Red Sox

Here's why key to entire Red Sox offseason rests with... David Price?

Here's why key to entire Red Sox offseason rests with... David Price?

The pivotal figure of the Red Sox offseason isn't Mookie Betts. It isn't J.D. Martinez. It isn't even the next GM, who for now remains a magical unicorn.

It's David Price.

It has always been David Price, hasn't it? The $217 million left-hander has never quite fit here, and yet he was indispensable to 2018's title march — they legitimately do not win it all without him.

But as a beloved broadcaster with whom Price shares an inextricable linkage likes to say, "That's history, pal." And so it is that we're focused solely on the future.

Said future appears dim. The Red Sox have tied up too much money in question marks and lack the means to retain their best players without blowing out their payroll.

With owner John Henry all but demanding a drop below the $208 million luxury tax threshold — the subsequent "it's a goal, not a mandate" walk-backs are called damage control — it's a distinct possibility that Martinez and Betts could depart this winter and still not leave the resources to address holes at first, second, right, DH, backup catcher, bullpen, and in the rotation.

If that's the case, then prepare for three more seasons like 2019, except without a deep offense to rescue the beleaguered starting staff.

Unless . . .

There's one way out of this mess that increases the likelihood of Betts or Martinez remaining in a Red Sox uniform, but it feels incredibly remote.

It involves finding a taker for the final three years and as much as the $96 million remaining on Price's contract that team can be convinced to eat.

Removing Price from the equation would accomplish multiple goals. For one, it would break up the triumvirate of uncertainty atop the rotation, leaving just left-hander Chris Sale (elbow, maybe shoulder) and right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) as high-priced injury risks who are signed through at least 2022.

For another, it would save at least $10 million annually towards the luxury tax, since it's hard to imagine the Red Sox accepting any less without deciding to just roll the dice on Price being healthy and productive.

And for a third, it would help alter the makeup of a dreary clubhouse that is transitioning to more upbeat, positive leaders like shortstop Xander Bogaerts.

So the question is if it can be done. Price has three strikes against him. We've already mentioned the money. Even if the Red Sox ate $20 million a year (which would remain on their books), they'd still need to convince someone that Price is worth $12 million annually, and given his injury history and clubhouse concerns, that would be a tough sell. It might even require the inclusion of a prospect to sweeten the pot.

He just had surgery to remove a cyst from his wrist. That injury limited him to 107.1 innings and further clouds the 34-year-old's future, especially considering that his 2017 season was also cut short, to just 11 starts, by injury.

Add his very public spats with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, which Price pointlessly reignited this summer when he very easily could've turned the other cheek, and the left-hander has developed a reputation outside of Boston not for being a great teammate — as we were all told when he signed here — but a toxic figure. Two executives recently admitted they'd hesitate to add Price to their clubhouses even if they could guarantee he'd be healthy.

Four years into his Red Sox career, Price feels like someone who, on his best days, merely tolerates being here. Even after winning the World Series as last year's de facto postseason MVP, he arrived in spring training with a chip on his shoulder to accompany all the cards he finally held.

He has never said he wants out, but it's hard to imagine he'd object if the Red Sox managed to find him a new home.

That's an incredibly tall order, but freeing themselves from Price feels like the first step towards smashing their roster logjam and beginning a painful but necessary rebuild.

Ranking the top 20 free agents of MLB offseason>>>>>

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Want to know what it's like to be on both sides of a Mookie Betts-style trade? These 2 GMs are your guys

Want to know what it's like to be on both sides of a Mookie Betts-style trade? These 2 GMs are your guys

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It's hard to determine which side has more to lose in a Mookie Betts trade -- the Red Sox or the team that acquires him.

From the Boston perspective, receiving fair value for the defending MVP will be a struggle, since he's likely to play out his contract and reach free agency next fall, thus limiting any potential return. On the other end, his new team runs the risk of surrendering assets for a rental.

While there aren't any perfect analogies to provide a roadmap, the Diamondbacks and Cardinals can offer some insight into how the process might unfold, based on their blockbuster Paul Goldschmidt trade last winter.

The six-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glover went from Arizona to St. Louis on Dec. 5 for a trio of prospects. He had one year and $14.5 million remaining on his contract, and the Diamondbacks suspected they wouldn't be able to keep him long-term.

General manager Mike Hazen agonized over how to proceed before pulling the trigger.

"We treaded very, very lightly, knowing it was a tricky situation for us," Hazen said on Wednesday at the GM Meetings. "Paul is a franchise player and he meant everything to our clubhouse, our leadership. But we felt like the position we were in, not necessarily being one player away, if we weren't able to come to a contractual extension with him, what was it going to mean to us down the road?"

On the other end, the Cardinals jumped at the chance to acquire an impact right-handed bat despite having no guarantees he'd wear red for more than a year. Based on their experience with prior rentals like Matt Holliday and Mark McGwire, who ended up committing long-term, the Cards believed they had a chance of retaining Goldschmidt beyond 2019, and indeed they struck a five-year, $130 million extension in spring training.

Still, they couldn't acquire him on the assumption that he'd sign, a lesson worth remembering for anyone considering Betts.

