- Conversations surrounding the Red Sox bullpen continued for much of the 2019 season, as the club’s decision to forego the Craig Kimbrel market caused many fans to wonder about front office priorities. It’s rather kind then, for Jen McCaffery of The Athletic to offer some free bullpen scouting in her latest piece, in which she looks at a few outside acquisitions who might be a fit in a Boston uniform. Trade options (Brandon Kintzler) and impending free agents (Steve Cishek, Will Harris) are both bandied, with McCaffery wondering aloud if Boston’s new leadership might be inclined to keep Brandon Workman in the ninth inning role he handled for much of 2019. The Sox recorded a collective 4.40 relief ERA last season, 18th among major league teams.
Red Sox Rumors
Although Boston owner John Henry stated last month that the Red Sox were going to begin by “looking outward” in their search for a new GM/President, Rob Bradford of WEEI believes there is a “growing belief” around baseball that the club will ultimately hand the reins to an internal candidate (link). Although no sources are named in Bradford’s report, the silence surrounding Boston’s hiring search leads the writer to believe that the club may look inward in search of Dave Dombrowski’s successor. As Bradford points out, it’s possible that Henry’s comments were made with half a mind toward luring one of Mike Hazen, Theo Epstein, or Andrew Friedman to Beantown. Now that those potential candidates are staying put, it seems reasonable to wonder if ownership might be evaluating which of the four people currently running Boston’s baseball ops–Eddie Romero, Brian O’Halloran, Zack Scott and Raquel Ferreira–would be best suited for supreme leadership.
The Red Sox’s payroll has already emerged as one of the top stories to monitor in the upcoming offseason. With Boston’s “goal” of dropping their competitive balance tax number for 2020 south of the $208MM threshold, some difficult decisions are surely looming. After all, the Sox already have north of $150MM on the luxury tax ledger next season, per Spotrac, not counting arbitration-eligible players. (If J.D. Martinez were to opt-out of the remaining three years and $62.5MM on his deal, that would knock $22MM off the Sox’s tax ledger but potentially cost the team their best hitter).
On top of that, Boston’s upcoming arbitration class is massive, with twelve players projected to earn upwards of $70MM. A few (Chris Owings, Gorkys Hernández, Steven Wright) are easy non-tenders, which will knock the projected arbitration earnings down $5-6MM. Still, it’s clear that the math doesn’t position the Red Sox to reset their tax number especially easily. The team’s yet to be determined long-term baseball operations head will have some challenges to overcome.
To that end, Christopher Smith of Mass Live hears that the current front office is already discussing potential non-tenders which could ameliorate payroll concerns. While Jackie Bradley, Jr. (projected $11MM salary) may stand out as a speculative non-tender candidate, Smith opines it’s more likely than not the Sox will indeed tender the 29 year-old a contract. (Catcher Sandy León, Smith hears, is in bigger jeopardy of losing his job after another abysmal offensive showing.)
2019 was a disappointing one for Bradley, although he did rebound from a nightmarish April to post a pretty typical .225/.317/.421 line (90 wRC+). That marked the third straight season of below-average offensive production for Bradley, making his strong 2016 season look like an aberration. Of course, Bradley’s selling point has long been his outstanding glovework in center field, and that remains a strong suit, even if he’s not quite the defender he was at his peak. While DRS and UZR each considered him to be an average center fielder this season, Statcast was still enamored of his work, crediting him with six outs above average. That’s a far cry from the 15 and 12 outs above average Bradley was worth in 2017 and 2018, respectively, but he still remains an asset in the grass.
While Bradley’s absolutely still a major league caliber player, that estimated $11MM price tag is not insignificant for an organization looking to shed payroll. Indeed, Smith notes it’s likely the Red Sox would shop Bradley if they do follow through with an arbitration offer. The upcoming free agent market for center fielders is woeful, but Bradley would likely take a backseat in trade talks to Starling Marté, whom the Pirates should market this winter. Marté, while two years older than Bradley, has been the more productive of the two each of the past two seasons and comes with one additional year of team control.
