The Red Sox entered the offseason with three defined needs: Front-of-the-rotation starter, improved back end of the bullpen, fourth outfielder who hits righthanded. With the signing of David Price, the acquisition of closer Craig Kimbrel, and the signing of Chris Young, that’s all done. As Peter Abraham writes, as the Winter Meetings begin, the Red Sox have already done their heavy lifting for the offseason.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told Tim Britton of the Providence Journal on Sunday that the Red Sox are operating from a position of comfort given that they can focus on opportunities rather than facing a frenzied chase to address needs.
It’s a time, one team official said, where the Red Sox can “be creative,” exploring the marketplace with their trade assets to determine the available avenues, most of which revolve around their wealth of starting pitchers. Behind Price, the team now has:
Eduardo Rodriguez: virtually untradeable – precisely the type of player whom the Red Sox moved to avoid trading by signing Price;
Clay Buchholz: tradeable, but trade value somewhat circumscribed by his injury history;
Wade Miley: tradeable, with growing value given that his three-year, $19.25 million deal (which has two remaining seasons and a $12 million option) represents a relative bargain for a No. 4 starter given that J.A. Happ, viewed by many evaluators as a No. 4, just got a three-year, $36 million deal;
Rick Porcello: unlikely to be dealt given his struggles in 2015, at a time when his four-year, $82.5 million extension is about to take effect;
Joe Kelly: tradeable, but a relatively low-cost option for the Sox in either the rotation or bullpen as he enters his first year of arbitration-eligibility. However, if the Sox think he’d be a reliever for them, then much like the Cardinals did in sending Kelly to the Sox in 2014, they could decide that the righthander’s greatest value is as a chip to a team that would view him as a starter. Nick Cafardo reports (via twitter) that there’s been significant interest in Kelly, particularly from the Rangers;
Henry Owens: tradeable, but a valuable depth option with mid-rotation potential given his ability to generate swings-and-misses;
Brian Johnson: tradeable, but a pitcher with a likely projection as a No. 4 starter might be more valuable as a depth option than as a trade chip given that he missed the last two months with injury;
Steven Wright: tradeable, but his value is limited somewhat by his lack of minor league options and the typical uncertainty that teams face in trying to project knuckleballers.
That’s a lot of pitchers – yet none with a track record as a reliably healthy No. 2 starter. And so, even with their shiny new $217 million investment, there are questions about the state of the Sox’ rotation.
Matthew Kory, writing for Baseball Prospectus, examines the Red Sox rotation and whether the addition of Price actually solidifies it or if further tinkering is necessary after a season that saw the group post one of the worst ERAs in the majors even as their peripheral numbers like strikeout rate, walk rate, and groundball rate suggested that a lot of that dismal performance may have been the product of horrific defense and/or luck.
The Sox have three potential paths with their rotation.
1) Do nothing: Keep the depth, perhaps have Kelly and Wright in the bullpen.
2) Try to acquire a No. 2 starter. Nick Cafardo looked at 20 potential trade scenarios involving the Red Sox, and identified Braves righthander Shelby Miller as perhaps the highest-probability target.
Interestingly, Red Sox principal owner (and Globe owner) John Henry told John Tomase of WEEI.com that while the Red Sox won’t give up a core young player, they might be able to get a core young pitcher:
“I do think there is trade potential,” Henry said. “We have a lot of pitching and we have a lot of talent. We’re not going to trade away our core young players, but we might be able to get a core young pitcher. Dave [Dombrowski] is exploring a lot of other things. He’s well known as someone who’s not afraid to pull the trigger. Because of these young players we’re in good shape, not just for this year, but going forward.”
3) Deal a starter for prospects, helping to offset some of what the team gave up (shortstop Javier Guerra, outfielder Manuel Margot, lefthander Logan Allen) to acquire Kimbrel.
In short, inside the recycled air and feedback loops of the winter meetings, the Red Sox are likely to be connected early and often to pitchers. That said, the idea of acquiring even a No. 2 starter is measured considerably by the very market forces that drove the Sox to Price.
The Sox’ examination of the market for frontline starters both at the trade deadline and the early paces of the offseason suggested that teams with controllable, young, frontline pitching would require enormous returns.
“I think it’s safe to say the cost of starting pitching in trades has gone up significantly,” said GM Mike Hazen on Friday. “Young starting pitchers, controllable starting pitchers, I think the prices have gone up significantly in the market now.”
When the Sox examined the trade market, they’d receive suggestions that a team would require one of Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts AND Blake Swihart in a deal – or, for those willing to look longer-term, a massive package that essentially included all of the team’s top prospects in Greenville (Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Anderson Espinoza). For an organization that wanted to spend a record-setting amount of money on a pitcher in order to avoid compromising its long-term outlook, the rumor-to-reality ratio in the coming days is likely to be very, very high.
To the links!
THE COURTSHIP OF PRICE: In the end, of course, money talks. The Red Sox gave the lefthander more than 20 percent more than the second-best formal offer he received (seven years, $180 million from the Cardinals, though it should be noted St. Louis gave some evidence of a willingness to go a bit further). Still, a lot more than dollars went into the signing. I examined the Sox’ courtship of Price as well as the front-office analysis that went into the pivot to embrace free agency over a trade.
