Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

For the Red Sox, if it hasn’t already, the 2024 season begins today. Red Sox president Sam Kennedy and manager/general manager/baseball ops alpha Alex Cora will address the media and begin sifting through the rubble of another lost year. Possibly, team officials may give us some insight into the Red Sox’ offseason plan.

In the interim, we’ll deduce some things on our own.

Over the coming days and weeks, beginning with this overview, we will offer a position-by-position breakdown of where the Red Sox stood in 2023 and where they may be headed in 2024 (and beyond). Starting tomorrow, the plan is to provide a relatively detailed look at every position on the diamond by examining where the Sox stand relative to the other teams in the American League and the entirety of Major League Baseball, all with the hopes of exploring what needs to change – and how quickly.

The good news? If the Sox are willing to spend – and longtime MLB.com correspondent Ian Browne recently sounded confident they will – improvement can come relatively quickly.

One final note: Years ago, during the heyday of owners John Henry and Tom Werner, then-general manager Theo Epstein once suggested that the goal of the Red Sox baseball operation was to have an above average major-leaguer at most every position while being no worse than average at any position. Make sense? With that in mind, we give you an opening look at the State of the Red Sox entering a pivotal offseason in an attempt to decipher the 2024 Red Sox offseason plan.

  • Catcher

    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 16: Connor Wong #12 of the Boston Red Sox looks on against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 16, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – JULY 16: Connor Wong #12 of the Boston Red Sox looks on against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 16, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    Notable team offensive, overall ranks

    AL: Ninth in OPS, 10th in WAR

    MLB: 18th in OPS, 19th in WAR

    Notable team defensive ranks

    AL: Fifth in DRS, 10th in DEF

    MLB: 12 in DRS, 18th in DEF

    OK, the catching on this team isn’t a total disaster – but it isn’t good, either, no matter how much people want to talk up Connor Wong. In a perfect world, Wong would be a backup to an experienced starter who bats left-handed and can handle a staff. We’re not sure that profile is available and the position is almost always imperfect. (The Sox reportedly explored the right-handed-hitting Sean Murphy last offseason but he was dealt to Atlanta.)

    The Sox have other needs (read: starting pitching) that are greater and 2023 first-round pick Kyle Teel is already at Double-A. The guess is that the Sox will continue to stopgap here, though it wouldn’t hurt to upgrade Reese McGuire. The free-agent market is thin. Overall, the Sox are slightly below average at this position, but other needs are bigger.

  • First base

    Notable team offensive ranksAL: Ninth in OPS, 10th in WAR, 12th in wRC+. MLB: 18th in OPS, 19th in WAR, 20th in wRC+. Notable team defensive ranks AL: Fifth in DRS, 10th in DEF. MLB: 12 in DRS, 18th in DEF.

    SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – JULY 28: Triston Casas #36 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the top of the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on July 28, 2023 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

    Notable team offensive, overall ranks

    AL: Second in OPS, fourth in WAR

    MLB: Seventh in OPS, 10th in WAR

    Notable team defensive ranks

    AL: Sixth in DRS, 15th in DEF

    MLB: 17th DRS, 30th in DEF

    For all the things that went wrong for the Red Sox this year, here’s something that generally went right: the development of Triston Casas. (Once again, a reminder that he was drafted under Dave Dombrowski.) By the end of the season, Casas looked like a bona fide middle-of-the-order bat. In his final 106 games, Casas batted .293 with a .922 OPS. The defense was poor for the first half of the season, though he did improve some as the year progressed.

    Will Casas ever be a great first baseman? Probably not. But if he can become an average fielder, the Sox can sandwich him and Rafael Devers around a right-handed bat at the 2-3-4 spots in the lineup (or 3-4-5) to form a heart of the order that could be formidable for years to come. This is one of the few spots on the diamond where the Sox shouldn’t need to mess with anything for at least some time.

    (This feels like a good time to mention the following: DRS is defensive runs saved and rates a player defensively among those at his position; DEF is defensive runs above average and factors in a positional adjustment so that, in this case, first basemen can be compared to other positions. As a result, most (if not all) first basemen have a negative rating in this area, though the Red Sox ranked dead last.)

  • Second Base

    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 16: Christian Arroyo #39 of the Boston Red Sox in action against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 16, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – JULY 16: Christian Arroyo #39 of the Boston Red Sox in action against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 16, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    Notable team offensive, overall ranks

    AL: Fifth in OPS, 11th in WAR

    MLB: 17th in OPS, 26th in WAR

    Notable team defensive ranks

    AL: 15th in DRS, 15th in DEF

    MLB: 30th DRS, 30th in DEF

    Quick, name the Red Sox second baseman this year. The right answer? There isn’t one.

    In order of games played, the Red Sox had 12 players appear at the position in 2023: Christian Arroyo, Enmanuel Valdez, Pablo Reyes, Luis Urias, Enrique Hernandez, Justin Turner, Yu Chang, Connor Wong, Ceddanne Rafaela, David Hamilton, Trevor Story, and Bobby Dalbec. So who’s the starter in 2024? Good question.

