After he finished his impressive season with Triple A Pawtucket, Bryce Brentz received the bad news and got into his car to start the 18-hour drive home to Murfreesboro, Tenn., contemplating the next chapter of his baseball career.
Most players in Brentz’s shoes — he led the International League with 31 home runs — would have been promoted to a big league team in September. But Brentz, a 28-year-old righthanded slugger who has spent eight years in the Sox farm system, did not get the call. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski concluded there was no spot for Brentz on the 40-man roster, and no playing time for him, either.
It was hard to fathom how a team that ranks last in the American League in homers wouldn’t want to promote the IL home run champion.
When Red Sox vice president of player development Ben Crockett and the Pawtucket staff gathered after the PawSox’ final game to break the news to Brentz, the outfielder acknowledged being disappointed but took the high road.
“It serves no purpose to let it linger,” Brentz said. “I’ve known the situation I was in with the [40-man] roster spot and everything. I didn’t expect anything.
“Deserving it has nothing to do with it in this game. I put myself in a good position, but whatever they said when I walked into the meeting, there’s nothing I could say or have done to change the situation. So when they told me, I made a little joke about how it was that day’s game — I went 0 for 4 — that must have done it. I just tried to lighten the mood.”
Brentz has 90 plate appearances with the Red Sox over two seasons (2014 and 2016), hitting .287 with one homer and nine RBIs.
“I got drafted in 2010 [36th overall out of Middle Tennessee State] and was in Triple A by ’12. There was a sense that, OK, next year is going to be the year and then it was injury, injury, injury.
“I couldn’t catch a break and I was missing out, and having only 200 at-bats [a year] . . . if you hit a slump it’s not going to look pretty. If you hit a slump with 450 at-bats, it’s a different story.”
Brentz hung in there and the Red Sox hung in there with him until they removed him from the 40-man roster after the 2016 season. That’s why the September snub — at the peak of his career — seemed strange if not unfair.
“It seemed that way,” Brentz said. “But I didn’t fit whatever need they were looking for. I can only control what I can control. The 40-man was part of it. They’re full. It’s a hard decision to explain, but I decided to just move on and tell myself that I need to put up better numbers where nobody can deny you.
“There are a lot of times they could have done away with me just as easy. They could have taken me off the roster when I was hurt and hadn’t produced coming back from injuries.”
Brentz accidentally shot himself in the leg while cleaning a handgun a few months before the 2013 season. Even though Brentz said he suffered only a minor wound and that he was ready to start spring training, the Red Sox punished him by not allowing him to take part in major league camp, despite Brentz hitting .290 with 17 homers and 76 RBIs between Double and Triple A in 2012.
“It wasn’t a significant injury at all,” Brentz said. “I lost time. I was healed when I walked into spring training. But it didn’t matter. They could have kept it in house and nothing would have been known. It was another decision that didn’t make sense to me. They made a big firestorm out of it.”
Now comes free agency.
“I am looking forward to it,” Brentz said.
Would he ever return to the Red Sox?
“I don’t know. I brought it up and they want to talk and I am anxious to see what they have to say,” he said. “My agent and I have been talking and seeing what the right fit might be. I think if [the Red Sox] were interested in me next year they would have made a spot for me. I’ll give them a fair opportunity. I won’t hang anything over their heads. We’ll talk and see what happens.”
Brentz would love to land a major league contract. There’s already interest in him in Japan, where they love home run hitters.
Brentz has always had power, but a suggestion from Pawtucket hitting coach Rich Gedman in late May led to a significant rise in his homer total. Gedman recommended Brentz use a toe-tap to trigger his swing. He tried it and it worked famously. Brentz hit 24 of his 31 homers after May 24. He also knocked in 85 runs on the year.
“I wish I had started toe-tapping in April or February even. We wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Brentz kidded. “It was a different season after that.”
Brentz also won the Home Run Derby at the Triple A All-Star Game in July. Fortunately for him, he didn’t fall into a deep slump afterward like the Yankees’ Aaron Judge did after winning MLB’s Home Run Derby. Brentz thought the competition affected him a bit, but Gedman assured him, “No it didn’t. Check the numbers.”
