Josh Hamilton

Red Sox could seek out big-name targets this winter


The Red Sox have had an average payroll in excess of $170 million the last three years. With Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett departing and David Ortiz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Cody Ross all set to become free agents, they’re currently looking at something less than half of that for 2013. It figures to give them more flexibility and financial muscle than any other team in the league this winter.

That said, it’s doubtful the Red Sox will jump right back up to $170 million right away. There simply isn’t the talent available in the free agent pool, and overspending for veterans is what got them into the current mess in the first place. Still, they should have feelers out for all of the big names available this winter, and they’ll probably land one or two.

Here are some possibilities:

OF Josh Hamilton: I think this is a big long shot, but the Red Sox would certainly have the money to make a big run at the 2010 AL MVP. Hamilton has stayed healthy this year and hit .286/.352/.575 with 34 homers and 107 RBI in 117 games for the Rangers. He’s the only available option in free agency that could match Adrian Gonzalez as a middle-of-the-order bat. Hamilton, though, would be a huge risk on a long-term contract, not only because of his past battles with addiction but also because of the likelihood of his body breaking down as the enters his mid-30s. Next year will be his age-32 season.

C-1B Mike Napoli: The Red Sox tried to get Napoli from the Angels a couple of years ago, but came up short. If they target him this time, they’d likely pitch him on starting at first base most of the time and catching a couple of times per week. Napoli’s average has collapsed from .320 to .223 this year, but he’s always been more about the secondary skills anyway. Worthy of note: he’s hit .306/.397/.710 with seven homers in 62 career at-bats at Fenway.

1B-OF Nick Swisher: There’s been talk recently of the 32-year-old Swisher aiming for Jayson Werth money (seven years, $126 million), but that’s not within the realm of possibility. Something like $48 million for four years is more likely. The Yankees want to get under the luxury tax threshold come 2014, so they might be willing to let him depart without a big offer. He’d probably be Boston’s best option for a 2013 first baseman. Still, the team shouldn’t be looking to sign non-superstars to long-term deals right now.

1B Justin Morneau: While they’ve been loathe to admit it, the Twins are going nowhere. Dumping the final year and $14 million on Morneau’s deal would make plenty of sense, and now that he seems to have found his stroke, he’d look pretty good as Boston’s No. 5 hitter.

SS Stephen Drew: J.D.’s young brother has the most upside of the free agent shortstops available this winter, and he’ll probably be undervalued this winter after missing almost a year with a busted ankle before returning last month. Shortstop won’t be the Red Sox’s highest priority, but if they can snag Drew on a modest two-year deal, it’d be a nice gamble.

1B-3B Kevin Youkilis: I’m not sure how far-fetched this is, but the main reason Youkilis is gone from Boston is Bobby Valentine, and it seems doubtful that Valentine will be back with the team in 2013. The Red Sox could certainly do worse at first base than their former MVP candidate. The White Sox hold a $13 million option on Youkilis for 2013, but they’re not expected to exercise it.

OF B.J. Upton: Upton has struggled to put it all together in Tampa Bay, but whereas most players enters free agency with their best seasons behind them, Upton may yet have some additional upside. He’d also likely be an excellent defender in Fenway’s tough right field. With Michael Bourn, Shane Victorino and Angel Pagan also available, center field is the lone crowded position in free agency this winter. Should Upton’s stock slip a bit as a result, the Red Sox could pounce.

OF Shin-Soo Choo: The Indians chose to hold on to Choo at the trade deadline, but they could send him packing this winter as they try to keep their payroll down. Choo figures to make $7 million-$8 million in arbitration next year in his final season before free agency.

SP Zack Greinke: The thinking is that the big-market teams will shy away from Greinke due to concerns about how he’d handle the pressure that comes with such a spotlight. The Red Sox may decide to avoid him for that reason. Still, he pretty easily eclipses guys like Edwin Jackson, Anibal Sanchez and Kyle Lohse as the top free agent starter available.

SP Hiroki Kuroda: A year ago, everyone assumed that Kuroda would stay with the Dodgers or return to Japan. Instead, he signed a one-year deal with the Yankees and is working on a terrific season in the AL East. One imagines he’ll want to stay in the Bronx and sign another one-year deal this winter. The Red Sox should at least try to make things more difficult for the Yankees to keep him, though.

SP Dan Haren: Haren’s back woes and recent struggles could lead the Angels to decline his $15.5 million option for 2013 and buy him out for $3.5 million instead. If so, there’s a good chance the Red Sox would pursue him on a one-year deal. Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd are also possibilities should the White Sox decline their options.

