It's January 28th, and there are still players available in free agency and the trade market, but for all the world, it looks like the 2016 Red Sox are a finished product, barring a minor league signing or two. It's been an eventful offseason for Boston under Dave Dombrowski, and for the most part, a very good one as well. But not all moves are created equal. And that's certainly true of Dombrowski's as well. Let's go through the big ones and separate the best from the rest. Starting with the first big swing of the offseason:
Red Sox trade Javier Guerra, Manuel Margot, Logan Allen, Carlos Asuaje to Padres for Craig Kimbrel
The first move of the offseason was certainly a big one, but probably not the best. There's no one who will deny the role the trade has had in changing the image of Boston's bullpen from a liability to a strength in a division that seems increasingly focused on those final three images. Craig Kimbrel is one of the best closers in the game, and the Red Sox will have him for a few years yet at a fairly reasonable price, dollar-wise. But this deal at once lacks the sheer impact of the David Price deal while still costing the Red Sox quite a bit.
Just how much? Well, for all that Red Sox fans were never quite willing to lump Manuel Margot into the top-four of Benintendi, Devers, Espinoza, and Moncada, he's rocketed up the rankings of national evaluators, making his way as high as the top-20 on some lists. Add in legitimate prospects in Javier Guerra and Logan Allen, and that's quite the package to give up for a reliever.
At the end of the day, what you think of this deal comes down to how you evaluate Manuel Margot. If you're low on him, it could seem reasonable. If you're around where most Sox fans were, it might be a necessary evil sort of deal. If you're as high on him as the national evaluators seem to be, you might even be dreading the evaluation of this trade six years down the line. At no point, though, is this a bargain, and in the non-bargain division, it has far more impactful competition, and thus is not a candidate for the best.
Red Sox sign Chris Young to a 2-year, $13 million contract
This is a deal that's got very little downside and a surprising amount of upside given that Young is just a bench player. The Red Sox really needed some insurance for their uncertain outfield, and certainly didn't mind getting a potential platoon bat for Jackie Bradley Jr. either. Young is the guy you don't want starting for your team right up until the emergency comes along that forces you into playing some minor leaguer who doesn't seem to have so much as seen a baseball bat in their lives. Still, in much the same way that the Kimbrel deal is knocked out of contention by a higher-impact deal in the same vein, the Young deal can't really match up with the Wade Miley trade in terms of high-value deals when it comes to impact, eliminating it from contention as well.
Red Sox sign David Price to a 7-year, $217 million contract (w/ 3-year opt out)
Well, here's the big one. Certainly no deal defines the Red Sox' offseason like this one. They landed one of the best pitchers in baseball and, well, they spent accordingly. Nobody is really going to call a $217 million man a bargain, but David Price doesn't need to be a bargain, he needs to be an ace. And while he hasn't had a chance to be that for the Red Sox just yet, he's about as reliable as they come.
Is this the best move, though? Well, that really comes down to individual taste. Signing David Price for hundreds of millions of dollars is not the most impressive of deals. This one wasn't exactly hard for Dave Dombrowski to find. He targeted one of the best arms in the game, and paid him appropriately. Simple as that. But in terms of just getting the job done, well, the Red Sox needed an ace, and now they have one. This is certainly the deal that stands to improve the team the most from the 2015 edition, and while the Red Sox had to shell out a ton of money for it, that's just the going rate for top-tier arms these days. As the centerpiece to the offseason, and an answer to a big question, this is certainly a contender for the top spot.
Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer
Red Sox trade Wade Miley and Jonathan Aro to Mariners for Carson Smith and Roenis Elias
To compete with the Price signing, any other move has to attack on a different angle, since there's no topping it in terms of impact. The Wade Miley trade does that by going for straight value. If there's any move the Red Sox could really be said to have won with, it's this one.
Trading a starter for a reliever, at least in the headliners of the deal, isn't usually a good starting point for any trade, but even before moving past Miley-for-Smith, there's some serious merit to the deal. While the Red Sox certainly could have used Miley's consistency given the huge number of question marks in their rotation behind Price, Miley is what he is. A viable starter, but not an impressive one. A #4/#5 type with a few reasonably priced years left on his deal ($27 million over the next three years, assuming his $12 million option is picked up in 2018).
