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The Red Sox Face Tough Decisions


With the World Series Trophy firmly in their grasp, and all the confetti cleaned up from the Duck Boat Parade, the Red Sox can finally close out the 2018 season and turn their attention to 2019. And with that closure comes some difficult decisions for the team that will impact the team not only in 2019, but into the foreseeable future. 

Photo courtesy of undergroundsports.com

Sentiment rides high after winning a World Series, and the feeling amongst Red Sox fans is to bring back as many players as possible for a repeat run.  After all, who wants to break up a team that won 108 games in the regular season and handily beat all comers in the postseason?  Unfortunately, it will not be that simple.  Craig Kimbrel, Nathan Eovaldi, and Joe Kelly, key contributors to the World Series run, are heading into free agency with no guarantee to return. 

In addition, several other key performers will be entering the final year of their contracts, including Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, and Xander Bogaerts.  With a payroll already pushing on the luxury tax threshold, it may not be feasible for the Red Sox to retain their current and upcoming free agents.

Here’s a rundown by position of players who finished the season on the active roster, and their status for 2019 and beyond.


Starting Pitchers
Status
Thru
Nathan Eovaldi
Free Agent
----
Drew Pomeranz
Free Agent
----
Chris Sale
Signed
2019
Rick Porcello
Signed
2019
Steven Wright
Arbitration Eligible
2020
Eduardo Rodriguez
Arbitration Eligible
2021
David Price
Signed
2022
Brian Johnson
Team Control
2023

Relief Pitchers
Status
Thru
Craig Kimbrel
Free Agent
----
Joe Kelly
Free Agent
----
Tyler Thornburg
Arbitration Eligible
2019
Brandon Workman
Arbitration Eligible
2020
Heath Hembree
Arbitration Eligible
2021
Matt Barnes
Arbitration Eligible
2021
Ryan Brasier
Team Control
2022
Robby Scott
Team Control
2022
Hector Valazquez
Team Control
2023
Bobby Poyner
Team Control
2024

Infielders
Status
Thru
Steve Pearce
Free Agent
----
Ian Kinsler
Free Agent
----
Brandon Phillips
Free Agent
----
Mitch Moreland
Signed
2019
Xander Bogaerts
Arbitration Eligible
2019
Brock Holt
Arbitration Eligible
2019
Eduardo Nunez
Signed
2019
Dustin Pedroia
Signed
2021
Tzu-Wei Lin
Team Control
2023
Sam Travis
Team Control
2023
Rafael Devers
Team Control
2023

Outfielders
Status
Thru
Jackie Bradley, Jr.
Arbitration Eligible
2020
Mookie Betts
Arbitration Eligible
2020
J.D. Martinez
Signed
2022
Andrew Benintendi
Team Control
2022

Catchers
Status
Thru
Sandy Leon
Arbitration Eligible
2020
Blake Swihart
Team Control
2022
Christian Vazquez
Signed
2022


Free Agents
 
Photo courtesy of nesn.com

The first decision the Red Sox will have to make will involve the retaining of their class of free agents.  Eovaldi’s legendary performance in the World Series will make him a hot commodity on the free agent market.  The Red Sox will have to determine which Eovaldi is the real one, the pitcher who was dominant as both a starter and reliever in the playoffs, or the pitcher who struggled through August and early September.  Eovaldi made only $2 M in 2018, and coming off two Tommy John surgeries, he will likely be a more affordable option in the $12 M to $18 M Average Annual Value (AAV) range.

Despite his struggles in the postseason, Kimbrel has been one of the most reliable closers in the major leagues in his Red Sox career.  The team would like to bring him back, but the sense is it would have to be at the right price.  The Red Sox extended a qualifying offer to Kimbrel, but it is doubtful Kimbrel will accept a one year deal to return at $18 M.  Kimbrel’s agent recently stated at the General Manager’s Meetings that Kimbrel should be considered the greatest closer of all time, which doesn’t sound like someone who would be willing to take a hometown discount.  He is likely gone.

Joe Kelly, like Eovaldi, could not have picked a better time to figure things out.  Kelly has long been a tease to Red Sox fans with his flashes of talent, but he has never been able to put it together on a consistent basis.  This will likely scare most teams away.  He has expressed a desire to return to the Red Sox, and like Kimbrel, he would be welcome at the right price.  But don’t expect the Red Sox to go too far or offer a long duration contract. 

