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MLB rumors: Winter meetings preview - Five Red Sox moves to watch as offseason begins in earnest

MLB rumors: Winter meetings preview - Five Red Sox moves to watch as offseason begins in earnest

The start of baseball's offseason has included some thank-the-lord movement, with a second-tier starter (Zack Wheeler) landing a $118 million deal from the Phillies and the hyperactive Rays dealing away a stalwart outfielder (Tommy Pham), much to the chagrin of ace Blake Snell.

With baseball's annual winter meetings beginning on Sunday at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, all eyes will be on Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox, who have yet to make a major move, but will soon be on the clock.

So, what can we expect? Here are five areas of focus.

1. IS THERE A MOOKIE BETTS TRADE?

The Red Sox would be crazy not to consider deals for Betts if they believe he intends on reaching free agency, which he has made clear both publicly and privately over the last two years. They'd be crazier to give him away for nothing, however, and thus begins the dance of the offseason. The question they must answer is, "How much is too little?" and then draw a line in the warning-track sand. Potential trade partners like the White Sox and Braves have already spent aggressively, which means a Betts deal likely needs to happen sooner than later, since whomever acquires him must fit $28 million into their 2019 payroll and pretty soon that money will start disappearing. One team to watch: the Dodgers, who have money to spend, prospects to trade, and a World Series hill to climb after three straight near-misses.

2. DEALING DAVID PRICE

Chris Sale just started throwing, per WEEI.com, and his five-year, $145 million extension kicks in on Opening Day. Selling low on the potentially dominant left-hander is a recipe for regret, especially since his contract could end up being pretty reasonable if he returns to health. The better trade candidate is Price, who turns 35 in August and has three years and $96 million remaining on a contract that's more likely to provide diminishing returns, but paradoxically includes fewer short-term questions. We laid out the case for Price being an actual trade asset on Thursday; as free agent pitchers leave the market, someone will be left short, and maybe Price becomes a target.

3. FINDING A STARTER (OR TWO)

Trading Price may ease the financial crunch on a team hoping to drop below the $208 million luxury tax threshold, but it will blow another hole in a rotation that's already down one starter with the presumed departure of free agent Rick Porcello. The Red Sox obviously won't be in on Astros ace Gerrit Cole or Nationals World Series hero Stephen Strasburg. They also can't afford Madison Bumgarner or maybe even old friend Wade Miley. Will they go the opener route? Take a flier on a reclamation project like Felix Hernandez or Michael Wacha? Try to turn center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. into a starter? Here's where Bloom's creativity will be put to the test.

4. SURPRISE US

Until he starts dealing, Bloom remains an enigma. He's beholden to no one on the roster, a position which allowed predecessor Dave Dombrowski to cut ties with Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez while they were still owed money. Could Bloom decide a roster overhaul is in order and use a supposed foundational piece like All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts or outfielder Andrew Benintendi to swing a larger deal? We may start to get some clarity on his thoughts next week.

5. RIGHT SIDE OF THE INFIELD

At this time last year, the Red Sox were foolishly counting on 125 games out of second baseman Dustin Pedroia (he played six) and 162 out of a first base platoon of Mitch Moreland (91) and Steve Pearce (29). While some portion of either job could go to second-year slugger Michael Chavis, the Red Sox will be in the market for help at first and second, and this is a spot where Bloom helped unearth some legit finds in Tampa, from Carlos Pena to Logan Morrison to Ji-Man Choi. There should be no shortage of affordable options at first, in particular, from Justin Smoak to Travis Shaw to C.J. Cron.

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If Red Sox hope to upgrade rotation in free agency, beyond one big name, they'll find pickings slim

If Red Sox hope to upgrade rotation in free agency, beyond one big name, they'll find pickings slim

BOSTON -- As recently as April, the Red Sox could still credibly claim to be built around their rotation. Now, that rotation could use an overhaul.

The economics of their staff make that virtually impossible. Three more years and $96 million remain on David Price's $217 million contract. Chris Sale's five-year, $145 million extension doesn't even kick in until next season. Nathan Eovaldi may finish year one of his four-year, $68 million deal with only four starts.

Those contracts look immovable, unless the Red Sox are prepared to eat an obscene amount of money. With Eduardo Rodriguez still under team control and Andrew Cashner never anything more than a rental, that leaves one spot to upgrade: Rick Porcello.

The right-hander is in the midst of a brutal season and it's unlikely the Red Sox will extend the free-agent-to-be a qualifying offer, because there's a chance he'd take it and lock in a one-year, $18 million salary.

