ESPN baseball writer Tim Kurkjian joined Mut & Merloni at the winter meetings in Orlando and talked about the Red Sox’ approach to the offseason.
The Red Sox lost center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury via free agency to the Yankees, and there’s been speculation that youngster Jackie Bradley Jr. will inherit Ellsbury’s former position. Kurkjian isn’t so sure that will happen right away.
“I don’t think Jackie Bradley Jr. is going to be their center fielder,” Kurkjian said. “And that’s not ’cause he’s not ready or he can’t play. I just think … to go in with three relatively unproven guys [along with Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks]. We know Bogaerts is going to be a great player, because we saw him in September and October — he was terrific. Middlebrooks is still questionable to me. The guy is unbelievably strong. But is he going to make contact enough to hit 30 homers in the big leagues and be able to play third base. And is Jackie Bradley Jr. ready to hit in the big leagues?
“I think the Red Sox are going to look at this situation and say, ‘I don’t know if we can win the division — the way the Yankees have upgraded, and Tampa Bay’s pitching — with young guys at three crucial spots.’ So I still think they’re out looking for a center field situation — not a five-year situation, but maybe something that could help Jackie Bradley along.”
Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp‘s name has been bandied about, but concerns about his physical status seem to be scaring off teams.
“The Dodgers, from what I’m told, are looking to move Matt Kemp,” Kurkjian said. “This isn’t a case where the Red Sox are pursuing him, but from what I’m told, the Dodgers have made him available and are willing to pick up a sizable portion of that contract.
“If you’re the Red Sox, however, you have to a) only have to pay $10 million of that contract a year, and you have be certain that he’s healthy. He’s got an ankle and a shoulder. You know you can’t play this game if you’re hurt. It’s too hard to play when you’re healthy. Then you get hurt and try to play, it’s impossible. Especially at a defensive position like that, and an athletic guy like him. So I would be wary of Matt Kemp’s health, and I wouldn’t go anywhere near him until I’m certain that his ankle and his shoulder are OK.”
Stephen Drew remains unsigned, with the Red Sox saying they still are interested in bringing him back as a veteran presence at shortstop. Kurkjian said that seems to be the best fit for both parties.
“I think the market kind of went away to some degree when St. Louis signed Jhonny Peralta; I’m still not sure why they did that,” Kurkjian said. “I watched Stephen Drew — I know you guys see him all the time. But you can only tell about a defensive player when you see him play six, seven, 10 games in a row. He’s a great shortstop. I’ve seen him before, obviously, and I thought he was really good. He’s even better than I thought — some of the plays he made in the postseason.
“I don’t see a huge market for him. I think the Red Sox would be well-served for bringing him back. And I don’t see another team’s that right on that list. The Yankees certainly could use him, but I don’t think he wants to play second base or third base — he’s a shortstop. But how many teams really need a shortstop right now. So I’m not sure there’s a great market for him, and I think the Red Sox certainly are still in on him.”
Robinson Cano left the Yankees to sign with the Mariners for a reported $240 million over 10 years, surprising some for his decision to go to a struggling franchise in a much smaller media market. Kurkjian said if Cano had stayed with Scott Boras as his agent, he likely would have stayed in New York, leading to Ellsbury — also represented by Boras — signing elsewhere.
“What I think happened was, Cano was upset with the Yankees for going and getting Jacoby Ellsbury, and then making it out to be a greedy Robinson Cano, who only was in this for the money,” Kurkjian said. “And he told his agent just go get the most money he can, and Jay-Z went and did it. So, good for all of them for doing this. Whether he’s in the right place long term, we’ll see about that. But I think this was an unusual circumstance — best free agent out there, with a little chip in his shoulder and a little bit angry, and he said, ‘All right, let’s go get the most money.’ ”
David Price remains with the Rays for now, but it appears likely that Tampa Bay will move the standout lefty rather than be forced to pay him market value.
“I think it’s higher than 75 percent, because I think the Rays are very good at being realistic and saying, ‘We can’t keep him long term. Now is the time to trade him.’ Even though they don’t want to trade him, obviously,” Kurkjian said. “But the key, of course, is who is in a position to give them the very best young player they have — [Mariners minor league pitcher] Taijuan Walker, [Diamondbacks minor league pitcher] Archie Bradley, somebody like that — and somebody else, at least, and then be willing to pay an enormous amount of money to keep him.
“How many teams can do that? Can Seattle do that? Maybe Seattle can do that. They have payroll flexibility and a big TV contract, and they need somebody else to make the Robinson Cano signing worthwhile also. So I keep hearing Seattle, and yet there’s a lot of times I say, ‘That’s not going to happen there.’ So it’s really, really tricky.
“And the one thing the Rays are not going to do is trade him without taking your very best young players. They’re great at that.”
To hear the interview. go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. For more Red Sox news, visit the team page at weei.com/redsox.