As I’m sure you know by now if you’re reading this, the lockout has finally ended after 99 days, with the players and league agreeing to a new deal on Thursday. That not only opened up camps to major leaguers and put us on a path to a 162-game season, but it also opened transactions back up. There was a wild flurry of activity right before the lockout went into effect way back in late November and early December, but there are still plenty of big names left. And as far as the Red Sox go, they have a handful of holes they can fill themselves. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at seven of the bigger free agents who could make some sense for Boston in some shape or form. They obviously won’t sign all of these players, but in a vacuum each makes sense. They are listed in no particular order.
Seiya Suzuki, OF
Of course I am going to start with Suzuki, who I’ve spent most of this lockout talking up as my favorite outfield target, and I am certainly not alone. There is always going to be risk in signing a player from an international league, and it would be foolish to dismiss that concern out of hand. Suzuki was a great player in the NPB, and that is certainly a high-quality league, but there are enough differences in style of play between the two leagues that it’s not ever clear that success from one will carry over to the other. That being said, Suzuki has the tools you’re looking for. He’s a right-handed bat, which Chaim Bloom has said he wants to add, and he plays good defense that should fit well in Boston’s tough right field. At the plate, he’s displayed excellent plate discipline with his strikeout rate typically finishing right in line with his walk rate, to go with good power. The Red Sox need a corner outfield to fill Hunter Renfroe’s shoes, and Jackie Bradley Jr. is not a great fit for that role. Suzuki is.
Kyle Schwarber, OF/1B/DH
I haven’t done it, but I believe if I were to take a poll of Red Sox fans asking which free agent they’d most like to see signed, Schwarber would top that list. And deservedly so. After coming over from the Nationals last summer, Schwarber quickly became a fan favorite in Boston in his short time here down the stretch and in the postseason. His approach totally transformed the lineup, adding a much-needed new dimension. Now he’s a free agent, and there are major fit questions with this potential move. They made it work with him and J.D. Martinez last year, but that was over a much shorter time frame. I have a hard time seeing it over a full season, and think the only way this move gets made is if a Martinez trade comes along too. But who knows. Crazier things have happened.
José Iglesias, INF
Might as well stick with the late-season addition theme, though Iglesias wasn’t exactly a new face given his prospect days spent in Boston’s farm system. After being released by the Angels, Iglesias signed with the Red Sox for the month of September, and although he was ineligible for the postseason due to the late signing he was among the biggest reasons they made it that far in the first place. His defense speaks for itself, and while the offensive ceiling isn’t very high he makes enough contact that the floor is tolerable. I don’t think he’s a starter on a contending team over a large sample, but he’d be a big addition for a bench that needs another infielder. And if Christian Arroyo is the other second baseman on the roster, I think that’d be a legitimate time share to start the season, giving Iglesias a chance to win a full-time job.
Ryan Tepera, RHRP
This is not the best year to be looking for bullpen help on the free agent market, but alas that is where the Red Sox find themselves. Granted, the trade market is always open too, and they’ll certainly look, but they need multiple arms so I’d expect them to dip their toes into the free agent pool as well. Tepera isn’t the biggest name, but he’s underrated and would instantly become the team’s best reliever (not counting Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock, who I’m grouping with the starters). Since the start of the 2020 season, the righty has pitched to a 3.07 ERA with a 2.88 FIP. He’ll likely demand a multi-year deal, which is a risk for a reliever entering his age-34 season, but he’s arguably the best reliever on the market and won’t require them to totally break the bank.
Joe Kelly, RHRP
To return to the old friend theme, Kelly is another former fan favorite who would fill a hole. He’s not quite as effective at this point as Tepera, but we’ve seen what Kelly can look like at his best and he’s coming off a strong season in 2021 with the Dodgers. Last year, he finished with a 2.86 ERA and a 3.08 FIP, most notably improving his walk rate while still missing bats. Personally, I’d prefer Tepera if they were only to sign one, but I certainly wouldn’t complain about this signing and he’d at least join the likes of Matt Barnes and other internal options for a late-inning role.
Nick Castellanos, OF/DH
Now we move to a guy who didn’t really had a ton of connection in rumors to the Red Sox prior to the lockout, but is a name that makes a lot of sense. He does have draft pick compensation attached to his free agency, which is a point against him, especially in comparison to someone like Kyle Schwarber. He’s also another DH-mostly kind of player, which like Schwarber would be a tough fit with the roster as currently constituted. That said, he would seem to be a perfect fit for Fenway as a power-hitting righty who could be a doubles and homer machine with the Monster. It doesn’t seem like this has much chance of happening, but I’m a little perplexed why there was never even any smoke here.
Carlos Correa, SS
We have to include the biggest free agent name on the board, right? We talked about Correa in a recent roundtable, so I won’t go too in-depth here, but his accolades speak for themself. He’s a good defensive player at a premium position as well as one of the better hitters in the league. That, however, obviously means he will be paid a bunch, probably for a 10-year contract or something close. The Red Sox also already have a shortstop in Xander Bogaerts. There’s been enough smoke here that I’m at least a little interested in how real this may or may not be, but my gut is it’s just agent leaks to up other offers. Ultimately, I just think there is too much else to do that they’ll make this move.
Bonus Trade Option: Bryan Reynolds
Trades are harder to predict, of course, because you don’t know everyone who’s available on this market like you do in free agency. That said, the Pirates always seem ready to ship out players the minute they might get a tiny bit more expensive, and Reynolds is a big-time player who could transform a lineup. Playing for Pittsburgh has kept him a bit under the radar, but he’s played three seasons and finished with a wRC+ of 130 or better in two of them. The one he didn’t was, to be fair, a rough season with a 72 wRC+, but it was also the weird, shortened 2020 season. Entering his age-27 season, Reynolds looks like a budding star who can hit in the middle of a lineup for a long time. I don’t know that the Red Sox necessarily have the stomach right now for the kind of package this would require — and that’s not a criticism, because I think it would take trading one of their big three, and that’s no small thing — but he’s the kind of player for whom you have to at least consider giving up a chunk of the farm.