Entirely speculatively, the Cubs, White Sox, Rangers and Phillies, among others, stand out as teams looking to contend in 2020 who have uncertainty in center field. Bradley’s price tag and lackluster offensive production mean he won’t return a huge prospect haul if Boston were to pull the trigger on a trade, so any team in baseball could put together an adequate package. With the Red Sox still on the lookout for a permanent voice atop the baseball ops department, it’s impossible to handicap at this point the odds of Bradley going elsewhere, much less pinpointing an exact destination. Nevertheless, it’s at least notable to hear that, as of now, the organization doesn’t seem inclined to let their longtime center fielder depart for nothing more than cash savings.
- After reassigning Dana LeVangie to their scouting department, the Red Sox are in search of a new pitching coach. As Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe opines, that’s a search that could have great import for the club moving forward, as the Sox will be on to their fourth pitching coach in the last six seasons in 2020 (link). It’s also a hiring search that carries far more nuance than it might have in previous eras, as modern pitching coaches are expected to blend data and biomechanical considerations with the more traditional soft skills involved with instruction–and that’s before accounting for a coach’s personal baseball-playing background. As Abraham notes, the Twins hired Wes Johnson to be their main source of pitching instruction in 2018, despite Johnson’s complete lack of professional playing experience. The club’s ultimate selection should give some indication of the philosophical leanings of Boston’s current, interim leadership group, which includes assistant GM Eddie Romero; the new coach’s ability to reign in the talents of David Price and Chris Sale should go a long way toward finally bringing some stability to the Boston pitching post.
- With the Red Sox set to embark on a payroll-cutting campaign this offseason, center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. could wind up on the outs, Jen McCaffrey of The Athletic observes (subscription link). “You always think about it,” Bradley told McCaffrey in regards to a potential trade, adding, “It’s one of those things you just have to wait and see what happens.” Trade rumors centering on Bradley aren’t anything new, but no other club has convinced Boston to move him yet. However, the soon-to-be 30-year-old’s team control is dwindling – he’ll be a free agent after next season – while his salary is rising. Bradley’s projected to earn $11MM in 2020, and that could be too rich for the Red Sox’s blood in the wake of a modest season for JBJ. He totaled just 1.4 fWAR, his lowest since 2014, while hitting .225/.317/.421 with 21 home runs, eight stolen bases across 567 plate appearances. Although Bradley’s offensive output in 2019 wasn’t much different than the production he posted over the prior two seasons, his defensive numbers fell off, as he notched both a negative DRS (minus-1) and UZR (minus-0.7) for the first time since 2013.
The Red Sox announced several notable changes to the coaching staff under manager Alex Cora. In particular, the club will be hiring a new pitching coach duo.
While the Boston organization will retain the services of pitching coach Dana LeVangie and assistant pitching coach Brian Bannister, both will be reassigned. The former will join Steve Langone (who had been manager of advanced scouting) as pro scouts. Bannister will become VP of pitching development, thereby turning his attention to the organization’s farm system.
In addition, the club announced that Andy Barkett will not return as the assistant hitting coach. He had been in that role since the 2018 season, working alongside hitting coach Tim Hyers.
It isn’t entirely clear whether the Red Sox are contemplating any further changes to the staff, though it seems reasonable to presume that they’ll retain the remaining coaches. The club has continued to move ahead with fairly significant decisions even though it still lacks a single chief of its baseball operations department.
- The site has already thoroughly explored the ongoing contract outlook for Red Sox superstar Mookie Betts. To recap, the club’s forthcoming CBT trapeze act, Betts’ impending arbitrational raise, and the player’s apparent ambivalence to signing an extension with the team have all coalesced to the point where the near-unthinkable–a trade involving the near-peerless Betts–may be a consideration this offseason. One factor that won’t figure into Betts status for 2020? Organizational tension. As noted in a piece from Chris Cotillo of Masslive.com, the four executives* in charge of Sox operations in the wake of the Dave Dombrowski firing–including assistant GM Eddie Romero–are not holding Betts’ businesslike approach to negotiation against him (link). “I think he’s doing what’s in the best interest of Mookie and I think that’s what athletes should do,” Romero told Cotillo. “Every situation of these is case-by-case. Mookie has been the one who has sacrificed his body and has put in the work. He has the right to decide what he wants to do.” In addition to Romero, team president Sam Kennedy and chairman Tom Werner both comment in Cotillo’s piece on their faith in Betts as both a person and a player, and Romero goes as far as to say that the player has “earned” the right to hit free agency. While this dialogue could just be seen as an encouraging bit of rationality in the front office realm, it is fair to wonder, for those reading tea leaves, whether such a congenial atmosphere could be foreshadowing to an amicable parting of ways between player and team.
