Red Sox could seek out big-name targets this winter

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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.

Renfroe slam helps Rays sweep young Blue Jays in 1st round

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
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The Tampa Bay Rays gathered in front of their dugout and posed for a celebratory team picture they’re hoping will not be the last they take this postseason.

Hunter Renfroe hit a grand slam and the top-seeded Rays won a postseason series for the first time in 12 years, overpowering the young Toronto Blue Jays 8-2 Wednesday to finish a two-game sweep of their wild-card matchup.

And with a roster featuring just a handful of players who have posted impressive resumes so far, the AL East champs believe they’re nowhere near finished.

“We’ve been confident since Day One. So if we put the our heads down and just do what we’ve been doing and prepare like we’ve been preparing, the sky’s the limit,” winning pitcher Tyler Glasnow said.

Said manager Kevin Cash: “We have very good players first and foremost.”

“I understand the back of the baseball card stuff and some of our guys are not as established,” he said. “What we do have, what makes it formidable is that the entire roster is used to help us win games. We do that consistently during the season and are definitely going to do it in the postseason.”

Renfroe launched the first playoff grand slam in franchise history during a six-run second inning. Glasnow kept Tampa Bay ahead from there, allowing two runs – on a pair of homers by Danny Jansen – in six innings.

Mike Zunino hit a two-run homer off Blue Jays ace Hyun Jin Ryu during Tampa Bay’s big inning. Manuel Margot and Randy Arozarena also drove in runs as the Rays advanced to the AL Division series against either the New York Yankees or Cleveland Indians.

The next round starts Monday at Petco Park in San Diego. Renfroe is plenty familiar with the stadium – he hit 85 home runs in the previous three years for the Padres before being traded to the Rays last December.

“The opportunity in front of us is where you want to be,” Cash said.

The Rays celebrated with some hugs and handshakes after the final out.

Glasnow, who walked one and struck out eight before a small gathering of family and friends who were allowed to attend the series at Tropicana Field.

Ryu was rocked for a season-high seven runs in 1 2/3 innings, the lefty’s shortest outing of the season for the wild-card Blue Jays.

It was a disappointing finish for Toronto, which overcame a slow start to make a surprising run to its first playoff berth since 2016 with a roster featuring 19 players without previous major league playoff experience, including Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“Great season. I’m proud of my kids to make it to this point,” second-year Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said.

“It’s obvious that the Rays are a pretty good team, that’s why they’re picked to go to the World Series,” he said. “In this series, we didn’t hit. We only scored three runs. That’s not enough to beat that team.”

The Rays, who won the opener 3-1 with a nice mix of pitching, defense and timely hitting, had dropped five consecutive multigame postseason series dating to the 2008 World Series.

A year ago, they beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before losing to Houston in the division round – a five-game setback that nevertheless heightened team expectations heading into this season.

Ryu signed with the Blue Jays in free agency last winter after being an All-Star with the Los Angeles Dodgers and finishing second in NL Cy Young Award balloting in 2019.

The 33-year-old lefty had the AL’s fourth-best ERA this season. And, his career mark of .295 is third-best behind Clayton Kershaw (2.43) and Jacob deGrom (2.61) among active pitchers with at least 700 innings pitched.

Ryu’s impressive credentials meant nothing Wednesday.

The Rays began the first inning with three straight hits and scored their first run on Manuel Margot’s one-out single. Ryu escaped a bases-loaded jam by striking out Willy Adames, however his outing got worse the next inning.

After Zunino’s homer made it 3-0, Tampa Bay loaded the bases again on a double, walk and shortstop Bo Bichette’s second error of the day.

Renfroe, obtained from San Diego in an offseason trade that sent Tommy Pham to the Padres, hit his grand slam into the left field seats to extend the lead to 7-0.

“They were getting hits off all my pitches. I don’t think they were necessarily sitting on one or something like that,” Ryu said through a translator. “I just didn’t have a good game.”

“We have a lot to be proud of, we really do,” Jansen said. “We knocked on the door and next year we’re going to be ready to go through it.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: 1B Rowdy Tellez, who had a pinch-hit single in Game 1 Tuesday, remained out of the starting lineup. He was placed on the 10-day IL on Sept. 9 with a right knee sprain and missed the rest of the regular season.

Rays: INF Yandy Diaz (right hamstring strain) started at third base, his first game since Aug. 31.

UP NEXT

The Rays will play in the AL division round for the sixth time in franchise history, with all of the appearances coming since 2008.

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