Zolak & Bertrand

Zolak & Bertrand

Zolak & Bertrand

The last week for the Red Sox has been nothing short of a roller coaster. It featured a blow to the starting rotation that the team couldn’t afford, with the front office’s biggest offseason addition in Lucas Giolito likely being out for the entire season. On the other end of the spectrum, the organization extended Brayan Bello and showed the ability to keep up with where the rest of the game has been heading for quite some time.

Not to mention, there’s been about a week worth of spring training games over that stretch, which left me thinking about a certain pitching prospect that refuses to escape my mind. So, let’s dive into some of my thoughts on where the Red Sox stand with less than 3 weeks until Opening Day. Enjoy the ride.

1. Losing Lucas Giolito was one of the darkest moments in recent memory for the Red Sox.

NESN on Twitter: ""I haven't dealt with a serious injury in a very long time. So, definitely sucks a lot."Lucas Giolito on his injury | #RedSox pic.twitter.com/ZlqUgy17WP / Twitter"

"I haven't dealt with a serious injury in a very long time. So, definitely sucks a lot."Lucas Giolito on his injury | #RedSox pic.twitter.com/ZlqUgy17WP

Outside of Rafael Devers, Giolito was the one part of this roster the Red Sox couldn’t afford to lose for any significant amount of time. When Giolito signed his 2-year deal worth $38 MM back in December, he was supposed to be the workhorse that kept the starting rotation together. Over the last 5 full seasons, he’s made a minimum of 29 starts in each one and even accumulated 12 starts in the shortened COVID season.

Anyone who watched the Red Sox in 2023 knew the team was starving for someone who could eat innings. It’s why Craig Breslow made a point to say they were hoping to add a bonafide starter or two at the GM Meetings in November. Since then, the team traded Chris Sale and signed Giolito to fill his spot in the rotation without any other additions.

If you’re just following the math here, that’s -1 starters added to the mix. That’s not on Breslow either, who is clearly working within financial parameters that nobody was seemingly aware of outside of John Henry going into this offseason. Now, it’s up to Alex Cora to clean up the mess and survive with a rotation that only has one member with a 30-start season under his belt in Nick Pivetta.

  • Keep in mind, Pivetta was booted out the rotation last May after getting mauled by opposing lineups. That’s not any disrespect to Pivetta either, who has earned a spot back in the rotation after transforming his repertoire last summer with a new sweeper and regained fastball velocity. The problem is he’s now a candidate to start on Opening Day, which speaks to a rotation that is clearly depleted and not properly supported.

    By the way, spare me the conversation about Giolito’s medicals. His velocity was up across the boards in his first two starts. This is simply what happens when you don’t properly address a glaring weakness that sunk your season a year ago.

    If you had signed an arm like Jordan Montgomery or even Michael Lorenzen, it at least doesn’t feel like your season is over before it even starts. That’s not me saying this team was in a position to seriously compete for a Wild Card spot before Giolito went down, but with another addition you could dream about that. Even the most hopeful fans are having a hard time seeing how this club is supposed to take a step forward from a year ago.

    While many Red Sox fans were hopeful that Henry might panic and green light a potential Montgomery signing, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Local and national reporters have framed that as unlikely over the last 24 hours. That’s because Henry didn’t believe in the team before Giolito went down, so why would he after?

     

    Chris Cotillo on Twitter: ".@Sean_McAdam lays out the chances (in percentage form) of Jordan Montgomery landing with the Red Sox on a brand new @FenwayRundown.Show: https://t.co/868mzM585r pic.twitter.com/g0iwz7mLzg / Twitter"

    @Sean_McAdam lays out the chances (in percentage form) of Jordan Montgomery landing with the Red Sox on a brand new @FenwayRundown.Show: https://t.co/868mzM585r pic.twitter.com/g0iwz7mLzg

    In a vacuum, it’s because if ownership cared about the Red Sox being competitive this season, Montgomery makes all the sense in the world. Fitting him under the luxury tax might be a little tricky at this point ($214 MM after Bello’s extension), but it’s still possible to move Kenley Jansen or another piece before the end of the season. He would also fill a spot in this rotation moving forward, which is pretty vacant outside of Bello and Kutter Crawford.

