Unpopular as this take may be, this is the harsh reality of the 2021 Boston Red Sox offseason. After one of the most disappointing Red Sox seasons ever, signing one or both of the biggest free agents feels like a good idea… but it’s just not! As much as I enjoy Trevor Bauer’s outspoken attitude and uptick in performance, given the full-context of where he’s at, and the Red Sox are at, he’s just not a good fit.
George Springer is not much different, in terms of being a fan’s unrealistic expectation. But beyond that, one might be far less intrigued at the idea of signing a 31-year old Springer with a relatively significant injury history to a 4-6 year big money contract.
These guys want to get their big free agent pay-days. And they deserve it – just let it be someone else who pays them!
Sour on Bauer
Something many are glossing over or forgetting about Trevor Bauer is his openness in discussing his eventual free agency. Bauer has been on record many times that when he hits free agency, he intends to sign 1-year contracts.
As free agents have struggled to land long-term deals over the past two winters, the 28-year-old believes that signing only one-year contracts would make him affordable to all 30 teams, even with an annual price tag of at least $35 million.
“I’ll go year-to-year my entire career,” said Bauer, who is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2020 season. “Why would you lock yourself in a situation that may not make you happy? I think that’s highly inefficient. Everybody is afraid of risk. Everyone is scared.
“It’s still unproven how clubs feel about it, but looking at the market, and studying it, I identified for myself personally that it’s the best route to go forward.”
I will add though – recently, his agent has done her best to walk back his hard stance and insist he’s open to multi-year contracts:
For everyone reaching out about @BauerOutage’s previous comments regarding a desire to do only 1-year deals:
We are open to & will be considering ALL types of deals.
— Rachel Luba (@AgentRachelLuba) October 18, 2020
Fine, good for him! Honestly I give him credit for being that transparent about his intentions. But, it begs the question – does a 1-year deal align with the Red Sox timeframe or window of contention? Not really. The 2021 Red Sox aren’t at all in an ALL-IN mode to win the World Series or bust. They still have too many holes to fill for the 2021 roster. Fans can expect the return of Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez to steady the rotation in 2021, with some room for more help. But paying Bauer a premium (~$20 – 30 million) for one year of a top starting pitcher is likely not the best use of money.
Truly, I don’t even care to knock him or dive into his on-field / off-field antics. I do think it probably wouldn’t play well in Boston, with the way the Boston sports media operates. But personally, I would be fine with a cocky ‘sonofabiscuit’ like Bauer in a Red Sox uniform.
Is Bauer An Ace?
Are we even convinced Trevor Bauer is a true ace? Sure he was dominant in a shortened 2020 season, but he’s also just one year removed from a 4.48 ERA. Is that someone the Red Sox should feel comfortable paying $20-30 million annually too? With Chris Sale ($30M) and Nathan Eovaldi ($17M) already costing nearly $50 million combined, it seems shortsighted to sign a soon-to-be 30 year old Bauer for big money.
Bauer stays on the field, which is something that certainly matters, especially as a front-line starting pitcher. He’s logged over 170 innings in every season since 2015 (not counting the shortened 2020 season). He even logged 153 as a rookie in 2014, pretty impressive. However, his stat lines are more indicative of a Rick Porcello innings-eater for the middle of the rotation than a top-tier ace. Granted, his 2018 and 2020 seasons proved to be quite impressive, but those years aside, he’s been a 4-ERA type guy. That’s a good pitcher, and definitely a plus contributor to any rotation. But, that’s not exactly a great fit for the 2021 Red Sox, given his high cost.
Trevor Bauer career stats:
The recent dominant performance in 2020 catches the eye – but so does the notion that it’s an outlier for him. He was SIGNIFICANTLY better than his split 2019 season, with an ERA almost 5 full points below his 2nd half of 2019 as a Cincinnati Red. With BB/9 and SO/9 having significant improvements from his norm, he was clicking on all cylinders in 2020. But, is that something a team can bank to repeat in 2021, especially considering Bauer is known to be a constant tinker of his game? Maybe this is his Cliff Lee-esque late career breakout, where he finally put it altogether to be an elite pitcher. OR, 2020 could be as good as it gets and he suckers some poor team to overpay him based on a lucky stretch of a super short season.
