Red Sox

Bryce Harper and the Search for Crazy but Semi-Plausible Potential Moves for the Red Sox

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I suppose the biggest Red Sox-related surprise, as the offseason plods toward next week’s winter meetings, would be if they ended up doing nothing at all to resolve the front of the starting rotation.

As temporarily amusing as it might be to watch NESN attempt to sell Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly as the Pedro/Schilling of a new generation, it’s never going to come to that. The Red Sox have the assets and the motivation to add at least one potential ace, and perhaps (hopefully) two.

The Red Sox have the prospects to trade for the familiar suspects, whether we’re talking Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, or Jeff Samardzija. The wish-list has gone unchanged thus far this winter as the pitching market has been slow to settle.

There’s no mystery regarding whether they will acquire top-shelf starting pitching. It’s just a matter of which pitchers they acquire, and when. And the when is probably fairly soon.

As we wait for Jon Lester to make his decision and the Max Scherzer/James Shields dominoes to fall behind him, I’ve found myself scouring MLBTradeRumors and the free-agent lists to try to discover someone we might be overlooking as a potential Red Sox target.

A few weeks ago, I spitballed about whether Hanley Ramirez, a dominant hitter in an era when such beasts are becoming scarce, might be someone the Red Sox would have interest in. But I sure as hell didn’t expect it to happen, particularly in tandem with the signing of Pablo Sandoval.

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The Red Sox’ signing of Ramirez — which made more initial sense than many of us noticed — has left a lingering question:

Is there anyone else of note they’re pursuing that we haven’t picked up on? Are there any more big surprises in store?

I can say this: If there are, I’m struggling to identify what they might be. Consider, say, a hypothetical deal with the A’s. I don’t believe any of us would be caught off-guard if the Red Sox had interest in trading for Samardzija; hell, maybe the former Notre Dame receiver, reportedly a Bill Belichick favorite, could give Tom Brady another weapon in the passing game on Sundays.

Facetiousness aside, though, the only mystery in a potential Samardzija deal is the package of players Billy Beane might want in return. His evaluations tend not to jibe with conventional wisdom, which is one reason the A’s are perennially fascinating.

I suppose I’d also consider it a surprise if Lester returned to Boston. When the Red Sox reportedly upped their offer this offseason into the That’s More Like It category after lowballing him in the spring, I began to gather the condiments and prepare to gulp down a lot of words I’d written about how there was no way he’d return.

It’s clear that it is at least possible that he comes back to the place where he’d spent his entire, accomplished career before the July 31 trade to Oakland. But I can’t help but think that if Boston were his preferred destination and all offers were relatively equal, he’d have already signed by now.

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Maybe the tour of San Francisco is simply due diligence. The thoroughness fits his profile, and it’s certainly his prerogative. But I also suspect there’s a magic $$$$ figure in his head, and when someone hits it, that’s where he’ll pitch the next six or seven seasons. I’m still betting on the Cubs, and the pull of Boston has me hedging only slightly.

I’d say any more significant surprises are unlikely. But that doesn’t mean we’re discouraging conjecture and daydreams, because you never know. I loved this idea, even as I gave it about as much a chance of happening as a Rich Garces comeback as a rangy shortstop:

Well, the Nats say no, and probably with an are-you-kidding-me-Ben? chuckle from general manager Mike Rizzo. The Nationals have legitimate World Series aspirations, and while I’m with those who believe Betts will be an outstanding player immediately, they can’t risk taking a step backward, even as some suggest that’s exactly what they should do.

There are harbingers of an eventually acrimonious parting between the franchise and Harper. For some reason, they’re choosing to bicker with him over his arbitration status, which seems a strange and small battle to pick.

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But as much as he frustrates them with his injuries and immaturity, he’s an incredible — perhaps generational — talent whose similarity scores through age-21 include Mickey Mantle, Tony Conigliaro, Justin Upton, Adrian Beltre, Cesar Cedeno (a truly exceptional player in his youth), and Miguel Cabrera.

His most similar player through age-20 was Conigliaro. He may well have the career that cruel circumstance took away from Tony C. He’s on his way, despite the petty hiccups and awful haircuts.

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To put it another way: Harper would be the youngest player in that deal. That’s right. He was born October 16, 1992 — nine days after Betts, nearly three months after Owens, and more than two years later than Marrero.

He’s still a kid — a kid with 55 career homers and a 121 OPS-plus.

His status with the Nationals is certainly worth monitoring. But the only real surprise would be if they’re dumb enough to trade him now.

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