The Red Sox would be better served spending that money on new blood, but what are their options?

An examination of the free-agent market shows one bonafide ace: Houston's Gerrit Cole. The right-hander is 13-5 with a 2.87 ERA and league-leading 216 strikeouts. He's been on the AL All-Star team the past two seasons and will probably finish in the top five of the Cy Young voting for the third time in his career. He turns 29 next month.

He's also looking at a $150 million-$200 million contract and it's difficult to envision the Red Sox committing that much money to another starter without removing one of the big three from their books. Let's consider Cole too rich for their blood.

So, whom does that leave? Per MLB Trade Rumors, there should be around 40 starters on the market, though a number of recognizable names -- Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Julio Teheran, Corey Kluber -- either hold opt-outs they're unlikely to exercise, or options that should be picked up.

If we operate on a couple of assumptions, we can further narrow the pool. The first is that the Price and Sale contracts have hardened the stance of owner John Henry that free-agent pitchers in their 30s aren't worth major investments. That eliminates San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner (30), L.A.'s Hyun-Jin Ryu (33), Pittsburgh's Chris Archer (31) and Chicago's Cole Hamels (36).

The second is that a rotation featuring extensive durability issues can't afford another iffy arm from a health perspective. That eliminates Washington's Stephen Strasburg (if he opts out of the final four years and $100 million remaining on his deal), Seattle's Felix Hernandez, Philadelphia's Drew Smyly, and old friend Rich Hill, who turns 40 in March.

Then there's stuff. The Red Sox prefer strikeout pitchers who can work up in the zone and miss bats. That eliminates Oakland's Brett Anderson (4.5 K/9), Houston's shockingly effective Wade Miley (7.6), who they've had before, and Atlanta's sinker-balling Dallas Keuchel (6.8).

Guess what's left? Not much! One possibility would be Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler, who turns 30 in May and has already missed two seasons to Tommy John surgery. Two strikes against him, right? Possibly. But he hasn't missed a start in two years, and he hasn't even thrown 700 innings in his career. As a means of comparison, when the Red Sox signed Price at the same age, he had thrown over 1,400. That's a lot of wear.

Wheeler has touched 100 mph while also watching his 4.20 ERA suffer behind a woeful Mets defense. Depending on how many years he commands on the open market, he could be a target, though he's likely to receive a qualifying offer, which would cost the Red Sox a draft pick.

Another option is Cincinnati's Alex Wood, a 2017 All-Star with the Dodgers. Back spasms sidelined him until July 28, but a lifetime 3.29 ERA speaks to his ability. His injury history makes him a risk -- perhaps a low-cost one.

Then there's Minnesota's Jake Odorizzi. He made his first All-Star team this year at 29, though his ERA has climbed from 1.92 in early June to 3.61 today. He posted a 3.82 ERA over three seasons in the AL East with Tampa, for whatever that's worth.

And that's about it, unless you're interested in guys like Tanner Roark, Jhoulys Chacin, or Kyle Gibson. If this little exercise makes anything clear, it's that upgrading the rotation is likely going to require a foray into the trade market, which means this could be one busy offseason -- but that's a story for another day.

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MLB rumors: Top AL contender has inquired about Indians RHP Trevor Bauer

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File photo

MLB rumors: Top AL contender has inquired about Indians RHP Trevor Bauer

The Houston Astros are runaway leaders in the AL West and perennial contenders but that hasn't stopped them from trying to improve as the trade deadline closes in tomorrow.

Already rumored to be "engaged" in trade talks for San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, Houston is reportedly now inquiring about Cleveland Indians' right-hander Trevor Bauer, according to Jon Morosi of MLB Network and FOX Sports.

Bauer, 28, is 9-8 with a 3.79 ERA in a major league-leading 156 2/3 innings pitched for the Indians and made news over the weekend with by chucking a ball over the center field fence as he was removed after a rough outing (eight runs on nine hits and four walks with six strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings) against the Royals and drawing the ire of Cleveland manager Terry Francona.

Bauer apologized after the game and called his actions ‚Äúunbecoming, ‚Äúchildish,‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúunprofessional.‚ÄĚ He was fined an undisclosed amount by the Indians and MLB.

Despite Cleveland being in wild-card contention, Bauer's tantrum and quirky reputation have led to speculation that the Indians might move him. The Yankees, as always with any big-name pitcher, have been mentioned, including by MLB Network's Jon Heyman, as a possible destination. The Astros interest is curious because Bauer reportedly doesn't get along with his former UCLA teammate, Houston right-hander Gerrit Cole. 

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