Red Sox: Qualifying offers could cross free-agent targets off Boston’s list

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (27) delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.Milwaukee Brewers At Cincinnati Reds Sept 23
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (27) delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.Milwaukee Brewers At Cincinnati Reds Sept 23 /

The Red Sox might not sign players who declined qualifying offers.

The Boston Red Sox have money to spend after resetting the punitive luxury tax penalties but that doesn’t necessarily put them in the mix for every top free-agent on the market. Some will cost more than money and that should make the front office hesitant to make a bid.

According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, six free-agents received a qualifying offer. That list includes DJ LeMahieu, George Springer, J.T. Realmuto, Trevor Bauer, Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman.

Accepting the qualifying offer means the player agrees to a 1-year deal to remain with their current team for an amount equal to the average salary of MLB’s 125 highest-paid players, which is $18.9 million this year. It would be somewhat surprising if any of these players accepted the offer, even if this uncertain market. Assuming they decline to test free agency, their former team will receive a compensation pick in next year’s draft.

The team that signs a player who declined a qualifying offer will lose their second-highest draft pick, which is where the hesitation from the Red Sox comes in to play.

Boston owns the No. 4 overall pick in next year’s draft. That spot is secure regardless of who they sign in free agency. It’s their next pick that would be forfeit if they sign any of these six free-agents.

Boston didn’t extend a qualifying offer to any of their own players. Jackie Bradley Jr. was the only one they conceivably would have considered extending the offer to but the offer never came. The Red Sox will likely lose their center fielder for nothing.

This means the Red Sox won’t have any compensation picks, which places their second-highest selection early in the second round. It won’t be No. 34 overall since some compensation picks for other teams will be handed out between the first two rounds but signing a free-agent who declined a qualifying offer would cost the Red Sox a selection that falls somewhere around the 40th overall pick.

That’s no small sacrifice for a team trying to rebuild their thin farm system. Boston already lost their second-round pick in this year’s draft as punishment stemming from the sign-stealing investigation. Losing an early round pick for a second consecutive year is a setback to the rebuilding effort that can’t go overlooked. If the Red Sox are going to surrender that draft pick for a free-agent, they need to choose wisely. That will cross some of these options off their list.

Realmuto is arguably the best position player on the market this winter but catcher is hardly a position of need. He’s certainly an upgrade over Christian Vazquez but not by enough of a margin to justify the expected gap in salary. Vazquez is a bargain locked up for a very reasonable $13.25 million over the next two years, assuming his 2022 option is picked up. He’s not better than Realmuto but Vazquez is still among the top handful of catchers in the game and will be a better value.

LeMahieu was significantly underpaid for the production he provided the Yankees over the last two seasons and the reigning batting champion will look to rectify that in his second trip to the free-agent market. The Red Sox could use a player of his caliber at second base but it’s hard to imagine the Yankees would allow their rivals to outbid them for their best hitter. Assuming New York would at least match any offer, prying LeMahieu out of the Bronx seems to be a long shot.

Realmuto and LeMahieu are both talented enough to justify giving up a draft pick to sign but neither is a realistic target for the Red Sox.

Gausman might have been an appealing option but his viability as a target evaporated when he received a qualifying offer. The former No. 4 overall pick showed flashes of his potential but never lived up to his draft pedigree during his six seasons in Baltimore. He was terrible for the Braves in 2019 before finishing the season as a mediocre reliever for the Reds. Gausman bounced back with a 3.62 ERA and career-high 11.9 K/9 this year in San Francisco’s pitcher-friendly park.

The Giants are interested in keeping Gausman on a multi-year deal and staying in San Francisco seems to be the most likely outcome with the draft pick penalty scaring away most suitors.

Stroman is in an interesting situation. He was an All-Star in 2019 and is only a few years removed from earning some Cy Young votes. Had he hit the market a year ago, Stroman would have been looking at a big payday. He opted out of pitching this season due to COVID-19 concerns and the long layoff means he’ll have a fair amount of rust to shake off. Can the Red Sox afford to sign a pitcher who missed the entire season when they already have Eduardo Rodriguez and Chris Sale in that same boat?

Either pitcher would be a solid middle of the rotation arm who would slot behind Rodriguez and eventually Sale but that’s not someone worth giving up the draft pick for. There are too many other comparable mid-tier starters on the market who aren’t tied to this penalty.

Springer is a popular choice who rumors have tied to the Red Sox. He’s a New England native who reportedly wants out of Houston. Springer is a good defensive center fielder who could adequately replace Bradley Jr. at the position while providing a significant upgrade offensively. He has the power to fit in the middle of the order but he’s primarily hit in the lead-off spot throughout his career, a role the Red Sox struggled to fill this year.

The three-time All-Star has earned himself a big contract and fills multiple areas of need for the Red Sox. However, there is some concern with overpaying for past performance with a 31-year-old.

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Marcell Ozuna is the other top outfield bat on the market. He’s no longer a capable center fielder at this stage of his career which would force the Red Sox to reconfigure their outfield alignment to accommodate him. Ozuna isn’t a perfect fit but he’s two years younger than Springer and coming off a much more productive season in which he led the National League with 18 home runs and 56 RBI. Perhaps more importantly, Ozuna didn’t receive a qualifying offer so it would only take money to sign him. Those factors might tip the scales in his favor if the Red Sox intend to spend on an outfielder.

The most difficult choice on the list is undoubtedly Bauer. Pitching is an obvious area of need for the Red Sox and the front-runner for the NL Cy Young award is easily the top choice in free agency.

Bauer has repeatedly stated in recent years that his preference is to sign one-year deals in order to maximize his earnings and avoid locking himself into a situation where neither side ends up satisfied. Bauer would be a significant upgrade to the rotation but he alone doesn’t make the Red Sox a serious contender. Why sacrifice the draft pick for one year of a pitcher who doesn’t put you over the top? If the Red Sox load up with several other moves, leading them to believe Bauer is the missing piece that brings them back to the promised land, then they should consider it. Otherwise, the draft pick is too valuable.

The outlook changes if Bauer signs a multi-year deal, which his agent has clarified they are open to discussing. The question then becomes if the Red Sox want to lock themselves into a long-term commitment with the controversial pitcher. Bauer’s brash attitude might clash with the intense Boston media and there are legitimate concerns that he might wear out his welcome quicker than you can say “David Price.” Boston can roll the dice that they can keep his focus on the mound for one year but it’s a significant risk with a long-term deal.

Next. Key upcoming dates to monitor. dark

The Red Sox will explore any options that could make the team better next year but they can’t ignore the long-term ramifications. Fans are eager to see the team spend again after suffering through a miserable year where slashing payroll was a priority but the Red Sox do themselves a disservice if they spend for the sake of it rather than spending wisely.