A pivotal Red Sox offseason is just days away. The World Series will end this weekend, and almost as soon as it concludes, baseball’s free agent market will roar to life, with several key decisions taking place in the first week that will help define the Sox’ needs.
A number of players — including Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Nate Eovaldi, Rich Hill, and Michael Wacha — will either reach the open market or have the right to do so.
Any chance the Sox will make a last-minute signing to keep one or more of those players?
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said that was “not something I want to handicap. For Xander and everyone, it’s very easy to see fits for a number of these guys on next year’s club, and that’s still the case.”
Noting a potential fit is not the same as getting a deal done, and after months of public expressions of interest, the Sox now face the reality test of an open market. Here’s a look at the transactional timeline awaiting them:
▪ Day 1 after the World Series: Players with six-plus years of big league service time who are not under contract beyond 2022 become free agents.
Affected: Eovaldi, Hill, Martinez, Tommy Pham, Matt Strahm, Wacha.
▪ Days 1-3 after the World Series: Players with opt-out clauses in multiyear contracts have the right to become free agents.
Affected: Bogaerts (three years, $60 million remaining), Eric Hosmer (three years, $39 million remaining, with the Padres paying all but the MLB minimum), Chris Sale (two years, $55 million remaining).
Likely outcome: Barring an 11th-hour extension — which a source familiar with the talks considered unlikely as of last week — Bogaerts will opt out. Sale has informed the Sox that he won’t. Hosmer is certain not to.
▪ Day 3 after the World Series: Deadline for team and mutual options.
Affected: James Paxton (Red Sox hold a two-year, $26 million option), Pham ($12 million mutual option for 2023).
Likely outcome: The Sox seem unlikely to exercise their option on Paxton or their part of the mutual option on Pham.
While Paxton’s mid-rotation history is intriguing, he has pitched just 21⅔ innings the last three seasons, including none in 2022, when the Red Sox signed him to a one-year, $6 million deal with the two-year team option as the veteran lefty continued his rehab from Tommy John surgery.
In recent years, the buy-low market for pitchers coming off injuries or poor performances has typically yielded one-year deals for a fraction of the $13 million average annual value the Sox would have to pay Paxton.
Former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber received a one-year, $11 million deal from the Yankees in 2021 and a one-year, $8 million contract from the Rays in 2022. The Dodgers signed Andrew Heaney ($8.5 million) and Tyler Anderson ($8 million) last season. Wacha was available to the Sox on a $7 million deal in 2022.
There are many other examples of pitchers signed for one-year deals in that range. Against that backdrop, it seems unlikely that the Sox would commit to Paxton on a two-year deal with a higher salary after he proved unable to pitch in 2022. There’s a decent chance he could get more than the $6 million he got this year in another one-year deal, but his track record of injuries likely caps his value.
Pham hit .234/.298/.374 in 2022 — numbers far short of a $12 million outfielder.
▪ Day 5 after the World Series: Player option and qualifying offer decisions due.
Affected: Bogaerts (qualifying offer candidate if he opts out), Eovaldi (qualifying offer candidate), Martinez (qualifying offer candidate), Paxton ($4 million player option if the Sox decline their team option), Wacha (qualifying offer candidate).
Likely outcome: Given that Paxton received a $6 million guarantee in 2022 when a best-case scenario had him pitching half a season, he seems capable of clearing $4 million this offseason, so it would be somewhat surprising if he accepts his player option.
The offer decisions are more complicated. Teams can make a one-year, $19.65 million qualifying offer to their free agents. If the player accepts, he would remain with the team for 2023 (unless they negotiate a multiyear deal). If he rejects, the Sox receive a draft pick if he signs elsewhere.
After the 2021 season, the Sox made a qualifying offer to lefthander Eduardo Rodríguez, then received a pick between the second and third rounds (a selection used on outfielder Roman Anthony) when Rodríguez signed with the Tigers. This year, because their payroll was over the $230 million luxury-tax threshold, their compensatory selection would fall between the fourth and fifth rounds.
Bogaerts would be certain to reject the qualifying offer; assuming he opts out, the Sox are thus certain to make the offer to get a pick should he sign elsewhere.
The Sox seem ready to move on from Martinez as their DH. Given that the qualifying offer will surpass his market, they’re unlikely to offer it to him.
The decisions on Wacha and Eovaldi have some air of uncertainty. Neither would receive a salary of almost $20 million for one year on the open market, though there’s a chance both could get a multiyear offer at a lower average.
Still, either could be appealing to the Sox — especially on a short-term deal — so a qualifying offer can’t be ruled out.
Wacha, who delivered an excellent season (11-2, 3.32 ERA in 23 starts) for $7 million, suggested that he’d welcome a return to Boston, and a one-year deal of nearly $20 million is almost surely more than he’d get on the open market.
At the same time, he potentially is in a position to land the first multiyear deal of his career. His case has some similarities to that of righthander Anthony DeSclafani, who did not receive the qualifying offer from the Giants after a career-best 2021 season but re-signed with San Francisco for three years and $36 million.
Eovaldi was good when healthy in 2022 but missed just over a third of the season and had diminished velocity, something that will hinder his value. Still, he has three straight years of sub-4.00 ERAs and possesses the sort of mix that attracts teams.
Alex Speier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.