A red flag consistently used in Fantasy Baseball to sniff out luck is BABIP, or Batting Average on Balls In Play. Bauer’s 2020 BABIP was .215, 2nd in MLB behind Kenta Maeda. What’s alarming is that Bauer’s previous full seasons all .276 and above – a significant difference. What that might amount to is a far less % of hitters who had Hard Hit % against Bauer in 2020. Again, perhaps he totally figured out how to make those big sluggers whiff or not get the barrel on the ball. Or more likely, he took advantage of a lucky stretch against a super weak schedule of opponents.
Lucky Shortened 2020 Schedule
Weak schedule you ask? Yes. Those stats are definitely inflated (or technically ERA deflated) due to the sad offenses he faced in 2020. 10 of his 11 starts came against teams in the bottom 11 of runs scored in 2020. Beyond that, he faced the Pirates and Tigers twice, each two of the saddest offensive teams in 2020 and were in the bottom 3 of MLB’s final standings. Can’t blame him for destroying those batters, but he basically should have had stats close to that. His numbers mean far less with that context in mind.
AND He’d Cost Boston Draft Picks?!
Something that we’ll dive into in a moment, are the draft pick implications of signing Bauer. For now, all you need to know if that the penalty for signing Bauer to a 1-year deal would be the same as signing him to a 10-year deal. With that and the aforementioned question marks, Bauer would seem to be a very high-risk signing for Boston.
Not A Spring Chicken
George Springer seems like a perfectly nice human being. And also someone I hope gets a chance at redemption following his involvement with the Astros cheating scandal. Moving on from Houston is the best move for him from a public perception standpoint, but, Boston doesn’t seem like the right fit. The contract required to land Springer would likely be in the 5-6 year range, and upwards of ~$25 million per year. Is a 6 year, $150 million contract for a 31-year old outfielder really a great idea for the Red Sox? The notion of paying an outfielder that much feels particularly inappropriate following the trade of Mookie Betts last February. However, if his play is worth the cost – the Red Sox should consider it. Is he worth it? Let’s take a look.
George Springer career stats:
The initial stats are super solid – there’s no denying that. Not to mention, his 2018 and on is particularly interesting, considering he’s actually been BETTER since the Astros’ controversial trash-banging 2017 season. That being said, Springer is likely a year or two older than I’d prefer my big ticket free agent to be. He is an above-average glove in center-field, and could be serviceable there for the next couple of seasons. But – is he what the Red Sox need to be a playoff team in 2021? I don’t think so. Given the trade / free agency market, plenty of players with similar skillsets should be available for cheap. In that you’d get perhaps 75-80% of this production, at a much lessened cost to the payroll and draft picks.
Hope Spring’s Eternal?
Not to neg my own take, but I do think Springer will age relatively well (health-permitting). His game isn’t very reliant on speed, and his bat has quietly improved over the past few seasons. His Barrel Rate has stuck around 12% in the past 2 seasons, which shows he’s capable of sustaining that – and the resulting counting stats could be his norm. In terms of Hard hit %, StatCast shows he’s been in the same ballpark, without a crazy outlier. In 2020 he was at 41.9%, and 43.2% in 2019 – aligning with his career average of 40.4%.
Comparatively, a guy like Fernando Tatis Jr. (who had an unreal 2020) had a Barrel% of 19.5%, up from 12.8% in 2019. His hard hit % also had a massive jump up – which is not bad, but also not something that may be as sustainable as you’d think. A steady sample of barrel data year-to-year gives less pause to wondering if Springer can replicate those stats in 2021 and beyond.
Unfortunately, the 31-year old Springer is no stranger to the Injury-List (formerly ‘Disabled List’). Certainly not the type of experience you like to see from a big ticket free agent. And especially not from a player who’d immediately become the team’s 2nd highest-paid player (behind Sale). The evidence is in the number of games logged above. While his missed time has been a plethora of injuries, not just specific to one body part or area. Either way, I’m not so sure he’s a safe bet to be consistently healthy heading into the later years of his career.
