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OTM Roundtable: Number one winter priority

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What should top the list of the winter planning?

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New York Mets v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

The Boston Red Sox have a fascinating offseason ahead of them, and while the start of it comes down in part to decisions from the player side rather than the organization (the J.D. Martinez opt-out decision, of course), there are a lot of decisions to be made by the organization ahead of the 2022 season. So, with the offseason having officially started, today the OTM staff runs down their biggest priorities for the winter.

Scott Neville

I think the number one priority for the offseason should be to optimize the defensive alignment by making a splash in free agency. That said, I do think with a full offseason, Kyle Schwarber could be the first baseman in 2022, should J.D. Martinez and Schwarber return. I believe Enrique Hernández’s versatility will be at the forefront of this decision. Is he a second baseman or centerfielder? Given the free-agent market, I believe Hernández is better suited in centerfield given the robust middle infield options this winter.

To improve defensively, it would make sense to pursue a player like Trevor Story and possibly move Xander Bogaerts over to second base. The easier fit might be to bring in Marcus Semien, who had very favorable defensive metrics in 2021. Semien could stay at second base and take away the potential of damaging Bogaert’s ego right before his opt-out year. Semien also hit the most home runs in the history of the position, so you could call him a plus offensively by quite a large margin. The conservative approach would be to re-sign José Iglesias to battle Christian Arroyo, who is sure-handed but lacks range. Either way, this team needs to put a premium on defense this winter.

Brendan Campbell

The number one priority for the Red Sox this offseason should be to retain the services of Kyle Schwarber. It’s unlikely that Schwarber’s $11.5 million mutual option will get picked up on the player’s side, so the 28-year-old will almost certainly become a free agent. Upon being acquired from the Nationals ahead of the trade deadline and later making his Red Sox debut in mid-August after wrapping up a lengthy stint on the injured list, Schwarber made his impact felt almost immediately and wound up playing a key role in the team’s run to the ALCS.

In 41 games with the Red Sox, the left-handed hitting Schwarber slashed an impressive .291/.435/.522 (161 wRC+) to go along with 10 doubles, seven home runs, 18 RBI, 34 runs scored, 33 walks, and 39 strikeouts over 168 plate appearances from Aug. 13 through the end of the regular season. Despite not suiting up for the Red Sox for the first time until the middle of the summer, Schwarber accrued 1.4 fWAR in his time with Boston, which ranks seventh among position players on the team on the 2021 campaign as a whole.

Looking at his performance from a broader scope, Schwarber put up the highest on-base percentage and the sixth highest wRC+ among qualified batters in the American League from the time he debuted with Boston on Aug. 13 until October 3, per FanGraphs. While he certainly comes with his defensive shortcomings at first base, a position he was learning on the fly this season, and left field, Schwarber’s approach at the plate and the quality results it produces simply cannot be ignored.

I’m sure Schwarber and his camp will be looking to cash out on the career year he had, and the Red Sox may be weary to pay someone who does not have a great defensive profile like he does, but his bubbly personality and style of play quickly made him a fan favorite in Boston. So, I believe it would be worth it for Chaim Bloom and Co. to have Schwarber stick around for a bit. In short, pay the man.

American League Championship Series Game 4: Houston Astros v. Boston Red Sox Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Michael Walsh

Priority number one for the Red Sox should be figuring out the future of their shortstop position. Xander Bogaerts had an excellent year and is a cornerstone for the team, but his defense remains an issue and is not something that’s going to improve significantly as he nears age 30. Bogaerts will also likely be opting out of his contract at the end of 2022 to seek a new deal, which leaves a ton of question marks. Should he still be the primary shortstop in 2022? What other positions is he open to playing? Do the Red Sox want to hand out $200-plus million to a 30-year-old with extreme limitations on defense next offseason? With this offseason’s shortstop market consisting of five All-Stars, there are certainly many different routes the Sox can take. Hopefully, a clear plan is established throughout the winter.

