Ranking the Desirability of Boston Red Sox Trade Chips
The Boston Red Sox don't necessarily have to trade any of their core stars. But since their main offseason objective more or less demands it, the idea must be taken seriously.
According to Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald, the Red Sox want to get under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold for 2020. Based on their current projection, that will require shedding at least $21 million in average annual value from their payroll for next season.
It's little wonder that nearly all of the Red Sox's most expensive players have been mentioned as possible trade chips. Specifically, they might save money and recoup talent by moving Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Jackie Bradley Jr., Chris Sale, David Price or Nathan Eovaldi.
Let's set aside which, if any, of these guys should be moved and instead size up how desirable each is to potential trading partners based on their ability, health, age and contract status.
Honorable Mention: Andrew Benintendi
Andrew Benintendi didn't have a good season in 2019. He managed only a .774 OPS, 13 home runs and 10 stolen bases, as well as minus-three defensive runs saved in left field.
Yet all this happened on the heels of a 2018 season in which Benintendi, 25, played a good left field while also posting an .830 OPS with 16 homers and 21 steals. According to Baseball Reference, that made him worth a solid 3.9 wins above replacement.
Benintendi almost certainly isn't finished putting out seasons like that. And because he isn't due for free agency until after 2022, inquiring teams could hope to get exactly three more seasons just like it out of him.
But since Benintendi is projected to earn just $4.9 million in 2020, trading him alone wouldn't do Boston's luxury-tax mission much good. As suggested by ESPN's Jeff Passan and The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, he'll likely only be moved as a deal-sealing attachment in a trade centered around a higher-priced player.
So while Benintendi is worth mentioning, it didn't seem fair to consider his trade desirability in the same context as the other six guys.
6. Nathan Eovaldi
It was only last winter that the Red Sox did Nathan Eovaldi a well-deserved solid.
The 29-year-old had a huge hand in helping them win the World Series in 2018. He went off for a 1.61 ERA over 22.1 innings, including six heroic frames in Game 3 of the Fall Classic.
Even at the time, though, the Red Sox's four-year, $68 million deal with Eovaldi obviously reeked of risk. His career track record before October was mostly marred by injuries and inconsistent results. In seven years in the majors, he'd racked up a 96 ERA+ and made more than 30 starts in a season only once.
The Red Sox were hit with the worst of both worlds in the first year of Eovaldi's new contract. The right-hander made only 12 starts and 11 relief appearances because of elbow trouble. He also got lit up for a 5.99 ERA and 16 homers when he did pitch.
Because Eovaldi still averaged a robust 97.5 mph on his fastball, there might be a team or two out there that likes him as a buy-low candidate, especially if the Red Sox eat the bulk of the $51 million he's still owed. But even at a discounted rate, Eovaldi would still be prone to injuries and inconsistency.
5. Jackie Bradley Jr.
There was some uncertainty as to whether the Red Sox would even tender Jackie Bradley Jr. a contract for 2020, but they ultimately went ahead with it.
The Red Sox might now have to pay Bradley as much as $11 million in arbitration. They must either think he's worth that much or that his likely salary won't hinder his trade market.
The 29-year-old isn't without his selling points. Though not every defensive metric supports his reputation as a stellar center fielder, Statcast's outs above average rates him as one of the best outfielders of the last four seasons. He's also coming off a 21-homer campaign.
Despite that, however, 2019 was merely the latest season in which Bradley has been a decidedly below-average hitter. And while OAA qualifies him as a good defender, he's been below average for DRS in each of the last two seasons. He also tacked on a negative ultimate zone rating in 2019.
On top of all this, the 2020 season will be Bradley's last before free agency. Trading for him could mean dealing for a pricey one-dimensional center fielder whose one dimension could be a letdown.
4. David Price
The Red Sox shouldn't regret the seven-year, $217 million deal they signed David Price to four years ago.
The left-hander has put up a solid 3.84 ERA in a Red Sox uniform, and he was at his best when they needed him to be in 2018. His final four appearances of the postseason saw him allow only three earned runs over 19.2 innings.
Even still, Price's days as one of baseball's most reliable aces are over. The five-time All-Star and Cy Young Award winner is 34 years old now. Throw in his time missed with injuries over the last three years, diminishing fastball velocity and 4.28 ERA in 2019, and he has red flags aplenty.
The Red Sox can't move Price unless they agree to eat or otherwise offset—i.e., perhaps by including Andrew Benintendi in a deal—the $96 million he's owed through 2022. But if they're indeed willing to make either of these concessions, they may find he isn't immovable.
Other teams may not see an ace when they look at Price, but they can latch on to his track record and how he mustered a career-best 10.7 strikeouts-per-nine rate in 2019. Health permitting, the latter indicates he's still capable of pitching near the top of a rotation.
3. Chris Sale
Even if the Red Sox wanted to trade Chris Sale, such a deal is virtually impossible.
For one thing, the five-year, $145 million contract Sale signed earlier this year is rife with complications. It actually begins this season, and it contains both a no-trade clause and an opt-out after 2022, plus various incentives and a vesting option for 2025.
Because Sale, 30, struggled with his velocity and posted an uncharacteristic 4.40 ERA in 2019, there are also questions about his present ability. He had a Tommy John scare in August, too, which raises still another question about his durability.
But per Adam Fisher of the Fort Myers News-Press, Sale has gotten a clean bill of health and has "no doubt" he'll be good to go in spring training. Even if his velocity doesn't return in 2020, he proved by striking out 13.3 batters per nine innings that he doesn't need elite heat to overpower hitters.
Which is to say the seven-time All-Star still has tremendous upside. As long as that's the case, he isn't altogether devoid of trade value or unworthy of being coveted by other teams.
2. J.D. Martinez
J.D. Martinez could have opted out of the final three seasons of his five-year, $110 million contract, but he didn't.
The question before the 32-year-old was whether he could do better than three years and $62.5 million out on the open market. In light of his superb production—i.e., a .954 OPS and 34 homers per year—since 2014, he might have. Yet it ultimately wasn't surprising that he didn't try his luck.
After exploding for a 1.046 OPS and 88 homers in 2017 and 2018, Martinez regressed to a .939 OPS and 36 homers in 2019. When taken in tandem with his age and his utter lack of defensive value, a regression like that naturally raises concerns.
Nevertheless, there might be suitors out there who badly want a bat and who see Martinez as a potential solution. Even in falling short of expectations in 2019, he still ranked among the league's best in exit velocity (89th percentile) and expected slugging percentage (96th percentile).
Martinez's contract, which also includes opt-outs after 2020 and 2021, is a major hurdle in the way of a deal. But for reasons mentioned above, teams can still look at him and see a slugger in his prime.
1. Mookie Betts
Mookie Betts has been the guy at the center of Red Sox trade rumors this winter, but Passan's latest report mentions it's "unlikely" the 2018 American League MVP will be moved.
That likely has much to do with the 27-year-old's contract status. He's heading into his final season under club control, and it's projected to pay out $27.7 million via arbitration. He only makes sense for contenders with deep pockets, and therefore a fraction of Major League Baseball.
But even if a Betts trade probably won't happen, there is no better player on the trading block right now.
Even in a "down" year in 2019, Betts still posted a .915 OPS with 29 homers, 16 steals and 6.8 WAR. It was just last year that he accumulated a whopping 10.9 WAR, and only Mike Trout has him beat in that category since the 2015 season.
Which brings us to the other big reason Betts probably isn't going anywhere: The Red Sox presumably don't mind keeping him for themselves if nobody blows them away with an offer.