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Story of how Joe Kelly invented dominating new pitch 10 minutes before playoffs

01.04.17 at 9:09 am ET
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Joe Kelly's new pitch helped him retire all 11 of the postseason batters he faced. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Joe Kelly’s new pitch helped him retire all 11 of the postseason batters he faced. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Getting classified as the best player for the losing team on the wrong end of a three-game sweep in a best-of-seven American League Division Series probably carries the same satisfaction as a participation trophy. But for Joe Kelly, the honor should mean something.

The three games he pitched in — retiring all 11 batters he faced — might represent a pretty good jumping off point for defining the reliever in 2017.

And, if nothing else, Kelly can say he managed the feat in large part to the last-minute invention of a new weapon he didn’t use once in the regular season.

Appearing on the Bradfo Sho podcast, Kelly explained:

“In the playoffs, it was all sliders. I kind of tweaked the sliders with (assistant pitching coach) Brian Bannister I think the first day in Cleveland. We held the same grip, but did something with my wrist, the way I cocked it a little bit different and I played catch with them warming up before batting practice for about 10 minutes. I liked how it spun, and he liked how it spun and how it went straight down and disappeared, kind of like a Chris Archer-type slider. I got into the game and I shocked to it because I wanted to test it out and got a good swing and miss on it. So I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to keep throwing it.’ There was one point probably in my third appearance in the playoffs where 10 of my 13 pitches I threw were all sliders. I didn’t want to throw it that much but I kind of fell in love with it because it was generating so many swings and misses and so many foul balls and weak contact. It was something I learned probably 10 minutes before Game 1. I was like, ‘You know what, why not?’ That is kind of my personality. If I see something I see works, or I think will work, it’s something I’m going to try.

“It’s another game. It’s just baseball. It’s something where I know they were scouting me. The hitters were saying, ‘OK, high velocity fastball thrown in the top of the zone, and he’s bouncing curveballs. If I break out a third pitch they hadn’t seen, obviously on the video, it was something I thought I had the advantage on their hitters because I didn’t throw it prior to the playoffs. It ended up working and I saw some really bad swings and some really bad timing. Guys were baffled because they didn’t know I had that pitch. I kept throwing that pitch just because it probably wasn’t in the scouting report and it got more swings and misses than I thought it would.”




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So now Kelly is heading into spring training with a chance to join newly-acquired Tyler Thornburg, Matt Barnes, and, eventually, Carson Smith, as a candidate to set-up closer Craig Kimbrel.

The righty had already started to establish his identity as a high-leverage reliever, holding opposing hitters to .180 batting average, while striking out 20 and walking just three, in his 11 games after being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket. During that span he was charged with just one run (the walk-off grand slam by Mark Teixeira on the night the Sox clinched the American League East in Yankee Stadium).

He had accomplished the month-long success thanks to better command of a 100 mph fastball, and a revamped curveball that came from the same arm slot as his heater. But now he has his new slider, which maxes out his repertoire heading into the new season.

“One hundred percent,” said Kelly when asked if those were the three pitches he would be leaning on from Day 1 in 2017. “That’s what my game-plan is, trying to simplify pitching for this season.”

TO LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE JOE KELLY INTERVIEW ON THE BRADFO SHO, CLICK HERE

Why Red Sox said no thanks when Diamondbacks asked about Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart

12.30.16 at 7:42 am ET
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Blake Swihart is still valued by the Red Sox.  (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Blake Swihart is still valued by the Red Sox. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Word out of Arizona (courtesy the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro) is that former Red Sox general manager Mike Hazen, who currently holds the same title with the Diamondbacks, asked about the availability of catchers Christian Vazquez and/or Blake Swihart.

The answer back from the Red Sox, per the report, was that president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was “unlikely to deal” either player.

That leads to this question: Why the Red Sox would be wanting to keep what might seem like a surplus of catchers if they could get legitimate value back?

The reasoning is not hard to decipher. Although there is some promise with Sandy Leon, Vazquez and Swihart, there are no certainties with any of the backstops.

Dombrowski has reiterated throughout the offseason that Leon is heading into spring training as the catcher slated to get the majority of the playing time. The Red Sox believe that what he did during his memorable run in 2016 (.310 batting average, .845 OPS) earned the right to see if that lightning remains in the bottle.

But there nobody can ignore the downturn Leon experienced at the tail-end of the regular season, notching four hits in his last 44 at-bats (.091).

Vazquez and Swihart should be able to position themselves in February to resurface as legitimate major league catchers, particularly with Leon off at the World Baseball Classic. Vazquez did enough to gain residence on the postseason roster, exhibiting his old throwing arm, and Swihart has been told there will be no more experimenting with other positions after recovering from ankle surgery.

