The current MLB free agent class is loaded, featuring a little something for everyone. As such, it’s entirely possible the Red Sox do their heavy lifting on the open market, using their financial resources to plug holes and augment an already talented core.
But opportunities abound on the trade market, with several teams emerging as potential sellers amid their own rebuilding efforts. The Red Sox would be wise to engage in this area, as well, especially with chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. building Boston’s farm system back to a point where the likelihood of an impactful deal is more than just a pipe dream.
Now, the Red Sox probably will devote a ton of attention this winter to improving their pitching staff, as Boston needs another starter in wake of Eduardo Rodriguez’s departure in free agency plus bullpen reinforcements. Just don’t be surprised if they also think outside the box while constructing their lineup, as some high-profile position players might surface as trade candidates in the coming weeks and months.
So, who exactly could the Red Sox target in trades? Let’s examine a few notable players, keeping in mind this is just speculation but that Boston theoretically could seek to upgrade both in the infield and outfield.
Ketel Marte, 2B/SS/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-Backs just suffered 110 losses, finishing 55 games back in the National League West, so they really shouldn’t rule out anything this offseason — including trading away an All-Star who’s in his prime and on a team-friendly contract. In fact, Marte probably is one of the most valuable trade chips in all of MLB, which ultimately could deter the Red Sox from entering a bidding war.
As far as the actual player goes, it’s hard to find a better fit. Marte, 28, is coming off a 2021 in which he batted .318 with 14 home runs, 50 RBIs and a .909 OPS in 90 games. He’s just two years removed from hitting .329 with 32 homers, 92 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 144 games en route to finishing fourth in NL MVP voting. This all comes in addition to playing three premium positions — second base, shortstop and center field — and being under club control for three more years at around $30 million.
Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF, Kansas City Royals
Merrifield would be a cheaper alternative to Marte on the trade market. He’s older (turning 33 in January), with less upside and controllable for just two more years, albeit at a very reasonable rate ($2.75 million in 2022 with a $6.5 million club option for 2023). But he, too, can play multiple positions (second base and outfield), which jells well with Boston’s emphasis on versatility. Merrifield, a two-time All-Star, stole an AL-high 40 bases and slashed .277/.317/.395 with 10 homers and 74 RBIs in 2021.
Ian Happ, IF/OF, Chicago Cubs
Speaking of versatility, Happ has played all three outfield spots while sprinkling in time at first base, second base and third base over the past few seasons. And he’s a switch-hitter, although his numbers are much better from the left side of the dish.
The Cubs could keep Happ, a first-round pick in 2015, as they embark upon a rebuild. He’s just 27 and under team control through 2023. But there’s been some volatility in his offensive production, and he’s projected to earn $6.5 million this season. If Chicago makes him available, Boston might want to take a look in hopes of landing the player who posted an .898 OPS in 156 plate appearances in 2019 and finished 18th in NL MVP voting in 2020.
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
The Twins reportedly spent part of the GM meetings gauging trade interest in Buxton, a former top prospect who’s flashed his immense potential but has struggled to consistently stay on the field in his seven seasons since debuting in The Show. They’re reportedly open to moving him or signing him to a long-term extension, although The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported this week, citing sources, that the sides have not made progress toward a deal.
It’s an all-around tricky situation — both for Minnesota and any club looking to acquire Buxton — because he’s turning just 28 and has shown enough when healthy, particularly in 2021, to confirm he’s a rare talent with MVP upside. Yet the various injuries he’s dealt with — as well as his looming free agency next offseason — complicate his financial outlook and what Minnesota realistically could expect in any possible deal. Plus, the Twins have made clear they’re not entering a full-blown rebuild. So, they could just keep Buxton with an eye toward bouncing back in 2022.
Nevertheless, Buxton is coming off an injury-shortened 2021 in which he batted .306 with 19 home runs, 32 RBIs, nine stolen bases and a 1.005 OPS in 254 plate appearances. He’s an elite defender with elite speed, and he’d therefore be a huge addition as Boston’s new center fielder, with Kiké Hernández moving back to second base but still capable of sliding out to the grass if/when necessary.
Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland Athletics
This probably is a long shot. Because while first base was a black hole for Boston in 2021, Bobby Dalbec finished the regular season strong and top prospect Triston Casas looks poised to debut in 2022. The Red Sox likely won’t want to empty the cupboard for a first baseman — especially with more pressing needs on the pitching side — unless they dangled either of the aforementioned franchise incumbents.
Still, Olson is worth noting because it appears the A’s are open for business. And Olson, who turns 28 in March, is a prime trade candidate based on his rising salary. Oakland could look to sell high and maximize the organization’s return after a sensational 2021 in which Olson put it all together, slashing .271/.371/.540 with 39 home runs and 111 RBIs while significantly cutting down his strikeout rate.
Garrett Cooper, 1B/OF, Miami Marlins
Cooper might be the least recognizable name on this list, a product of spending the last four seasons in Miami. But make no mistake: He’s a good ballplayer, with experience in the corner outfield and at first base, even if he projects as a designated hitter in the long run.
Cooper, who will turn 31 on Christmas Day, is an imposing right-handed hitter at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds. And perhaps most intriguingly, he’s a Statcast darling, ranking in the 92nd percentile in max exit velocity in 2021 and producing an expected batting average (.303) in 2020 that was among the top 4% of MLB. His more traditional numbers have been nothing to sneeze at, either, with Cooper slashing .284/.380/.465 with nine homers and 33 RBIs in 250 plate appearances this past season.
Trading for Cooper might not generate a ton of buzz. But he’s under club control for two more years and fits Boston’s need for a first base bridge to Casas plus a DH in 2023 should J.D. Martinez leave in free agency next offseason.