We know the deal with the Red Sox this winter. Granted, we don’t know the specifics — that is, in a way, what this is whole post is going to be about — but we know the underlying motivation (or at least one of them) for everything that is done between now and the end of the 2020 season. They want to get under the luxury tax threshold ($208 million this season) and reset the penalties that come with exceeding said threshold, which they have done in each of the last two seasons. Whatever your feelings of the strategy, it is the way.
It’s become clear that trading David Price is the most likely avenue the team will pursue to offload a significant amount of cash, with trades of Jackie Bradley Jr. and maybe Nathan Eovaldi on the table as well or instead. The possibility of trading Mookie Betts remains on the table too, though at this point it appears unlikely. That said, although we know (or, perhaps more accurately, think we know) what the Red Sox want to do, we have gotten no indication that they are particularly close to getting any sort of trade done. The timing is important since it appears they can’t really do anything until they shed some salary. All while the rest of the league goes about the fastest-moving offseason we’ve seen in a couple of years.
Now, obviously just because we haven’t heard anything doesn’t mean nothing is imminent. Something could happen later today and it wouldn’t be a total surprise. The Chaim Bloom era is too short to know anything, but it’s worth noting that some of the most concrete rumors — Mookie Betts to the Dodgers and David Price to the Blue Jays — appeared from the outside to be leaks from the other side of the table. I’m sure things have come from the Red Sox side this winter, of course, but generally we haven’t gotten much. The two signings they have made didn’t have any warning before they happened.
Anyway, the fact that nothing has happened to this point despite having crossed into a new year and inching closer to spring training is the main point here, and the reasoning from Bloom’s perspective is obvious. With Price specifically it behooved him to wait out the top of the free agent market so the teams that missed out would look more attentively at the trade market. Even generally with any player they are looking to trade, the longer they wait the more likely another team gets desperate and offers a better return and/or to eat more money. There is an argument to be made on waiting into spring training if you have to in case a contender suffers a big injury.
Of course, that line of thinking doesn’t come without its flaws. While all of this waiting is happening, replacement options are signing with other teams. Despite cutting payroll, the Red Sox are still ostensibly trying to win in 2020. Trading Price or Bradley or Eovaldi or whoever else requires a replacement on the roster, as none of the major trade candidates have obvious replacements waiting in the wings.
Take, for example, the rotation. If Price or Eovaldi was dealt, the fifth starter currently on the roster would probably be Ryan Weber? Or Hector Velázquez? It’s not what you want. Meanwhile, even as we speak the best starters on the market by projected fWAR (not my favorite measure, for whatever it’s worth, but it’s a handy and easy-to-access guide) are Alex Wood, Iván Nova and Jhoulys Chacín. I mean, I think that list speaks for itself. These players also aren’t going to be out there forever, either. We could easily check back in a week with all three off the board. (Both Rich Hill and Homer Bailey, for example, signed on New Years Eve.)
The outfield picture — in the event of a Bradley trade — is similarly bleak, assuming you take guys like Marcell Ozuna, Yasiel Puig and Nicholas Castellanos out of the picture. At that point you’re looking at Kevin Pillar, Steven Souza, Jarrod Dyson and Cameron Maybin as potential fits. Again, it’s not what you want and it’s also a market that will only continue to get weaker as time goes on.
It should be mentioned that the free agent market is not the only way the Red Sox can acquire talent. It’s entirely possible they fill any hole resulting in a trade either in that same deal or with another one. I would consider it unlikely, but Bloom’s time in Tampa Bay certainly left an impression of creativity so nothing should be ruled out. I’m skeptical they could get a starter-quality player back in any of these deals, as they are being spoken of both locally and nationally as essentially salary dumps. I’m also skeptical the Red Sox have the prospects or would be willing to part with the prospects necessary to get players who could make a real difference.
Again, though, that certainly does not mean it’s impossible. I’ve been wrong many times. More importantly, it’s also not to say any of that is a reason not to wait. For one thing, we have no idea what’s being offered right now. Perhaps it’s so bad they have no choice but to wait. The fact is this is a really hard balancing act and one of the pitfalls of trying to shed salary while also competing. You have to get the best deal — whether that means in terms of return or salary relief — in any trade, but you also can’t wait forever or you’ll be out of replacements and come close to punting on 2020. That would be inexcusable with this core. I wish I could end this with some easy solution of how to pull it off, but I really don’t have a good answer. Basically, I’m just glad I’m not the one in charge of the balancing act.