By Matt McCarthy, 985TheSportsHub.com
Many believe the chances of a Mookie Betts trade have now increased with J.D. Martinez deciding to opt back in to his contract with the Red Sox.
The team has made it clear that they want to slash payroll and get under the $208 million luxury tax threshold, but even with that goal in mind there are scenarios in which the Red Sox can afford to keep Betts even with Martinez sticking around. New Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom will now have to decide whether it’s worth it to create major holes elsewhere on the roster to keep the 2018 AL MVP around.
Here are five ways the Red Sox can slash payroll while retaining Betts’ and Martinez’s salaries:
1. Trade Jackie Bradley Jr:
This one is easy.
Bradley is entering his final year before hitting free agency and is coming off a season in which he batted .225 with a .738 OPS. He’s the best defensive centerfielder to wear a Red Sox uniform since Fred Lynn, but defense alone isn’t worth $10-11 million, which is what Bradley will likely command in his final year of arbitration.
The Sox can find a cheaper alternative to fill one of their outfield spots, either from outside the organization or by shuffling internally. The team has considered trying Michael Chavis out in left field and could perhaps think about moving third baseman Bobby Dalbec to the outfield as he moves closer to the major leagues. Centerfielder Jarren Duran, another top prospect in the system, reached Portland in 2019.
If the Sox are serious about slashing payroll, Bradley should be the first to go.
2. Don’t spend on Rick Porcello’s replacement:
Rick Porcello’s $20 million per year salary comes off the books this offseason, giving the Sox an opportunity to save plenty of money that has been spent on the backend of their rotation.
But reallocating too many resources away from the rotation would be risky. Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi are far from sure bets in 2020 and there are few internal options capable of sliding into the rotation in the event that any of those three can’t pitch or are ineffective. The Sox have no major league ready starting pitchers in the minor leagues, as 20-year-old Bryan Mata is likely at least a year away after reaching Portland last year.
If the Sox could find a cost-controlled fourth of fifth starter via a trade, that might be the best approach to replacing Porcello while freeing up much of his salary to be spent elsewhere.
3. Purge the roster of veterans and replace them with internal options:
The team can clear $10 million in payroll by letting Mitch Moreland and Brock Holt walk and replacing them with cheaper, younger players like Chavis and Marco Hernandez. Steve Pearce and Eduardo Nunez will take another $10.5 million off the books and there seems little reason to spend any significant amount of money on veteran players in their place. The Sox should also ask themselves whether Sandy Leon is a $2.5 million player and if they can find a cheaper option as the backup to Christian Vazquez.
4. Make no investments in the bullpen:
This is where keeping Betts and Martinez on the payroll likely hurts the most. The bullpen clearly needs to be improved and there’s no way the Red Sox could make any major financial commitments to new additions if Martinez and Betts are both on the roster in 2020.
Perhaps this is where Bloom’s experience with the Rays will help the Red Sox the most. Tampa Bay consistently built strong bullpens on a shoestring budget. Can Bloom repeat that success here?
5. Find a suitor for David Price:
How realistic is this scenario?
It likely comes down to John Henry’s willingness to pay yet another player to go elsewhere.
Price is owed $96 million over the next three seasons and will be 35 years old next August. It’s hard to imagine another team wanting to pick up the full contract, but could the Red Sox convince someone to take the lefty if they were willing to eat part of Price’s salary?
Maybe, and it’s an option they should explore.