Which Free Agents Are Getting Qualifying Offers?
First, in terms of what an MLB Qualifying Offer is, I’ll refer to Mike Petriello of MLB.com recent explanation:
“As it is each year, that’s a one-year contract offer worth the average salary of MLB’s top 125 highest-paid players, which this year turns out to be $18.9 million. Teams have until Sunday at 5 p.m. ET to extend a qualifying offer, and players then have 10 days after that to accept.
If the player accepts, he returns to his team for $18.9 million for 2021; if he declines, he becomes a free agent, with his former team receiving Draft-pick compensation. Ninety players have received a qualifying offer, and only eight have ever taken it, including José Abreu and Jake Odorizzi last winter.”
If that’s unclear to you, or you’re just curious on the other details of the MLB offseason, I’d suggest Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com’s piece on just that:
In terms of qualifying offers, there are 4 big free agents in 2021 that are very likely to receive those offers:
Trevor Bauer, George Springer, DJ LeMahieu, and J.T. Realmuto. Marcus Semien, Marcus Stroman, Michael Brantley and perhaps Masahiro Tanaka are additional free agents that would ordinarily be no-brainers here. But, in 2020, with financial uncertainty afoot, chances of them receiving qualifying offers are iffy at best. Having just 4 players with that ‘QO’ distinction leaves that many more free agents without draft pick penalties.
Draft pick penalties from signing a player who has been extended a qualified offer, you say? Yes, unfortunately that is the case, and we’ll dive right into that now.
Draft Pick Implications
MLB teams (like the Red Sox) that do not have a payroll exceeding the $208 million salary threshold in 2020, they still have to forfeit their 2nd highest draft picks in the 2021 MLB Draft if they sign a free agent who has signed a qualifying-offer. Not only draft pick ramifications, but said team would ALSO lose $500,000 in their international signing bonus pool-money. Had the Red Sox been over the salary threshold in 2020 the penalty would be even more severe. For a team above the threshold, for signing a player signed to a qualifying-offer, they’d also be forced to give up their 5th highest draft pick. Oh, AND an additional $500,000 in the aforementioned international signing pool money.
Looking Back on the 2020 Draft for the Red Sox
That’s a BONKERS concept for the same Boston Red Sox organization who lost their 2020 2nd round draft pick for breaking video replay rules in 2018. That was stupid as HECK, but we can’t get back into that now. That being said, that punishment totally has a trickle down effect into this year. The Sox used their 1st round pick (17th overall) to reach in selecting Nick Yorke, a 2nd baseman, signing him for well-under slot value. No knock on Yorke, but the Red Sox were pretty obviously not swinging for the fences, and took a safer, cheaper route. The loss of a 2nd round pick is bad enough for a team lacking top-tier farm talent. But combining it with an intentionally conservative 1st round pick makes the 2021 draft THAT much more important.
Eyes Up On the 2021 Draft
Additionally, as Sox fans know by now, they STUNK in 2020. Silver lining of having the 4th worst record, is getting the 4th overall pick in the 2021 MLB draft. Which means if they signed Bauer or Springer, they’d be losing the 4th selection in the 2nd round. Regardless of who you’re looking at signing as a free agent, that’s quite a STEEP cost. We’re not talking about losing a late 2nd round pick which might as well be a 3rd rounder. This lost 2nd round pick could be a 1st-round talent that slipped for some inexplicable reason.
Let Chaim Bloom Cook
In my eyes, this is Chaim Bloom’s first real offseason at the helm for the Red Sox front office. Given the Red Sox ownership’s insistence on trading Mookie Betts, I don’t consider 2020 one where the team truly operated from his command. It’s moderately safe to assume part of ownership’s selection of Bloom for the Chief Baseball Officer job was for him to immediately trade Mookie.