- Andrew Benintendi put on some weight last winter in an attempt to add more power to his game, though in the wake of a down year, the Red Sox outfielder tells WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford that the new goal is “to get lighter and more athletic this offseason.” Many tabbed Benintendi to break out into superstardom in the wake of his impressive 2018 season, though he ended up hitting only .266/.343/.431 over 615 PA in 2019. Some nagging injuries played a role, though Benintendi’s added bulk didn’t translate into more power, as he posted a lower slugging percentage and fewer homers (13) than in 2018. Benintendi is hoping that better health and a more back to his old speed-based game will result in a better 2020 season.
- Also from Bradford’s piece, he notes that Trey Ball and Teddy Stankiewicz have reached minor league free agency and could be unlikely to remain in the Red Sox farm system. Ball was chosen seventh overall in the 2013 draft while Stankiewicz was Boston’s second selection (45th overall) from that same class, though neither player has reached the big leagues. Bradford takes the opportunity to look back at a draft year that ended up as almost a complete miss for the Red Sox, as only five (Mauricio Dubon, Carlos Asuaje, Matt Thaiss, Gabe Speier, and Kyle Martin) of the 40 players selected have reached the majors, and none ever suited up in a Boston uniform. Still, the 2013 draft class did plant some indirect seeds for future success — Asuaje was part of the trade package the Sox sent to the Padres for Craig Kimbrel, while Speier was included as part of the Rick Porcello trade with the Tigers.
First of all, there’s more than a decent chance that Mookie Betts will still be a member of the 2020 Red Sox. As per Sox president/CEO Sam Kennedy, the team’s intention to get payroll under the $208MM luxury tax threshold is a “goal but not a mandate,” so it isn’t as if the Red Sox are going into any sort of fire sale mode. While it seems the club will trim some salaries, they could achieve a lot of those savings in other areas (i.e. other trades or non-tenders, or J.D. Martinez could opt out of his contract) before fully exploring the idea of trading the 2018 American League MVP.
This being said, it wouldn’t be much fun if this post was titled “Looking To Pour Cold Water On A Fascinating Trade Possibility.” And, with Betts still firm in his intent to test the free agent market after the 2020 season, there’s certainly a chance he will be wearing another uniform anyway on Opening Day 2021. For a Red Sox organization that is looking for a creative way to shed salary and reload its minor league system, trading Betts before his final year of team control is an option that should at least be on the table, if certainly not one to be taken lightly.
Betts earned $10.5MM in 2018 after defeating the Red Sox in an arbitration case, and his epic MVP campaign saw his salary rise to $20MM in 2019. After hitting .295/.391/.524 with 29 homers over 706 plate appearances last season, Betts is in line for another big raise in third and final trip through the arb process. Matt Swartz will be publishing MLBTR’s official arbitration projections within a few weeks, though he has informed me that Betts is currently projected to earn $27.7 or $27.8MM for the 2020 season (depending on whether Betts’ base 2019 salary is increased by a bonus should he win a Gold Glove).
That number certainly looms large in any discussion of a Betts trade, given that several teams may balk at committing that much money to a single player (even a superstar like Betts) if they have luxury tax concerns of their own. Plus, a team trading for Betts would have to be expecting to have him for one season at the most. Betts has been so adamant in exploring free agency that it’s very unlikely that he pulls a Paul Goldschmidt and signs an extension with a new team rather than finally get a crack at the open market.
With only one year of Betts on offer, the Red Sox know that trading the outfielder won’t solve all their problems. There’s no chance, for instance, of another payroll-clearing blockbuster like Boston’s legendary August 2012 trade with the Dodgers, since Betts lacks the long-term appeal that Adrian Gonzalez (the Dodgers’ primary target) held for Los Angeles.
