For the Red Sox, the mission has changed. Entering 2021, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said the organization hoped to make progress in developing a core ready to compete for the next championship.
His view evolved while watching a team that got to Game 6 of the ALCS.
“In terms of this being the start of something, in terms of us feeling like we have a bunch of guys who joined this group who are ready to help us win going forward, I think we’re there,” Bloom said in a season-ending press conference Monday. “The mission now is to continue to build on that.”
Since Bloom’s arrival in October 2019, the Red Sox haven’t necessarily focused on obvious fits. They’ve tried to accumulate as much talent as possible, preferably in the form of players with the potential to contribute in multiple ways, meaning that as they prepare for this offseason, they won’t operate with a simple checklist. But they are unlikely to sit still.
Here’s the state of the roster as the offseason commences:
Returning: Chris Sale, Nate Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock.
Free agents: Eduardo Rodriguez, Garrett Richards, Martín Pérez.
Prospects (where they ended 2021 in parentheses): Connor Seabold (Triple A), Kutter Crawford (Triple A), Brayan Bello (Double A), Brayan Mata (Tommy John), Jay Groome (Double A), Chris Murphy (Double A).
With Sale expected to take another step toward his pre-surgery form in 2022, plus the return of Eovaldi and Pivetta, and the possibility of using Houck and Whitlock as starters, the Sox feel like they’re in a good spot.
“Our rotation was solid,” said manager Alex Cora. “We feel very comfortable where we’re at pitching-wise.”
The Sox face an interesting decision about whether to extend a qualifying offer to Rodriguez, who underscored in his final two starts of the postseason that he can still dominate. While he was inconsistent in 2021 — after missing all of 2020 with myocarditis following a COVID-19 infection — the Sox thought he pitched better than statistics such as ERA (4.74) indicated.
Some major league sources believe there’s a good chance the Red Sox extend a qualifying offer (one year for just north of $18 million), though it’s unclear whether Rodriguez would accept.
Regardless, the Sox seem likely to look to bolster their rotation depth.
Returning: Matt Barnes, Garrett Whitlock, Tanner Houck, Ryan Brasier, Josh Taylor, Darwinzon Hernandez, Hirokazu Sawamura, Phillips Valdez, Austin Davis.
Free agents: Adam Ottavino, Hansel Robles, Garrett Richards, Martín Pérez.
Prospects: Durbin Feltman (Triple A), Kaleb Ort (Triple A), Josh Winckowski (Triple A).
The 2021 bullpen seemed like a group held together by duct tape. Entering 2022, the task of navigating the late innings seems even more uncertain.
Is Barnes an All-Star or the pitcher who wasn’t good enough to crack the ALCS roster?
“He’s still a really good pitcher,” said Cora. “I hate to guarantee things, but I know he will be very important to what we’re trying to accomplish next year.”
Still, it remains to be seen whether the Sox ask him to close again or seek someone else for that job.
Will Whitlock and/or Houck end up in the rotation, creating a void in the bullpen? Ottavino, Robles, and Richards all served key late-innings roles at various points, and all are eligible for free agency. Even if the Sox re-sign one or more of that trio, they still could add to an area that at times lacked structure and seemed an arm or three short.
Returning: J.D. Martinez (can opt out).
Free agents: Kyle Schwarber.
Martinez is entering the last year of the five-year, $110 million deal he signed in early 2018, but he has the right to opt out of the final year and $19.375 million.
“We’re excited to go forward with him,” said Bloom, “but we’ll see what decision he makes.”
If Martinez opts out to pursue a multiyear deal, the Sox could look to re-sign Schwarber. Even if Martinez exercises his option, they could re-sign Schwarber and move him between first, left, and DH, much as they did down the stretch.
“We played some of our best baseball in that alignment [with Schwarber at first and Martinez at DH],” noted Bloom.
Since Martinez has just one year left on his deal — and no opt-out questions beyond next season — if he doesn’t opt out, it’s easier for the Red Sox to trade him than it has been at any other point in his tenure.
Returning: Christian Vázquez (team option), Kevin Plawecki.
Free agents: None.
Prospects: Connor Wong (Triple A), Ronaldo Hernández (Triple A).
The Sox have yet to decide whether to exercise their $7 million option on Vázquez, but Bloom sounded inclined to do so.
“He’s a really important guy to us, and we know how much the organization means to him,” said Bloom. “It’s a hard position to check all the boxes, and you don’t take for granted when you have someone who’s shown he can do it.”
Neither Wong (offensive profile) nor Hernández (defensive shortcomings) is ready to take over as a front-line option.
Returning: Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Kiké Hernández, Christian Arroyo, Bobby Dalbec, Jonathan Araúz.
Free agents: Kyle Schwarber, José Iglesias, Travis Shaw.
Prospects: Triston Casas (Triple A), Jeter Downs (Triple A).
The Red Sox infield is … strange.
Bloom called Devers and Bogaerts “cornerstone players” whom “you want here as long as you can have them.” They are one of the best offensive combinations on the left side of the infield in the big leagues. Yet their defensive shortcomings — Bogaerts with a lack of range, Devers with inconsistent play — contributed to leaky infield defense throughout the season.
Arroyo was excellent at second base but struggled to remain on the field. Dalbec was one of the worst players in baseball for 4½ months, then one of the most dominant hitters for six weeks, then disappeared in the postseason given his struggles against big velocity.
Hernández is probably the team’s best defensive infielder, but also their best center fielder.
If Hernández stays in center, it will be fascinating to see whether the Sox are drawn to a loaded middle-infield market that includes Marcus Semien and Javier Báez, who can play second and short, or even pure shortstop options such as Carlos Correa or Trevor Story — potentially resulting in a conversation about whether Bogaerts might move off short. The Sox also could pursue more modest options such as Iglesias, who played brilliantly at second.
With Casas projecting to be ready in the second half of 2022, the Sox may want to avoid a long-term deal for a first baseman, which underscores the likely either/or of Schwarber and Martinez.
Returning: Kiké Hernández, Hunter Renfroe, Alex Verdugo, J.D. Martinez (opt out).
Free agents: Kyle Schwarber.
Prospects: Jarren Duran.
Fangraphs credited Sox outfielders with a combined 10.3 Wins Above Replacement, fifth-highest of any team’s outfielders. The primary combination of Hernández, Renfroe, and Verdugo produced most of that.
The Sox likely want to see if Duran, with the benefit of an offseason to process his big league experience and make adjustments, can find his way into that alignment, making outfield an area of opportunity but not necessity for offseason additions.