Red Sox

Which version of Bradley, Bogaerts and Betts can Red Sox expect going forward?

Which version of Bradley, Bogaerts and Betts can Red Sox expect going forward?

The most important evaluations the Red Sox have to make this winter are internal.

Who exactly is Jackie Bradley Jr.? And Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts? Can all three be expected to return to their 2016 forms, or is 2017 closer to reality? Who are they actually? Maybe 2016 was an exception.

(Betts, it should be noted, remains a player who should be viewed a little differently, a step above.)

From there, the question is whether the Red Sox should really be trading any of the Bradley types after a down 2017. It’d be a great winter to try to lock someone up long term, although fat chance getting Scott Boras (Bradley, Bogaerts) or Greg Genske (Betts) to bite just because of a down year.

Last winter, it was the opposite. The kids were coming off great seasons, and paying them with the mindset they’d perform similarly every year forward could have hurt financially.

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But this is where the Sox’ judgment, where Dave Dombrowski’s long experience in the game, can show its merit. Ostensibly, the trade value for Bradley should only rise from here. Yet, if the Sox don’t feel it would rise appreciably, it’s easier to justify moving him. 

Part of the failure of the 2016 offense, which still pumped out 93 wins in conjunction with a great pitching staff, was the overestimation of the Killer B’s. David Ortiz was gone, and the Sox just didn’t seem prepared for the possibility that on top of his departure, some individual performances in 2017 weren’t shoe-ins to be repeated.

Whether the Red Sox are actively shopping Bradley seems to be a matter of semantics. Baseball sources said the Red Sox have made clear the center fielder is available. They’ve talked about him in potential trades for power hitting, to be specific.

Dombrowski doesn’t agree with the notion he’s shopping Bradley, however. It’s more of a listening mode, the way he tells it. 

“I don’t know where those rumors have started, but they’re not accurate,” Dombrowski said. “I can say that we have interest in our players and people have asked us about our players often. But I’d say we’re very happy with our outfield. Could we do anything? I can't say we can't do anything with any of our players. But we like our outfield.”

How about this: Bradley is a chip they could reasonably move.

The Cubs are listening on Kyle Schwarber. But it’s hard to see a fit for a trade because Chicago is after pitching. Eduardo Rodriguez, due back in April, could be a chip but he doesn’t move the needle enough given his knee troubles.

“He's always been someone that teams have an interest in, I guess,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Monday about Schwarber, via The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma. “But we have probably the most interest.”

The Sox, at some point, have to choose which of their young stars to hitch their ride to. Is it worth parting with Bradley now? Who is he really?

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Craig Breslow talking to teams about non-playing role

Craig Breslow talking to teams about non-playing role

BOSTON — Craig Breslow, a key member of the 2013 world champion Red Sox and a pitcher who has long appeared a strong candidate for a second life in baseball when his playing days are over, is about to make the jump.

The lefty reliever, 38 years old with 12 big league seasons under his belt, is talking to teams about moving to a non-playing role and is weighing his options, Breslow told NBC Sports Boston. The Connecticut native has been in touch with the Red Sox, whom he spent more time with than any other club — a total of five seasons spanning two stints, one in 2006, and then again from 2012-15. But he may find a better fit at this point in time with another club.

A Yale alum who likely would be a doctor today had he not pursued baseball, Breslow has always stood out in the sport for his intelligence and affability. Combined with his success as a pitcher — he has a 3.45 ERA lifetime in 570 2/3 innings — he’s exactly the type of hire many teams seek these days as they try to modernize their coaching, player development and front office staffs in the age of analytics.

The exact path he’ll walk isn’t clear yet, which is kind of the point. Breslow likely could be a general manager if he wanted someday. He likely could be a field manager too. What he seeks in his first job is a means to contribute, as well as knowledge and experience from a wide swath of an operation.

“I'm not ruling anything out or in, aside from gaining broad exposure to become a better rounded student of the game,” Breslow said. “I want to address some of the deficiencies in knowledge I currently have and also provide some short-term value to an organization. Beyond that, I want to keep as many possibilities open for as long as possible while I'm still figuring out my longer term interests.”

For the first time since 2004, Breslow spent a full season in the minor leagues in 2018, pitching in the Blue Jays organization after last appearing in the majors in 2017, with the Indians. 

He didn’t perform up to his expectations in ‘18, but he did enjoy acting as a mentor to younger players, and had the realization he’s at the point now where he may be able to better impact a club in other ways besides pitching.

One organization that might be a natural fit for Breslow, besides the Red Sox: the retooling Orioles, now run by Breslow’s rotation-mate from college, Mike Elias.

Even back in 2013, Elias said he had joked with Breslow about Breslow’s seemingly inevitable post-playing career.

"I think as soon as he's finished playing, he's going to have options to do almost whatever he wants to do,” Elias said five years ago. “If he wants to work in the front office or some sort of scouting capacity, what have you, I imagine there will be multiple teams willing to give him that opportunity. He's extremely smart, he's not just smart for a baseball player. On top of that he's got all this experience.

