Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in just three weeks, and there are still plenty of moves that the Red Sox need to make before the 2024 season gets underway.
The 2023-24 offseason has not been kind to Red Sox fans; from “full throttle,” to missing out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto, to missing out on Shota Imanaga, to missing out on Teoscar Hernandez, to reports on tight budgets, to ownership not wanting to pay for top-end free agents, and much more. Red Sox fans want something to happen, but what are the moves that should happen? Should they go all in, or is building for the future the right move?
In the end, it falls somewhere in the middle. The Sox need to have a team that can compete in 2024 while also making sure they are set to compete in the future with their young core and top prospects through player development. So with that, here are five moves the Red Sox need to make prior to Opening Day of the 2024 MLB season.
Lock Up a Big Piece of the Core
The Red Sox have talked about signing their young players to extensions ever since they hired Chaim Bloom as Chief Baseball Officer, but the truth is that the only player they have signed to an extension early on in their career is Garrett Whitlock after the 2021 season. That needs to change (preferably quickly) starting with Triston Casas. The Red Sox first baseman proved he can be a middle of the order bat for the Red Sox last season. Casas played in 106 games from May 3 through the end of the season, hitting .293/.387/.536 with 18 doubles, 2 triples, and 21 homers, driving in 57 runs with a 147 wRC+. Casas was also extremely comfortable at Fenway Park in that stretch, hitting .308/.424/.550 while putting up a 156 wRC+. In home games from May 3 on, Casas walked 16.7% of the time while posting a 19.7% strikeout rate, whereas on the road Casas walked just 9.4% of the time with a 28.1% strikeout rate. However, Casas still put up a 138 wRC+ on the road even with the increased strikeout rate and a lower walk rate.
The question mark entering 2024 for Casas is his defense, as he had -10 OAA and -4 DRS in 2023. However, anyone who watched Casas knows he was a massive improvement over Bobby Dalbec, Kyle Schwarber, Franchy Cordero, and just about everyone else who has played first base for the Red Sox since they traded Mitch Moreland back in 2020. Casas was touted as a solid defender in the minors, so I believe the defense will be better in 2024 and beyond. The Red Sox know that Casas can be the key at first base for the next decade, meaning they need to lock him up soon. The deal should be no shorter than 8 years, but why not make it 10 to match it up with the Devers deal? Both of them are going to be key cogs in the Red Sox lineup for a long time, and locking Casas up long term would guarantee that.
Acquire a Middle of the Order RHH
The Red Sox have a decent chunk of their team in place for 2024, but their biggest hole on the position player side of things is a right handed hitter that can slide into the middle of the lineup. The Red Sox offered a deal to Teoscar Hernandez, but he went to the Dodgers on a one-year contract. The Red Sox have been linked to Jorge Soler, but it doesn’t feel like that’s going anywhere. Outside of Soler, the preferred options on the free agent market include Rhys Hoskins and a reunion with Justin Turner, with less preferred options including Adam Duvall, Tommy Pham, C.J. Cron, and Garrett Cooper.
The Red Sox need someone from the second group at absolute worst. If they want to be taken seriously, they need to get one of Soler, Hoskins, or Turner. Soler seems to be the option Red Sox fans have talked themselves into (and his power would certainly play at Fenway Park), with Turner and Hoskins being secondary options. Soler, Turner, or Hoskins could each slide into the three hole between Rafael Devers and Triston Casas while providing the righthanded presence the Red Sox need in their lineup. A healthy Trevor Story should help balance things out, and adding one of these other powerful righthanded bats to even out the lefty-heavy lineup should set the Red Sox offense up to have a strong 2024.
Trade Kenley Jansen
The addition of Kenley Jansen brought a solidified closer to a Red Sox bullpen that desperately needed one heading into 2023. However, the Red Sox have an excess of relievers heading into 2024 with Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck potentially moving back to the bullpen. If the Sox add another starting pitcher to the mix and everyone stays healthy until Opening Day, the Red Sox won’t have room to fit either Houck or Whitlock into the rotation, pushing both of them into a bullpen that already features Chris Martin, John Schreiber, Josh Winckowski, Brennan Bernardino, Rule 5 Draft pick Justin Slaten, and more.
There is obviously risk to trading Kenley Jansen. However, with the reliever market moving now that Josh Hader, Robert Stephenson, and Jordan Hicks (as a starter) have signed, Kenley Jansen is the biggest remaining name that could be available. With cutting payroll apparently a priority for Boston at the moment, the Red Sox should try to get value for Jansen if the right trade comes around.
One team that has been linked for a potential Jansen trade is the Texas Rangers, and it makes a ton of sense. Sending Jansen to the Rangers along with cash considerations for lefty starter Mitch Bratt and lefty reliever Antoine Kelly would be a net-positive outcome for the Red Sox. The Rangers did well with Jose Leclerc closing out games in the postseason, but his career high in saves is 14. Outside of Kirby Yates, who pitched just 11.1 innings from 2020-2022 before being a part of the Braves bullpen in 2023, the Rangers don’t have an experienced closer. Jansen could fill that role now that the Astros, Texas’ division rival, snatched Josh Hader to solidify a formidable backend to their bullpen. The Red Sox closer spot would be up for grabs between Chris Martin, Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock, and John Schreiber, with a closer-by-committee situation not out of the question either.
