Columnists, Sports

7th Inning Stretch: A winter meetings to-do list for the Red Sox

This week, hundreds of executives, agents and journalists will convene at a hotel in San Diego to conduct what often amounts to the most exciting five days of baseball business of the year. From Dec. 8-12, all eyes will be on the Winter Meetings.

In years past, some of the biggest trades and signings of the offseasons have occurred at the Winter Meetings, from the Chris Sale trade to the Boston Red Sox in 2016 to a blockbuster three-team trade in 2009 between the Arizona Diamondbacks, Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees.

With big-name free agents such as Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg on the market, and trade rumors swirling around superstars Mookie Betts and Francisco Lindor, this year’s Winter Meetings are sure to be full of drama and intrigue.

For the Red Sox, the winter wish list is long. After a disappointing 2019 season, the Sox have a lot of work to do. And with new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom at the helm, nothing is off the table. Even if no major moves are executed, the meetings often serve as a launchpad for future deals. Expect the Sox to be in on countless players and to be the subject of endless trade rumors.

So with the Winter Meetings upon us, here are three priorities for the local nine.

The arms race

Boston’s no-closer experiment last season was a failure and the starters weren’t much better. With the exception of Eduardo Rodriguez and his breakout year, the Sox pitching staff underperformed, to say the least. With Rick Porcello now a free agent, the Red Sox will need to add a fifth starter at a cheaper price, and should be looking for bullpen depth as well.

Bloom’s Tampa Bay Rays invented the idea of the opener –– a reliever starting a game and pitching only a few innings –– and it would not be a surprise if the Sox employ the strategy more going forward. Whether they pursue a high-profile closer like Dellin Betances or a lesser known specialist, the pitching staff needs some love. A 4.70 team earned-run average won’t cut it in 2020.

Trade Someone…

Red Sox ownership has notably given Bloom the directive, but not mandate, to shed payroll. The Sox have paid luxury taxes for years now, and with a payroll of roughly $222 million, Boston will be looking to stay competitive at a lower price. Which brings me to David Price, who has $96 million remaining on his contract over the next three years and should be on the block.

While Price has been a valuable and mostly reliable starter since 2016, he’ll be 34 in 2020. His best days are behind him, and the Sox could easily find a viable replacement for significantly cheaper. The same could be said about Nathan Eovaldi, who is owed $51 million over the next three years, despite making only 12 starts in 2019. Bloom has a track record of crafting elite pitching staffs at a low cost and he should have the chance to do so in Boston.

…but don’t trade Mookie

I understand the need to shed payroll and keeping Betts will be quite expensive. But at the end of the day, Betts is a once-in-a-generation talent. Having a five-tool player with perennial MVP talent, a marketable smile and the love of all fans is rare. Sure, he’ll cost $300 million, but in a sport where signing superstars to decade-long contracts has become a prerequisite to sustained playoff contention, the Red Sox should find any way possible to retain Betts.

It’s very hard to believe that any team would offer a return worth Betts’ value, even for just one season. He’s one of the best players in the game and a perfect centerpiece for the next decade of Red Sox baseball. Lock him down before it’s too late.

There is every chance that the Winter Meetings will come and go with no major moves from the Red Sox. Not every year will bring a blockbuster trade or expensive signing. But for Bloom and his staff, there is a lot of work to be done before the Sox should be considered serious title contenders again. He needs to artfully add by subtraction and find cheap talent to complement the team’s strong core. The clock is ticking.

The 2019 Winter Meetings begin this Sunday. Can you hear the Hot Stove sizzling yet?

 

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