SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Four days in a fancy desert resort came and went without the Red Sox making major league transactions, but there was a clear takeaway: The roster-building efforts of the Red Sox will be very different entering 2020.
Two enormous factors play into that. First, their hope to scale back payroll means that after three offseasons defined largely by targeted additions that left most of the roster unaltered, they are very much open on trading core contributors.
Second, the arrival of chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has changed completely the needs-based approach of roster-building.
Over the previous four offseasons, the Red Sox’ roster-building was mostly dictated by holes. After the 2015 season, former president of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski said the Red Sox needed a front-of-the-rotation starter, a closer, and a fourth outfielder. Within weeks, he had signed David Price and Chris Young while trading for Craig Kimbrel. Aside from one additional move to round out the roster (dealing surplus starter Wade Miley for reliever Carson Smith), the work was done.
That direct formula — identify needs and address them — likewise characterized the following winters under Dombrowski.
In contrast, at this week’s GM Meetings, Bloom and GM Brian O’Halloran declined to identify specific needs or a priority list. The entire roster is seen as changeable.
“I don’t want to characterize it and compare it to past offseasons,” said O’Halloran. “I would just say I’d expect it to be a very creative offseason, one where we’ll explore every path available to us and try to create more paths that aren’t currently available to us, and be open-minded on any way to achieve our short- and long-term goals, which is competing next year and sustaining that long term.”
Many executives around the game remarked on what all of that might mean in an offseason in which the Red Sox have made clear their willingness to discuss trade scenarios involving virtually anyone on their roster.
Yes, the Sox are talking to agents about free agents, but most of those conversations are couched conditionally; it’s possible the Sox would have interest down the road in Player X, but only if other precursor moves happen.
The trade possibilities may be more widespread than perceived. Several executives around baseball believe the Red Sox could find a market for their high-priced starters as long as they are willing to subsidize part of the contracts.
The free agent market features two incredible top-of-the-rotation talents in Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, along with strong second-tier options in Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Still, there are plenty of teams looking for front-line starting, leaving multiple clubs convinced that the Red Sox could find trade markets for one or more of David Price, Chris Sale, and Nate Eovaldi.
With all three, the Sox likely would have to eat a sizable amount of salary — perhaps more than the $24 million Arizona included to move the last two-plus years (and $77 million) of Zack Greinke’s contract to Houston at last year’s deadline. Moreover, the Sox would be selling low after the pitchers’ injuries and performance struggles in 2019. The availability of free agent alternatives would further suppress their value.
Two executives noted that the Red Sox might be able to get considerably more in a deal involving Price at the trade deadline than now, citing the Justin Verlander and Greinke deals with two-plus years of remaining control as precedents.
Even so, the deals with Greinke and Robinson Cano (dealt from the Mariners to the Mets last winter) underscore the notion that players who are perceived as all but immovable not only get dealt but can even, when their contracts are subsidized, fetch impressive prospect returns.
“If you’re willing to be adjustable along the way, if the player has any appeal, or you’re willing to be creative, you can move just about anybody,” said Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, noting that Seattle got an elite prospect (Jarred Kelenic) in the Cano deal.
“I would say most go into it trying to figure out how to make it more beneficial from a prospect standpoint or purely beneficial from a financial perspective.”
“When someone asks a question like that — ‘Is there no chance [of trading a player]?’ — my brain doesn’t go there; my brain says there’s always a way,” said Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey. “ It’s our job in the seats we sit in to try to figure out how to make that work.”
One rival executive wondered whether the Sox would be willing to attach a young player such as Michael Chavis or Bobby Dalbec to Price to diminish the subsidy needed to deal him. But with the Red Sox focused on sustainability, they appear reluctant to give up such young, controllable players unless they get back similarly controllable players.
Most of the speculation has focused on whether the Sox will deal Mookie Betts. Some officials remain skeptical, feeling that the return for a superstar whose market would be limited by his anticipated $28 million-$30 million salary would be too modest to justify moving him. Whereas the Diamondbacks dealt Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis last year with one year remaining on his contract, he was due “just” $14.5 million.
Moreover, there was a general understanding that, unlike Betts, Goldschmidt was open-minded about an extension. Would the Cardinals have made a deal if Goldschmidt had made clear an unwillingness to consider an extension before he hit free agency?
“That,” said Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, “would have been a problem.”
In other words, there’s a chance that teams will steer clear of Betts as a trade target given both his salary and the unlikelihood of extending him before he explores the open market next winter.
The offseason moves won’t be limited to the Red Sox’ most expensive players. Multiple teams consider Jackie Bradley Jr. an available trade target, and even wonder whether the Red Sox might non-tender him to clear his payroll from the books rather than paying him a salary in the vicinity of $11 million.
In short, the futures of plenty of Sox players are open for discussion — in a way that raises more questions than answers about what next year’s roster will look like, or even what kind of players the Red Sox will pursue this offseason. Right now, they are a team still trying to identify and create numerous paths to move forward — and nowhere near identifying which one they will follow.
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Bloom and O’Halloran met with Dustin Pedroia in Phoenix Thursday before leaving the GM Meetings . . . Sox prospect Noah Song touched 99 miles per hour and struck out two batters on sliders in a perfect eighth inning in the Premier12 tournament for Team USA in its 3-2 win over Chinese Taipei.