When the season ended, Brentz checked his numbers. Everyone checked his numbers. He couldn’t have performed any better.
In so many ways it was the best of times for Brentz, but that 18-hour ride back home — rather than a 60-minute trip to Boston — felt like the worst of times.
Multiple ways to pick up the pace
Leftovers from commissioner Rob Manfred’s recent visit to Fenway Park:
Q. Why was Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez allowed to play in the Red Sox-Yankees series instead of serving his suspension for his role in the Tigers-Yankees brawl?
A. “I think that the best way for me to answer that question is that the Sanchez appeal suspension was handled consistent with the process that has existed in baseball for literally decades, that when a player is suspended for on-field misconduct he has the right to appeal because you can’t give a missed game back to a player. The hearings are scheduled as promptly as they can be scheduled — usually within 10 days. It becomes difficult to do that when you have large numbers of suspensions coming out of one incident, particularly when the two teams go in different directions. You have one hearing officer and it’s very difficult to get them all done within that 10-day period. And often these matters are settled before they get to hearings. I see the Sanchez thing as sort of standard operating procedure.”
Q. Do you see one or two major areas in pace of play that have to be addressed?
A. “I think the biggest issue and the issue that makes the most sense from a policy perspective is to deal with issues that relate to what I call ‘dead time.’ Pitchers taking too long to deliver the ball, mound visits — you know, 32 mound visits in a half-inning. I think our inning breaks are something we need to look really hard at. I think we need to at a minimum tighten them up. I think we need to be open to considering changes in our commercial load. Every inning break from a broadcast perspective is an opportunity for a fan to tune away from our game. The shorter those breaks are, the shorter the opportunity for them to turn away.”
Q. Are the rumors about the new Marlins ownership slashing payroll by 50 percent true, and are you concerned by that?
A. “I talked to [new Marlins owner] Bruce Sherman this morning. I think that the Marlins, the new ownership, once they are approved, are intent on putting a competitive product on the field and improving the financial performance of that club in the market. I don’t think there has been any predetermination that they are going to X, Y, or Z payroll level. And in fact, Mr. Sherman told me he had no idea where those press reports were emanating from, and that it was not reflective of any discussion that he had internally with his group.”
Apropos of nothing
1. John Harrington, a tremendously decent man who ran the Red Sox for the Yawkey family after Tom Yawkey’s death in 1976, referred to a Will McDonough story in the Globe dated April 17, 1986, in which McDonough asked Sox general manager Dick O’Connell about Yawkey’s alleged racism. McDonough wrote, “When I asked O’Connell about the racism and Yawkey, he told me, ‘It was just the opposite. In meetings, he [Yawkey] would ask me why we didn’t have more black ballplayers.’ ” Said Harrington, “We will never change the regrettable fact that the Red Sox were the last team in major league baseball to field an African-American player, but unfounded speculation on why that happened has been malicious and baseless. I was not there in the 1950s, but I was working with Tom when players such as Jim Rice, Luis Tiant, and Reggie Smith were playing for the Red Sox.”
2. The Blue Jays may be struggling, but in the not-too-distant future they will have shortstop Bo Bichette and third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in their lineup. They are two of the top prospects in baseball. Guerrero, 18, hit .323 with 13 homers, 76 RBIs, and a .910 OPS at two levels of Single A this season. Bichette, 19, hit .362 with 14 homers, 74 RBIs, and a .988 OPS, also with Lansing and Dunedin. They could be a year or two away from the majors, but their path would become clearer should Toronto trade Josh Donaldson or move Troy Tulowitzki to another position as he gets older. Also on that Dunedin team was Cavan Biggio, a 22-year-old second baseman and the son of Craig Biggio. He hit only .233 but hit 11 homers and drove in 60 runs.
3. One of the incriminating videos from the Red Sox’ Apple Watch scandal comes from their 12-10 comeback win over the Indians on Aug. 1 at Fenway. The Indians were aware of the cheating at the time but didn’t raise much of a stink because of the relationship between Terry Francona and John Farrell.
