What If the Red Sox Traded for Sonny Gray in 2015?

Truth be told, I’m stealing this “What if” idea from The Athletic, whose various writers are ‘exploring what might have happened if things had gone differently at significant points in sports history.’

The Athletic’s Chad Jennings began by looking back as recently as the Mookie Betts and David Price trade, and in accordance with that, I thought it would be interesting to look back at a time in Red Sox history prior to the club signing Price to a then record-setting seven year, $217 million contract in December 2015.

Yes, this point in time was just a few months before that, in October to be more specific.

The Red Sox were coming off their second consecutive last place finish in the American League East, marking the first time they had done that since the 1929-1930 seasons.

Under new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who was hired to replace Ben Cherington that August, the club was in desperate need of front-line starting pitching help coming off a 2015 campaign in which they ranked 13th in the American League in starters’ ERA (4.34).

According to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, before Dombrowski had even been hired, the former Tigers executive identified soon-to-be free agent left-hander David Price as a potential target to pursue that winter in an interview with Red Sox brass.

Potential trades for names such as the White Sox’ Chris Sale, the Indians’ Corey Kluber, and the Athletics’ Sonny Gray seemed possible as well.

Come October, per Speier, “the Red Sox tried to quantitatively compare the cost of a trade for an ace versus signing one in free agency. [Director of major league operations Zack] Scott oversaw the production of a sixteen-page memo, in this case exploring a hypothetical deal for the A’s Gray, in exchange for a five-prospect package of Rafael Devers, Blake Swihart, Manuel Margot, Henry Owens, and Javy Guerra.”

Based on the projections used in this memo, “the Red Sox considered such a trade a $230 million proposition, with the prospects carrying a projected future worth of $200 million on top of the roughly $30 million that the team anticipated it would have to pay Gray in salary over his remaining four years of team control.”

Gray, at the time, was entering his final year of being a pre-arbitration player.

The results of the assessment, however, did not sway the Sox to swing a trade for an ace, as they “believed it would cost less simply to sign a free-agent starter than it would to trade for a rotation solution.” That was especially the case in the event that including Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts in a trade for a starting pitcher became a must for another team, like the A’s.

In the end, Dombrowski and Co. chose giving up money over giving up prospects and wound up signing Price to that then-record-setting seven-year deal that December.

Although it does not appear that the Red Sox were all that close to acquiring Gray from Oakland, it is fascinating to look back and wonder what could have been.

Out of those five prospects listed above, Devers would be the one missed the most, as the major-league careers of Swihart, Margot, Owens, and Guerra haven’t really panned out to this point for various reasons.

It’s also compelling to look back because Gray in Boston would have been no sure thing. That much was made evident by a rather tumultuous 1 1/2 year tenure with the Yankees, although he has since bounced back nicely after being traded to the Reds in January 2019.

Price’s tenure with the Red Sox wasn’t picture-perfect either, but he did play an integral role in the club’s march to a historic World Series title in 2018 before getting traded to the Dodgers last month.

All in all, handing out massively lucrative contracts and involving top prospects in blockbuster trades both involve a great deal of risk. In the case of acquiring the services of a front-line starter when they most desperately needed one in Dombrowski’s first offseason as president of baseball operations, the Red Sox went with the former over the latter.

Note: If you haven’t already, you should read Homegrown by The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier. This piece would not have been possible had it not been for the information provided in that terrific book about how the Red Sox built a World Series champion from the ground up.

Red Sox Free Agency Targets: Collin McHugh

It’s pretty late to do being one of these with spring training well underway and less than a month ago until Opening Day, but with the news that ace left-hander Chris Sale will start the 2020 season on the injured list, the Red Sox find themselves in need of starting pitching help.

With the news of Sale starting the year on the shelf, in addition to trading David Price to the Dodgers earlier in the month, the Sox’ starting rotation only has three established starting pitchers at the moment in Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Martin Perez.

Guys like Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez could fill in in either the No. 4 or No. 5 spots, and it also appears likely that an opener or two could be used, but that shouldn’t stop chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom from looking at external options as well.

Obviously, with it being the last day of February and all, the free-agent market has essentially been thinned out, but there is still one intriguing name out there in former Astros right-hander Collin McHugh.

According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, the 32-year-old has “recently been given the go-ahead to begin throwing after a [non-surgical] tenex procedure alleviated an elbow concern” and “nearly every team has checked in” on him thanks to his versatility.

