It really doesn’t seem like it has been all that long since the Red Sox made their big splash last winter in trading for Chris Sale. It has been a while, though, and since then they’ve already gone through an entire season and are ready to kick off the hot stove season once again. Somehow, the offseason has already gotten started with Justin Upton returning to the Angels after they added an extra year onto the end of a contract he could have opted out of this winter. That’s only the beginning of what should be an eventful winter, though I wouldn’t expect a ton of other movement and big news in the near-future. However, with that being said, there are reasons to believe the Red Sox could be among the teams to start shaking up their roster sooner rather than later this winter.
I should say right away that this is not based on any inside information or anything else beyond pure speculation. Just looking at the situation the Red Sox find themselves in right now, it would make sense for them to explore the trade market right away and see if they can strike an early deal. They could also do this in free agency, I suppose, but the assumption is that they’ll look at higher-end free agents rather than bargains. This is backed up by a report saying they’ll be in play for Eric Hosmer. Those upper-tier free agents tend to determine the pace of their markets more than the teams themselves, and it’ll probably take a little bit of time before those dominoes start to fall.
The biggest reason I could see Dave Dombrowski and company hitting the phones early and trying to work some deals is because of the team’s pool of Rule 5 Draft-eligible players. The deadline to protect these players in November 20, and while we’ll go over the candidates to be protected when that date gets closer, it’s worth noting how many notable players there are. Just a cursory look at the eligible players shows that guys like Jalen Beeks, Danny Mars, Ty Buttrey, Justin Haley, Aneury Tavarez, Daniel Gonzalez, Dedgar Jimenez and Chandler Shepherd are eligible. There’s a wide range of talent and probability of being selected in that list, of course, but there’s at least some argument for every player listed there.
It should go without saying that the Red Sox won’t have room on their 40-man roster to protect everyone who could feasibly be selected in the draft. That is even the case if you object to any of the names I included above, which would be fair. Right now, the Red Sox have 37 players on their 40-man, giving them a maximum of three players they can protect. This, obviously, would be less if they wanted to pick someone themselves in the draft or if they wanted to sign a free agent. All of this is to say that the easiest way to resolve this issue would be to trade a player, or multiple players, from that list in order to receive something for them rather than potentially losing them for nothing.
The Rule 5 stuff is the biggest driver for the Red Sox possibly being an early trade candidate, in my opinion, but there’s also the simple fact that Dave Dombrowski is in charge. He’s not necessary always someone who does things early, but he is someone who figures out what he wants and goes out and gets it as quickly as possible. Sometimes, this leads to him throwing an extra piece or two in to get a deal done. This has justifiably led to some criticism. That being said, he pretty much always gets his guy, and there’s value in that. I would assume that can be flipped the other way and that if he has a trade possibility that he believes can benefit the team, in this case one involving a Rule 5 eligible minor leaguer, it would not be difficult to see him pushing hard for a quick deal.
As I said above, I don’t think the Red Sox will be doing anything too major this early in the year. I would not expect the headline deal they make this winter, whatever it may be, to come within the next week or two. Still, given what the Red Sox roster looks like, all of the prospects who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft, and the man who is in charge of all of it, the ingredients are there for an early trade. Whether it’s for a second baseman, a reliever or a boost for the farm system, the Red Sox have an opportunity to take care of one of their secondary needs and can do it early.