    Instead, it feels like the Red Sox will lean all the way into a youth movement in the starting rotation. The addition of Andrew Bailey is something the organization clearly values in a big way, so he’ll have his chance to mold Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock into starters. Dave Bush failed with that experiment a year ago, but in a season where you’re not serious about winning, it sets the stage to try that with the new pitching infrastructure.

    Where things get tough is that putting both Houck and Whitlock in the rotation already weakens the bullpen. It also leaves them with less overall starting depth, which is a nightmare fans are sick of experiencing. The margin for error is so small for this team, especially with so many young guys trying to find their footing at the highest level.

    Back to Giolito, this guarantees he’ll be in a Red Sox uniform for 2025 and eliminates the chance of flipping him at the trade deadline. This has a chance to be his second Tommy John procedure, so it’s hard to expect anything from him until next summer. It’s also fair to wonder how this will impact next offseason with a sunken cost already on the roster and a team likely coming off another mediocre or worse showing.

    Giolito does have a conditional option for 2026 that is a $14 MM club option if he pitches less than 140 innings. That almost feels like a guarantee at this point, but for an arm with plenty of questions going into 2024, who knows what he’ll look like when he returns. He’ll get a second opinion on his elbow on Monday, so we’ll know more then, but any positive news feels pretty unlikely based on everyone’s tone around the team the last few days.

  • 2. Brayan Bello’s extension with the Red Sox is the best news of the offseason.

    ARLINGTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 20: Brayan Bello #66 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field on September 20, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images)

    ARLINGTON, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 20: Brayan Bello #66 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field on September 20, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images)

    For the last few weeks, it’s been clear the Red Sox and Bello were closing in on an extension, and it finally became official with a 6-year deal worth $55 MM on Thursday. It also included a $21 MM club option for 2030, which buys out Bello’s first 2 free agent years. It’s extremely similar to the extension Hunter Greene signed with the Reds back in April, which was 6 years, $53 MM with a club option also worth $21 MM.

    In recent years, teams in almost every sized market have emphasized trying to buy out free agent years from their young stars. The Braves have had the most success doing this, almost to the point where people think Alex Anthopoulos is holding his players hostage and making them sign deals. In October of 2022, they signed Spender Strider to a more expensive but similarly structured 6-year deal that also bought out his first 2 years of free agency.

    On a number of levels, this made too much sense for the Red Sox. If the organization is truly banking on Marcelo Mayer, Roman Anthony, and Kyle Teel to open up their competitive window, it’s important for them to be supported by other stars in the midst of their prime. Bello fits that description perfectly along with Triston Casas, who has also had some talks this spring with the front office.

    The truth is, even if Mayer, Anthony, and Teel debut in the next 15 months, it might take some time for them to hit their stride against the best competition in the world. Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. didn’t all become franchise cornerstones overnight. I remember Bogaerts getting destroyed throughout 2014, as he struggled in almost every facet of the game and was being booed by the Fenway Faithful.

  • Tyler Milliken ⚾️ on Twitter: "Something I'll really be watching for in the coming weeks is Brayan Bello's slider.It transformed last season as he increased its horizontal movement.Averaged only 2-3 inches of HM for most of the year. Topped out at 11 and averaged 7 on 9/15 against the Blue Jays. pic.twitter.com/aUn1Pypt11 / Twitter"

    Something I'll really be watching for in the coming weeks is Brayan Bello's slider.It transformed last season as he increased its horizontal movement.Averaged only 2-3 inches of HM for most of the year. Topped out at 11 and averaged 7 on 9/15 against the Blue Jays. pic.twitter.com/aUn1Pypt11

    Beyond that, I know some people wanted Bello to have even more free agent years bought out, but this feels like the right length. You’ll likely see the best version of him throughout his age-31 season and it’s not like he has to become an ace to make this a good contract. He’ll make $19 MM and $21 MM in his first two free agent years, which is right on par for a solid #2 starter today and will only look better as prices in the sport continue to rise.

