Red Sox

It's a killer rotation, all right -- Red Sox starters are an albatross, and it's worse than you think

It's a killer rotation, all right -- Red Sox starters are an albatross, and it's worse than you think

They are the three horsemen of a financial apocalypse that is galloping towards the Red Sox on thundering hooves.

We know the team is determined to shed roughly $40 million in payroll from 2018 to drop below $208 million and reset its luxury-tax schedule. To get there will require some unappetizing decisions, like potentially parting ways with both defending MVP Mookie Betts and All-Star slugger J.D. Martinez.

In a perfect world, management would cut from another part of the roster, where price, performance, and reliability are no longer moving in unison. We're talking, of course, about the starting rotation, which is effectively unmovable. We've devoted many GB of cyberspace to the damage the top three pitchers can potentially inflict to both the long- and short-term health of the franchise, but a deeper dive into the numbers suggests the situation is even worse than we thought.

In David Price, Chris Sale, and Nathan Eovaldi, the Red Sox have committed $252 million to the three biggest question marks on their roster. The trio will count for $79 million in each of the next three seasons, including $32 million for Price and $30 million annually for Sale. That led Martinez, after the season finale, to note that Betts was probably a goner because, "you can't pay three guys $30 million."

In a perfect world, the Red Sox would move a starter to free up money for one of their sluggers. But good luck finding takers for any of the above, given the health concerns associated with each.

The Red Sox have already announced they're taking it slow with Sale, who visited Dr. James Andrews in Florida after an August elbow scare. His five-year, $145 million extension begins in 2020, and it wouldn't be shocking if he ends up needing surgery. There's little incentive for the Red Sox to trade him with his value so low or another club to acquire him with his health such an unknown.

Price, with three years and $96 million remaining, has already gone under the knife to remove a cyst from his wrist. He's also lugging off-field issues, thanks to his blowup at Hall of Fame broadcaster Dennis Eckersley, which has damaged his reputation. Any team acquiring him would have to be willing to take on not only some portion of his considerable salary, but also his questionable health and negative attitude. He remains talented, but that's a lot of baggage.

Then there's Eovaldi. The right-hander parlayed a magical two weeks last postseason into a four-year, $68 million contract. He then promptly went under the knife in April to remove loose bodies from his elbow, finishing the season as a glorified opener. October of 2018 sure feels more like the exception than the rule with him.

If all three are healthy and return to form next season, the Red Sox could win the World Series. The more likely path, given their respective ages, workloads, and injury histories, is far less appealing. And those factors are unlikely to improve with the passage of time.

So just how hamstrung are the Red Sox by their rotation? With the luxury tax threshold set to rise to $210 million in 2021 before the collective bargaining agreement expires, they know they'll be devoting 38 percent of their payroll to those three pitchers in 2020 and 37.5 percent in 2021.

Only one other team will pay its pitchers more both next year and beyond, and they're in the World Series. In Max Scherzer ($42.1 million), Stephen Strasburg ($25 million), Patrick Corbin ($19.41 million), and Anibal Sanchez ($7 million), the Nats have devoted $93.5 million to their 2020 rotation, and a staggering $318 million to their top three pitchers moving forward, a number that will jump to $336 million of they exercise Sanchez's $18 million option in 2021.

The difference between the Red Sox starters and Washington starters is that the former broke down after a long World Series run, while the latter remain atop their games, although we'll find out next year if a similar fate awaits them. Washington's Big Four went 54-28 while posting ERAs between 2.92 and 3.85 and combining for nearly 750 innings.

The only other team with a situation even remotely comparable to Boston's is the Cubs, who owe their five starters $78.5 million next year (including Jose Quintana's $11.5 million option) and $182 million moving forward (that number can jump by $25 million if they exercise Jon Lester's 2021 option).

Giving the oft-injured Yu Darvish $126 million on a six-year deal that runs through 2023 looks like a mistake, but the rest of Chicago's commitments are manageable, since the only other pitcher signed beyond next year is Kyle Hendricks, who inked a four-year, $55.5 million extension before last season.

Otherwise, just one other team has more than $100 million committed to its starters, and that's the Astros, who will likely lose co-ace Gerrit Cole in free agency, but still owe two more seasons and $136 million to veterans Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke.

Everywhere else, the best big-market teams in the game have minimized their risk when it comes to long-term pitching contracts. The Yankees will pay Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, and Luis Severino $50.5 million next year, with only Severino remaining on the books thereafter for the final two seasons of his four-year, $40 million extension.

The Dodgers have committed only $34 million to 2020, and the bulk of it belongs to former Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who will make $31 million in both 2020 and 2021 as part of a three-year, $93 million extension. Kershaw and Kenta Maeda are the only two Dodgers starters making guaranteed money, and they're only owed $74.5 million moving forward.

Everywhere you look, baseball's most nimble organizations have left themselves with financial flexibility in the rotation. But not the Red Sox. They're locked in to the Three Horseman, and the apocalypse feels inevitable.

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Pros (prospects!) and cons (Wil Myers?) of potential Mookie Betts trade to Padres

Pros (prospects!) and cons (Wil Myers?) of potential Mookie Betts trade to Padres

With multiple reports revealing that the Padres and Red Sox have discussed a Mookie Betts trade, here are some thoughts on what it all means ...

