WORCESTER — Life’s day-to-day rhythms have changed for Craig Breslow. While he still lives in the Newton home where he resided as a member of the Cubs front office the last five seasons, conversations with neighbors and strangers have changed since the Red Sox announced his hiring as chief baseball officer almost six weeks ago.
“I think everyone in this region is an adviser,” Breslow mused at the WooSox Foundation gala at Polar Park on Saturday night. “That’s great. The passion fans have in this area for the team is exceptional.”
Of course, that passion comes with an understandable degree of restlessness — not only within the fan base but throughout an organization that deemed a leadership change from Chaim Bloom to Breslow necessary as the team veered toward its third last-place finish in four years.
“[Fans’] frustration is heard and appreciated,” said Breslow. “We are committed to fielding the most competitive team we possibly can, not just in ‘24 but beyond. We understand what the standard is here for fans, and we are intent on getting the Red Sox back to their rightful place atop the AL East.”
Despite that ambition, the team has not made visible roster-building steps in that direction. The only moves have been the calendar-dictated selection of pitchers Wikelman Gonzalez and Luis Perales to the 40-man roster for the purposes of protecting them from the Rule 5 Draft and the trade of Luis Urías to the Mariners for reliever Isaiah Campbell.
The Sox aren’t alone in their relative inactivity. As of Sunday morning, the team was one of 18 not to have made a major league free agent signing.
While there have been a few significant signings — most notably Aaron Nola returning to the Phillies on a seven-year, $172 million deal and Sonny Gray inking a three-year, $75 million deal with the Cardinals — the offseason remains in a formative state.
So, where are the Red Sox? Do they feel they’re close to flipping the switch in the process of team-building for 2024 and beyond?
“I think closer in that we’ve got a clearer picture of what the free agent and trade landscape will look like,” said Breslow. “Our priorities haven’t really changed in terms of trying to identify starting pitching that will be a fit and can help us improve both the short-term and longer-term outlook.”
Breslow mentioned several times the team’s determination to upgrade its rotation while remaining clear-eyed about the need to improve the infield defense. As the Winter Meetings get underway in Nashville, where do the Sox stand in those pursuits? Based on conversations with major league sources in recent days, here’s where the Sox stand:
Rotation, rotation, rotation
The Sox will add starting pitching — at least one starter, possibly two. That said, the team wasn’t heavily involved in the pursuit of Nola or Gray. What does that mean?
Nola and Gray received qualifying offers (one-year deals for just north of $20 million) from the clubs for whom they pitched in 2023. Given that the Sox are in a major organization-building phase, industry sources see them as having a strong preference to avoid signing pitchers who received qualifying offers from their 2023 clubs, and thus would require the sacrifice of a second-round pick in 2024.
Breslow pushed back to some degree on that view.
“The qualifying offer is a variable when you consider options,” he said. “There are situations where you’d have to say the qualifying offer shouldn’t be an impediment or deterrent, and other times where it could be.”
Still, sources believe the team has a strong preference to avoid signing a pitcher attached to a qualifying offer. That places three pitchers as prominent offseason targets: Japanese righthander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, lefthander Jordan Montgomery, and Japanese lefty Shōta Imanaga.
The list of free agent pitchers beyond those three is long. Former Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez is coming off a strong year with the Tigers; Marcus Stroman, who signed with the Cubs when Breslow was assistant general manager, is a reliable mid-rotation contributor when healthy.
There are buy-low, shorter-term possibilities, with Lucas Giolito a fascinating bounceback candidate, James Paxton perhaps poised to take a step forward after his first extended run in a rotation in years, and Frankie Montas evidently healthy after a year and a half. Michael Wacha — one of the most effective pitchers in baseball for the Sox and Padres over the last two years, despite modest velocity — and Seth Lugo stand out as candidates to solidify a rotation’s floor.
What about trades?
Beyond the White Sox’ Dylan Cease — who unquestionably is on the block, and will be coveted with two years of team control — other starters such as Brewers righthander Corbin Burnes, Guardians righthander Shane Bieber, and Rays righty Tyler Glasnow could be moved.
But Burnes, Bieber, and Glasnow will be eligible for free agency after 2024, making them imperfect Sox targets given the team’s need to beef up its rotation beyond next season.
Gonzalez is their top starting prospect, and he a) won’t be a starter unless he improves his strike-throwing and b) even if that does improve, he’s unlikely to project as a big league rotation fixture until mid-2025. If Gonzalez emerges ahead of that pace, the team would still be scrambling after 2024 to round out a rotation that would feature Brayan Bello and … a lot of uncertainty.
Chris Sale and Nick Pivetta will be eligible for free agency after next season. Perhaps Kutter Crawford or Tanner Houck or Garrett Whitlock could emerge. Perhaps not. Aside from Gonzalez, no other Sox prospect seems like a real candidate for the 2025 Opening Day rotation.
Under those circumstances, it’s hard to imagine the Sox channeling tradeable prospects into a pitcher with one year of control, only to have to scramble to build the staff again. The Sox seem more inclined to dip more aggressively into their prospect pool to get a pitcher who would be part of the rotation for multiple seasons.
“Control is very important. It’s very valuable. It also comes at a premium,” Breslow said. “But as we think about building not just for ‘24 but beyond, control comes into play. We have to be willing to recognize that often it takes giving up real talent in order to get control back, especially controllable starting pitching.”
The Mariners (with Logan Gilbert as a potential trade candidate) and Marlins (Edward Cabrera, Trevor Rogers — who missed most of 2023 with a torn lat muscle) stand out as teams with controllable starters to deal, albeit at considerable cost.
What about Shohei?
Obviously, the offseason headliner is Shohei Ohtani, who inspires awe across the baseball landscape.
“I don’t think it makes a ton of sense to speak specifically about [interest in] any individual player, but obviously he’s a generational talent,” Breslow said.
Should the Red Sox be considered contenders for the dazzling two-way talent? ESPN’s Jeff Passan recently reported that the Red Sox were among early suitors that “have turned their attention to other players.”
There’s surely some truth to that. Given the Sox’ commitment to upgrading their rotation (and infield defense), adding Ohtani always seemed a long shot despite his past enthusiasm for playing in Fenway Park, given that he won’t pitch until at least 2025. Still, given his status, the Sox likely won’t rule out Ohtani unless he waves off the idea of joining them.