The big news in Red Sox world, at least for this snapshot in time, is that David Price is drawing some interest from other teams. In that linked post I talked about the two worlds, one in which we live with the team’s idea that they have to get below the luxury tax and the other where it’s not accepted. While the second is the one in which I generally live, the upsetting fact is that we have no control over the team’s decisions, and ultimately we have to evaluate things based on the criteria put forward by those in charge.
To that end, the idea of David Price being traded can be justified. If the goal is absolutely to get below the luxury tax for the 2020 season, it basically comes down to trading Mookie Betts or Price. That choice is obvious enough that I don’t need to spend time explaining it. While it’s not quite as simple as just dumping a bad contract with Price, the team does stand to shed some long-term commitment with any potential deal.
Even as we go along with the team’s self-declared payroll issues, however, this still has become troubling due to one portion in particular in the Passan report, which is included in the link above. That is the idea they could throw in some sort of “player with value” to facilitate a deal. That would be terrible.
The exact wording on Passan’s reporting was “player with value,” which in today’s baseball market can only mean two things. The first is a contributing major-league player relatively early in his career who is being paid less than a market rate. We’re not talking about, like, Marco Hernández or Sam Travis or Colten Brewer here. A player with value has to, ya know, add real value. So, by definition, if they are a major leaguer they are a contributor.
Which, in turn, means the 2020 roster — and beyond — gets even worse. At this point, you are approaching the point of just punting on the upcoming season. There are already plenty of holes to be filled before any potential deal. If you go through with this, you are leaving yourself with two extra holes to fill, and while you certainly open up some money you’re still not all that much below the luxury tax threshold. Certainly not to the point where you can replace the talent you’ve given up through free agency. It’s not just 2020, either, because any “player with value” who would qualify here would be someone to help for at least 2021 as well, and likely a couple seasons beyond that.
As far as the players who could fit under this category, most of the speculation has been around Andrew Benintendi. It should be noted that, as far as I can tell at least, there haven’t really been concrete rumors about this possibility. That said, there’s enough smoke here that it isn’t unreasonable to believe there’s some fire. Benintendi is certainly coming off a down year and is far from a guarantee to become a legitimately valuable player despite his prospect status. On the other hand, he’s only entering his age-25 season and was fantastic in 2018. Even if you think this is the point at which his value is the highest, using said value to save some money in a Price trade is a misuse of assets. Instead, Benintendi would be best utilized (again, only if you think 2019 is who he is) as a way to acquire some controllable pitching or at least good prospects that can in turn potentially be used to acquire said pitching. Other than Benintendi, the only other player I could really see fitting this mold would be Michael Chavis.
So, a young major leaguer of value is one possibility to fill that “player with value” role. The other possibility would be using one or more prospects. There are two issues with thise one. First of all, what prospects? Boston’s farm system is moving in the right direction, but it’s still not one nearly loaded with talent. They have one top 100 talent in Triston Casas and maybe one more in Noah Song depending on what happens with his military status. If a team is taking on David Price, they are presumably trying to win now and would prefer prospects closer to the majors that can fill some holes sooner than later. The Red Sox farm system’s strength is in the lower levels, and not with anything close to can’t-miss names. They have a lot of upside in the lower minors that rebuilding teams would be more apt to take chances on, but a Price deal isn’t going to come with one of those teams. Their farm system just isn’t suited for a deal with a team that prefers prospects closer to the minors.
Of course, in today’s league teams at any point in the contention cycle will take prospects they like at any level if the value is right. This brings us to our other issue. Even if the Red Sox find a partner who would take one of those lower-level prospects who hasn’t blossomed yet but has upside, Boston isn’t in a position to make that kind of deal. They’ve talked a lot about sustainable success, and part of that is developing the farm. That’s clearly a goal for this front office, and if they are to accomplish it they are going to need to let these younger minor leaguers grow into their promise. Just like with someone like Benintendi, giving up on that chance for one or two of those prospects for the chance to save a few more million dollars in a Price trade would be a misstep.
The counterargument to all of this is that the extra money saved would go into future contention, but I’m not so sure about that. Given what is going on with the market right now, Price should be worth something in the vicinity of $20 million per year for a three-year deal. So, if that baseline is correct then the extra savings from adding in a Benintendi or a Chavis or a prospect would be roughly $10 million. What are they doing with that $10 million to be more sustainable? There are other ways to find the hypothetical $10 million without giving up extra present and future value.
I’m not wild about the idea of a Price trade in general, but again in the world where the Red Sox are insisting they have to cut payroll and there’s nothing we can do about it, I’ll go along with it. It’s really the only way. However, if they go and add more to a deal just to save some extra money, then they are making a mistake. Like I said, even if you have a young major leaguer or a prospect with upside who you think is at their highest point of value on the trade market, there are other ways to utilize that. Using that value to pay less of Price’s salary in a deal seems like a good path towards a sustainable profit margin, but is less enticing as a path to sustainable winning.