Directionless Red Sox hope for addition by subtraction

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Make no mistake about it: this is a pretty nasty storm the Red Sox have had to weather.

The team has already had to use 41 players. The left fielder and the closer have missed the entire season so far. The All-Star center fielder has missed most of it. At one point, the team’s top five outfielders were all on the disabled list. Two members of the rotation are currently on the DL. The No. 4 starter and the expected eighth-inning guy both blew up. The All-Star second baseman was dealt a nasty thumb injury that limited his production. The All-Star first baseman has failed to produce.

That the Red Sox are 38-34 anyway is actually quite impressive and a testament to all of the talent on hand.

Still, if any word sums up the Boston franchise these last two years, it’s directionless. It’s constantly running through new plans, often abandoning old ones at the drop of a hat.

That’s how a team ends up paying someone to take its former All-Star third baseman and getting only a couple of question marks in return.

The Red Sox probably had no choice. Will Middlebrooks obviously needs to play regularly, which left Kevin Youkilis without a role. The offers weren’t exactly poring in, that’s for sure. Zach Stewart and Brent Lillibridge probably was the best they could do.

Still, the point is that the Red Sox left themselves with no choice yet again. It’s a recurring theme. They let the luxury tax rule their offseason, and in their attempts to save money, gave away Marco Scutaro and parted with Josh Reddick and Jed Lowrie in order to rebuild their pen.

When they let Theo Epstein go to Chicago, they did so without working out compensation beforehand. In the end, all they ended up with was a soon-to-be injured reliever in Chris Carpenter.

The Red Sox probably aren’t through backing themselves into corners. They’ll have to figure out an outfield once Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury return. The pitching staff, too, could get overcrowded in a hurry if Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz return in early July and Daniel Bard gets things turned around in Triple-A. If they fail to reach the postseason, they’ll face questions about whether they should blow up the whole team this winter or carry on with the talented but overly expensive group of stars around now.

In the meantime, they’ll just have to hope Middlebrooks keeps producing despite his troubling strikeout-to-walk ratio. They won’t get any immediate help from Stewart, who will be a part of the rotation at Triple-A Pawtucket. Lillibridge, who was hitting just .175 this season, will serve as a fifth outfielder and occasional backup for Middlebrooks.

And they’ll carry on without Youkilis. He surely wasn’t going to be happy in a backup role, and given his history, he shouldn’t have been. Youkilis is definitely past his peak, but from 2008-10, he had a three-year run as one of the AL’s top three hitters. Even last year, he was still well above average at .258/.373/.459. Odds are that he’ll be a quality regular for the White Sox, and my guess is that he’ll outhit Middlebrooks over the rest of the year, though he’ll probably be good for at least one significant injury along the way. Even so, the Red Sox will end up missing him when all is said and done.

Mets’ Marcus Stroman opts out of season over virus concerns

Marcus Stroman torn calf
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NEW YORK — Marcus Stroman‘s recovery from a torn left calf muscle was almost complete, and he was in line to possibly make his season debut for the New York Mets next week against the Miami Marlins.

But the idea of traveling to one of the country’s coronavirus hot spots played a factor in Stroman’s decision Monday to opt out of the 2020 season.

“Obviously, you see the Cardinals, the Marlins, you see spikes everywhere in the country, you see protocols not being handled properly from citizens everywhere,” Stroman said during a Zoom call. “You see us going to Florida soon. That was a big discussion I had with my family. Going to see the Marlins soon, that’s something I don’t want to be in that situation.”

Stroman, scheduled to become a free agent after the season, is the second Mets player to opt out this month. Designated hitter Yoenis Cespedes left the team Aug. 2.

Stroman said he had daily conversations with his family about what to do. His grandmother and uncle have compromised immune systems and are around his mother on a regular basis.

“This was a decision I had to kind of take myself out of it and look out for the best interests of my family,” Stroman said.

His decision came four days after he threw 85 pitches in his second simulated game and a day before he was scheduled to throw another simulated game.

On Sunday, manager Luis Rojas expressed hope it would be the last simulated game for Stroman, who was injured during the Mets’ summer workouts. New York’s next road trip is to begin Friday at Philadelphia and conclude with a four-game set at Miami from Aug. 17-20.

Rojas said he understood Stroman’s decision but was surprised.

“He wanted to do another one just to play it safe and see how he felt coming out of it and then come join us,” Rojas said Monday. “But, once again, we fully support him.”

Stroman will go on the restricted list, allowing the Mets to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.

He will now head into free agency – he reached the six years of service time needed July 30 while on the injured list – without throwing a pitch this season. At 29, he’s expected to be one of the most sought-after starters on the open market.

He was due to make $4.4 million – the prorated portion of the one-year, $12 million deal he signed in January – and will give up the remaining total, a little more than $3.25 million, unless he has a precondition.

Stroman’s exit further weakens a rotation that looked like one of the best before the pandemic shutdown in March. While two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom has been impressive in four starts, Noah Syndergaard is out for the season after Tommy John surgery and Michael Wacha went on the injured list Sunday with shoulder inflammation.

With Stroman out, rookie left-hander David Peterson, who is 2-1 with a 3.78 ERA in his first three big league starts, is locked into a rotation spot. General manager Brodie Van Wagenen said relievers Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman are possibilities to fill the fifth spot.

Stroman was 4-2 with a 3.77 ERA in 11 starts last season for the Mets, who acquired him in July 2019 for two pitching prospects. He grew up on Long Island about 50 miles from Citi Field.

“I remember coming over here and us going on that little win streak last year and the environment at Citi Field,” he said. “It felt like playoff games that I was pitching in when I came over at the trade deadline.”