Appearing in 35 games, eight of which were starts, for Houston last year, McHugh posted a 4.70 ERA and 4.34 xFIP over 74 2/3 total innings of work while dealing with ongoing right elbow discomfort.

His days of pitching anywhere between 150 to 200 innings in a season are probably behind him and he likely wouldn’t be ready for the start of the 2020 season if he were to sign soon, but there are still plenty of things working in McHugh’s favor.

First off, there’s the versatility piece I mentioned earlier. Maybe it’s just me, but I could see McHugh starting, serving as an opener, or working in relief once he gets up to speed with whatever club he signs with this year.

Second, he probably won’t be demanding much as a free agent. A one-year deal for cheap or even a minor-league deal could get it done. That way, if things didn’t work out, it would not be all that costly to cut ties.

Per MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, the Red Sox now have a little more than $13 million in payroll flexibility to work with before reaching that $208 million luxury tax threshold they got under by dealing Price and Mookie Betts to Los Angeles.

McHugh would surely not command more than 25% of that $13 million as a free agent, so the rewards in this case would far outweigh the risks, in my opinion.

Outside of McHugh, free agent starting pitchers who remain unsigned include old friends Clay Buccholz and Andrew Cashner, Jason Vargas, Clayton Richard, and Marco Estrada.

Red Sox Still Appear Interested in Acquiring Wil Myers, Prospects From Padres

Even after dealing Mookie Betts to the Dodgers last week, the Red Sox are still talking to the Padres about acquiring former All-Star outfielder Wil Myers, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Kevin Acee.

Per Acee, the Sox are also interested in Padres right-hander Cal Quantrill, in addition to top prospects Luis Campusano and Gabriel Arias, while San Diego is interested in offloading ‘about half’ of the $61 million owed to Myers over the next three seasons.

In initial trade talks revolving around Betts, it was reported that the Padres wanted Boston to assume more than half of Myers’ remaining salary due to the money San Diego would be taking on for the 2020 season.

Now, with Betts out of the equation, it seems as though Padres general manager A.J. Preller is more interested in ‘attaining the salary flexibility moving Myers would create.’

Because of that notion, any return the Pads would get in a potential trade with the Red Sox is ‘unclear’, according to Acee.

After shipping both Betts and left-hander David Price to Los Angeles, the Sox are a little more than $13 million below the $208 million luxury tax threshold, so they would be capable of assuming a portion of Myers’ 2020 salary without going over.

Speaking of that, the 29-year-old Myers is set to earn $20 million this coming season in the fourth year of the six-year, $83 million extension he signed with San Diego in 2017. But, since the average annual value of that deal comes out to about $13.8 million, that is the amount that will count towards the luxury tax in 2020.

Myers was coming off an All-Star season when he inked that extension with the Padres, but he has fallen off since, most recently slashing .239/.321/.418 with 18 home runs and 58 RBI over 155 games played in 2019.

The North Carolina native is capable of playing both first base and all three outfield positions, and he does have a history with Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom when the two were with the Rays.

If this deal were to happen, it would be interesting to see who Boston parts ways with. Jackie Bradley Jr. comes to mind when considering the signing of Kevin Pillar, but he is owed $11 million in his final year of team control before reaching free agency in the winter.

Anyway you put it, it looks like Bloom and Co. are in pursuit of pitching, which is a positive development given the current questions surrounding the Red Sox’ starting rotation.

J.D. Martinez’s Outlook on 2020 Red Sox: ‘If Guys Continue to Get Better, I Think We’re Going to Be Really Good’

By trading away one of the best players in baseball in Mookie Betts, the outlook for the Red Sox’ 2020 season may have changed in some people’s eyes, but not to JD Martinez.

When speaking with reporters earlier Monday, Martinez acknowledged that the Sox will ‘feel’ the loss of Betts, but that should not stop them from being competitive in 2020.

“I think we have a lot of really good players,” Martinez said. “I believe in the guys we have. If guys continue to get better, I think we’re going to be really good.”

Before Boston dealt Betts and left-hander David Price to the Dodgers last week, Martinez had the chance to opt out of his current contract and become a free agent back in November.

“You have to make decisions based on what’s in front of you,” the 32-year-old slugger said in regard to his decision to remain with the Red Sox. “That was the decision I made. That was the hand I had. Obviously, [Betts and Price] are gone, but I don’t think this team is a bad team because they left.”