Remember, Vazquez was the Red Sox’ legitimate defense weapon who all the pitchers desperately wanted to throw to before his Tommy John surgery. And Swihart had shown enough that most felt comfortable with him as the Opening Day catcher heading into 2016.

And, thanks to Swihart still possessing options, the Red Sox don’t have to panic regarding trying to get all three on the big league roster. That’s another reason why the team has little motivation to break up what could be a strength of their club.

Which catcher should the Red Sox prioritize holding on to?

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Curt Schilling on K&C gives thoughts on early Hall of Fame ballot returns, including his own chances

12.29.16 at 11:49 am ET
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Curt Schilling

Curt Schilling

Curt Schilling filled in on Kirk & Callahan Thursday morning with Christian Arcand and Andy Hart and a big topic of discussion was the Baseball Hall of Fame and who should get in, including Schilling himself.

On Twitter, @NotMrTibbs tracks Hall of Fame ballots that are posted online to get an idea of how the votes are going. As it stands now, Schilling has 53 percent of the vote, but many voters have publicly stated they will not vote for Schilling because of his outbursts on social media and political bias.

“I’m either going to be in the Hall of Fame or not based on the people who vote,” he said.

The former pitcher noted he hasn’t done anything wrong legally, so doesn’t believe it should impact how people vote, but also he doesn’t get offended when people disagree with him politically.

“I’ve never hit my wife. I’ve never driven drunk. I’ve never shot anyone. I’ve never shot myself. All the things that people are in the news for, I haven’t done those things,” Schilling said. “It doesn’t mean I haven’t made some major mistakes, but 99.9 percent of mine are my mouth because I am passionate about the things I believe in. I don’t get offended by people who don’t believe in my [views].”

Schilling also gave his thoughts on some players who are receiving votes:

Jeff Bagwell (93.2 percent): “Good. He should be [in].”

Sammy Sosa (10.6 percent): “Sammy Sosa hit 60-plus homers three years in a row. The writers are clearly telling you they think he is a fraud, but there are other guys that cheated, who are getting voted in.”

Ivan Rodriguez (84.8 percent): “I don’t know. He was a Canseco guy. Canseco is like WikiLeaks, never been wrong. I think he was a phenomenal player. I don’t know. That’s the tough one because it gets back to the point — where do you draw the, if you’re going to draw a line where do you draw it and how do you draw it? I don’t know. I love Pudge, which there is a personal piece to that, but I don’t know. I think he’s the best defensive catcher I ever saw.”

LISTEN TO THE SEGMENT BELOW TO GET SCHILLING’S COMPLETE THOUGHTS

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Has anybody noticed how uncomfortably thin the Red Sox depth is?

12.28.16 at 11:06 pm ET
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Brock Holt figures to be more pivotal than ever to the Red Sox plans. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

Brock Holt figures to be more pivotal than ever to the Red Sox plans. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

OK, they didn’t take the three-year, $60 million plunge with Edwin Encarnacion. Instead the Red Sox are building this team around pitching, defense, and the hope that specific skill-sets and assumed evolution will make up for David Ortiz.

It could work.

Right-handed starter? You’ve got the new version of Pablo Sandoval, a Gold Glove first baseman in Mitch Moreland who is just one season removed from an .812 OPS (.876 vs. righties), and Hanley Ramirez as your designated hitter.

Against lefties it figures to be Hanley at first, with southpaw destroying Chris Young at DH. And even if Sandoval can’t revive himself as a righty hitter, Josh Rutledge may be a sleeper of an option after posting an .859 in his 19 plate appearances against left-handers.

As for the outfielders, the Sox are betting on Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts all being able to hit whatever pitcher is thrown their way.

Fair enough. But if Plan A hits a few snags, this could get uncomfortable.

As we sit here, this is most uncertain the Red Sox’ depth has been in some time. A combination of a dearth of high-level minor-leaguers, and potential replacements if something happens to their chief run producers, is making things a bit uneasy.

Their initial answer will be Brock Holt. That’s fine. But that’s one player who is at his best when spotted here and there. (In three seasons with the Red Sox, the utilityman still only has a combined .716 OPS.)

But after Holt, where are the answers?

Outfielder gets injured, Young will be pulled away from that DH spot, perhaps exposing Moreland. In this scenario, Bryce Brentz might be the big winner, getting one more chance at the majors. (After Brentz, the Red Sox top outfield prospect may be 2015 fourth-rounder Tate Matheny, who finished last season with a .712 OPS in Single-A Greenville.)

