The Red Sox are up to something.
If you didn’t already know, Boston wants to dramatically reduce its payroll. They’ve brought in the Rays’ low payroll manager Chaim Bloom to expedite the process, but nearly a month and a half into the offseason, all he’s done is add to the payroll.
They avoided big splashes during the Winter Meetings, but last night, they signed Martin Perez — a high velocity lefty I really thought the Giants could use in their dilapidated rotation — and Jose Peraza to low value deals — but they still added to their payroll this past week.
Payroll projection: $231.21 million, $23.21 million over the $208M mark.— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) December 13, 2019
Sox still need a backup catcher, probably another first base option and maybe some relief help. If they can find a way to get someone to take Price and his full $31M... seems possible to fill those holes. https://t.co/Z0JntgfFHe
There have been rumors about them trading Jackie Bradley Jr. before having to pay his arbitration figure of around $12 million, but also offloading the mega talented Mookie Betts, who’s set to make $28-$30 million in arbitration. Either move would make the team appreciably worse for 2020, and a man of Bloom’s cleverness seems like someone more willing to keep those types of players and making a bolder move elsewhere. Like, as the tweet mentions, trading David Price. But are the Red Sox seriously considering that?
You know, Martin Perez is a high velocity left-handed pitcher with a penchant for getting weak contact. His Statcast data is, in a lot of ways, better than David Price’s. David Price has a $31 million AAV in each of the next three seasons. That’s a lot of money for a 34-year old pitcher who has made just 63 starts in the last three seasons. They’d really have to be offering up a sweet deal for some team to be considering a trade for him.
You know, the Giants just traded for the Angels’ Zack Cozart, a 34-year old infielder who has played in just 218 games over the last three seasons. The Angels offered their first round draft pick from this past June to get the Giants to take all of the $12.67 million remaining on Cozart’s deal (which runs through 2020).
And, right after that deal, Farhan Zaidi said,
“Yeah, I don’t think we’re done,” he said. “We’re kind of weighing all kinds of different deals. We’ll continue to evaluate those opportunities.”
Alex Pavlovic posted a follow-up report earlier today that illustrated the reverberations of this deal as a possible continuing strategy for the team:
The ownership group was thrilled with the Cozart/Wilson move (the Giants completed the deal Thursday by sending lefty Garrett Williams to the Angels) and has granted permission to seek similar, and possibly bigger, deals.
The Giants have been talking to Madison Bumgarner about a return, but nothing seems imminent and it’s very clear that the team doesn’t want to give him $100 million, even if the Dodgers have shown interest in their former would-be ace. Why aren’t they willing to spend a little bit more money to keep a guy they need and when they have plenty of cap space to fit him under?
And then there was this little nugget floating out there today:
Rival executives believe #SFGiants’ Brandon Belt would be ideal fit with #Brewers. Would give Milwaukee everyday 1B, an additional left-handed bat in lineup. Unclear if two sides have talked. One potential obstacle: Belt owed $32 million over next two seasons.— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) December 13, 2019
Why would rival execs be talking about Brandon Belt? How did that get out there? And the Brewers? That’s awfully specific. The Giants’ director of pro scouting, Zack Minasian, was a special advisor to the Brewers’ GM last year. That could be a reason why . . .
Look. I’m just asking questions. I’m not saying there’s something big going on behind the scenes, but there are too many data points to not try to connect here! The Giants could very well be at the center of something HUGE!
The Giants wouldn’t need to clear salary to take on David Price’s deal, but let’s simply acknowledge that the tax penalty that kicks in after $208 million in payroll is probably not a penalty worth incurring in a year when the team isn’t going to win more than 77 games most likely; so, “clearing cap space” is probably a consideration.
(By the way, I really hate that Major League Baseball has an unofficial salary cap, but it’s what the players wanted.)
Cot’s has the Giants at $145.4 million in commitments at the moment (including Kevin Gausman’s and Cozart’s deals), but it’s off by six million because it still doesn’t have figures for Watson’s 2020 salary based on the escalators he activated last year, so let’s say, rounded up for ease of math, the payroll is $152 million at the moment. Plus $15 million in player benefits, that’s a total tax figure of $167 million.
Belt’s tax number is actually $14.56 million, while Posey’s is $18.56 million. Belt has a partial no-trade clause. Posey has a full no-trade; so, you can see why Belt’s name has been floated: he’s the easiest veteran contract to move (no need to mention Brandon Crawford here and we all know why). Subtracting his AAV would give the Giants $55 million under the luxury tax. They’d be able to take on Price’s deal no problem and retain enough payroll flexibility below the threshold to make other moves.
Let’s ignore the Belt component of this for the time being and instead try to figure out what a David Price deal might look like. Here are three possible configurations:
Pay for top prospects
Boston probably won’t want to follow in the Angels’ footsteps and give the Giants their #1 overall draft pick from 2019 (Cameron Cannon), and the Giants probably wouldn’t want him anyway (the Red Sox didn’t have a 1st round pick — he went in the 2nd round, #43 overall), but this might be the easiest way for them to get a deal done.
