LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- There could be some team groupthink going on with a relatively slow-moving market. And it just may work to teams’ advantage, and to the players’ chagrin.
Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Monday that the Giancarlo Stanton trade and Shohei Ohtani’s decision to go to the Angels had opened up the landscape “tremendously.” A lot more calls were coming in.
But when it comes to the Red Sox' pursuit of a relief pitcher, for example, Dombrowski alluded to the possibility it could take a while to land someone.
“There are a lot of guys out there still. There's not as many left-handed relievers,” Dombrowski said. “There are more right-handed relievers. You see movement when it takes place. But I would not say getting a right-handed reliever today is our driving force, and there are not that many left-handed relievers out there. I would not be surprised if that lasted a while, too.”
One agent Tuesday surmised the teams might well win if they just wait out players more than they have in the past -- and that's what people anticipate will happen.
Guys will start to get nervous, start to crumble. Not everyone, but some. This is one reason the union might want to fight to shorten free agency.
One trickle-down effect? Minor-league free agency has been a crawl as well.
There is risk involved for teams too, though. If most everyone waits, demand doesn’t simply disappear.
On the matter of that righty reliever Dombrowski referred to, the Sox run the risk of overestimating their right-handed relief corps.
Craig Kimbrel is a given. Carson Smith, if healthy, is a great asset, but there should be a little sense of discomfort given the Sox haven’t seen him really healthy in their uniform.
But Addison Reed is gone, and even if a strong lefty setup man is brought in -- think Jake McGee or Tony Watson among free agents -- the Red Sox might be tricking themselves into thinking they have enough depth.
The Red Sox were approached by Pat Neshek’s camp before the reliever signed a two-year deal worth about $16 million with the Phillies, and declined to get involved, a baseball source with knowledge of the negotiations said.
Depth is the key word here, and reliable depth. Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree and Joe Kelly all have upside and were significant contributors to the 2017 Red Sox. But what about creating a fearsome bullpen for the postseason? Injuries do happen, as the Red Sox know as well as anyone when it comes to setup men.
You can argue too that the Sox need some different looks now with the Yankees carrying Stanton, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. Barnes, Hembree and Kelly are all primarily fastball pitchers.
"Well, Carson Smith's not like that,” Dombrowski said. “He’s a main guy. He's not like that. He's a different motion, a lot of sliders, sinkers. So we do have somebody that is like that too that's really effective versus right-handed hitters.”
Okay. That’s one. What if he's hurt? What if he's not pitching well?
Compared to other free agents, relievers are still relatively inexpensive. Better to sign an “extra” piece now than make a trade midseason. They should do everything possible to hold on to their prospects. Some remarks at this year’s winter meetings about the state of the Sox farm system, the talent that remains, have not been kind.
There is an element of discipline at play when the Red Sox don’t go all in for a guy like Stanton and his mega contract. Even if you thought Stanton was totally worth it, you have to appreciate that Dealer Dave and the Sox are showing discipline. Eventually, they were going to need it. And they'll continue to need it to make up for past contracts (including those given by the previous administration).
PRICE ON PACE
David Price is on a regular offseason throwing program, and has no restrictions thus far.
Price hurt his elbow in spring training last year.
“His offseason program was good, his throwing program was good, he just got hurt when he was throwing,” Dombrowski said. “The doctors haven't asked us to change anything about that, about his preparation, our training people have not.”
The Sox don’t yet have a sense of how they’ll handle Price’s workload going forward.
Also, Eduardo Rodriguez is doing well in his recovery from knee surgery and the Red Sox are optimistic he can return in April.