By Daniel Treacy
Boston University News Service
The Red Sox entered 2021 without high expectations and, at the very end, thrived, finishing 92-70 and reaching the ALCS. It was a push that chief baseball officer, Chaim Bloom, touched on during his end-of-season news conference last month, reiterating that while the team fell short of a championship, his goals were met.
Now, for the next few months, Bloom will become the most important figure in the Red Sox organization as he gets to work on building a roster that can win those additional six games and hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of next season.
“I think the vision now is just to continue to build [on the team’s progress],” Bloom told reporters in October, stating that his goal for 2021 was to solidify the franchise’s next great core.
Boston is fortunate to have most of its core under contract this winter. The Red Sox’s only everyday player to become a free agent was Kyle Schwarber, whom the team acquired in July. Schwarber made a lasting impact in his brief time in Boston, batting .291 with 7 home runs and a .957 OPS over 41 games.
Schwarber struggled mightily in the ALCS, but he hit a crucial home run in both the Wild Card Game and ALDS. The 28-year-old power hitter declined his $11.5 million option for the 2022 season. While the price tag will be steep, Bloom indicated he’s open to bringing Schwarber back.
“We’ve been engaged with Kyle. We’re going to stay engaged,” Bloom told reporters, saying both Schwarber and J.D. Martinez can both hit in the same lineup over a full season. “They certainly both fit.”
The Red Sox may look for an upgrade at second base with Kiké Hernandez set to remain in centerfield, though free agent options are limited behind MVP finalist Marcus Semien.
Jonathan Villar, Jed Lowrie, and Cesar Hernandez could be options; Villar is a versatile infielder with plenty of speed. Boston could also push Xander Bogaerts to second base and dive into a rich free agent crop of shortstops.
Boston’s starting pitching rebounded after a disastrous 2020, but the rotation was still only 8th in the American League with a 4.49 ERA. Taking a step forward will be more difficult now that Eduardo Rodriguez has signed a 5-year, $77 million contract with the Detroit Tigers.
Rodriguez finished the 2021 season with an underwhelming 4.74 ERA, but a 3.32 Fielding Independent Pitching indicates he was better than the raw numbers show. The left-hander was able to throw 157.2 innings after missing the entire 2020 season, indicating he has the potential to be a workhorse in 2022.
Given two pieces of the rotation likely won’t be able to provide consistent length next season — Chris Sale, who just returned from Tommy John Surgery in August, and Tanner Houck, who did not last more than five innings in any start this past season – Rodriguez’s departure leaves a significant hole.
The Red Sox extended a one-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer to Rodriguez, indicating they would be willing to spend serious short-term money to fill out their rotation. Other left-handed starters available include Robbie Ray, Carlos Rodon, and Steven Matz.
Ray might be too pricey after a stellar season in Toronto, but Rodon could be secured on a lucrative short-term deal, much like a qualifying offer, given his injury history. Matz, meanwhile, was serviceable for the Blue Jays against the great offenses of the AL East.
Adding to the bullpen is a must. Adam Ottavino and Hansel Robles are free agents, as is Garrett Richards, who was moved from the rotation to the bullpen late this past season.
In addition, Matt Barnes’ tumultuous second half was one of the primary reasons the Red Sox went 12-16 in August and lost all hope of winning the AL East. After Barnes was left off the ALCS roster, it’s hard to trust him as a late-inning reliever entering 2022.
The Red Sox has a pair of solid left-handed relievers in Josh Taylor and Darwinzon Hernandez, as well as a potential closer in Garrett Whitlock, but Bloom will have to explore the open market to fill out the bullpen.
Given his background with the low-budget Rays, who typically relied on reclamation projects or low-cost arms in their bullpen, Bloom isn’t likely to spend heavily on the bullpen — particularly with the top options on the market being closers.
One potential option could be Brad Boxberger, who has a resurgent year in the Brewers’ bullpen and spent four years with the Rays while Bloom was in Tampa’s front office. Veteran closer Alex Colome could be another option, as he should come at a discount after struggling with the Twins and was the Rays’ closer for a portion of Bloom’s tenure.
An intriguing name might also be Joe Kelly — would the Red Sox be open to a reunion after trading him to the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts deal?
Bloom may be forced to act quickly this winter. Major League Baseball could enter a lockout if the owners and players don’t agree to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement by Dec. 2, at which point no transactions would be possible until the two sides ratified an agreement.
Each day of a lockout would shorten the offseason, and an extended lockout could lead to a mad dash of transactions just before the season.
This is an offseason of reinforcements for the Red Sox. Bloom doesn’t need to go out and find an all-star. With the lineup as talented as it is, the core is already in place.
Instead, shoring up the pitching staff and potentially bringing Kyle Schwarber’s bat back into the fold could be all Boston needs to do to win those additional six games and come out on top in 2022.