(Photo courtesy Boston.com) Xander Bogaerts sitting as the Red Sox lose.
In 2021, the Boston Red Sox shocked the baseball world when they came just two games away from a trip to the World Series. Nearly a year later, the Red Sox are in last place, 18 games behind the first-place New York Yankees.
How did they fall so far, and what can the franchise, led by Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom, do to be competitive again in 2023?
The failure of the 2022 Boston Red Sox stemmed from Bloom’s failure to spend big in free agency. Although the team did sign Trevor Story to a six-year contract, who transitioned from shortstop to second base, they didn’t sign any marquee pitchers, either to start or be used in relief.
The biggest contract given last winter, besides Story’s $140MM deal, went to left-handed pitcher James Paxton. Coming off a Tommy John surgery, Paxton was not expected to pitch until at least mid-August. During his first minor league rehab appearance, the southpaw tore his left lateral muscle, ending his season.
Other free agent signings included starting pitchers Michael Wacha and Rich Hill, as well as reliever pitcher Jake Diekman (traded to Chicago in July) and pitcher Matt Strahm.
The Story signing was the first contract of more than two years given to a player during Bloom’s tenure, which began in late 2019. Since taking control of the Red Sox, Bloom has traded away franchise icon right fielder Mookie Betts and 2018 postseason hero outfielder Andrew Benintendi. The only players to receive contract extensions during the Bloom era are center fielder Kiké Hernández (one year, $10MM) and pitcher Garrett Whitlock (four years, $18.75MM).
When the regular season ends in early October, Bloom’s first order of business should be to sign shortstop Xander Bogaerts to a contract extension. Bogaerts is technically signed until 2026, but he has an opt-out clause which he can trigger this offseason, and it is widely believed that he will hit the open market.
Hand in hand with a Bogaerts extension, the front office also needs to extend third baseman Rafael Devers. Devers is set to become a free agent after the 2023 season, but Bloom should extend him now, before he can leave for another team.
The Red Sox also need a few new faces, in addition to the aforementioned contract extensions. Three of the team’s starting pitchers (Hill, Wacha and Nathan Eovaldi) will be free agents.
Chris Sale, the team’s best pitcher, has missed nearly all of 2022 after a myriad of injuries (a broken rib in the offseason, a broken finger in his second start of the season and a broken wrist following an early August bike crash). He is expected to be ready for opening day of 2023. Expect to see Sale in one of those three open slots in the rotation.
Pitcher Jacob deGrom is set to opt out of his contract with the New York Mets this winter. deGrom is arguably the greatest starting pitcher of the last decade, having won two Cy Young Awards and is frequently leading the league in earned run average. However, it should be noted that he has suffered from multiple injuries over the past two seasons, leading many to wonder if it would be wise to pair the injury-prone Sale and deGrom together.
If the Red Sox do choose to pursue him, the starting pitcher rotation on opening day could include deGrom, Sale, Nick Pivetta, Brayan Bello and either Tanner Houck or Whitlock. The latter two have been used primarily in relief this year, but Houck was a starter in 2020 and 2021, while Whitlock has expressed a desire to be a starting pitcher, and he was used as a starter briefly this season.
Designated hitter J.D. Martinez will be a free agent as well. At 35 years old, Martinez has experienced a rapid regression this season. After hitting 28 home runs in 2021, Martinez has hit just 11 as of mid-September.
However, there might be a perfect solution to fill Martinez’s spot in the lineup.
Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge is set to hit free agency as well, coming off a season where it is widely expected that Judge will become the first American League batter to hit 60 home runs since 1961.
When asked on Tuesday about the chances of coming to Boston, Judge referred to Fenway Park as “one of the best places to play” and noted that it is “always fun going out there and trying to put on a show for [Red Sox fans]”.
The Red Sox have a long way to go if they want to compete in 2023 but adding two marquee players in free agency could put them well on the way to a return to the postseason.