LAS VEGAS — How will the Red Sox approach their catching situation?
The value of elite catchers came into sharper focus this year. J.T. Realmuto was the tireless backbone of a Phillies team that reached the World Series. Adley Rutschman’s arrival in the big leagues in May helped transform the Orioles from a last-place team to a contender. What does it mean to have a catcher who can change the game offensively and provide standout defense?
“I’d recommend getting one,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias said Tuesday the GM Meetings. “[But] they’re kind of hard to find.”
The Red Sox have made no secret of their interest in adding to their catching corps. At the end of the season, they entrusted their pitching staff to Connor Wong and Reese McGuire.
While chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom identified “a scenario” where that tandem anchors the staff, as they look to improve in 2023 the Sox are open to adding to the position through free agency or trades.
“It’s a hard spot to find one guy you can trust, much less more than one,” said Bloom. “In any given winter, there’s only a handful of players on the free agent market who you see as really good fits at that position. So the trade market is another avenue. I would say that we don’t think we’ll be looking at a huge group of possibilities there, but there are some possibilities through both avenues.”
Willson Contreras is the most prominent free agent at the position — a bat-first, three-time All-Star who is the top offensive catcher on the market. He hit .243/.349/.466 with 22 homers in 113 games in 2022 and has posted a .256/.349/.459 line in his career, but industry sources said it’s unlikely the Sox pursue him given the value the team puts on catcher defense.
“Increasingly in the game — and we certainly feel this — the ability to handle the pitching staff is so important,” said Bloom. “Now, that doesn’t mean there’s only one way to get value at the position, but it’s certainly something we value, and I think we have a staff that can really take advantage of somebody who’s invested in that aspect of the game, specifically with [catching instructor Jason Varitek].”
Over the last two years, the Sox have cast a wide net in trade talks about catchers, including several conversations with the Athletics about Sean Murphy at this year’s deadline. The Sox also have discussed other catchers who are heralded for their defense, including Austin Nola of the Padres.
The A’s are open to moving nearly anyone on their roster and expect to entertain conversations about Murphy, a 28-year-old who hit .250/.332/.426 with 18 homers this past season and remains under team control for three years.
“He’s extremely popular. When you find someone at that position who can play on both sides of the ball, it’s pretty rare … Anyone at any spot in the standings should want Sean as their catcher,” said A’s GM David Forst. “He’s come up a lot in conversation. He did last offseason. He did at the deadline. I think when you’re a talented player like that, that’s inevitable.”
The Red Sox spent past the $230 million luxury-tax threshold in 2022, something that will trigger penalties (a financial penalty as well as some potential cost in draft picks and international free agents). If they spend beyond the threshold again in 2023 ($233 million), they’d be subject to greater financial penalties.
So, will the Sox try to duck under the 2023 threshold? In their decision to hold on to Nate Eovaldi and J.D. Martinez while clinging to long-shot contention hopes at the deadline — thus staying over the threshold — did the Sox compromise how much they would be willing to spend next season?
“Without getting too deep into it, the investments that were made and that we chose to stay with post-deadline in the ‘22 club aren’t impacting our thinking about ‘23,” said Bloom. “The bottom line is that we get the resources to do the job. And we have owners who want to win and they go about it accordingly.”
While MLB.com reported that the Red Sox are exploring trades for a second baseman with an expectation that they’ll move Trevor Story to shortstop if Xander Bogaerts leaves as a free agent, Bloom described the report as “overblown.”
“We’re looking into a lot of different guys right now, some of whom obviously intersect with our shortstop situation,” said Bloom. “Some of them don’t. I wouldn’t read too much into that.”
Bloom said the team is exploring “different options” should Bogaerts sign elsewhere. He was unsure whether the Sox would meet with Bogaerts’s agent, Scott Boras, during the GM Meetings.
On the radar
Japanese star pitcher Kodai Senga is on the cusp of coming to Major League Baseball as a free agent, becoming eligible to talk to teams on Wednesday. The 29-year-old features a dominant mix of a high-90s fastball and a diving splitter, going 11-6 with a 1.94 ERA and 27.5 percent strikeout rate this year for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. Will the Sox pursue him as part of their efforts to revamp their staff? “Without getting into any specific player, [Japan] is a market where we’re very engaged,” said Bloom. “[Senga is] super-talented, athletic, power stuff. Just a really impressive arm.” … The Sox had not heard as of Tuesday evening whether lefthander James Paxton planned to exercise his $4 million player option for 2023. He has until Thursday to make a decision … Bloom said the Sox are looking to upgrade their bullpen significantly with a “preference” for stable bullpen roles that include a closer … Bloom said that the Sox have yet to identify how Triston Casas and Eric Hosmer might coexist on their big league roster. “It’s a good problem to have,” Bloom said … The Sox hired Andrew Wright as their minor league field coordinator. Wright had spent the last four years in the Yankees player development system, including the last three as their director of Dominican baseball operations.
Peter Abraham of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Alex Speier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.