What Would I Do With the Boston Red Sox in the 2022 MLB Offseason?

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Based on the absurdly preliminary 2023 ZiPS projected standings released by Dan Szymborski, the Boston Red Sox appear to be a mediocre, but still somewhat winning team going into the 2023 season. This is without Xander Bogaerts, mind you, but is based on strong projections for pitcher Brayan Bello, infielder Enmanuel Valdez, and outfielder Cedanne Rafaela. While I personally am very high on all three of these guys, it doesn’t seem fair to put the task of the Red Sox treading the breakeven water mark all on their shoulders.

My favorite tool in probably all of baseball coverage is Roster Resource, which can be found on FanGraphs. The Red Sox definitely have been run inadequately, but I would not lay the blame on Chaim Bloom. In fact, if you look at the moves he’s made, you can tell it’s literally that he’s not allowed to spend money. Yes, Chris Sale’s contract became an albatross. Sure, Bogaerts and Devers are both insulted by the massively under-market contracts they were offered; and they were right to be insulted. But none of those things lay squarely on the shoulders of Bloom, and around the fringes, there are a lot of good players here.

Who Do the 2023 Red Sox Already Have?

Perhaps the very best trade Bloom has made in his GM tenure so far was nabbing two very good players from the Houston Astros for catcher Christian Vazquez. As beloved as Vazquez was, and he is a very solid league-average catcher, he went to the Astros and pretty much stunk; of course, he did win a ring which was good for him. Knowing full well that Reese McGuire (who was a nice pickup himself) and Connor Wong (perhaps the savior of the Mookie Betts trade) are both solid catchers in a platoon, Vazquez was expendable.

In return, Boston acquired not only a very solid hitter in Enmanuel Valdez, who was blocked in Houston, but also a useful outfielder in Wilyer Abreu. Both players figure to factor prominently in the team’s future, especially Valdez who could start at second base right now, with Trevor Story sliding over to shortstop.

With the Bogaerts hole covered essentially by Story sliding over and Valdez manning the keystone, we turn to the first base situation. Eric Hosmer isn’t dead yet, Triston Casas is a legitimate slugger, and Bobby Dalbec can hit lefties. First base was so bad for the Red Sox last year and while I can’t see it being a huge strength in 2023, it’s not going to be a weakness. Again, that’s more Bogaerts value recouped just by a position being adequate. J.D. Martinez is gone, but Casas is probably going to be getting the lion’s share of DH playing time anyway, so no great loss here, and a huge monetary savings.

Third base obviously belongs to Rafael Devers, but for how long? The Red Sox have made it clear they don’t value him anywhere close to his market value. Unfortunately, I have to agree with them. I love Raffy, and he’s the franchise’s most recognizable player outside of Chris Sale at this point. But, if the Red Sox don’t look like they’re going to be in a playoff spot come July 31st, it wouldn’t shock me if they trade him for whatever spare parts they can get.

The Red Sox do have some solid prospects on the horizon for the infield, including Marcelo Mayer and Nick Yorke. Both are likely at least 2024 ETA, if not 2025 ETA, and the Red Sox have no reason to rush either of them. Rafaela despite his huge talent is still fairly raw, and yet, he could be a league-average player right now if you believe his projections. Unfortunately, that speaks to the issues in the outfield with this team.

The outfield is frankly a mess. Alex Verdugo is a solid enough player; he’s been worth 5.1 WAR in three seasons and one of those was 2020, so really he’s been a league-average player. Verdugo took a step back last year and has never become the above-average regular the Sox were hoping for in making him the headline player in the Mookie Betts deal. Fortunately, the Red Sox never would’ve given the contract to Betts that he sought, so one year of Betts was well worth just Verdugo, especially since he doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2024 season.

But, after Verdugo, things far off. Sure, Rob Refsnyder was a nice find for the Red Sox, but he projects as the starting right fielder in 2023. Frankly, he’s not a good defensive outfielder, although he doesn’t kill you out there, and also plays second base well enough. He’s not going to put up the same offense, either, as he benefited from a .394 batting average on balls in play. Refsnyder is a good player, and the Red Sox were right to resign him (for just $1.2 million), but he’s a utility player, not a fourth outfielder.

Center field is Kike Hernandez’s job to lose and he was dreadful in 2022. Sure, he was hurt, but his breakout 2021 may not be his true talent level. The projections see him as barely league average at best. Again, not going to kill you, but this is not who you want manning center field for an entire season. ZiPS does project Kike for 2.4 WAR in 2023, and if he makes that, I’ll be jumping for joy.

