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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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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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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.

Sorry Red Sox players, you’re still going to be playing on Sunday Night Baseball 12.21.16 at 1:40 pm ET
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Fenway Park fans better get ready for some more night games. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Fenway Park fans better get ready for some more night games. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Part of playing for the Red Sox is dealing with usually more Sunday Night Baseball games than most. That doesn’t appear to be changing.

ESPN has announced the list of Sunday Night games for the upcoming season, with the Red Sox right now slated to participate on April 30 for their game against the Cubs at Fenway Park, and July 16, when they host the Yankees.

The schedule is only listed up through July 23, and there four dates yet to be designated.

It could be a lot worse for the Red Sox, with the Cubs and Cardinals each getting four Sunday Night appearances. The Yankees and Mets also have three, apiece.

The obvious question for Red Sox players would be what their commitment might entail the day after playing these games.

The day after the game against the Cubs, the Red Sox are home to play a night game against the Orioles. (It is also “Hanley Ramirez Chain Night.”) The July 17 game is also home, with the Blue Jays coming to town.

As for the possibility of the Red Sox playing on one of the “TBD” dates, there is always that chance. The first open date, May 21, wouldn’t seem likely because it’s at Oakland. June 18 is intriguing, with the Red Sox playing at Houston, with a series in Kansas City to follow. And then there is July 2, when the Red Sox play at Toronto. That would seem to be a good bet.

Apr. 2: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals
Apr. 9: Miami Marlins at New York Mets
Apr. 16: St. Louis Cardinals at New York Yankees
Apr. 23: Washington Nationals at New York Mets
Apr. 30: Chicago Cubs at Boston Red Sox
May 7: New York Yankees at Chicago Cubs
May 14: Houston Astros at New York Yankees
May 21: TBD
May 28: New York Mets at Pittsburgh Pirates
June 4: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs
June 18: TBD
June 25: TBD
July 2: TBD
July 9: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians
July 16: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox
July 23: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs

Clay Buchholz’ run with Red Sox comes to end with trade to Phillies 12.20.16 at 11:17 am ET
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Clay Buchholz has been traded to the Phillies, with the Red Sox will be receiving minor-leaguer Josh Tobias, a second baseman who was drafted in the 10th round of the 2015 draft. Philadelphia will pay the entire $13.5 million owed the starter next season.

The 23-year-old Tobias played at both Single-A Clearwater and Lakewood, combining for a .291 batting average, .784 OPS and nine home runs.

The 33-year-old excelled after returning to the starting rotation in 2016, totaling 2.98 ERA over his last eight regular season starts. He also offered tremendous value as a reliever, posting a 1.93 ERA in eight appearances out of the bullpen.

Buchholz had been with the Red Sox since being taken in the first round of the 2005 draft, having made his major league debut in 2007. For his big league career, the righty has gone 81-61 with a 3.96 ERA.

Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports was first to report the deal had been completed.

Former Red Sox infielder Travis Shaw explains why he had to Google guy he was traded for 12.20.16 at 7:42 am ET
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Travis Shaw (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Travis Shaw (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

The entire morning of Dec. 6 was bizarre for Travis Shaw.

“That week was weird,” he explained when appearing on the the Bradfo Show podcast.

He woke up to find a message on his phone from Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, having planned on heading over to JetBlue Park for his daily 8:30 a.m. workout. The Sox boss was asking Shaw to give a call back.

“I as soon as I heard that message I was like, ‘Uh, oh,'” explained the former Red Sox infielder.

Once the two did connect, Dombrowski passed on word that Shaw had been traded to Milwaukee — along with minor-leaguers Josh Pennington and Mauricio Dubon — for a reliever. The pitcher the Brewers sent back wasn’t identified, but would soon be uncovered thanks to Twitter.

So, had Shaw ever heard of Tyler Thornburg, the pitcher who would be now calling Boston home?

“I did not, no,” the lefty hitter said.

“Once it broke over Twitter, that’s kind of when I figured out who it was, looked him up. He had a pretty good year last year. … It seems like, the more I’ve looked into it, it benefits both ends. Both teams and both players at the major league level. Only time will tell, but that trade is a good situation for both guys.”

Shaw did admit that the trade didn’t totally come as a surprise.

“You think it’s going to happen, but it’s still strange once it does happen,” he said.

“I thought there was a decent chance it was going to happen. I don’t think the Red Sox were necessarily looking to move me, but you look at the numbers game. Pablo [Sandoval] is coming back. He’s worked his butt off. I’ve seen him down there, personally. He looks good. He was back in the fold, and they were trying to get him back to where he was a couple of years ago. It seemed like numbers-wise, position player, I was kind of the odd man out of the guys from the team last year. If they were able to fill a role they thought they needed, I thought that maybe if another team wanted me I was more expendable than the other guys in the lineup.”

Shaw is currently listed as the starting third baseman on the Brewers’ depth chart, although there is little evidence (other than superimposing a Milwaukee uniform on his Twitter avatar) during current existence that anything has changed.

“The did send me a little care package to work out in, but than that, nothing,” said Shaw. “Shirt, shorts. They wanted me to get some gear on me some time this winter.”


Pablo Sandoval is getting skinnier by the day, but there is still long way to go for Red Sox third baseman 12.17.16 at 10:53 am ET
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By all accounts, Pablo Sandoval is doing his part so far.

Our social media accounts have been flooded throughout the offseason with photos of Sandoval’s transformation, with his dentist’s approval serving as the latest Instagram example. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, and offers some hope that Year 3 of the third baseman’s five-year contract can offer some value.

But shedding the belly was just Step 1.

Sandoval seems to have the best intentions, and is attempting to put his 30-year-old body in the best position to find production. But there shouldn’t simply an assumption that the new body will immediately solve the Red Sox’ third base issues.

There is the need to have some assurances his surgically-repaired shoulder won’t be a deterrent. The last time we witnessed Sandoval as a starting third baseman, he represented one of the worst right-handed hitters in the game (finishing 2015 with a .197 clip against lefties). And, this time, from the Red Sox perspective, there isn’t an palatable fall-back if things aren’t trending in the right direction throughout spring training.

It’s hard to fathom that Sandoval got his deal after coming off a 2014 season in which he totaled a .739 OPS, which would have been 17th-best among third basemen this past year.

And this time the fail-safe isn’t going to be Travis Shaw or Yoan Moncada. It’s Josh Rutledge and/or Brock Holt.

There could be very real scenario where John Farrell chooses to use Rutledge as the third baseman against lefty pitching if there are any signs Sandoval isn’t turning things around from the right side. And if things seem like they did with Sandoval last spring training, perhaps the Red Sox bite the bullet and use Holt as the almost-everyday guy.

When you have the kind of pitching the Red Sox would seem to possess, dealing with these sort of uncertainties aren’t a deal-breaker. And, let’s be honest, we can’t forget the fact that the Red Sox won their division while totaling the absolute worst offensive production from the third base position of any team in baseball.

But the Red Sox have to deal in reality, and until the loss of Sandoval’s pounds actually translates the player we last saw four seasons ago all we have is a bunch of Instagram hearts.

How do you think Pablo Sandoval will do this season?

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