Winter Meetings, Day 1: Red Sox still eyeing $208 million

Rob Bradford
December 10, 2019 - 7:45 am
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With the Baseball Winter Meetings kicking off in San Diego Monday the Red Sox' lot in life revolves around one important element: getting their payroll under the $208 million Luxury Tax Threshold.

The target is why you aren't hearing the Sox in on virtually any free agents and the impetus behind most trade rumors involving their major league players.

"Nothing has changed with regard to that," Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom told reporters. "Everything is still as it was laid out early in the offseason. It’s still a goal. And I think certainly a realistic goal, though obviously, we’re not there right now. And there’s a lot of different potential paths you could line up to get us there. But that kind of ties into overall with the offseason there’s a lot of different things that could potentially happen. But it’s still a goal."

The Red Sox' payroll is currently just more than $10 million north of the luxury tax line.

A small example of the Sox' approach is that Bloom passed along that the Sox are simply monitoring the markets of free agents Brock Holt and Rick Porcello, while not currently actively pursuing either.

So, while Bloom and Co. hatch their plan up in the suite at the Manchester Hyatt, Alex Cora has continued to go about the business of managing what his team already has. With each manager obligated to meet with the media for 30 minutes once during the four-day event, it was the Sox' skipper's turn Monday ...

- Cora reiterated what Andrew Benintendi told WEEI.com on the last day of the regular season: the outfielder would be changing his approach when it came to his physique.

"Actually, Benny is in a better place, I do believe, physically," Cora said. "It's not that he was out of shape, but his body was different last year. He was stronger, and some of his moves were slower than in previous years. I don't know if he wanted to hit home runs or he felt like he lost so much weight in the previous season that he needed to show up a little bit heavier or stronger, and obviously it didn't work out.  He's actually going back to be the athlete that we like to see. He's a better player. He can hit for power and hit for average. There's a few things, as far as mechanics, that we've been talking about it with Timmy and Peter, and if we get there, he'll be good. 

"If you guys think that that's the real Benny striking out 130 times, I don't see it. He's a better hitter than that, and hopefully he can put the ball in play a little bit more and he can hit for average and be the athletic player we saw a few years ago."

- Cora offered updates on each of his high-priced starters ...

Chris Sale:  "I texted him the other day what he did to his university, that was amazing, not forgetting where you come from. That was great. Physically, he's in a good spot. He's in a good place. He's been very consistent with his rehab. Obviously, not sleeping that much because of the birth of the baby. We've got a few guys like that, but physically he's in a good spot. Mentally he's in a good spot. I hate to say he's on a mission, but obviously, he wasn't happy with the way the season went last year. He was trending up when he got hurt at the end. So hopefully he can bounce back, be ready for Spring Training, and be ready for the opening series."

David Price: "David is doing good. Actually, he played catch two days ago or yesterday, and a little bit different. The feeling is different. Obviously, he's been dealing with this for a while, and it's been a grind for David to go out there and perform. He feels a little bit looser with the wrist. The feel of the ball is different, and there haven't been setbacks. As of now, everything is trending the right way. The goal is for him to be ready for the opening series."

Nathan Eovaldi: "First of all, health is important, and we talked about it. For him to finish the season pitching, that was a step towards the right direction. That start against Tampa, the second to last, it was really good, the way he used his fastball, the breaking ball, the rhythm on the mound, it was good.  He's healthy in the off-season. He's working his craft. We know what he can do. We've seen it before. I do believe as a staff we need to be more aggressive in the strike zone. You saw the numbers, you see the numbers. Eduardo (Rodriguez) was great, but he led the league in walks. So there's a jab for Eduardo. The same thing with our bullpen. There were a lot of big counts. We need to avoid that.  I think stuff-wise we're right up there with the best in the league. It's just a matter of going up there and attack the strike zone."

- Cora was optimistic when talking about the relationship with his new boss, Bloom.

"It's been good. Like I said, a few weeks ago, had the pleasure with Dave (Dombrowski). You know, Dave has been in the business for, what, 40 years. You're in the business for 40 years, you're not lucky, you're good. Chaim, who's, what, 36? It seems like he's been in the business for 20 years. He's really good. Obviously, they operate differently, but the goal is to win the World Series. I think we see the game very similar. Obviously, he's going to bring some cool ideas. We're going to make some adjustments in a few things, but I don't think it's going to change that much. I think in the end as an organization our goal is to win the World Series and be consistent. You heard him earlier probably. He talked to the media, I guess, and he talk about be consistent and just be creative and get better on a daily basis, and hopefully we can accomplish that."

- Cora wouldn't address questions regarding the Astros' cheating scandal, only saying, "I'm not going to talk about the subject out of respect for the investigation."

- The Sox manager said he has been in touch with Mookie Betts quite a bit, saying, "He's in a good place."

"It's the same relationship," Cora added. "One thing for sure, in this process, you're going to release players, guys are going to get called up, guys are going to get demoted, guys are going to get traded, but in the end, the relationship is still there. He's a guy that we like. We believe in him, and we know how much he can impact the game of baseball. So looking forward to managing him."

- One place Cora clearly wants the Red Sox to improve is defensively, and that includes in an outfield that was supposed to represent one of the best defensive groups in the majors.

"Inconsistent. Yeah, we were inconsistent not only in the infield, but I think in the outfield. We saw that early in the season. For how great they are, I do believe that there's more there, and we'll address it. We'll address it. I think Benny can become a complete player. I know he's been in the final vote of the gold glove the last two years, but I think he can make some strides. I think early in the season we were a step slower than the other teams, and we paid the price because of that, as far as like communication and the way we were moving in the outfield. We can do better. 

"I think the next step for Xander (Bogaerts) is to become a better defensive player. For how sure-handed he is, I think his first step can be better. He's that good of an athlete, so that's the next challenge. If we do that, we'll be better. Turnover play, we have to do that. It's funny because I mentioned that in Orlando a few years ago. Double plays are game-changers. You don't turn over the play, you pay the price. You turn over the play, you go and hit and score runs. So we have to do better than that. 

"Defensively behind the plate, for how great he was, blocking wasn't great for Christian (Vazquez). He's working on that. There's a few things that I have learned over the last two months that we didn't do right, and we can do better. If we do that, we're going to have a good season."