Alex Speier of The Boston Globe noted on Saturday that the Red Sox were interested in bringing back Travis Shaw before the third baseman signed a one-year, $4MM deal with the Jays. Boston wasn’t prepared to make Shaw an offer without first moving salary via trade, so the corner infielder went elsewhere in the division, Speier says. We heard during Shaw’s brief time on the open market that as many as 14 teams were interested in acquiring his services, so the real takeaway seems to be just how tightly Boston may be constricted by payroll this winter. It’s also been widely understood that CBT concerns would limit the club in 2020, but an aversion to bringing in a player on even a $4MM deal may signal, by my own speculation, that the club may well be limited to minor league deals or near-minimum guarantees from here until camp breaks.
Two more items from around the game…
- In the same piece, Speier penned a thoughtful exploration of the changing shape of roster construction around the game. Although emphasis has increasingly been placed on young, cost-controlled talent in recent years, especially in the wake of the Cubs’ and Astros’ successful full-scale rebuilding efforts, several young superstars have ended up on the trade block this winter. Mookie Betts, Carlos Correa, and Francisco Lindor have all been involved in trade rumors to varying degrees, a development that may have been unthinkable when those players broke into the game just a few years ago. As Speier puts it, “the openness of recent title contenders to such drastic roster shakeups reflects a late stage in the development of homegrown cores in an era where teams are treating the luxury tax as a major constraint.”
Building teams around waves of young talent may only leave cost-conscious teams with a three-year window of payroll flexibility, as collective arb raises can trigger payroll bumps in the tens of millions in a single offseasons. If, as most teams built around youth movements have done, those early minimum-salary seasons are supplemented by major free agent signings, then the payroll crunch gets all the more severe by year four or five of a team’s window. The circumvention around this, of course, is the early-career extension, which, as Speier points out, the Sox used to a happy end with Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester toward the end of the last decade; it’s fair to wonder whether the current “crunch” facing several competitive teams is only going to make early extensions all the more conventional. Two teams currently built around young talent–Seattle and Atlanta—come to mind as two examples of clubs that may be trying to get ahead of the curve in that regard.
- The Indians received a fair amount of criticism in the wake of the Corey Kluber trade—with many naysayers bemoaning the club’s $40MM-plus payroll drop since 2017. However, as Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com puts it, perhaps the Tribe has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to how they approach putting together a pitching staff. While giant-dollar deals for free agent pitchers have been issued liberally this winter, Cleveland will head into the 2019 season with a largely near-minimum staff. While some may read the club’s decision to unload Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber as a sign of mere cheapness, Hoynes notes that the team received the bulk of its 2019 starts (113) from pitchers making the major-league minimum ($550k) or just over it—and to generally great success. With seven straight winning seasons built mainly around on-the-cheap pitching acquisitions, the Indians may simply be placing greater faith in their player development abilities than anything else. By my own addition, it may serve to remember that Kluber and Bauer were both generally unproven youngsters when they first arrived in Cleveland.