I know most people reading this find the question in this column’s title to be laughable. The Red Sox need top-tier starting pitching above all, and they still find themselves without an ace. In light of that, how could anyone possibly confuse Craig Breslow’s acquisitions to this point as being anything close to the “full throttle” expectation that Tom Werner (unwittingly) foisted upon the team?
Worse yet, rumors are now circulating that the 2023 Red Sox operated on a strict budget of about $225 million, which is $8 million below the first competitive balance tax threshold. Those rumors further hypothesized that the 2024 Red Sox will operate on a similar budget. With the current payroll currently at just over $200 million, sources have claimed (and who wouldn’t trust an anonymous source?) that Boston needs to shed more money off the books before adding any other sizable contracts to the roster.
Does anyone else find it a bit curious that these disturbing rumors about the Red Sox’ self-imposed economic constraints were “leaked” immediately after constantly-injured “ace” Chris Sale was traded to Atlanta for highly-rated infielder Vaughn Grissom? That trade was well regarded by most Red Sox fans. In fact, it was arguably the first positive development this team has experienced since early August.
But mere hours after the trade was consummated, “budget-gate” descended upon us like an emergency CO2 bath in a fertilizer plant to douse the moderate dose of optimism that had been generated by the transaction. It’s almost like clandestine forces are operating in the shadows to foster outright misery among Red Sox fans, with the aim of forcing outright rebellion against Fenway Sports Group.
I’m no conspiracy theorist, but anyone who is familiar with my work probably knows who I would guess is pulling the strings on that coup d’état.
For the record, I love the Sale-Grissom trade. I think Vaughn Grissom is going to be a very good player for a long time, and his righthanded bat immediately helps balance out what was a very lefty-heavy Red Sox lineup last season. He’s a good contact hitter who tore it up in AAA last season, hitting .330/.419/.501/.921 with eight home runs and 61 RBI in 397 at bats while playing his home games in an incredibly pitcher-friendly ballpark. In his 216 MLB at bats with the Braves over the past two seasons, he hit .287/.339/.407/.746 with five home runs and 27 RBI. He’d have already been a starter in The Show for the past two years with virtually any organization but Atlanta, who has one of the two best infields in the game (Riley – Arcia – Albies – Olson) and just couldn’t find regular at bats for him.
Second base was a serious concern for Red Sox fans until this trade occurred. As much as I like Enmanuel Valdez, he’s yet another lefthanded bat and he plays poor defense. Grissom is a righty, he can play second base, he just turned 23, and he’s under team control for the next six years. He’s yet another addition to a very talented foundation of young Red Sox players who will be productive for years to come. And all they gave up for him was a pitcher who can’t stay on the field.
Yet it feels like nobody is excited about the addition of Grissom (or the addition-by-subtraction of Sale). Why? Because unconfirmed murmurs of ownership continuing to cheap out came right on the heels of the trade. Are we just going to overlook that Craig Breslow just dished off a perennial black hole in the starting rotation for a perfect fit that won’t be leaving anytime soon?
I know the Red Sox are still in dire need of an ace, and I realize that signing Lucas Giolito to a two-year, $38.5 million deal (with a player option after 2024 and a mutual option after 2025) doesn’t solve that. But we’ve all known since mid-2023 that this rotation was not one, but two starting pitchers short. They needed an ace and another reliable arm.
If you look at Giolito’s numbers at season’s end for the last two years, he doesn’t seem to fill either of those needs. However, a closer examination would reveal that Giolito can still be a solid number-two starting pitcher.
Look no further than how Giolito performed with the White Sox from 2019 – 2021. He received Cy Young votes in all three of those seasons, with ERAs of 3.41, 3.48, and 3.53. After struggling in 2022 (4.88 ERA), he largely returned to form in Chicago last season. His ERA dropped back down to 3.79 in 21 starts until he was traded to that toxic waste dump of a clubhouse in Anaheim (6.89 ERA in six starts), and things went from bad to worse when the fledgling Guardians picked him up off waivers to end the season (7.04 ERA in six starts).
