Kevin Youkilis and Derek Lowe on 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot

Kevin Youkilis and Derek Lowe will always hold a special place in the heart of Red Sox fans for the role they played in winning the 2004 World Series. While they were inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame earlier this year, it was also great to see they’re on the 2019 ballot for being inducted into Cooperstown.

After the ballot was released on Monday, Youkilis took to twitter to express his gratitude for simply being on the ballot. “Don’t let anyone stop you from pursuing your dreams in life,” he wrote. “Never would I have ever dreamed about making this list but hard work, drive and a love for the game allowed me to be included with so many amazing MLB⁩ peers.”

Over the course of a 10 year career (eight of which were with the Red Sox), Youkilis made the All-Star team three times and won a Gold Glove award in 2007. He had a .281/.382/.478 batting line with 1053 hits (150 of which were homers) and 681 RBI’s. In other words, he had solid numbers that make him worthy of being on the ballot once but I have a feeling he won’t receive the 75 percent of votes needed to make it to Cooperstown. Unfortunately, I think the more compelling drama will be whether he even receives the five percent needed to stay on the ballot.

Derek Lowe also appears to be in the same situation. Lowe had a long career in which he pitched in parts of 17 MLB seasons (eight of which were with the Red Sox), was the AL saves leader while with the Red Sox in 2000, and led the NL in wins during his time with the Dodgers in 2006. He also amassed a 34.4 WAR, 1722 strikeouts, a 1.330 WHIP, and 86 saves (though it should be noted he alternated between a starting and working out of the bullpen). Perhaps most importantly to Red Sox fans, he had a 3-0 record with a 1.86 ERA during four appearances (three of them starts) in the 2004 playoffs.

Even with Youkilis and Lowe unlikely to receive the votes needed to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, it’s good to see them on the ballot as it gives fans like me a chance to think back on the Sox winning their first World Series in 86 years.

Red Sox Show Interest in Adam Ottavino

493603As the news broke that Joe Kelly signed with the Dodgers and the Red Sox would need to fill a spot in the bullpen, Adam Ottavino’s name almost immediately came onto the radar as a potential new reliever. As the Winter Meetings have passed and nobody’s signed him, there have been several reports suggesting Boston is indeed actively pursuing the 33 year old.

Jon Morosi from the MLB Network, for instance, tweeted out that the Red Sox are “showing continued interest” in Ottavino and Jon Heyman says he and David Robertson are “high on Red Sox list of back-end relief targets.”

While Ottavino’s gained a lot of attention the last few days for saying he “would strike Babe Ruth out every time,” he’s put up some decent numbers to back up his confidence and the interest in signing him. He had 112 strike outs over the course of 77.2 innings (1.44 per inning) while only giving up 25 runs (21 earned) and having a .991 WHIP during the 2018 campaign. Plus, Ottavino has had a great slider for years but recently added a sinker which greatly increased the percentage of grounders hitters get off him and limited the number of homeruns he’s given up (he only allowed five in 2018 compared to the eight he allowed in 2017 despite pitching 24 less innings).

With all that being said, there’s no guarantee Ottavino will end up in Boston. Not only are the Red Sox considering other bullpen options, but other teams are actively looking at him as well.  Joel Sherman of the New York Post, for instance, reports Brian Cashman from the Yankees has met with Ottavino’s rep and David Zurisin claims the White Sox were “nearing [a] deal” — though last week Zurisin said the “deal should be announced this weekend;” something that clearly didn’t happen.

No matter what happens with Ottavino, the Red Sox are smart to be in the discussion for one of the top relief pitching free agents. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

CBS Sports Ranks Red Sox Number 1 in MLB Power Rankings

One of the main reasons I was able to look past the Red Sox having to pay the luxury tax is the organization’s executives seemed to think last season was worth the cost and remained committed to largely keeping the team together. It appears as though baseball pundits agree with those tactics as Matt Synder over at CBS Sports put the Red Sox on top of his MLB power rankings list for the 2019 season.

Now there were some caveats that went along with the list, mainly that there are still big name free agents out there (like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado) who could change things around depending on where they sign. This is significant since the Yankees and Dodgers are ranked number two and three on the list respectively and both are heavily rumored to be in the mix for Harper and Machado.

Furthermore, you can’t ignore Boston’s bullpen situation. They definitely have to replace Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel could potentially be leaving as well — though there’s discussion about how this might result in Kimbrel signing with Boston late in the offseason after he’s forced to realize his contract demands are too high (kinda like J.D. Martinez last season). With that in mind, Synder wrote that if the Red Sox “don’t add anything to the bullpen, they probably don’t stay here to start next season.”

