The Red Sox’ roster for 2022 began to take focus on Sunday following a series of contract decisions.
Two key members of the 2021 team that advanced to the American League Championship Series will remain under contract, while a third received a qualifying offer that will bring the Red Sox a draft pick as compensation if he leaves as a free agent.
Designated hitter J.D. Martinez opted in for the final year of his five-year contract, while the team picked up its option for the final year of catcher Christian Vázquez’s contract.
Lefthanded pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who became a free agent after the World Series, was extended a qualifying offer and has 10 days to decide whether or not to accept it. The Red Sox declined team options on pitchers Martín Pérez and Garrett Richards.
If Rodriguez accepts, he’d return to the team on a one-year, $18.4 million deal. If he declines and signs elsewhere, the qualifying offer ensures that the Red Sox will receive a draft pick as compensation for his departure. Rodriguez and the Sox can still work to negotiate a multi-year deal.
“Recognizing the year didn’t play out even as, I think, he would have wanted it to, there was definitely reasons for optimism under the surface,” Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said Sunday. “As has been well-documented, there are certain ways in which we felt he was a little snakebit, or we didn’t have some of our best defensive games behind him. Obviously it was not a perfect year for him but we feel strongly enough about him and what he’s shown he can do and what we think he can do going forward to feel like we were in good position extending him this QO.”
Rodriguez, 28, may find a broad market for his services. Even though he went 13-8 with a 4.74 ERA in 2021 — in his return from a 2020 season lost to a COVID-19 infection followed by myocarditis — he posted a career-high strikeout rate, career-low walk rate, and the quality of contact against him suggested his numbers were made much worse by porous defense and bad luck. According to Statcast, Rodriguez — based on his strikeout and walk rates and the quality of contact against him — had a 3.55 expected ERA, matching that of Blue Jays lefthander (and Cy Young hopeful) Robbie Ray.
However, the provision of a qualifying offer may narrow the market for Rodriguez, as some teams balk at sacrificing a draft pick in order to sign a free agent. The Sox made a multi-year offer to him during the season, according to multiple major league sources, but no real headway was made at the time.
When Martinez signed a five-year, $110 million deal with the Red Sox in February 2018, the contract included the right to opt out after his second, third, or fourth seasons in Boston, and for the third straight offseason, Martinez has declined to exercise that right. Martinez, 34, will make $19.375 million in 2022, the last year of the deal.
“Certainly happy that he is with us. He is such a force in the lineup, not only what he produces but how he transforms what the lineup looks like around him,” Bloom said. “We’re very, very excited that he is back with us.”
While his numbers in 2021 did not match those he posted in 2019, the decision by Martinez wasn’t a foregone conclusion. MLB and the MLB Players Association are expected to implement a universal designated hitter in the next collective bargaining agreement, creating a potentially unprecedented free agent market for designated hitters this winter.
In past years, trading Martinez was virtually impossible given the complicating nature of the opt-outs in his deal. Now, the remaining terms of Martinez’s contract could permit the Sox to explore deals involving him with the intention of pursuing a reunion with free agent Kyle Schwarber or signing another player. Or, the team could simply bring back Martinez, hoping to continue a relationship that has seen the slugger hit .297/.369/.548 with 114 homers over the last four years.
Vázquez endured a down year as a hitter in 2021, but the Red Sox still considered him sufficiently valuable that he led the majors in games spent behind the plate (132).
The Red Sox signed Vázquez to a three-year, $13.3 million deal that ran from 2019-21. The decision keeps the longest-tenured member of the organization — Vázquez was selected in the ninth round of the 2008 draft — with the only team for whom he’s ever played.
Vázquez, 31, saw his offensive production take a hit in 2021. After he emerged as one of the top two-way catchers in the big leagues in 2019-20, posting a .278/.327/.472 line with 30 homers in 185 games over those two years, Vázquez hit just .258/.308/.352 with six homers in 138 games in 2021.
Still, Vázquez offered solid production in several facets. Though his production against lefties endured a pronounced downturn (.219/.250/.305 — well off his .249/.303/.411 career norms), he remained solid against righties (.277/.335/.375).
He posted particularly strong numbers against high velocity, ranking in the top 20 in MLB in average (.306, 16th) and slugging (.556, 14th) among players who saw at least 300 pitches of 95-plus m.p.h. That trait resulted in a number of game-changing hits, including a key triple in the second-to-last game of the season and a walkoff homer in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
The Red Sox declined a $6 million option on lefthander Pérez and a $10 million option on righthander Richards.
Richards struggled as a starter, going 6-7 with a 5.22 ERA and 17.3 percent strikeout rate. His season was derailed when MLB started enforcing its foreign substances ban in late-June. But once moved to the bullpen, he re-emerged with a four-pitch mix (mid-90s fastball, slider, curveball, and a new changeup) to post a 3.42 ERA and 24.8 percent strikeout rate in a versatile role.
Pérez was 7-8 with a 4.77 ERA and 19.1 percent strikeout rate as a starter in 2021, then forged a 4.50 ERA with an 18.8 percent strikeout rate as a reliever.