So there won’t be a nice shiny expensive object under the Red Sox’ Christmas tree this year. But a nice cheap, one-year deal for a reliever? Probably so. You would think when you’ve been nice like the Red Sox that Santa would deliver something big and expensive rather than something more befitting a team that’s been naughty.
But that’s not the way it works with big-market teams who are already at the top of the payroll food chain.
It’s an offseason during which teams are trying to keep up with the Red Sox.
Already the Yankees have traded for James Paxton and brought back J.A. Happ for two years. They now have a pretty formidable rotation of Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, Happ, Paxton, and CC Sabathia. They must address two bullpen losses in David Robertson and Zach Britton. Robertson could still be a fit to return, but Britton is likely headed elsewhere.
They are now looking at potential offensive upgrades such as Manny Machado, who had dinner with the Yankees’ brass this past week.
We know New York is where Machado wants to play. His idol, Alex Rodriguez, played there. He wants to follow in those footsteps. It could be he starts out at shortstop and then moves to third once Didi Gregorius comes back from Tommy John surgery.
Rumors abound that the Yankees are willing to deal third baseman Miguel Andujar, who had an excellent rookie season, in order to accommodate Machado.
Machado may be one the best defensive third basemen in history. He’s been an above-average shortstop and an outstanding offensive player, but his “extraordinary” label comes from his play at third base.
Maybe people don’t like his attitude. He was quoted in a Ken Rosenthal interview that hustling isn’t his thing, and then backed it up a couple of times in the postseason.
Maybe he is an acquired taste. He’s certainly been a villain to Red Sox fans who didn’t like his spikes-up slide, which wrecked Dustin Pedroia’s knee a couple of years ago. And if he became a Yankee he’d become the biggest villain since A-Rod himself.
The Yankees stayed under the luxury-tax threshold last season so they’re willing to go over this year. The Red Sox paid almost $12 million in luxury-tax penalties and lost 10 spots in the draft as a result of their spending.
The Astros are gunning for them, too. They just added Michael Brantley to the outfield mix, an indication they’re likely to deal Josh Reddick. They also have their eyes on Nelson Cruz. What the Astros must do is address a spot or two in their rotation after free agent Charlie Morton signed with the Tampa Bay Rays and with the possibility their other free agent starter, former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, will sign elsewhere. Not everyone is convinced Keuchel won’t be back in Houston.
The Astros are still a real possibility to trade for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. They signed free agent catcher Robinson Chirinos, but he could be the backup if a deal were made for Realmuto. The Astros would have to give up a pitching prospect or two to make it happen.
Suffice to say, Boston’s biggest challengers are loading up.
So, what are the Red Sox doing?
They hope to find the next Ryan Brasier. They traded with the Padres for Colten Brewer, a pitcher they feel could be another Brasier. They also signed former Rays reliever Erasmo Ramirez, who had a tough year recovering from shoulder problems, and former Mariner Zach Putnam, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery. You can see where they’re headed.
That’s not to say that Red Sox ownership won’t give Dave Dombrowski the go-ahead to spend more, either by re-signing Craig Kimbrel, who doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of action in free agency for the enormous sum he’s asking (5-6 years at $17 million-$19 million per), or to go after a high-end reliever such as Britton, Robertson or Adam Ottavino.
They could opt for middle of the road types such as Greg Holland or Bud Norris. They could also sign former Royals and Nationals closer Kelvin Herrera and wait for his recovery, which might be around midseason after surgery to repair a torn Lisfranc ligament in his left foot. If the Red Sox want to give Matt Barnes a chance to be the closer, Herrera could be a decent midseason addition.
They may also be in the market for insurance at second base. Plenty are available in case Pedroia struggles to make it back. Jed Lowrie remains the most intriguing option, though he may be too expensive for the Red Sox. Lowrie is seeking at least a two-year deal.
But second basemen Neil Walker and Logan Forsythe, who would be a nice fit for the Red Sox, could be adequate on a team that also has Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez. The Red Sox would be interested in making a one-year commitment.
The Red Sox were also one of 11 teams who took in shortstop Troy Tulowitzki’s workout this past week, but Tulo, released by the Blue Jays (who ate $38 million), would want a starting job.
Not sure the Red Sox can offer that at this juncture.
And so as the holidays approach, this is where we stand.
