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Joey Meneses has been a star in the World Baseball Classic. Why did the Red Sox let him walk?

Joey Meneses was a minor league free agent after the 2021 season, and a path to playing time in the Red Sox organization wasn't clear.Godofredo A. Vásquez/Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. — What are the odds that the Red Sox could add a player who finished fifth in the majors in OPS last year and has been a force in the World Baseball Classic? As it turns out, they had one and saw him slip through their fingers.

As a 30-year-old Nationals rookie last year, Joey Meneses hit .324/.367/.563 with 13 homers in 56 games. This spring, the first baseman and corner outfielder continued his magic carpet ride in leading Mexico into the WBC quarterfinals, hitting .474/.474/.789 with a pair of homers against Team USA.

For the Sox, the development comes with a mix of delight for the well-liked Meneses and dismay that his breakout occurred elsewhere after he spent the 2021 season in their system with Double A Portland and Triple A Worcester. Meneses was a force in Double A (.303/.348/.590) before a respectable if less spectacular performance in Worcester (.260/.315/.452).

“Every time he pops up on my notifications, I send it out to my hitting coach, like, ‘We knew it!’ ” said Red Sox outfield coordinator Corey Wimberly, who managed Meneses with Portland. “We both agree that he’s going to be good for some years to come. I don’t think this is the end of his story.”


So why didn’t the Red Sox retain him?

Meneses was a minor league free agent after the 2021 season. The Red Sox expressed some interest in bringing him back on a minor league deal, but not necessarily with a clear offer of playing time — particularly given the priority at first base on Triston Casas. And his performance in Triple A didn’t offer a clear indication of someone who would post a higher OPS in 2022 than Freddie Freeman.

“If we had seen this coming, he’d probably still be here,” acknowledged chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. “Sometimes guys just break through at different points in their career, different ages, different places.


“Happy to see him be able to do that and just be able to sustain it in the big leagues and the WBC. Pretty cool story.”

Cool, certainly, for Meneses and the Nationals, who lacked upper-level corner bats last year and were able to let Meneses be an everyday first baseman in Triple A before calling him up after dealing Josh Bell and Juan Soto at the deadline.

His late-career breakout brought a degree of introspection from the Sox.

“Anytime that happens, you always look and say, ‘Is this something that we could have foreseen?’ ” said Bloom. “The wonderful thing about this, every player that we target, anybody you bring in as a minor league free agent or in any capacity, there’s always a good big leaguer that you can envision.

“You’re obviously only going to get that out of so many guys. You want to get it out of more than the competition does.

“It’s really cool organizationally when you do help someone to take that leap. We’ve been able to do that here and there,” an allusion to players such as Rob Refsnyder and Zack Kelly. “We obviously didn’t do it with Joey, and the Nationals are reaping the benefits.”

Alex Speier can be reached at Follow him @alexspeier.