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Can Tyler Thornburg break uneasy trend for Red Sox trading for late-inning relievers? Dave Dombrowski thinks so

12.06.16 at 12:31 pm ET
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Tyler Thornburg

Tyler Thornburg

OXON HILL, Md. — Trading for high-leverage relievers can be tricky. The Red Sox know this all too well.

Joel Hanrahan (elbow). Mark Melancon (performane). Andrew Bailey (elbow). Carson Smith (elbow). All seemed like good ideas at the time, and all found their careers taking a turn for the worse once immersed in Boston.

Next up: Tyler Thornburg.

The pitcher that the Red Sox scouted while with the Brewers is right in line with what Dave Dombrowski was looking for. He has the stuff and experience to pitch in the eighth and ninth innings, while possessing a contract that doesn’t allow for free agency until after the 2019 season.

But, with the aforementioned history of relievers for the Red Sox, there is always a wary eye to be cast. In this case, the trepidation is born from Thornburg’s right elbow injury that made him miss six months in 2014 and was treated with Platelet Rich Plasma injections.

“We feel good about it,” said Dombrowski of Thornburg’s health. “We looked at the medicals, reviewed them very thoroughly. It’s one of those situations where it looks like the PRP worked and like how it’s supposed to be. Last year, he didn’t miss any time. Pitched back to back days and held his velocity all year long so we feel good about it.”

Thornburg’s over-the-top delivery might lead some to continue their concern, but it also has paved the way for devastating movement on a fastball that lives between 94-97 mph. And with the results garnered after a permanent move to the bullpen in 2016, it wasn’t a tough sell for the Red Sox.

“He is somebody that we like a great deal,” Dombrowski told the local media at the MLB Winter Meetings, Tuesday morning. “We scouted him very thoroughly last year. He has nasty stuff. Did a good job for Milwaukee in closing games at the end of the year. We feel he’s a guy that projects to be a quality eighth-inning individual for us that can also close a game if needed. He gets lefties out as well as righties. He was what we were looking to try to find. We feel we gave up some good young players but it’s also a situation where I think stabilizing the bullpen for us in that eighth inning role has really been a necessity, something we really put our focus on. Now at the back end, you have guys like [Craig] Kimbrel and you have Thornburg and then you’re in a position where guys like [Joe] Kelly and [Matt] Barnes and [Heath] Hembree, in addition to anyone from the left-hand side.”

Dombrowski explained that the Red Sox’ interest in Thornburg dated back to before he became the Brewers’ closer for the final month of the season, with talks not really gaining traction until recently.

“This took place as far back in the summertime when they didn’t want to trade him,” Dombrowski said. “So right after the season going into the (GM) meetings when we start placing some phone calls. They were not interested in trading Thornburg. Then at the end of the GM meetings [Brewers general manager] David Sterns asked me, ‘Well one guy we have interest in as kind of being a key guy is Travis Shaw.’ Then when they signed [Eric] Thames they kind of backed off a little bit at that time. Then kind of rekindled once we got the deal. I think it was me that called them last week after the deal was made, the CBA deal was done, to touch base. We’ve been on the phone numerous times over the last five days starting back when I was in Boston to arriving here and then yesterday we had numerous conversations and trying to get the thing done.”

As for one of the relievers the Red Sox were counting on to reverse the trend of previous reliever transactions, Carson Smith, Dombrowski is optimistic the righty will be ready to contribute just about a year out from his Tommy John surgery.

“Some people and he are shooting to be ready for Opening Day. That’s what he would hope and he would like,” Dombrowski said. “And his progress has been good to date. But in my own mind, I really have tried to say more of June 1, which is about a year. And not even to put a specific date on that but I really don’t want to put any rush to have him pitch the eighth inning for Opening Day, for example. Having depth out there can only be beneficial. We saw what it did for us last year. All of a sudden we have Kimbrel and Thornburg and Kelly and Barnes and Hembree from the right-hand side. Carson Smith comes back, that’s a great situation to have.”

Dave Dombrowski: Red Sox not changing approach toward prioritizing finding short-term deal for bat

12.06.16 at 12:04 pm ET
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Dave Dombrowski

Dave Dombrowski

OXON HILL, Md. — The Red Sox found their eighth-inning reliever, and it will only cost them a couple of million dollars (and some players). But that isn’t changing how Dave Dombrowski views the club’s approach toward finding the next piece of the puzzle.

