BOSTON -- A Hot Stove season that is hard to predict when it comes to the Red Sox could gain shape in the coming days, as MLB's Winter Meetings are set to begin on Monday in San Diego.
New chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has spent the last several weeks learning all the ins and outs of the organization. Now he will look to turn his knowledge into action.
After missing the postseason and winning just 84 games last season, the Sox are determined to rebound. To do so, they might need to utilize more creativity than in the past, given ownership's desire to get the payroll below the Competitive Balance Tax threshold of $208 million.
Club needs: Bloom needs to build a sturdier pitching staff than what the Red Sox had a year ago. When Chris Sale, David Price and Nathan Eovaldi had injury issues, Boston didn't have much in the way of fill-ins. Fortunately, Bloom is well-versed in the art of building a strong collection of arms from his years with the Rays. Bloom will also look to add some power arms to the bullpen.
The Sox also have holes to plug at first and second base, though prospect Bobby Dalbec and second-year player Michael Chavis could get a chance to fill those roles. Backup catcher is another area on Bloom's wish list now that Sandy Leon has been traded to the Indians.
Whom might they trade? Star right fielder Mookie Betts is entering his walk year, and MLB Trade Rumors estimates he will make $27.7 million through the arbitration process. Could the Sox trade Betts to bolster the farm system and reduce payroll? It doesn't seem likely, but you can't dismiss the possibility.
Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. -- projected to earn $11 million through arbitration, according to MLB Trade Rumors -- could certainly be moved if Betts stays.
And don't rule out the Sox unloading a high-priced starter like Price or Eovaldi, though they'd likely have to supply their trade partner with some financial relief for that to happen.
Prospects to know: Without question, Bloom is looking to add prospects and not subtract them. But if the Sox do get into blockbuster trade discussions that lead to the other team to ask about Minor Leaguers, the names that will come up are Triston Casas, Dalbec and Jay Groome.
Casas -- ranked Boston's No. 1 prospect by MLB Pipeline -- is a big lefty power bat who plays corner infield. That same description applies to No. 2 prospect Dalbec, except he is a right-handed hitter. Dalbec is on the verge of getting to the Major Leagues, while Casas is still developing after getting selected in the first round of the 2018 Draft.
As for Groome, the 12th overall pick in the 20016 Draft, he is healthy again after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018. The lefty has electric stuff, which is why the Sox -- who have had a hard time developing starting pitching in recent years -- will be hesitant to deal him.
Payroll summary: Ownership has a stated goal -- not a mandate -- to get below the first luxury-tax threshold. Factoring in the seven players who are on guaranteed contracts in addition to estimates for arbitration-eligible players and pre-arbitration players, Boston's payroll projection for next season is close to $220 million. That means without making any additions, the Sox would still have to subtract to get to their stated goal. It is going to be a slippery slope for Bloom, but one he is well-equipped for given the much more challenging financial constraints he had in Tampa Bay.
One question: What teams might have what it takes to get Betts?
The first team that sticks out to me is the Braves. They have a highly regarded farm system to deal from. Also, I believe this is a destination that Betts -- a Nashville, Tenn., native -- would have a lot of interest in staying for the long term.
Another squad to play close attention to is the Dodgers. They've been on the cusp of a championship for a few years now, and a five-tool stud like Betts could be just what they need. Like the Braves, the Dodgers also have their share or prospects which could entice the Red Sox. And Bloom obviously has a great relationship with Dodgers lead executive Andrew Friedman, which could help the sides make a deal.