The Red Sox offseason is officially underway with the conclusion of the World Series, and it will certainly be different from years past because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That reality isn’t exclusive to the Red Sox. The sport as a whole has taken a financial hit throughout 2020 and each team will have to navigate an offseason with even more uncertainty ahead.
Nevertheless, here’s a guide to what to expect this offseason.
Who will be the manager?
It’s clear that Ron Roenicke was just a bridge manager in 2020, helping to get chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox to this point, but he wasn’t Bloom’s choice for the job going forward.
Many have speculated that former Sox manager Alex Cora would be a good choice to return as manager after serving a year-long suspension for his involvement in the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal. Cora’s suspension ended when the World Series did, and teams are now free to contact him.
The Sox have interviewed Chicago Cubs third base coach Will Venable, Arizona Diamondbacks bench coach Luis Urueta, Pirates bench coach Don Kelly, Twins bench coach Mike Bell, Padres associate manager Skip Schumaker, and Marlins bench coach James Rowson.
MLB Network’s Jon Heyman suggested that they could have interest in Dodgers first base coach George Lombard, a former Red Sox minor league instructor.
Cora has a good rapport with the players in addition to Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner as well as team president and CEO Sam Kennedy, who said last month that the managerial search will ultimately be Bloom’s decision.
Who is arbitration-eligible?
The Sox have six players eligible for salary arbitration: third baseman Rafael Devers, catcher Kevin Plawecki, and pitchers Matt Barnes, Eduardo Rodriguez, Ryan Brasier, and Austin Brice. Arbitration-eligible players have until Jan. 15 to sign before their case would go to an arbitrator. Teams have until Dec. 2 to submit contract offers.
Infielder Jose Peraza and pitcher Dylan Covey were originally part of the Sox' arbitration-eligible group, but the team outrighted the pair Wednesday afternoon, along with outfielder Cesar Puello. Peraza struggled to find his footing in a Sox uniform, batting just .225 in 120 plate appearances last season. Covey registered a 7.07 ERA in just 14 innings of work. Both Covey and Peraza have elected free agency.
Outfielder Andrew Benintendi would have been in his second year of arbitration but avoided it by signing a two-year, $10 million deal before the 2020 season. He’ll have another year of team control after the 2021 season.
Both Barnes and Rodriguez will be heading into their final year of arbitration while Devers is heading into his first. After Peraza’s struggles in 2020, it’s likely that he’ll be non-tendered, leaving a hole for the Sox to fill at second base.
Rodriguez lost his arbitration case before last season and had to settle for $8.3 million instead of $9 million. Spotrac estimates that Rodriguez will stay at that same figure next season. Rodriguez missed the season after contracting myocarditis as a result of his bout with COVID-19.
Barnes earned $3.1 million in 2020 and is projected to see a $1.6 million increase, bumping his 2021 salary to $4.7 million. Meanwhile, Devers is projected to earn around $4.85 million after $692,500 in 2020. Plawecki could possibly earn $1.65 million, and Brasier is estimated to reel in $1.3 million.
Who will become free agents?
The Red Sox' key free agent is outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who has said that he wants to test the free agent market.
Bradley has had his ups and downs in a Red Sox uniform but his defense was unmatched, earning him the title of one of the best Sox center fielders — if not the best — ever. There’s a chance he could re-sign with the Sox on a short-term deal because of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, but Bradley’s talents might be better suited for a bigger ballpark.
Fenway’s Green Monster doesn’t work in Bradley’s favor, leaving him little room to track down balls. Each ball in the gap, it seems, is a homer or off the wall, and the balls off the wall hurt Bradley’s defensive metrics. But imagine if he was in a bigger ballpark such as Coors Field in Denver? What would Bradley’s value look like then?
Pitcher Collin McHugh and outfielder Rusney Castillo, whose seven-year, $72.5 million contract never matched his performance and kept him in the minor leagues, are also free agents. Because Castillo wasn’t added to the team’s 40-man roster, he wasn’t under club control, so as a result, he’s now a minor league free agent.
Wait until next year
Opening Day is scheduled for April 1 vs. the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park, but schedule alterations remain possible because of the pandemic. Secondarily, and probably most importantly, looms the question of how much of a financial hit owners are willing to take. If there are no fans in the stands, 162 games feels unlikely.
Key offseason dates
Oct. 28: Eligible players become free agents
Nov. 1: Free agents can sign with teams
Nov. 2: Finalists for manager of the year, rookie of the year, Cy Young Award, and MVP announced
Nov. 3: Gold Glove winners announced
Nov. 9: Rookies of the year announced
Nov. 10: Managers of the year announced
Nov. 11: Cy Young Awards announced
Nov. 12: MVP Awards announced
Nov. 16: 2021 Hall of Fame ballot announced
Nov. 20: Players who are Rule 5 eligible must be added to the team’s 40-man roster or else they will be a part of the Rule 5 draft.
Dec. 2: Non-tender deadline for teams to inform arbitration-eligible players if they will be offered a contract
Dec. 6-10: Winter meetings in Dallas
Jan. 15: Deadline for teams and arbitration-eligible players to submit salary figures.
Mid-February: Red Sox report to spring training in Fort Myers, Fla.
Feb. 26: Red Sox spring training exhibition season begins with game vs. Northeastern University