The Blue Jays pulled off a major trade landing 3B Josh Donaldson from the Athletics for 3B Brett Lawrie and three minor leaguers.
It was a classic Oakland GM Billy Beane deal – coming out of nowhere (didn’t see any rumors about it before the trade was announced) and involved a marquee player.
Let’s look at the trade from the Red Sox perspective:
The Blue Jays
Combined with the recent signing of free agent catcher Russell Martin, Donaldson is an all-in move for the Blue Jays – a move similar to their Marlins trade of two years ago (which didn’t work too well for Toronto).
Donaldson can be a difference maker for Toronto. Buster Olney ranks him as MLB’s #1 third baseman (insider subscription) – with 53 HRs and 191 RBIs during the last two seasons.
Says Donaldson, “I’m going to venture to say there’s probably not going to be another lineup as potent as this in major league baseball.”
Pencil Toronto in as top AL East contenders.
Meaning the Red Sox goal of returning to the top of the division just got harder.
Got to think Red Sox GM Ben Cherington inquired about Donaldson before the Pablo Sandoval signing.
Sandoval has some advantages – he is younger and a switch-hitter (Boston needed another lefty base in its lineup). And he was a free agent (so the cost – besides money – was only a draft pick).
But over the past two seasons, Donaldson has been much stronger offensively and doesn’t hit free agency for four more years.
Donaldson was the better acquisition.
The pivotal player in the Blue Jays trade was Lawrie.
The Sox didn’t have a comparable major league proven third baseman.
Despite Lawrie’s injury-prone track record – he still rates as a better player than Will Middlebrooks.
However, the good news for Boston is a package of players can land a quality player like Donaldson.
And the Red Sox have a surplus of pitchers and outfielders that can help land a big player.
It appears Beane is remaking the Athletics.
So next to move on from Oakland could be starter Jeff Samardzija – set to be a free agent after the 2015 season.
The Red Sox are said to be among the teams talking to the A’s.
The starting pitcher market is crowded – with a number of free agents and other soon to be free agents out there. So the Samardzija trade market may take a well to form.
But note, with Jed Lowrie on the free agent market, Oakland is looking for a shortstop.
Someone like Red Sox SS prospect Deven Marrero could be a foundational piece in Boston landing Samardzija.
Anthony Castrovince picks out ten big name players who could be headed to the trade market.
Three to watch for the Red Sox:
- Cole Hamels. The Phillies lefty starter has got to be on the Red Sox shopping list – even if Jon Lester signs with Boston. The Sox need two top starters to front their rotation. Hamels will be costly but note, he is coming off a career-low 2.46 ERA in 30 starts. That kind of performance would look good on the Boston pitching staff.
- Jordan Zimmermann. If the Nationals are planning to move Zimmermann, the Red Sox need to check out his asking price. Would put him a peg lower than Hamels on the list because Zimmermann is a free agent after the 2015 season. But his numbers are dominating.
- Miguel Montero. The Red Sox are looking to beef up their left-handed hitting and Montero could team behind the plate with Christian Vazquez. The Diamondbacks may be looking to dump his salary (Montero has 3 years and $40 million remaining on his contract). This could present a buy-low option for Boston.
A Plan B candidate as a lefty hitting catcher may be Dioner Navarro.
Navarro is on tap to earn $5 million next season to back up newly signed free agent Russell Martin. That may be too much for Toronto to bear – so he could become available.
John Henry and Businessweek
Much has been written about Red Sox owner John Henry’s interview with Bloomberg Businesssweek where he declared, “teams continue to extravagantly overpay for players above the age of 30” – leading to questions about whether Boston would re-sign post-30 year old Jon Lester.
Well the story’s writer Joshua Green says, don’t read too much into what Henry said during that interview.
Green writes consider the context of Henry’s statement – the Red Sox were riding high as the World Series champs.
A last place finish in 2014 (making that two cellar performances in three years) most likely sent Henry and others in Boston’s front-office reexamining their team building.
And a proven winner like Lester would be sure to be valued.
The Red Sox announced their 40 man roster.
Boston has 17 pitchers on the roster – 16 of whom pitched for the Red Sox last season.
And by the looks of it – not a #1 or #2 starter among the crowd.
Figure the team is sure to add two or three more pitchers this off-season.
With the team at the 40 man limit, that means somebody (or somebodies) will have to go.
The other crowded position is outfield.
Crowded in numbers – and also question marks.
The Sox have eight outfielders on the roster – and all of them played in the big leagues last season.
Bryce Brentz is most likely Pawtucket bound.
But that still leaves the Red Sox two players above the five outfielders the team typically carries.
That’s where the questions come into play:
- Will Boston look to move Yoenis Cespedes before he enters his contract walk year?
- Will Jackie Bradley Jr. hit? Does he have any trade value?
- What’s up with Allen Craig – can he bounce back as a hitter?
- Can Shane Victorino stay on the field?