Third base hits a snag, especially against lefties, and you are left hoping Matt Dominguez, who isn’t on the 40-man roster, or Deven Marrero live up to their potential as former first-round picks.

The Red Sox do seem to like Marco Hernandez a bunch, with Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski consistently mentioning the infielder when identifying the top prospects the organization still possesses. Maybe the 24-year-old lefty hitter can solve some of this problem, having hit .309 with Triple-A Pawtucket and .294 in 56 big league games in ’16. But Hernandez can’t be considered a full-time option at this point, and that’s exactly what the Red Sox could ultimately end up needing at some point.

Perhaps the best legitimate hope that the Red Sox might be able to uncover any semblance of offensive punch from within is in the form of Sam Travis. The first baseman should be ready to compete when spring training rolls around after missing the majority of 2016 with a torn ACL. (For Travis’ take on things, click here.)

It is at the point where two players who we thought would never see the light of day at Fenway Park again, Rusney Castillo and/or Allen Craig, have to at least enter the conversation. Neither is on the 40-man roster, but that doesn’t mean can’t be. Desperate times may lead to desperate measures.

There are still options out there to spruce things up a bit.

This story might not be complete, with the Red Sox still putting their ears to the free agent train tracks looking for possible short-term bargains, such as former Padre Adam Rosales or Twin Trevor Plouffe. But there aren’t going to be any difference-maker swooping in, or jumping levels. (Sorry, Rafael Devers won’t be ready.)

Are you OK with the Red Sox current depth?

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Eduardo Rodriguez’s right knee back in news thanks to Winter Ball injury

12.28.16 at 1:11 pm ET
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Eduardo Rodriguez (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Eduardo Rodriguez (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Blame the World Baseball Classic.

According to the Boston Globe, Eduardo Rodriguez “tweaked” the same right knee that made the Red Sox’ pitcher miss the first two months of 2016 while pitching for Navegantes del Magallanes in the Venezuelan Winter League. Rodriguez reportedly left after the first inning after feeling discomfort in the knee.

Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told the Globe in an email, “He tweaked his knee last night pitching. It doesn’t appear to be anything serious.”

The reason Rodriguez has been participating in the winter league was to prepare for the upcoming WBC, with the lefty slated to play for his native Venezuela.

Considering Rodriguez was coming off a season that was curtailed due to both the knee injury suffered in spring training, and a hamstring ailment, it appeared a questionable decision to jump-start his offseason training with the winter ball stint.

It will be interesting to see if the setback gives Rodriguez second thoughts about playing in the WBC. Considering he will be in competition for a spot in the starting rotation — with Rodriguez, Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz all positioning for two spots — it would seem to behoove the 23-year-old to play on the cautious side and remain with the Red Sox throughout the entirety of spring training.

Rodriguez made 20 starts for the Red Sox in 2016, totaling a 4.71 ERA. He did post a 3.24 ERA in his final 14 starts after returning from the minor leagues.

Should Eduardo Rodriguez play in the World Baseball Classic?

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With quarter of ballots accounted for, Bud Selig effect is throwing chaos into Hall of Fame voting

12.26.16 at 2:18 pm ET
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Roger Clemens might get into the Hall of Fame, after all. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Roger Clemens might get into the Hall of Fame, after all. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Who knew the biggest impact Bud Selig had on Major League Baseball would be getting inducted into the Hall of Fame?

That’s exactly what’s happening when looking at how things are unfolding in voting for entrance into Cooperstown, so far.

Thanks to the excellent work of Ryan Thibodaux — who compiles HOF votes as they are surfaced on social media — we know that there is a pretty significant trend with 25 percent of the ballots accounted for. All of a sudden, both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens seemingly actually have a chance.

Both Bonds and Clemens are at an identical 70.3 percent, with all candidates needing at least 75 percent for induction. So far, this way of thinking is in stark contrast to what previously transpired last year, when both players were punished for their association with performance enhancing drugs. In 2016, Clemens landed at 45.2 percent, while Bonds came in at 44.3 percent.

Of the 107 ballots accounted for thus far, Bonds has picked up new votes from 13 voters, while Clemens is at 14. Each has had one voter change their mind, taking them off their ballot.

This would seem to line up with the growing narrative that Selig, the commissioner of MLB during the time these players were allegedly cheating, can’t be inducted while the PED guys keep suffering.

Another player who may be put over the top by the new way of thinking is Ivan Rodriguez, who is in his first year of eligibility. The former catcher sits at 83.8 percent, joining Jeff Bagwell (92.8 percent), Tim Raines (91 percent) and first-time candidate Vlad Guerrero (75.7 percent) as those who would make it at this moment.

