Masahiro Tanaka

Where will the Red Sox spend this winter?

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With Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia all filing for free agency, the world champion Red Sox would seem to have a whole lot of flexibility this winter. Even without signing any replacements, they have a perfectly legitimate 25-man roster ready to go:

SS: Xander Bogaerts: $500,000
RF: Shane Victorino: $13 million
2B: Dustin Pedroia: $10 million
DH: David Ortiz: $15 million
LF: Jonny Gomes: $5 million
1B: Daniel Nava: $580,000
3B: Will Middlebrooks: $520,000
CF: Jackie Bradley Jr.: $500,000
C: David Ross: $3.1 million

C: Ryan Lavarnway: $500,000
1B-OF: Mike Carp: $1 million (arbitration)
2B-OF: Alex Castellanos: $500,000
INF: Brock Holt: $500,000

SP: Jon Lester: $13 million
SP: John Lackey: $15.25 million
SP: Clay Buchholz: $7.7 million
SP: Jake Peavy: $14.5 million
SP: Felix Doubront: $580,000

RP: Koji Uehara: $4.25 million
RP: Junichi Tazawa: $2 million (arbitration)
RP: Craig Breslow: $3.825 million
RP: Brandon Workman: $500,000
RP: Andrew Miller: $1.8 million (arbitration)
RP: Ryan Dempster: $13.25 million
RP: Alex Wilson: $500,000

Obviously, that’s not the group they’ll head into Opening Day with, but if they did, it would give them a $127.75 million payroll, down from a peak of $175 million in 2012 and about $155 million (not counting Napoli’s $8 million in incentives) in 2013.

The only arbitration choices to make are on Miller, Andrew Bailey and Franklin Morales. Miller seemed to be coming into his own prior to his July foot injury, so I’m guessing the Red Sox keep him, which would make Morales expendable. Both would be due about $1.8 million in arbitration. Bailey would probably command $4.5 million or so, and after major shoulder surgery, he’s not an option at that price.

One other thing the Red Sox could do: pay part of Dempster’s contract to move him elsewhere. He’s their sixth best starter as is, and it’s doubtful he’d be happy working in middle relief. The Red Sox could potentially free up another $8 million-$10 million by dealing him.

So, the Red Sox have at least $30 million and maybe as much as $50 million to play with this winter and not a single dire need to fill. That makes it an easier call to extend $14.1 million qualifying offers to Napoli and Drew and maybe to Saltalamacchia as well. Salty might accept his, but that’s not such a bad thing; the Red Sox would be overpaying by $3 million-$4 million, but it’d be just the one-year commitment. Despite his postseason struggles, Salty is a quality starting catcher and seemingly a big upgrade over Lavarnway.

There’s a slim chance Drew could also accept his qualifying offer, though he shouldn’t have any problem landing a three-year contract elsewhere. Again, that wouldn’t be so bad; Drew at shortstop and Bogaerts at third base is probably an upgrade over Bogaerts at short and Middlebrooks at third.

But let’s say Salty and Drew depart. Where might Boston’s money go? Some candidates:

– Masahiro Tanaka: The pitching prize of the offseason, Tanaka is a 25-year-old coming off a perfect 24-0 season with a 1.27 ERA in Japan. The Red Sox aren’t likely to target any middling starters with six guys already under contract and prospects behind them, but Tanaka would be very appealing if the Red Sox believe he’s at least a long-term No. 2. For one thing, the posting fee wouldn’t count against the luxury tax, just his likely $10 million-$12 million annual salary. He also wouldn’t cost a draft pick. What he will cost is at least $100 million overall, in terms of his posting fee and contract.

– Shin-Soo Choo: The Red Sox have Bradley to step in for Ellsbury in center field, but he’s probably not ready to take over the leadoff spot. Choo would be a huge asset there after posting a .423 on-base percentage with the Reds last season. He’d play left field in Boston, shifting Jonny Gomes to the bench.

– Carlos Beltran: If not Choo, then why not one of the greatest postseason players of all-time? Beltran can’t cover all that much ground in the outfield any longer, but that wouldn’t be an issue playing left field in Fenway. He’s still one of the game’s top offensive outfielders, having hit .296/.339/.491 for the Cardinals last season. Plus, unlike Choo, he shouldn’t require more than a two-year commitment.

– Napoli: Of Boston’s free agents, Napoli is the most likely to return. The Red Sox don’t have a real answer at first base in the farm system. A Nava-Middlebrooks platoon would likely work as a stopgap, with Carp also there to step in if Nava slumps or is needed in the outfield, but Napoli offers the team’s best source of right-handed power and surprisingly strong defense.

– Brian McCann: McCann is a more likely fit for the Yankees or Rangers, but he’s the one catcher out there who looks like an upgrade over Saltalamacchia. If the Red Sox signed him, they could recreate the McCann-Ross platoon that worked so well for Atlanta for four years.

– Jesse Crain: The Red Sox will probably add one name reliever to help in a setup capacity, plus a couple of other arms to compete for the last spot. Crain and Joe Smith are probably the top two relievers available among those not looking for a closer’s role. They’ll be costly, but with the Red Sox’s budget, that’s not a problem.