Martinez pointed towards the pieces the Sox get back in the trade as a reason to be excited about the future.

“I know we got some good guys for them,” Martinez said of Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs, and Connor Wong.

When asked about the 2020 version of the Red Sox having a bit of a chip on their shoulders coming off an underwhelming 2019 campaign, Martinez seemed to agree with that notion, saying, “I definitely think a lot of guys are a little bit more hungry than last year. I’m not saying our team was complacent last year, but I think we were a little more relaxed coming in. Last year was kind of a slap in the face, a reality check for us. I think a lot of guys are coming in a lot more determined and ready to go. The team we put on the field last year wasn’t us.”

The 2019 Red Sox, despite finishing with a record of 84-78, still boasted one of the more lethal lineups in the American League. And even with the loss of Betts, the Boston bats should still do plenty offensively.

It’s the pitching that has been the main concern, especially with the starting rotation that has lost Rick Porcello to free agency and Price to a trade.

The three guys the Sox will presumably look to lean on the most this year — Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, and Eduardo Rodriguez — have all dealt with durability issues in the past, or more specifically, as recently as 2019, when both Eovaldi and Sale missed a significant amount of time with injuries.

“We’re hoping this year everyone stays healthy,” said Martinez. “And we go out there and play the way we know how to play.”

With all the negativity surrounding the Red Sox in the wake of trading a franchise cornerstone such as Betts, it could be easy to overlook a club that looks poised to be the third-best team in their division. However, if the Sox do adopt an “Us against the World” kind of mentality headed into the new season, they could go out looking to prove their doubters wrong in 2020.

Red Sox Nearly Traded Mookie Betts to Dodgers Before Last Year’s Trade Deadline

The Red Sox may have just traded Mookie Betts to the Dodgers last week, but according to Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, the two sides had discussions regarding the starting outfielder going back to last July before the trading deadline.

At that point, under then-president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, the Sox found themselves at 54-46 entering the week of July 22rd having just dropped two out of three to the lowly Orioles on the road.

Falling back to 11 games off the pace for the American League East and 3 1/2 games back of the second wild card spot, it seemed as though Dombrowski at least entertained the idea of selling off some assets.

With 1 1/2 years of team control remaining, Betts, in the midst of a solid followup season to his American League MVP campaign in 2018, could have fetched a serious return on the trade market.

The Dodgers already owned the National League’s top record at that point, butting a bona fide star such as the 26-year-old Betts certainly would not have hurt their chances of going back to the World Series for a third consecutive year.

However in-depth conversations between Dombrowski and Friedman got during that penultimate week of July, the Red Sox began to rattle off some wins.

Yes, the club proceeded to win five of its next seven games against the Rays and Yankees to storm back to 1 1/2 games out of a wild card spot. That seemed to put a halt on all talks revolving around the idea of dealing Betts.

Alas, the trade deadline came and went, the Sox did not make any significant additions or subtractions, and they proceeded to drop their next seven contests in a row to all but fall out of contention for a wild card spot.

Knowing what we know, trading Betts to the Dodgers back in July might not have been the worst thing to do. But since it did not happen, at least we got this moment out of it later on during the final game of the 2019 season and perhaps Betts’ last in a Red Sox uniform.

 

 

Chaim Bloom Says Red Sox Have ‘a Lot of Time’ to Find Replacement for David Price

Mookie Betts and David Price have officially been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. While the Red Sox are getting a serviceable replacement for Betts in the form of 23-year-old outfielder Alex Verdugo, they were unable to compensate for their pitching needs in this five-player deal.

As things stand right now, the Red Sox’ starting rotation is composed of Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, and newcomer Martin Perez. That’s about it now that Price is out of the picture.

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was asked at Monday’s press conference about who could replace the veteran left-hander this coming season.

“As strange as it is to say this right before pitchers and catchers report, obviously we have a lot of time to figure that out,” Bloom said. “We have spent a lot of the winter adding starting depth to our 40-man [roster]. We have some good options off-roster as well.”

Prior to shipping Betts and Price off to Los Angeles, Bloom and Co. kept plenty busy by making a number of smaller transactions. Some of the players who will serve as starting depth that are currently on the 40-man roster include Matt Hall, Kyle Hart, Chris Mazza, Mike Shawaryn, Hector Velazquez, and Ryan Weber.