You can’t overlook the giant bugaboo with Giolito’s game last year, which was the long ball. He gave up 41 home runs in 2023, more than any pitcher in the league, as opponents feasted on his fastball. He coughed up 20 of those homers in his 21 Chicago starts, which is not exactly impressive, but the gophers absolutely ballooned after he was traded. He surrendered a whopping 10 home runs in his six starts with the Angels, then gave up 11 more in his six appearances with Cleveland. He also began divorce proceedings around the midseason mark, and who knows what kind of psychological toll that may have taken on his performance.
If you think the home run disparities and personal issues sound like excuses, you’re correct. Giolito is not an ace, and he’s coming off two bad years. But he’s only 29, and the man eats innings. He has averaged 174.2 innings pitched over his last five non-Covid seasons, and this Red Sox team desperately needs starting pitchers who can go deep into games and keep the bullpen in fighting shape.
The new Boston pitching triumvirate of Chief Baseball Officer Breslow, pitching coach Andrew Bailey, and director of pitching Justin Willard have each been instrumental figures in crafting successful pitching development programs for the Cubs, Giants, and Twins respectively. Giolito’s resurrection will be priority one for these pitching professors, who hope that some time in the lab will get Giolito back on track to being one of the better starting pitchers in the American League.
As excited as I am for Grissom to show what he can do in an everyday role in Beantown, he’s not a slugger. That leaves the Red Sox in need of a righthanded power threat who can hit in the middle of the lineup, likely between Rafael Devers and Triston Casas.
I envision Trevor Story emerging as the man who fills that role this season, but I have to be realistic. We can’t just write off his immense offensive struggles of the past two years as aberrations caused by injuries and a change of scenery. Story has to actually show us that he still possesses the pop that earned him MVP votes in Colorado for us to believe he can be that type of player again. Until he does that, the Red Sox need a righty who can be relied on to drive in 75 runs or so. New free agent signing Tyler O’Neil had a season like that once, but he’s had two crappy seasons since then and he’s no sure bet to return to his peak form either.
The goal for this spot in the order is to replace Justin Turner’s production from 2023. Turner is still unsigned, but he’s 39 years old. The older he gets, the more likely it is for him to suffer more nagging injuries like the heel issue that plagued him during the second half of 2023. At this stage, Turner is primarily a DH who can play some occasional first base and third base when healthy. With Devers cemented at third base, Casas at first, and Masataka Yoshida in need of ample DH time to keep his body fresh for the MLB season, Turner sadly no longer fits on the Red Sox.
Rhys Hoskins is really good at hitting baseballs really far, but he hasn’t played anywhere besides first base or DH since 2018. Much like Turner, he’s not a realistic option in any spot where regular at bats are available.
Oddly, the only logical spot where it’s possible to add an impact righthanded bat is the outfield, even though the Red Sox are already flush with outfielders. Yoshida, Jarren Duran, and Wilyer Abreu (all lefthanded) have the biggest upside. Cedanne Rafaela projects to be a defensive wizard in center. O’Neil is a one-year wonder who can play all three spots. And Rob Refsnyder is a platoon guy that now finds himself on the outside looking in.
Teoscar Hernandez had been the darling of Red Sox social media until Sunday night, when he took a comically high AAV ($23 million) for a one-year contract with the new Evil Empire, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hernandez had the bat and glove to be the righthanded anchor of the Boston lineup while adequately playing each corner outfield position, so watching the Red Sox’ offer (2 years, $28 million) come up shorter on annual dollars but higher on years sent the fanbase into their latest tizzy.
Immediately after Teo signed with L.A., the next batch of rumors claimed that the Red Sox were ramping up their efforts to nab Jorge Soler, a former World Series MVP who was beastly in Miami last year and doesn’t whiff at the astonishing rate that Hernandez does. Soler is a pure DH who would play a worse left field than Yoshida, but shoddy defense in a left field/DH platoon featuring those two bats would be worth the benefits of keeping them both fresh and in the lineup all season.