Carson Smith might be more than that. Yes, he only pitches so many innings, and his track record is only so long, but his first 78 frames in the majors suggest big things. A 2.07 ERA, 102 strikeouts, and a K:BB of better than four. Even a little bit of closing experience if you focus on that sort of thing. In his first year in the major leagues, Smith emerged immediately as one of baseball's better relief arms. It would not be surprising to see him challenging some of the best in 2016 and beyond.
That beyond, too, is quite long. Five years for the Red Sox before free agency comes into play. Suddenly Smith's 300 innings of elite relief start to match up very nicely with 600 innings of middling starting pitching from Miley.
The Red Sox could use a hot start in 2016
It's far from scientific, but the Red Sox have been much better when they get off to a hot start. How does the early-season schedule look in 2016?
But wait, there's more! After a good season in Pawtucket, Jonathan Aro deserves at least some consideration here, but really acts as little more than a throw-in, with most not expecting much beyond early-inning relief from him. On the other hand, Roenis Elias...well, he's kind of just Wade Miley. He lacks Miley's track record, granted, and a bit of the ability to dream on Miley's best years back in 2012 and 2013, but if you're looking for a no. 5 who can come in and give the team a chance to win, Elias won't save a bad rotation, but he won't sink a good one. And if the Red Sox end up with two-to-three good starters from their current mix of not-David-Price pitchers (Rodriguez, Porcello, Buchholz, Kelly, Owens, Johnson), then Elias is just what they need at the back end of the bunch to avoid a hopeless black hole ala Justin Masterson.
In fact...Elias almost works better for the Red Sox than Miley. Not because of quality--Miley is very likely the better pitcher--but because of what they can do with him. The Sox do, after all, seem dead set on giving the Joe Kelly experiment one more go. When you're relying on that to work, it's a disaster waiting to happen. If Joe Kelly was going to be preventing the Red Sox from signing some other reliable starter due to the lack of an open roster spot, it would be a disaster waiting to happen. With Elias, though, the Red Sox have a guy who doesn't need to be in the rotation right away. He could get some time in the bullpen, or start down in Triple-A. They get to take that flier on the chance Joe Kelly is great, and if it doesn't pan out, they can break the glass on Elias and be reasonably certain they'll at least have a serviceable number five to rely on when all their many risky starters have broken one way or the other.
You might think that, by virtue of receiving a novel's worth of attention compared to the other three deals, this is my pick for the best deal of the offseason. But even with everything it has going for it, the fact remains that it's making some more...intangible changes to the back end of the rotation, while only really bringing a big plus to the bullpen. Valuable, but still, hard to see its glimmer when placed up against the glaring light of David Price, Ace.
To be truly successful in the long run, a GM--or, these days, a President of Baseball Operations--can't simply make the obvious move every time. Because the obvious move ends up costing a lot of money, and at the end of the day, you're left with nothing left to spend and an aging roster, leaving the team vulnerable to anything but a perfect record in the draft. There needs to be a certain level of creativity involved. The ability to find value in margins and acquire big upside from time to time without taking on risk. The Miley deal is reminiscent of deals like the Billy Wagner trade, where the Red Sox essentially bought a first-round draft pick from the Mets for the high, high price of paying the tail-end of Wagner's contract that season and letting one of the game's better relievers pitch for them in the postseason. The Miley trade might not be quite such a clear slam dunk, but it at least plays in the same territory.
But without the obvious moves, the tricky ones often end up insufficient. And that's where Price reigns supreme. The fact of the matter is that, if you remove any one move from the offseason, it's only the Price signing that leaves the whole thing falling flat in its absence.
The good news: Dombrowski made both. He's shown the ability to make both the creative deal, and the obvious one. And as a result the Red Sox seem poised to turn around their losing ways in 2016. At the end of the day, which one is best really just comes down to personal preference.