Francona excited to begin with new additions


Francona excited to begin with new additions

By Phil Perry

Terry Francona has been in professional baseball for almost 30 years, but he's still excited for the start of his next spring training in a little less than a month.

Of course it helps that this year he has two new All-Stars -- Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez -- to work with.

"It's exciting," Francona told Red Sox Insider Sean McAdam from the 72nd annual Boston Baseball Writers Awards dinner. "When you talk about getting one hitter and what it does to your lineup, it's exciting. But when you talk about two guys that are going to impact our lineup in vastly different ways . . ."

Francona could hardly keep up with himself, understandably.

When Gonzalez was acquired in a trade for prospects, and then Crawford signed a 7-year 142 million deal with the Red Sox as a free agent, his lineup drastically improved over the course of a few days.

"Crawford is hopefully going to create a lot of havoc," said Francona. "And you got a guy in the middle of the order Gonzalez that is hopefully going to be taking advantage of that havoc. It's going to thicken out our lineup and make it a lot more productive."

The Red Sox front office also made deals to improve the team's bullpen, most notably acquiring relievers Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler.

"When you lose that many games late, it's hard," Francona said of last season's bullpen woes. "Too many walk-off losses, too many come-from-behind, on-the-road losses. When we had it all lined up, we were fine. But on those nights that we didn't, we ran into some problems. Hopefully that'll be a little easier this year."

Francona also discussed the health of players like Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, saying they should all be ready to play without restrictions during spring training.

Francona inferred Gonzalez could be slowed by a shoulder that required offseason surgery, but he remained upbeat about the start of the season.

"I think our ownership and our front office has done an unbelievable job just putting the team together," Francona said. "I think it's on our guys in uniform now to go down to spring training and make sure these guys are ready to play baseball the way we want them to because we should be good. You never know what's going to happen, but we should be a good team."

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.''