    The Sox actually got half-decent offense at this position, but the defense (as was the case at many positions this year) was a disaster. The best plan may to be move back Trevor Story, who isn’t going to like it. But a team like the Red Sox shouldn’t be taking such a sloppy approach.

  • Third base

    ARLINGTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 20: Rafael Devers #11 of the Boston Red Sox tries to field a ground ball in the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field on September 20, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images)

    ARLINGTON, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 20: Rafael Devers #11 of the Boston Red Sox tries to field a ground ball in the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field on September 20, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images)

    Notable team offensive, overall ranks

    AL: First in OPS, eighth in WAR

    MLB: First in OPS, 13th in WAR

    Notable team defensive ranks

    AL: 12th in DRS, 14th in DEF

    MLB: 26th DRS, 29th in DEF

    Starting in 2024, Devers will count for a little more than $29 million per year on the Red Sox luxury tax payroll, which is fine. He’s an elite offensive run producer. This year, despite some ups and downs, he finished first in OPS among all regular third baseman, which is no small feat.

    So why is his WAR (a combination of offense and defense) relatively low? Because his defense in 2023 was poor. And let’s make this much clear: the value of Devers’ 10-year, $313.5-million contract depends on him providing elite production as a third baseman. If he becomes a below average fielder and/or designated hitter, his value goes down.

    While he may never be a great third baseman, Devers needs to be much better in the field than he was in 2023. Still, relatively speaking, he’s not a problem.

  • Shortstop

    BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 23: Korey Lee #26 of the Chicago White Sox throws down to third base after Trevor Story #10 of the Boston Red Sox struck out during the fourth inning at Fenway Park on September 23, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MA – SEPTEMBER 23: Korey Lee #26 of the Chicago White Sox throws down to third base after Trevor Story #10 of the Boston Red Sox struck out during the fourth inning at Fenway Park on September 23, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    Notable team offensive, overall ranks

    AL: 13th in OPS, 14th in WAR

    MLB: 27th in OPS, 28th in WAR

    Notable team defensive ranks

    AL: Sixth in DRS, 13th in DEF

    MLB: 12th DRS, 25th in DEF

    So here’s the argument for keeping Story at shortstop: the Red Sox defense improved considerably once he returned to the lineup. Still, Boston’s overall rankings at the position plummeted in the absence of Xander Bogaerts, backboned the San Diego Padres of a WAR that ranked seventh in the majors at the position.

    So why consider moving Story to second? Because opening up the market at two positions might prove to make more sense. If there is value in Story’s versatility, use it. When he played this year, injury or no injury, he was a major disappointment offensively.

    In two seasons with the Sox now, he has batted .227 with a .685 OPS. We’re not in Colorado anymore, Toto.

  • Left Field

    BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 27: Masataka Yoshida #7 of the Boston Red Sox blows bubbles in the dugout during the sixth inning of their final home game of the season against the Tampa Bay Ray at Fenway Park on September 27, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MA – SEPTEMBER 27: Masataka Yoshida #7 of the Boston Red Sox blows bubbles in the dugout during the sixth inning of their final home game of the season against the Tampa Bay Ray at Fenway Park on September 27, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    Notable team offensive, overall ranks

    AL: third in OPS, third in WAR

    MLB: eighth in OPS, sixth in WAR

    Notable team defensive ranks

    AL: 10th in DRS, 13th in DEF

    MLB: 12th 15th, 23rd in DEF

    Given the above photo, let’s put it this way: in the second half, the proverbial bubble under Masataka Yoshida abruptly burst. Yoshida’s output plummeted after the All-Star break, his OPS dropping by roughly 200 points while he emerged as a defensive liability.

    That said, left field at Fenway Park is one place where you can hide bad defense. (The Red Sox have had a long history of it.) Like everyone, Yoshida has more value if he requires a glove. Still, his presence highlights a core problem in 2023: bad defense at the corners. Only one player can be the designated hitter. The ones who don’t have to play representative defense or things could break down.

  • Center Field

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 30: Ceddanne Rafaela #43 of the Boston Red Sox hits an RBI double during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 30, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Rutherford/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 30: Ceddanne Rafaela #43 of the Boston Red Sox hits an RBI double during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 30, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Rutherford/Getty Images)

    Notable team offensive, overall ranks

    AL: second in OPS, third in WAR

    MLB: third in OPS, fifth in WAR

    Notable team defensive ranks

    AL: 13th in DRS, 14th in DEF

    MLB: 24th in DRS, 28rd in DEF

    The Red Sox employed seven players as their center fielder this season, but the best defensive player of the lot is no longer with the organization: Enrique Hernandez. The other six center fielders included Jarren Duran, Adam Duvall, Ceddanne Rafaela, Wilyer Abreu, Rob Refsnyder, and Raimel Tapia, the first five of whom come with varying questions and the last of whom is no longer with the organization.

