Dave Dombrowski’s objective is to not only win the offseason, but win months April-October and get the Red Sox out of last place. His initial strike was impressive.
Acquiring Craig Kimbrel from the Padres for prospects Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, Logan Allen, and Carlos Asuaje gives Boston an elite closer in baseball’s bullpen era. It allows Koji Uehara to slip back into a setup role, which according to his tweet on Friday he’s willing to do. It also allows Junichi Tazawa to be a seventh-inning reliever, taking even more pressure off him and extending the Sox’ bullpen.
Judging by Dombrowski’s comments, he thinks the Sox are out of the major trade business for now, which can only mean an ace starter will need to be acquired through free agency.
If that’s the case, it’s good news in terms of keeping Jackie Bradley Jr., the premier defensive outfielder in baseball, who has been coveted by at least four teams this offseason.
A year ago, Bradley wouldn’t have brought much in return. Now, the Mariners, Royals, Mets, and Cubs have expressed interest, and perhaps the Nationals.
Dombrowski loves Bradley’s defense and has never wanted to deal him. Dombrowski once targeted Aaron Hicks, Anthony Gose, and Bradley as center fielders for the Tigers, and he settled on Gose after he couldn’t pry Bradley away from the Red Sox.
Before the Kimbrel deal, Bradley could have netted a top reliever. The Sox were in talks with the Reds for Aroldis Chapman in what would have been a similar package to the Kimbrel deal (maybe a tick more) and included Bradley.
The former Red Sox regime under Ben Cherington inquired about Chapman at the trade deadline last July. The price was too steep then, but you wonder now if the Reds made a mistake not pulling off a deal with the Red Sox given Dombrowski’s wilingness to part with top lower-level minor leaguers.
In the end, Dombrowski decided to sacrifice prospects for a closer rather than a starter. It seems unlikely he will change course and offer even more prospects for a starting pitcher such as Sonny Gray or Chris Sale.
It now appears free agent starters such as David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, and Jeff Samardzija are very much in play for the Red Sox. That would allow them to preserve the top prospects that remain and not have to deal young major league players such as Bradley, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Travis Shaw, Blake Swihart, Henry Owens, and Brian Johnson.
This is all bad news for teams pursuing Bradley. The Royals had him atop their list as an Alex Gordon replacement, willing to give up one of their bullpen pieces. New Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, who conducted an extensive six-week study on the Red Sox organization when he was in Boston, could have used Bradley in center field, and Seattle reliever Tom Wilhelmsen could have been had after Dipoto obtained Joaquin Benoit last week. The Cubs also were thinking of Bradley in center.
The GMs we spoke to said Bradley is one of the most coveted outfielders this offseason. “His low cost, his elite defense, and his emerging offense” are major selling points, according to an American League GM. But those are also the reasons Boston wants to keep him.
Now Dombrowski moves on to his other needs. An ace starter is first, but Dombroswki also needs a righthanded-hitting complimentary player in the outfield.
He has downplayed Boston’s need for power in a power division, instead stressing hitters who can hit doubles in the gap, which is what he wants Hanley Ramirez to do.
The subject of Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval is also a sidebar.
The Red Sox have asked two of their highest-paid players to lose weight. It speaks volumes that two players making huge salaries wouldn’t take it upon themselves to come into camp in their first year with a new team in top condition. A National League GM doesn’t see how the Sox can go through the 2016 season with both players.
“Sometimes you have to cut your losses,” said the GM. “A big-market team like Boston can do that. They have to decide whether having those two players in their clubhouse, in what is otherwise a young, accountable clubhouse, is worth it. You don’t want players tearing down what you’re trying to build. So whatever method was used to acquire those players didn’t work. So now you have to have your own chemistry lesson and determine if you can live with those guys. I would think they’d try to move one or both.”
Surely, it’s why the Red Sox wanted Shaw working out at third in winter ball. That won’t happen after Shaw got hurt, but you can see what the Sox were thinking.
Shaw remains on the outside looking in. His power display during the second half of last season opened some eyes. Hitting coach Chili Davis is convinced that Shaw will continue to hit for power in the major leagues.
So, on a team that lacks power, Shaw is becoming an important player, one who needs to find a spot in the lineup. Shaw doesn’t work as well as a part-time player. He needs the repetition of at-bats to become more confident.
