There was once a time when fans of most big market teams could fantasize about acquiring any big name player, and for the most part the idea wasn’t completely unrealistic.
Around the turn of the 21st century, the Red Sox landed Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez, two of the best players of their era, and nearly Alex Rodriguez. They acquired Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and more recently Chris Sale, and there’s a whole laundry list of stars the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and lately the New York Mets have brought in over the years.
Now, the idea Boston could go out and land a real big fish feels more farfetched. It’s not that the club doesn’t have the resources, it’s that ever since Mookie Betts got away the prevailing sense has been the Red Sox aren’t willing to go the extra mile it takes to bring in a superstar.
Maybe that will change when the new head of baseball operations comes aboard, but if the Red Sox wanted to shake up the narrative and put the rest of the league on notice, there’s one player in particular who looms as an obvious target.
Juan Soto could potentially go down as one of the greatest players in baseball history. He made his MLB debut as a 19-year-old in May 2018, and in six big league seasons since Soto’s already become a three-time All-Star, won a batting title and helped lead the Washington Nationals to the 2019 World Series championship. He also has the best combination of power and plate discipline the league has seen since Barry Bonds, and on top of that he was one of just four players who played in all 162 games this past season.
Soto, who is about to turn 25, is also set to hit free agency after this coming season, and it’s widely expected he’ll land one of the largest contracts in MLB history. He’s already turned down a 15-year, $440 million offer from Washington, just to put things in perspective.
Given how the San Diego Padres flopped after going all-in this past season, and given how they’ve already invested nearly $1 billion in Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Xander Bogaerts over the next decade, it’s reasonable to imagine the Padres could trade Soto and replenish the farm system they stripped to get him in the first place. San Diego paid a king’s ransom when they landed the outfielder ahead of the 2022 trade deadline, but now only a year from free agency his price should be much lower.
Could the Red Sox make a deal? Some within the industry believe it’s possible.
Earlier this week Jim Bowden of The Athletic identified the Red Sox as a team to watch in a potential Soto Sweepstakes, suggesting Boston could land the talented outfielder with a package that includes big leaguers Alex Verdugo and Tanner Houck along with prospects Miguel Bleis and Luis Perales.
Bowden argued that Verdugo, who like Soto is set to hit free agency after this coming season, would immediately slot into San Diego’s starting lineup and Houck would join the starting rotation. Houck brings the added benefit of having four years of team control remaining, and the two prospects are each among the top 10 in Boston’s system, according to MLB Pipeline.
Bleis in particular is highly tantalizing. The 19-year-old outfielder is considered a potential five-tool superstar and would be the main prize for San Diego in this deal, but he also just missed almost the entire season to a shoulder injury and has only ever played 31 games at Single-A. Perales is a well regarded right-hander with a fastball topping out at 99 mph and is considered a future mid-rotation starter or a closer.
Would the Padres bite on a package like this? And should the Red Sox pull the trigger if they do?
My gut reaction was it’s hard to imagine the Padres actually accepting this deal and the Red Sox would be crazy not to do it. Verdugo likely has no future with the Red Sox and Houck is the type of pitcher it might be prudent to sell high on if the right deal came along.
Still, a deal like this carries a lot of risk. There’s no guarantee Soto will agree to a contract extension, and with Scott Boras as his agent there’s a good bet he’ll hit the open ma
rket, where the Red Sox would have to fend off offers from all the other big clubs. Losing two top prospects for only one season of Soto would be tough, especially if Bleis blossoms into the type of superstar some evaluators believe he could become. You could make the case it would be more prudent to wait until next winter, when all Soto will cost is money.
Soto is also admittedly a poor defender and would have to play left field in Boston, essentially rendering Masataka Yoshida a full-time designated hitter. He also wouldn’t help balance the lineup, which already leans heavily left-handed.
Even taking all of that into account, if the opportunity to trade for Soto is there, the Red Sox should still do it.
This is a generational talent we’re talking about, and if you have a chance to bring that kind of player into your organization, you can’t pass it up. Even if the prospects reach their full potential, they probably won’t become as good as Soto is right now.
As for the concern about Soto’s long-term future, that’s a simple enough matter. Show him the money. Manny Machado was “definitely” going to hit free agency until the Padres blew him away last offseason and next thing you know he was locked up for another decade.
And the roster-construction concerns? That should all be secondary. You build your team around the best players, not the other way around. If a couple additional trades are necessary to make the pieces fit a little better, so be it.