"When you do a trade like that, you make the trade assuming he's going to be a one-year rental, because otherwise, you're setting yourself up to make a bad decision trying to justify the trade that only works if he stays around five or six years," said Cardinals GM Mike Girsch. "We were hopeful. We've had good success with one-year rentals who have come to St. Louis, enjoyed the environment we have, the fan base, the full stadium and everything else, and signed here. We've had success doing that over the last 20 years and were hopeful that would happen again. But you've got to make the trade assuming it's a standalone, and if you're not comfortable with it as a standalone, then we wouldn't have done it."

THE FOUR OPTIONS ON THIS KIND OF DEAL

The deliberations in Arizona centered on four options that should sound familiar to Red Sox fans: trade Goldschmidt in the offseason, move him at the deadline if the team isn't contending, let him play out his deal and walk for a compensatory draft pick, or hope the season unfolds in a way that produces a long-term extension.

"All of those scenarios were in play," Hazen said. "The offseason, the in-season, the end-of-season scenarios that you know would be associated with trading now, trading then, holding all the way through, successful year leads to something else [contractually]. There was no real answer sheet to it. We had to make a decision and we did."

One major difference between Goldschmidt and Betts is salary. The $14.5 million remaining on the former's deal fit St. Louis's 2019 salary structure, whereas the $27-$30 million Betts will earn in arbitration could end up pricing him out of all but a handful of markets. Goldschmidt's relative affordability allowed the Cardinals to offer a better package of prospects, while his age (31) kept that package reasonable. Betts just turned 27 and is in his prime. His extension should end up being more than double Goldschmidt's.

"Budgets are real and payrolls are real," Girsch said. "The higher the salary, the less I can give up, because I don't have money left to go do something else, and the lower the salary, the more I can give up, right? So it's just how you'd expect. You're not just trading for the player. You're trading for the player with his salary commitment, so you have to figure that in."

Meanwhile, Hazen knew the team would lose the trade in the court of public opinion, at least initially.

"We were very cognizant," he said. "Had to turn that off pretty quickly. We knew that was coming, and understood why it came. That's part of what we do. I think separating that out and still feeling like the decision was the right decision, I felt OK about it because of that."

THE RETURN ON THE BLOCKBUSTER

The package he received -- catcher Carson Kelly, right-hander Luke Weaver, minor-league infielder Andy Young -- appeared underwhelming, but all three ended up showing promise.

Kelly hit 18 homers with an .826 OPS as Arizona's starting catcher, Weaver went 4-3 with a 2.94 ERA in 12 starts before being shut down with a sore elbow that did not require surgery, and Young slammed 29 homers between Double- and Triple-A. It's a virtual certainty none will become a star on Goldschmidt's level, but that doesn't mean they can't provide value, which is a calculus the Red Sox front office is currently considering.

In St. Louis, Goldschmidt hit 34 homers, but posted his lowest OPS (.821) since 2011. He still helped lead the Cardinals to the playoffs, where he hit .429 with two homers in an NLDS victory over the Braves before St. Louis fell to the Nationals in the NLCS. 

"Our sense was he was a guy who'd be comfortable in a midwestern city in a baseball-crazed market in a place that was competitive in the type of clubhouse environment we have," Girsch said. "It felt like we had a good shot at making this work, but until you meet him, you're never 100 percent sure."

While Hazen is happy with both the return and the fact that Goldschmidt received a long-term extension, he's not going to pretend he enjoyed trading a franchise icon.

"I don't know how you value that stuff," he said. "I still don't know if we did it appropriately. History will tell us, I think. It still doesn't feel great, but look, at some point, we're charged with making the best decisions we can moving forward."

The Red Sox know the feeling. Making a palatable deal for Betts feels like an even greater challenge than what the Diamondbacks and Cardinals managed to swing for Goldschmidt.

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Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez places 6th in AL Cy Young Award voting

Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez places 6th in AL Cy Young Award voting

MLB's 2019 Cy Young Awards were handed out on Wednesday with Houston Astros right-hander Justin Verlander and New York Mets righty Jacob deGrom taking home the hardware. It was Verlander's second Cy Young of his illustrious career and deGrom's second consecutive season winning the award.

One Boston Red Sox pitcher managed to work his way into the Cy Young conversation as well. That would be left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing 2019 Boston rotation.

Rodriguez placed sixth in American League Cy Young voting, earning three fourth-place votes and two fifth-place votes for a total of eight points. The 26-year-old finished behind Verlander, Gerrit Cole (Astros), Charlie Morton (Rays), Shane Bieber (Indians), and Lance Lynn (Rangers).

E-Rod, who has had issues going deep into games throughout his career, took a huge step forward in that department last season. His 203 1/3 innings pitched in 2019 demolished his previous career-high of 137 1/3.

Rodriguez nearly joined the 20-win club in 2019, finishing 19-6 with a career-best 3.81 ERA.

The starting rotation is one of the Red Sox' biggest question marks heading into 2020, but Boston can at least take solace in the fact their hard-throwing former top prospect is making strides in the right direction.

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