John Tomase

The next Red Sox GM should build around these five players

The next Red Sox GM should build around these five players

The defending MVP? No. The former Cy Young winner? Nope. The seven-time All-Star who just averaged over 13 strikeouts per nine innings? Uh-uh.

The question is whom I want back for next year's Red Sox. And the answer is kind of surprising, once you parse it and realize your list only includes five names.

The exercise crystallizes just what kind of challenge awaits Dave Dombrowski's successor as the Red Sox enter a period of bridging/rebuilding that could get ugly.

I wouldn't call any of the following "untouchable" because I don't believe in that concept. But they're the last guys I'd want to move if I were evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the roster: Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Brandon Workman.

That means no Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, David Price, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Nathan Eovaldi, to name just a few. Money plays a central role in these rankings, especially if the Red Sox are serious about corralling their runaway payroll. That's why Betts, an otherwise obvious fit, is a no for me, because it's going to cost $300 million to keep him.

First off are two obvious names: Bogaerts and Devers. They're the present and future of the organization, with one already signed to a reasonable long-term contract and the other a candidate for an extension.

Bogaerts has emerged as a heart-and-soul player, and his six-year, $120 million deal makes him a bargain. He has already topped 30 homers and 50 doubles while playing virtually every day, and he should finish above .300 for the second time in his career, too. He is a foundational piece not just on the field, but in the clubhouse, and the Red Sox are lucky to be able to build around him.

He has taken a particular interest in Devers, the supremely talented 22-year-old who is posting the kind of numbers (.307-31-112-.910) that suggest he could one day challenge for a Triple Crown. Devers remains under team control through 2023, but at some point the Red Sox will undoubtedly broach the subject of a long-term extension. He is already a monster offensively, but with considerable room to grow.

An offense built around young stars would be the envy of most teams, but this one could benefit from a veteran presence, and that's where Martinez enters the picture. The Red Sox don't suddenly need to become a small-market team, but they'd be wise to start limiting their long-term commitments after tying up too much money in Price ($217 million) and Sale ($145 million), in particular. Martinez can opt out of the final three years and roughly $62.5 million remaining on his contract, but he's at an age (32) and position (DH) where he shouldn't command more than four years on the open market.

It may be old-fashioned to say that Martinez's presence allows other hitters in the lineup to flourish, but it's true. Like David Ortiz before him, Martinez commands respect in the middle of the lineup, and as long as he's around, Bogaerts and Devers won't feel the same kind of pressure to produce. Add his very specific skills as a clubhouse hitting guru, and Martinez is worth keeping.

If only we could say the same about any of the overpriced starters. Price will undergo surgery to remove a cyst from his wrist that might solve all his problems, but if the Red Sox could get out from under the final three years and $96 million remaining on his contract, they wouldn't ask twice.

Sale, meanwhile, is still awaiting a follow-up visit with Dr. James Andrews after shutting it down for the final six weeks because of elbow soreness. And even if Eovaldi feels strong heading into the offseason, he remains not only injury-prone, but wildly inconsistent.

E-Rod, however, keeps establishing himself as a legit top-three starter. Still only 26 years old, the lefty has finally delivered his breakthrough campaign, going 18-6 with a 3.53 ERA while averaging more than a strikeout per inning. Maintaining this momentum in 2020 will be a challenge, but he's the one starter I'd bet on at the moment.

Workman seemed an unlikely candidate to be labeled indispensable when the season started, especially since he was only a few months removed from being left off the World Series roster. But the 31-year-old has inexorably transformed himself into one of the game's most uniquely dominant relievers.

Detractors point to his high walk totals and reliance on a curveball as proof that he's just a one-season gimmick, but doing so ignores (a) his 13 strikeouts per nine, and (b) the fact that his fastball is regularly hitting 95 mph again.

Workman has the makeup and stuff to serve as the last line of defense, but the flexibility and selflessness to set up if the Red Sox add a closer. Whatever role he fills in 2020, I just know I want him on my team.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Triston Casas one potential gem in a rebuilding Red Sox farm system

Triston Casas one potential gem in a rebuilding Red Sox farm system

BOSTON -- The next generation of Red Sox prospects isn't nearly as deep or talented as the one that preceded it, with perhaps one exception -- Triston Casas.

