Red Sox

Maybe David Price isn't as untradeable as we think for Red Sox

Maybe David Price isn't as untradeable as we think for Red Sox

David Price has caused no shortage of headaches with the Red Sox, from blowing up at Dennis Eckersley to tweeting cryptically about the White House visit to making no effort to hide his disdain for "Manager John" Farrell.

But Price also delivered when it mattered most, during the 2018 postseason, when he led the charge to a title as the de facto postseason MVP.

He seemed positioned to maintain that momentum before a wrist cyst got in the way. Though his final 2019 numbers were mediocre — 7-5, 4.28 ERA — he struck out a career-best 10.7 per nine innings and was the team's best pitcher in the first half, when he went 7-2 with a 3.24 ERA.

Because we tend to focus on the negative around here (not me, though, I only see sunshine), we often judge Price for his faults. He's no longer a 200-inning pitcher. His elbow could blow. He considers himself a great teammate, but he consistently brings negativity into the clubhouse, which multiple rival executives have noted warily.

He's too expensive. He hasn't made an All-Star team or earned a Cy Young vote since 2015. He's past his prime.

It's hard to read the preceding paragraph and think there'd be a market for him this winter, especially since he's due $96 million over the next three years. But focusing on those negatives obscures some positives that other franchises might consider.

Price is a proven ace who has won one Cy Young Award and finished second twice. He's a classic change-of-scenery candidate after four tumultuous seasons in Boston, and a club in a friendlier market — like, say, St. Louis — could make a case for reinvigorating him. For all of the concerns over his health, he has thrown nearly 400 innings since avoiding Tommy John surgery in 2017.

And most importantly, with seemingly every team in baseball on the hunt for starting pitching, why should Price be immovable, when only last year a 36-year-old Robinson Cano with five years and $120 million remaining on his contract was not?

If the Red Sox want to drop below the $208 million luxury tax threshold, removing as much of Price's $32 million salary as possible would be one way to do it that doesn't involve giving away a former MVP in his prime — jettisoning Price would open a clearer path to keeping Mookie Betts for one more season, anyway.

So what is Price worth? As free agency cranks into gear, we're actually seeing some parameters forming in the starting pitcher market. Four starters have signed contracts with average annual values of at least $10 million, from Kyle Gibson (3 years, $30 million with Rangers) to Zack Wheeler, who just agreed to leave the Mets for a five-year, $118 million deal with the Phillies. Meanwhile, righty Jake Odorizzi accepted a one-year qualifying offer from the Twins for $17.8 million, while veteran left-hander Cole Hamels inked a one-year, $18 million contract with the Braves.

The two biggest fish remain unsigned in Houston's Gerrit Cole and Washington's Stephen Strasburg, both of whom will each command nine-figure deals. Former World Series hero Madison Bumgarner, defending NL ERA champ Hyun-Jin Ryu, and possibly ex-Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel will probably earn $15-$20 million annually. And then after that the drop in talent is pretty steep, to pitchers like Rick Porcello, Michael Pineda, and Tanner Roark.

Viewed through that lens, suddenly Price feels like … an asset? The Phillies will pay Wheeler nearly $24 million a year, starting with his age-30 season, more on projection than performance. His lifetime ERA+ is 100, which is the definition of average. And whatever injury concerns exist about Price, it's worth noting that Wheeler missed all of 2015 and 2016 to Tommy John surgery.

Were Price a free agent this winter, he'd probably be in the Bumgarner/Ryu camp, a clear notch below Cole and Strasburg, but still desirable. It's hard to say what he'd earn, but even with his injury concerns, an AAV of $18 million feels like the floor. The fact that he's only signed for three more years maybe bumps that hypothetical number to $20 million annually. If the Red Sox ate $36 million, could they find a market for Price at three years and $60 million?

It doesn't sound so crazy to me, especially once you stop fixating on the negatives.

MLB's Top 10 free agent starting pitchers>>>>>

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If Plan A was keeping Mookie Betts, it feels like Red Sox are moving to Plan B

If Plan A was keeping Mookie Betts, it feels like Red Sox are moving to Plan B

When Red Sox ownership finally addressed Dave Dombrowski's dismissal in late September, chairman Tom Werner made what remains the most honest and revealing assessment of the team's approach to superstar Mookie Betts.