4. Jerry Remy is headed into his second round of chemo. He reports the first round was tolerable.
5. Seems to me that Mets network analyst Ron Darling is on the money about his observation that the team’s football-based weightlifting program under strength and conditioning adviser Mike Barwis has led to numerous pitching injuries. The Mets haven’t wanted to hear it, though.
6. Would the Mets trade a starting pitcher to the Blue Jays for Donaldson?
Updates on nine
1. Doug Fister, RHP, Red Sox — He was considered a fringe back-end starter last offseason and many teams refused to give Fister a major league deal. He went unsigned until the Angels gave him a minor league deal in May. But Fister shouldn’t have a similar problem this winter. “For all I had put into the game, I felt I wasn’t going to settle for anything less,” he said. Fister is a pitcher, not a thrower, and they are rare in this power-oriented era.
2. Brian Cashman, general manager, Yankees — Cashman didn’t see two-way Japanese star Shohei Otani at his best last month (given that it was Otani’s first pitching start since returning from an injury), but he wanted to make sure that Otani knew that he had traveled to Japan to watch him in person and show through actions how interested the Yankees are.
3. Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Marlins — In my crystal ball, the Giants are the front-runners for Stanton right now. The Phillies, Braves, Yankees, Cardinals, and Red Sox also seem to have a fighting chance to obtain the native Californian.
4. Eduardo Nunez, INF, Red Sox — The Mets could become a major player for Nunez this offseason with David Wright facing more surgery. The Red Sox will likely make a bid to retain him in free agency, and Nunez enjoys the Sox, but it’s not certain the Sox would offer a multiyear deal for someone to serve as a utilityman, while the Mets could offer Nunez an everyday role.
5. Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals — The Giants are a possible landing spot for Moustakas as they don’t see Pablo Sandoval as a long-term solution at third.
The Mets, Phillies, Braves, and Angels could have interest in Moustakas.
6. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Rangers — Texas rewarded Middlebrooks’s strong season at Triple A Round Rock with a spot on the 40-man roster and call-up. Middlebrooks then set a major league record by hitting pinch-hit triples in both games of a doubleheader.
7. Matt Cain, RHP, Giants — San Francisco Chronicle baseball writer John Shea wrote a compelling piece on Cain’s future. It appears the Giants will buy the 32-year-old righthander out of his 2018 option for $7.5 million rather than bring him back for $21 million.
Cain mentioned the possibility of retiring so he’d spend his whole career with one franchise. The saved money would allow the Giants to acquire a significant hitter.
8. Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles — Dan Duquette said the Orioles will likely try to reopen contract talks with Machado, who can become a free agent after the 2018 season. Duquette said the team has tried at least twice to get a long-term deal done. Duquette wouldn’t say what he would do if this next attempt fails, but it may be that the Orioles will have no choice but to shop him around.
9. Joe Mauer, 1B, Twins — One more year at $23 million remains on that eight-year, $184 million deal. Mauer has actually had a good year — .306 average and .810 OPS entering Friday, though with only six homers and 56 RBIs. He earned his deal as a catcher, but his power numbers don’t fit as a first baseman. He was concussed in 2013 and his production fell way off from 2014-16. Prior to that, he won an MVP, three batting titles, and three Gold Gloves and made six All-Star appearances. Those who follow the Twins believe Mauer, 34, should be in the hunt for his first Gold Glove at first base.
From the Bill Chuck files — “From 2015–2017: Khris Davis has 108 HRs and Chris Davis has 108 HRs.” . . . Also, “Obviously backwards — The Danvers (Mass.) High School Football Falcons have a new football coach: Ryan Nolan.” . . . Happy birthday, Nick Green (39).
Who are these guys?
The Minnesota Twins have a chance this season to become the first team to make the playoffs a year after losing 100 or more games. The extra wild card is helping their cause, but by any measure it’s quite a turnaround to go from winning 59 games to being on pace to win 85, a 26-win improvement. It’s not the biggest turnaround, however, since baseball went to the playoff format in 1969. Here are the five biggest bounce-back seasons since ’69: