LAS VEGAS — So what now?
As executives from around baseball scattered Thursday morning following the GM Meetings, the Red Sox embarked upon an offseason that is not so much a single path forward as it is a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure sequence of interconnected possibilities.
The resources available to overhaul the roster are considerable, but the list of needs is long. Each move opens one set of possibilities and closes another, such that addressing one area at high cost may direct the team to a lower-cost solution elsewhere.
General manager Brian O’Halloran, who has been with the team for 21 seasons, described the to-do list as the most extensive faced by the Sox since the 2012-13 offseason, when they needed to reassemble from the wreckage of a year with Bobby Valentine at the helm and a roster gutted by a blockbuster trade with the Dodgers.
That offseason, the Sox moved quickly to re-sign free agent David Ortiz, then amassed the pieces — David Ross, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew, and Koji Uehara — that coalesced into one of the most unlikely championship teams in baseball this century. (The unlikelihood was underscored in 2014, when the team crashed to last place.)
“[This] definitely stands out as an offseason when we have a lot to do, more than usual,” O’Halloran said. “It’s exciting because that’s what we’re here for, and we have the opportunity to do that, we have the resources to do that.”
The last week has provided unusual clarity to the roster-building efforts, particularly with the rotation. James Paxton exercised his one-year, $4.2 million option and will be part of the rotation depth. The Sox committed publicly to preparing Garrett Whitlock for a full year in the rotation. They also extended a one-year, $19.65 million qualifying offer to Nate Eovaldi, creating a likelihood of his return.
Where does that leave the Sox?
In a star-studded free agent class, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom made clear that Xander Bogaerts is Option A. But the Sox didn’t come particularly close to re-signing him in October, so even though the team has vowed it will try to bring him back, it has to explore contingencies — other All-Star free agents (Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson, though the Sox’ rhetoric with agents about Bogaerts as their top priority has matched their public statements), deals for a second baseman to permit a move of Trevor Story to short, or outfield additions that would allow the Sox to move Kiké Hernández from center field to the middle infield. Of course, moving Hernández out of center would be problematic because …
The Sox have two everyday outfielders (Hernández and Alex Verdugo), which is not great given that it’s a very thin free agent class. The top options are Aaron Judge (whom industry sources viewed as an unlikely Red Sox target based on the expected battle for his services) and Brandon Nimmo.
Nimmo would fit the Sox quite well, adding a high on-base, top-of-the-order element with a measure of needed pop, but he would require the sacrifice of a draft pick and may be too expensive. If the Sox keep Hernández in center, then they can pursue a corner outfielder/DH.
Bloom said the Sox would be engaged with potential targets from Japan, with left fielder Masataka Yoshida — an on-base machine who hit .335/.447/.561 and is expected to be posted by Orix — a name to monitor.
Trades are also possible. The Sox are among many teams to express interest in Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds, as well as the Diamondbacks’ young outfield surplus, though the cost of either would be high.
The Sox will examine potential upgrades, though options are limited. Free agent Mike Zunino was an All-Star who slammed 33 homers and did an excellent job with the Rays staff in 2021, but he cratered this past season (.148/.195/.304) before undergoing season-ending thoracic outlet surgery.
The Blue Jays will consider trading from their catching group, even within the division. The Sox checked in with the Padres last summer about their willingness to deal Austin Nola.
While sources said that the Sox’ past interest in Jacob Stallings (who went from the Pirates to the Marlins in 2021) was exaggerated, their exploration of a deal for Sean Murphy last year was real and likely to be revisited, though given the A’s desire to get a player like Brayan Bello as the starting point of a package last summer, it’s hard to see the Sox putting together a package given that Bello borders on untradeable.
Bello is part of a rotation that has plenty of talent, albeit with limited certainty. With Whitlock getting prepped to start and Paxton returning, the Sox have Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta, Paxton, Bello, Whitlock, and Tanner Houck as options. In Triple A, Brandon Walter, Bryan Mata, Chris Murphy, and Josh Winckowski offer depth — with Mata (if he can throw enough strikes) and Walter (if he can stay healthy) having the highest ceilings.
If Eovaldi accepts his qualifying offer or works out a multiyear deal, sources say the Sox will keep exploring the market, but opportunistically (could they sign a higher-end starter and trade Pivetta?) rather than driven by necessity.
If Eovaldi declines the qualifying offer, it’s clear the Sox are willing to allocate about $20 million to rotation upgrades. That’s not enough for Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, or in all likelihood Carlos Rodón, but could open pursuit of mid-rotation options such as Japanese star Kodai Senga (a free agent with a high-90s fastball and devastating splitter) — the Sox were among many teams to scout him heavily — and Chris Bassitt.
The Sox also have kicked the tires on the trade market. One name whom they — and all other teams — learned is not available: Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen.
As much as the rotation struggled (4.49 ERA), the bullpen, which posted a 4.59 ERA, fifth worst in MLB, is even thinner.
“We want to add,” O’Halloran said. “We know we need to improve.”
The Sox want a more structured bullpen but won’t necessarily target an established closer. Their largest investment in a free agent reliever under Bloom was a two-year, $8 million commitment to Jake Diekman. This year, the Sox seem ready to aim higher, but how much higher?
If the Sox want a bullpen anchor, Kenley Jansen (41 saves, 32.7 percent strikeout rate with Atlanta in 2022) remains a force, though one whose eight-figure salaries might be beyond the Sox’ willingness to spend.
More likely, Chris Martin (3.05 ERA, 32.9 percent strikeout rate, 74-to-5 strikeout-to-walk rate) excelled last year and lefthander Taylor Rogers (4.76 ERA, 31 saves, 30.7 percent strikeout rate) has the sort of funky look and beneath-the-hood numbers that the Sox often target. A reunion with Matt Strahm is possible.
Last year, the Sox regretted their deliberate approach to pursuing targets such as lefthander Brooks Raley (they made a two-year offer but were outbid by the Rays). This year, with Mets closer Edwin Díaz (five years, $102 million), Padres setup man Robert Suarez (five years, $46 million), and the Astros’ Rafael Montero (three years, $34.5 million) off the market, the Sox may need to accept moving beyond their comfort zone to get the relievers they want rather than waiting for a picked-over market.