Steve Pearce had a great run in his short tenure with the Red Sox, but he will turn 36 before the start of next season.  A nice guy to have on your team, but one who can easily be replaced.  His previous contract netted him $6.25 M, which is not unreasonable for a veteran hitter.  If he isn’t looking to break the bank before retirement, it’s a good bet he will return to Boston to platoon with Mitch Moreland at first base.

Drew Pomeranz, unlike Eovaldi and Kelly, could not have picked a worse time to have a down year.  Teams will undoubtedly show interest in him simply because he is left handed, but he may be forced to take a minor league deal to prove himself before landing on a big league roster.  It’s unlikely that team will be the Red Sox.

Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips?  No tough decisions on these two, despite the uncertainty with Dustin Pedroia’s knee.  They each walk away with World Series rings as a parting gift.

Pending Free Agents

Photo courtesy of weei.com

The most difficult decisions facing the Red Sox will surround the players who are in their final year of their contracts.  When Price decided to opt-in and remain with the Red Sox over the next four seasons at an AAV of $31.75 M, he may have forced the Red Sox hand in terms of Sale’s future with the team.  The Red Sox picked up the $15 M option on Sale’s contract despite concerns about his shoulder and his long term durability.  When healthy he is one the most dominant starting pitchers in the league and arguably the best left-handed starter in the game.  If he can remain healthy, he will command a contract to match or exceed the AAV of Clayton Kershaw’s seven year $275 M deal.  That’s a lot of money for the Red Sox to risk on a balky shoulder, especially when they will still have Price making similar money as he enters his mid-30’s.

Rick Porcello has a Cy Young Award on his resume, and he has been a reliable starter in his career.  He has value as a third or fourth starter because he rarely misses a start and eats innings, but he will also be looking for a bump in pay from his current deal which will pay him $21.1M in 2019.

Xander Bogaerts has one more year of arbitration eligibility in 2019 before he too can hit the free agent market.  Bogaerts is coming off the best season in his career, and if he can follow it up with another good season, he too will look to cash in on a monster deal.  With Scott Boras as his agent, it is likely that if and when Bogaerts hits the market he will be shopped around to generate competition and to drive up his value.  Boras is a master at getting teams to compete against each other, and on occasion, against themselves. 

The fate of these three players is what hangs over the heads of Red Sox management.  All three will be looking for deals in the $25 M to $35 M AAV range.  The Red Sox also face the possibility of J.D. Martinez opting out of his contract at the end of 2019.  And if that were not enough, they also have Mookie Betts two years out from free agency. Even though the Red Sox are flush with cash, it is doubtful they will want to allocate between $150 M to $200 M of payroll to only six players.  That is before re-signing Kimbrel or Eovaldi, or trying to bring in other free agents to replace them.  Not to mention other arbitration eligible players like Eduardo Rodriguez and Matt Barnes, who will also see sizeable bumps in salary.  And let’s not forget that Pablo Sandoval is still owed over $41 M through 2020.

With the Red Sox farm system seriously depleted by trades in the Dave Dombroski era (which did win a World Series), there are few likely candidates to come up and replace free agent defectors.  This also limits the ability to bring in proven major league talent through trades for prospects, in the manner that was used to obtain Sale and Kimbrel.  If the Red Sox want to bring in younger, more affordable players, they will need to consider trading one or two of their pending free agents.

It is unlikely the Red Sox will be able to get much for Sale given the uncertainty over his shoulder.  This leaves Porcello and Bogaerts as potential trade candidates.  If the Red Sox can reach a deal with Eovaldi, or if they sign another mid-level starting pitcher, look for Porcello to be shopped to a National League team in need of another starter to put them over the top (the Braves, Brewers, and Phillies come to mind) in return for young talent. 

The Red Sox may also be willing to part ways with Bogaerts sooner, rather than later.  As previously mentioned, Bogaerts is coming off his best season and was a major contributor in the regular season, but he disappeared in the playoffs,  Over his career he has not been able to put together two good seasons in a row.  With his value currently at a high point, the time is right to deal Bogaerts. 

One other thing to keep in mind is the Yankees have extremely deep pockets and a young core of players under their control for the next few seasons.  This will allow them to go hard into the free agent market to bolster their main weakness - starting pitcher.  They will likely be in on Eovaldi and will overspend to keep him away from the Red Sox.  They are also considered front runners for Dallas Keuchel and Patrick Corbin, and they’ll still have enough left over to make a run at Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. 

The 2018 team will go down as one of the best in Red Sox history.  It is natural that fans will want to see that continue into 2019.  But if the Red Sox want to remain viable into the 2020’s, and keep pace with the Yankees, they will have to make some tough decisions now.


Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_BSoT.

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