Red Sox Rumors: Pitchers more likely to be traded than Mookie Betts

The Boston Red Sox are more likely to trade one of their high-priced starting pitchers rather than superstar Mookie Betts.

The biggest takeaway from this week’s GM Meetings is that the Boston Red Sox are open to anything, according to Alex Speier of the Boston Globe.

Chaim Bloom’s most daunting task in his new role as Chief Baseball Officer is finding a way for the club with MLB’s highest payroll to dip below the luxury tax threshold. Boston’s payroll is cluttered with several expensive veterans and shedding one of those contracts would seem to be a priority.

According to Speier’s report, many rival executives have noted that the Red Sox have a clear willingness to discuss trades involving virtually anyone on their roster. This opens a bevy of possibilities that should result in a very interesting offseason.

“I would just say I’d expect it to be a very creative offseason, one where we’ll explore every path available to us and try to create more paths that aren’t currently available to us, and be open-minded on any way to achieve our short- and long-term goals, which is competing next year and sustaining that long term,” said Red Sox GM Brian O’Halloran.

There has been no shortage of speculation that Mookie Betts could be traded this winter. Removing the estimated $28 million he’ll earn in his final year of arbitration would create the payroll flexibility the Red Sox crave while enabling them to receive something of value in return before he potentially bolts in free agency next year.

Dealing Betts also severely hinders Boston’s chances of competing next season. It means giving up on a franchise cornerstone, a generational talent in the prime of his career and an irreplaceable five-tool superstar. Trading Betts for anything less than a king’s ransom would be a franchise-crippling mistake which is why many around the league are skeptical that he’s going anywhere.

Few teams have room in the budget to absorb the salary Betts is expected to earn, limiting his trade market. Betts is adamant about testing free agency so an extension with any team that trades for him is off the table. Potential suitors will be hesitant to give up much in return for a one-year rental.

Speier uses last year’s trade of Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals as an example for comparison. It was difficult for the Arizona Diamondbacks to stomach a trade involving the face of their franchise but they knew they couldn’t afford to sign him to an extension and they managed to get a solid haul in return for their superstar.

The difference was that Goldy was only owed $14.5 million at the time he was traded, about half of what Betts may earn, plus he was open to an extension. The Cardinals probably don’t make that trade if they weren’t convinced they could lock up Goldschmidt long-term. Teams dealing for Betts won’t have that luxury.

The Red Sox would be foolish to give away Betts for a lukewarm return simply to save a few bucks and there’s no reason why a team that has proven capable of carrying MLB’s highest payroll can’t afford a long-term deal for a player of his caliber when he does hit free agency.

That leads us to believe that the Red Sox are more likely to deal one of their high-priced starting pitchers instead. Chris Sale, David Price and Nathan Eovaldi are undoubtedly overpaid but that doesn’t meant they don’t have value.

The free agent market is headlined by Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. Teams will line up to acquire those front-line starters but most will fall short in their pursuit. Those in need of a consultation prize may turn to the Red Sox for a solution.

Speier’s report indicates that multiple teams are convinced there will be a market for Boston’s trio of available starting pitchers – even if it means eating a sizable chunk of their salary. Houston’s trade for Zack Greinke was cited as an example of an albatross contract that once seemed unmovable, yet Arizona pried valuable assets from the Astros by agreeing to pay $24 million of the $77 million remaining on the deal.

Le’ts use Price as an example since he signed the largest contract ever for a starting pitcher in the same offseason when Geinke was signed to a slightly shorter deal with a higher average annual value. Price is owed $96 million over the next three years and counts for $31 million against the payroll for luxury tax purposes.

Boston could agree to pay roughly one-third of his salary by sending $30 million to the team trading for Price. The acquiring team would be more willing to part with an enticing prospect package if they were obtaining a pitcher of Price’s caliber with three years of control without having to pay his full salary. Boston would save about $21 million in each of the next three years.

Is it ideal to have a $10 million annual anchor on your payroll for a player you’re paying to pitch for another team? Of course not. However, it may be a necessary sacrifice in order to escape luxury tax hell and hang on to Betts.

This is simply one of many potential options the Red Sox will explore and trading Betts remains one of those paths. While they’ll undoubtedly listen to offers to see if a desperate win-now team is willing to blow them away with an offer, it’s starting to look like a Betts trade is unlikely.

Next: Four steps to creating a dominant bullpen

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Trading away one of their expensive starters is more realistic and the sense from teams at the GM Meetings was that there will be a market if the Red Sox put any of them on the trading block.

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