Paying for victories has always been the mantra of the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs for the last decade-plus, with the Boston Red Sox sprinkled in here and there. But after paying its way to being crowned as 2018 World Series champions, it is fair to add the Red Sox to this recurring club.
Going into the 2019 season and looking to repeat their magic from last year, the team carries a massive $225 million payroll into spring training, one that will most likely not shrink unless pricey pieces are moved. The likelihood of this team even getting within $10 million of the luxury tax threshold, which is at $206 million for this campaign, is nothing short of a pipe dream.
A good chunk of the salary issues resides in deferred and retained salaries, as the remainder of Pablo Sandoval and Manny Ramirez’s deals are still on the books, for a combined total just north of $25 million. That chunk alone would not only push them under the luxury tax, but it would open up the potential for a bigger addition this offseason. Alas, this money will not be gotten off the books and the team will be stuck with it for yet another season.
However, the team still has outstanding issues that need to be addressed, whether that through the trade market or free agency. Both markets are still ripe for picking, as the team has the farm system and the deep pockets to make almost any move, sans a Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.
Looking at the current roster, glaring areas on the depth chart consist of catcher, bullpen and a core utilityman. With as cash strapped as the franchise is, making any moves to solidify any of these areas would be difficult.
At backstop, the combination of Christian Vasquez and Sandy Leon led to an uninspiring tandem behind the plate, responsible for calling a game for one of the best starting pitching staffs in the entire league. Thankfully for Boston, both Vasquez and Leon are still arbitration eligible, lowering their price tags for a few years.
Vasquez was the better offensive catcher of the two, but as his .207 average says, they could be much better. Leon is the eldest of the two players at 30 years of age, and with him not having made too much of an impact yet, makes it hard to see Leon being in Boston’s future plans at catcher.
The combination of Dustin Pedroia and Eduardo Nunez at second base is an interesting combo, as Pedroia is one of the better middle infielders in the game, when he is healthy, which has been a consistent issue, especially with only having played four games in 2018. Offensively, Pedroia is the better option, but Nunez has seen the field more than Pedroia over the past two seasons.
With the bullpen, superman closer Craig Kimbrel is still basking out in free agency, his reported asking price is out of the BoSox’s range, as reports listed him as searching for a six-year, $100+ million contract, unheard of for a reliever, much less a closer. The next-up option for closing games comes down to a recovering Tyler Thornburg, Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman, among others, which is not very daunting.
Due to money issues and positional limitations, the team would be smart to upgrade the catcher position for now, and one name comes to mind: Martin Maldonado.
While he is also offensively challenged, just like Vasquez and Leon, he actually has better stats at the plate. Maldy had a .225/.276/.351 line in 2018 in a split season for the Los Angeles Angels and the Houston Astros, which is not impressive but ranks towards the top of his personal best.
Defensively, Maldonado is among the best in the league, even winning the American League Gold Glove behind the plate in his first season with the Angels in 2017. He was traded to the Angels from the Milwaukee Brewers in a catcher swap, with the Brewers receiving eventual disappointment Jett Bandy for their troubles.
Maldonado would be a fantastic addition to the team, helping manage the pitching staff who will understandably regress a bit after a phenomenal season that resulted in a title. Pairing him with southpaws David Price and Chris Sale will be a bit of a challenge, but Maldy will be better off than most in handling pitching staffs, calling games and pitch framing.
As for the existing catcher, Vasquez would be better off suited as a backup, and Leon would be a prime candidate to be traded during spring training, when a team may come calling looking for a stand-in while a starting/backup backstop gets hurt during spring training. Leon has enough value to recoup a lower-level minor leaguer, but it still would result in returning value for a player who would not have a defined role with the addition of Maldonado.
Although the bullpen may be seen as a more pressing item, and infield help is always need with brittle-bones Pedroia manning second base, a catcher will help the overall team by rounding out the pitching staff’s performance, while bringing a bit more offensive production. Maldonado could be had on the cheap, as a low money, one-year deal would be enough to get Maldonado back on his feet on a winning team, which he could always leave the following season looking for a bigger payday (which most likely would not be coming from Boston).