Mitch Bratt, who is not Rule 5-eligible until after 2025, is a 20-year-old lefty starter who just posted a 3.54 ERA and a 3.50 FIP in 61 innings in High-A. Antoine Kelly would give Boston’s 40-man roster a much-needed lefty reliever with an elite fastball and slider who just struck out over 32% of hitters while walking under 10% and posting a 2.04 ERA between Double-A (50.2 IP) and Triple-A (6.2 IP).
Acquire A Lefty Starter With Team Control
With Chris Sale dealt to Atlanta for Vaughn Grissom, the Red Sox rotation does not currently include any lefthanded pitchers. The Red Sox have been open in that they want pitching that is under team control, and there are a few options for lefthanded pitchers.
The most discussed option is Jesus Luzardo, but getting him from the Marlins without trading one of Marcelo Mayer, Roman Anthony, or Kyle Teel isn’t likely. In that same boat is Tarik Skubal, who would be my preferred option in a perfect world, but the Sox likely can’t get him either without giving up one of the “big three” prospects. However, an option that the Sox could land without giving up one of the big three could be Patrick Sandoval. The Angels currently have three lefties projected in their rotation. If they were to land either Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery in free agency, Sandoval would become expendable. The Angels could use a trade with the Sox to improve their position players and add a spark at the top of their lineup.
A trade for Sandoval that I believe could make sense includes the Red Sox sending Jarren Duran, Enmanuel Valdez, and Angel Bastardo to L.A. for Patrick Sandoval and Brandon Drury. Duran can fit into the Angels outfield mix with Trout, Moniak, and Ward, allowing Trout to get some days at DH to keep him healthy in a four-man rotation. Valdez can play some second base for the Angels due to the likelihood that Luis Rengifo would need to play a lot of third base for Anthony Rendon, who likely isn’t playing more than 30 games in 2024. Drury would give the Red Sox a righthanded power bat off the bench who can fill the Red Sox backup first and third base roles (and play a little second too). Sandoval, who has three years of team control left, can slide into the middle of the Red Sox rotation for the next few years. Sandoval has made 55 starts over the past two seasons, pitching 293.1 innings with a 3.50 ERA and hurling another 7.1 innings for Mexico in the 2023 WBC, pushing his two-year total to over 300 innings. A rotation of Bello, Giolito, Pivetta, Crawford, and Sandoval would be a very talented one that could surprise many, especially if each pitcher is at their best.
Roll with Elite Defense Up the Middle
With the defensive struggles of the Red Sox in 2023, it is important to prioritize defense in 2024. There’s no more Kiké Hernandez or Bobby Dalbec, and with Trevor Story showing he is still an elite defensive shortstop in 2023, the Red Sox infield defense is likely already miles better. And let’s not forget that Rafael Devers also played a solid third base las year when Story played at short. And although Vaughn Grissom’s defense at second base is yet to be seen, having Story to pair him with up the middle can’t hurt at all. Trading away Verdugo does hurt the outfield, but the Red Sox can turn to Ceddanne Rafaela to man center field, which should be a massive help to Masataka Yoshida, who is limited defensively due to his lack of range in left. Rafaela and Wilyer Abreu were already a solid duo in the Worcester outfield, but right field in Worcester is much different than the right field Abreu will be have to play at Fenway.
With Connor Wong behind the plate, Trevor Story at shortstop, and Ceddanne Rafaela in center field, the Red Sox can build a team that greatly improves their defense with elite defense up the middle at the most important defensive positions. If Casas improves at first base and Devers continues to play passably at third next to Story, the only remaining question marks would be at second base and left field. I am more than confident in Vaughn Grissom being able to figure out second base, leaving Yoshida as the only potential liability. Masa will hopefully see some time at DH, allowing Tyler O’Neill to step into left and provide good defense in relief of Yoshida.
Is it likely that all of these moves that I have suggested really happen? No. But in my perfect world, these are the five things the Red Sox do before Opening Day. If they do, the team could roll out a lineup and pitching staff similar to the one that follows:
Vaughn Grissom, 2B
Rafael Devers, 3B
Jorge Soler/Rhys Hoskins/Justin Turner, DH
Triston Casas, 1B
Trevor Story, SS
Masataka Yoshida, LF
Ceddanne Rafaela, CF
Wilyer Abreu, RF
Connor Wong, C
Bench: Reese McGuire, Brandon Drury, Tyler O’Neill, and Rob Refsnyder
Starters: Brayan Bello, Lucas Giolito, Patrick Sandoval, Nick Pivetta, and Kutter Crawford
Relievers: Chris Martin, Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock, John Schreiber, Josh Winckowski, Brennan Bernardino, and two of the following: Justin Slaten, Bryan Mata, Antoine Kelly, Zach Kelly, Chris Murphy, and Brandon Walter
This would be a Red Sox roster that could compete for a playoff spot while also setting themselves up to make big moves after the 2024 season, should ownership be willing to pony up on the financial side of things.
The 2024 season could be the start of a run with a young and exciting core, with Triston Casas, Vaughn Grissom, Ceddanne Rafaela, Wilyer Abreu, and Brayan Bello all under 25, and Marcelo Mayer, Roman Anthony, Kyle Teel, and many more prospects getting closer to the big league team. If these moves were to be made, I would feel optimistic about the Red Sox entering 2024. This would not qualify as the big offseason many, including myself, were hoping for, but I believe this team would be extremely competitive throughout the entire season and good enough to fight for a playoff spot.