MONEY MATTERS

The money doesn't really work for me. In swapping Betts for outfielder/first baseman Wil Myers, the Red Sox would save $13 million in 2020, which gets them roughly two-thirds of the way towards their goal of dropping below the $208 million luxury tax threshold. Maybe San Diego kicks in some cash to increase that number.

Boston would then be assuming the final three years and $68.5 million remaining on Myers' contract (including a $1 million buyout in 2023), though for luxury tax purposes, he'd only count for just under $14 million annually.

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If the Red Sox are intent on slashing $21 million in payroll, jettisoning Betts and still coming up well short of that goal feels suboptimal.

Put another way: if the Red Sox carry Betts into the season and then trade him at the deadline, they'd save about $9 million. Is that $4 million difference worth four months of Betts to see if the Red Sox can contend?

From this view, that's a yes.

L.A. STORY

I'd still rather move David Price and the $32 million he's owed in 2020 to find the savings the Red Sox need, and that's why the Dodgers remain their most logical trade partners.

L.A. has the need for the five-tool outfielder after two World Series losses and one shocking NLDS ouster, it has the financial and prospect resources to acquire both Betts and Price, and it could actually use another starter, to boot.

Add Andrew Friedman's familiarity with Price from their Tampa days, and these Padres discussions feel more like a way to goose the Dodgers to the table rather than watch a star player join a division rival.

WHERE THERE'S A WIL ...

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom knows Myers well from Tampa, where the slugger was one of the centerpieces of the 2012 trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City.

Myers won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2013 in what was a remarkably weak class — former Red Sox infielder Jose Iglesias finished second — and made an All-Star team in 2016 with the Padres, but has trended noticeably downward since. Injuries limited him to 83 games in 2018, and last year he hit only .239 with 18 homers while striking out 168 times.

If the Red Sox are going to take Myers, they absolutely need the Padres to pick up some of his salary, because there's a real possibility he has reached the JAG portion of his career.

BUYER BEWARE

Granted, this little bit of egregiousness happened on Dave Dombrowski's watch, but how quickly the Red Sox forget the pitfalls of dealing with A.J. Preller.

The Padres GM was suspended by MLB for withholding medical information that would've revealed more extensive damage to the elbow of left-hander Drew Pomeranz before the Red Sox acquired him in 2016.

The Red Sox surrendered their top pitching prospect, right-hander Anderson Espinoza, and by the time San Diego's malfeasance was revealed, the Red Sox decided it was too late to undo the deal.

Espinoza has since needed a pair of Tommy John surgeries, leaving his career very much in doubt, but the Red Sox shouldn't forget how badly Preller burned them.

FARM FRESH

If there's one plus to a potential San Diego deal, it's that the Red Sox would be choosing players from one of baseball's most loaded farm systems, as we laid out here.

A couple of names to watch: imposing Cuban right-hander Michel Baez, a 6-foot-8 behemoth who is a potential future closer, and catcher Luis Campusano, who is considered one of the best young backstops in the minors.

MLB Rumors: What Padres could give Red Sox in Mookie Betts trade

MLB Rumors: What Padres could give Red Sox in Mookie Betts trade

The Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres reportedly have opened discussions on a Mookie Betts trade.

But what would that trade entail?

The Boston Globe's Alex Speier offered some insight Friday morning, reporting that current talks involve San Diego sending outfielder Wil Myers "as well as both prospects and young controllable major league pieces" to the Red Sox.

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Speier also added this, via a source:

San Diego expressed willingness to clear the bar set by the trade of Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks to the Cardinals last winter, at a time when Goldschmidt had one remaining year of team control before he reached free agency.

Arizona's haul in that Dec. 2018 trade included starting pitcher Luke Weaver, major-league catcher Carson Kelly, infield prospect Andy Young and St. Louis' Round B competitive balance pick in the 2019 MLB Draft.

The Padres, with the second-youngest roster in baseball as of 2019 and one of the game's strongest farm systems, have both controllable young MLB players and prospects to entice the Red Sox in a Betts deal.

Among the former group, Speier lists 23-year-old outfielder Trent Grisham or 26-year-old shortstop/pitcher Jake Cronenworth as potential targets for Boston, as well as three young pitchers: right-handed starter Cal Quantrill, left-handed starter Joey Lucchesi and righty reliever Michel Baez.

Lucchesi is the most accomplished player of that bunch with 56 starts (18-19 record; 4.14 ERA) over two big-league seasons, but all are 26 years old or younger and are on team-friendly deals.

As for prospects, San Diego likely won't deal its top four prospects -- pitcher Mackenzie Gore, pitcher Luis Patino, outfielder Taylor Trammell and shortstop C.J. Abrams -- but the Padres have two more prospects on Baseball America's Top 100 list whom Boston may covet in catcher Luis Campusano and pitcher Adrian Morejon.

To land Betts, it appears San Diego would need to send Myers (who's owed $61 million on the final three years of his contract), at least one major league-level player and at least one prospect to the Red Sox, potentially adding a draft pick as a sweetener.

That's a lot of moving parts, and if Chaim Bloom and Padres general manager A.J. Preller can't make them fit, then this deal could fall through quickly.