The acquisition of reliever Tyler Thornburg from the Brewers (in exchange for Travis Shaw and minor leaguers Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington), the Red Sox will be on the hook for whatever it costs to sign the first-year arbitration-eligible reliever. It presumably leaves the team wit about $6-7 million before bumping up against what they planned on maxing it’s payroll at heading into the season.

The Red Sox could now presumably make a deal involving starter Clay Buchholz, who is owned $13.5 million this season, and make a run at a high-end bat to help fill their DH/first base hole. But, speaking to the local media at the MLB Winter Meetings, Dombrowski said he is staying the course.

“It clearly now defines what our payroll spending will be for our setup guy. It puts us in a position where we have that type of knowledge of where we want to know,” Dombrowski said. “But I’m also not in a position to change our mindset that we want to go big dollars for a first baseman-slash-DH. It does give us the knowledge of where we need to go. Now we can kind of focus on other things.”

Dombrowski went on to say the Red Sox are indeed looking for a player who preferably hits from the left side and plays first base. Both free agents Mitch Moreland and Pedro Alvarez fit that description and have been linked to the Sox.

“I don’t know that we really have that person on board,” he said. “Brock Holt has played over there. We’ve talked about playing Pablo over there at some point. I can’t tell you 100 percent this would be the guy. It’s something we need to explore.”

Reports: Red Sox interested in former Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland

12.06.16 at 12:00 pm ET
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Mitch Moreland

Mitch Moreland

Now that Dave Dombrowski has his reliever, he’s turning his attention to a first baseman/DH, and defending Gold Glover Mitch Moreland is reportedly on his radar.

The free agent, who has spent his entire career with the Rangers, checks some boxes for the Red Sox. He’s left-handed, which Dombrowski wants in that spot, and he’s capable of not only playing first base, but playing it well, as evidenced by his 2016 Gold Glove.

What’s unclear is if Moreland would be willing to sign a short-term contract to fit what the Red Sox envision for the role. The team is looking for short years at short money to fill their DH opening, which manager John Farrell believes will rotate among players.

Moreland, 31, is coming off a down season offensively that saw him hit .233 with 22 homers and 60 RBIs. Two years ago, however, he batted .278 with an .812 OPS and was particularly effective against right-handed pitching (.294-.867, 18 HRs). His numbers against righties took a significant step back last year (.221-.700).

Moreland made $5.7 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility last season. The Indians are also reportedly in the mix.

News of the Red Sox’ interest in Moreland was first reported by Jeff Sullivan of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram.

Read More: Indians, Mitch Moreland, MLB trade rumors, Rangers

Source: Red Sox acquiring reliever Tyler Thornburg from Milwaukee

12.06.16 at 9:37 am ET
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OXON HILL, Md. — The Red Sox have seemingly taken care of their top offseason priority.

According to a major league source, the Red Sox have acquired hard-throwing relief pitcher Tyler Thornburg from the Brewers. Multiple outlets report that the Red Sox will be sending the Brewers infielder Travis Shaw, minor-leaguer infielder Mauricio Dubon and minor-league reliever Josh Pennington.

The 28-year-old Thornburg totaled a 2.15 ERA in 67 appearances for the Brewers in 2016, saving 13 games. He struck out 90 batters in just 67 innings, walking 25.

Thornburg, a third-round selection by Milwaukee in the 2010 draft, throws his fastball between 94-97 mph. He has had issues with his right elbow, having been shut down for a six-month period during the 2014 season, but found success (and health) once the Brewers committed to him as a reliever last season. (For more on Thornburg’s health, click here.)

Thornburg won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2019 season. He is entering his first offseason of arbitration-eligibility.

(The Boston Herald was first to report a trade between the teams was happening, and the inclusion of Dubon. The Boston Globe was first to report the inclusion of Travis Shaw. Baseball America was first to report the inclusion of Pennington. FoxSports.com was first to report that Thornburg would be headed to the Red Sox.)