After the Yankees and Dodgers, the top 10 on the list is rounded out by the Astros, Cubs, Indians, Braves, Nationals, Cardinals, and Rays. It’s worth noting that this means three teams from the AL East (Red Sox, Yankees, Rays) are in the top 10 and could make the pennant race there very interesting. Synder also left the Brewers and Rockies out of the top 10, which means he thinks they’ll fall short of their 2018 playoff runs next year.

Of course, all of this should be taken with a grain of salt as power rankings lists are fun to watch and take a lot of information into account but are no substitute for how the season actually plays out. Just ask any Washington fan, for instance, as prominent pundits have projected the Nationals as World Series champs several times but they’ve yet to make it out of the first round (when they even make it to the playoffs). Even considering that, I still prefer seeing Boston at the top of the list instead of the bottom.

MLB Needs to Improve Offseason Experience for Fans

winter meetingsBetween the scouting combine (aka the underwear Olympics), the draft, franchise tag and free agency deadlines, hall of fame weekend, and so much more, the NFL has done an excellent job in keeping the attention of fans with various activities during the offseason. Even casual fans are aware of what’s going on as there’s nonstop discussion about it in the media, which only goes to maintain a more loyal fanbase that’s excited about the upcoming season. As we’re coming out of the Winter Meetings where nothing really happened, it’s clear Major League Baseball could learn from the NFL about maintaining excitement through the offseason.

Even though there are big free agents like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado this year, there hasn’t been much discussion about offseason moves beyond the media figures baseball loyalists follow. Even in the DC area where you’d think there’d be a lot of interest in whether or not Bryce Harper will stay with the Nationals, there’s hardly been any discussion of his free agency in the local media.

This isn’t helped by the fact that the Winter Meetings didn’t produce any blockbuster trades/signings. Let’s face it, even some of the more loyal baseball fans probably didn’t realize the meetings were taking place. More attention has been given to Manny Machado’s upcoming visit with the Yankees on Wednesday and the ever changing reports about Bryce Harper that vary from saying he’d be “a great fit” for New York to saying the Evil Empire has no interest in signing him.

If all these meetings and debates were held before the winter meetings, it could help lead to big signings at the meetings that would cause fans to tune in — even the casual ones like those who watch a little bit of the NFL’s scouting combine and the first round of the draft. As it stands now, free agency stretches out over several months with no real burst of energy to attract attention.

This also apparently has an impact on some baseball executives. Dave Dombrowski, Boston’s president of baseball operations, for instance, told the NY Post that “there’s not any downtime for people in the game.” To help remedy this, he suggested there be an early deadline for free agency signings — a move players would seemingly like as well. (Dombrowski claims players want to sign before the holiday season so they can know where they’ll end up and enjoy the offseason a little more). I know this definitely falls into the category of #FirstWorldProblems, but it’s worth considering since a deadline would essentially help cause more people to delight in offseason activities and be something enjoyed by folks working in professional baseball.

In addition to having some sort of free agency deadline that could help make the winter meetings more exciting, MLB could hold one big event announcing awards like MVP, rookie of the year, etc. While the current method of rolling them out over time gives pundits something to talk about for an extended period of time, there aren’t many people paying attention to these discussions. Making a big event out of it might cause more people to tune in and would still give all the pundits something to talk about — both in the lead up to the announcements and in the days following them.

You could also gain some attention by changing the service time required before a player can go into free agency — or at least make some tweaks to the arbitration system that could lead to bigger contracts for a younger players. By shortening the time before players hit free agency, there will be more opportunity to market the young superstars who could land gigantic contracts. Both the contract signings during the offseason and the marketing of these individuals will be good for baseball.

With all that being said, I realize there are differences between the NFL and MLB that would make it a little difficult to build as much energy over the winter break. The MLB amateur draft, for instance, kind of has to be held during the regular season due to the timing of high school and college seasons. Even if it was held in the offseason, most players drafted will never make it to the big leagues and even future all stars will only get there after years in the minors. This makes it very difficult to turn the MLB draft into the same attention grabbing event the NFL draft has become.

In the end, baseball simply needs to change some stuff up in order to attract new fans. The good news is they seem to understand this as they’ve been making some relatively small changes in recent years like limiting the number of mound visits and enforcing a time limit between innings. They’re also considering implementing a pitch clock to even further help increase the pace of play. Hopefully we’ll continue seeing more developments like these that could cultivate more fan enthusiasm.