The imposing slugger was just named Red Sox minor league player of the year by Baseball America after slamming 20 homers with 81 RBIs in 120 games, all but two of them at Low-A Greenville.

A first-round pick in 2018, Casas was limited to just two games last year by a thumb injury. The 6-foot-4, 238-pounder was drafted out of American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla. on his power potential, and on that front he certainly delivered in 2019.

Casas's 19 homers not only tied for third in the South Atlantic League (he added his 20th with High-A Salem), but the 19-year-old was the only teenager to crack the top 10. Such outstanding production at such a young age, against older, college-tested competition, bodes well for his future.

"I think it went really well," Casas said at Fenway Park on Thursday, where he was honored as the organization's minor league offensive player of the year. "I feel like I learned a lot in this first season and I'm looking forward to the next one."

Casas showed legitimate growth from the beginning of his full-season debut to the end. He opened the season by hitting just .180 (9 for 50) in his first 15 games before heating up in May. He finished at .256 with a .350 on base percentage and an .830 OPS. He credited the turnaround to tweaks.

"Not an overhaul or anything," he said. "As the information gets a little bit better and the hitting coaches are able to relay a little more to me, we tweaked a few things, but nothing too drastic. It was a lot of things. It was set up, positioning in the box, a little bit of swing path and changing my leg kick a little bit to try time up the pitching a little bit better.

"I feel like the adjustment I made from high school to where I am right now is pretty drastic, but so is the pitching. I feel like throughout the year I made a lot of adjustments. It's led me to where I am today. I'm pretty happy where I'm at, but I'd like to get into the offseason and try to perfect it."

And what might that mean? While Casas possesses advanced strike zone recognition, he also struck out 118 times and will need to increase his contact rate.

"Strikeouts are a part of the game," he said. "I had more strikeouts than hits this year, which is something I need to improve on, but it's something I'm not really concerned with. It's part of the game. I'll keep swinging and doing my game."

When the season started, Casas was only a year removed from his high school schedule, which -- even in baseball-intense Florida -- comes nowhere close to the demands of pro ball. But all things considered, he held up well.

"Man, definitely the quick turnarounds," he said. "Coming from high school, you play two or three times a week, maybe. It's pretty different from getting an off-day every two weeks. That's the biggest thing, understanding you get a lot of at-bats, quick turnarounds, an opportunity to fail. It's just a matter of coming out and putting yesterday behind you and putting your best foot forward the next day."

Drafted as a third baseman, Casas is built more like a first baseman already, and evaluators expect that's where he'll settle. The Red Sox seem to agree, which is why he played 94 games at first base and only eight at third.

The fact that he's already built like Red Sox All-Star J.D. Martinez makes it easy to envision him one day calling Fenway Park home. Thursday's visit reminded him of what the future might hold.

"This never gets old, coming to Fenway," he said. "After this year, it felt really good."

Is Eduardo Rodriguez the only reason to watch the Sox?>>>

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa remaining with Red Sox

Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa remaining with Red Sox

The Red Sox aren't fully cleaning house of Dave Dombrowski's top lieutenants -- Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa has agreed to remain with the organization, per an industry source. 

La Russa arrived as a special assistant to Dombrowski, but he ingratiated himself to the entire baseball operations department. A constant presence at Fenway Park and a frequent observer on the road, La Russa served not only as a sounding board for manager Alex Cora, but anyone in the organization who wanted to draw on his 56 years of big league experience.

 A three-time World Series champion and four-time Manager of the Year, the 74-year-old La Russa made an effort to get to know even lower-tenured members of the front office, often over dinner. He didn't push his views so much as make himself available, earning respect throughout the organization for both his demeanor and his insight.

The news on La Russa comes one day after the Red Sox parted ways with Frank Wren, one of Dombrowski's top assistants, and a former general manager of the Braves.

The news that the Red Sox were in talks to keep La Russa was first reported by the MLB Network's Jon Heyman.

Is Eduardo Rodriguez the only reason to watch the Sox?>>>

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.