Red Sox notes: Dave Dombrowski prioritizing finding 8th-inning reliever, will wait out designated hitter market

12.05.16 at 8:00 pm ET
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Dave Dombrowski. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

Dave Dombrowski. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

OXON HILL, Md. — As it turned out, the signings of Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran weren’t all that big a deal to the Red Sox, after all.

And that bit of news was just part of the eyebrow-raising that Dave Dombrowski’s meeting with the media elicited Monday evening.

“There were not,” said the Red Sox president of baseball operations when asked if he was engaged with the pair of designated hitter candidates, at the MLB Winter Meetings. “We were aware of everything taking place, but we weren’t engaged in a situation to do that, because I really, [assistant general manager] Brian O’Halloran’s handled a lot of the phone calls. He’s kept me abreast of what’s going on. But we really had made the point that before we got into where we were going to allocate our dollars. We wanted to do that for a setup guy and see where that takes us and then make a decision from there.”

But what about that replacement for David Ortiz?

As turns out, Dombrowski and Co. are all in on finding that lock-down eighth-inning guy, an not in any huge rush to bring in another bat.

The plan right now is to put the majority of the Red Sox’ efforts into finding that late-inning relief pitcher. As Red Sox manager John Farrell explained, “I think our main goal is to identify a guy so it’s not so much a matchup situation. Turn it over to one guy in the eighth inning, regardless if he’s facing left-handed or right-handed hitters.”

So, what it means is that the Red Sox will be waiting to see what kind of bat falls into their price range after allocating resources for the reliever. It could even get to the point where no hitter of significance is brought in to fill a role most everybody thought would be a chief priority for the team heading into the offseason.

“I can’t say for sure, but, yeah, perhaps that would happen,” Dombrowski said. “I don’t think so. We’d bring somebody in, I think, but I can’t tell we’re 100 percent sure we’re going to do it because it’s going to be dependent upon who we can find and the dollars they’re looking for at the particular time.”

— Dombrowski spoke to the issue regarding the new luxury tax threshold, and the Red Sox’ perceived desire to not go over for a third straight season.

The new limit stands at $195 million, which the Red Sox stand about $15 million shy of. But with a desire to have some flexibility for in-season acquisitions, that actual budget for offseason moves might be in the vicinity of $8 million.

The first time the Red Sox went over they were taxed 17.5 percent (ending up being just under $2 million), with last year’s penalty coming in at 30 percent. Going over this year would mean they would be taxed on 50 percent of the number they exceed the threshold by. If they do not go over, the penalties reset.

“No, no. No. I don’t want to use the word ‘mandated,’ because that’s wrong” said the president when asked if ownership has instructed him not to go over the limit. “But I have an awareness of the penalties. I mean, I got the memorandum of understanding and the summary on Saturday night. Here they are if anybody has five minutes that you want to spend reading. It’s 133 pages of memorandum of understanding that is very difficult. I have read through it. I have skimmed through it, though, I don’t know that with a fine-tooth comb. I did make notes on it that I thought were very important so I understand going into the meetings where we stand. Obviously the basic agreement still has to be ratified. That doesn’t take place until December 15. But I think there’s an awareness that I wanted to have, and I think when you look at it. But I can’t tell you that last year that we went into the winter meetings I would’ve preferred to be below the CBT, too, but we just went above it because we thought that was the best way to win a championship at the time.”

— Dombrowski said the Red Sox aren’t locked into acquiring just a lefty hitter, or even a player who solely plays the infield.

That conversation led to one of the continued focal point for the Red Sox’ offseason: Getting production out of Pablo Sandoval.

“I think we’ll always strive to have a balance,” Farrell said. “I think the one thing that we ran into this past year was the three right-handers at the top of the order. We also produced the most runs in baseball. I think if you look at the way we stacked the lineup when we got into the postseason, it was a little bit of a mix moving Bogey to the six hole and sliding David up to the three hole. I think for us, one of the things, as I look at the lineup for next year, one of the keys for us is going to be Panda. That’s not to put it all on him, but here’s a left-handed bat who is a proven guy and has every opportunity to make a major impact on our team this year.”