Corner infielder Triston Casas was Boston’s first round draft pick in 2018 (#26) and is still considered to be one of the top power hitters of that entire draft. FanGraphs ranks him as Boston’s #1 prospect with a future value of 50 and a raw power rating of 65 / 70. Eight days ago, they had this to say about him:
Casas’ calling card is his bat and there’s potential for a 60 hit, 70 game power, 80 raw power kind of package. The margin for error for teenage, first base-only types is very small, but we’re also very high on Casas’ bat.
He’s slow and has barely average defensive ability, but he can throw 94 mph. In his first pro season, he hit .254/.349/.472 with 58 walks against 116 strikeouts in 493 plate appearances (that’s good!). But does he have enough positional versatility to intrigue Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris and would Chaim Bloom be willing to give up their top prospect as part of a salary dump?
Dumping salary is already bad PR, but adding in their top prospect might be too damaging. On the other hand, their #2 prospect, Bobby Dalbec, has a similar profile to Casas and is five years older and slated to make his debut in 2020. The Giants could ask for him instead, but why not aim high? After all, Boston needs this deal more than the Giants.
Casas would be just a starting point, too. 20-year old pitcher Brayan Bello (#11) looks intriguing, for example. The Giants could look to pillage even more of the system to clear Boston’s ledger, and who knows? Maybe that’s a good setup for Chaim Bloom, who isn’t particularly married to his predecessor’s cabinet of prospects.
It’d be a great deal for the Giants because all they’d be doing is taking on David Price’s salary and a trio or quartet of high upside prospects.
Big contract swap
I almost called this a bad contract swap, but let’s be fair: David Price is not a bad pitcher, nor is Jeff Samardzija. Yes, Price projects to be twice as good as Samardzija next year, but Samardzija has managed to remake himself and prove to still have above replacement level value. Now, not $18 million worth of value, but at this point, what is value?
Samardzija’s deal expires after 2020 and what if the Giants paid $10 million of it? That’s a +$21 million gain for the Red Sox this year and the Giants would still have about $18 million to play with under the luxury tax threshold.
There’d have to be at least a couple of prospects attached to this deal to make it work for the Giants, of course, but it would still get Boston under the tax by about $2.5 million. The Giants would also lose the chance to do a separate deal involving Samardzija, but it’s entirely possible that there are very few teams out there willing or able to do big contract swaps or have the need or stomach for adding Jeff Samardzija.
What if Boston wasn’t on Belt’s no trade list? Could he be the big contract instead? That’s only a net gain of $16.4 million for Boston, which doesn’t get them under, so maybe if he were to be a part of this, it would mean another team would have to be, too.
The three-team trade
This seems like the least likely scenario but possibly the most exciting. Let’s go full Conspiracy Brain here and say that a Boston exec is the source on the Milwaukee-Belt idea because Boston wants Josh Hader or another Brewers reliever.
Boston trades three prospects, plus Price and Andrew Benintendi —
The Boston Red Sox continue to pursue ways to shed salary, and multiple teams have targeted starter David Price, sources tell ESPN. He is owed $96 million over the next three years. Red Sox could either attach player with value or potentially pay down some of Price's remaining $.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 11, 2019
— to Giants for PTBNL, who trade Brandon Belt, Benintendi, and one of the Boston prospects to Brewers in exchange for a low or unranked prospect plus Josh Hader, who becomes the PTBNL in the Boston side of the deal.
- Red Sox clear Price’s contract and Benintendi’s arbitration salary, gain Josh Hader
- Giants get David Price plus three prospects
- Brewers get Andrew Benintendi, Brandon Belt, and a Red Sox prospect
Now, I just threw out “prospect” without any context. Josh Hader is a prearbitration player. The Brewers won’t and shouldn’t give him up for Belt and Benintendi alone, so the prospect would have to be really good — maybe even the best the Red Sox have to offer. Orlando Arcia is currently listed as their starting third baseman. Boston has Bobby Dalbec. The Giants could also include Tony Watson and pay down his salary, even though Tony Watson would be a far cry from having Hader; and let’s just say the prospect package from Boston might have to be a bit more intense and maybe a bit more than three.
Maybe Eduardo Rodriguez and/or Jeff Samardzija (with a huge chunk of his deal paid down) sneak in here, too, to sweeten the deal for the Brewers, who really do need more pitching than hitting. Then again, relief pitchers are highly volatile with value that can fluctuate year to year. There might not be a better time to move him, and two proven big leaguers and a top prospect sounds pretty good in exchange for a guy who allowed 1.8 HR/9.
As for the Giants, they get a few more raffle tickets while taking on a quality veteran arm for their troubling rotation. David Price could provide some innings for the team this year and next and maybe even in the third and final year of his deal, but that’s not why the Giants would be getting him.
They really need those raffle tickets. The inefficiency of his contract makes for an elegant solution to closing the raffle ticket gap the Giants have with the best teams in baseball.
As mentioned in Pavlovic’s report, team execs have keyed in on this idea:
“We’re not going to need three or four guys like that to turn this around, we’re going to need eight or 10.”
You don’t find these eight or ten by targeting eight or ten guys, you do it by grabbing 50 to 100 guys and hope to hit on one out of every ten.