The Red Sox are willing to add payroll to improve the pitching staff

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We’re only one game into the season and there are already many questions about the Red Sox pitching staff. Andrew Bailey’s recent thumb surgery has unexpectedly pushed Alfredo Aceves into the closer role while Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront are holding down the final two spots in the starting rotation.

It’s much too soon make any judgements about whether these moves will be successful, but Red Sox president Larry Lucchino told Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe that he’s willing to increase the payroll to improve the pitching staff.

One obvious target is Roy Oswalt, who the Red Sox courted during the offseason. He’s currently aiming for a midseason return with a contender. His possible addition would potentially allow Bard or Doubront to move to the bullpen. The Red Sox have also had their eye on free agent reliever Mike Gonzalez, though he may eventually be redundant with Rich Hill on the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery. Of course, they could also increase payroll via a trade before the deadline.

The Red Sox began the season with a payroll of approximately $173 million and Lucchino said during an appearance on MLB Network Radio that he expects the team to be over the luxury tax threshold regardless.

“Our goal is to field a team with more homegrown players, fewer free agents, and to have a more manageable payroll down the road. But if you’re asking about this year, we understand that each year has to be taken on its own and this year our payroll is going to be, I’d hate to make a guess, but it’ll be well over the $178 million dollar threshold.’’

Similar to the Yankees, the Red Sox are tightening their belts with the new collective bargaining agreement in mind. With taxes shooting sky high, they can get a rebate on some luxury tax payments if they get under the threshold just once and will only be taxed as a first-time offender if they go back over in a future season.

The Astros’ pursuit of Sonny Gray is “heating up”

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Jon Morosi of MLB Networks reports that talks are “heating up” between the Astros and Athletics on a Sonny Gray trade. Gray, obviously, would represent a big upgrade for the Astros’ rotation. He has a 3.66 ERA and has struck out 85 batters while walking 28 in 91 innings.

Morosi adds that Gray is not the only option for the Astros, as they are also talking to the Tigers about a potential acquisition of Justin Verlander and Justin Wilson. That would obviously be a much tougher deal to negotiate given Verlander’s 10/5 rights giving him veto power over any trade, not to mention the massive amount of money he’s still owed on his contract.

Also: I’m pretty sure that it’s in the MLB rules that any trade between the Tigers and the Astros has to involve Brad Ausmus, C.J. Nitkowski and Jose Lima, and that’s not possible given their current occupations and/or their deaths in 2010.

Marlins trade David Phelps to the Mariners for four prospects

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The Miami Marlins have sent reliever David Phelps to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for four prospects. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand and Ken Rosenthal had rumors of the deal first, Jon Morosi, Jeff Passan and Jon Heyman (among others) all reported the trade at virtually the same time.

Phelps, 30, had a fantastic 2016 season, posting a 2.28 ERA in 64 games while striking out 11.8 batters per nine innings. He’s not been as strong this year, but he’s still been a solid setup man, posting a 3.45 ERA in 44 games while striking out 51 batters and walking 21 in 47 innings. He throws in the mid-90s and induces grounders. The Mariners could probably use rotation help more than bullpen help, but solid innings are solid innings at one point and improving your pen takes some of the pressure off of your rotation. Phelps will help Seattle with that. He’s under team control for next year too, so this is more than a rental.

The top prospect in the deal is Brayan Hernandez, a 19 year-old outfielder from Venezuela, currently playing in low-A ball. Also in the deal: righty Brandon Miller, righty Pablo Lopez and righty Lucas Schiraldi who, yes, is the son of ex-big leaguer Calvin Schiraldi. None of these guys are blue chippers, but you never know what’ll happen. It’s a volume return for the Fish.

We’ve already seen some big bullpen names move, including David Robertson, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. Among others who could be moved:  A.J. Ramos (Marlins); Justin Wilson (Tigers); Addison Reed (Mets); Jerry Blevins (Mets); Brad Hand (Padres); Tony Watson (Pirates); Juan Nicasio (Pirates); Brad Brach (Orioles); Drew Storen (Reds); and Raisel Iglesias (Reds).