"I would be surprised if after he finished playing he didn't end up remaining in major league baseball in some capacity. I hope it's something he pursues.”

Breslow five years ago was also thinking along those lines.

"I do think front office is potentially an interesting option," Breslow said. "Given the longer I'm attached to this game, the number of trends that I've been a part of and see, I do like to think about roster manipulation and what the thought process is behind transactions, turnovers. When I see contracts, I think about, 'If I had monopoly money and I was starting a team, would I make this commitment to a player, or what kind of things would I value?’

"I've had conversations with Billy [Beane] in Oakland, just kind of generally about running a baseball team ... 'What's your thinking behind that, or why do you think this other team is making this move?' Or if there are transactional things or baseball ops things that I don't understand, I've asked Ben [Cherington] about it or Mike Hazen about it — 'Why does this happen, why does every team put all of its players through waivers in August?’”

Breslow tried to reinvent himself as a pitcher in his later years, changing his arm angle. Now he’s about to reinvent himself again, and he figures to be a hot commodity as teams seek people in his mold.

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Why you shouldn't believe the Red Sox are out on Craig Kimbrel

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File photo

Why you shouldn't believe the Red Sox are out on Craig Kimbrel

LAS VEGAS — Step away from the idea that the Red Sox are out on Craig Kimbrel. The state of the team, a consideration of typical negotiating tactics, and the events of this slow offseason reveal a different picture than the team's public line.

Multiple agents with appealing high-leverage relievers have heard from the Sox that the team has interest in their clients, but were told the Sox are waiting to see what happens with Kimbrel. That message just doesn’t fit with Sox president of baseball operations’ Dave Dombrowski’s public stance, that the team isn’t looking to make a big expenditure on a closer.

When Dombrowski made that comment on Monday, he pointed out he was speaking generally about the position, rather than about Kimbrel, but the technicality doesn’t really matter. The comment, effectively a tone setter on Day One of the meetings, suggested to the world that the Sox are essentially out on Kimbrel. A suggestion that, in turn, could potentially affect his market.

Dombrowski really may have been posturing, in other words. And doing so with the hope that Kimbrel winds up with a subpar market — one the Sox want to appear passive in — thereby paving the way, they hope, to a potential discount. 

If the market proves as competitive as Kimbrel hopes, maybe they’ll just move on. But like J.D. Martinez last offseason, if the Sox sense there is the chance to wait out a top player, we know they have a willingness to do so. Nate Eovaldi was a hotter ticket than Kimbrel has been thus far, with fewer strong alternatives.

Remember that the bullpen remains a sensitive area, even with some highly talented relievers in Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier. Dombrowski had a reputation in Detroit that followed him to Boston of having trouble building bullpens, and the Sox have two of their key relievers as free agents presently.

Kelly, too, is on the market, and the Sox cannot sign both Kimbrel and Kelly, a baseball source said. On a win-now team like the Sox, with the ability and willingness to carry a huge payroll, having uncertainty at the back-end of the ‘pen just feels unnecessary. There's no greater area of focus for them this winter, and they're upfront about that.

Remember too: the Sox wanted to add their bullpen at last year’s trade deadline. A deal for Kelvin Herrera was close. They wound up successful without an addition, winning the World Series, as Kelly and others, like Ryan Brasier, stepped up mightily. (So, too, did starters.) 

But the sense of need in the ‘pen for the next 162-game season doesn’t disappear because everything worked out in October.  

Could the money work? There’s an increase in the highest luxury tax threshold this year, up to $246 million from $237 million, which the Sox would like to stay under after surpassing it in 2018. But Kimbrel likely won’t be making a ton more on an annual basis than he was in 2018, when he had a $13 million salary. Speculatively, he’ll make something in the mid- to high-teens annually.

Theoretically, the Sox could backload a deal if they wanted, or they could simply sign Kimbrel to a high average annual value but perhaps fewer years. And if the market gets too rich for their blood, or they have to move because others are flying off the board — something that doesn’t appear imminent at all — they can go in a different direction. And they have made inroads on that front.

Kimbrel didn’t have his best year in 2018, but he was dealing with a ton emotionally because of the health of his young daughter. Even though he’s not getting any younger, he’s still one of the best relievers in the game, with the potential to be better in 2019 so long as he stays healthy — and he has stayed remarkably healthy in his career.

Dombrowski said Wednesday that a potential short deal for a closer with a high AAV would also, likely, qualify to him as a big expenditure. So Dombrowski essentially downplayed the idea he’s looking for Kimbrel even at a discount.

But that’s what happens this time of year. Kimbrel may be asking for the moon, Dombrowski may be playing coy. Arguably, both should be doing that, and seem to be.

The bottom line is the Sox know they have a win-now team. They know they need to reinforce the bullpen, and that Kimbrel would be a loss. Dombrowski is trying his hardest to keep the 2018 roster together, and it’s a stretch to believe that the Sox are really out on Kimbrel when they’re giving others in the industry the opposite message.

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