Baseball is officially back, as the Red Sox had their first full-squad workout on Monday. Most of the roster from the defending-champion 2018 Red Sox are back, looking to become the first team in baseball to win the World Series in back-to-back seasons since the 2000 New York Yankees.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far from Fort Myers:
Ownership has discussed contract extensions with Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts.
Chairman Tom Werner and principal owner John Henry met with the Boston media on Monday, indicating that they’ve discussed long-term deals with both starting pitcher Chris Sale and shortstop Xander Bogaerts. The two are slated to become free agents at the end of the 2019 season. Werner and Henry noted that while their priority is to keep Sale, Bogaerts, and Mookie Betts in Red Sox uniforms for years to come, such a scenario could be difficult to accomplish.
Henry: ‘we won’t be able to keep all of them. We may have the largest payroll in baseball,’ but that still can’t guarantee keeping young core players.
— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) February 18, 2019
“Conversations have been had, but I don’t really want to get into everything . . . These are great players. We’d love them to be Red Sox for the rest of their careers,” Werner said. “We’d love to be able to have long-term contracts with [Sale, Bogaerts, and Betts]. But our conversations with them, which are ongoing, are private. I think that’s the best way to consummate a deal.”
When asked about the last All-Star caliber left-handed pitcher the Sox had on the cusp of free agency, Henry acknowledged that the Red Sox “blew it” when trying to sign Jon Lester to an extension before the 2014 season — Lester’s last in Boston.
The Red Sox will use Steven Wright as a full-time relief pitcher.
According to MLB.com’s Ian Browne, Boston plans to use knuckleballer Steven Wright exclusively out of the bullpen. Manager Alex Cora said that Wright could be utilized as a potential multi-inning threat.
“I think he’s a weapon for us in the bullpen,” Cora said. “It’s a change of pace. We talked about it going into October. Everybody thought he was going to be the guy in October. Too bad he got hurt.
“But he can come in and give us three [innings], give us one. He does an outstanding job holding runners. It’s tough on the catchers, but all of ours can catch the knuckleball, so I’m not worried about bringing him in with traffic. We did it toward the end. With this team, where we’re at with the roster, he’s a weapon for us out there.”
There is still uncertainty as to who will close games for the Red Sox, so there might be some opportunities for Wright in the later innings as well.
Dustin Pedroia is getting back into the swing of things.
Dustin Pedroia is preparing to bounce back and make significant contributions this season after appearing in just three games in 2018. The second baseman was running to test his surgically-repaired left knee last month and is facing live pitching this week.
Via Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe:
Dustin Pedroia faced live pitching for the first time since last May and dropped a single into right field. That drew a big cheer from the fans surrounding the backstop on Field 5. “Soft line drive to right,” Alex Cora said. “Don’t get caught up. It wasn’t a laser.” Pedroia, who is coming back from knee surgery, said he felt fine afterward.
“Listen, I’m in a lot better position right now than I was last year,” Pedroia told Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal last month. “I’m very confident and excited that I’m going to be able to do it and go forward. Now I understand a lot more than I did last year. I was trying to heal while I was rehabbing and that probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do. I’ve taken time and changed my rehab philosophy, let my knee heal a lot more and I feel good.”
J.D. Martinez isn’t worried about his opt-out clause at season’s end.
After recording 43 home runs and 130 RBIs in his first season in Boston, Martinez seemed to fit perfectly into the lineup upon signing his five-year, $110 million contract last February. However, he does have the opportunity to enter free agency next offseason if he so chooses. Alex Speier of the Globe writes that Martinez is more focused on maintaining his place as one of the top middle-of-the-order power hitters in baseball.
“I love Boston. I love the passion. It kind of matches my personality,” said Martinez. “The fans, I almost feel like they’re just as passionate as me. Obviously I’d love to stay here, but that’s not something I’m worrying about right now.”
Which players are going to the White House?
Abraham has polled 22 players regarding their intentions to attend the White House ceremony:
Players who plan to attend (12): Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Brock Holt, Brian Johnson, Mitch Moreland, Chris Sale, Blake Swihart, Steve Pearce, Nathan Eovaldi, Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, Sandy Leon.
Players who said they would probably attend (one): Rick Porcello.
Players who said they would not attend (four): Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rafael Devers, Hector Velazquez.
Players who said they are undecided (five): Eduardo Nunez, Xander Bogaerts, David Price, Christian Vazquez, Eduardo Rodriguez (two of these players off the record said they were not going).
Manager Alex Cora said that the decisions will not affect the chemistry of the team in the slightest.
“This week all the talk has been about getting ready and repeating,” Cora said. “The work ethic is there. We don’t talk about [the White House trip] in the clubhouse. [Sox management] made it clear that it’s optional. Whoever wants to go, goes. And whoever doesn’t want to go, get on a plane and go to Boston. We don’t even talk about it.’’
Tyler Thornburg impressed in bullpen session on Sunday.
According to Speier, Cora described Thornburg’s bullpen session as the best he’s seen from the right-handed reliever dating to last spring. If healthy, Thornburg represents a potentially significant contributor given a three-pitch arsenal that allows him to attack both lefties and righties.
“Tyler today… that was impressive,” Cora said. “Probably the best bullpen I’ve seen from him a year and a half.”
Craig Kimbrel probably won’t re-sign with the Red Sox.
Werner said on Monday that it is “extremely unlikely” that Boston comes to a deal with the All-Star closer. Initially, when the offseason began, reports surfaced that Kimbrel was looking for a contract of five or six years worth more than $100 million, but Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has maintained that Boston doesn’t plan on dishing out any huge contracts for a closer.
Internal options to look out for include Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, and Tyler Thornburg.