The American League is chasing the Red Sox, which is what every team wants. Now the trick is to stay ahead of the chase.
Hall of Fame worthy?
Baines, Smith spark controversy
There’s been much controversy about the Today’s Game Committee election of Harold Baines and Lee Smith into the Hall of Fame two weeks ago.
Normally I’m not critical of Hall of Fame selections because it’s tough to pick deserving candidates, and in their own way Baines and Smith have Hall of Fame attributes. When that same committee voted in Jack Morris and Alan Trammell last year I applauded the selections. I had always voted for both in the BBWAA Hall of Fame balloting, but neither got in.
And I must say I think the BBWAA got it right in not electing Baines or Smith. I never voted for either in the 15 years they were on the ballot. I covered Smith with the Red Sox for parts of three seasons and never felt he was a Hall of Famer, even though he also had good seasons with the Cardinals and Cubs.
Even though Smith was an imposing figure and hitters hated to face him, for me he wasn’t at the level of Goose Gossage or Trevor Hoffman or Dennis Eckersley or John Smoltz — and he certainly wasn’t Mariano Rivera.
As for Baines, he was a very good hitter and his longevity was impressive. And longevity should be considered strongly in assessing Hall of Fame credentials because it’s hard to stay in the majors for that long and still be as productive as Baines.
The question is, does including these two players lower the bar for Hall of Fame voters?
You certainly can make the case that if Baines is in then players who we’ve long considered borderline — Fred McGriff, Larry Walker, Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen, etc. —
should now be elevated to Hall of Fame status.
But not so fast.
The BBWAA likely won’t go there. Yes, there are some writers who have already been influenced by previous selections into voting for players they normally wouldn’t have voted for. Not sure that’s going to be seen in the current voting until next year.
But I for one will ignore the committee’s decision. In fact, the inclusion of Baines and Smith for me is an outlier, and in discussing this with my voting friends in the BBWAA, they believe that as well.
It’s hard to understand how these two got in when others who have been up for this committee’s consideration — Luis Tiant (229 wins, 3.30 ERA), Jim Kaat (283 wins, 3.45 ERA, 16 Gold Gloves), Tommy John (288 wins, 3.34 ERA), Marvin Miller, George Steinbrenner — don’t get a sniff.
Tiant is especially baffling since his numbers were so close to Don Drysdale (209 wins, 2.95 ERA), Catfish Hunter (224, 3.26), Juan Marichal (243, 2.89), and Jim Bunning (224, 3.27), all of whom are in the Hall of Fame and pitched roughly in the same era.
Baines, who played for 22 years, averaged .289 with 22 homers and 93 RBIs and an .820 OPS. Good numbers, for sure. Solid. Consistent. Just like Carlos Delgado (473 homers, .929 OPS), McGriff (493 homers, .886 OPS), Lance Berkman (366 homers, .943 OPS), and Walker (.313, 383 homers, .965 OPS). Heck, Gary Sheffield, with 509 homers, 1,676 RBIs, a .292 career average, and .907 OPS isn’t even in. Sheffield only received 11.1 percent of the vote last year. You also can make a strong case for Dwight Evans — eight Gold Gloves, 385 homers.
There’s a lot of sentiment that Billy Wagner was a much more effective closer than Smith, and Wagner, too, only got 11.1 percent of the vote.
Miller, as union leader, was the reason players have so many rights and make as much money as they do. Steinbrenner, say what you want, was committed to winning and poured every resource he had into making his team the best as opposed to some owners now who endorse tanking.
Updates on nine
1. Alex Cobb, RHP, Orioles — With the Orioles’ management team in place, teams are now starting to inquire about Cobb and Dylan Bundy, two pitchers who could have value to contending teams. Cobb had a 2.54 ERA over his last 11 games, taking him a while to fully come back from Tommy John surgery. There’s about $43 million left on three years of his four-year, $52 million deal. That’s not unreasonable for a pitcher of Cobb’s caliber. He looked more like the Tampa Bay version than the Baltimore version pitching earlier in the season. Bundy always has been an enigma, but he’s shown signs of brilliance. Some believe he’s merely a good pitching coach away from success.
2. Corey Kluber, RHP, Indians — Contending teams will continue to see what it would take to land arguably the best and most consistent pitcher in baseball. But from what we’re hearing, the Indians won’t deal him unless they get value-plus. There would have to be an overpayment of prospects and young players to get a deal done.
