Chris Sale A Dream Target For Red Sox Even If Trade Unlikely (Mailbag)

Chris SaleGroundwork has been laid.

The Major League Baseball hot stove officially started burning this week, as the general managers meetings took place in Phoenix. There weren’t too many moves stemming from the get-together, but GMs and agents started to explore deals that could be consummated in the coming weeks.

The Boston Red Sox were among the most interesting teams at the GM meetings. They met with the agents for third baseman Pablo Sandoval and pitcher Jon Lester. There’s no guarantee either player winds up in Boston this offseason, but the conversations certainly added fuel to the fire.

Sandoval and Lester, as you’d imagine, were the subjects of many mailbag inquiries this week. Let’s sort things out.

What’s the latest on Pablo Sandoval? Could the Red Sox sign him?
— Parth Patel

One of the biggest developments — no pun intended — of this week’s GM Meetings was the Red Sox’s interest in Sandoval. It had been assumed for a while the Sox would do their homework on Sandoval, but it sounds like Boston is gearing up to make an aggressive push for the two-time All-Star.

An executive from another major league club told ESPN.com’s Gordon Edes that the Red Sox are “all-in” on the free-agent third baseman. A major league source told The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo that the Red Sox and Sandoval are looking into a face-to-face meeting in Boston in the near future, perhaps as early as next week.

In other words, it appears the Red Sox’s interest in Sandoval is very real. This isn’t just some fling where the Sox kick the tires on someone deemed a good fit but ultimately walk away. I’d say there’s a good chance Sandoval ends up in Boston, though the Red Sox certainly will have competition.

Word to the wise: Don’t put too much stock into the presumption this is a two-horse race between the Red Sox and San Francisco Giants.

What is Will Middlebrooks’ future with the Red Sox?
— Joe Goodin

Will Middlebrooks’ immediate future is tied to the Red Sox’s pursuit of Sandoval, or some other third baseman. It’s fairly obvious the Red Sox aren’t comfortable entering 2015 with Middlebrooks as their starting third baseman. It’s simply too risky given his two-year swoon.

The bigger question, of course, centers on Middlebrooks’ long-term future with Boston. The Red Sox could package him in a trade if they sign a third baseman to a long-term contract. At this point, however, he’d be an additional trade piece rather than the centerpiece of a deal.

The Red Sox’s best move might be to have Middlebrooks start the year at Triple-A Pawtucket and see if the 26-year-old finally can put it all together after getting fully healthy this offseason.

How about bringing in Jed Lowrie to play third base/shortstop and platoon him with Garin Cecchini?
— Brian, Sandwich, Mass.

The Red Sox’s interest in Sandoval suggests they’re aiming higher.

That being said, Sandoval isn’t without his flaws and Lowrie would require much less of a financial commitment. MLB Trade Rumors predicts Lowrie will land a three-year, $30 million contract, whereas Sandoval could land a six-year deal worth more than $100 million.

Lowrie struggled for much of 2014, but the switch-hitter batted .290 with 15 homers, 75 RBIs and a .791 OPS in 2013. He also can play both shortstop and third base, which would help safe-guard against continued struggles by Xander Bogaerts.

It’s hard to envision the Red Sox improving too much by signing Lowrie, though. There are concerns about his offensive potential following a down year, his defensive aptitude and his injury history. Plus, Garin Cecchini could benefit from more minor league seasoning, particularly defensively. The 23-year-old regressed in 2014 after setting the world on fire the previous three seasons.

The Red Sox need horses — not ponies — at this point. Lowrie is a nice player and not the worst consolation price. But both Sandoval and Chase Headley are more appealing options.

Why focus on Pablo Sandoval? I know third base was considered a weakness last season, but it seems the Red Sox have a much more desperate need for top-of-the-line pitching.
— Jared Beagley

I completely agree with you, Jared. Pitching should be the Red Sox’s No. 1 priority.

If a pursuit of Sandoval is going to, in some way, prohibit the Red Sox from landing a second top-flight starter this offseason, they should immediately pump the brakes. I’m not sure the two pursuits are mutually exclusive, though.

Still, your sentiment makes sense. Sandoval’s price tag is concerning. The Red Sox’s best course of action might be to sign Headley — an excellent defender with offensive upside — to a shorter, cheaper deal, thus creating more flexibility for Boston in the starting pitching market.

Which of these second-tier free-agent starting pitchers is the best: Francisco Liriano, Ervin Santana or Justin Masterson?
— Bob Blain

I’d take…

1. Ervin Santana
2. Francisco Liriano
3. Justin Masterson

Masterson is the most relatable name on the list because he was drafted by and spent time with the Red Sox. He was horrendous in 2014, though, and the right-hander might be best-served accepting a one-year pillow contract in the hopes of reestablishing his value before hitting the open market again next offseason. Don’t be surprised if Masterson winds up in a relief role somewhere at some point.

Liriano and Santana are fairly comparable. Santana has a more consistent track record, though. The right-hander has made at least 30 starts in each of the last five seasons while posting a sub-4.00 ERA in four of those seasons.

Is there any truth to the idea that Chris Sale might be a trade option? Do the Red Sox have enough to get him?
— Mike Wilmes, West Hartford, Conn.

White Sox GM Rick Hahn indicated at the GM Meetings he’d listen to offers for anyone. Still, it doesn’t sound like he’s inclined to trade Chris Sale.

The Red Sox absolutely should pick up the phone, though. While Giancarlo Stanton might be every Red Sox fans’ dream target, Sale should be a close second given his talent, age and contract.

Sale, who finished third in American League Cy Young voting, is turning 26 in March. He has one of baseball’s sexiest contracts, as the left-hander is owed only $27.15 million over the next three seasons — with a couple of club options on the table for 2018 ($12.5 million) and 2019 ($13.5 million).

The Red Sox probably have a better chance of tapping into the Cincinnati Reds’ surplus of starters — Johnny Cueto, Alfredo Simon, Mat Latos and Mike Leake all are set to become free agents after the 2015 season — but Sale is on another level. The White Sox also would be wise to at least entertain the idea of trading Sale since their farm system is depleted and the young southpaw would net Chicago a king’s ransom.

The Red Sox, who have one of baseball’s best farm systems, could offer an intriguing package of both major league-ready prospects and lower-level prospects. They should, in theory, be able to land almost whoever they want so long as they’re willing to part with their top guys. It’s a luxury few teams possess.

The problem for the Red Sox — and everyone else — is that Sale likely isn’t for sale right now. But hey, they can shoot for something huge.

Photo via Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports Images

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