We’ll see what Dombrowski does from here. But acquiring an elite reliever while giving up prospects who were buried behind young veterans seems like a winning formula.
Inequities seen by Boras
Scott Boras was both profound and right on the money in his defense of players and his comments on a system that rewards teams that tank it.
First of all, on the subject of qualifying offers, Houston outfielder Colby Rasmus became the first player to accept a qualifying offer ($15.8 million) from the Astros. That was followed by Boras client Matt Wieters also accepting in Baltimore, which was surprising given Boras’s anti-qualifying-offer stance.
“The qualifying offer represents something that is really wrong in baseball,” said Boras at the GM meetings. “Major league revenues rose from 2013 to 2014 and went from $8 million to $9 billion, a rise of 12 percent.
“Then you look at qualifying offers based on the average of the top 125 players, that only increased 3 percent. So you have a 12 percent increase in revenues and only 3 percent increase in qualifying offers.
“That’s almost like saying for every dollar an owner gets, they only have to give 25 percent of that to the players. I think we need to do a better job of getting that closer to 50-50.”
And on the inequity in the draft:
“In baseball, scouting and development should not be measured by your ability to tank for four years because it is a valued move to go get a top 1 or 2 or 3 pick by making sure your major league team is out of the hunt.
“So now we have a 22-team league rather than a 30-team league. A number of teams have been rewarded for not being competitive for three or four years, getting high draft picks and then becoming competitive.
“For the teams trying to be competitive every year, they’re being penalized. They’re not benefiting from the system. The system is to be noncompetitive for 40 percent of a decade.
“We need systems that reward teams for winning. If a club is annually in the playoffs, they should be getting rewarded — things like luxury tax relief or you could have a situation where you have the ability to spend what you want to spend in the draft.”
Boras doesn’t believe a team finishing last two years in a row should be allowed to have No. 1 picks in back-to-back years.
“There should be a penalty for performing badly,” he said.
Apropos of nothing
1. Where are they now? Longtime Red Sox farm director Ed Kenney Jr., who spent 27 years in baseball with Boston and Baltimore, is now the golf pro at Twin Brooks in Hyannis. Kenney is devoting his life to creating awareness about oxycodone addiction, which cost his son Matt his life at age 24 last July. Kenney is putting together a benefit golf tournament for next summer. Kenney tells the story of his first meeting with Dave Dombrowski, when Dombrowski was a 23-year-old farm director. “Dave was trying to rent a car so he could go watch one of his teams, but you had to be 25 to rent a car,” said Kenney. “I was able to pull a few strings, and Dave got his car.”
2. Have to admit that the Sox staff — Dombrowski, Frank Wren, Zack Scott, Gus Quattlebaum, Allard Baird, Mike Hazen, and Brian O’Halloran —
3. Detroit GM Al Avila is increasing his analytics department from one to three people, with “a couple of consultants outside the office and a few interns.”
4. White Sox GM Rick Hahn says he isn’t tired about constantly being asked about the crosstown rival Cubs and their success. But, he said, “They’ve been a great story, and with that comes notoriety. We need to get ourselves to the same point, where we’re being asked about the Chicago White Sox all the time.” Hahn’s emphasis will be to upgrade the offense. “We’ve got work to do,” he said. “We have a lot of areas where we need to improve. I was asked about winning the offseason last year. And we entered the 2015 season with people predicting good things for us. But we need to make improvements. We had some struggles defensively. We might have to be creative in some areas, but we’ll make do.”
5. The Royals had their organizational meetings a day after their World Series parade in Kansas City. GM Dayton Moore met with his scouts to go over possible moves for next season. The concern is losing Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist. The feeling is that Zobrist could re-sign, but Gordon is likely gone. The Royals are looking not only at Jackie Bradley Jr. but free agent Gerardo Parra as possible replacements. They don’t feel they need to replace Gordon with a power hitter, given the dimensions of Kauffman Stadium, but rather a run preventer. Parra and Bradley would fit that description.