– Eric Chavez: If the Red Sox do go cheap and pencil in Bradley and Bogaerts as starters, expect them to spend to upgrade the bench. Chavez would give them a third baseman to pair with Middlebrooks, at least when he’s healthy. Chris Young or David DeJesus would give them a fallback in case Bradley disappoints and a legitimate starter if someone gets hurt. And, while it probably won’t happen, Kevin Youkilis would be an interesting fit as a part-time first baseman and third baseman. The Red Sox have the ability to spend starter-type money on part-time players, and while that’s not a role for everyone, some will find it attractive.

Julio Urias is on his way back to the majors

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 27:  Julio Urias #78 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches against the New York Mets during their game at Citi Field on May 27, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Dodgers 19-year-old rookie Julio Urias is coming back to the majors and Alex Wood is headed to the 15-day disabled list with left elbow soreness, Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times reports. Urias will likely start Saturday against the Braves, which will mark his debut in front of the home crowd.

Urias made his major league debut on Friday against the Mets at Citi Field, but lasted only 2 2/3 innings. He yielded three runs on five hits and four walks with three strikeouts.

Urias came into the season rated as the Dodgers’ #1 prospect and the #2 overall prospect in baseball. Prior to his promotion, he had compiled a 1.10 ERA with 44 strikeouts and eight walks over 41 innings with Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Mookie Betts enjoys a three-homer game against the Orioles

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 31: Mookie Betts #50 of the Boston Red Sox follows his three run homer against the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 31, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The Red Sox seem to have hit the jackpot on all of their young players so far this year. Jackie Bradley, Jr. just had a 29-game hitting streak snapped. Xander Bogaerts extended his hitting streak to 24 games on Tuesday night. And Mookie Betts has been quite productive batting leadoff for the Red Sox this year, entering Tuesday with an even .800 OPS.

Betts, 23, hit 18 home runs in his first full season last year. With a three-homer night against the Orioles on Tuesday, he’s already up to 12 in 2016 with four months of season left. The first was of the solo variety, a line drive to center field off of Kevin Gausman in the first inning. Betts followed up in the third with a liner to left field for a three-run dinger off of Gausman. He made it three in the seventh, drilling a Dylan Bundy offering to right field.

Here’s video of homer number two:

Betts finished 3-for-5 as the Red Sox won 6-2 at Camden Yards.

The stats show the Pirates as an outlier in throwing “headhunter” pitches

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 5: Reliever Arquimedes Caminero #37 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh inning at Busch Stadium on September 5, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Last week at ESPN Sweetspot’s Inside the Zona, Ryan Morrison looked into the data and found that the Pirates stand out among the rest when it comes to throwing “headhunter” pitches. Those are defined as fastballs 3.2 feet or higher and 1.2 feet towards the batter from the center of the plate.

The research was prompted because Diamondbacks second baseman Jean Segura was hit in the helmet by Pirates reliever Arquimedes Caminero last Tuesday in the seventh inning. The next inning, Caminero hit shortstop Nick Ahmed in the jaw with a pitch and was instantly ejected.

Morrison illustrated the data in a nice chart, which you should check out. The Pirates have thrown 93 of those pitches, which is way more than any other team. The next closest team is the Reds at 68 pitches. The major league average is approximately 48 pitches.

The Pirates have had an organizational philosophy of pitching inside since at least 2013, as MLB.com’s Tom Singer quoted manager Clint Hurdle as saying, “We’re not trying to hurt people, just staying in with conviction.”

Morrison goes on to suggest that the Diamondbacks should have forfeited last Wednesday and Thursday’s games against the Pirates in protest, out of concern for their players’ safety. As it happened, the D-Backs lost both games anyway, suffering a series sweep. The two clubs don’t meet again this season.

D-Backs manager Chip Hale said after last Tuesday’s game that Caminero “shouldn’t be at this level”. Caminero responded to those comments today, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. “I’m actually glad you asked me about that,” Caminero said. “The only thing I’ve got to say about (Hale) is that he is a perfect manager. And he was a perfect player, too. That’s it. I know what I did wasn’t good, but it happens in baseball. I wasn’t trying to hit anyone.”

I realize I’m late on pointing out Morrison’s terrific article and the whole debacle between the two teams, but I felt it was worth highlighting.

Jose Bautista: “I’d be stupid to leave” Toronto

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 29: Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jayshits a two-run home run in the fifth inning during MLB game action against the Boston Red Sox on May 29, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Also included in a recent report on Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista by Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated — along with his belief that Rougned Odor was the only bad guy in the May 15 debacle — was the slugger’s desire to remain a Blue Jay. Per Verducci, Bautista said, “I love the city. I’d be stupid to leave” Toronto.

Bautista, 35, is in the final year of a five-year, $65 million extension signed in February 2011. Back in November, the Jays exercised their 2016 club option for $14 million. Bautista isn’t willing to discuss contract details during the season, so the two sides will have to wait until at least October to come to an agreement.

Entering Tuesday’s game against the Yankees, Bautista is hitting .237/.371/.489 with 11 home runs, 37 RBI, and 40 walks, the latter of which leads the American League.