The Major League Baseball winter meetings in San Diego offered a perfect snapshot of the predicament the Boston Red Sox face this offseason.
Not only were they forced to sit on the sidelines this week as other teams across the league pursued the most desirable free agents available. They also saw their fiercest rival hand out a record-breaking contract to the American League Cy Young runner-up.
Such is life nowadays for the Red Sox, who are looking to get under the $208 million luxury tax threshold and therefore might be forced to subtract one or more significant roster pieces despite an underwhelming World Series defense in 2019. It’s a tough pillow to swallow, obviously. And it’s even more difficult to consume when the New York Yankees bolster their chances of repeating as AL East champions by signing Gerrit Cole to a nine-year, $324 million deal.
So, with this in mind, let’s be clear: The last few days haven’t been great for the Red Sox, whose counterpunch at the winter meetings involved signing infielder Jose Peraza and pitcher Martin Perez to one-year contracts worth $3 million and $6 million, respectively. But there is a silver lining to all that’s been happening around Boston, including Cole’s megadeal. It’s just difficult to see as the smoke clears out west.
Cole, whose contract carries an average annual value of $36 million, isn’t the only starting pitcher to get paid in free agency. The Washington Nationals re-signed postseason hero Stephen Strasburg to a seven-year, $245 million contract ($35 million AAV) and the Philadelphia Phillies inked high-upside flamethrower Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million deal ($23.6 million AAV).
How does this exuberant spending provide a small benefit to the Red Sox? Well, for one, it makes the contracts attached to Boston’s well-compensated starting pitchers — Chris Sale (five years, $145 million remaining), David Price (three years, $96 million remaining) and Nathan Eovaldi (three years, $51 million remaining) — look far more palatable than they did just a few short weeks ago, which should positively impact each hurler’s value in potential trade talks?
“This market is only helping the Red Sox,” a major league executive told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, who reported Thursday that Boston has discussed Price with at least five clubs. “All of a sudden, Price’s deal doesn’t look so crazy.”
Yes, this obviously is an optimistic outlook on an otherwise troubling situation for the Red Sox, who are coming off a 2019 campaign in which they went 84-78 just one year after winning a franchise record 108 regular-season games en route to their fourth title since 2004. And no, we don’t know whether the Red Sox ultimately will reap the benefits of the market seemingly working in their favor amid their relative inactivity.
But Sale’s contract theoretically could wind up being a bargain in the long run should the seven-time All-Star stay healthy and regain his top-of-the-rotation form, and Boston probably would need to eat less cash in any trade involving Price or Eovaldi now that teams are throwing money at starters all willy-nilly. And if the latter holds true, it could lead the Red Sox down a path that involves trimming payroll without trading superstar right fielder Mookie Betts.
Hey, sometimes, you need a little positive reinforcement around the holidays.
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