    Obviously, the cost of that comes with Bello getting some real certainty in his arbitration years, but the Red Sox have displayed their belief in him constantly. We saw in 2023 that Alex Cora was pushing Bello to work deeper into games to help accelerate that development, which is a lot different than how they babied other arms. Bringing Bailey in as the pitching coach should hopefully speed that process up as well, especially when looking at his work with Logan Webb.

    Bello and Webb have some interesting similarities with their ability to generate a lot of ground balls and throw a changeup that falls off the table. Last season, Bello ranked in the 95th percentile for Offspeed Run Value, yet Webb was even better as he finished in the 100th percentile. It was a similar story when it came to GB%, with Bello being in the 92nd percentile and Webb landing in the 99th percentile.

    To Webb’s credit, he does throw a lot more strikes than Bello at the moment, but neither miss a ton of bats. Something Bello does have the upperhand with is throwing harder, as he finished in the 71st percentile for fastball velocity and Webb came in the 23rd percentile. The essential thing for Bello when it comes to following in Webb’s footsteps is continuing to take steps with his slider, which he started throwing with a lot more horizontal movement at the end of 2023.

    Some may look at Bello’s 2023 season and not get the hype for a pitcher that posted a 4.21 ERA in his first full season. But he carried himself as the ace of the staff for an entire summer, with a 3.57 ERA before the calendar flipped to September. I’m not going to beat up a young arm that clearly hit a wall in the final month of the season after the team leaned on him heavily to carry the group.

    While it would be incredible if Bello was getting Cy Young votes on a yearly basis like Webb, that’s not what this deal is about. It’s about taking the proper steps to lock up a young part of your core so they don’t leave in their prime or become the next version of the Mookie Betts trade. Plus, it avoids another Devers situation where you have to hand out one of the biggest deals in the game because you waited too long.

  • 3. Alex Cora’s future is going to be a distraction all season long and his replacement might be looking right over his shoulder.

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 04: Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora looks on during the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park on May 04, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – MAY 04: Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora looks on during the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park on May 04, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    I’m already exhausted when it comes to talking about Alex Cora’s future. It’s been hard enough the last few seasons to deal with the limitations of the roster, the departure of Xander Bogaerts, and another regime change, so losing one of the best managers in the game seems like a final straw for many. But considering this is the final year of his deal, he’s said multiple times he doesn’t plan to manage forever, and clearly his expectations were different for this offseason since he was talking about adding 3 starters in December, it’s not hard to connect the dots and see he isn’t happy.

    At the start of the spring, Cora emphasized the toll last season took on him physically and mentally. So, ownership decided to give him a roster with just as many question marks and concerns for the second year in a row. Not a great recipe for a manager that will have plenty of offers on the table in 6 months after Craig Counsell’s historic payday from the Cubs.

    In September, I was confident Cora would figure out an extension with the Red Sox after a big offseason. Instead, ownership failed to live up to Tom Werner’s promise of going “full throttle” and have become a punchline in the sports world. If this season goes off the rails early, Cora could be an easy fall guy for them to make a change, or if he overperforms with this roster his stock will only be going up.

    While Cora has let his frustrations come through a bit too much the last few seasons, whether it was speaking through his players about trade deadline decisions, the Pablo Reyes comments from last summer, or the complete collapse in September, he’s still viewed as one of the best managers in the game. It’s a miracle he was able to keep the ship afloat until the trade deadline last year with 3.5 starters in his rotation. But that was another example of ownership letting him down, as they refused to let Chaim Bloom add any money at the deadline.

    This feels just like another version of 2022 with how things played out with Bogaerts. After every tough loss, people will be talking about how Cora looked and acted after the game. That will only heighten as this team struggles, which seems likely based on where the roster is at right now.

    The mistake Ken Rosenthal made in his piece the other day was a perfect example of that, as he incorrectly reported that Alex Cora’s home in Newton was up for sale. Immediately, everyone acknowledged that as proof he was looking beyond 2024 and it became the story of the day before it got corrected. Just not the type of distractions you’re hoping for with a new Chief Baseball Officer in Craig Breslow on the job.

