SAN DIEGO -- In the weeks leading up to the Winter Meetings, much of the talk surrounding the Red Sox involved the possibility of trading Mookie Betts.
As the meetings get set to conclude on Thursday, it appears that a different Boston star might be the one on his way out of town.
According to a source, the Red Sox have held trade talks with at least five clubs about David Price, the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner who helped lead Boston to the 2018 World Series title.
Among the teams in play for Price are the Padres, Cardinals, White Sox and Reds, while the Angels have also been in contact with the Red Sox, according to sources.
Price has three years and $96 million remaining on his deal, a seven-year, $217 million pact he signed with the Red Sox four years ago -- at the time, the biggest pitching contract in the game's history. Price -- who does not have a no-trade clause in his deal -- is set to earn $32 million in each of the next three seasons.
The Red Sox are trying to reduce their payroll to get below the $208 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold, though a source said that ownership has not made it an absolute mandate for the front office.
The club's CBT payroll currently stands at approximately $225 million, meaning the Red Sox would need to shed roughly $18-20 million in order to accomplish the goal. Betts has been a popular name on the trade market given that he's expected to earn at least $27 million in his final year of arbitration-eligibility.
But with only one year of club control remaining for Betts before he hits free agency -- and the fact that he's Boston's best player and one of the elite players in all of baseball -- it's going to be difficult for the Red Sox to get the return they're seeking to trade the 2018 AL Most Valuable Player.
Moving Price might actually be easier, despite the remaining financial commitment and the left wrist injury that cost him most of the final two months of the 2019 season. Prior to the wrist injury, Price was having a terrific year, going 7-2 with a 3.16 ERA through his first 17 starts.
While many viewed Price's contract as being a significant impediment to a potential trade, the recent activity on the pitching market has aided Boston's cause. Stephen Strasburg's deal has an average annual value of $35 million over seven years (albeit with approximately $11 million in deferrals each year), while Gerrit Cole will earn $36 million over the next nine years in his deal with the Yankees.
"This market is only helping the Red Sox," a Major League executive said. "All of a sudden, Price's deal doesn't look so crazy."
One scenario that has been floated in recent weeks would have the Red Sox attaching a young player -- Andrew Benintendi's name has been mentioned often -- to Price in order to dump the pitcher's contract. The Angels made a deal of that nature on Tuesday when they shipped Zack Cozart and his $12.7 million salary, along with 2019 first-rounder Will Wilson, to the Giants in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations, essentially allowing Los Angeles to free up payroll by giving San Francisco a young prospect.
A source said that concept has not been considered by Boston's front office -- nor will it be, especially not with Benintendi.
"That's not going to happen," the source said.
Just how much of Price's contract the Red Sox would need (or be willing) to pay down would depend on the return from the other club. The Padres have discussed a deal that would include Wil Myers -- who has three years and $67.5 million remaining on his contract -- going back to Boston. That would save the Red Sox roughly $10 million per year, which means they would still need to shed at least one more player -- Jackie Bradley Jr., for example -- to get below the CBT threshold.
St. Louis could include Matt Carpenter in a deal, meaning Boston would assume the $37 million he's owed over the next two seasons (plus an $18.5 million option for 2022 with a $2 million buyout), potentially shrinking the Sox payroll by more than $13 million in the process. Both Myers and Carpenter make some sense for the Red Sox, who would be able to fill their first-base spot with either player.
Boston has actually received calls from multiple teams on all of its pitchers, though it appears highly unlikely that the Red Sox will trade Chris Sale. Nathan Eovaldi has also drawn some interest, though Boston would likely need to pay down a significant portion of the three years and $58 million remaining on his deal in order to move him.
That leaves Price as the most likely trade candidate, one who could very well be on the move before too long to his fifth team since 2014.