The depth is even worse. Jeter Downs has fallen flat on his face since joining the Red Sox organization, but he’s out of options and the Sox want to throw him into the fire. He’s most likely going to burn up, which is a shame considering how bright his star was shining; FanGraphs has dropped him to the #37 prospect in the Red Sox organization. Ouch. Jarren Duran is in a similar situation, putting up solid enough minor league numbers, but flopping when given the chance. Duran is basically a fifth outfielder on this team, and while he won’t kill you, he’s got to make leaps and bounds to even be a useful major league player.

The Red Sox do have some good news, and that’s in their starting rotation. A healthy Sale, which is actually possible in 2023, would go a long way to stabilizing things. Nick Pivetta has been figuring things out, although his 2022 was a significant step back from his strong 2021 season. Brayan Bello started off badly, but rebounded to have a solid MLB debut in 2022, but becoming the #2 right away in 2023 may be out of the question.

James Paxton is a big question mark after missing all of 2022, although Bloom was smart to tack on that $4 million player option. If Paxton is even just a shadow of his former self, this locks down a spot in the rotation. After that, it’s Garrett Whitlock transitioning full-time to the starter role. He definitely has the stuff, although I don’t know if he’s up for a full season in the rotation. We’ll see. Tanner Houck has great stuff, but is probably better off at the back end of the bullpen.

The bullpen is a huge question mark, but relief pitching is always so wildly inconsistent. The Red Sox basically have to pencil Matt Barnes back into the role, even though he’s been on a downward trend. Joely Rodriguez at least gives them an intriguing lefty on the cheap with the option to bring him back cheap. John Schreiber projects to be very good, thanks to his major breakout last year. There are a couple of other intriguing arms, too, so if the Sox can figure out who their closer is (probably Schreiber), then the bullpen isn’t even a major source of worry.

The Red Sox, as currently constructed, are a Major League Baseball team that should win roughly as much as they lose. If you’re the Pittsburgh Pirates, you’d be overjoyed. But, for a team that went over the luxury tax threshold last year, yeah, this is not good. But, you have to give Chaim Bloom credit that he’s found some diamonds in the rough like Refsnyder, Schreiber, and any one else that’s given the Red Sox positive value over the past couple of years.

So, what do the Red Sox do? What would I do?

Most likely, the Red Sox are going to mostly stand pat. They were in on pitcher Tyler Anderson, who went to the Angels, and that would’ve been a great signing. Hoy Park as a 40-man roster add from the Pirates could be yet another diamond in the rough; he hasn’t lived up to his tools just yet, but the price was a 19-year old raw arm. Joely is a solid reliever, as I’ve written already, and the projections seem to back up my observations.

But, why spend $30 million a year on Carlos Correa? You could, certainly, but he doesn’t turn this team into a potential division winner all alone. You’d need three Correas to in anyway guarantee a shot at being a division winning contender. You’re better off doing what the Sox have done already; throw everything you have in the organization at the wall and see who sticks. Last year overall was a bloody mess, especially towards the end, but they found some good role players who should be around for two to three more years. So, it wasn’t a total loss.

Bloom is clearly looking ahead. Remember the awful Jackie Bradley Jr. trade? Well, the Red Sox got David Hamilton out of it, who projects to be a solid fourth outfielder and should steal 30+ bases even without playing a whole season. The other guy they got, Alex Binelas, projects to be a decent left-handed bench bat. Yes, Bradley was bad, but Bloom was right; those guys were worth Hunter Renfroe.

So, if I were the Red Sox, I would definitely sign guys, in the mold of a Tyler Anderson; someone you have to guarantee three or so years to but at $12-14 million per year so that you can stay respectable without getting more albatross contracts. How do you take what projects to be an 82-win team and turn it into a 90 game true talent team, especially when the rest of the division should get better over the winter?

Now that we know the Red Sox will probably do next to nothing except pick off of the scrap heap, what would I do?

There was once this guy named Theo Epstein. You know, the guy who went to Curt Schilling’s house for Thanksgiving and got the guy who helped deliver two World Championships to Boston? (Along with lots of other awful non-baseball things, but I digress.) You know what he did? Pick guys off the scrap heap. Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, some Dominican slugger named David Ortiz… you know, scrap heap guys… Yes one of those is a Hall of Famer, Millar is a MLB Network personality, and Mueller, what happened to him? Anyway, Epstein understood the value of depth over signing one big star. You know, the guy who wanted to trade Nomar Garciaparra for Magglio Ordonez (which would’ve worked out, by the way.) The guy who should’ve gotten A-Rod for Jon Lester and Manny Ramirez. Yes, the Sox would’ve missed Lester, but with the way Epstein was picking off the scrap heap, they would’ve somehow recouped that future value anyway.

This guy named Ben Cherington who won AL Executive of the Year in 2013? He signed Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, and Ryan Dempster, and traded for Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt. Yes, Dempster was mostly a Dumpster, and Hanrahan’s arm fell off. But Napoli, Gomes, and Victorino all helped bring a championship to Boston, and Holt became a utility player legend. None of those guys jumped off the page at you, but they won.

