As we noted earlier today, the potential 2020 season will bring a host of new rules governing player transactions. We haven’t heard anything yet regarding how that’ll take place. But supposing there’s an opportunity at some point to strike trades, it’s quite likely that non-contending teams will be as anxious as ever to make deals.
But wait … are the Red Sox a contending team? Obviously they aren’t going all out, having just traded one of the game’s very best players in Mookie Betts along with high-priced veteran David Price. The team may maintain that wasn’t driven exclusively by luxury tax considerations, but there’s no way to sell it as enhancing the team’s 2020 outlook. And the club did manage to dip just under the luxury line — making it all the more important that the season end up being played, so that the anticipated competitive balance tax rate reset isn’t wiped out.
At the time, we might’ve wondered whether a first half boom could’ve led the Red Sox to turn into a mid-season 2020 buyer. It would’ve been hard to sell away from a winning club, at least. But then came the whole global pandemic thing, which halted any thoughts of a typical season and trade deadline. And in the midst of that the club lost its most talented pitcher when Chris Sale went under the knife for Tommy John surgery.
The Boston organization still projects as an above-average team. And the odds of a surprise would increase in a short-season format with an expanded postseason. But you have to recognize that the American League is extremely top-heavy. On paper, the Sox are no match at all for the best clubs.
Meanwhile, new Red Sox baseball ops leader Chaim Bloom has already pulled the band aid off when it comes to trading veterans. He’s looking to 2021 and beyond and the fan base knows it. None of them are deciding whether to show up for games this season anyway. Under the circumstances, the Boston organization should be pretty motivated to trade short-term veterans for whatever long-term value it can get. With every team facing renewed and unexpected future financial concerns, there could be some wild opportunities out there.
If and when Bloom returns to the trading floor, he won’t have a Betts to work with. It’s quite unlikely he’ll seriously entertain talks for long-term core player such as Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts. It’s not likely the team will be keen to discuss Andrew Benintendi and Christian Vazquez given that each has multiple seasons of affordable control remaining. Even younger players like Alex Verdugo and Michael Chavis surely aren’t going anywhere.
But Bloom sure has a lot of other guys that would be worth talking about …
- Brandon Workman, RP: In retrospect, it’s surprising there wasn’t more talk of Workman in the offseason. He ran up over seventy frames of sub-2 ERA ball last year with big strikeout and groundball numbers. And he was approximately the only pitcher in baseball that seemed immune to the long ball, though walks remain a concern. With only a $3.5MM salary, Workman is a really nice target for the many teams that will be looking to compete as hoped without adding financial obligations.
- Jackie Bradley Jr., OF: The salary considerations go in the opposite direction here, as Bradley’s $11MM walk-year payout isn’t very friendly to the pocketbooks. He’s not likely to be a sought-after player unless he really makes a rebound at the plate. But he has shown that ability before and is a quality up-the-middle defender.
- Kevin Pillar, OF & Mitch Moreland, 1B: These veterans are both going to have to show what they’ve got on the field before any other teams take a look. But each could be a mid-season rental target.
- Eduardo Rodriguez, SP: Perhaps the most valuable potential Red Sox trade target that could realistically be shopped, the quality southpaw only just reached his 27th birthday after a productive and healthy 2019 season. He’s due a reasonable $8.3MM (on a full season basis) with one more arb year to go, so the Red Sox will probably intend to hang onto him for 2021 … though their plans could probably be changed with the right offer.
- Matt Barnes, RP: He keeps producing monster strikeout numbers with good but not great results, due in part to some free pass proclivities. There’d be a ton of interest if the Red Sox make him available, but as with Rodriguez, there’s little reason for the team to sell short. Barnes is earning a full-season $3.1MM salary in 2020 with another pass through arbitration to come thereafter.
- J.D. Martinez, OF/DH: Might there be added interest with a temporary National League DH? That’d be a risky strategy since the designated hitter could disappear in 2021, particularly given Martinez’s significant post-2020 obligations ($19.375MM apiece in 2021 and 2022). The slugger’s now less likely than ever to opt out of the remainder of his deal.
- Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez & Collin McHugh, SPs: None of these hurlers would be moved at the moment, but perhaps that could change if mid-season trades are possible. The former is owed a lot of coin, but could conceivably be swapped in the right circumstances — if he returns to form. The latter two are buy-low free agent signees who’d be possible deadline flips in a normal year. Perez does come with a 2021 option.