With the Atlanta Braves leading the World Series three games to two as we wake up here on Tuesday, it is quite possible that the offseason will officially kick off on Wednesday with the Braves having a chance to end the season if they can win tonight. And for the Boston Red Sox, whenever the offseason does begin so too does the process to try and take the next step for this roster, not only making the playoffs again but hopefully doing so via a division title, and more generally with increased consistency week-to-week.
Last winter, we went into the offseason essentially feeling as though the Red Sox needed something resembling a total makeover. They did add some players who ended up being significant contributors, and as we sit here a year later the needs to seem quite as all-encompassing. On the other hand, this is still clearly not a complete roster. Good front offices don’t close the door on any possibility, but there is also a pecking order of priorities. We’re going to try and rank those priorities by position groups, ranking each in terms of the sense of urgency the team should feel in terms of adding new players at that position this winter.
11. Third Base
Starting at the bottom, third base is not at all an issue for this team in terms of new players for 2022. There is certainly a possibility in the relatively near future that they will have to move Rafael Devers off the hot corner, which will put the position in a new light. I don’t believe that is a 100% certainty, though, and I certainly don’t believe it’ll be this winter. So while third base may be of some interest in the extension conversation, for the conversation we’re having now it is at the bottom of the list.
This is basically the same thing as third base, with Xander Bogaerts taking the place of Devers, even as far as the extension part of it goes. I put this one spot higher on the list just because I think there is slightly more chance the Bogaerts positional switch happens this year as compared to Devers’. I don’t think it’ll happen right now for either, though.
9. Center Field
The Red Sox defense was a rollercoaster for the 2021 season, mostly in a negative sense, but Enrique Hernández emerged as a steady presence at that position. Although he was signed with the idea of primarily playing second base, he was clearly a great fit in center field. There is, I suppose, a chance they shift their thinking again and use Hernández to fill the second base hole, but I think he looked so good in the outfield that they’ll just stick with him there. That’s certainly the way I’d go.
8. Designated Hitter
Technically there is a little bit of uncertainty here on this one, as J.D. Martinez has the opportunity to opt out of his contract this winter and hit free agency while Kyle Schwarber will certainly be there with a mutual option coming up after the World Series. That might lead one to put it higher on this list, but for two reasons I don’t. The first is that I still find it hard to believe Martinez opting out, despite reports indicating otherwise from Ken Rosenthal. Given the lack of clarity on the DH in the National League, and the CBA craziness coming up this winter, it just doesn’t seem like a great time to do so. But even if he does, I think the Red Sox will pursue Schwarber for this position, but that’s about it. If they miss out there, they’ll use the DH as a place to rotate players in and out. Whatever way it shakes out, I don’t see a ton of urgency and energy put into this position.
7. Right Field
Nominally the Red Sox have a couple of right fielders on the roster in Alex Verdugo and Hunter Renfroe, though as we’ve touched on a few times this offseason either one could be a potential trade candidate. Even if that happens, and Renfroe would seem like the more likely candidate, they would have the other one to play right field. There’s an argument to be made that Verdugo shouldn’t be in right field, and I supposed that could be a case for putting left field below right field, but I think he can handle right field fine. Either way, to me a pursuit of a right fielder would be more out of luxury than necessity.
6. Left Field
And here we have the other corner, which could feasibly be opened up by a trade mentioned in the section above. As things stand now, if Hernández is going to play center field again like we talked about in the eighth spot, Boston more or less has a full outfield with him, Renfroe, and Verdugo, with Jarren Duran coming off the bench. If they did explore a trade, I would certainly be surprised if they were ready to give Duran a full-time role. It would make sense to look at someone who could start the year with something like a 67/33 split with Duran (in favor of the newcomer), and left field would be the easiest spot for that to happen both in terms of finding players as well as being the easiest on Duran’s still-developing defense.
5. First Base
I really struggled on where to put this one because I can talk myself into basically any spot on this list. On the optimistic side, they look like they could be set here for a long time due to Bobby Dalbec’s second half resurgence as well as Triston Casas’ emergence to the doorstep of the majors. On the other hand, Dalbec was still a below-average regular if you’re looking at fWAR, and the team moved away from him in the postseason. Sure, that was more about Schwarber than anything else, but it opens up some questions. Ultimately, I think there was enough in the second half from Dalbec to not have to worry too much this winter, but the front office will likely keep its ears open for upgrades and should at least look at some cheaper bench options to provide insurance for Dalbec without having to rush Casas.
Now we’re into the positions where I think most of the focus will be for this winter, although the catcher attention could be a short burst early on and then little else. Boston has a decision to make early on in the offseason with Christian Vázquez’s $7 million option for next season. Coming off a disappointing season, I don’t see it as a slam dunk to pick it up, but it’s hard enough to find catchers that I lean towards them doing so. And then even if they do, they will have to look at their backup situation and whether Kevin Plawecki’s relationship with Nathan Eovaldi is enough to keep him in arbitration. I suspect they will, but things could be interesting behind the plate, and as with first base I suspect they’ll keep an eye on the catching market. If they find someone they like, Vázquez would be a tradeable player.
3. Second Base
In terms of position players, second base feels like the most obvious place for outside help. Frankly, I’m a bit surprised people are as keen as they seem to be about keeping Christian Arroyo as an everyday player. I love the skillset as a bench infielder, but between his struggles to stay healthy and his offensive skillset, I think they could very well do better. Arroyo had a solid year by the end of it, but his 106 wRC+ seems hard to sustain given his 24 percent strikeout rate, four percent walk rate, and good-but-not-great power. He’s a better player than I thought he would be, but I don’t see that as a starting-caliber player on a contending roster. I’ve also seen calls for José Iglesias, but he is another player that feels like a great bench fit, but not someone who should be starting for a team that is expecting a playoff spot.
2. Starting Pitching
We’re talking about the Red Sox, which pretty much always means the pitching is going to be most premium this offseason. That said, I think the rotation is actually a bit more set than the bullpen. They definitely need one clear-cut top five pitcher. I can live with a Chris Sale/Nathan Eovaldi top two, but right now Nick Pivetta is probably your number three and you need someone else to be the bridge between the top end and the back end, and that bridge should be closer in talent to Sale and Eovaldi than Pivetta. They Red Sox don’t necessarily have to push for Max Scherzer, but the next tier in free agency should be a primary target area. And then beyond that I’d also look for another average-ish arm to put into the back-end mix along with Pivetta, Tanner Houck, and Garrett Whitlock. While Boston’s pitching stayed remarkably healthy in 2021, they can’t count on that continuing into 2022.
1. Relief Pitcher
Different people have different perspectives on the pros and cons of spending big on relief pitching, and that’s all well and good. Regardless of the approach they take, the Red Sox need to find some bullpen help this winter, and that’s especially true if Houck and Whitlock enter the season as part of the rotation picture. That seems likely to be the case, and so that means the Red Sox would be left with a back-end of Matt Barnes, Josh Taylor, Ryan Brasier, Darwinzon Hernandez, and Hirokazu Sawamura. That’s not going to cut it. Not even close. There are some interesting options ready to come up from Worcester, but there needs to be some real attention to this group. I’d prefer a mix of established names and potential diamond in the roughs, but either way new faces are needed.