Red Sox

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

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 had two of their key relievers as free agents to start the offseason. (One of those two went off the board when Joe Kelly signed with the Dodgers late Wednesday night.)

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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MLB rumors: Yankees land Gerrit Cole with 9-year, $324 miillon deal

MLB rumors: Yankees land Gerrit Cole with 9-year, $324 miillon deal

The Boston Red Sox will get to see plenty of Gerrit Cole this season - in pinstripes.

The New York Yankees have landed the pitching prize of the offseason, agreeing to terms with the free-agent right-hander on a nine-year, $324 million contract, according to Jon Heyman of the MLB Network.

Cole, 29, went 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA, 326 strikeouts and 0.86 WHIP in 2019 for the Houston Astros, who lost in Game 7 of the World Series to the Washington Nationals. 

It was thought that Cole, a Southern California native who pitched at UCLA was looking to go to the West Coast, but the Yankees offer was apparently enough to lure him to the Bronx.

The addition of Cole fortifies a Yankee rotation that includes Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and Luis Severino and likely makes New York, which won 103 games but lost to Cole and the Astros in the 2019 ALCS, the World Series favorite. 

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Trading David Price would save Red Sox a ton of money, but not without meaningful risk

Trading David Price would save Red Sox a ton of money, but not without meaningful risk

SAN DIEGO -- The Red Sox could save a lot of money by moving on from David Price.

They could also blast a gaping hole in their rotation that precludes them from seriously contending in 2020.

Welcome to Chaim Bloom's nightmare.

Rumors have swirled for a week that the Red Sox would rather move the three years and $96 million remaining on Price's contract than trade former MVP Mookie Betts. Given Price's injury history -- he just started playing catch after September surgery to remove a cyst from his wrist -- it would be hard to blame them for attempting to get out from under as much of that salary as possible.

ESPN on Tuesday reported that multiple teams have targeted Price. The opinions of rival executives in the lobby at the Manchester Grand Hyatt for this week's winter meetings run the gamut. One believes the Red Sox could make taking Price a requirement in any deal for Betts, a la the 2012 mega-trade with the Dodgers that carved about $400 million off of Boston's books and allowed for the reset that led to a 2013 championship.

Another not in contact with the Red Sox believes they could move Price, keep Betts, and then entertain offers for the five-tool outfielder at the deadline in July if they're out of contention, noting that the Nationals missed an opportunity to make a similar move with Bryce Harper in 2018 before he walked in free agency.

And still another with a team interested in Betts and to a lesser extent Price expressed mild surprise that the Red Sox hadn't reached out as of Tuesday afternoon.

While trading Price seems like the right long-term move, it would come with considerable risk. There's a clear path to a World Series in 2020 if Betts stays, Price and Chris Sale regain their All-Star form, and Bloom makes some smart acquisitions for the right side of the infield. Jettisoning Price eliminates the possibility that he muddles through another injury-marred campaign, but it also removes a potential ace, and his spot would either be filled with a mid-level signing or (ugh) another opener.

For all his faults, particularly when it comes to clubhouse distractions like picking a fight with Dennis Eckersley, Price has been better than he gets credit for in Boston. He's 46-24 (.657) with a 3.84 ERA and in his 2016 debut, he led the AL with over 230 innings pitched. He was otherworldly in the 2018 postseason, shedding his reputation as a playoff choker once and for all.

Thus far it has been hard to read the direction of the front office under Bloom, who's still learning the organization and has remained tight-lipped in his dealings with the media. That said, after spending a couple of days around the team, it feels like the Red Sox have been forced into a reactive position where they're serving as Plan B for a number of clubs, particularly as it relates to Price.

Any team that misses out on one of the top-tier free agent starters could make a case that Price's upside outweighs concerns over his health. Premium starters, after all, remain a precious commodity. Zack Wheeler and Stephen Strasburg have already signed nine-figure deals, Gerrit Cole could soon earn $300 million, and Madison Bumgarner and Hyu-Jin Ryu will draw interest, too. Once they're gone, anyone shut out of that market could consider Price.

The Red Sox know this, which is why they signed Price to a $217 million deal in the first place. Though he has yet to make an All-Star team or earn a Cy Young vote in four seasons here, he has dominated a postseason run to a title, and ditching him in a salary dump has some serious come-back-and-bite-you potential.

That said, if they can find a taker without eating too much money, it's hard to imagine they wouldn't pull the trigger. This winter is all about saving money, and clearing Price's $32 million salary off the books is the most palatable way to do it.

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