NICK CAFARDO | ON BASEBALL
stan grossfeld/globe staff file
CLEARWATER, Fla. — Watching the Philadelphia Phillies with their young team and the rebuilding they’ve done the past two years, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, the $230 million payroll of the Red Sox, you realize the window to win is so narrow and so fleeting once you get to where the Red Sox are.
A great example of that was the Kansas City Royals, whose scouts at Wednesday’s Red Sox-Phillies game were looking for replacements for the core that no longer exists (Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain in particular) because they became too expensive to keep. So the Royals, who were World Series champions just three years ago, are now where the Phillies were two years ago when they tore apart their veteran team and started anew.
So this is the Red Sox’ time. They have all of the pieces in place. It’s their time because tomorrow is far more expensive than today. Even with such a large payroll — which likely will be tops in major league baseball — they have core players in their prime with nowhere near the salaries they will make over the next three years.
After the 2019 season, for instance, won’t Chris Sale be a $30 million-a-year pitcher? And if that’s the case, and David Price doesn’t opt out of his seven-year, $217 million deal (which I don’t think he will), can the Red Sox carry two $30 million pitchers? Perhaps. The only relief will be that Rick Porcello’s deal will be done after next season, so they could save his $20 million salary.
More immediately, the Sox have to make a decision on closer Craig Kimbrel, who can be a free agent after this season. It’s tough to commit to relievers, no matter how good they are, over the long haul.
The Red Sox have gotten a lot out of Kimbrel. He has been everything he was advertised to be when they acquired him after his brief time in San Diego and worth the outlay of prospects that included Manuel Margot, who is currently the Padres’ starting center fielder and leadoff man.
Do you allow such a talent to go into free agency?
You could argue that Kimbrel is the elite reliever in the game. You can estimate that if he’s the third-highest-paid reliever now at $13 million behind Aroldis Chapman ($20 million) and Wade Davis ($16 million), he’ll likely be in that $20 million range or even set a record for a reliever. Can the Red Sox afford to set that bar?
The Sox also have to decide on Drew Pomeranz, who can become a free agent after this season. Pomeranz was a 17-game winner last season. If he comes close to duplicating that, what’s he worth in the open market?
If Porcello earned a four-year, $80 million deal before his Cy Young season, won’t Pomeranz be in line to earn a similar deal? He’s lefthanded, has pitched in the tough AL East, and if he should dominate Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and the Yankees lineup this season, there’s no telling what he would be worth.
What do you do with Joe Kelly?
He is another free agent reliever, and scouts love his 100 m.p.h. arm. Former Sox manager John Farrell took it easy on Kelly last season. Farrell was very careful about his innings buildup and for the longest time avoided back-to-back appearances.
The one thing Kelly doesn’t do is strike out a lot of people (52 in 58 innings), unusual given his velocity, but he’s another pitcher teams will perhaps overpay for to get that arm in their pen. He’s also considered one of the best athletes on the team and therefore could be a fit for a National League team that wouldn’t fret if he had to bat.
We haven’t even gotten to the core players: Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. The Sox don’t have to do much with Betts for two more years. He won his arbitration case this season and now earns north of $10 million. If he has a Betts-type season, he’s likely to earn in the $16 million-$17 million range next season and could get north of $20 million after that.
Betts rejected an opportunity to sign a long-term deal that would have bought up his arbitration and some of his free agent years.
It was likely a wise move for Betts. The only risk is that the market will continue to be slow for hitters, though Betts’s talent could break that mold. For sure, Betts will be a player north of $20 million per year, which is something the Red Sox have to brace for.
This is a big year for Bogaerts, because if he wants to be in the long-term plans, he must be the player the Red Sox thought he was going to be when he was ripping through the minor leagues, hitting for a high average and showing some power. If Alex Cora can get Bogaerts to be that guy, his salary also could go through the roof, given the position he plays, when he becomes a free agent in 2020.
Like Bogaerts, Bradley also needs to be the .300-type hitter he was coming up through the minors and show some power as he did two years ago from the left side. If he puts it all together, Bradley could be an expensive player for the Red Sox by the time 2021 hits.
And then there’s Eduardo Rodriguez in 2022. Who knows where his career could go if he has his breakout year in 2018?
The Phillies are hoping to develop their young positional players and pitchers this year. Some will make it into next year and others will fall by the wayside. The Phillies are ready to spend big on free agency next season and possibly bid on Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.
All teams have a window, and right now Boston’s is wide open, but not for long.
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