Edgar Martinez is also making a strong surge, picking up 19 new voters while losing just one, and currently sitting at 66.7 percent after getting just 43.4 percent last year.

Manny Ramirez, however, isn’t coming close to induction despite his Hall of Fame-like numbers. The first-year candidate is at 33.3 percent, with his suspensions due to PED being weighed heavy.

As for Curt Schilling, he has picked up seven new voters, but lost 16 (the most of any candidate thus far). He sits at 52.3 percent, which is identical to his number after last year’s voting.

Who do you think will get into the Hall of Fame this year?

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Red Sox weren’t willing to pay penalties for Edwin Encarnacion, but would they have for David Ortiz?

12.26.16 at 10:42 am ET
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Edwin Encarnacion never came close to joining the Red Sox this offseason. (John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports)

Edwin Encarnacion never came close to joining the Red Sox this offseason. (John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports)

It became very clear from the beginning of the offseason that the Red Sox weren’t going to go hard after Edwin Encarnacion. How early in the offseason? Try Nov. 5.

It was on that day, at the Arizona Fall League All-Star Game, that Dave Dombrowski let Encarnacion’s agent, Paul Kinzer, the direction the Red Sox were going to go when it came to replacing David Ortiz. A few days later at the GM Meetings, the Sox’ strategy of not paying big bucks to help fill their vacant designated hitter spot.

What the Red Sox ultimately did was ink first baseman Mitch Moreland to a one-year, $5.5 million deal, with the plan to play the lefty hitter against righties with Hanley Ramirez serving as a DH. When lefties were starting, the likelihood would be that Ramirez could slide to first, with someone like Chris Young filling the DH role.

As for Encarnacion, he landed in Cleveland on a three-year deal worth $60 million, that includes a club option for a fourth season.

Considering the perceived natural fit for Encarnacion with the Red Sox (along with an endorsement from Ortiz), and the reasonable terms the 33-year-old agree to with the Indians, there were more than a few observers who viewed the first baseman/DH as one that got away.

So, what happened?

The prime impetus for the Red Sox not engaging in the Encarnacion sweepstakes was their desire to not be hit by the penalties that come with going over the luxury tax threshold, which is where they would find themselves even on the kind of three-year deal the slugger agreed to.

Here is a quick overview of the rules that were stiff-arming the Red Sox when it came to contemplating going over the CBT:

Ramifications of going over CBT

* The tax itself
* Team receives less compensation (lower draft choice) when they lose a free agent attached to a qualifying offer after that season.
* Team gives up a higher draft choice when they sign a free agent attached to a qualifying offer after that season.
* Team loses more international signing bonus pool money if sign a free agent attached to a qualifying offer.
* Higher tax rate/surcharge if team is more than $20 million over threshold; even more above $40 million over

Ramifications of going over multiple times in a row

* The more times you go over, the higher your tax rate is. Third time in a row = 50 percent for first $20 million over.
* The more times you go over, the more revenue sharing money you lose.

So while things would have gotten a little uncomfortable if the Red Sox didn’t reset their penalties and went over, doing so the following two years might have been the deal-breaker.

The Red Sox really don’t have much coming off the books after 2017, unless you include Moreland and Young ($6.5 million). If they don’t pick up Craig Kimbrel’s $13 million option for 2018 it could be more, but that wouldn’t seem to be a reality right now. The same goes for Chris Sale’s $12.5 million team option for 2018.

The price tags for arbitration-eligible players, such as Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, figure to go a long way in negating any financial flexibility during this span, as well.

But for what Encarnacion delivers, a case could be made that it would be worth it to pay all of the aforementioned penalties. The Red Sox didn’t support that case. In fact, one has to wonder if Dombrowski viewed the value of the righty hitter like some others in baseball.

The Oakland A’s weren’t going to come close to going over the CBT, but there aren’t a lot of players Billy Beane is willing to go all-in for in free agency. He identified Encarnacion as one of those special opportunities, actually offering more than the Indians.

You have to also wonder if Encarnacion would have taken even less than he did with the Indians considering the Dominican Republic native prioritized signing with team closer to home instead of the biggest paycheck. And with the notion that he was going to value contentment, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the Red Sox were one of three teams on his pre-offseason list that he wanted to target signing with (the Blue Jays and another undisclosed team, not in New York, was the other).

So what if another player we knew the Red Sox lusted after would have made himself for a one-year deal in that $20 million-a-year range? Let’s just call that player … David Ortiz.