    There isn’t a clear choice here, though a tandem of Rafaela and Abreu is intriguing. The overall defense has to be better. And before you mention Jarren Duran, the best place for him is left field, forcing either him or Yoshida into a DH role. Is one of them trade bait?

  • Right Field

    BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 23: Alex Verdugo #99 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after lining out with two runners on-base during the eighth inning of their 1-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox at Fenway Park on September 23, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MA – SEPTEMBER 23: Alex Verdugo #99 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after lining out with two runners on-base during the eighth inning of their 1-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox at Fenway Park on September 23, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    Notable team offensive, overall ranks

    AL: fifth in OPS, fifth in WAR

    MLB: 10th in OPS, eighth in WAR

    Notable team defensive ranks

    AL: second in DRS, second in DEF

    MLB: fifth in DRS, fifth in DEF

    If you’re frustrated with Alex Verdugo, you’re not alone – the Red Sox are right there with you. The irony is that right field was one of the Red Sox’ most competitive positions in 2023, at least based on the numbers. The problem? Verdugo was disciplined at least twice (that we know of) by manager Alex Cora and didn’t really make a difference.

    From the above participants in center field, the Red Sox may be able to at least fortify two outfield positions and include Verdugo in a trade for pitching. At this point, the most surprising outcome would include his return.

  • Designated Hitter

    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 20: Justin Turner #2 of the Boston Red Sox hits a three-run home run during the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on August 20, 2023 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

    NEW YORK, NEW YORK – AUGUST 20: Justin Turner #2 of the Boston Red Sox hits a three-run home run during the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on August 20, 2023 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

    Notable team, overall ranks

    AL: sixth in OPS, ninth in WAR

    MLB: 11th in OPS, 13th in WAR

    Of all the players acquired by deposed chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, Justin Turner may ultimately prove to have been the most fruitful. Turner was a good, reliable player for the Red Sox, though the team’s ultimate production at the position was slightly above average.

    Turner has a player option for 2024 and would be a good fit in the lineup from the right side, but the Sox might actually have more flexibility if he opts out. Could and should they want him back? Depending on the scenarios, sure. But it may depend on whatever else is available to them.

    Also, the fact that Alex Cora made sure to give Turner a proper sendoff at Fenway Park suggests that Cora already knows something we do not. Last year, Cora did the same for Xander Bogaerts. Before long, Bogaerts was officially gone.

  • Bullpen

    ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 18: Chris Martin #55 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Texas Rangers during the ninth inning at Globe Life Field on September 18, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

    ARLINGTON, TX – SEPTEMBER 18: Chris Martin #55 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Texas Rangers during the ninth inning at Globe Life Field on September 18, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

    Key rankings

    AL: 10th in ERA, 14th in strikeouts per nine, fourth in innings, fifth in WAR, 11th in WHIP, 14th in batting average against, sixth in home runs per nine IP, seventh in walks per nine IP

    MLB: 21st in ERA, 25th in strikeouts per nine IP, fifth in IP, 13th in WAR, 23rd in WHIP, 27th in batting average against, 15th in home runs per nine IP, 10th in walks per nine IP

    The Red Sox set out with a clear goal for their bullpen in 2023 – to throw more strikes. And they did. Overall, the relief corps was one of the strengths of the team, though the innings piled up and ultimately resulted in the numbers looking worse than they probably deserved to be.

    Was the bullpen great? No. But it wasn’t as bad as some of those rankings suggest, though the increase in strikes thrown had an obvious side effect: more hits allowed. Still, the Sox didn’t give up an absurd number of home runs and the bullpen generally contributed more wins than losses.

    Presumably, Garrett Whitlock will be a full-time reliever and that will help, but the Sox could use a stud lefty – like most teams – as insurance for the surprising Brennan Bernardino. All things considered, however, there is lots to work with here.

  • Starting Rotation

    BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox pitches to a Baltimore Orioles batter in the third inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 28, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

    BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – SEPTEMBER 28: Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox pitches to a Baltimore Orioles batter in the third inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 28, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

    Key rankings

    AL: 12th in ERA, fourth in strikeouts per nine, 14th in innings, 12th in WAR, 10th in WHIP, 13th in batting average against,14th in home runs per nine IP, sixth in walks per nine IP

    MLB: 22nd in ERA, seventh in strikeouts per nine IP, 27th in IP, 23rd in WAR, 17th in WHIP, 19th in batting average against, 26th in home runs per nine IP, 11th in walks per nine IP

    The Red Sox tried to go young this year with Whitlock, Tanner Houck, and Kutter Crawford … and it wasn’t close to good enough. So now what? They couldn’t possibly rely on Chris Sale again. (Or could they?) Nick Pivetta closed the season like Secretariat in spikes, but that feels like fool’s gold.

    What the Sox need is to spend for a frontline starter (Yoshinobu Yamamoto? Blake Snell?) or trade for one (Dylan Cease?) … or both. The need is pretty clear. Please, no more dinking around. With some help at the top of the rotation, the Red Sox could be considerably better in 2024.

    We’ve seen this before. Time to pay the fiddler.

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