Lefty Bat to Watch
Adding a lefty bat to the line-up is one of the key drivers in the Red Sox pursuit of Pablo Sandoval.
Another player they should add to their target list is catcher Miguel Montero – who the Diamondbacks may have on the move.
Montero is highly paid – with contract that has three years and $40 million remaining. And that will most likely limit his market.
He has some pop in his bat – and is strong defensively (insider subscription).
Boston should explore adding Montero to team next season with Christian Vazquez.
It would add another lefty bat and veteran presence to go with Vazquez.
And looking beyond 2015, once Blake Swihart is big league ready, Boston can move Montero.
Montero’s contract would be shorter, making the money easier to take for the acquiring team. And Boston – as a financial superpower – can “eat” money if needed to make a deal happen.
Sox GM Ben Cherington has said 2015 is “really important to us (the Red Sox).”
A move like adding Montero would demonstrate it.
Looking Ahead to Castillo
Rusney Castillo got a good review from Bernie Pleskoff, a former baseball scout who writes for MLB.com.
Pleskoff wrote Castillo profiles as “disciplined” at the plate and a “line-drive gap hitter” – but not “much home run power.”
He sees Castillo as an “aggressive baserunner” who will steal bases “when needed.”
Defensively, Castillo “showed the talent to play center field” with “a strong, accurate throwing arm.”
After last season’s failures in center from an offensive perspective, Castillo looks like he’s on track to be a solid contributor to the Sox line-up.
The Red Sox have some big financial decisions ahead of them, determining which – if any – starter (or starters) to make big money, long-term investments in.
So what are the guiding principles in determining whether a pitcher will hold up over the life of the contract?
Boston GM Ben Cherington says in the article, “There’s no guarantee. Guys who have had the most consistent track record of health and innings are historically the best bets to keep doing it, but that doesn’t mean they’re a guarantee to keep doing it. At some point, we all know, it stops.”
Adds Cubs president Theo Epstein, “If you want to be right all the time, then predict they’re going to break down. Eventually, all pitchers do. It’s just a matter of when.”
Look for the Red Sox to spread out their risk in retooling the starting staff – which is currently in shambles, writes Michael Silverman.
That means the team could go for one starter – not two – who is post-30 years old with a long-term (five years or more) contract.
And the pathway to a number one could be a free agent (like Jon Lester) or trade (such as Cole Hamels, in a deal like the one Jim Bowden outlines – insider subscription).
And then the team will fill the #2 starter role with someone who is either 30 or younger or has a shorter (two or three years) contract.
Why Vazquez Matters
A tweet from Buster Olney sums up why catcher Christian Vazquez can be a difference-maker for the Red Sox:
- @Buster_ESPN Since Yadier Molina debuted in 2004, he’s allowed 317 steals in 574 attempts. In same 11 seasons, Boston has allowed 1,344 SB in 1,710 tries.
A defensive stopper behind the plate can be decisive.
Don’t forget it took a few years for Molina to fully develop as a hitter.
Patience – offensively – is the path for the Red Sox with Vazquez, while also reaping the benefits of great defense.
Olney gave Vazquez an honorable mention (insider subscription) when listing the top ten catchers in baseball. Great recognition for someone with so little big league experience.
And while we are discussing catchers – the Red Sox should explore a salary dump deal with the Diamondbacks to add Miguel Montero.
Montero would bring another lefty bat to the Red Sox line-up.
He has three years at big money left on his contract – but Boston is a financial superpower; they can take on salary.
When Blake Swihart is ready – the team can move Montero, who should be more attractive with fewer years on his contract (with maybe the Red Sox also picking up some of his salary).
Red Sox Trade Nugget
Good Fangraphs note about Dan Duquette and the Red Sox – Mariners deal back in 1997 that brought Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe to Boston.
Two interesting takeaways:
- The Sox originally wanted pitcher Keith Cloud, not Lowe.
- And then the team was ready to do Heathcliffe Slocum straight up for Varitek, when Mariners GM Woody Woodward also threw in Lowe.
The rest, as they say, is history.
A big focus for the Red Sox this coming week is the team’s meeting with Jon Lester.
It will be “put up or shut up” time for Boston in its pursuit of Lester.
Even if the Sox re-sign Lester, he will only be one of at least two starters the team needs to add.
Let’s look some options for the second starter.
James Shields has been matched with the Red Sox on multiple free agent projections like this one by Jim Duquette.
The need is there for a Lester and Shields combination. And the team has the money to pay them both.
However, Shields is 33 years old and primed for a five year deal.
If Boston has some hesitancy with Lester because of age – Shields would seem to be too far a stretch.
The Red Sox have a surplus in the outfield – and could parlay an extra outfielder into a starter.
Yoenis Cespedes could be attractive to a team looking for power – particularly a team with an eye towards the 2015 playoffs. Although it would create a power gap for Boston.
Enter Seattle Mariners and Taijuan Walker.
Boston ran through a group of young right-handers – Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo – and none of them proved to be consistently effective.