    NESN on Twitter: ""This is about the Boston Red Sox and how we need to bounce back to be better to play in October."Alex Cora told reporters he didn't want to focus on his future as a Manager this season with the Red Sox. pic.twitter.com/7VYUFnO5cD / Twitter"

    "This is about the Boston Red Sox and how we need to bounce back to be better to play in October."Alex Cora told reporters he didn't want to focus on his future as a Manager this season with the Red Sox. pic.twitter.com/7VYUFnO5cD

    One thing that does give me an ounce of hope about Cora staying is ownership constantly emphasizing how much they’re spending on infrastructure. If Cora makes it through the season, maybe the Red Sox pony up with a real offer, but that will risk other teams getting in the mix. The Dodgers and Yankees immediately come to mind with both having high expectations this year, because if they come up short, maybe they chase Cora and show him the commitment to winning the Red sox have lacked.

    I believe Bailey’s presence will be a major factor in this. He’s extremely close with Craig Breslow, and Jon Heyman reported him as a potential replacement for Cora earlier this week. If his pitching program shows some solid results this year, I wonder if Breslow would consider giving him the keys to the team.

    In that scenario, Jason Varitek could make sense as the pitching coach. Chris Cotillo of MassLive has been adamant that Varitek shouldn’t be considered as a favorite to replace Cora if he departs. It just feels like Bailey could be on the fast track to a manager job after interviewing for the Yankees’ bench coach opening over the offseason.

    In a perfect world, Cora and Bailey stick together for years to come with the Red Sox maintaining one of the stronger coaching staffs in the sport. The loyalty Cora has shown the organization since bringing him back in 2021 only stretches so far though, which means at some point ownership is going to need to prove it to him with money and talent on the roster. It’s hard to be confident in Henry meeting either one of those needs right now.

  • 4. I still haven’t given up hope on Noah Song being a useful arm.

    Tyler Milliken ⚾️ on Twitter: "Noah Song completed his first outing since rejoining the Red Sox system tonight.2 IP - 28 Pitches/15 Strikes0 Hits0 ER/R3 K1 BBpic.twitter.com/XmDaEgDMxS / Twitter"

    Noah Song completed his first outing since rejoining the Red Sox system tonight.2 IP - 28 Pitches/15 Strikes0 Hits0 ER/R3 K1 BBpic.twitter.com/XmDaEgDMxS

    It’s crazy to think in 2024 that Noah Song is still a prospect I’m constantly checking in on. He’s been on a hell of a journey since being a 4th-round pick back in 2019, as he’s completed his 4-year flight school commitment, went to the Phillies as a Rule 5 pick last spring, and finally returned back to the Red Sox system late last summer.

    Now, he’s embarking in his first normal spring training in quite some time and the Red Sox haven’t been using him with kid gloves. He’s been down in Fort Myers since early January, getting fully emerged in the Red Sox new pitching development program. The focus continues to be adding strength and regaining the velocity/command that once made him such a prized prospect.

    Song is entering his age-27 season now, so it seems as if the Red Sox are trying to be a bit more aggressive with getting him back on track. The hope is he can land in Double-A or Triple-A to start the season, which is a solid jump considering he didn’t impress in High-A at the end of 2023. The Phillies didn’t do him any favors last spring by ramping him up too quickly, which led to a back injury, before they immediately threw him in the upper-minors after not pitching in professional baseball for 4 years.

    All the credit to Dave Dombrowski for being a Hall of Fame baseball executive and bringing home a championship in 2018, but the handling of Song last year came off vengeful and unfair. Still, the Red Sox haven’t given up on the righty and are stretching him out in a multi-inning role so they can keep their options open. That’s why his 3 outings this spring are so interesting because he’s worked in the closer role each time.

    The results haven’t been pretty for the most part. In his first two chances, he had no clue where the ball was going. That led to 3 walks, 3 hits, and 1 ER in 1.2 IP with no strikeouts. Not ideal for a guy facing weaker competition late in games, but the Red Sox didn’t go away from him.