All that aside, now it’s time to let Bloom do what he does best – go out and find undervalued players (mainly pitching) with upside. Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows is the prime example of what Chaim Bloom is capable of having an eye for, in terms of making trades. While that may be an unrealistic comparison for now, it’s something to look forward to (in terms of diamonds in the rough). Diamonds on the rough being former top prospects left on the proverbial scrap heap, but very much worth salvaging. Nick Pivetta (acquired from the Phillies for Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree), was a nice example of a low-risk, high-potential trade.
Offseason in Full Bloom
Signing big names like Bauer and Springer to big contracts is not Chaim Bloom’s shtick. He didn’t come to Boston to just spend like a madman. Correspondingly, that just doesn’t seem to be a recipe for success in Boston. Bloom will not spend a ton, just to induce another topsy-turvy ride of success followed soon by major disappointment. The Red Sox have made clear that Bloom’s role is to steady the ship. Less first to worst within a year or two, and more of a consistent threat. Being a consistent contender requires depth, something the 2020 Red Sox certainly lacked. Small residual moves to find undervalued assets will enable the Sox to not just return to the playoffs, but annually remain in the playoff hunt. Signing Bauer and/or Springer would significantly inhibit Bloom’s ability to make small upgrades focused on organizational depth.
The best part of the Red Sox 2021 offseason is how much flexibility Bloom has to work with. By early estimates, the Red Sox should have about $36-38 million to play with without surpassing the expected 2021 luxury threshold. Go out and sign a free agent with that money? Maybe the right one(s), at a lower cost than usual to make for great value.
MLB’s 2021 offseason could be as unpredictable as any in recent memory. After an up-and-down season, MLB faces a looming collective bargaining agreement negotiation after 2021. With an expected CBA impasse/lockout, teams will be even less apt to spend. After a season where MLB revenue is WAY down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s rumored that a number of teams are looking at cutting costs for 2021. Expectations are that MLB teams will behave in a fiscally conservative until revenue bounces back and teams sell tickets.
In a scenario where Boston signs Bauer or Springer, Bloom’s hands are tied up from doing much else. As a result they’re unable to take advantage of market inefficiencies and trade for quality players at lower costs.
Red Sox, 2021 Salary Saviors?
Perhaps the Red Sox are the team to acquire players that making more money than their current teams would like. Brad Hand is a nice example, with a $10 million team option for 2021. Seems reasonable for one of the top closers in baseball, right? But Cleveland has a notoriously cheap owner (Paul Dolan) who was shedding salary pre-COVID. As a result, Hand had his club option DENIED! One has to imagine that the Cleveland brass shopped Hand around a bit before doing so – because bringing in a couple of low-level farm hands as a trade return is better than nothing. But alas, my point remains. Tampa Bay’s rumored denying of the Charlie Morton club option is another example of this mentality.
The Red Sox have money to spend, and can make impact acquisitions without breaking the bank or losing draft picks. Morton might just be the ideal target for Boston as a 1-2 year, $15-20 million per year contract. Morton has been rumored to consider retirement in recent years. However early inclinations are that he’ll at least test out the free agency market.
Dear Red Sox, When It Comes to Bauer/Springer: Plz Don’t
All in all, the Red Sox have hit the reset button in more ways than one. We’re not going to talk about the ATROCITY that was their handling of Mookie Betts – only moving forward. In moving forward, it is not in their best interest to pay Trevor Bauer or George Springer top-dollar on the free agency market. Losing a top draft pick when the farm system needs replenishing is a backwards move. I say that despite what Bauer or Springer could do for them on the field in 2021. Using the money they have available would be better utilized on a number of smaller moves.
After a strange season, it’s time Chaim Bloom does his thing, and takes advantage of the market’s inefficiencies. Let the other teams commit big money to those guys in a super weak year of free agency. Boston should be lurking in the shadows and scooping up the non-sexy names who go for less than they deserve. Adding upgrades from marginal pieces that other small market teams “can’t afford” at the moment.
The Red Sox have a new front office leader with an eye for underappreciated talent. Let’s let him lead and get to work.
-Mike Gilligan (@BigGilli, @VerbalCommitPod and @SmallStateTakes Podcast) – https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/small-state-big-takes/id1432138166 / https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/verbally-committed/id1516871465
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