Two down, one to go?
Will the Red Sox do their best to re-sign Craig Kimbrel, or are the re-signings of World Series MVP Steve Pearce and Nathan Eovaldi enough for an already burgeoning payroll that will also have to absorb major raises for Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr.?
You have to give ownership major credit for extending this payroll even beyond the $234 million it spent last season, which was the largest payroll in baseball. The Red Sox don’t have any cheap players per se. They are all well-paid, and Eovaldi’s four-year, $68 million deal makes him Boston’s third-highest-paid starting pitcher behind David Price and Rick Porcello, with Chris Sale fourth.
The rotation seems absolutely set now, with Sale, Price, Porcello, Eovaldi, and Eduardo Rodriguez a five that can pretty much rival any in baseball.
The Red Sox also have some depth with Steven Wright likely to be a swingman, serving time in the rotation and the bullpen.
What’s left is to either re-sign Kimbrel or seek another avenue toward a closer, and figure out what to do with Joe Kelly, another important free agent, who is being wooed by a few West Coast teams (his home is in California).
Give the savvy Dave Dombrowski a lot of credit here. He and assistant general manager Brian O’Halloran somehow persuaded Pearce to accept a one-year deal for $6.25 million — which was the same as his 2017 and 2018 salaries — after having a very good year and winning World Series MVP honors.
And then, with several teams bidding for Eovaldi’s services, he persuaded the 28-year-old righty to stay with the Red Sox for $68 million after his tremendous postseason starter/reliever act.
Some would call it a risky move, given that Eovaldi had endured two Tommy John surgeries. And while he returned in June from his latest one and showed no ill effects while pitching a combined 133⅓ innings between the regular season and postseason, who knows what that workload might have done to him?
In his six-inning, 97-pitch relief outing in Game 3 of the World Series, in which he earned the respect of everyone in baseball, you wondered, “How can he be doing this?” And Eovaldi said he could have gone longer.
And then he made himself available for Game 5.
But if he shows no ill effects from all that, the Red Sox have themselves an outstanding power righthander who throws up to 101 m.p.h. and can sustain it for seven innings if he needs to.
You can bet the house that manager Alex Cora and pitching coach Dana LeVangie will take it easy on him in spring training. You probably won’t see much of him in those games vs. the Twins in Fort Myers. That’s fine. But there’s always that fine line between not doing enough and doing too much in spring training. The Red Sox will have to feel that out.
Also, adrenaline always kicks in during the postseason. Pitchers do things they don’t normally do during the first 162 games. Price is another example of someone who extended himself in the postseason, also making relief appearances amid his starts. With a guy who has had forearm issues, you also wonder how that plays going forward.
This is why it’s so hard to repeat. You never know how pitchers in particular will come out of an extended season, making intense pitches over a month of outings.
In the case of Eovaldi, the Red Sox had to do it. They couldn’t allow him to be wooed again by the Yankees, one of his former teams, and lose such an important pitcher to the archrival. The Yankees already have acquired James Paxton in a deal with the Mariners. They didn’t acquire Patrick Corbin, who went to the Nationals for six years at $140 million. They may be in on J.A. Happ, who pitched well for them last season, but would love to add another righthander to the mix.
It’s always tricky when your own players enter free agency. They are susceptible to the temptations of other offers. Pearce likely could have secured two years and maybe even a third elsewhere, but he wanted to stay in Boston.
Eovaldi could have gone anywhere (with about nine teams really interested), but he too loved the atmosphere in Boston and took less to stay. He was never going to be in the Corbin range, but he was the next tier down. He probably could have secured a five-year, $100 million deal if he had held out longer. Teams wanted him that badly.
So the Red Sox now have a more balanced rotation of three lefties and two righties. If Sale’s shoulder issues persist into the early part of 2019, they’re covered with Wright (assuming he’s recovered from his knee surgery), Hector Velazquez, and Brian Johnson.
If Dombrowski can’t meet Kimbrel’s reported demand of six years, he likely will move to another available closer like Andrew Miller or Zach Britton.
So far, the Red Sox have done everything right in signing the people they needed to sign. Let it be said, for a team that won it all, the Red Sox don’t seem to mind spending what they have to to keep this team intact as they attempt to do what’s so hard to do in this game: repeat.