The guess is that if Ortiz changed his mind, and came out of his brief retirement for one more year, the Red Sox would be willing to bite the luxury tax bullet for season. But maybe not. Perhaps they wouldn’t view such a scenario in a very Belichickian viewpoint. By all accounts, after all, Red Sox ownership never did extend that nothing-to-lose offer to come back on a mammoth one-year deal.

But, once again, the penalty for turning their back on an Ortiz return — which would come down to money and not being able to reset the luxury tax penalties — almost certainly outweigh anything the new collective bargaining agreement can bring.

It’s all worth a holiday conversation.

Should the Red Sox have signed Encarnacion and dealt with the luxury tax penalties?

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DAVID ORTIZ CAREER, FINAL SEASON RETROSPECTIVE

Hanley Ramirez starting new life as designated hitter in Dominican Winter League

12.22.16 at 6:41 pm ET
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Hanley Ramirez is getting a jump on things down in the Dominican Republic.

As he had hoped to do, the Red Sox first baseman/designated hitter has joined Licey of the Dominican Winter League, starting this week. Ramirez has only served as a DH, entering Thursday night having gone 2-for-12 with a pair of walks. He was out of the lineup for Thursday night’s game.

Ramirez is using his stint with Licey to prepare for playing in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

One of Red Sox’ top catching prospects suspended 50 games

12.22.16 at 5:14 pm ET
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Jake Romanski

Jake Romanski

Jake Romanski’s career has hit a bump in the road.

The Red Sox’ minor-league catcher has been suspended by Major League Baseball for 50 games after testing positive for amphetamine use.

Romanksi spent the entire 2016 season with Double-A Portland, hitting .308 with a .751 OPS in 90 games.

The 26-year-old was a 14th-round selection in the 2013 draft by the Red Sox after spending his collegiate career at San Diego State.

The 5-foot-11, right-handed hitter was named an Eastern League All-Star in 2016. He is rated as the Red Sox’ 36th overall prospect by SoxProspects.com, and tops among catchers in the minor league system.

Why Red Sox aren’t viewing newly-acquired Josh Tobias as just throw-in

12.22.16 at 9:11 am ET
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Josh Tobias (Steven Branscombe)

Josh Tobias (Steven Branscombe)

When it came to trading Clay Buchholz, there were some realities the Red Sox were learning to deal with.

For instance, if a team was going to take on the pitcher’s entire $13.5 million for 2017, the return was not going to be as great as if the Red Sox ate some of the money. In other words, the Phillies weren’t going to trade their top prospect, J.P. Crawford, straight up for the starting pitcher.

So once it was determined that this was the dynamic the Red Sox would be dealing with when it came to a potential trade with Philadelphia, a list was made up. Using the feedback of the international, professional and amateur scouting departments, about 10 names were surfaced to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski to work from.

One of those names belonged to a 24-year-old named Josh Tobias.

“He’s definitely not just another body,” said Red Sox director of professional scouting Gus Quattlebaum. “We see him as having potential as a versatile, switch-hitting guy with make-up and a feel to hit. Whenever you can find someone who can hit that guy is going to standout.”

Tobias, who didn’t start switch-hitting until the tail end of his career at the University of Florida, was by no means one of the Phillies’ top prospects. There were some doubts about the second baseman’s ability to play his position long-term, with a perceived lack of athleticism serving as one of the reasons he slid to the 10th round of the 2015 draft.

But the Red Sox had enough of Tobias’ back-story that they saw him in a positive light.

Quattlebaum, for one, had seen Tobias a few times throughout the 2016 season, having been responsible for scouting the Phillies’ system. And his reports matched up with longtime scout (and former Tigers and Cardinals general manager) Joe McDonald, who was working the Florida State League for the Red Sox.

And, finally, a phone call was made to Red Sox’ first base coach Ruben Amaro, who was serving as general manager of the Phillies when Philadelphia selected Tobias.

“What stood out is he was always on time at the plate,” said Quattlebaum of Tobias, who combined to hit .294 with a .784 OPS and nine home runs between two Single-A clubs in 2016. “I was impressed by the fearlessness and the confidence he pursued some stuff tough pop-ups near the stands, and I liked his actions near the second base bag. I do think he can bounce around the field. Some scouts have seen him play a little bit of left field.

“At the end of his college career began switch-hit. Definitely more pop from the right side. He just has a simple approach where he was on time a lot, and squared put the ball. He was someone our scouts had liked, and our analytics group liked, so whenever you can find multiple likes on a player that’s a good thing.”

If all breaks right in spring training, Tobias will most likely start at Single-A Salem. And while the priority in this deal will always be perceived as using Buchholz’s contract to get under the luxury tax threshold, the Red Sox believe the other piece of the puzzle bears watching.

“We like him a lot,” Quattlebaum said.

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