RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: Will FA market start to heat up for Red Sox?

RED SOX INSIDER

The earth may be warming, but baseball's offseason continues to progress glacially.

More than two months since the start of free agency, only a handful of notable players have signed. Maybe that's about to change following the news that commissioner Rob Manfred expects spring training to start on time next month, followed by a full 162-game regular season.

If pitchers and catchers are really going to report in just four weeks, then it might be time to start signing some, you know, pitchers and catchers (and infielders and outfielders, too). There was one notable signing on Monday, with All-Star closer Liam Hendriks leaving the A's to ink a three-year, $54 million contract with the White Sox.

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That's a shocking sum for a soon-to-be 32-year-old reliever, but the White Sox are in Go For It mode just four years after kickstarting their rebuild by trading Chris Sale to the Red Sox, and Hendriks joins All-Star starter Lance Lynn and outfielder Adam Eaton as impact acquisitions in Chicago this winter.

It's safe to say the Red Sox won't be in the market for similar players anytime soon, because chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom is just beginning a rebuild of his own, but without a deep farm system to provide hope for the future. His first priority is replenishing the farm.

In the meantime, he'll try to field a competitive team in 2021, and he has taken strides to address some deficiencies by acquiring right-hander Matt Andriese, slugging outfielder Hunter Renfroe, and rule 5 pick Garrett Whitlock.

 

Though none of the big free agents -- Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, center fielder George Springer, catcher J.T. Realmuto -- have signed yet, they were never going to be on Boston's radar anyway, thanks to their price tags and the fact that they'd cost the Red Sox a compensatory draft pick after receiving qualifying offers.

This may not be the deepest free agent class in recent memory, but it's worth resetting where things stand from a Red Sox perspective at a time when players should begin finding new teams in earnest.

Out of their league (4): Bauer, Springer, Realmuto, 2B DJ LeMahieu

These four players rejected their $18.9 million qualifying offers. If the Red Sox sign any of them, they'll have to sacrifice their second-round draft pick for the second straight year, and Bloom seems disinclined to do so.

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It's worth noting that two other potential targets, right-handers Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman, accepted their qualifying offers from the Mets and Giants, respectively, and thus never hit free agency.

Off the market (7): Stroman, Gausman, RHP Charlie Morton, LHP Robbie Ray, LHP Mike Minor, LHP Drew Smyly, RHP Anthony DeSclafani

Starting pitchers have genuinely fared pretty well this winter from a yearly salary standpoint, though over shorter terms. Morton received $15 million from the Braves after leading the Rays to the World Series, joining Smyly (1 year, $11 million) in Atlanta. The Royals snagged Minor for two years and $18 million, while Ray signed in Toronto for one year and $8 million.

Each of the above came with some question marks, be it age or recent ineffectiveness, but that didn't stop owners who like to cry poverty from guaranteeing some sizable salaries for 2021.

No need (6): 3B Justin Turner, SS Marcus Semien, SS Andrelton Simmons, SS Didi Gregorius, C Yadier Molina, DH Nelson Cruz

This list could be a lot bigger, but let's just focus on the obvious positions (third base, shortstop, catcher, DH) where the Red Sox are set and assume they won't be delving into those markets.

Outside chance (5): OF Marcell Ozuna, OF Joc Pederson, OF Michael Brantley, OF Jackie Bradley Jr., 2B Kolten Wong

If the Red Sox succeed in trading Andrew Benintendi and open a spot in their outfield, Ozuna could put up some monster numbers in Fenway Park. He assaulted the Mass. Pike during a short set with the Braves last year, and he won't cost his signing team a pick because he was ineligible to receive a qualifying offer. Most clubs have him pegged as a DH, but left field at Fenway was made to carry a limited defender.

 
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Brantley and Pederson could fill a similar bill, the latter with the added bonus of being able to play center field. Of course, if the Red Sox are looking for a center fielder, they could simply retain Bradley, who's coming off his most consistent offensive season and remains an elite defender.

With second base still a glaring need, Wong and his two Gold Gloves would seem a natural fit, though perhaps the Red Sox aren't interested in making a three-year offer, since prospect Jeter Downs waits in the wings. Wong may not be much more than an average hitter, but he's an elite defender with some speed.

Now we're talking (6): RHP Corey Kluber, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP James Paxton, RHP Masahiro Tanaka, LHP Rich Hill, 1B/2B/3B Tommy La Stella

Pretty much every starter below Bauer should be in play for the Red Sox, who have already addressed starting depth with Andriese and maybe even Whitlock, and now need to find an established arm for one of the top three spots in their rotation.

Odorizzi makes sense, given his reported desire for a reasonable three-year deal, his familiarity with Bloom from Tampa, and the fact that he made such a leap with the Twins in 2019, when he made his first All-Star team.

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Kluber is scheduled to throw for teams on Wednesday, at which point the former Cy Young Award winner's market should start to take shape. He's coming back from a shoulder injury that limited him to one inning in 2020, but if he looks strong, the Massachusetts resident should draw considerable interest.

Beyond that, virtually every starter of note should be in play, whether it's the former Yankees Paxton and Tanaka, or old friend Rich Hill.

On the position player side, La Stella makes a ton of sense, but hasn't earned much ink. The versatile 31-year-old can play first, second, and third and he was an All-Star in 2019 with the Angels. He has also done the impossible in the launch-angle era by almost never striking out, with more walks than K's over the last two seasons. His left-handed bat would fit perfectly into platoons at first (Bobby Dalbec) or second (Christian Arroyo).