Playing nine innings while realizing that if Theo Epstein can fix all that ails baseball, it will be by far his greatest achievement …
1. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep right on saying it, because I believe it will be proven true with time and proper patience on our part: Chaim Bloom is the right person for the job. Since he was hired away from the Rays to become the Red Sox’ director of baseball operations in October 2019, his task of rebuilding the organization has run into complexities that are unfair (“Welcome to Boston, kid, now trade our beloved generational five-tool right fielder with a cool name who does everything right because we agreed to some bad contracts with lesser players.”), shocking (the sign-stealing scandal that cost Alex Cora his job for a year), and unimaginable (you know). Even with the dismal results in 2020 — can you imagine thinking we’d ever see a 24-win Red Sox season under any circumstances? — he’s done a good job navigating all of this and systematically building up the foundation of the organization with needed depth. Bloom is still in the early phase, but this is headed the right way, and I believe the goal is to be more like the Dodgers than the Rays.
2. And with that said … it is getting awfully difficult to stay patient. The Red Sox’ biggest moves to impact the major league roster since the start of December are signing outfielder Hunter Renfroe and pitcher Matt Andriese (both of whom have been part of the Rays’ never-ending roster churn in recent seasons). The organization made some exciting international free agent signings Friday, but it’s going to be years before we know if the likes of outfielder Miguel Bleis and shortstop Luis Ravelo can contribute in the big leagues. I’m not suggesting the Red Sox should have shelled out $100 million on 32-year-old DJ Lemahieu, who resigned with the Yankees for six years Friday; doing so would have cost them a second-round draft pick, and the priority should remain building a player-development machine, to borrow a term from Epstein. But it would go a long way toward generating some interest among an increasingly ambivalent fan base to sign a couple of players we could identify without facial recognition technology.
3. I hear your concerns about the Red Sox becoming the Rays North, meaning that the back end of the roster is in constant flux in search of incremental upgrades, the stars get dealt when they become pricey, and the team, even when it is good, will inspire little passion from the fans since the process of roster-building seems so soulless. I don’t think that’s how it’s going to go — again, once the organization is percolating with prospects once more, the Red Sox will seek out stars like the Dodgers do — but I do get the concern. And that’s one reason why I worry that there’s an alternative motive to their rumored interest in Marcus Semien.
4. Semien has spent eight seasons in the majors, playing a total of 858 games and 7,425 innings. Of those innings, 6,787⅓ have been played at shortstop, 401 at third base, and 236⅔ at second base, most recently in 2014. He’s a very intriguing potential pickup — in 2019 he hit .285 with an .892 OPS, 33 homers, and provided 8.9 WAR (Baseball Reference version) for the A’s. He fell off last year (.223, seven homers), but it’s hard to hold last season against anyone. He’s a good player, and would be a nice pickup for the Sox, but with one caveat: It had better be as a second baseman.
5. I don’t think the pursuit of Semien suggests the Red Sox would be open to trading Xander Bogaerts. Trading him a year after trading Mookie Betts would be enraging. But I also know no player is untouchable right now, and Bogaerts does have an opt-out in his contract (he signed a six-year, $120 million extension in 2019) after the ’22 season. While Bogaerts is everything a franchise should want in a player — he’s an elite hitter who keeps getting better and a willing, perceptive leader — defensive metrics have never been his friend. His defensive WAR for his career is minus-1.1. Semien’s is 6.4, including 2.2 two seasons ago when he was third in the AL MVP balloting. The Sox could use Semien at second. I suspect they like him as a shortstop more than they will let on.
6. Speaking of hunches and suspicions, while I’m on record as hoping the Red Sox hang on to Andrew Benintendi, if I had to bet, I’d say Bloom does trade him for an intriguing-but-flawed pitching prospect or two, then dipping into the free agent pool to find a replacement. The most intriguing option to me is Michael Brantley, who has slashed .307/.365/.476 over the past four seasons — the most recent two with the Astros — while quieting the durability concerns he had earlier in his career with the Indians. Brantley, who owns a lifetime .297/.354/.440 slash line and has hit at least 40 doubles three times, is the player Benintendi was supposed to become.
7. Why do I suspect that “Corey Kluber lives in Winchester” is going to become the new “Ken Hill grew up in Lynn,’' the assumption being that someone who has some proximity to Red Sox Nation will automatically want to become a part of it, yet never actually does? Kluber, a two-time Cy Young award winner who was limited to one inning last season because of a shoulder injury, seemed the ideal Red Sox target this offseason, a high-reward option who wouldn’t command a long-term deal. Instead, he ended up signing with the Yankees Friday night, a team that needs him a heck of a lot less than the Red Sox do. The Red Sox didn’t win much during the regular season, and so far they’re not winning much this offseason.
8. I’m bewildered why the Red Sox didn’t try harder to sign Jackie Bradley Jr. during the season, since they apparently would like to retain him now. It flew under the radar with so few paying close attention to the Red Sox last season, but he had a fine year at the plate (.283 average, .814 OPS), and he remains a joy to watch in center field. He should have a strong market, especially if he waits until George Springer signs.
9. It still annoys me that the Indians traded Francisco Lindor to the Mets. If ever there was a player that should have spent his whole career with one team — well, I’ll spare you the Betts trade diatribe this time, but let’s just say it’s bad for baseball when teams trade beloved players for purely financial reasons.