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Red Sox avoid arbitration with Tyler Thornburg, sign him to one-year deal

Tyler Thornburg appeared in 25 games in 2018, throwing 24 innings and recording a 5.63 ERA.
Tyler Thornburg appeared in 25 games in 2018, throwing 24 innings and recording a 5.63 ERA.Maddie Meyer/Getty

Dave Dombrowski has made few mistakes since becoming president of baseball operations of the Red Sox in 2015. Three playoff appearances and last season’s World Series championship attest to that.

The glaring exception was the Dec. 6, 2016, trade that sent infielder Travis Shaw and three prospects to the Milwaukee Brewers for righthanded reliever Tyler Thornburg.

Shaw has since had an .844 OPS in 296 games for Milwaukee, with 63 home runs and 187 RBIs. Thornburg missed all of 2017 recovering from thoracic outlet shoulder surgery and last season appeared in only 25 games and had a 5.63 earned run average and 1.58 WHIP.


But Dombrowski isn’t giving up on the deal. The Sox on Friday signed Thornburg to a one-year contract worth $1.75 million, with incentives worth a potential $400,000. The incentives are tied to appearances.

It’s a low-cost risk for the Sox to see if the 30-year-old Thornburg can regain the form that made him one of the National League’s best relievers in 2016.

The contract is not guaranteed, so the Sox could drop Thornburg in spring training if he has not shown sufficient progress.

The alternatives would have been going through arbitration, which could have landed Thornburg a deal worth $2.3 million based on projections, or releasing him.

The Sox also offered contracts to 29 unsigned players on their 40-man roster, which secures their rights for 2018. Eleven of those players are eligible for arbitration.

The Sox have until Jan. 11 to reach agreements with those arbitration players.

If no agreement is in place at that point, the sides would exchange figures, with hearings starting Jan. 28 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

A player can sign right up until the hearing.

The arbitration-eligible players are righthander Matt Barnes, right fielder Mookie Betts, shortstop Xander Bogaerts, center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., righthander Heath Hembree, infielder Brock Holt, catcher Sandy Leon, lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez, catcher Blake Swihart, righthander Steven Wright, and righthander Brandon Workman.


Only Betts, Bogaerts, and Bradley are projected to make more than $4.8 million in the process.

Betts was awarded a $10.5 million salary in a hearing before the start of last season. The Sox had countered with $7.5 million. It was the first arbitration hearing the Sox lost since 1997.

MLB Trade Rumors, which has an accurate formula, projects Betts to receive $18.7 million. The record for a player in his second year of arbitration is $14 million by Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009.

Betts was voted Most Valuable Player of the American League and won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. The 26-year-old hit .346 with a 1.078 OPS, 129 runs, 30 stolen bases, and 32 home runs.

Betts has said he is willing to go year by year in his negotiations with the Red Sox and has so far turned down opportunities to negotiate a long-term deal.

Bogaerts ($11.9 million) and Bradley ($7.9 million) also are due significant raises based on projections.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on twitter @PeteAbe.