Now that the 2018 baseball season is over and Boston Red Sox players have retired to their couches and golf courses to enjoy the off-season, eyes shift to 2019. While the team will return an impressive core, there is always a desire to explore available players who may be able to improve on what is already in place. Let’s take a look at some available free agents that could be a good fit for Boston.
The 2019 Boston payroll is currently in excess of $155 million, which doesn’t take into account what players will earn through arbitration and contract renewals. That figure rises to $211 million in salary when using projections for those without contracts at the moment. It’s important to also point out that over $30 million are owed to Pablo Sandoval, Manny Ramirez and Rusney Castillo, who are all long removed from the team. Castillo is still in the Boston system, but will never get called up, as his onerous salary ($11+ million annually through 2020) is not counted towards the luxury tax threshold as long as he remains off the active and 40-man rosters.
With the luxury tax threshold expected to be at $206 million in 2019, Boston is sure to once again be in the penalty box, but the question will be, how far over are they willing to go? Perhaps some of these free agents will be too tempting to pass up.
Marwin Gonzalez, Infielder/Outfielder: There is not a clear need for this jack-of-all-trades, so pursuing him on the open market would be out of pure extravagance. However, the 29-year-old has shown an ability to play competently at every position except catcher and pitcher in his seven year career with the Houston Astros. He has also developed some pop in his bat, going from a singles hitter earlier in his career to a someone who hit as many as 23 home runs in a season as recently as 2017.
Gonzalez would be a great, albeit expensive, insurance policy for Boston at second base. Dustin Pedroia is coming back from yet another injury-riddled season and is on the wrong side of 35. Backup option Eduardo Nunez had a miserable 2018 on both sides of the ball. Gonzalez would make such uncertainty much easier to deal with, while giving Boston someone who could also step into many positions at a moment’s notice if necessary. The question on fit would come down to money and Gonzalez’s desire for a guarantee of playing time.
Nathan Eovaldi, Starting Pitcher: Arriving this summer as a mid-season acquisition, the right-handed flame thrower was impressive, posting a 3.33 ERA in 12 regular season appearances and then emerging as a post-season hero (1.61 ERA starting and relieving). The Sox already have a strong rotation, but must be interested in bringing back this pitcher, who at 28 has undergone two Tommy John surgeries, but regularly hits 100 MPH with his fastball and recently added a very effective cutter that has only increased his effectiveness.
It’s hard to imagine that any free agent made himself more money than Eovaldi did over the final month or two of the season. One potentially facing a one or two year deal, he will be getting paid, and paid well over multiple seasons now. Given how he performed in Boston and how his teammates respect and admire him, look for the team to make a strong push to return him to the fold.
Greg Holland, Relief Pitcher: The Red Sox extended a qualifying offer to current closer Craig Kimbrel, but it would be a surprise if he were to accept it, given what he can likely earn in free agency. If the offer is indeed rejected this is one area where the team may be able to save a little money. Veteran Matt Barnes may be an internal candidate to close, but lacks experience in that role. Bringing in Holland, who will likely not command a huge deal would be another option, even if is just to provide insurance to someone else like Barnes.
At one time the 33-year-old right-hander was one of the best closer in the game, combining for 93 saves and a 1.32 ERA in 2013-14 with the Kansas City Royals. Unfortunately, he missed all of 2016 because of injury. Although he led the National League in saves with 41 for the Colorado Rockies upon his return in 2017, he had a 3.68 ERA and saw a big spike in his WHIP. He was putrid this past season with the St. Louis Cardinals (7.92 ERA in 32 games), but was a revelation after being traded mid-year to the Washington Nationals, posting a microscopic 0.84 ERA with three saves in 24 relief appearances.
Holland should command a much more manageable deal than some of the sexier closer free agent candidates. Could it be possible he might even take a one-year make good deal (higher salary for one year) to set himself up for one more potential free agent splash in 2020? If so, the Red Sox may spring to the phone to dial his agent, as he appears to be an intriguing fit.
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