Boston Red Sox

Let’s get this much out of the way: in Major League Baseball, the offseason moves at a glacial pace. Everything takes forever. The majority of big-name free agents remain unsigned and what happens from here is still anybody’s guess.

Now, that said, the Red Sox’ winter of resurgence is hardly off to a compelling start.

Fresh off their fifth last-place finish in the last 11 seasons, the Sox entered this offseason with more combined questions and holes than any season in recent memory. They need quality pitching at the front of the rotation and back of the bullpen, not to mention a catcher, outfielder and designated hitter, among other things. None of that even begins to address their potential needs if the Sox cannot sign Xander Bogaerts and/or Rafael Devers, the former of whom is a free agent and the latter of whom is entering his final year of team control.

Is there ample time left in this offseason to affect the Red Sox’ fortunes? Of course.

But given that this is Boston and these are the Red Sox, it’s also never too early to worry.

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 20: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox walks across the field in the fifth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 20, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

    CINCINNATI, OHIO – SEPTEMBER 20: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox walks across the field in the fifth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 20, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

    Let’s start with Bogaerts (above) and Devers – and in that order. Has Bogaerts signed with someone else? No. But he hasn’t re-signed with the Red Sox, either, and logic (not to mention history) suggests that the odds are working against him returning. Whether or not you think the 30-year-old Bogaerts is worth a big investment, remember this: to keep the status quo, the Red Sox need to retain both him and Devers – and they were a last-place team in 2022. If Bogaerts or Devers (let alone both) departs, where are the Sox going to spend their money? Playing around with the idea of someone like Aaron Judge is certainly entertaining, but the odds seem against it, especially when you consider some of the developments on the market to date.

     

  • HOUSTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 05: Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros celebrates after defeating the Philadelphia Phillies 4-1 to win the 2022 World Series in Game Six of the 2022 World Series at Minute Maid Park on November 05, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

    HOUSTON, TEXAS – NOVEMBER 05: Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros celebrates after defeating the Philadelphia Phillies 4-1 to win the 2022 World Series in Game Six of the 2022 World Series at Minute Maid Park on November 05, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

    Recently, after all, the Boston Globe reported that the Red Sox had no intention of bidding on the high-end starting pitchers available in this market, a group that includes Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom and Carlos Rodon. Those three starters will likely command anywhere from $25-$45 million per year over the next few year, at least, which may or may not be a smart investment. But the Red Sox’ pitching staff, especially, needs an influx of star power, and the team’s unwillingness to take a financial risk in the starting rotation suggests that maybe they would pour their money into the bullpen and go with a most potent group at the back of the game.

    Right?

    Wrong.

     

     

  • PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - NOVEMBER 03: Rafael Montero #47 of the Houston Astros delivers a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies during the eighth inning in Game Five of the 2022 World Series at Citizens Bank Park on November 03, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – NOVEMBER 03: Rafael Montero #47 of the Houston Astros delivers a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies during the eighth inning in Game Five of the 2022 World Series at Citizens Bank Park on November 03, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    When this offseason began, there were a handful of names atop the reliever market, most notably Mets closer Edwin Diaz who, while a personal favorite here, was always a longshot. Diaz ended up re-signing with the Mets for more than $20 million per year – precisely the total we suggested the Sox should offer him – which is fine. But the remaining names on the bullpen market might have been headed by right-hander Rafael Montero of the Houston Astros, who re-signed with the Astros for three years and $34.5 million. Right-hander Robert Suarez of the San Diego Padres also re-signed with his existing team for five years and $46 million, an average of $9.2 million per season.

    Are those costs high for relievers? You bot they are, but such is the cost of doing business in baseball these days. The fact that the Red Sox will not pay starters and have not paid relievers suggests there has been no real change or departure from the way the team has done things so far under Chaim Bloom, which is especially worrisome given the club’s needs. Could the Sox contend for a playoff spot this year with an array of shrewd, lower-cost signings? In theory, we suppose so. But it would also be an indication that the Sox are content with building a Tier-2 type of team that isn’t really championship-driven as much as it is looking to maintain a B-grade average.

    And it isn’t just the pitching that should concern you at this point.

  • On Monday, news leaked that the Houston Astros – yes, the reigning world champions – had agreed to a three-year, $60 million contract with right-handed hitter Jose Abreu, a first-baseman and designated hitter. More importantly, Abreu also had been a target of the Red Sox, who need a right-handed hitter to replace J.D. Martinez. (The idea that Abreu could help fill in at first base and spell Tristan Casas also has some appeal.) But Abreu signed with the Astros, which raises an array of questions – and none of them good.

    Did the Sox miss on the soon-to-be 36-year-old Abreu because they weren’t willing to pay him what the Astros were? Did Abreu turn them down because he wanted a better chance to win? And the consequently, were the Sox willing to overwhelm Abreu to convince him otherwise? No matter how you slice it, the potential answers aren’t good. The Sox either were unwilling to extend themselves – again – or Abreu wanted to be somewhere else, an indictment on either what the Red Sox are or what they have become.

     

  • CLEVELAND, OHIO - OCTOBER 07: Shane Bieber #57 of the Cleveland Guardians throws a pitch in the first inning against the the Tampa Bay Rays during game one of the Wild Card Series at Progressive Field on October 07, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

    CLEVELAND, OHIO – OCTOBER 07: Shane Bieber #57 of the Cleveland Guardians throws a pitch in the first inning against the the Tampa Bay Rays during game one of the Wild Card Series at Progressive Field on October 07, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

    So what happens from here? Excellent question. Baseball’s annual winter meetings are scheduled to begin on Sunday, when offseason activity throughout the game may ramp up. The Sox may have trade options at their disposal, and one of the most potentially intriguing names on this market is right-hander Shane Bieber, who was reportedly available at this year’s annual trading deadline. Bieber has two more years of team control remaining and is just 27 years old, but that combination raises another obvious question as it pertains to the Red Sox.

    Are the Red Sox willing to give up the kind of prospects someone like Bieber would command in a trade?

    And the seeming answers is no.

    Under Bloom, obviously, the Sox have made it a priority to rebuild their player development operation, which is hardly a bad thing. But to what end? Casas, Brayan Bello and shortstop Marcelo Mayer are the best prospects in the Red Sox system and feel like untouchables. Acquiring someone like Bieber would seemingly require at least one of them to be in the deal. And while the Sox have other prospects to deal, a collection of prospect ponies (for lack of a better word) isn’t likely to land them a horse, though stranger things have happened in the history of MLB dealings.

    The point?

    If the Red Sox aren’t willing to extend themselves on contracts for starters or relievers, they would have to extend themselves on a trade. And if they are not willing to do that, ho do they expect to procure high-end talent from outside the organization.

    And if their answer this offseason – and their way to appease their fans – is to keep Bogaerts and Devers, well … how does that make them any better when they were a last-place team with those same players?

    Cross your fingers, Sox followers.

    And hold your breath.