Cutting Red Sox payroll via trades could last until March

BOSTON, MA - JULY 14: David Price #10 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Fenway Park on July 14, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 14: David Price #10 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Fenway Park on July 14, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images) /

It’s possible the Red Sox will trade Chris Sale, David Price, or Nathan Eovaldi to slash payroll, but the process might last well into spring training.

This much we know about the Boston Red Sox headed into 2020: a) the payroll needs to be weeded; b) the starting rotation is loaded with health issues; c) the Mookie Betts situation needs resolution; d) the right side of the infield needs to be solved; and e) ownership has pledged to field a competitive team, perhaps one worthy of a World Series return.

So, how do the Red Sox squeeze all that together and make it all fit before the start of spring training? Maybe they don’t. Perhaps they hold off and use spring training as a showcase to enhance the trade value of their three uber-salaried yet health-challenged starting pitchers – David Price, Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi.

Each of them has health-related issues without an opportunity in November, December or January to prove beyond a reasonable doubt they are 100% fit (or not fit) to pitch.

Pitchers report to spring training on or around Feb. 11-12. This time, we presume, Red Sox Manager Alex Cora will get back on the ball building up pitchers’ arms early and often, as was done in the old days (pre-2019). No more stockpiling October innings in a vault only to find out by late August no one has the combination.

One scenario facing Red Sox Chief of Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom is that he might have to deal either Sale, Price, or Eovaldi (while also likely eating significant cash), as well as outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., to get far enough south of the ownership-mandated $208 million payroll (to reset the team’s luxury-tax status), and to leave some wiggle room. That extra salary space would cover trade acquisitions coming back at the Red Sox, affordable free agents, and July 31 trade deadline roster additions. Remember, the departed Rick Porcello is among the replacement needs.

Right now, a trade involving any one of those three starting pitchers would be a crapshoot for another MLB team looking to deal. Sale (elbow, shoulder) and Price (cyst-removal surgery) were shut down before the end of 2019. Eovaldi spent about half of the season on the injured list. After being activated, he struggled to demonstrate any semblance of the effectiveness he had shown in the 2018 postseason. Three highly-paid pitchers; three conundrums.

Sale’s situation is the most precarious of the three. Now on the high side of age 30 (he turns 31 in March), his tendency to wear down in the second half of seasons takes on added concern. After the Red Sox shut down Sale this past August, he was given a plasma-rich platelet injection for his pitching elbow, the hope being to avoid Tommy John surgery.

Three months later, as far as we know, Sale awaits a follow-up examination with Dr. James Andrews. That’s to determine if he can start getting ready to go full throttle in spring training. Anything less than a green light for Sale shelves any realistic thoughts of trading him, let alone if he could even pitch for the Red Sox at all in 2020.

We’re talking hurry up and wait here. Based on recent precedence, it could be January or February before elite free agent starters Gerrit Cole and/or Stephen Strasburg get signed. That’s when teams that miss out on those two and remain hungry for a bolstered rotation could turn their attention to Sale, Price, and Eovaldi.

If such a waiting game takes place, even into March, this might work in Bloom’s favor. Let Red Sox spring training double as a showcase – a trade tryout, if you will – for Sale, Price, and Eovaldi, as they finally get a chance to prove they are healthy (or not). Consider it a Red Sox version of the Colin Kaepernick reality show, but without all the hair or hastily arranged trips across town.

By mid-March, each of those three should be ramped up to about 60-70 pitches per Grapefruit League outing, offering a valid sample of their readiness to be ready to pitch, for real, on Opening Day. Here in late November, who really knows how ready any of them are? Such a Red Sox showcase could show if the Price is right.

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Trading starting pitchers is not unprecedented for February or March. Among the fairly recent notables is Jason Hammel, who went through this twice: on April 5, 2009 by Tampa Bay to Colorado, and again on Feb. 6, 2012 from the Rockies to the Baltimore Orioles. A couple weeks later, on Feb. 19, 2012, the New York Yankees traded starter A.J. Burnett and cash to the Pittsburgh Pirates for a couple of minor leaguers. Plenty of other such trades have been made; but those three were the most notable.

If waiting until late spring training to showcase their pitchers’ trade value is deemed impractical, the Red Sox might have a way to short-circuit the process. They could push things along by finding a trade partner with a shared desire to rid themselves of a burdensome contract while taking on one that fills a high-priority need.

MLB Network baseball insider Joel Sherman recently suggested one such hypothetical deal: Price goes to the Philadelphia Phillies to boost their rotation. In return, Boston gets veteran infielder Jean Segura, a .286 lifetime hitter with some pop, plus two “good” prospects.

Next. FanSided GM Simulation: Red Sox slash payroll. dark

The Phillies have plenty of payroll room to accommodate Price’s $31 million annual hit for tax purposes, while the Red Sox would take on Segura’s $14-plus million a year, thus providing about $17 million of annual salary relief for Boston. Price has three years left on his deal; Segura has three years and a team option for a fourth.