SP Josh Johnson: The Marlins opted to hold on to Johnson at the trade deadline, but if they’re not going to be serious contenders next year, then trading him this winter should be the plan. He’s due $13.75 million next year in his final season before free agency. It’d probably take a couple of very good prospects to pry him away.

Mets expected to tender a contract to Jenrry Mejia

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 12:  Jenrry Mejia #58 of the New York Mets reacts as he walks off the field after getting the final out of the seventh inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citi Field on July 12, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
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Jenrry Mejia appeared in just seven games this past season due to a pair of suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs, but Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Mets are expected to tender him a contract for 2016.

While the Mets were vocal about their disappointment in Mejia’s actions, it makes sense to keep him around as an option. Had he played a full season in 2015, he would have earned $2.595 million. He’s arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter and figures to receive a contract similar to his 2015 figure, but he’ll only be paid for the games he plays. He still has 100 games to serve on his second PED suspension, which means that he’ll only be paid for 62 games in 2016. This likely puts his salary closer to $1 million, which is a small price to pay for someone who could prove useful during the second half and beyond. He also won’t count toward the team’s 40-man roster until he’s active.

Mejia, who turned 26 in October, owns a 3.68 ERA in the majors and saved 28 games for the Mets in 2014. He’s currently pitching as a starter in the Dominican Winter League.

Braves and Jim Johnson reunite on a one-year contract

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 17: Jim Johnson #53 of the Atlanta Braves throws a ninth inning pitch against the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field on July 17, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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UPDATE: The deal is official. Bowman adds that Johnson will make $2.5 million in 2016.

6:11 p.m. ET: Jim Johnson enjoyed some success out of the Braves’ bullpen in 2015 until a midseason trade to the Dodgers and Mark Bowman of reports that he has returned to Atlanta on a one-year contract. No word yet on the terms involved.

After an awful 2014 between the Athletics and Tigers, Johnson signed a one-year deal with the Braves last winter and bounced back to the tune of a 2.25 ERA and 33/14 K/BB ratio over 48 innings. He also saved nine games. However, things went south for him after a trade to the Dodgers in late July, as he put up an ugly 10.13 ERA in 23 appearances. He was left off the team’s roster for the NLDS against the Mets.

It’s unclear what role the Braves have in mind for Johnson, as Arodys Vizcaino finished the season as the closer, but they have made upgrading their bullpen a priority this winter.

Report: Barry Bonds under consideration to be the Marlins hitting coach

Barry Bonds

This shouldn’t cause any controversy, lead to a lot of people saying dumb things or provide fodder for jokes at all. Nope, none whatsoever:

In what promises to be a bombshell move, if executed, all-time great slugger Barry Bonds is under consideration to become Marlins hitting coach.

Team higherups have quietly been discussing this possibility for weeks.

That’s Jon Heyman, who reminds us that Bonds has worked with the Giants in the spring in recent years. And who, no matter what else you can say about him, was one of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen. Also worth remembering that despite his controversial past, that greatness came not just from physical gifts, naturally or artificially bestowed. It came from his approach, preparation and strategy at the plate. No one can teach a hitter to hit like Barry Bonds, but you’d think that hitters could be taught to try to approach an at bat the way Barry Bonds would. And who better to do it than Barry Bonds?

That is, if Bonds is willing to drop his seemingly ideal retired life in San Francisco, move to Miami and work for Jeff Loria for nine months a year. Which, eh, who knows? But the possibility of it is pretty fascinating to think about.

Yadier Molina’s new backup: Cardinals sign Brayan Pena to two-year deal

Brayan Pena Reds

Veteran catcher Brayan Pena has agreed to a two-year, $5 million contract with the Cardinals, who’re investing much more than usual in their backup for Yadier Molina.

After bouncing around for a decade without getting even 250 plate appearances in a season Pena signed with the Reds and topped 350 plate appearances in both 2014 and 2015. His production didn’t improve any, as Pena hit .263 with five homers and a .652 OPS in 223 games as a regular.

Pena’s best skill is rarely striking out, which enables him to hit for a decent batting average, but he has very little power and swings at everything. He struggled to control the running game this season at age 33, but has a decent throw-out rate for his career.

Making a multi-year commitment to Pena suggests the Cardinals are no longer counting on Molina being the same type of workhorse behind the plate, which certainly makes sense given his age and injury history. Pena will replace Tony Cruz, who’s been Molina’s understudy since 2011 while hitting just .220 with five homers and a .572 OPS in 259 games.