That strange noise you heard on Wednesday night was the collective sigh of relief across Red Sox Nation.
With Rafael Devers reportedly in agreement on an 11-year extension worth $331 million, Boston’s front office has identified their face of the franchise after an offseason filled with fingers flying in their fvicinity (couldn’t think of another word that began with “f” to keep the alliteration going, sorry). There may be questions abound about what could have been with Xander Bogaerts alongside him on the left side of the infield for years to come, but at least one stud is being postured to become The Guy—with a capital T and a capital G—at Fenway Park.
It’s just nice to know that Devers will be a consistent presence in the future.
The long-term picture for the Red Sox, while becoming a bit more sharp with this news, still is not fully clear. Plenty of players on the current roster are not secured beyond the next few years. The shortstop question has not even been definitively answered for this upcoming season.
But there are reasons to be optimistic as to what the Red Sox could look like in 2024 and beyond. Young pieces like Triston Casas and Brayan Bello could grow into consistent producers, while prospects such as Marcelo Mayer could enter the fold full-time on contracts with prolonged team control. Big money will be coming off the books—Chris Sale’s 2025 option worth $20 million for one additional year only kicks in with a top 10 Cy Young award finish in ‘24 along with a clean bill of health, so there’s certainly no guarantee that he’ll be in the picture—and the frugally-minded folks would be happy to hear that the club is slated to be below the luxury tax threshold for the upcoming campaign.
All of that is to say that there are options for additional boosts to the roster going forward to compliment Rafael Devers. Plenty of moving parts will certainly be involved, but as it stands right now I see three (3) potential free agent targets that could (key word is could, folks) become part of the team’s foundation for another championship push—or more—should the opportunity to acquire their services arise.
Are these acquisitions likely? Maybe, maybe not. But let’s have some fun as we look at this trio of upcoming FAs.
Aaron Nola, SP
One of the most underrated pitchers in baseball got some time to shine during the Philadelphia Phillies’ improbable run to the World Series in 2022. Aaron Nola is a crafty vet who’s finished in the top seven of the National League Cy Young vote three times prior to turning 30 years old. The forthcoming campaign to kick of his fourth decade of existence is the final one of his current contract in the City of Brotherly Love, as he could certainly be the best starter in the market come next offseason (I would guess that Max Scherzer would opt in to the final year of his deal with the New York Mets worth just over $43 million in 2024, but I can’t read the future—sue me).
Nola’s a pitcher’s pitcher. He attacks the zone with purpose while still initiating a good share of swings-and-misses; he’s not going to overpower many hitters (26th percentile in fastball velo in 2022, according to Baseball Savant) but his extensive pitch mix and ability to limit walks (his 1.3 BB/9 rate last year led the NL) leads to solid strikeout numbers and great overall results. You would’ve loved to have a starter with a 3.25 ERA and 235 punchouts to go alongside a sub-1.00 WHIP with the Red Sox in 2022, right?
The playoff results last year were a mixed bag—a few great starts along with a few, uhhhh, not so great ones—and he will be on the wrong side of 30 when he hits the open market. Not much I can tell ya about the first point, but in regards to the latter: he’s pitched at least 180 innings of the course of a season four times already in his career, including three instances surpassing the 200 frame mark. This guy’s a horse.
Would the Red Sox take a bid on a pitcher over the ripe old age of 30 next winter? Who knows. If they do, though, you can do far worse than Aaron Nola. He’d make for a great ace alongside Devers’ offensive production.
Juan Soto, OF
Feels crazy to type this one out, if we’re being honest!
Look: in my heart of hearts, I do think that the San Diego Padres figure out a long-term agreement with one of the best young hitters in the game. You don’t cough up the package that the Dads coughed up to acquire Soto, at his age, just for a few seasons.
All I’m saying is that, should Manny Machado opt in to his deal after this upcoming season, about $118.5 million will already be tied up in the 2024 Padres for seven guys—one of which isn’t even within the organization right now (shoutout to you, Eric Hosmer). That fuzzy math doesn’t account for Seth Lugo and/or Matt Carpenter opting in, and it also doesn’t include any arbitration figures for their current players.
2024 is the final year of team control that San Diego has for Soto, the 24-year-old who Jeff Passan recently suggested would receive a contract that would surpass the $500 million threshold in total.
Tough decisions will have to be made in America’s Finest City at some point.
Juan Soto would no doubt be the grand prize of the 2024-25 offseason should the Padres decide not to ante up. The young man is advanced far beyond his years at the plate. A ““““disappointing”””” 2022 from Soto resulted in ~only~ an .853 OPS and ~just~ a .401 OBP. That slump brought his career OPS down to a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad mark of.......uh, .950. That’s still elite!
The power took a huge dip but let’s not kid ourselves here: when he’s on—which is more often than not—there are only a few players who can match Soto’s offensive output. Avert your eyes from his Savant page if you hate the color red.
I think I speak for baseball fans across the world when I say that he gets a mulligan for last year’s relative struggles. If he bounces back to his MVP-caliber play, the price tag for a new contract is only going to get higher.
I know half a billion dollars committed to a single guy may seem daunting. If the Red Sox feel so inclined to do so, however, Juan Soto is a player worthy of the investment to pair with their other lefty at the hot corner. So is this third guy......
Shohei Ohtani, Titan Among Mere Mortals
I mean you knew I was gonna include Shohei, no matter how realistic the idea of him putting on a Boston uniform is. It’s a fun thought exercise! Just go with it!
The best overall baseball talent we have ever seen in our lives is set to become a free agent following the conclusion of the 2023 Major League Baseball season. His current team, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of Los Angeles, have been going nowhere fast and are slated by some to miss out on extending the Japanese supernova.
This is not your typical, everyday MVP potentially hitting the free agent pool. This is an opportunity that has never presented itself in MLB history. Never before has a guy with a career OPS+ and ERA+ both in the 140 range been available to all clubs on the market. Only one team can sign him, of course, and I’m sure there will be plenty suitors lining up.
But I do not care what it takes. I do not care if he will be close to 30 years old by the time the ink dries on his behemoth of a contract.
John Henry, Chaim Bloom, and the rest of the Boston front office have to go after Shohei Ohtani with all their might.
Do I really have to spend time and explain how good the best player in the league is? The guy who could feasibly win both the Cy Young and MVP awards in any given year, for two totally separate reasons? Even if his arm doesn’t hold up for the entirety of a big contract, his offense would still carry the weight over much of its life—if not all. Screw the last few years of a deal, anyways. Go get the guy on track to perhaps become the greatest player THE GAME HAS EVER SEEN, costs be damned.
There is no other fitting player to receive a bag worth $500 million in total than Shohei Ohtani. Hell, give him $600 million! The Red Sox would be getting an ace and a middle-of-the-order stud rolled into one. $30 million per year for each of those roles nowadays is actually a bargain, and you’d save an extra roster space with Ohtani aboard.
The only negative I can think of regarding an Ohtani-to-Boston deal is that Fenway Park may not have enough capacity to meet the overwhelming demand for tickets. Using the term “franchise player” for him is underselling his impact both on and off of the diamond. Merchandise sales would be insane, eyeballs would be glued to Red Sox broadcasts, and most importantly: the game’s top talent would be leading our favorite team to win after win after win.
And besides: y’know who I’m sure would be fine with being the Scottie Pippen to Shohei’s MJ?