The Red Sox’ season officially ended Sunday with a Mookie Betts head-first slide into home plate, followed by an emotional Betts pounding his chest in celebratory fashion. The Sox escaped with a 5-4 walkoff win over the Baltimore Orioles, capping a season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
On Monday, the Sox quickly turned the page, hosting their end-of-year media availability session. President/CEO Sam Kennedy, followed by manager Alex Cora and assistant general managers Eddie Romero and Brian O’Halloran, met with reporters to address a plethora of topics. Betts, and his future with the club, was at the center of it.
Kennedy made it clear that the Sox consider Betts a once-in-a-lifetime talent, but said it will be hard for both him and J.D. Martinez to be in Boston uniforms next season.
Betts made $20 million this season and is certainly due for a bump in his final year of arbitration. If Martinez decides to opt in to his $23.75 million option, the Sox might have a decision to make.
“There’s a way,” Kennedy acknowledged. “But obviously it will be difficult, given the nature and the agreements of the contracts that we have.
“Look, we have a very targeted and strategic plan that we’re building right now. We’ve had some time in September to focus on the offseason, given where we were in the standings. It’s going to be a challenging offseason but we’re ready to attack it head-on.”
Former president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski made some moves last offseason that has the Sox’ hands tied. They signed Nathan Eovaldi (who has had two Tommy John surgeries in his career) to a four-year, $68 million deal. They then signed Chris Sale to a five-year, $145 million extension, and he finished the season on the injured list.
The Sox and Betts’s representatives have had talks regarding an extension, but Betts and his group have declined the offers. Instead, Betts has elected to bet on himself and finish out the rest of his arbitration years before hitting free agency at the end of 2020.
“It’s not frustrating,” Kennedy said. “I think it speaks to Mookie’s confidence and how special of a player he is. He loves it here. He’s told me he loves it here.”
Do they trade Betts or Martinez? Or both?
It would be tough with Betts because he is a franchise player. In what many critics called a down season, Betts hit .295 with 29 homers, a .391 on-base percentage, and a .915 OPS. He led the league in runs with 135. He also led all outfielders with an ultimate zone rating of 13.0, according to Fangraphs.
“We’ll continue to talk,” Kennedy said. “But Mookie’s an MVP and has been an incredible member of the Red Sox and represents what you want in a baseball operations organization.”
Goal, not a mandate
Red Sox principal owner John Henry said Friday he wants to stay below the $208 million competitive balance tax next season. But Kennedy clarified that Monday.
“John made it clear that there is a goal to try and get under the CBT in 2020, but he also said that that is a goal but not a mandate,” said Kennedy. “I spent some time over the weekend talking as a group with the baseball operations transition team about some scenarios where you could see the possibility if there are strategic decisions that would cause us to go over.”
When asked if the team would be willing to go over the CBT for Betts, Kennedy didn’t offer much comment other than the Sox would see how the offseason developed. The payroll in 2019 was approximately $240 million.
No interviews yet
It appears the search for a new general manager will be a long process. Ownership said the new GM most likely will come from outside the organization. But as of Monday, they had not contacted any organizations to speak to candidates. The Sox compiled a list of candidates, and each of them is employed by another team.
“We haven’t had any interviews, formal or even informal conversations with candidates who are not in major league baseball,” Kennedy said. “But I want to be clear that we are not ruling anything out at this stage.”
Kennedy said ticket prices will change at Fenway Park next season.
“We’ve taken a pretty consistent approach to ticket pricing the last four-five years,” Kennedy said. “I would anticipate another modest increase.”
Cora’s job is safe for 2020. His staff, however, will learn its fate this week.
“We’re going to meet as a group in the upcoming days,” Cora said. “Obviously, in every organization there are changes. I don’t know what kind of changes we’re going to make. We’ll address the situation and make decisions accordingly.”
The biggest question mark probably is pitching coach Dana LeVangie. If the Sox decide to part ways with him, it will come just before his 30th year in the organization. They also could reassign him if they do in fact want a new voice as pitching coach.
The Sox pitching staff had a 4.70 ERA this year, but they dealt with a ton of injuries, too.
Slowly with Sale
Sale hasn’t seen Dr. James Andrews since receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection in his left elbow on Aug. 19. Sale originally was supposed to visit him six weeks after the injection, and Monday was that six-week marker.
Once the Sox fell out of contention, the medical staff decided to slow down Sale’s rehab process given there would no games in October to shoot for. The next visit with Andrews should be later this month.
“We’re taking it step by step with Chris,” O’Halloran said.
Sale has not tried throwing since he was shut down. The start of his offseason program will be contingent on the next exam.
David Price, meanwhile, should have a regular offseason after having a cyst removed from his wrist.
Infielder Marco Hernandez will play in the Dominican Winter League with the Tigres Del Licey club, Romero said. Hernandez finished with a .250 average this season, but he struggled in September, hitting just .169 with 23 strikeouts in 60 plate appearances. Cora and Romero want to get him as many at-bats as possible heading into next season. He also will see time in the outfield during winter ball as the Sox attempt to turn him into a utility player.
Michael Chavis, on the other hand, appears as if he will be shut down. He was supposed to play his winter ball in Puerto Rico but suffered an oblique strain in early September that kept him out for the season.
“For now, the plan is to hold off,” Romero said. “It’s a possibility, but we want to make sure he’s 100 percent.”
Tzu-Wei Lin is healthy and will play in the Asian Games.
Honor for Workman
Brandon Workman was named American League Reliever of the Month for September after making 12 appearances, giving up no earned runs, and logging 18 strikeouts. He allowed just three hits in that span.
Workman finished the season with a 1.88 ERA in 71⅔ innings and gave up just one homer the entire year.