Red Sox storm into first place, beat Yankees 8-2

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Jumping all over CC Sabathia, the Red Sox racked up 13 hits and eight walks to beat the Yankees 8-2 in Monday’s opener.

A typical Red Sox-Yankees game, it finished about an hour and a half later than the Nationals’ 2-0 win over the Marlins, which also started at 1:05 p.m. EDT.

The Red Sox scored four times off Sabathia in the second, leading the Yankees to get the bullpen active. Sabathia was able to stay in and hold the Red Sox scoreless through the fifth, but the Red Sox got to both David Phelps and Joba Chamberlain out of the pen. Jacoby Ellsbury and Jose Iglesias collected three hits apiece for Boston, though none of Iglesias’s singles left the infield. 11 of Boston’s 13 hits were singles.

Jackie Bradley Jr., making his major league debut after a terrific spring, walked three times, scored twice, knocked in a run on a groundout and made a fantastic catch in left field to rob Robinson Cano of a double in the third.

While the Bombers got little going offensively today, their bigger concern has to be Sabathia’s diminished velocity. He was typically around 90 mph with his fastball, and he was forced to rely more on breaking balls and changeups as a result. It makes one wonder if he was going through his dead-arm period a bit later than most. The Yankees were protective of Sabathia this spring after October surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow.

Besides the patience displayed by the bottom half of the lineup, the Red Sox had to be most encouraged about the showing of their pen today. Jon Lester left after striking out seven in five innings, and Koji Uehara, Andrew Miller, Andrew Bailey, Junichi Tazawa and Joel Hanrahan combined to give up just one hit the rest of the way.

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Six of seven players decline $17.9 million qualifying offers

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Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu was the only one of seven eligible players to accept his $17.9 million qualifying offer. Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, Craig Kimbrel, Patrick Corbin, Yasmani Grandal, and Dallas Keuchel each rejected his, officially making them free agents. Teams that had their QO’s rejected will recoup a draft pick once the player signs elsewhere.

That Harper rejected his QO comes as no surprise, as he is expected to strike perhaps the largest free agent contract in baseball history. Though the free agent market has been less lucrative lately than in previous years, the combination of Harper’s elite talent and his age — he’s only 26 years old — makes him a primary target for more than a handful of teams. Harper reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million contract extension offer from the Nationals, so that would seem to be a baseline.

It is also not surprising that Kimbrel, 30, turned down his QO from the Red Sox. Despite a so-so showing during a championship run, Kimbrel is still young and talented enough to land another lucrative contract on the free agent market.

Keuchel bet on himself in turning down the Astros’ QO. He’s been solid since winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, owning a 3.77 ERA across 83 starts over the last three seasons. However, he turns 31 years old at the beginning of 2019, and his already mediocre strikeout rate declined even further this past season, so there may be some skepticism about his ability to perform over the course of a multi-year deal. Keuchel will still get one eventually, but his market may be slower to develop.

Pollock, soon 31 as well, will be the outfielder most coveted once Harper is off the market. When he’s healthy, he’s a dynamic five-tool player. However, Pollock hasn’t played in more than 113 games in a season since 2015, so that may be a red flag. Pollock ended 2018 batting .257/.316/.484 with 21 home runs, 65 RBI, 61 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases in 460 plate appearances while playing above-average defense according to various defensive metrics.

Grandal, 30, could’ve gone either way with his QO, but ultimately chose to decline. He had a disappointing postseason, both offensively and defensively. Given how humans are prone to recency bias, it stood to reason that his October performance could have hurt his market. The catching position, however, is rather weak and Grandal stands out in a market that is otherwise focused on Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. Grandal did swat 24 home runs with an .815 OPS in 140 games for the Dodgers this past season.

Corbin, 29, was the most obvious QO decline after Harper. The lefty is coming off of a career year, finishing with a 3.15 ERA and a 246/48 K/BB ratio in exactly 200 innings. Corbin is the best free agent pitcher on the market this offseason. The Yankees have been seriously linked with Corbin even before the season ended.

Ryu likely chose to accept his QO because of his age and injury history. It would have been a gamble to pursue a multi-year deal. He did, however, make 15 starts during the regular season to the tune of a 1.97 ERA with 89 strikeouts and 15 walks in 82 1/3 innings. Those are great numbers. And most clubs would have been smart enough to look beyond his 5.21 ERA in the postseason, which has more to do with a leaky bullpen than his own personal failings. Still, it’s hard to fault Ryu for playing it safe and taking the guaranteed $17.9 million for one year.