John Tomase’s look at the wooing of Price adds a number of entertaining details (“This wasn’t just cheesy, it was a gallon of queso”) that took place in the negotiations.
In the end, Henry viewed Price as an exceptional pitcher who led to team to make an exception to its typical aversion to starters in their 30s.
The shift was real: According to multiple sources familiar with the Red Sox’ thinking, once the team failed in its efforts to re-sign Jon Lester, there appeared to be a sense of relief among the team’s owners, given the discomfort the group felt for franchise-style contracts for pitchers in their 30s.
Internally, Red Sox officials rarely even pondered top-of-the-market free agents from that time until the team replaced Ben Cherington with Dombrowski, in no small part because Henry’s public remarks had been so forceful that it seemed there was little point in exploring avenues that had been shut off.
And yet, there is a back-to-the-future element of Henry’s suggestion that the team embraced spending on Price in order to preserve its young core of players. Ten years ago, the Red Sox were in a similar position, in need of a frontline starter.
The team could trade Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez as the headliners in a deal to the Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. Henry preferred to sign A.J. Burnett as a free agent, thus preserving the team’s prospect inventory and adding the arm the Sox needed. He nonetheless signed off on the Beckett deal, which ultimately proved a win-win given Ramirez’s emergence as a star with the Marlins and Beckett and Lowell’s role in the 2007 World Series.
Still, the line of thinking that gave Henry reservations about that Beckett deal was evident in his embrace of the Price signing.
A BIG-MONEY NUMBER: Price will wear No. 24 with the Red Sox, sharing digits with the player who until last week had received the biggest contract in Red Sox history. If Sox get the same sort of free agent production from Price that they ultimately got from Manny Ramirez (who performed in the batter’s box up to the standard set by his eight-year, $160 million deal), they likely will be elated. Here’s a look at the history of the No. 24 with the Red Sox.
A LONG TIME AGO, IN A REHAB GAME FAR AWAY: Pedro Martinez has been smitten with Price ever since he faced the lefthander in his second professional outing, writes Ian Browne of MLB.com. Martinez went on to say that as far as Price has come since the two crossed paths seven years ago, he still believes that the lefthander has even more upside.
CROSSING THE LINES: Enemy to fan favorite? It happens quickly in Boston, as Kevin Paul Dupont recalls in the form of the career of Ranger-turned-Bruin Brad Park.
‘I’VE JUST GOT TO HIT; THAT’S IT’: Hanley Ramirez says that he wants to remain with the Red Sox, and if he can regain his form as a hitter, he believes that the scrutiny he faced in 2015 will melt away, as Peter Abraham writes.
However, Abraham also notes in his beat writer’s notebook that Ramirez seemed perhaps too cavalier about his ability to adapt to first base – something that will give the Red Sox some anxiety as they look to improve their overall run prevention, which required not just the addition of Price and Kimbrel but also upgraded defense.
IF HANLEY GOES, A FAMILIAR FACE (AND BEARD) REMAINS IN PLAY: In all likelihood, the Red Sox will feature Ramirez at first base to open 2016. There’s not expected to be a trade market for his services, particularly given the presence of players like Chris Davis, Pedro Alvarez, and Chris Carter on the open market.
That said, according to multiple major league sources (confirming a report by Jon Heyman of CBS Sports via twitter), the Red Sox have remained in touch with free agent Mike Napoli so far this offseason. At this point, the team doesn’t have a spot for him, but the fact that they’ve maintained contract with the 34-year-old suggests that they’re keeping contingencies in place in case they do make a trade of a player like Ramirez.
ORTIZ’S SINATRA SENDOFF: David Ortiz wanted to make sure his retirement will happen his way, on his terms, writes Peter Abraham.
Christian Red of the New York Daily News examines Ortiz’s history as a thorn in the Yankees’ side, which in turn used to result in grief given by George Steinbrenner to Brian Cashman.
Of course, the Steinbrenner dictate to spend has given way to more conservative expenditures under Hal Steinbrenner, which helped to keep the Yankees squarely on the sidelines of the pursuit of Price, as Cashman explained to Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News.
WILL MARLINS TRY TO REEL IN MILEY? Joe Frisaro of MLB.com points to the Sox’ Miley as a potential target for the Marlins.
That makes sense, given that Miley’s remaining two years of the three-year, $19.25 million deal he signed with the Sox last offseason makes him eminently affordable, particularly in comparison to a pitching market in which a pitcher like J.A. Happ – viewed by most evaluators, despite his tremendous second-half of 2015 with the Pirates, as a No. 4 starter – receives a three-year, $36 million deal.
As I wrote in July, the Marlins appeared close to a trade for Miley a year ago at this time, and given their scouting assessment of him then, it makes sense that the Red Sox could explore Miami’s current interest in the lefty.
HALL THOUGHTS: Bob Ryan explains the boxes he did and did not check on his Hall of Fame ballot.
RENAME YAWKEY WAY: Adrian Walker says that, in light of the racist history of Tom Yawkey’s ownership of the Red Sox, it’s time for the street outside of Fenway Park to be renamed.