First Pitch: The latest Sox newsrumorsspeculation

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First Pitch: The latest Sox newsrumorsspeculation

By ArtMartone
CSNNE.com

Welcome toFirst Pitch, aquick spin around the world of Major League Baseball . . . or at leastthe corner of it that most concerns the Red Sox. And most of it nowconcerns -- you guessed it -- Theo Epstein and TerryFrancona.

PARALLEL TRACKS: On the one hand, you have your managerial search. Sean McAdam reports the Red Sox have taken "the first tentative steps to drawing up a list of potential . . . candidates to replace Terry Francona". (csnne.com) He's also got some names (and, no, Joe Torre or Bobby Valentine are not among them).

On the other, you have the general manager's saga. And McAdam has sources who say Theo Epstein is Cubs owner Tom Rickett's "top choice" for his vacant GM slot and that the Red Sox will "more likely than not" grant permission for the two sides to talk. (csnne.com)

Meanwhile, owner John Henry broke his silence -- on Twitter, anyway -- and assured one and all the Red Sox would "secure a great manager" (csnne.com) to replace Francona. He didn't mention Epstein, except to say that Theo and assistant GM Ben Cherington were keeping the ownership troika of Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino up to date on the search process.

So many questions: Can Epstein put his complete time and energy into a search with one foot out the door? If he leaves, who takes over as GM? If he returns to fulfill the final year of his contract, will he stay beyond that? (Doubtful, reports McAdam). Will that impeded the attempt to hire a manager, who may not want to come here if he knows he'll be dealing with a new GM in 12 months?

Yes, many questions. And very few answers.

LOOKING AHEAD: One of the people on the Sox' preliminary list, Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin, says he's "flattered" to be considered (delawareonline.com), though he won't think about it until Philadephia's postseason run is complete. Another, Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, gets rave reviews from White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf (Chicago Sun-Times), who may be interested in him for his own vacant manager's seat.

AS ONE DOOR CLOSES, ANOTHER OPENS: Maybe the White Sox don't want him (CSN Chicago), but the Laconia Muskrats' job is there for Terry Francona's taking. (Laconia Daily Sun)

WHY NOT?? If it's true the White Sox aren't interested in Francona, their pitching coach, Don Cooper, thinks that's a mistake. (Chicago Sun-Times)

IT'S EVERYBODY: Curt Schilling went on ESPN Radio Tuesday and said the search to identify the bad apples in the Red Sox clubhouse is misguided: "It's not just two guys . . . There's nobody in that clubhouse that stood up to make it right." (ESPN.com)

INCLUDING HIM: Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald wonders where David Ortiz' priorities lie, and if, in light of that, he should be part of the Red Sox' future.

SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY: Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago says the Red Sox are what the Cubs are striving to be . . . and what better way to get there than hiring Epstein, the architect of Boston's success?

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR: But Dave Cameron of fangraphs.com isn't sure paying top dollar for a general manager is the right strategy.

REMEMBER HIM? Daisuke Matsuzaka played catch Monday (mlb.com) for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery.

LOSING MORE THAN A PLAYOFF SERIES: Stuart Sternberg, the principle owner of the Tampa Bay Rays, was disappointed in his team's playoff defeat at the hands of the Rangers. But he sounds like a man who's on the verge of surrender in the bigger game: The game of economic survival.

The Rays' 2008 resurgence ushered in a period of success as strong as any in the game: Three playoff appearances, two A.L. East titles, one World Series trip. But none of that has translated into increased fan interest or revenue enhancement -- only 28,229 showed up yesterday, the smallest MLB postseason crowd since the strike season of 1981 -- and Sternberg appears ready to throw in the towel (St. Petersburg Times):

"When I came here, I was confident we could put a winning team on thefield, and that would improve the Rays' financial fortunes. We won, and we won, and we won, and we won . . . and it didn't do it."

"If we won the World Series this year, I wouldn't think my attendancewould get higher. It didn't go up in '09 when we got to the WorldSeries in '08."

And then he sounded the gravest warning of all:

"It won't be my decision, or solely my decision. But eventually, major-league baseball is going to vaporize this team."

Complain if you must about Sweet Caroline and the wave and 'Sox Appeal' and all the other signs of Red Sox excess. But it beats not caring . . . and the people of central Florida clearly don't care about the Rays, a well-run and successful franchise that, obviously, can't make it work down there.

AT THE OTHER END OF THE ECONOMIC SPECTRUM: The Yankees are probably going to have to pony up to keep CC Sabathia. (New York Daily News) The question is: Will they? And should they?
SPEAKING OF EXCESS: The owner of the Bill Buckner ball -- yes, yes, you know which one I mean -- is putting it up for auction (ESPN Boston), "to let someone else enjoy it."

AND FINALLY . . . Now here's a 'Moneyball' sequel worth seeing! (jest.com)

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.''