Masahiro Tanaka

Where will the Red Sox spend this winter?


With Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia all filing for free agency, the world champion Red Sox would seem to have a whole lot of flexibility this winter. Even without signing any replacements, they have a perfectly legitimate 25-man roster ready to go:

SS: Xander Bogaerts: $500,000
RF: Shane Victorino: $13 million
2B: Dustin Pedroia: $10 million
DH: David Ortiz: $15 million
LF: Jonny Gomes: $5 million
1B: Daniel Nava: $580,000
3B: Will Middlebrooks: $520,000
CF: Jackie Bradley Jr.: $500,000
C: David Ross: $3.1 million

C: Ryan Lavarnway: $500,000
1B-OF: Mike Carp: $1 million (arbitration)
2B-OF: Alex Castellanos: $500,000
INF: Brock Holt: $500,000

SP: Jon Lester: $13 million
SP: John Lackey: $15.25 million
SP: Clay Buchholz: $7.7 million
SP: Jake Peavy: $14.5 million
SP: Felix Doubront: $580,000

RP: Koji Uehara: $4.25 million
RP: Junichi Tazawa: $2 million (arbitration)
RP: Craig Breslow: $3.825 million
RP: Brandon Workman: $500,000
RP: Andrew Miller: $1.8 million (arbitration)
RP: Ryan Dempster: $13.25 million
RP: Alex Wilson: $500,000

Obviously, that’s not the group they’ll head into Opening Day with, but if they did, it would give them a $127.75 million payroll, down from a peak of $175 million in 2012 and about $155 million (not counting Napoli’s $8 million in incentives) in 2013.

The only arbitration choices to make are on Miller, Andrew Bailey and Franklin Morales. Miller seemed to be coming into his own prior to his July foot injury, so I’m guessing the Red Sox keep him, which would make Morales expendable. Both would be due about $1.8 million in arbitration. Bailey would probably command $4.5 million or so, and after major shoulder surgery, he’s not an option at that price.

One other thing the Red Sox could do: pay part of Dempster’s contract to move him elsewhere. He’s their sixth best starter as is, and it’s doubtful he’d be happy working in middle relief. The Red Sox could potentially free up another $8 million-$10 million by dealing him.

So, the Red Sox have at least $30 million and maybe as much as $50 million to play with this winter and not a single dire need to fill. That makes it an easier call to extend $14.1 million qualifying offers to Napoli and Drew and maybe to Saltalamacchia as well. Salty might accept his, but that’s not such a bad thing; the Red Sox would be overpaying by $3 million-$4 million, but it’d be just the one-year commitment. Despite his postseason struggles, Salty is a quality starting catcher and seemingly a big upgrade over Lavarnway.

There’s a slim chance Drew could also accept his qualifying offer, though he shouldn’t have any problem landing a three-year contract elsewhere. Again, that wouldn’t be so bad; Drew at shortstop and Bogaerts at third base is probably an upgrade over Bogaerts at short and Middlebrooks at third.

But let’s say Salty and Drew depart. Where might Boston’s money go? Some candidates:

– Masahiro Tanaka: The pitching prize of the offseason, Tanaka is a 25-year-old coming off a perfect 24-0 season with a 1.27 ERA in Japan. The Red Sox aren’t likely to target any middling starters with six guys already under contract and prospects behind them, but Tanaka would be very appealing if the Red Sox believe he’s at least a long-term No. 2. For one thing, the posting fee wouldn’t count against the luxury tax, just his likely $10 million-$12 million annual salary. He also wouldn’t cost a draft pick. What he will cost is at least $100 million overall, in terms of his posting fee and contract.

– Shin-Soo Choo: The Red Sox have Bradley to step in for Ellsbury in center field, but he’s probably not ready to take over the leadoff spot. Choo would be a huge asset there after posting a .423 on-base percentage with the Reds last season. He’d play left field in Boston, shifting Jonny Gomes to the bench.

– Carlos Beltran: If not Choo, then why not one of the greatest postseason players of all-time? Beltran can’t cover all that much ground in the outfield any longer, but that wouldn’t be an issue playing left field in Fenway. He’s still one of the game’s top offensive outfielders, having hit .296/.339/.491 for the Cardinals last season. Plus, unlike Choo, he shouldn’t require more than a two-year commitment.

– Napoli: Of Boston’s free agents, Napoli is the most likely to return. The Red Sox don’t have a real answer at first base in the farm system. A Nava-Middlebrooks platoon would likely work as a stopgap, with Carp also there to step in if Nava slumps or is needed in the outfield, but Napoli offers the team’s best source of right-handed power and surprisingly strong defense.

