Saturday marks the official start of free agency, and more or less represents the official start of the Hot Stove season. Some may argue that already started with Clayton Kershaw agreeing to a new contract and with a smaller deal in which the Cubs sent Drew Smyly to the Rangers, but it starts in earnest on Saturday. The Red Sox, of course, are coming off one of the best seasons in MLB history, but they still have work to do this winter. There’s always work to do this winter. Here’s a quick look at what lies ahead for this team as free agency gets started.
The Red Sox have quite a few players who have become free agents this year, all of whom had a varying amount of impact on the team’s World Series run. I’ll list them below, and give a completely arbitrary rating on a scale of 1-10 of the likelihood they are brought back.
- Craig Kimbrel: Kimbrel has, of course, been this teams closer for the last three years and is one of the greatest relievers of all time. He’s had his ups and downs in Boston and didn’t end on the best of notes, but the fact is that the Red Sox don’t have a clear, high-end bullpen arm with whom they can replace him. Kimbrel is far and away the top relief option in free agency this year. Chances of re-sign: 5
- Nathan Eovaldi: Eovaldi only spent a few months with the Red Sox, but in that short time he became a legend on the Boston sports scene. He showed he was willing to do whatever it took to win, even ahead of his free agency, and he looked damn good doing it. Eovaldi has always had the triple-digit heat, but this season he reintroduced his cutter and that has taken his game to the next level. The Red Sox could be in the market for a starting pitcher a their fifth spot isn’t totally clear, but Eovaldi will have a big market, especially without the qualifying offer attached. Chances of re-sign: 6.5
- Joe Kelly: Kelly is another higher-end reliever who took his stock to a new level this postseason as he showed all of his talent coming together for the first time in months. Really, his performance in October was the best I can remember seeing from Kelly at any point. We know the talent is there, it’s about how often he can put it all together. The righty is a fan favorite, and he’s a strong presence in the clubhouse, but the Red Sox have other right-handed set-up men and with Durbin Feltman and Travis Lakins they could have a few more added to the mix. If October influences his market too much, I think he’ll end up elsewhere. Chances of re-sign: 3
- Steve Pearce: Here, we have our first position player and another midseason acquisition-turned-Boston legend. Pearce, of course, won the World Series MVP and seemingly hit a clutch home run every night of Boston’s playoff run. Looking ahead to next year, he could be a perfect fit for this Red Sox team as they will have Mitch Moreland in tow for one year. They could again form a strong platoon with Pearce filling in at DH at times as well. My one concern is that he’ll want more of a full-time role and that some team will give him that chance. I certainly believe the Red Sox will make every effort to re-sign him, but I’m not sure how that will work out. Chances of re-sign: 5.5
- Ian Kinsler: Kinsler was another July trade acquisition, but he didn’t endear himself to Boston the same way as Eovaldi and Pearce. The veteran provided solid defense at second base (except for that error; you know the one) but his bat was certainly lacking. With Dustin Pedroia hoping to be healthy again in 2019, I don’t think the Red Sox are going to look for anything major at second base. Even if they were, I don’t think Kinsler would be the guy. Chances of re-sign: 1
- Drew Pomeranz: Pomeranz entered the 2018 season as a big piece in the rotation after helping lead the team to a division title the year before. His health was never quite right, though, and his performance backed that up. He’s not going to be very expensive, and the Red Sox could look for back-end rotation help, but a reunion isn’t happening here. Chances of re-sign: 1
What they need
As far as what the Red Sox could be looking for this winter, I wouldn’t expect anything major. After all, as you may have heard, they are coming off one of the best seasons in baseball history. And, while they’re losing a handful of good free agents, the core of the team remains. That doesn’t mean they’ll stand pat, but it does mean they don’t have to be on the lookout for some kind of major addition in the way they have in each of Dave Dombrowski’s first three offseasons.
Most of the focus, I’d imagine, will be on the pitching side of things. The bullpen should, and likely will, be the largest focus for the front office. The group was better than it got credit for last year, but there is always room for improvement in relief, and they are losing two key pieces in Kimbrel and Kelly. Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier are solid pieces in the late innings, while Feltman and Lakins represent intriguing wildcards. More is needed, though. I’d expect two moves to add relief help, with one of them being on the larger side (i.e. Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, Adam Ottavino, etc). The rotation, meanwhile, is locked into its top four with Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez, but the fifth spot is up for grabs. With Brian Johnson, Steven Wright and Hector Velazquez the Red Sox probably won’t feel pressure that they have to do something, but there’s enough question marks that I think they would. Some possible targets include Eovaldi, Charlie Morton and J.A. Happ.
On the position player side of things, I don’t see much action for Boston. There will be plenty of calls for the team to upgrade behind the plate, and there are intriguing options in free agency with guys like Wilson Ramos, Yasmani Grandal, Robinson Chirinos and Jonathan Lucroy. It seems to me that Boston is comfortable with any two of their three catchers, though, and will focus their resources elsewhere. I think the most likely target is a right-handed bat for the bench like Pearce, and/or someone who can add to their outfield depth.
The Trade Market
Free agency starts on Saturday, but obviously that’s not the only way a team can upgrade its roster. Dave Dombrowski knows a thing or two about trading, and there’s no doubt he’ll be exploring that market once again this winter. Again, as I said above, the team doesn’t need any major upgrades. There’s probably not a blockbuster trade coming this winter. If there is, the Red Sox don’t have the prospect capital to pull it off, which would mean someone like Rafael Devers or Jackie Bradley Jr. going. I don’t anticipate that happening.
As for what could be dealt, the Red Sox do have some surpluses on the farm from which they can deal. I won’t look at potential targets right now because there are just too many possibilities, but corner infield prospects are Boston’s forte. With higher-end guys like Michael Chavis, Bobby Dalbec and Josh Ockimey as well as lower-end, recent draftees like Triston Casas, Nicholas Northcut and Brandon Howlett, Boston can trade one or two of these types and still feel good about their farm system at this position. Among those names, I’d say Dalbec is the most likely to be traded with his stock at its highest level since being drafted.
Stay tuned a little later for an update on where the Red Sox stand payroll-wise heading into free agency.