Updates on nine
1. Mike Napoli, 1B/OF, free agent — Agent Brian Greiper found a good amount of interest in Napoli, who in his second stint in Texas continued to make friends with his selfless attitude. Rangers president Jon Daniels’s respect for Napoli grew even more. “How many guys that deep into their career would do something like that — go to a position he’s never played before for, cold turkey, in the middle of a playoff race for the good of the team?” said Daniels. He would like to have Napoli back (the Rangers were 9-1 when Napoli started in left field) but they have to figure out playing time with Josh Hamilton returning. Napoli could also fit with Cleveland, Oakland, San Francisco, Baltimore, the Yankees, Houston, Colorado, and Miami.
2. Brett Gardner, OF, Yankees — His name was prevalent at the meetings for teams thinking center fielder/left fielder/leadoff man. He fits Washington, Seattle, the Mets, San Diego, San Francisco, and Kansas City. The Yankees would want a front-line starting pitcher in return. They have already acquired Aaron Hicks from the Twins as a possible replacement for Gardner.
3. Chris Davis, 1B/OF, free agent — The Orioles are expected to make their big pitch to retain him, but will likely allow the market to dictate the price. “You look at power in the game today, and he’s averaged 40 homers and 110 RBIs three years in a row,” said Davis’s agent, Scott Boras. “There’s only been two players in the last 15 years — he and A-Rod — who have met that criteria. What makes CD so interesting is he can play multiple positions. You usually don’t find sluggers who are so versatile and so athletic. He really is the top outfield candidate and the top infield candidate in this market.”
4. Chris Iannetta, C, free agent — Before the Braves signed A.J. Pierzynski, they talked to Iannetta’s agents. All signs point toward Jerry Dipoto signing him up in Seattle. Iannetta was Dipoto’s catcher in Anaheim and seems to fit the qualifications the Mariners are looking for: someone who handles a pitching staff well and can pop a home run every now and then.
5. Trevor Plouffe, 3B, Twins — The Twins downplay a possible deal for Plouffe, but it certainly makes sense now with the signing of Korean first baseman Byung Ho Park. That will allow the Twins to play Miguel Sano at third. They’d have to get a good starter or top reliever in return.
6. Kenta Maeda, RHP, Japan — The expectation is that Maeda will be posted and get multiple posting bids. He is seen as a mid-to-back-end starting pitcher option. There seem to be a lot of American alternatives to Maeda, so teams aren’t likely to stumble over one another for him, and he won’t get anything close to what Masahiro Tanaka did two years ago.
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, free agent — Salty had drawn the interest of the Orioles, who felt his bat would play well at Camden Yards, before Matt Wieters re-signed. Saltalamacchia had a terrible 2015 season between Miami and Arizona, not living up to the promise of his last two years in Boston. “There are a number of teams who have reached out,” Saltalamacchia said. “We’re just evaluating the various situations.”
8. Billy Eppler, GM, Angels — In his first deal, Eppler acquired defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons from the Braves, giving up veteran Erick Aybar and two of his top pitching prospects in lefty Sean Newcomb and righty Chris Ellis. The Angels now have elite defensive talent at shortstop (Simmons), center field (Mike Trout), and right field (Gold Glover Kole Calhoun), but have few pitching prospects. The Braves are also building up their inventory of young arms as they pave the way for a 2017 stadium opening and hope they become competitive simultaneously. They hope shortstop prospect Ozhaino Albies is ready by then, to help fans forget the acrobatic Simmons, who had $53 million remaining on his deal.
9. A.J. Pierzynski, C, Braves — The Twins briefly discussed bringing Pierzynski back, but opted to trade the underachieving Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for John Ryan Murphy to back up/share the catching job with Kurt Suzuki. The Braves were also looking at other options, like Iannetta, but when Pierzynski accepted a $1 million raise to $3 million as a reward for his .300 season, the deal was sealed. Braves president John Hart has known Pierzynski since he was a teenager.
From the Bill Chuck files — “In 2013, free agent righthand-hitting outfielder Justin Upton hit 27 homers, 10 off lefties; in 2014, he hit 29 homers, 11 off lefties; and in 2015, he hit 26 homers, but only three off lefties.” Also, “John Lackey has one of the best cutters in baseball; in 2015, his 37.4 percent K rate was second only to Kenley Jansen’s 38.3 percent, and Lackey’s swing-and-miss rate was 36.9 percent, the highest rate of any pitcher who threw at least 500 cutters.” . . . Happy birthday, Craig Hansen (32) and Daryl Irvine (51).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.