Bayleigh Von Schneider

The number one priority this offseason should be firming up the bullpen. The Red Sox have Matt Barnes, who mightily struggled to end the 2021 season, Darwinzon Hernandez, Ryan Brasier, Austin Davis, Hirokazu Sawamura, Josh Taylor, and Phillips Valdez returning to the bullpen for the 2022 season. Free agent Adam Ottavino has already expressed interest in returning, and for the right price, he and Hansel Robles would help solidify the pen.

Chaim Bloom did a fine job with the pen this past offseason without breaking the bank, but to go after someone of the caliber of Raisel Iglesias this offseason, the cost will be much greater. Adding Iglesias to the Red Sox relief corps would for sure add an elite reliever to the late innings to go along with Barnes. The biggest question mark for the 2022 bullpen will be whether or not Garrett Whitlock or Tanner Houck spend any time in the pen, or if they become fixtures in the 2022 rotation. If Whitlock is moved to the rotation, he will need to be replaced in the bullpen picture. Bullpen depth this offseason is crucial to the success of the 2022 Red Sox.

Avery Hamel

Number one priority: Sign Rafael Devers to an extension. Devers showed even more growth this year, ranking in the top 90 percent of the league in average exit velocity, hard hit rate, xwOBA, xSLG, and Barrel rate. All of this goes to show how he capitalized on the revamped 162-game season to prove himself, and show his possible future standards as a player as well. He increased his average against the fastball, a thing he has struggled with over the course of his young career, and continued to be a leader for the team: making the 2021 All-Star Game, and providing leadership alongside “Captain” Xander Bogaerts.

Besides his defensive struggles, (finishing 240th out of 242 qualified fielders this year on Baseball Savant’s OAA leaderboards; TLDR: not good) Devers has been picture-perfect on the Red Sox, providing a face for the team, and being a showcase of versatility throughout the lineup. His being on the Red Sox in the future is very important to the success of this team, as he provides consistency, energy, leadership, and friendliness in an ever-developing clubhouse.

Championship Series - Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros - Game Six Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Mike Carlucci

The Red Sox competitive window wasn’t as closed as it looked in 2020 and with a rotation that could include a healthy Chris Sale, Tanner Houck, and Garrett Whitlock, could be as open as it was in 2021, if not more, as long as financial flexibility isn’t the goal. Now that the Sox are, relatively, flush with cash it’s time to give a lot of it to Rafael Devers. How many times do we need to see stats that he’s the fastest Red Sox to X or the youngest Red Sox to Y since Ted Williams before hearing that the Sox are interested in signing him long term? He’s 25 - barely. His birthday is at the end of October. Give him 6 years. Give him 8 years. Give him 10 years! If he’s a first baseman or DH in a back-half of a contract ending at 35 that’s J.D. Martinez right now. This is the most important issue this offseason or next year the story will be “what can Boston get on the trade market?” for their young third baseman.

Bryan Joiner

The most important thing the Sox can do this off-season is to get the best player they possibly can, position-independent. Look, their best players—Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts—are already on the receiving end of positional movement rumors, and if they’d move, so could anyone else.

I mostly just want the Sox to act like the big budget team they are. Is that so wrong?

Matt Collins

Put me on the extend Rafael Devers train. There is certainly work to do on this roster in terms of additions, but the long-term future of this team is Rafael Devers in the middle of the lineup. His spot on the field may be changed at some point, but he’s the kind of hitter where that doesn’t matter. They can’t risk him leaving in his prime, and the way to do that is to get him his money now.

Keaton DeRocher

Priority number one should be extending Rafael Devers and making sure he’s in Boston for a very long time. Until it happens, Red Sox fans will not feel at ease given how other recent stars’ contracts were handled. While there are other needs for this roster heading into 2022, there will always be noise in the background until something happens either way. Devers is coming off a fantastic season yet again and has two years of arbitration left, so an extension just quite simply has to get and it needs to get done soon.