Teams also aren’t going to clear out their farm systems for just one year of Betts, though Boston can reasonably assume to top what the Diamondbacks received from the Cardinals for Goldschmidt last December. Betts is over five years younger than Goldschmidt and a more valuable defensive player, so the Red Sox will definitely aim for more than the already-impressive package the D’Backs received — a controllable young starter (Luke Weaver), a controllable young everyday catcher (Carson Kelly), a Competitive Balance Round B pick in the 2019 draft, and another prospect in infielder Andy Young, currently ranked by MLB.com as the 23rd-best Diamondbacks minor leaguer. That said, Goldschmidt was also only making $14.5MM in salary in 2019, whereas Betts’ 2020 salary could be almost double that number.
Let’s go through the other 29 teams to see if we can find a fit as a Betts suitor…
The Marlins, Blue Jays, Orioles, Royals, Tigers, and Mariners are all rebuilding. And the Red Sox would never trade Betts to the arch-rival Yankees, as amusing as it would be to see New York somehow land another Boston superstar almost exactly 100 years after the Babe Ruth deal.
The Rockies don’t have much salary wiggle room to add an expensive player like Betts. Likewise, payroll restraints will likely keep the Pirates and Diamondbacks out of the mix, though Arizona GM Mike Hazen knows Betts well from their time together in Boston. The Brewers also likely face similar financial restraints, plus they don’t have much elite young talent to grab Boston’s interest. The Rangers are another team without much in the way of blue-chip minor league talent, and while Texas is planning to spend more as the team moves into its new ballpark next season, longer-term acquisitions would seem to make more sense for the Rangers than a win-now move like acquiring Betts. Likewise, the Giants are more apt to pursue a long-term option if they go after any premium players at all (i.e. their interest in Bryce Harper last winter).
I put the Cubs a tick above the other “probably not” teams because they’re under increasing pressure to win in 2020, and could potentially be open to some type of creative swap that could see Chicago and Boston shift around several of their undesirable contracts, in addition to sending Betts to Wrigleyville. But there would seemingly be a lot of moving parts in such a deal, and the Cubs have their own set of luxury tax concerns. Plus, while the Sox and Cubs have made a few minor trades since Theo Epstein took over the Cubs’ baseball operations department, one wonder if Red Sox management could be hesitant about sending a star player Epstein’s way.
Probably Not, AL Contenders Edition
The Red Sox wouldn’t have quite the same reservations about sending Betts to another AL rival as they would about putting him into the Yankee pinstripes, but moving him within the AL East to the Rays seems unrealistic. The Sox probably also wouldn’t be too keen to further strengthen the Astros’ juggernaut lineup, though Houston is already facing something of a luxury tax crunch with its own crop of star players. The Indians have taken steps to cut back spending over the last year and can quite likely be ruled out of a Betts pursuit, as much as Cleveland is still trying to keep its contention window open for as long as possible.
While neither the Twins or Athletics are big spenders, it’s possible either team could see a Betts trade as a unique opportunity that merits a one-year payroll spike. Trading for Betts could be seen as a souped-up version of Minnesota’s strategy from the 2018-19 offseason, which making short-term acquisitions in lieu of major financial commitments. Acquiring Betts would cost more than just money, of course, and it remains to be seen if the Twins or A’s would be open to giving up the minor leaguers necessary to pry him away from the Red Sox.
Makes Some Sense
I put both the Nationals and Cardinals leaning closer to the “probably not” category, though trading for Betts would be an eye-popping way for either team to reload if Anthony Rendon or Marcell Ozuna was lost in free agency. Trading for Betts could be seen as a one-year stopgap for teams that are strongly trying to contend in 2020, and the Nats or Cards could then let him walk in free agency and pursue a longer-term star in the 2020-21 offseason (a pursuit that would likely include an attempt to re-sign Betts). It’s rather doubtful that Washington would be eager to deal from a relatively thin farm system, however, while St. Louis may have used up most of its expendable but MLB-ready pieces in the Goldschmidt trade.