    That led to Song’s best performance of the spring on March 5th, where he topped out at 95 with his fastball and closed things out with a 1-2-3 inning against the Rays. I’m not saying you should throw a parade about him being back, but it’s nice seeing his velocity tick up from the low-90s we saw last season. It makes me wonder if we’ll see him in this type of role throughout 2024, so he can focus on maximizing his stuff instead of sustaining it.

    When everyone fell in love with Song after he was drafted, it was because he looked like a favorite to be the next homegrown starter for the Red Sox. It hasn’t played out that way so far, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a valuable reliever moving forward. It’s another great test for the Red Sox new pitching infrastructure because we know the ingredients are there, it’s just about rediscovering them again.

  • 5. Next year’s free agent pitching market isn’t as deep as many expected.

    Tyler Milliken ⚾️ on Twitter: "Obviously the Red Sox will need to spend if they want to sign a front end starter, but this is the best of 2025 FA class for starters:Corbin BurnesMax FriedMax ScherzerShane BieberAlex CobbKyle HendriksCharlie MortonNick PivettaJohn MeansYusei KikuchiGerrit Cole has... pic.twitter.com/ANsW8oGc5P / Twitter"

    Obviously the Red Sox will need to spend if they want to sign a front end starter, but this is the best of 2025 FA class for starters:Corbin BurnesMax FriedMax ScherzerShane BieberAlex CobbKyle HendriksCharlie MortonNick PivettaJohn MeansYusei KikuchiGerrit Cole has... pic.twitter.com/ANsW8oGc5P

    Speaking of Dombrowski, he extended Zack Wheeler this past week on a 3-year deal worth $126 MM. That’s a major blow to next year’s free agent starting class, even if he was going to be in his mid-30s. The remaining front of the rotation options include Max Fried, Corbin Burnes, Walker Buehler, Shane Bieber, Charlie Morton, and Max Scherzer.

    Red Sox fans were begging for an ace level starter all offseason long and outside of Yoshinobu Yamamoto, it doesn’t seem like the front office was planning to sign or deal for one. Blake Snell remains on the market right now as a 2-time Cy Young Award winner, but the Red Sox were never going to fork over draft pick compensation for him. Not to mention, his durability and consistency concerns aren’t exactly ace quality, despite him having some of the nastiest stuff in baseball.

    The only 2 names that I’d peg as true aces on that list are Fried and Burnes. Heading into last season, it was reported the Braves and Fried had extension talks, but no progress has been made since then. It’d be a major blow for them to lose Fried with their championship window wide open, which I bet Anthopoulos doesn’t let happen.

    Then on the Burnes front, the Orioles just dealt for him with new ownership entering the mix. Burnes has made it clear he expects to test free agency and with Scott Boras by his side, nothing is going to stop him. Still, it wouldn’t shock me one bit if this is the first big contract they hand out since Chris Davis robbed them back in 2016.

    It’s clear the Orioles don’t need any help on the position player side of things. Add in Grayson Rodriguez and Kyle Bradish (if his elbow holds up) looking like cheap top of the rotation arms moving forward and it makes all the sense in the world for them to shell out some money for an ace. Just thinking about how good the Orioles are going to be for the next decade has me woozy.

    But after that you have Walker Buehler, who is starting the season late and coming off his second Tommy John surgery. He refuses to acknowledge that he’s had a setback, but he’s come along slower than anticipated. Then there’s Shane Bieber who has seen his stuff take a considerable step back since he exploded onto the scene in 2020.

    No offense to Charlie Morton or Max Scherzer, but they’re on the brink of retirement and not the arms the Red Sox should be looking for as they enter a new competitive window. So, if Breslow is finally given permission to make a big splash on the pitching front next offseason (that’s a big if), there’s a good chance the options will be very limited. Maybe that makes them return to the trade market if Miguel Bleis sees his stock skyrocket with an already crowded outfield group, but that’s no small task.

    That’s just another reason why Montgomery makes too much sense for the Red Sox. Especially if his demands start to get closer to Kevin Gausman’s 5-year, $110 MM deal from a few years back, which is one of the best pitching contracts handed out in recent memory. This rotation badly needs some more certainty beyond 2024 and Montgomery would fit perfectly.

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