Phil Neuffer

The Red Sox should re-sign Eduardo Rodriguez as soon as possible. Their rotation isn’t strong enough without the 28-year-old to let him walk. Rodriguez wasn’t always at his best in 2021, but he was also coming off a difficult 2020 campaign health wise and he still managed to set a career-high in fWAR (3.8). That’s right, despite that career-worst 4.74 ERA, he was still worth more wins than his excellent 2019 campaign.

A lot of that comes down to his peripheral numbers, as his expected ERA (3.55) was far better than his actual mark and his FIP (3.32) and xFIP (3.43) were both career-bests. He also put up personal bests in strikeout rate (27.4 percent) and walk rate (7 percent), so even if there were some rough patches last season, he was still a good starting pitcher for the most part and one whom the Red Sox should be tripping over themselves to get back for next season and beyond.

Shelly Verougstraete

If everything was unicorns and lollipops, I’d love the team to prioritize improving the defense on the left side of the dirt. However, the two best hitters on the team play there and they may not be willing to move right now. So I’d prioritize trying to get one of the better starting pitchers that are in the free agent pool. Max Scherzer would sure look nice in a Red Sox uniform, just in case Chaim Bloom is reading this roundtable.

Stephen Thompson

Extend Rafael Devers. Extend Rafael Devers. Extend Rafael Devers.

Devers is coming off arguably the best all-around season of his career and only becomes more important the older Xander Boegarts gets. He made his first All-Star team, tied a career-high in OPS+ and set personal bests in both home runs and walks while playing the best defense of his major league tenure. Devers is athletic, powerful and —- above all else — just an absolute delight to watch play the game of baseball. Everything else can fall into place once you have this franchise cornerstone settled in a permanent home.

Right now you have a chance to lock up the left side of your infield and three and four hitters for at least another four years. This is not a time to play things conservatively or bank on Jeter Downs and Nick Yorke. It’s a no-brainer: pay the man and let his radiant smile grace Fenway for the better part of this decade.

Bob Osgood

Priority number one in the offseason should be to lock up Rafael Devers to a long-term deal. With two arbitration years remaining, this is the time to ensure one of the great hitters in all of baseball will be hitting in the heart of the lineup throughout his twenties. Having just turned 25, Devers would enter free agency at 27, a younger age than most everyone does and seemingly around the start of his prime.

The Red Sox will have a lot of money coming off the books in 2023, such as David Price’s contract, and could guarantee Devers a major salary bump in that year, followed by perhaps a 4-5 year extension. While I’m not sure Devers will still be a third baseman into his thirties, I am confident that the plate skills and otherworldly power to all fields will hold up. I hope that Xander Bogaerts will sign an extension for the same number of years an hour later but I can’t shake the Scott Boras Factor from my head to think that is as likely as Devers.

Brady Childs

I’ve been saying this for years (and I’m sure people in the front office have been, too) but they need to extend Devers. It’s going to cost them a pretty penny since he’s well into his arb years now, but it’ll be worth it. MLB Trade Rumors projects him to get $11.1 million in arb this offseason. The framework can be something like $11 million this year, $18 the next, and then $25-$28 million for the next four free agent years. It’d lock him up through his age 31 season so he has enough time to cash out a second time. I’m sure there would be particulars to work out there, Devers might want opt outs, for example, but if he’s interested in staying there’s no reason not to lock him up.

Jake Devereaux

Priority number one for the Red Sox in the off-season is to figure out what the team’s future plans are for the heart and soul of the team, Xander Bogaerts. Since arriving in the major leagues with the Red Sox the highly touted prospect has fulfilled the promise of his lofty prospect ranking and become one of the best players in the major leagues. Bogaerts is going to opt out after this upcoming season because, as recent contracts like Francisco Lindor’s have shown, he is vastly underpaid.

The real issue here is that Bogaerts is likely not someone the organization feels strongly about defensively at shortstop, his preferred position, and the only place he has played regularly as a major leaguer. All of this aside, the Red Sox need to make it a priority to keep him here for the rest of his career, even if that involves planning a move off of the position in the near future. His bat and his presence in the clubhouse are far too important to what the Red Sox are trying to build to screw this up.d