The White Sox flirted with the idea of adding a superstar to the ranks with their pursuit of Harper and Manny Machado last offseason, and while Betts would be a much shorter-term addition, it would certainly announce the end of Chicago’s rebuild in a major fashion. If you’re wondering why the Pale Hose would look to add Betts for 2020 when they’re far more than just one player away from contention, the club has explored such a tactic in the past — the White Sox made an offer to the Orioles about acquiring Manny Machado in the 2017-18 offseason, when Machado was also a year away from free agency.
As incredible as it would be to see Betts and Mike Trout in the same outfield, the Angels probably aren’t willing to move top prospects for one year of Betts, especially given how GM Billy Eppler has worked hard to reload a once-barren farm system. Still, the firing of manager Brad Ausmus hints at an increasing impatience within Angels ownership, and Eppler is also entering the last year of his contract, so I can’t entirely rule the Halos out as a potential dark horse.
The Braves and Dodgers each have the prospect depth to get Boston’s attention, though neither team is likely to swap much of its top talent for just one year of Betts since neither is exactly in outright “win-now” mode. It could be argued that Los Angeles could be a bit closer to this category if the Dodgers fall short of another World Series, though the Dodgers have tended to save their biggest trades for the July 31 deadline (when they have a firmer idea of their needs) rather than the offseason.
The Win-Now Teams
Since Betts is only signed through 2020, his most logical trade matches are the teams who definitely want to contend next season, and could be most open to a bold deal to make a postseason berth happen.
As much as Phillies GM Matt Klentak has insisted that he is looking to build a sustainable contender, he’ll be expected to more immediately start bearing the fruits of the Phils’ rebuild process and the team’s splashy 2018-19 offseason. Philadelphia’s 81-81 record has led to rumblings that manager Gabe Kapler could replaced, and another down year could also put Klentak’s own job security in question, though the general manager is signed through 2022. The Phillies made big trades for J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura last winter, though whether they have enough young talent left (or at least enough they’re willing to part with) to acquire Betts remains to be seen. Also, as much as Betts would upgrade the Phils’ middling offensive production, pitching would seem to be Philadelphia’s much more pressing need.
Perhaps no GM is under as much of a microscope as Padres general manager A.J. Preller, as executive chairman Ron Fowler is on record as saying that “heads will roll” in the organization if San Diego faces another “embarrassing” season. Assuming that the Red Sox would be okay with making another big trade with the Padres in the wake of the controversial Drew Pomeranz swap in 2016, a Betts trade would be the kind of major transaction the Padres seemed to be on the verge of making all last offseason, but never completed despite talks about numerous star players with multiple teams. Even if the Padres are more than one player away, the club’s highly-regarded minor league pipeline has so much depth that they could afford to spare a few pieces for Betts and still boast a top-five system. Would a Betts trade be the wisest long-term move? Not really, but after nine straight losing seasons, some type of step towards competitive baseball is definitely needed.
The Reds are a club in more pressing need of lineup help, and since president of baseball operations Dick Williams has set the playoffs as a firm goal for 2020, Betts could very well be a target. Betts’ salary wouldn’t be as big an issue as it would seem for a smaller-market team since the Reds are also planning to spend more. Though Williams has also hinted that the Reds are more apt to explore free agency rather than trades, these plans for an aggressive winter make Cincinnati seem like a solid bet to at least discuss a trade with the Red Sox.
The Mets further thinned out an already shallow farm system in their July trade for Marcus Stroman, and Betts’ salary could prove problematic for a team that has never been too eager to spend despite operating in the New York market. That said, the Mets are firmly planning to contend next year, and GM Brodie Van Wagenen has already shown a penchant for headline-making trades in his first season on the job. Betts would be such a clear and obvious solution to the Mets’ longstanding center field problem that, while it’s not exactly a “one player away” scenario for a team with so many bullpen questions, putting Betts alongside the likes of Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, and J.D. Davis makes for an awfully scary lineup.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
The Red Sox have decided not to bring back assistant hitting coach Andy Barkett, as Alex Speier of the Boston Globe first reported. The 46-year-old had been in the role for two seasons.
Further coaching decisions aren’t yet known, though Speier notes that head hitting coach Tim Hyers is expected to return in the same capacity. While Barkett is said to have been valued as a communicator, Speier suggests that an analytical approach may be preferred in the role.