Season's Over Odds and Ends
I thought the Red Sox end of season press conference covered a lot of ground but was pretty standard, obvious, and not very illuminating. The questions had to be asked, but the answers given were known, the usual caveats were still there.
After an unbelievable string of seismic events casting shadows over everything Chaim Bloom has done since joining the Red Sox – Betts ends negotiations and is traded, manager change, Chris Sale Tommy John at the start of spring training, COVID shutdown, Eduardo Rodriguez myocarditis diagnosis on the eve of the season, an offseason with minimal wiggle room leads to ALCS run, the lockout, Sale is broken when the lockout ends, and a middle lane trade deadline amid friendly fire – it’s now time to freakin’ cook.
Money hasn’t come off the books like this in years for the Red Sox, and it won’t again for years to come. Estimates seem to place the team about $80M under the first luxury tax level, and while that will fill plenty of holes, prospects are most likely going to be used to acquire at least one cost-controlled, team-controlled player to supplement the free agent spending spree.
Starting pitching was mentioned, so was bullpen and closer, and DH, and catcher, plus Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, and getting more athletic, and adding home run power. No problem. October is going to be a month of wish lists, free agent rankings, and all those things. Once you start digging in, you learn quickly that the talent in this free agent class becomes very mediocre very quickly.
I’ve seen more than a handful of people mention that Eric Hosmer should be in line for regular at-bats with the Red Sox in 2023, either at 1B with Triston Casas presumably at DH, or just having Hosmer DH himself. Few possible outcomes this winter would be more absurd.
If there’s a team that’s interested in flipping something small, but more useful for the Red Sox, so they can play Hosmer every day for the MLB minimum salary, that would make sense. The Red Sox keeping Hosmer as a cheap, much better version of what Travis Shaw was in 2022 – first base protection in case a young player scuffles, and as a contact-oriented left-handed hitter off the bench – would also be a sound play. I’m not sure Hosmer would love that role, but that’s a possible outcome when you’ve been worth 0.3 fWAR over your past 2,500 plate appearances.
The Red Sox reached an agreement with Trevor Story on March 20th, which pushed them over the luxury tax. Tommy Pham was one of the few remaining interesting options left on the free agent market at the time, and he agreed to sign with Cincinnati on March 23rd. It’s doubtful a union between Pham and the Sox at that point would have changed the season’s fortunes much, but he would have been nice to have before the trade deadline.
Pham joined the Sox and almost immediately replaced Jarren Duran as the Sox leadoff hitter. He had his moments, especially in August when he batted .293/.330/.481, but he couldn’t keep up that pace and had a miserable September, hitting .176/.268/.269.
Overall he finished with an 87 wRC+ with the Sox, and though he made some impressive throws, his overall outfield play here was poor, -5 OAA, -3 DRS.
While the Red Sox haven’t come out and announced it, reading the tea leaves makes it seem obvious that the plan is to have Garrett Whitlock prepare this winter as a starting pitcher and for him to be in the rotation going forward.
I’ve long been a proponent of using him as a multi-inning weapon out of the bullpen, but having him start is preferable to him becoming a one inning reliever – even closer – in my opinion. The organization has always talked about his ability to start and never committed to him as a relief pitcher, so this has seemingly been a couple of years in the making, even his contract is built around escalators based on number of innings pitched.
I don’t think there’s much to take from Whitlock’s starts this year – when he was hobbling around like an old man on a hip that eventually needed surgery – but it was still fine: 39 IP, 4.15 ERA, 3.60 FIP, .723 OPS allowed. He has the pitch mix to make it work, and his K-BB% profile alone makes him a strong bet to be one of the better starters in the league, though there will undoubtedly be kinks to iron out along the way.
Decisions To Make
J.D. Martinez and Nathan Eovaldi started the year as virtual locks for the qualifying offer. As those two had tough seasons, which makes offering them the QO tougher decisions, Michael Wacha forced his way into the discussion for one with a nice year. The Red Sox also need to decide if they want to let James Paxton walk away after rehabbing him from Tommy John, or if they’ll pick up his 2 year, $26M option.
Between now and the end of the World Series, there’s going to be endless analysis and conclusions drawn about these decisions. If these players get QOs, and they start accepting, the big pool of available money this winter starts to disappear quickly.
I ran a couple of polls about James Paxton’s contract being picked, six weeks ago 61% felt it would be picked up by the Red Sox, now that the season is over that number fell to 45%.
I’m in the minority, but if Paxton’s arm is healthy, I still think that option still looks tempting given the starting pitching market the last few winters and his upside. Pitching 20 IP in 2020, 1 IP in 2021, and 0 IP in 2022 is obviously a massive risk, but a healthy Paxton in the middle of a rotation would be a major boost if he proved healthy.
The team has said there will be no coaching staff changes going into next season, and next is finding out if there are any front office changes coming. Some people are incredibly good at their jobs and are primed for promotions, either here or elsewhere. But also, some of those anonymous front office sources that popped up in the newspapers a few times this summer were a little troubling. Maybe that’s something that’s unavoidable during a poor year and you just need to let it be, but to me that kind of stuck out like a sore thumb even in a season full of annoyance.
I’ll probably be looking at Bogaerts again and the other free agent shortstops. Also taking a closer look at the qualifying offer cases. Highlighting some intriguing free agent options. Perhaps take a look-see at reliever trade options. Plus, I’m kind of worried about the future of Red Sox DH-ing.
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