In my opinion, the best move to make to balance out the lineup would be to bring back Adam Duvall on a one- or two-year deal. We’ve seen him kick ass in a Red Sox uniform and hit well in Fenway, pounding 21 home runs in only 92 games last year. He’s a very good corner outfielder who can play some center in a pinch, and he can probably be obtained for an AAV of under $10 million for a year or two.
Of course, adding one outfielder means you’d have to make room in the outfield for him. This is where the Red Sox should use their surplus of outfielders to their advantage and create a trade package to acquire George Kirby from the Mariners.
Seattle is very deep in the starting pitching department. With ace Luis Castillo and Logan Gilbert both locked in until 2028, Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo already raising eyebrows in their rookie seasons, and Anthony Desclafani coming over from San Francisco last week, the M’s could part with Kirby and still feature an outstanding starting five. Additionally, Seattle could really use some outfield punch beyond the marginal players they’ve brought in to replace Teoscar Hernandez and Jarred Kelenic. This need for outfield help makes them a natural trade partner for Boston.
Rumor has it that the Red Sox engaged in trade talks for Kirby and/or Logan Gilbert early in the offseason, but the Mariners said no dice. However, the additions of Vaughn Grissom, Tyler O’Neill, and (hypothetically) Adam Duvall to the roster allow the Red Sox to increase the trade package they can offer. With some legitimate righthanded offense coming aboard, it becomes easier for Boston to stomach the departure of a promising lefthanded outfielder, among other pieces.
With five years of team control left and a pending salary of $700,000 in 2024, Kirby would command a king’s ransom in a trade. My proposal is simple:
Offer the Mariners a king’s ransom.
Adding a 24- or 26-year-old starting pitcher with potential ace stuff and four or five years of cheap team control will always command a steep return. But it’s a return that a team with one of the best farm systems in baseball should be able to live with.
In my opinion, everybody in the minor leagues should be on the table except shortstop Marcelo Mayer and catcher Kyle Teel. Roman Anthony has been outstanding in the minors thus far and, in the eyes of many, he has supplanted Mayer as the number one prospect in the Red Sox system. This is the exact reason the Red Sox should be willing to move him.
Anthony’s meteoric rise to the top of the prospect rankings was completely unexpected, and his value is currently through the roof. He could end up being a very good big league outfielder, but he should be seen as the most expendable of Boston’s top three prospects. Mayer (shortstop) and Teel (catcher) not only profile as standout MLB hitters, they also play premium positions. This makes them the undisputed crown jewels of the system.
I’d probably renew trade talks with Seattle by offering Anthony, Duran, Wikelman Gonzalez, and Nick Yorke for Kirby. If that’s not enough to get the deal done, I’d throw in Mikey Romero. If that’s insufficient, I’d add Richard Fitts. The Red Sox are an ace away from competing next season. What the hell good is it to have one of the best farm systems in the sport if you’re not willing to trade solid prospects for proven MLB gamechangers that play a position where your team has a huge need?
Imagine adding Adam Duvall and George Kirby while subtracting only Jarren Duran and a bunch of guys that have never played in MLB before. Would that not qualify as “full throttle?”
The Red Sox have filled the second base void with a young righthanded contact hitter who has already hit well in the big leagues. They’ve added a starting pitcher who was good enough through July last year to be a number-two on most teams. And they’ve subtracted a lazy attitude problem (Alex Verdugo) and an albatross ex-ace who has started a total of 31 games in four years.
Signing Duvall and dishing a pile of prospects for George Kirby would signify a virtual 180-degree turnaround in Boston without trading Yoshida, Kenley Jansen, or anyone else that they are depending on in 2024. Would they be a World Series contender? Probably not. But they would be back in the mix to win the American League East with a young core that is primed to compete for a solid decade, while still retaining a pile of depth in the minors.
And maybe — just maybe — Red Sox fans would stop whining for a few minutes.