There hasn’t been a whole hell of a lot going on in the baseball world this offseason, which is something you probably already know and is also a bit of an understatement. Save for a move here and there, it has been a total snoozefest of a winter. The Padres did cause a bit of excitement recently by acquiring Blake Snell and Yu Darvish in separate trades, however, and in that last deal the Cubs’s plan for the offseason came into focus.
Whether or not they want to admit it, the Darvish trade was about salary. It just was. Whatever you think about the prospects they got in return — they are fairly highly-regarded, but not elite and not particularly close to the majors — you don’t come off a playoff appearance and trade your ace and a Cy Young finalist for teenagers unless you’re concerned about salary. There had been some expectation that this was going to be the road taken by the Cubs this winter, and this was seemingly the first domino to fall. It’s not expected to be the last.
Now, we’re not a Cubs site, so we’re not particularly concerned about the Cubs deciding to no longer try being as good as possible with their 2016 championship core still in place. (There is something to be said about what this indicates about the state of the game, but I won’t go on that tangent right now.) But the Red Sox could stand to benefit here if they decide they’re fine with taking on any payroll. To be clear, this is all speculation at this point as Boston hasn’t been connected to any Chicago players in any substantial rumors as of this writing. That said, there are four players I’d be interested in at least calling about if I were Chaim Bloom.
Bryant is the most obvious trade chip for the Cubs and the guy who makes the most sense for the Red Sox among players who could be shopped by Chicago. Willson Contreras is the other most likely to be dealt, but the Red Sox aren’t looking for help behind the plate. With Bryant, he can play a few different positions, which is helpful for a Red Sox team that can use help in multiple places. The more options and more flexibility, the better.
Bryant wouldn’t be targeted for his defense, though, as the offensive upside is the calling card here. A former MVP, he has mostly been outstanding through his major-league career, coming into 2020 with 125 as his career-worst wRC+. This past year, however, was a tough one for Bryant, who finished the shortened season with a 76 wRC+ in a shocking downturn reminiscent of J.D. Martinez. Unlike Martinez, though, Bryant is still only 29 years old (his birthday was yesterday), right in the middle of his offensive prime. The righty’s swing could fit perfectly at Fenway as well.
As far as the fit on the roster, that comes with a bit more complexity. Granted, that is not to say it is a barrier that cannot be overcome, but rather that they’d have to look a few moves ahead. If they’d want to slide Bryant in at third base, they could either move Rafael Devers across the diamond — which is easier said than done, according to Wash — or move Devers to DH, though that would then require a trade of Martinez. More likely would be that Bryant slides into left field, but that comes with its own issues. Since the team has seemingly decided (wisely, in this writer’s opinion) that Andrew Benintendi cannot play center field, a Bryant addition would mean either Benintendi moves to the bench or he is traded. I don’t see the former happening, so they’d probably have to sell low on Benintendi in this scenario.
Bryant is a free agent at the end of the year and is likely to test the free agent market after 2021, but he would almost certainly improve the 2021 Red Sox substantially. The trouble comes in moving other players around to make room. He likely wouldn’t cost a ton in terms of prospects given his salary — he earned over $18 million in 2020 — and lack of years of control, so the Red Sox should certainly at least be weighing this option.
Bryant is the best combination of likelihood and quality, but Rizzo would probably be the fan favorite acquisition. I’ll be clear that this is probably not happening, but this is about guys the Red Sox should call on. It doesn’t hurt to ask, and Rizzo would be a great addition on multiple fronts. He is, of course, a former Red Sox prospect who has blossomed into a star with the Cubs. Like Bryant, Rizzo is also a free agent following this upcoming season, making him a potential trade chip.
The Red Sox don’t necessarily need a first baseman and have bigger fish to fry elsewhere on the roster, but if they can acquire Rizzo while giving up very little, it’s something to think about. Given his production — even in a down 2020 he had a 107 wRC+, and he’s been much better than that the rest of his career — and leadership qualities, he would be a nice stopgap before Triston Casas is ready. Bobby Dalbec will and probably should get his chance to run with this position, but perhaps this trade could be a domino effect to then turn around and use Dalbec as part of a package to get some pitching help. Again, the chances are slim, but it’s worth a phone call.
This one is more realistic than Rizzo, but also less impactful. That said, there could be a really interesting fit here and potentially some prospect help as well if the Red Sox are willing to take on all of the salary. There have been reports all winter that Boston could consider taking on a contract to help with the farm system, and Heyward could be the best of both worlds. The former Brave is not a total sunk cost at this point, even if he’s not necessarily worth his contract that has an average annual value of $23 million with three more years on it.
For that deal, the Red Sox would likely want some prospect help back. I won’t try to create an exact framework here, but if the Cubs are as motivated to shed salary as they appear to be, this would be one path to do that. And Heyward could fit in own his right, too. The outfielder would form a nice platoon in right field with Hunter Renfroe while providing the kind of strong defense the Red Sox look for at that spot at Fenway. Offensively, he’s not the star many people hoped he’d turn in to early in his career, but he has been at least roughly average in each of his last three seasons including a 130 wRC+ this past summer. Limiting him to mostly playing against righties should help keep that offensive floor a bit higher as well.
This one would require some creativity as well as some willingness to open the wallets. Chaim Bloom has been praised for his creativity, though, and luxury tax shenanigans from last winter aside the Red Sox have opened their wallets in the past. I’m not exactly banking on this possibility, but it fascinates me to no end.
Hear me out: He did not blow a save in the 2018 postseason.