Heck, even Dave Dombrowski, for all the free-spending ways he has, it bought Boston the 2018 World Series. (Hell, Dombrowski almost bought the Phillies the 2022 world series, too, so don’t count him out!)

My 2022-23 MLB Offseason Strategy: Buy into Good Major League Players and Stock Up on Talent

So, the Red Sox should return to the Epstein / Cherington formula and work around the edges. Be at least average-ish at every position you can. There are no glaring issues in the infield. The bullpen is solid. You have what looks to be an OK starting rotation. Your outfield is potentially OK, but you really need a corner bat like Hunter Renfroe; oh, whoops…

Fortunately, I have the solution for left field, and that’s Jurickson Profar. His cannon of an arm would play up in Fenway’s short left field, and heck, be threatening on the road, too. He’s not a slugger, but he’ll be a .250/.330/.400 type of guy who hits 15 bombs and steals a few bags here and there. Profar will be cheap, and can also play second base or shortstop in a pinch. While Profar has become more of an up-the-middle type hitter, it wouldn’t shock me if at Fenway he starts pulling the ball more for cheap homers and doubles. While the Sox may not end up with Profar, that’s the kind of guy I see the Sox signing.

Now, if I were in charge of the Red Sox, I’d certainly be kicking the tires on Carlos Correa, Dansby Swanson, and Trea Turner. But, I’d only be serious if I was one key piece away from a division title contender. The Sox are like three away.

I would actually go sign two starting pitchers, though. My first favorite is Chris Bassitt. If he leans more into his excellent cutter and curveball, he could be a #2 starter for three seasons in Boston. I’d also sign a second starter, and my choice would be Ross Stripling. Yes, the projections don’t like him, but I do. He’s not the future ace people were hoping for, but you won’t pay him like that anyway. He really figured out his slider in Toronto, his fastball is fine as long as his changeup stays good. Stripling also has a curveball that’s been good in the past. He’s a couple more tweaks away from being a solid #3 starter consistently like he was in 2022.

Andrew Heaney is another guy who should come fairly cheap, but he’s too injury prone for my liking. Quintana had a nice year, but he’s getting older and will probably command more than he’s worth. You could resign Eovaldi, but at this point, I’d rather spend a bit more on Bassitt, and Stripling should be enough to hold down the #4 spot. A rotation of Sale (when healthy), Bello, Pivetta, Bassitt, and Stripling doesn’t look bad to me. That’s before you even figure in Whitlock and if the Red Sox get their rotation lefty in James Paxton or another scrap heap pickup.

I would sign one more bullpen pitcher, and that’s Taylor Rogers. While you may not need a closer, I like having a guy who can shut things down by striking guys out. I feel the best deployment of Rogers isn’t necessarily the ninth inning, but rather your high leverage spots. His WPA marks have been awful two out of the last three years, which is why I suggest bringing him in when you need a key strikeout, not only to close out the game in the ninth. He’s only going to command about $15 million over two years, and I’ll pay $7.5 million per year for an extra win of value.

Let’s add up how much we’ve added to the team payroll and the value

Chris Bassitt: $16M, projected 2.5 WAR

Stripling: $11M, projected 1.5 WAR (although I take the over on this)

Profar: $10M, projected 1.5 WAR (also I take the over)

Taylor Rogers: $7.5M, projected 0.7 WAR

Steamer projections see these guys providing about 6.2 WAR for the cost of $44.5 million per year. That’s a bit less than what the Red Sox likely have to spend without breaking the luxury tax threshold again. Just going off the raw projections, that turns Boston from an 82 win team into an 88 win team. None of these guys break the bank, either, and only Bassitt should need a three year deal while the others should all settle for two years.

Going All in for 2023 is Fool-Hardy, But Standing Pat is Also Not a Good Plan

The reason I wouldn’t go all in right now for the 2023 season is two-fold. One, you’re likely losing Devers in free agency after the year, or to a trade deadline deal in the case that the Sox end up floundering out of contention halfway through the season. The Sox simply don’t value Devers where the rest of the market does. After all, the Sox do have some guys that could handle third base on the way on the farm, but none with the sort of offensive upside Devers promises.

But, the Red Sox are obviously aware that the only other third baseman due to hit the free agent market in the 2023-24 offseason is Manny Machado, and only if he opts out of his contract. It’s very possible he does, although while he’s played spectacularly in San Diego, I doubt he turns away $150 million over 5 years to try and get more. Yeah, Devers is going to be expensive, and with his defensive shortcomings, I’m not sure he’s worth $32 million per annum. You’ll still be paying Sale $30 million in 2024, too, so that’s an instant luxury tax hit if you commit to Devers like that and need to still fill a 26-man roster.

