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Drellich: In busy offseason arms market, Red Sox likely to narrow focus on bullpen help

October 30, 2016 GMT

As one American League official planning for the winter put it, teams are going to get raided for pitching this winter. The cost will be high, not that it was ever low.

That’s why the belief is the Red Sox will pick up Clay Buchholz’ $13.5 million option, which should really be a no-brainer.

Where do the Sox go from there? They could try to upgrade the rotation creatively, via trade.

“I kind of feel like they’re a little landlocked with the rotation,” one National League executive said of the Sox. “But the bullpen is a major area of need and an area that I expect that they will attempt to address.”

Set-up man Carson Smith should be healthy after missing most of 2016.

The way Junichi Tazawa’s last two years have ended, it’s hard to see them going down that road again. Their ages present an inherent risk with Koji Uehara, 41, and Brad Ziegler, 37. But they could reasonably be brought back into the fold.

From there, let’s spitball it.

The big names — Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon — probably aren’t answers. Cost aside, it’s a safe assumption they will want to close. So will the incumbent, Craig Kimbrel. As flexible as ?Andrew Miller has proven, it’s not realistic to expect other back-end relievers — particularly free agents — to cede the traditional prestige of the ninth inning.

Further, Kimbrel’s trade market would be suppressed by the free agents available even if you wanted to move him and sign someone else.

Pitchers with big-market experience, like Francisco Rodriguez and Sergio Romo could be fits, or perhaps Drew Storen. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has always liked name brands.

Boone Logan and Mike Dunn could work as lefties, Jesse Chavez might work well as a swing guy.

But, the NL executive we queried thought the Sox might try to address their bullpen needs more through trades, considering they’ll probably commit some money to the offense, with an opening day payroll of roughly $200 million this past season.

The trade market isn’t really formed yet but will shape up when the GM meetings are held in early November. The Sox had their scouts in town last week to discuss winter plans.

One free agent name that could be intriguing as the designated hitter, besides the always talked about Edwin Encarnacion? Carlos Beltran, who checks off many boxes, including leadership and experience. He could play the field some.

Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond don’t seem to be fits, although if the Sox were to trade from their stable of young major leaguers, an outfielder — perhaps Jackie Bradley Jr. — would seem easiest to part with, over emerging stars Mookie Betts and ?Xander Bogaerts.

Catcher is up in the air but there’s depth. There’s a $3.75 million option on Ryan Hanigan, which is expensive after the year he had, although an $800,000 buyout might give it a second look.

Is Blake Swihart a trade chip?

One suggestion that was made: Go after free agent Wilson Ramos, who’s coming off an ACL injury, and use him at DH some until he’s healthy. That gives you time to gauge Christian Vazquez and Swihart and see what Sandy Leon is in the long term.

Roots as a Cubs fan

Cubs boss Theo Epstein has Boston roots, and Sox boss Dombrowski has Chicago roots.

Dombrowski grew up in a suburb south of Chicago called Palos Heights and went to high school in nearby Oak Lawn.

“Lived on the South Side,” Dombrowski said. “My dad was a diehard White Sox fan when we were growing up. But I was more of a Cub fan. And really part of that was based upon when you look at my age (60), you know, when I’d come back from school, WGN was on — the Cubs games were on in the afternoon.

“So I would watch the Cubs games and then (they) also had such an exciting group of players at that time with (Billy) Williams and (Ron) Santo and (Ernie) Banks and the list went on and on that I became more of a Cub fan.”

When the White Sox landed Dick Allen for the 1972 season, Dombrowski started to follow the White Sox more closely.

“Growing up though you’d say I really was more of a Cubs fan,” Dombrowski said.

Dombrowski’s father Ron, a former parts department manager at a Chevrolet dealership, and mother Laurie, a secretary, still live in the Chicago area, as does one of his two sisters, so he still visits.

Dombrowski said he knows what the Cubs’ run to the World Series has meant to the city, but said it’s not tugging on any heartstrings for him.

“We were a blue-collar family,” Dombrowski said. “It was a treat to go to a game. My dad would always take me to one White Sox game a year, which was an ultimate treat.

“I did go to the North Side to watch the Bears play at Wrigley Field. But I didn’t watch a Cub game there until I would bet you, oh gosh, I was in high school. Maybe my junior year in high school.”

The Cubs played Roberto Clemente’s Pirates on his first visit.

Dombrowski might have been a better baseball player — first baseman and right-handed pitcher — than he was a football player, although he did play for at Cornell before transfering to Western Michigan.

“Like everybody, you pitched a little bit,” he said. “My pitching would not be memorialized.”

But because of Chicago’s weather, he didn’t play many baseball games, so he wound up with more attention from colleges to play football. It surely didn’t hurt that he happened to play for a legendary high school football coach, ?Richard Korhonen, one of the winningest coaches in Illinois history.

Baseball was always the sport Dombrowski loved the most though — he continued to play in the summer during college — and if he wasn’t from Chicago, he might not have been able to ever get his start with the White Sox in 1978.

“Hometown team,” he said, “I could work for nothing basically, $8,000 a year — I could afford to do it.”

An odd parting shot

When Amiel Sawdaye, the former Red Sox vice president of international and amateur scouting, last week took a job with the Diamondbacks as their assistant general manager, Dombrowski had some notable commentary as Sawdaye departed.

“When I went into this, I did so with the idea of hiring a general manager (to replace Mike Hazen),” Dombrowski said Tuesday. “There were two ways to go about it. One was internal. One was external. There were a lot of names on the list that I think would have done a very good job. I interviewed two people here first, in Eddie (Romero) and Amiel. I was very impressed with both of them. However, I didn’t think from their exposure to the major leagues at this point they were quite ready to be general managers.”

A gentle swipe, but nonetheless: Did Dombrowski really need to note that the guy who’s leaving wasn’t ready to be a GM in his view?

It’s always better for people to speak their minds in an industry of cliches. But considering how diluted the Red Sox GM job is now because it’s not the lead baseball role, this raised some eyebrows.

For one, Sawdaye’s gig in Arizona is arguably equivalent to being a Red Sox GM. The assistant GM job is the second-highest job in the Diamondbacks’ baseball operations chain just as GM would be with the Sox.

Is Sawdaye then not ready to handle his new job either?

If the Red Sox GM were such an important position, wouldn’t Dombrowski have actually hired someone? He said from the get-go, on the day Hazen left: “I think depending on the person you hire and what their background is, you can kind of configure the responsibilities differently. .?.?. I think it’s more important to get the right person into place.”

Maybe Dombrowski really thought Sawdaye was not the right person, but that doesn’t fit Sawdaye’s reputation. Perhaps Dombrowski is trying to steer the Sox more sharply in his own direction.

Maybe the reality is Sawdaye was out the door no matter what position Dombrowski offered in Boston — GM, assistant — and Dombrowski was trying to dampen the fact he couldn’t entice a top employee to stay with only an assistant job available in Arizona.

Lovullo, and then?

If Torey Lovullo leaves the Red Sox to manage the Diamondbacks, does he take any other Sox coaches with him? One thought: Victor Rodriguez, the assistant hitting coach, could handle the top job.