Adding a young righty power arm – to go with the crop of lefties the team is grooming – would be a good get.
The Red Sox are not strangers to signing pitchers from Asia.
The team is said to have its eyes on Korean lefthander Hyeon-jong Yang, who looks primed to available next week.
Yang received the Dongwon Choi Award — the Korean Cy Young award — on Wednesday. Reports say Yang projects as a #3 starter in the MLB with #2 potential.
The Hot Stove League adds some heat this week with the General Manager meetings.
Typically, MLB GMs use these meetings to lay the groundwork for trades and free agent acquisitions.
A team to watch – especially from a Red Sox perspective – is Cincinnati.
They have four starters currently pegged to become free agents after the 2015 season – Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon.
Not know as a team that spends big – it’s unlikely the Reds will able to keep them all. So figure Cincinnati will check out the trade market.
Enter the Red Sox.
They have the need for starters – and the players and prospects to get things done, especially a surplus in the outfield.
A potential good fit for the Reds could be Red Sox outfielder Allen Craig.
Craig had a dud of a 2014 season – but a track record where some teams could see a bounce back.
Can’t see Craig being the centerpiece of a Cueto trade – Dave Cameron makes a good case for Yoenis Cespedes as the trade bait for Cueto.
Craig could figure in a Latos deal – if Boston adds a young arm and/or takes a contract – like lefty reliever Sean Marshall, who will make $6.5 million next season and is coming off a poor season.
Latos would not be the ace the Sox need – but rather a solid #2 starter (something Boston also needs).
Athletics and Mets
Two other teams to watch for Red Sox trade connections are the Athletics and Mets.
A’s GM Billy Beane is a dealer – and he may want to cash out on Jeff Samardzija before he hits free agency after next season.
Oakland paid dearly to land Samardzija from the Cubs – super-prospect SS Addison Russell – so don’t expect Samardzija to come cheap.
Another Athletics player to watch is lefty hitting catcher John Jaso.
The Mets are a team with surplus pitching – and a desperate need for hitting.
Could Cespedes interest them? Maybe. Same with Craig and possibly Shane Victorino (although he probably has little trade value – until he proves himself healthy).
And of course, Mookie Betts will be asked about by the Mets – and probably every other team Boston talks with about trades.
The Mets starter most likely to be available is lefty Jon Niese – someone who fits as at #2 or #3 starter.
One other Met to keep an eye on: Daniel Murphy.
Murphy – a left-handed bat – has been the Mets everyday second baseman but he has also played third.
A season away from free agency, the Mets may want to move Murphy and Boston should listen.
Two free agents to keep an eye on as potential Red Sox bullpen additions.
Brandon Morrow has a big arm but has landed on the DL during each of the last four seasons.
He could be a bounce-back candidate – as a guy who works out the bullpen with the potential of swinging into the rotation on an as-needed basis.
Another player is Kyuji Fujikawa – a free agent sleeper according to Keith Law (insider required).
He is on the way back from Tommy John surgery – but could deepen the back-end of the bullpen.
After shoring up the starting rotation, next on the Red Sox off-season to-do list is finding an everyday third baseman the team count on.
Will Middlebrooks has shown himself to be too injury-prone and disappointing at the plate.
Brock Holt grades out better in a utility role than as an everyday player.
Garin Cecchini showed last season he just isn’t ready to be a major leaguer.
So if Boston wants to retool (read: contend) for next season – the team needs to address third base.
Enter Free Agents
This off-season’s free agent class – offensively – is not that strong.
But third base is a position of strength – with a couple of prime-time options.
Pablo Sandoval is a good match for the Red Sox.
His agent says Sandoval wants six years – which should whittle down the competition.
Figure the Giants will be leaders in the pursuit of Kung Fu Panda – that’s Sandoval’s professed first choice. And Buster Olney writes a deal could come quickly (insider required).
However, Joel Sherman predicts Sandoval could go to the Tigers.
But if the Red Sox want to contend for Sandoval – they have the resources to pull a deal off.
Ahead of Sandoval is Hanley Ramirez – who now says he will shift from shortstop.
Offensively Ramirez is better than Sandoval – but the issue is: Ramirez gets hurt too much.
Could Ramirez require fewer years (four or five) compared to Sandoval quest for six?
That may be a good tradeoff to counter Ramirez for missing so many games in most seasons.
Most free agent rankings have Chase Headley next (like this one – Keith Law – insider required).
I like Jed Lowrie – making the move from shortstop.
Headley and Lowrie are pretty comparable on offensive and defense.
But the guess here is Lowrie will cost less – in both money and years.
Someone worth kicking the tires on: Neil Walker of the Pirates.
Walker made $5.75 million last season – and is arbitration eligible. He could price himself out of Pittsburgh.
Walker wouldn’t be cheap in a trade and would require a position change, moving from 2B.
My pick: Lowrie – he would command a modest salary (compared to Sandoval/Ramirez), allowing Boston to invest big in pitching.