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Red Sox enter Winter Meetings in enviable spot

Championship core largely intact as Dombrowski eyes upgrades
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

BOSTON -- Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski enters this year's Winter Meetings -- which start Monday at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas -- in a position of strength.

This isn't just because his club is coming off a magical 108-win season that concluded with a World Series championship. It's because Boston remains loaded with most players from its 2018 juggernaut still in the fold.

BOSTON -- Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski enters this year's Winter Meetings -- which start Monday at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas -- in a position of strength.

This isn't just because his club is coming off a magical 108-win season that concluded with a World Series championship. It's because Boston remains loaded with most players from its 2018 juggernaut still in the fold.

For Dombrowski, this will be an entirely new experience compare to the last time he was coming off a World Series in 1997 with the Marlins. Twenty-one years ago, Dombrowski was ordered by owner Wayne Huizenga to strip the team of its most valuable assets and rebuild.

Thus far this offseason, Dombrowski has re-signed two free agents who were key to the club's success in 2018 in World Series MVP Award winner Steve Pearce and hard-throwing righty Nathan Eovaldi. Dombrowski will now examine external options to make a strong team even better.

Video: Rosenthal on Red Sox agreeing to deal with Eovaldi

Two key members of the Red Sox's championship squad remain unsigned -- Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly.

It's hard to imagine Kimbrel will return to Boston given what he is likely seeking on the free-agent market. But don't rule out Kelly coming back. He came up big in October and has a triple-digit fastball.

No matter what happens for the rest of the Hot Stove season, the Red Sox like where they stand.

"I do feel that we have a good team, very athletic, very versatile," manager Alex Cora said. "Wherever the offseason takes us, we're going to be fine, we're going to be good."

Video: Pearce talks about signing 1-year deal with Red Sox

Club needs
Dombrowski will likely be spending the bulk of his time at the Winter Meetings addressing the bullpen. Kimbrel, who was an All-Star in all three of his seasons with Boston, leaves some big spikes to fill in the ninth inning. The good news is that there is a plethora of relievers on the free-agent market.

Adam Ottavino, who was underrated with Colorado last season, is one name you should keep a close eye on. David Robertson, a righty who Red Sox fans are very familiar with from his time with the Yankees, could also be a solid replacement for Kimbrel as closer. How about a reunion with lefty Andrew Miller, who has been compromised by health woes the last couple of years?

Whom might they trade?
Blake Swihart, who was once regarded as Boston's catcher of the future, could be on the move this winter. The switch-hitter still has upside, which translates to trade value. He can also play first base and the corner-outfield spots. The Red Sox won't trade Swihart just to trade him. It would be to fill a particular need, such as shoring up the bullpen or replenishing the farm system.

Video: BOS@CLE: Swihart lines a solo homer to right field

Prospects to know
The three top hitting prospects in Boston's farm system are Michael Chavis (the team's top-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline), Triston Casas (No. 3) and Bobby Dalbec (No. 6). They all have a similarity aside from the fact they all hit for power. All three are corner infielders, which at least creates the possibility that the Red Sox could move one of them if they were able to acquire a cost-controllable impact reliever in a trade.

Given that pitching depth isn't the strength of the farm system at this point, the Red Sox will look to hold on to promising arms like Bryan Mata, Tanner Hauck and Mike Shawaryn. The team's top pitching prospect -- lefty Jay Groome -- won't pitch at all this season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

Rule 5 Draft
Boston hasn't been a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft in years, and that isn't likely to change this season. The Red Sox's 40-man roster is at 39, but that will become 40 once the Eovaldi signing is official. As for who Boston might lose, keep an eye on power-hitter Josh Ockimey. The left-handed-hitting first baseman split the 2018 season between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, smacking 21 homers and notching an .811 OPS.

Payroll summary
Adding in Eovaldi's salary, the Red Sox are already at about $168 million in payroll for 2019. But roughly $56 million more could be added to the budget after the team completes the arbitration process with Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Eduardo Rodriguez, Brock Holt, Sandy Leon, Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, Steven Wright, Heath Hembree and Swihart. That means Boston is all but locked in to over $220 million for next season. Sensing a real chance to win another World Series with this roster, owner John Henry is likely to green-light his team going over the luxury-tax threshold for the second straight season. Look for Dombrowski to have enough flexibility to sign at least one impact reliever.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Nathan Eovaldi, Steve Pearce