"We've stated publicly that we would hope he would stay with us the rest of his career," Werner said. "We have made proposals to him in the past and he did want to test free agency, which is his right. And we'll have some conversations with him going forward. But obviously there'll be a point where hopefully we can make a deal or we'll decide at that point what is plan B or plan C, but we haven't gotten to that point and we're very open to continuing discussions with him."

Based on the recent reports out of San Diego, in particular, it sure feels momentum is building towards a plan B or C that end with Betts's departure.

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Multiple factors have led to this point.

The first is ownership's stated goal (NOT A MANDATE, STOP CALLING IT THAT!) to drop below the $208 million luxury tax threshold. The team's offseason of inactivity may have lulled us into thinking that John Henry and Co. had changed their minds, but all the reasons that desire made sense in September still apply now. Resetting their tax penalties will put the team in the best long-term position to build a winner, with or without Betts.

Then there's the shape of this offseason itself.

December hit us with a flurry of high-end activity, but virtually all of it was of the free agent variety, from Stephen Strasburg to Gerrit Cole to Anthony Rendon. Outside of former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber being dealt to the Rangers, most of December's 13 trades were relatively minor.

Monday's move of All-Star Starling Marte from Pittsburgh to Arizona suggests the start of a late trade season, since the recent signings of Nick Castellanos (Reds) and Josh Donaldson (Twins) means the free-agent market is pretty much dry. "The pace of this offseason has been unusual around the industry, in terms of when things evolved," allowed Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom recently.

Then there's the sign-stealing elephant in the room, which is the loss of manager Alex Cora and MLB's investigation into the 2018 champions, a dual catastrophe that leaves the Red Sox in danger of losing draft picks at precisely the moment when their thin farm system most needs them.

If Betts is their best avenue to acquiring young talent, and if the talks to extend him (Plan A) have convinced management that he's definitely hitting free agency, which means he's almost definitely gone, then it would be a dereliction of duty not to explore every possible avenue for maximizing his value.

After a quiet winter in that regard, rumors are suddenly percolating like steam-forced espresso. The Red Sox and Padres have reportedly progressed far enough to haggle over how much of Wil Myers' remaining $61 million the Red Sox will assume, with at least one young outfielder and pitcher joining him in return.

Meanwhile, San Diego's division rivals in Los Angeles loom with a potential second Boston bailout, especially if they're willing to take on both Betts ($27 million) and David Price ($32 million) and really clear the books for 2020, just as they did with Adrian Gonzalez and Co. in 2012.

That's two motivated buyers and one motivated seller potentially transitioning to Plan B. That sounds like a recipe for a deal, which means Red Sox fans should prepare to kiss their MVP right fielder goodbye.

Sometimes your primary plan just doesn't play out, so you move on to the next one.

How Astros' reported Dusty Baker hire impacts Red Sox' manager search

How Astros' reported Dusty Baker hire impacts Red Sox' manager search

The Boston Red Sox no longer have competition in their search for a new manager.

The Houston Astros are set to hire Dusty Baker as their next manager, USA TODAY Sports' Bob Nightengale reported Tuesday. Baker takes over for A.J. Hinch, whom Houston fired after he was suspended one year in the wake of the team's sign-stealing scandal.

Once Baker is hired, the Red Sox will be the only team without a manager: The New York Mets needed just six days to replace Carlos Beltran with bench coach Luis Rojas after parting ways with the ex-Astros outfielder, while Houston took just over two weeks to land Baker, one of the most well-respected managers in baseball.

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That's both good news and bad news for Boston. The good news, of course, is that Chaim Bloom and Co. now have their pick of the litter if they want to hire an external candidate to replace Alex Cora.

Veteran managers like John Gibbons, Buck Showalter and Brad Ausmus all are available, as are free-agent options such as Raul Ibanez, Mike Lowell, Mark Loretta and Craig Breslow.

The Red Sox also could look internally, as NBC Sports Boston's John Tomase recently listed bench coach Ron Roenicke, third base coach Carlos Febles and special assistant Jason Varitek as the three leading in-house candidates.

Boston no longer has to worry about the Astros or Mets poaching any of their top choices.

The bad news? The Sox officially are behind the eight ball.

Boston reportedly is "unlikely" to hire a manager before next week, as the club still is waiting for Major League Baseball to complete its investigation into 2018 sign-stealing allegations.

Red Sox pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Tuesday, Feb. 11. If Boston hires a new manager by next Monday or Tuesday -- which currently seems like a best-case scenario -- that manager would have just one week to get caught up to speed before players arrive.