Red Sox

Red Sox

Sometimes the best way to attack the market is to let it come to you.

The Red Sox didn't seem in any great rush to complete a major deal at last week's winter meetings in San Diego, in part because they recognized they weren't yet dealing from a position of strength.

Trying to move left-hander David Price when the market is flooded with pitchers isn't a recipe for maximizing your return. The same goes for the less palatable idea of trading Mookie Betts when a stud like World Series hero Anthony Rendon is still out there requiring nothing more than (a lot of) money to sign.

Fast forward a week, however, and the top end of the market suddenly features significantly more clarity. Gerrit Cole is gone. Rendon is gone. Stephen Strasburg is gone. Madison Bumgarner is gone. Zack Wheeler is long gone.

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As high-end options evaporate, the teams on the outside looking in should find themselves more agreeable to talking trade with the Red Sox. And the last 48 hours, in particular, have made one potential partner even more likely to place a call to Boston — the Dodgers.

L.A. began the offseason intent on swimming in the deepest end of the free agent pool. The Dodgers made a run at Cole, but watched him sign a $324 million deal with the Yankees. They targeted Rendon, only to have him join the crosstown Angels, in part because he had no interest in "the Hollywood lifestyle." They wanted Bumgarner, but instead will continue facing him in the division after he spurned them for the Diamondbacks.

 

When the meetings began, Dodgers boss Andrew Friedman said the team was focused on roughly 12 elite players available via either free agency or trade. While the Dodgers have been one of the league's most consistent franchises over the last five years, they've also become perennial bridesmaids, from losing two straight World Series to getting Howie Kendricked out of the NLDS this October.

They have the need and the resources to pursue an impact piece, and this is where the Red Sox enter the picture.

While Friedman didn't specify which 12 players were on his list, it's safe to say Cole, Rendon, Strasburg, and Bumgarner were four of them. Cleveland's surprising trade of two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to the Rangers potentially takes two Indians off the market, since the roughly $18 million in savings can be applied to franchise shortstop Francisco Lindor, another rumored target of L.A.

The next free agent to go could be former AL MVP Josh Donaldson, whom the Dodgers have reportedly engaged on, but who is expected to land with the Nationals or Braves.

So who's left? The Dodgers could re-sign defending NL ERA champ Hyun-Jin Ryu, though they seem inclined to let the 32-year-old walk away rather than guarantee him the four or five years he'll likely receive elsewhere. They could swing a deal for Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, though Chicago's asking price is understandably expected to be through the roof.

Or they could call the Red Sox.

Multiple executives at the winter meetings connected the Dodgers to both Price and Betts last week. The former was considered untradeable when the offseason began, but that notion now appears inaccurate.

The Dodgers saw firsthand what Price can do in big moments when he dominated them twice in the 2018 World Series, a performance that should've won him the MVP instead of Steve Pearce. Even more importantly, Price has a longstanding relationship with Friedman, who picked him No. 1 overall in the 2007 MLB Draft and then promoted him to the big leagues a year later, just in time to record key outs in the ALCS against the Red Sox en route to Tampa's only World Series appearance.

Friedman knew Price when he was considered a tremendous teammate, and before he committed a series of high-profile missteps in Boston that needn't be rehashed here. It's fair to say his view of the pitcher is more favorable than that of Boston fans, which makes Price a classic change-of-scenery candidate, presuming his surgically repaired wrist and iffy elbow can pass a physical at age 34.

The Red Sox will almost certainly subsidize a huge chunk of the three years and $96 remaining on Price's contract. As the Dodgers get shut out of the rest of the starting pitching market, a Friedman reunion becomes more intriguing.

 

Then again, if the medicals scare them off, or if they find a pitcher in free agency, there's still Betts. The former AL MVP only fits so many payrolls next season, when he'll make close to $30 million. The Dodgers are one of them, however. And as we laid out earlier this offseason, they have the talent in their farm system to acquire him if they're willing to gamble that he'll re-sign in L.A. next fall.

There's still time for L.A. to land someone, and it's hard to imagine them being shut out, but then again, we're already halfway there. The names on their list are vanishing like so many beamed-up Trekkies, which puts the Red Sox in a position of power.

Chaim Bloom and Co. appear content to play the long game. Perhaps it pays off when the phone rings and it's Friedman, his old boss, wondering if he has a minute to talk about some big names.

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