3. Nelson Cruz, DH/OF, free agent — Did Houston’s signing of Michael Brantley take it out of the Cruz hunt? Maybe not. Cruz is that Brian McCann/Carlos Beltran type who can bring a team together. Yes, Cruz was a PED user, but the respect he has from fellow players remains high. He is considered a real team leader. The Mariners will miss him. The Rays could also be considering Cruz as a free agent.
4. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, free agent — Tulowitzki looked fluid and healthy, according to one assistant general manager whose scout watched during his workout in Long Beach, Calif., this past week. Tulowitzki left scouts thinking he can play this season after missing 2018 with surgery on both heels. The next step for teams who watched him was to double-check video of the workout to see if there was anything awkward that wasn’t detected live. Another potential problem is workouts don’t tell you whether he can hold up over the long haul. “That’s the chance you take,” said the assistant GM. “Because it’s a deal where you’re only giving up the minimum salary, then it makes it less risky to take that chance. If he’s OK, who doesn’t love his offense? He seems to be driving the ball again like he used to. But, of course, it was a workout, not a live game.”
5. Edwin Encarnacion, DH, Mariners — The expectation is that the Mariners will flip Encarnacion rather than pay him $21.667 million this season, with a 2020 option for $20 million and a $5 million buyout. But where? Tampa Bay, Houston, and Minnesota are possibilities.
6. Zach Britton, LHP, free agent — The Phillies appear to have major interest in him. There’s an outside possibility the Phillies could get in on Craig Kimbrel, but he may be too expensive if they land both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.
7. Dallas Keuchel, LHP, free agent — It’s surprising that he remains available. The Angels, who signed Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey this past week, may be waiting to make their biggest splash with Keuchel. They have been interested in him the entire offseason, but there’s also interest from Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Texas, among others. Keuchel is a Scott Boras client so it may take a while for the full market to develop.
8. Roy Halladay, former pitcher — I didn’t vote for Halladay, who died in a plane accident in 2017, on my Hall of Fame ballot this time. I really believe Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, and Andy Pettitte deserve to be elected ahead of him.
9. Justin Wilson, LHP, free agent — Wilson would be a good fit for the Red Sox, who don’t have a power lefthander in their bullpen. Obviously, the absence of one had no negative bearing on what transpired last season. According to Brooks Baseball, “His four-seam fastball generates an extremely high number of swings and misses compared to other pitchers’ four-seamers, is blazing fast, has much less arm side movement than typical and has some added backspin. His cutter is thrown at a speed that’s borderline unfair, has extreme cut action, has good ‘rise’ and results in somewhat more ground balls compared to other pitchers’ cutters.” Wilson, who was 4-5 with a 3.46 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 54⅔ innings and 71 appearances with the Cubs, throws his fastball at 95 miles per hour, his cutter at 92, and his slider at 84. He’s a Levinson brothers client, and they usually like to get their guys signed quickly (see Joe Kelly, Nathan Eovaldi).
From the Bill Chuck files – “The four pitchers with the top winning percentage over the last two seasons are Corey Kluber (.776), Clayton Kershaw (.750), Robbie Ray (.750), and new Tampa Bay Ray Charlie Morton (.744).” . . . Also, “New Phillie Andrew McCutchen hit 20 homers in 2018, giving him 20-plus homers for the eighth straight season, joining Nelson Cruz and Giancarlo Stanton as the only MLB-ers with 20-plus homers every year since 2011.” . . . And, “In 50 plate appearances with the bases loaded in his career, Nathan Eovaldi has yet to allow a grand slam.” . . . Don’t forget the 80th annual Boston Baseball Writers dinner at the InterContinental Hotel in Boston on Jan. 17. Tickets are $200 apiece. Ken Harrelson gets the prestigious Fuchs Award. Other honorees: Chris Sale. J.D. Martinez, David Price, Alex Cora, Dave Dombrowski, Brock Holt, Eovaldi, Roger Clemens, and Mookie Betts. Mike Lynch is the encee. Tickets are available at sportsmuseum.org or 617-624-1231 . . . Happy birthday, Hanley Ramirez (35), Cody Ross (38), and Victor Martinez (40).