– Brian McCann: McCann is a more likely fit for the Yankees or Rangers, but he’s the one catcher out there who looks like an upgrade over Saltalamacchia. If the Red Sox signed him, they could recreate the McCann-Ross platoon that worked so well for Atlanta for four years.

– Jesse Crain: The Red Sox will probably add one name reliever to help in a setup capacity, plus a couple of other arms to compete for the last spot. Crain and Joe Smith are probably the top two relievers available among those not looking for a closer’s role. They’ll be costly, but with the Red Sox’s budget, that’s not a problem.

– Eric Chavez: If the Red Sox do go cheap and pencil in Bradley and Bogaerts as starters, expect them to spend to upgrade the bench. Chavez would give them a third baseman to pair with Middlebrooks, at least when he’s healthy. Chris Young or David DeJesus would give them a fallback in case Bradley disappoints and a legitimate starter if someone gets hurt. And, while it probably won’t happen, Kevin Youkilis would be an interesting fit as a part-time first baseman and third baseman. The Red Sox have the ability to spend starter-type money on part-time players, and while that’s not a role for everyone, some will find it attractive.

Orioles interested in Denard Span

Denard Span
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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MASN’s Roch Kubatko is reporting that the Orioles have “some level” of interest in free agent outfielder Denard Span. The Nationals did not make a $15.8 million qualifying offer to Span, which means he doesn’t come attached with draft pick compensation unlike other free agents such as Alex Gordon and Dexter Fowler.

Span, who turns 32 in February, hit a solid .301/.365/.431 with five home runs, 22 RBI, 38 runs scored, and 11 stolen bases, but took only 275 plate appearances due to back and hip injuries. He underwent season-ending hip surgery in September but is expected to be ready to participate in spring training.

The Mets and Royals have also reportedly shown interest in Span’s services.

Blue Jays showing interest in Ryan Madson

Ryan Madson
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Blue Jays are on the prowl for relievers with closing experience. Ryan Madson is one of the names on their list.

Madson, 35, had a career rebirth with the Royals in 2015. He signed a minor league deal with the club that paid him a salary of $850,000 if he made it back to the majors. Due to a plethora of arm injuries, Madson hadn’t pitched in the majors since Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals as a member of the Phillies. For the Royals, he wound up becoming a crucial member of the bullpen, finishing with a 2.13 ERA and a 58/14 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.

While Madson allowed five runs in 8 1/3 post-season innings, he pitched well when it mattered most, as he hurled three scoreless frames in three appearances in the World Series against the Mets.

Madson has closing experience, with 55 career saves. 32 of them came in 2011 when he took over the closer’s role from Brad Lidge.

After signing Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, and trading for Jesse Chavez, the Jays have bolstered their rotation but it was reported on Saturday that interim GM Tony LaCava is still focused on upgrading the pitching staff.

Trevor Cahill considering the Pirates as a potential destination

Trevor Cahill
AP Photo/Paul Beaty

ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that free agent pitcher Trevor Cahill is looking for a one-year, bounce-back deal. The Pirates are one of the potential teams he is considering.

It’s no surprise that the Pirates are on Cahill’s list. Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has garnered a reputation as a miracle worker after turning around the careers of a handful of pitchers, including Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano, and J.A. Happ. Volquez parlayed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Pirates into a two-year, $20 million deal with the Royals last December. Liriano signed with the Pirates on a one-year, $1 million contract and turned that into a three-year, $39 million deal. Happ, dealt to the Pirates from the Mariners at the most recent trade deadline, just signed a three-year, $39 million contract with the Blue Jays.

Cahill, once a highly-regarded pitching prospect, has scuffled over parts of seven seasons in the majors. The 27-year-old owns a career 4.13 ERA with a 754/427 K/BB ratio in 1,083 2/3 innings. Cahill had some brief success after signing with the Cubs as a free agent in mid-August, compiling a 2.12 ERA in 11 appearances out of the bullpen.

Blue Jays narrow GM search to two candidates: Tony LaCava and Ross Atkins

Tony LaCava
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Blue Jays have narrowed their search for a new general manager down to two candidates: current interim GM Tony LaCava, and Indians vice president of player personnel Ross Atkins. Former Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos resigned last month.

LaCava was promoted to interim GM on November 2 and has already made a handful of moves along with new president Mark Shapiro. The club acquired Jesse Chavez in a trade and signed pitchers Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ to multi-year deals.

Atkins worked under Shapiro in the Indians organization for 15 seasons, so it is no surprise that he is a finalist for the open GM position.