Dave Dombrowski has never been subtle.
When the Red Sox general manager wanted a top-of-the-rotation starter after the 2015 season, he showered David Price with 217 million reasons to come to Boston -- never mind that the industry tends to frown on such megadeals for starting pitchers, given their high attrition rates. When Dombrowski wanted a lights-out closer to anchor the bullpen that same offseason, he sent four promising prospects to the Padres for Craig Kimbrel, overlooking how volatile and prone to attrition relievers can be.
Price's results have been mixed, with the former Cy Young award winner and previously injury-immune lefty making just 11 starts in 2017, while also continuing his history of miserable playoff starts by laying an egg against Cleveland the year before. (Price got healthy and exorcised his postseason demons in one fell swoop last season). Meanwhile, Kimbrel's time in Boston might be up, with the bearded flamethrower now topping this winter's list of free-agent relievers.
- 2018 Result: 108-54, first place in AL East
- Key free agents: Craig Kimbrel, Ian Kinsler, Joe Kelly, Drew Pomeranz, Brandon Phillips
- Needs: Relief pitching
Given that the Red Sox just won it all for the second time in six seasons, you have to imagine that Dombrowski's not sweating any bumps in the road too much. When the end result of your wheeling and dealing is a championship, why bother changing your ways?
That's why, with the winter meetings winding down but plenty of hot stove action still to come, you have to imagine that Dombrowski will eschew subtlety and pay full freight for anything he needs. He can do that knowing that the Sox have both a bottomless well of money, and also a knack for developing fresh waves of prospects to populate both the big-league club, and other teams' trade demands.
The good news for Red Sox fans? This team has fewer needs than any other in the game.
The one hole that clearly needs to be addressed is the bullpen. If the Sox don't re-sign Kimbrel (they already David Robertson and Adam Ottavino are two of the best relief pitchers on the market, and the Sox have reportedly expressed interest in both. If they went into next season with those two right-handers in hand, they'd lose little to nothing in terms of talent at the back of the pen.to the Dodgers), they'll surely want to restaff their closer role and top setup role with marquee options. No reason to shop at the dollar store when your revenue streams make Bloomingdale's a breeze.
The one other obvious potential need is at second base. Dustin Pedroia lost just about the entire season to injuries, and it's not clear how healthy or how good he'll be in 2019 at age 35. But the Red Sox also have Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez on the roster for depth purposes, and can always pull off a midseason rental if need be, as they did last summer with Ian Kinsler.
You might think that a loaded team coming off a World Series victory with so few holes to fill would just quickly address those needs and move on. Thing is, the scuttlebutt suggests something far more aggressive.
According to multiple reports, the four-year, $68 million deal the Sox gave Nathan Eovaldi to return to Boston could be just the start of an extremely active offseason. For starters, they're rumored to be shopping former Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. The right-hander is owed $21 million for the coming season, his last before free agency. With Eovaldi in the fold, Porcello could thus become expendable, particularly for a team currently projected to head into next season with a payroll around $237 million -- which would be the highest in the majors and also tens of millions above the luxury-tax threshold, albeit still low enough to allow the Sox to make a gigantic profit as they do every year.
The more intriguing moves would revolve around some core position players. According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Sox are willing to discuss Gold Glove center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and even All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts in trade scenarios too. At first glance, that notion would seem to make little sense. Bradley batted just .234/.310/.408 last season but still rated as a solidly above average player, thanks to his elite defense. Meanwhile Bogaerts offered beastly and uncharacteristic offensive production from the shortstop position, batting a career-best .288/.360/.522 while knocking in 103 runs batting in the middle of Boston's star-laden lineup. Given that Bradley is just 28 and Bogaerts just 26, you'd expect more good tidings in 2019, which makes you wonder why anyone would even consider trading either one.
For Dombrowski and the Sox, it could simply be a matter of keeping their championship window open longer. Bradley offers just two more years of club control, while Bogaerts can test free agency at the end of next season. While it's true that J.D. Martinez, Price, Porcello, Kimbrel, Chris Sale and other imports from other clubs played big roles in the team's success, Boston's ability to develop a wave of young stars formed the cornerstone of the 2018 World Series run; it simply doesn't happen without Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, and Rafael Devers, along with Bogaerts and Bradley, delivering the goods.
If the Sox don't want to give Bradley a contract extension that pushes into his mid-30s as his all-world defensive range declines, trading him while he still offers rival teams significant value starts to become more logical. Bogaerts would be one of the youngest (and best) free agents in next year's class, but he might rightly demand an enormous extension that the Sox don't feel inclined to give, meaning a trade now for a passel of promising prospects could be the call...if they can also find a viable replacement at short.
These are all great and enviable problems to have. The Red Sox were the best team in baseball last season, their starting rotation is incredibly deep, and six of their projected starting nine are 28 or younger. Another well-executed winter might very well pave the way for a repeat.
Jonah on the MLB offseason