— Dombrowski revealed the list of Red Sox players on the preliminary rosters for the World Baseball Classic.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Hanley Ramirez.
USA: Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., David Price, Rick Porcello (who has already said he will not participate)
NETHERLANDS: Xander Bogaerts
VENEZUELA: Eduardo Rodriguez, Sandy Leon
ITALY: Andrew Benintendi

— While Dombrowski wouldn’t comment on the Red Sox’ level of interest in Japanese star Shohei Otani, a 22-year-old who excels at both pitching and hitting and is scheduled to be eligible to play in the major leagues after the 2017 season, the president did offer an interesting comparison.

“I can’t speak specifically for him because I haven’t seen him play enough myself,” he said. “We have reports on him. Do I think a player can be a two-way player? Yeah. It could happen. Is it very difficult? Yes, but i’m not saying there’s not a player out there that can’t do that because some of them are rare, rare guy – Babe Ruth could do it. He was pretty good. It can be done.”

Red Sox pick up John Farrell’s option for 2018 season

12.05.16 at 5:42 pm ET
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NATIONAL HARBOR, MD — Speaking to the Boston media at the MLB Winter Meetings, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski announced the team was picking up the 2018 contract option for manager John Farrell.

Prior to the move, Farrell’s last guaranteed year was the 2017 campaign.

“John has done a real fine job for us,” Dombrowski said. “He had a good year last year. I thought did a good job in handling the club. We were in a position where we had a good working relationship and had the respect of our players. Our players played hard for him. So we’re very happy to have done that. It puts stability with our staff going into spring training.

“Why wait until now? Just so many things happened at the end of the year. There was no rush. It didn’t have to be exercised until 10 days after the 2017 season. But as soon as the season ends you sort of split, when you get beat in the playoffs. Mike Hazen left us at that point. We had some front office things to do. We were in different positions ourselves. So we really just wanted to sit down and have a face to face talk before we did something like that, which we had a chance to do [Sunday]. We had a really nice conversation, just like always. John has a solid presence to himself, leadership capabilities, yet I also find him very open-minded when we have conversations.”

For more from the MLB Winter Meetings, click here.

Edwin Encarnacion identified Red Sox as one of 3 preferred landing spots

12.05.16 at 3:02 pm ET
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Edwin Encarnacion

Edwin Encarnacion

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD — Could the Red Sox get into the Edwin Encarnacion bidding? Probably not, but based on the slugger’s interest in Boston, maybe they should at least kick the tires.

The Red Sox continue to be on the outskirts of negotiations for the services of Encarnacion, still seeking to acquire a replacement for David Ortiz via a short-term deal. The Sox’ motivation for the approach is seemingly driven by a desire not to eclipse the luxury tax threshold.

But if the Red Sox’ strategy does change, it would seem there would be a very clear path.

According to a source close to Encarnacion, the 33-year-old designated the Red Sox as one of the three teams he identified heading into free agency as a preferred landing spot. Another was Toronto, who have already signed Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce. The third club was not known, although it wasn’t the Yankees.

With Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran each agreeing to one-year deals, with the Yankees and Astros, respectively, some of the free agents still being attached to the Red Sox for short-term solutions are Pedro Alvarez and Mike Napoli.

Ortiz reiterated his endorsement for Encarnacion over the weekend at his Celebrity Golf Classic, which the former Blue Jays first baseman/designated hitter attended.

For more from the MLB Winter Meetings, click here.

Dodgers sign former Red Sox left-hander Rich Hill to 3-year, $48 million deal

12.05.16 at 1:28 pm ET
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Rich Hill

Rich Hill

Veteran left-hander Rich Hill, who resurrected his career in September of 2015 with the Red Sox, hit it big in free agency on Monday, agreeing to a three-year, $48 million deal with the Dodgers, the team announced.

The Milton native, who converted to a starter with the independent Long Island Ducks before signing with the Red Sox on Aug. 14, 2015, went 12-5 with a 2.12 ERA between Oakland and Los Angeles last season.

The 37-year-old has played for eight teams in his career. He went 4-1 with a 1.44 ERA over parts of four seasons with the Red Sox.

He underwent a late-career renaissance in part because of an increased focus on his curveball, under the guidance of assistant Red Sox pitching coach Brian Bannister.