The bottom line is the Red Sox shouldn’t be afraid to swing big, and even if a Soto deal doesn’t come to pass, the club needs to get back in the deep end of the market, just like in the old days.
The resources are there, all that’s missing is the will, and if the club wanted to make a statement and let everyone know the Boston Red Sox are back then it’s hard to imagine a better way to do it than by reeling in the biggest fish in the pond.
Altuve does it again
Say what you will about Jose Altuve, but when the chips are down the man always seems to come through.
The diminutive Houston Astros second baseman stood tall again on Friday night, powering the go-ahead three-run home run in the top of the ninth inning to turn a 4-2 deficit into a 5-4 lead. Houston closer Ryan Pressly shut the door and after at one point trailing 2-0 in the series, the Astros now go home to Houston with a 3-2 series lead and a chance to clinch the club’s fifth American League pennant in seven years.
At the heart of that success has been Altuve, who has continued to perform even after reputation was sullied by his connection to the Astros 2017 sign-stealing scandal. To this day Altuve is loudly booed at almost every opposing stadium he visits, but to whatever extent he may have gained an advantage in 2017, he’s remained a postseason monster ever since.
Altuve has now played 101 playoff games in his career, and over that stretch he’s hit 26 career postseason home runs, which ranks second in MLB history behind only Manny Ramirez (29). He also ranks top five all-time in playoff runs scored (86, 2nd), at-bats (419, 3rd), hits (113, 4th), total bases (211, 4th) and doubles (20, 5th).
His evolution into an October masher is particularly impressive given that Altuve hardly started his career as a power threat. Over the first five years of his career Altuve hit a combined 36 home runs over 2,721 at bats, averaging a home run every 75.5 ABs. But since 2016 he’s topped 20 home runs in a season five times and 30 homers twice, a stretch that more or less aligns with Houston’s transformation from a doormat to a dynasty.
Now he has the Astros on the doorstep of the Fall Classic again.
Leyland, Piniella on ballot
The Baseball Hall of Fame just announced this year’s candidates for the Contemporary Era Committee’s Managers, Executives and Umpires ballot, which will see eight of the most accomplished decision-makers of the past 40 years up for election to Cooperstown.
This year’s Era Committee candidates are managers Cito Gaston, Davey Johnson, Jim Leyland and Lou Piniella, executives Hank Peters and Bill White, and umpires Ed Montague and Joe West.
Though none of the four managers ever led the Red Sox, each served as prominent opponents throughout their careers. Piniella was a longtime New York Yankees player who spent time managing both the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, Johnson led the New York Mets to their 1986 World Series victory over the Red Sox, Gaston spent 12 seasons as Toronto Blue Jays manager and led the club to two World Series titles, and in addition to winning the 1997 World Series with the Florida Marlins, Leyland managed the Detroit Tigers during the epic 2013 ALCS against Boston.
In order to earn induction, candidates must appear on 75% of the ballots cast by the 16-member committee, which would translate to 12 votes assuming everyone casts a ballot. The committee will meet at the Winter Meetings in Nashville on Dec. 3 and the result of the vote will be announced that night on MLB Network.
Troye bounces back
Red Sox pitching prospect Christopher Troye had a terrific season, posting a 3.10 ERA with 87 strikeouts over 38 appearances split between High-A Greenville and Double-A Portland, but his stint in the Arizona Fall League got off to a rocky start.
Last Wednesday Troye got crushed, allowing five runs on four hits, two walks and a two-run home run without recording an out in the Glendale Desert Dogs’ 16-1 loss to the Surprise Saguaros. The outing raised his ERA to 18.00 in the AFL, meaning no matter how well he pitched afterwards it was pretty much a guarantee his fall numbers won’t look great.
To his credit, Troye bounced back about as well as a pitcher possibly can. In his subsequent two outings Glendale used Troye as its closer, and he responded by locking down consecutive saves with scoreless ninth innings, including in Thursday’s 10-9 win over the Salt River Rafters. Even though his ERA is still over 10, that kind of resilience will make a strong impression on his coaches in the Red Sox system.
Among Boston’s other prospects playing in Arizona, outfielder Corey Rosier has gotten off to a strong start and entered the weekend batting .333 with a .836 OPS and five stolen bases through 13 games. Left-hander Zach Penrod has posted a 1.13 ERA in his first two starts (8 innings) and righty Wyatt Olds a 3.00 ERA through four relief appearances.