It's Christmas Day 2021 and the Boston Red Sox, coming off a 4th place finish in the AL East, are rumored to be finalizing a deal with free agent Kris Bryant. No agreement has been announced yet, and the Washington Nationals (who traded for Bryant back in May) are still in the conversation, but the folks in Vegas have Boston listed as heavy favorites to land the 2016 NL MVP and barring any last-minute catastrophes, it looks like the Red Sox will have a new 3B/LF to insert into the middle of their lineup entering the 2022 season, likely wedged somewhere in between Alex Verdugo, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers.
That's right, Devers is still around, so you (the reader) can now exhale. The LH slugger has taken over as the primary DH, ever since the J.D. Martinez trade. Cora has stated publicly that he plans to still use Devers at the hot corner, regardless of how offseason acquisitions impact the makeup of Boston's infield, but the general consensus amongst analysts is that, moving forward, Devers should expect to put on a glove about as frequently as JDM did during his Boston tenure, which is as little as possible.
Bloom had to agree to pay down some of Martinez's salary in the exchange, but it proved to be a worthwhile move for the Angels after the DH helped them break their playoff drought and advance all the way to the pennant before the Yankees finished them off in 6 games. (Don't worry; the Yankees lost to the Dodgers in the World Series, so it's not the absolute worst case scenario.) As for Boston's end of the deal, it should take a few years to determine how much of an impact OF prospect and former 17th overall pick Jordyn Adams will make at Fenway, but scouts can't stop drooling over his speed, and he'll finish the year as one of MLB.com's top 100 prospects.
He's not the only one. In addition to Adams, Jeter Downs (who made his major league debut in September), Triston Casas, and Bryan Mata (who cracked the list for the first time midseason before also making his Boston debut towards the end of the season) there will be 2 other top 100 prospects that belong to Boston, giving them a grand total of 6, tied for second most in the league. One will come from the 2021 MLB Draft, after Boston selects 4th overall, and the other will come from the second blockbuster Chaim Bloom pulled off over the course of the summer, when he sent Nathan Eovaldi and cash, plus Bobby Dalbec, to the White Sox for Andrew Vaughn and a couple other low-profile prospects. Turns out that just Lance Lynn wasn't enough to bolster a rotation that's pretty shaky behind Lucas Giolito, and both corner infield positions in southside Chicago were very thin after Moncada and Abreu, a weakness that quickly got exposed when injuries struck. Vaughn wasn't ready to fill in quite yet, but Chicago needed to hold off Minnesota in a tight race to the AL Central division crown, and they surrendered their top prospect to fix both problems. The trade worked for the White Sox, who held off the Twins to claim the AL Central title, although it ultimately led a divisional round exit. Good thing they've got both Eovaldi and Dalbec for at least one more year.
That's pretty much the biggest success that Bloom and Co. experienced over the past 12 months; Boston has a top 5 farm system, and everyone in New England is talking about all the prospects the Red Sox have been accumulating. Matt Barnes was also traded for a solid pitching prospect at the trade deadline, and Michael Chavis was given the change of scenery he so desperately needed when Bloom gave him back to Ben Cherington and the Pittsburgh Pirates for a young (think teenager) international prospect with a decent ceiling in late November, but those moves were overshadowed by the others I've already mentioned, as well as the signing (and success) of Corey Kluber back in late January. The former Cy Young winner returned to full health and made 28 starts for Boston to the tune of a 3.87 ERA this past season, and both sides were happy enough with the results that Kluber accepted his qualifying offer. Featuring him behind Sale at the front of the rotation next year has Red Sox Nation buzzing, despite a few question marks after those two. (E-Rod spent most of the 2021 season on the IL, and the Nick Pivetta experiment failed, hence the 4th place finish.)
Andrew Benintendi also bounced back to provide slightly-above-average offense, along with passable defense in left field after a nightmare 2020 campaign. His roughly 2.0 WAR season wasn't enough to quiet trade rumors though; he's basically the new version of JBJ (now a member of the Philadelphia Phillies after Dombrowski signed him to a 3-year deal in January) in that regard. Entering his final season, it's been speculated that he could platoon with Bryant and/or Renfroe in LF if he can't be moved for a bullpen arm over the winter, but it's clear his days in Boston are numbered, especially now that Jarren Duran is competing to be the everyday center fielder.
There have been many changes since December 2020, but one constant remains. Boston's biggest need is still pitching, both in the rotation and the bullpen. The emergence of Darwinzon Hernandez as an All-Star caliber reliever certainly helps the backend, and Durbin Feltman looked good in his debut, providing another potential late-inning option at a low cost, but both the signing of Kirby Yates and the decision to bring back Brandon Workman proved to be massive failures, leaving work to be done in that department. Furthermore, there's still uncertainty surrounding some of the younger starting options (Houck, Mata, Seabold) even if their development has been promising. Realistically, the front office is counting on that group plus Noah Song to account for 1 (maybe 2) rotation spots, but the rest of them will likely end up in the bullpen, if not serving as Quad-A depth, not unlike Brian Johnson during his time with the team. Ultimately, in order for the Red Sox to compete in 2022, they'll need to add at least one more starter. A small handful of moderately attractive veteran starters are available in free agency, but the biggest names that were expected to hit the market this time last year (Scherzer, Verlander, Kershaw, Lynn, Syndergaard, Stroman) have all either reached extensions with their respective 2021 clubs, or signed during the Winter Meetings, which were actually live as opposed to virtual this year, so hooray for that! Eduardo Rodriguez has expressed a desire to return, but other teams have entered a bidding war, and it's looking more and more likely that he'll get 8 figures from some other team on a 1-year, prove-it deal. Charlie Morton rumors swirl on the heels of another adequate (albeit unspectacular) season with Atlanta, but his velocity dip and age are red flags that can't be ignored
Ultimately, with both Casas and Vaughn vying for the same position, plus Benintendi looking expendable, the logical assumption around the industry is that 1-2 of those names will be used to facilitate a trade for a quality SP before Opening Day, preferably a front-of-the-rotation workhorse with 2+ years of control remaining. Of course, that is easier said than done, but the speculation should keep the hot stove nice and toasty for the next few months. Until then, we're all just sitting around, sipping eggnog, and waiting on Jon Heyman to tweet out the number of years/dollars on that Bryant contract.
Happy Holidays Red Sox fans! (Yankees suck)