Hill is 38-28 with a 4.10 ERA over his 12 years in the big leagues.

Read More: Dodgers, Red Sox, rich hill,

Potential DH target Pedro Alvarez grew up loving Red Sox, even though he’s from Bronx

12.05.16 at 11:46 am ET
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Pedro Alvarez

Pedro Alvarez

The Red Sox have had dalliances with Pedro Alvarez over the years. Could he finally join them?

With the Red Sox in the market for an affordable DH on a one-year deal, and higher-profile performers like Carlos Beltran (Astros) and Matt Holliday (Yankees) leaving the board, someone like Alvarez could be a fit.

That would be a dream come true for the Bronx native, who actually grew up a Red Sox fan. It’s why his college coach, Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin, worried that Alvarez would spurn him after the Red Sox selected him in the 14th round of the 2005 draft.

“He’s a New York kid, so you would’ve thought the Yankees were his team,” Corbin said in 2014. “But all along the Red Sox were his favorite team. That raised some concerns with me with where his emotions would lead him.”

According to former Red Sox scouting director Jason McLeod, the team was prepared to budge off its $850,000 offer to move closer to Alvarez’s desired $1 million, but in the end he chose school and it worked out, because the Pirates eventually made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft, signing him for $6 million.

“It came right down to that morning,” Alvaerz said in 2014. “School was very important to my family, and [signing] just didn’t feel right at the time. Something was telling us to go the school route, and we just held onto faith and hoped that everything worked out. Once I made the decision, there was no turning back.”

When the Red Sox considered ways to fill their hole at third base after the 2014 season, they canvassed the league for players whose arbitration numbers could make them trade targets. Alvarez’s name was on that list, but the Red Sox couldn’t risk acquiring a third baseman who had just committed 25 errors and was certain to move to first base or DH, positions the Red Sox had filled with Mike Napoli and David Ortiz, respectively.

They instead chose Pablo Sandoval, a decision that contributed to GM Ben Cherington losing his job and the Red Sox finishing last in 2015.

Times have changed, however. Alvarez just slugged .504 with 22 homers for the Orioles. He hit 21 homers with an .848 OPS against righties and could give the Red Sox the left-handed half of a potential DH platoon.

They’ve missed out on him twice. Maybe the third time will be the charm.

Read More: MLB trade rumors, Orioles, Pedro Alvarez, Pirates

Royals manager Ned Yost has no doubt potential Red Sox free agent target Greg Holland can close again

12.05.16 at 10:54 am ET
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Ned Yost

Ned Yost

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — When Greg Holland executed his showcase for prospective employers in early November, he was only throwing in the low 90’s. Still, teams came away impressed enough with the 31-year-old’s health and performance that he remains one of the most sought-after relievers in the open market.

Talking to his former manager, there is an understanding why clubs might be willing to live without the kind of stuff Holland had prior to his Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2015 season.

“Absolutely,” said Royals manager Ned Yost from the MLB Winter Meetings Monday when asked if Holland could once again duplicate the kind of results that made him one of the best closers in baseball through 2013-14. “I don’t know if he is ever going to be what he was … and I mean stuff-wise, 97, 98 mph. But the thing about Greg Holland is I’ve never met anybody that was more of a fierce, fearless competitor than he was. And when you have that in your DNA you can get by at 92, 93 mph. It wouldn’t surprise me if he gets back to being the dominant guy he was before because he has that makeup and that mentality. When he steps on that mound he’s some kind of fierce competitor.”

The Red Sox remain interested in Holland while looking for another eighth-inning option. (One MLB source called the reliever a “very popular” player among teams at the meetings.)

The idea of having more than one reliever who can close has become a popular notion on big league rosters, as was first evidenced with Yost’s bullpens in Kansas City. Along with Craig Kimbrel, the Red Sox are hoping Joe Kelly and/or Matt Barnes can join a healthy Carson Smith as pitchers the Sox can lean on in high-leverage, late-inning situations.

“I think what teams are trying to do, or what the successful teams have done, they have a seventh inning guy, an eighth inning guy and a ninth inning guy and all three of them can pitch in the ninth inning,” Yost said. “All three of them can pitch in the ninth inning. All three can close. When you have that it’s a huge advantage late in the game.”

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