In terms of pitchers that are not currently on the 40-man roster, Tanner Houck and Brian Johnson immediately come to mind as hurlers who could start in the majors this season if necessary.

“Because of the shoes David leaves behind, we’re going to continue to look outside the organization as well,” Bloom added.

Just because pitchers and catchers report to Fenway South on Tuesday does not mean that additional roster shakeups will be made. Players will be traded, waived, maybe even released.

With the six-plus weeks remaining until the start of the 2020 regular seasons, it would be foolish to think that the Red Sox’ roster won’t look different come March 25th.

David Price will be missed, both on the field and in the Sox’ clubhouse, but despite what you may be led to believe, there is time to implement an adequate replacement or replacements.

Red Sox Reach New Agreement With Dodgers to Send Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles

It took five days longer than expected, but the Red Sox and Dodgers have reportedly agreed to a trade that would send outfielder Mookie Betts and left-hander David Price to Los Angeles, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

Going back to Tuesday night, the original deal that would have shipped Betts and Price to southern California involved a third team in the Twins. In this three-team swap, Los Angeles would have received Betts, Price, and cash considerations, Minnesota would have received right-hander Kenta Maeda, and Boston would have received outfielder Alex Verdugo and right-handed pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol.

Upon reviewing Graterol’s medical information though, the Sox became worried over how the 21-year-old flamethrower projected to be more of a reliever than a starter, and thus sought out additional compensation from the Twins.

Since parting ways with another top prospect really would not have been to their benefit, Minnesota ultimately decided to back out of the three-team trade on Saturday and now have their own deal in place with the Dodgers that would net them Maeda and cash considerations in exchange for Graterol and the 67th pick in this year’s amateur draft, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.

So, with the Twins out of the picture, the Red Sox and Dodgers were able to work things out themselves without needing another third team to step in.

In this now-agreed-upon trade, Boston will be receiving Verdugo as initially anticipated, as well as 21-year-old infield prospect Jeter Downs and 23-year-old catching prospect Connor Wong from the Dodgers.

As already mentioned, Los Angeles will be receiving Betts, Price, and $48 million from the Sox, which were all part of the original agreement.

Betts, 27, is set to earn $27 million this coming season before becoming a free agent for the first time in the winter. Price, meanwhile, has three years and $96 million remaining on the seven-year, $217 million deal he signed with Boston back in December 2015. The Red Sox will be paying half of that remaining amount.

Turning to the return Chaim Bloom got in his first blockbuster trade as Boston’s chief baseball officer, Verdugo is a former top prospect in his own right.

The 23-year-old out of Arizona slashed .294/.342/.475 with 12 home runs and 44 RBI over 106 games for the Dodgers last year. He did not play a major-league game after August 4th due to a plethora of issues involving his lower back, core, and right oblique.

As for Downs, the 21-year-old was not part of the original deal but he will be heading to the Red Sox this time around.

Ranked as the Dodgers’ No. 5 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Downs, a former Competitive Balance Round A pick out of Miami, played in 119 games between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa last year.

In those contests, the native of Colombia slashed .276/.362/.526 with 24 home runs, 86 RBI, and 24 stolen bases while primarily playing shortstop.

Downs was named after former Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, and he is the younger brother of current Red Sox minor-league outfielder Jerry Downs.

Finally, Wong was ranked as Los Angeles’ No. 28 prospect by MLB.com and, like Downs, was drafted by the Dodgers in 2017.

Playing in 111 games between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa in 2019, the Houston native posted a .281/.336/.541 slash line to go along with 24 home runs and 82 RBI.

This five-player trade is no longer pending medical reviews but nothing has been made official quite yet. All that is left is approval from Major League Baseball on the transfer of the $48 million going to the Dodgers, according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

At the end of the day, it still stinks that the Red Sox are trading a player like Mookie Betts, a homegrown superstar who should spend his entire career wearing one uniform.

I understand that you can’t force Betts to sign a contract extension and you don’t want him to leave for nothing outside of a compensatory draft pick in the winter, but still, this stings.

It also stinks, although to a lesser extent, to lose David Price, because without him another hole opens in an already questionable Red Sox starting rotation.

Pitchers and catchers are set to report to Fenway South in Fort Myers on Tuesday. Looking forward to it!