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2018 Off-Season Potential Trade Partner: the Boston Red Sox

Their bullpen needs arms. Our bullpen has them.

Boston Red Sox v Minnesota Twins
another member of the Cuban contingent?
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

After an quick exit from the postseason at the hands of the Astros, the Red Sox have already started to re-tool for next year. While the priority is obviously filling their managerial vacancy, the team has other issues to address: a big bat to replace the hole David Ortiz left in the lineup when he retired before the 2017 season (he’s a big man, it’s a big hole), a backup for the aging Pedroia, and a replacement for Mitch Moreland, who is a free agent after this year. The Red Sox also need to shore up their pitching. First, they need to decide if the most highly-paid player on their team, David Price, is a full-time reliever now; if he is (he is not), they’ll need another arm to slot in at the back of the rotation to replace Doug Fister, who is a free agent. If Price doesn’t move to the bullpen, the bullpen becomes an area of need. Fangraphs lists the Red Sox as having the fourth-most valuable bullpen in baseball, at 6.9 fWAR; however, 3.3 of that came from Craig Kimbrel alone. Three bullpen arms are free agents: the sixth and seventh most valuable relievers by fWAR, Blaine Boyer and Fernando Abad, as well as Addison Reed, acquired from the Mets to help with a playoff push.

That leaves the Red Sox bullpen consisting of Kimbrel, Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, Robbie Ross, and recently-promoted Austin Maddox. Outside of Kimbrel, the rest of the group has struggled with health (Smith, Ross), consistency (Barnes, Kelly, and Hembree), and youth (not necessarily a struggle, but Maddox has thrown all of 17 MLB innings). Beyond those mainstays, the list gets pretty grim pretty fast: Henry Owens, Robby Scott, Ben Taylor, Hector Velazquez and Brandon Workman were all varying degrees of “meh” to “oh no” in 2017. Speaking of “oh no,” Henry Owens —who represents one of Boston’s few left-handed options in the pen (Ross is the other)—is currently in the AFL working with a new arm slot, which has resulted in him walking seven batters in five innings pitched. Tyler Thornburg, acquired in the Travis Shaw trade, is supposed to be on his way back for 2018 from TOS surgery, but he’s clearly another one in the “health concerns” category, along with our old pal Roenis Elias.

According to our friends at Over the Monster, the Red Sox are currently about 9 million under the luxury tax, a number they’ll almost certainly blow past if they choose to add one of the elite-tier free agency bats (and might blow past anyway with 15 players headed to arbitration). There’s speculation that they might trade Jackie Bradley Jr. to make space in the outfield for a bigger bat in the form of J.D. Martinez or Jay Bruce, and there’s also the question of who will play first base with Mitch Moreland headed to free agency. Whatever the case, offense seems to be the off-season priority in Boston, meaning the Red Sox probably won’t dump a pile of money on their departing pitchers and instead look to trade from their existing roster/deep farm system to acquire some MLB-ready arms. Hey, we have those!

If the Red Sox do decide to trade Jackie Bradley Jr., they’d be selling pretty low on him; after posting a wRC+ of 119 in 2016 and 123 in 2015, JBJ couldn’t break triple digits this year. He still managed to be about a 2-win player, thanks in part to his excellent defense and base running. He’s under team control until 2020, though, and if Boston does decide to make him available, several clubs will be interested in the speedy outfielder. But will any of those other teams be able to offer Nick Vincent and his magnificent goatee? They will not. The Red Sox are desperate for a reliever who can be a bridge to Kimbrel, and Vincent could be that bridge. Meanwhile, the Mariners get back a player who could fill the Jarrod Dyson role, but younger. It’s not terribly likely the Red Sox will want to part with Bradley, but if they sign big bats for the outfield and first base, they might be persuaded to do so if a team like the Mariners was willing to wipe away one of the biggest stains on Dombrowski’s front office: Rusney Castillo.

Awarded an enormous, 6-year/72mm contract out of Cuba in 2014, Castillo has struggled to translate his power stateside, and the Red Sox paid him the GNP of a small country this year to play in Pawtucket. Castillo’s contract currently doesn’t count against the Red Sox for luxury tax reasons because he was DFA’d off the 40-man, but barring a massive rash of injuries to the Boston outfield, there’s no path for him to getting playing time at the MLB level again. While the Mariners can’t compete for JBJ on pure prospect capital, they could maybe finagle a deal for both JBJ and Castillo by sending Vincent and agreeing to take on a significant portion (read: all) of Castillo’s salary. A change of scenery away from the frenetic Boston media market might be just what the 30-year-old slugger needs, and he’d have the benefit of coming to a team with a strong Latin presence, both on the coaching staff and in the clubhouse. While the Red Sox probably don’t want to get rid of JBJ and his team-friendly contract, they definitely want to shed Castillo and his, and depending on how much salary relief the Mariners were willing to take on, they might be able to get Castillo on his own for the tempting “cash considerations.”

There are other interesting players in Boston who might be on the trading block for the right price; like Dipoto, Dave Dombrowski has shown a willingness to trade young talent. Sam Travis is an intriguing 1B prospect who made his MLB debut this year but hasn’t hit as well in Triple-A as he did in the lower levels. He has a big righthanded bat, which Boston likes, but his game power is yet to match his raw power. If top prospect Michael Chavis was a little further along, Boston might consider moving Travis no matter what, but if they don’t make a significant upgrade at first base over the off-season, they’ll likely continue to develop the youngster (Dombrowski was criticized heavily for trading Travis Shaw, who caught fire for the Brewers this year, for injured reliever Tyler Thornburg). Super-utility player Brock Holt had a pretty rough year, but his OBP was still fifty points higher than Taylor Motter’s, and he’s just two years removed from being a 2.5-win player. With questions regarding health and consistency in Boston’s bullpen with seemingly little help on the horizon, and the bullpen a source of some depth for the Mariners, this is a trade scenario that could benefit both clubs.