What are Red Sox’ needs heading into Winter Meetings?
LAS VEGAS — The Red Sox have been luxury shoppers in the offseason during Dave Dombrowski’s tenure as president of baseball operations.
In 2015, just a few months after he was hired to bring order to an organization lacking direction, Dombrowski traded four prospects for All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel and signed David Price to a contract worth $217 million, a record for a pitcher.
The landmark trade for Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale came a year later as top prospects Michael Kopech and Yoan Moncada were moved.
Dombrowski was patient yet purposeful last offseason, waiting until February to sign J.D. Martinez to boost the middle of the lineup.
All four moves worked. Kimbrel, Martinez, Price, and Sale were key members of a 108-win team that went 11-3 in the postseason to win the World Series.
The moves so far this offseason have been more economical, if not exactly modest.
Dombrowski signed platoon first baseman Steve Pearce for one year and $6.25 million in November. It was the same contract the World Series Most Valuable Player had last season.
The Sox then secured another World Series hero, righthander Nathan Eovaldi. He was signed to a four-year, $68 million deal on Thursday.
Now, with their prospect base depleted and the payroll at an all-time high, the Sox figure to be even more cautious as the Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings approach.
The Sox essentially have their team in place for next season with the exception of some additions to the bullpen, including a closer.
By working quickly to secure Pearce and Eovaldi, Dombrowski can take his time at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and see how the reliever market develops.
Kimbrel, now a free agent, is seeking a long-term deal in the neighborhood of the five-year, $86 million contact Aroldis Chapman landed from the Yankees before the 2017 season.
Kimbrel has been better than Chapman over the course of his career. But his walk rate climbed and his velocity dropped last season. He also pitched poorly in the postseason, allowing seven earned runs on nine hits and eight walks over 10⅔ innings.
That makes such a contract surely a non-starter for the Red Sox, who already have a payroll of at least $230 million in place for next season based on the expected raises for Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and others via arbitration, plus the $19 million still owed on the onerous Pablo Sandoval contract, which mercifully ends after next season.
The Sox are sure to be over the first luxury-tax penalty threshold of $206 million and almost certainly over the second level of $226 million barring an unexpected salary dump.
Adding a player such as Kimbrel would get them close to the third — and highest — level of $246 million and stiffer financial penalties.
The Sox soared over the luxury-tax limits last season and ownership appears set to do so again in pursuit of another title. With Bogaerts, Sale, Mitch Moreland, and Rick Porcello in their free agent seasons and Martinez able to opt out of his deal, 2019 is a window for another championship.
No team has repeated as champion since the Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000.
But at some point there is a limit. Given the number of closers in the free agent market, Dombrowski could sign a less-expensive reliever or wait to see if Kimbrel remains unsigned into January and lowers his expectations.
Dombrowski already has said the Sox view righthanders Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier as potential closers. So the strategy could be to supplement the bullpen around them.
Cody Allen, Zach Britton, Greg Holland, Jeurys Familia, Kelvin Herrera, Andrew Miller, David Robertson, and Joakim Soria are among the closers on the market.
Miller played for the Sox from 2011-14, a time when he made the switch from starter to reliever. He, Britton, and Robertson all have experience in the American League East.
Robertson, who is representing himself, has a home in Rhode Island and could be a good fit for Sox.
For any of those players, the Sox represent a chance to win a championship. They could be the final piece.