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Mishmash of Thoughts as Free Agency Opens
Chief Baseball Officer
I found Craig Breslow's introductory press conference to be fine. However, I thought his subsequent appearances on WEEI and particularly NESN were more engaging and interesting. Additionally, listening to a few different podcasts that featured him as a guest over the last few years, I thought he shined through and made it evident why he’s now in charge of Red Sox baseball operations.
Right-handed lineup help
Justin Turner and Adam Duvall combined for 979 plate appearances, 44 home runs, and a .218 isolated power with the Red Sox in 2023. Both are currently free agents. Even with their contributions, Red Sox right-handed batters ranked 26th in home runs and 23rd in isolated power.
To say it’s imperative that that Trevor Story rebounds offensively next year is a massive understatement. Thankfully, finally being healthy and having his first normal offseason in years should serve as a springboard.
Even if Story returns to form, it won't be enough right-handed help for the team. Current RH bats include Connor Wong, Rob Refsnyder, Pablo Reyes, Bobby Dalbec (?), and Luis Urias (?).
Ceddanne Rafaela and Nick Yorke are the closest RH minor league bats that could potentially contribute, but it's difficult to envision difference making extra base power being a key part of either's game at this time.
Rhys Hoskins, Teoscar Hernandez, Jorge Soler, and Mitch Garver are some of the better free agent options in a weak position player class.
If the Red Sox are in bold-move-mode, how about a trade and signing of Pete Alonso? This could involve having him and Triston Casas split first base and DH duties, thus forming a Devers, Alonso, Casas long-term heart of the order. [😂 but also 🤔]
I mentioned it the other day, but it feels kind of weird to individually like Masataka Yoshida, Alex Verdugo, Jarren Duran, Wilyer Abreu, and Ceddanne Rafaela in their own ways, but still have a hard time seeing a 2024 starting outfield from that mix.
I think Yoshida is mostly going to play LF next season, and I don’t think that’s as much of an issue as it’s being made out to be. It seems like people that are around the Red Sox all season feel Verdugo is going to be moved along this winter. I was thinking about prospect rankings the other day and I had Abreu ahead of Yorke, I wondered if that was crazy, so I polled twitter and 72% voted that Abreu will have a better career. The Steamer 2024 Projections kind of like Abreu, giving him a .343 OBP and tick above league average power. And, unless something drastic changes this winter, Rafaela is going to need more time in Triple-A, if he’s not involved in a trade package.
I wish I had more conviction on Duran. If you recall the survey from last month, 3% voted he is going to be a star, 48% a useful regular, 31% think it’ll always be a roller coaster with him, and 18% are ready to try and sell high. He had his insane hot streak in July, partially fueled by hyper aggressive base running, which is great if it becomes a consistent part of his game. Duran finished with a slash line of .295/.346/.482 and an expected line of .266/.318/.399.
I imagine his free agency is going to involve every GM in baseball asking their owner if they want to be involved, every team that had their owner say yes offering something like $475-525M, and then Shohei Ohtani deciding where he wants to play, with the final money total not being a deciding factor.
Should the Red Sox be involved? Yes, throw your hat in the ring and see what happens. But do I think a winter built heavily around a mind-blowing Ohtani contract, while he is recovering from arm surgery, would be optimal? Probably not.
Yamamoto and Imanaga
I want both. I hope the Red Sox offer $200M+ to Yoshinobu Yamamoto and have Masataka Yoshida leading the recruiting effort to land him. The combination of his age, stuff, and only money standing in the way should make him one of the biggest priority targets of this ownership’s tenure.
Unfortunately, many teams are going to be just as motivated, and I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if Steve Cohen just makes it impossible for him to not sign with the Mets.
With Yamamoto, it’s a mid-to-high 90s fastball with a devastating split-finger. He also featured a cutter and a huge curveball in the WBC.
Shota Imanaga recently turned 30-years-old and isn’t the same caliber pitcher that Yamamoto is, but his combination of pinpoint control and pitches that have extremely positive characteristics make him one of the more interesting free agents this winter.
His fastball is mostly 92-93 mph, but has extreme life, as shown on the chart of his pitches during the WBC. His tendency to be around the plate so much, and relying so heavily on his fastball, seemingly led to more frequent home runs allowed in Japan than other previously well regarded pitchers, but that’s a price of doing business when you pitch with his style. Whichever team signs him will mostly likely want to tinker with his pitch usage rates, but the command and stuff combination is so very intriguing.
How hot of a take would it be to suggest James Paxton could be next year’s version of Nathan Eovaldi’s revival season? Paxton basically missed the first and last months of 2023, and when he pitched it was roughly 40 dominate innings, 50 mediocre innings where home runs become an issue, and 10 innings of disaster before getting shut down. Charts of his velocity and vertical break on his fastball paint a clear picture of him running out of steam as the season went along, plus he was dealing with a “knee inflammation” issue that seemed to coincide with his decline in stuff.
Should a team sign Paxton with the expectation of him being a top-of-the-rotation guy? No. However, is there a possibility that Paxton, with a finally healthy arm and a decent number of innings built back up after years off, could offer some of the best upside in this free agent pitching class, at least for a year? I think so.
The Red Sox can tell us their “overall baseball operations spending” is near the top of MLB until they are blue in the face, but I assure you no one will care about that narrative if it starts getting pushed on the public. It’ll only lead to another spectacular PR fail that was totally unnecessary.
If the Red Sox don't exceed the CBT threshold significantly heading into next season, it seems like we'll be facing an ownership crisis with the franchise.
The Red Sox are roughly $35M under the tax, and they will need to spend well beyond that to field a highly competitive team in 2024 without gutting the farm system. With young players starting to make impacts again at the major league level, the rebuilt farm system looking strong, and a substantial amount of money coming off the books again next winter, this seems like an optimal time to spend heavily.
We’ll see how things unfold in the coming weeks and months, but this will undoubtedly be a major focal point this winter.