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: Red Sox, Padres have discussed Mookie Betts trade

MLB Rumors: Red Sox, Padres have discussed Mookie Betts trade

A Mookie Betts trade this offseason still appears to be in the realm of possibility for the Boston Red Sox.

According to Dennis Lin of The Athletic, the Red Sox and San Diego Padres have discussed a potential deal involving the superstar outfielder.

Lin writes:

Recent talks between the teams have focused on sending a significant amount of prospect talent and outfielder Wil Myers to Boston, according to sources. Multiple people familiar with the discussions characterized an agreement as unlikely, and the industry consensus is that Betts will be in a Red Sox uniform on Opening Day. Yet both sides appear to have legitimate interest.

As our own John Tomase has noted, the Padres are a prospect-rich organization with all of the pieces necessary to acquire Betts if they want him. Throwing in Wil Myers would relieve San Diego of the $61 million owed to him over the next three seasons.

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On Monday, ESPN's Buster Olney wrote the Red Sox are looking to package David Price in any deal involving Betts to part ways with the $96 million remaining on the left-hander's contract.

Betts is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2020 season if he and the Red Sox do not agree to a contract extension.

Tomase: Top Sox prospect quickly growing on the franchise

Top prospect Triston Casas is quite literally growing on the Red Sox

Top prospect Triston Casas is quite literally growing on the Red Sox

The Red Sox drafted Triston Casas as the rare high schooler who already possessed big-league size at an imposing 6-foot-4, 238 pounds.

It turns out he's still growing.

The team's top prospect recently stopped by Fenway Park, and the team's first order of business should be updating his bio.

Not only has Casas added bulk, but he's taller, too. A week after his 20th birthday, Casas now stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 255 pounds. To put this in perspective, he's only an inch shorter and already 10 pounds heavier than Yankees behemoth Giancarlo Stanton. If he's got any growing left in him, he could rival Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, all 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds of him.

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"I just turned 20, so I'm still growing into my body," Casas said. "I'm not putting any limits on my size. I'm not sure how much more I might grow. It's been weight training, nutrition, a combination of a lot of things. It's mostly natural. It's my genes. There's no secret formula for it."

Casas noted that his father is also 6-5 — "he's a little bigger than me in terms of roundness" — and that his mom stands about 5-9, "so she's not tiny."

Good genes are only half the battle, though, and Casas is proving himself to be the team's most exciting prospect. The first baseman recently checked in at No. 70 on Baseball America's top 100 list, making him the highest-ranked Red Sox farmhand, five spots ahead of Bobby Dalbec.

He put up numbers at two levels of A ball last year that certainly jump off the page for a 19-year-old, hitting .256 with 20 homers and 81 RBIs in what was effectively his pro debut. Drafted 26th overall in the first round of the 2018 draft out of Plantation, Fla., Casas tore a thumb ligament just two games into his career at short-season Lowell, necessitating season-ending surgery.

He returned in 2019 and got off to a slow start at Low-A Greenville before taking flight. Hitting just .208 through April with 31 strikeouts and only two homers in 22 games, Casas hit. 267 with 18 homers and an .870 OPS thereafter, striking out a more manageable 87 times in 98 games.

"Once you get in that 450-500 at-bat level of the season, it starts to get a little comfortable," Casas said. "I felt like I was having my best at-bats in August, and when the season ended, I was a little disappointed that we didn't have another month left. I'm looking to build on that momentum and bring it into the season."

Casas finished third in the South Atlantic League with 19 homers (he added his 20th during a September cameo with High-A Salem), and no other teenager cracked the top 10. He joined Xander Bogaerts and Tony Conigliaro as the only Red Sox teenagers to hit 20 homers at any level since 1960.

All of that slugging made him the unanimous No. 1 prospect in the organization, with his smooth left-handed swing drawing comparisons to Braves All-Star Freddie Freeman.

"I'm more on the side of ignoring all of it," Casas said of the plaudits. "I try to live with the satisfaction that I'm happy with myself, and the numbers I'm putting up are a product of the work I'm putting in. I feel like there are a lot of improvements that need to be done, because I don't feel like I had my best season."

He was lucky enough to grow up near Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer, a fellow graduate of Heritage High School. Hosmer has served as a mentor for years, though Casas likes the idea of closing the student-teacher gap as he gets closer to the big leagues himself.

"I've talked to him a couple of times this offseason, a little more often now that I've signed, just because we have a little bit more compatibility and we're a little more relatable to each other," Casas said. "He's a really good mentor. He's kind of like the first big leaguer I've ever talked to, growing up, he's in the area and I don't know if he's always felt the need to take me under his wing, but same high school, same area, he's been really beneficial to my career."

If there's a player Casas admires, it's Reds first baseman Joey Votto. Despite his natural power, Casas chokes up like Votto, especially with two strikes, "where I'm way up on the pine tar."

"I emulate Joey Votto as much as I can," Casas said. "He's my favorite player."

He won't be Votto until he limits the strikeouts. He ruefully noted that he recorded more K's (116) than hits (107) in 2019.

"That was a very concerning stat for me," he said. "That's something I got back in the cage and focused on. I feel like it has a lot to do with your mentality stepping into the box, being ready to hit right from the first pitch. But it's something that I learned from last year. Last year was a big learning experience, so I'll look to build on it this year."

Casas hopes to build, and maybe he'll continue to grow, too. Whatever happens, he knows this much: he's not in the game simply to be a highly regarded prospect.

"To be recognized by a lot of people as the Red Sox' best minor-league player or hitter, it's really nice," he said. "But at the end of the day, I don't want to be a minor league player."