This is why it’s a much more sound strategy to sign several decent guys rather than go all in on one position. All you need is for Devers to have an injury like a Ryan Howard or Albert Belle, and there goes all that money down the drain. By 2025, the Red Sox will have stayed under their luxury tax two years straight and the guys you signed in the 2022-23 off-season are probably on their way out or resigning team-friendly deals if they had down years. You then have big money to spend on the free agent class. The only big free agent in 2024 is Shohei Ohtani, and he’s worth going over the luxury tax in 2024 to sign, especially if you have a solid core already in place to back him up. Otherwise, all the talent that could help you for the next couple of years is here right now.

Now, yes, you could go for broke and sign either Correa or Turner as your big off-season move and perhaps get one of these pitchers. You could go all in for Jacob DeGrom, but he wants to go to Texas badly. (Which is weird because he’s from Florida.) But one guy is not going to save the Red Sox from being consistently mediocre. Just look at the Angels… If the Sox lose the Ohtani sweepstakes in 2024, which is a great possibility, there won’t be much top-shelf talent to choose from like there is this year. So, this is the time to get four or five guys that help your team for a couple of years, and if you have to go bonkers in 2024 to get Ohtani, one year of luxury tax isn’t going to kill you. Heck, you may even still end up with Devers back anyway, but I doubt the Red Sox will pay the $32 million plus a year over 10 years he’ll command with a strong 2023.

What do you think? Would you just make moves to improve the core of the team and bank on the projections to most bear out, just like this?

What would you like your favorite MLB team to do? I plan on looking over all 30 teams over the winter just like this, so let me know who you’re excited to see build up their ballclub this winter!

Writing words, spreading love, Amelia Desertsong primarily writes creative nonfiction articles, as well as dabbling in baseball, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, and whatever else tickles her fancy.

2 thoughts on “What Would I Do With the Boston Red Sox in the 2022 MLB Offseason?

  1. Hi Amelia. James Paxton is like a ghost, for some of us Seattle Mariners fans. He came back to Seattle a couple years ago, after that stint with the Yankees, returning on a one year contract that was lucrative but clearly took into account his injury riddled career. I had my fingers crossed that he’d have an amazing bounce-back year and perhaps we’d sign him to a longer deal thereafter (probably unrealistic and too risky, but I always liked the big Canadian). After a promising spring training down in Arizona, he never made it past the first week of the season. As that season went on, sometimes I almost forgot he was even brought back. It was a crushing blow to those of us who appreciate his potential, one more frustrating addition to the narrative about him as a person with horrible luck when it comes to staying healthy. If he can stay on the field, he’s one of the most electric left handed pitchers in Major League Baseball, it’s a baseball fan thrill to watch him when he’s in a rhythm. I’m rooting for him.

    I LOVE your baseball essays, thank you for sharing these. Your analysis is brilliant, so nuanced and warm. I couldn’t comment on it for some reason but I particularly enjoyed the essay in your archives featuring George Kell. Ernie Harwell (radio), George Kell and Al Kaline were some of the baseball voices of my childhood, when I was growing up a Detroit Tigers fan. Kell’s very clear voice on the broadcast set a high standard for me. I learned some things in your essay about Kell I had no idea about, what a great read. Btw, there’s a typo in that essay– “being” where it should read “beating”.

    Looking forward to reading through more of your baseball essays. I’ve appreciated your other writing, as well. Will keep future comments far more brief so as not to so badly breach internet etiquette 🙂

    Jason

    1. Wow, thank you, Jason. These are likely the kindest words I’ve ever received in regards to my baseball writing. Thanks for catching that typo; my hands aren’t what they used to be and spell check doesn’t catch those types of things. You can rest assured I’m going to write plenty more baseball essays, as the Hot Stove season is when I do the bulk of my baseball writing. It’s funny that I tend to enjoy the offseason more than the actual season sometimes, criticizing the moves that baseball front offices make or don’t make actually can give me more joy than seeing if those moves actually work out or not. That’s one of the most beautiful things about baseball; rarely is it the preseason favorites that make it all way, thanks to the long season (which does seem to go too long sometimes) weeding out those who were in a sprint and can’t bear it through the marathon of a 162-game schedule. I do wish my baseball work got as much attention as my Pokemon articles, but thanks to kind souls such as yourself fully enjoying these pieces on the good ole ballgame, it warms my heart to know that indeed it is worth it to me to carve out lots of time to make these essays as tirelessly researched and pored over as they are. Also, longer comments are perfectly fine as they give me more to respond to!

      As for the Red Sox, they keep signing relief pitchers… which is not what they need to do to contend, but I digress! I can’t control what they do, unfortunately.

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