasons we'll address in a moment.

In their place, executives expect, will be a return to old-fashioned baseball trades: Team A has a surplus of one area, and is willing to trade it to Team B, which has a surplus of another.

It's possible, then, to have two first-place teams doing a deal together, each looking to improve by trading from strength to fix a perceived weakness.

In the meantime, a change in the recent collective bargaining agreement means a change in the way teams are doing business.

In past years, the most popular deals involved a pending free agent being dealt to a contender. Think, say, CC Sabathia going from the Cleveland Indians to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008.

The Indians knew that they couldn't afford to sign Sabathia when he hit the market, so they decided to cut their losses and auction Sabathia off to the highest bidder.

The Brewers, who hadn't made the playoffs this century, were desperate to make a run at the post-season. They shipped four of their better prospects to the Indians and ended their playoff drought, with the help of Sabathia.

Part of the reason the Brewers were able to justify dealing off four of their best minor leaguers was the knowledge that, if they failed to sign Sabathia, they could at the very least, offer him arbitration that winter and get a first-round and sandwich pick back in the following June's draft.

That meant they got to at least partly re-stock their inventory of young players only months later, mitigating their losses.

But effective this season, thanks to the CBA negotiated last December, teams can no longer offer arbitration to rentals. If the Brewers were to make the same trade for Sabathia this summer, they would do so with the knowledge that they couldn't replenish their farm system next summer.

That, in turn, has impacted the value of players about to become free agents, such as Cole Hamels, Zach Greinke and Ryan Depmster.

Knowing that there will be no re-stocking next June, teams are reluctant to empty their system of their best young players. Those teams selling are getting used to the new reality, understanding that someone like Greinke doesn't have anywhere near the value that he might have had at the deadline under the old rules.

Another reality is the fact that teams are almost as interested in acquiring offense as they are pitching.

In this era of testing for PEDs (and amphetamines), scoring is it a 15-year low. Runs are down and power is hard to come by.

So while many teams are looking for a boost to their starting rotation or bullpen, almost as many others are in the hunt for that big bat to bolster the lineup.

"People still want arms," said one talent evaluator. "But I'm surprised at the amount of talk focused on offense. Some teams think they're a hitter away from being able to win and that's changed the nature of talks."

With an eye toward the post-season, the need is even greater. If scoring is down across the board in the regular season, runs will be tougher still in the playoffs when the pitching is generally better given the quality of teams involved.

Does uncertainty for Carson Smith mean Red Sox need bullpen help?

Does uncertainty for Carson Smith mean Red Sox need bullpen help?

BOSTON — Tyler Thornburg’s gone for the season and there’s really no telling when the other set-up man the Sox expected to help in 2017, Carson Smith, will be back.

The Sox have already made inroads, if minor ones, in bolstering their third-base situation and rotation. Smith’s situation leaves a question of whether the Sox will need to pursue help in the bullpen as well.

There's not an easy answer to settle on at this point.

For one, the timetable with the right-hander Smith — whose shoulder has bothered him on the way back from Tommy John surgery — isn’t clear.

“He's in a no-throw [time] through the weekend,” Sox manager John Farrell said Friday afternoon at Fenway Park. “He'll be reevaluated on Monday to hopefully initiate a throwing program. He's responding favorably to the treatment. He continues to rehab as he's been. We have not closed the book in a sense on anything Carson can contribute this year.”

What does this year mean, though? Will they be able to know by July, by the trade deadline?

“Still too early to tell,” Farrell said. “We thought he was days from starting his rehab assignment after his last live BP session in New York [on June 6]. Unfortunately, that was put on hold for the time being. To get into any kind of timeframes, timetables, I don't know that any of us can predict that right now.”

The Sox relievers have done extraordinarily well without either Thornburg or Smith. Can that continue without reinforcements? The bullpen’s ERA entering Friday was 2.94, the second best mark in the majors. Its innings total, 217, was the second. lowest in the majors. 

So it’s not like the entire group is about to collapse from fatigue. But a guy like Joe Kelly, for example, isn’t someone the Sox want to use back to back.

It’s a young group and ultimately an inexperienced group. But Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has already fallen into the trap of trading for premium set-up men twice, and that’s a dangerous road to pursue again. Perhaps a smaller trade makes more sense.

“Well, at this point, we’re open minded to help,” Dombrowski said when asked if he was targeting either third-base or relief help. “I’m not going to get into specifics at this time on what else we’re looking for. Keep an open mind on a lot of ways on which we can improve. We have guys coming back and both the spots, I think Carson Smith is very important to us and our bullpen has pitched great. The other day, we struggled but that was one of the few times we really struggled all year. 

“I think Carson still has a chance to come back and help us this year.”

Red Sox claim right-hander Doug Fister off waivers

Red Sox claim right-hander Doug Fister off waivers

Right-handed starter Doug Fister, who opted out of his contract with the Angels, has been claimed off waivers by the Red Sox, CSN Red Sox Insider Evan Drellich has confirmed.

The news was first reported by Chris Cotillo of SB Nation, who writes that Fister, 33, will join the Red Sox immediately.

Fister opted out of with the Angels after three Triple-A starts in Salt Lake City, where he allowed seven runs on 16 hits with five walks and 10 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings. 

With Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson on the DL, the Red Sox need immediate starting pitching help. Triple-A Pawtucket call-up Hector Velazquez made a spot start earlier this week in the fifth spot behind Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, David Price and Drew Pomeranz. 

Fister will receive $1.75 million in the majors from the Red Sox, with $1.2 million available in additional incentives, according to Cotillo. 

Fister has pitched eight seasons in the majors, including 2016 with the Astros, going 12-13 with 4.64 ERA in 180 1/3 innings. His best season was 2014 with the Nationals (16-6, 2.41 ERA).