Red Sox Owe $12 Million in Luxury Tax

The Boston Red Sox will have to pay just under $12 million in a luxury tax after being $40 million over the tax threshold. The team’s salary was so high, in fact, that it also caused a new rule to kick in that will drop Boston’s first pick 10 slots in the upcoming amateur draft. As a result, the Red Sox will have their first pick at number 43 overall.

While the impact on draft picks is new, the Red Sox have been very familiar with the luxury tax over the years. They had to pay it during three of their four championship seasons (2013 was the only champion season they were under the cap) and nine of the last 16 seasons. Fortunately, since they were under the cap in 2017, the tax rate for being over in 2018 dropped to 28% (the rate increases every season an organization is over the cap).

It’s noteworthy that while the Red Sox are accustomed to paying the luxury tax, it isn’t terribly common league wide. The only other team that will have to pay for 2018, for instance, is the Washington Nationals — though they’re paying for the second year in a row. Even the Yankees, who folks love to hate for trying to buy championships and had been over the limit for 15 straight years, spent less than the $197 million cap. Their $193 million in salary was $46.5 million less than the $239.5 million Boston paid out.

On top of that, only eight teams have gone over the tax threshold over the years. Plus, the only other teams to have to pay the luxury tax during a World Series championship season were the 2009 New York Yankees and the 2016 Chicago Cubs.

Most of Boston’s fans probably believe the World Series championship makes the $12 million in taxes worth it and it doesn’t seemed to have phased executives inside the organization. Dave Dombrowski, the president of baseball operations, has said the team will likely be going over the tax threshold next year as well. It also makes sense strategically as the team isn’t expected to make any big moves this offseason, which means they don’t really have to worry about the impact a big free agent would have on their relationship to the salary cap.

Joe Kelly Signs With LA Dodgers

Joe Kelly will forever be in the hearts of Red Sox fans as he struck out the side in the eighth inning during the World Series clincher this year. He’s also gained some lighthearted attention for his national anthem standoff with Scott Van Slyke of the Dodgers when he was with the Cardinals. But he’s no longer going to be in Boston as he’s signed a three year contract with the Dodgers worth $25 million.

When Kelly first came to the Red Sox back in 2014 he was used as a starter, but transitioned over to the bullpen starting in 2017. Since that move, he’s been able to use a knuckle curve and low spin rate fastball to keep batters on their toes and limiting homeruns by having a lot of folks only hit grounders.

While he’s produced decent numbers during the regular season (he had a .5 WAR with 68 strikeouts over 65.2 innings and a 1.355 WHIP in 2018), it’s the postseason that likely allowed him to get a large contract. He only gave up two runs during the 2018 championship run (both in the ALCS and only one was earned) and eight hits in 11.1 innings. He also struck out 13 of the 44 batters he faced during the postseason, with 10 of those strikeouts coming during the World Series.

There are plenty of reasons why players decide to sign with a new team, especially after their current one just won the World Series. It appears as though length of contract was a big one for Kelly as he’s said the Dodgers were the only team to offer him a three year deal and that’s where he ended up going. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that his offseason home is 45 minutes away from Dodgers Stadium and the move would put him with another historic organization that’s a World Series contender.

It’s never fun for fans to see someone like Kelly leave the organization — especially after role he played in the playoffs — but most folks understand his decision to leave and wish him well. The obvious result of Kelly’s departure, however, is that Boston will need to find someone to replace him — something that could become even more complicated if Craig Kimbrel ends up leaving town.

Adam Ottavino spent last year with the Colorado Rockies and is one potential pickup for Boston. He’s produced decent numbers and definitely has a lot of confidence as he recently said he “would strike Babe Ruth out every time.” The quote was given in the middle of a discussion about how Ottavino thinks the game’s changed over the years and Ruth might not do as well in general, but it still says a lot about his confidence.

David Robertson is another potential relief pitcher the Red Sox could go after. He spent last year with the New York Yankees and had 91 strike outs over 69.2 innings while holding batters to a .183 average and a 1.033 WHIP. Plus, he could potentially come at a bargain price as he’s serving as his own agent.

There are a few other names out there to consider, but the clear message is Kelly’s departure isn’t devastating for Boston’s chances in 2019. They’ll simply have to act decisively and make sure to secure someone who can produce.