As we established during the first ever Bleacher Brawls Pendulum Roundtable, the Bronx Bombers are definitely in the driver’s seat in the legendary Red Sox/Yankees rivalry. Our esteemed panel gave the Red Sox the edge in only two categories, field manager and minor league development. The Yankees placed higher in starting pitching, offense, and relief pitching, while front office management was a push.
In other words, the Yankees are currently a better team in every on-field aspect of the game. If not for the Red Sox’ magnificent 2021 season, which culminated with the elimination Gerrit Cole and the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game, the Pendulum would have likely swung even further in the Yankees’ direction.
With so much work to be done in terms of leveling the playing field, how can Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox possibly narrow the gap and swing the Pendulum back toward the middle?
There’s one word to describe what the Red Sox need to bolster their starting pitching … HEALTH!
Garrett Whitlock, Chris Sale, and James Paxton can be a formidable threesome if they remain healthy, which is an astronomical “if.” Whitlock has yet to see even a prolonged stretch of a season as a starting pitcher without getting hurt. Sale and Paxton, for their part, essentially haven’t pitched in two years. If Whitlock is the decent starting pitcher he showed he could be for about a month last season, he is more than worthy of a spot in the rotation. The same sentiment goes for Sale and Paxton if they can each pitch at even 80% of the ace level they showed in their primes.
And if my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle.
Banking on any of these three to make 30 starts in 2023 is akin to banking on the US to win the World Cup. It ain’t gonna happen.
For that reason, I think the Red Sox need to bring back Michael Wacha to help supplement the starting rotation with enough quality arms. Nick Pivetta, for all his ups and downs, seems capable of taking the ball every fifth day and pitching well more often than not. And Brayan Bello may be the Red Sox ace by 2024. Add the promising Kutter Crawford and wild card Josh Winckowski into the mix, and you should have enough starting pitching redundancy.
Even with the inevitable injuries that this rotation will face, a crew of Sale, Paxton, Pivetta, Whitlock, Bello, Wacha, Crawford, and Winckowski should be able to provide enough quality starts to compete for a division title, even in the dreaded AL East. The idea of that motley crew performing well in the playoffs, on the other hand, is a whole different story. There’s not a single ace in that bunch … not in 2023 anyway. But outside of a trade, unfortunately, there’s no solution in sight. Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom, Carlos Rodon, and even Nathan Eovaldi are big injury risks in their own right. Does Chaim Bloom really want to commit $35 million plus per year for someone that’s just as liable to break down mid-season as the frailest of the starting pitchers he already has?
We all know the answer to that one.
The Red Sox offense is far less of an issue. Even if they can’t get an extension done with Rafael Devers (kill me), he’s still on the team and ready to murder baseballs in Boston through 2023. I fully expect bounce a back season for Kike Hernandez, who was hurt all last year. I expect the same for Trevor Story, who faced more obstacles than Steve Martin in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles at the beginning of last season, then tried to adjust on the fly in his first year in a baseball crazy town … and that was before he broke his hand. I’m very positive about the promising patience and pop we saw from rookie Triston Casas this past September, and Alex Verdugo’s second half approach has me thinking he could be a surprisingly good leadoff hitter this coming season.
The offensive holes are glaringly obvious. They need a shortstop and a right fielder, preferably a shortstop and right fielder that are above-average right-handed threats at the plate. Brian Cashman would sooner re-sign Aroldis Chapman than ever allow Aaron Judge to sign with Boston, so Chaim Bloom must sign a slugging shortstop in order to field an offense that can compete in the AL East next year and beyond.
For all the positive expectations I have for next season, Devers is the only guy I mentioned above that’s a legitimate middle-of-the-order threat. With Xander Bogaerts routinely vanishing at the dish for three months every summer, I’d prefer to see Bloom snag Trea Turner rather than bring X back. Bogaerts may very well be the heart and soul of the clubhouse, but we’re talking about a 30-year-old shortstop who slumps for half of every season and expects a top-of-market deal. All things considered, the X juice may very well not be worth the squeeze. Turner is the same age, is more consistent at the plate, and is a superior fielder (not that I have ever had a problem with Bogaerts’ defense).
If Bloom can secure someone like Turner, Bogaerts, or Dansby Swanson to play shortstop, right field becomes less of a need. I’ve already laid out my preference of acquiring Mitch Haniger to split time at DH and right field to preserve his body throughout the season. Wil Myers is also righthanded, and he could fit the bill if his recent knee injury is in fact a thing of the past. Aside from those Haniger and Myers, options are slim for righties that can play a decent right field. Signing Turner for SS and Haniger for DH/RF would be my best case scenario, but a Bogaerts/Haniger combo could also do a lot to help balance out the Pendulum on the offensive side.
So here’s where the fun starts. And by fun, I mean not fun in any way, shape, or form. The Yankees have the potential to be the best bullpen in baseball. The Red Sox, as currently constituted, are quite possibly the worst. Their presumed closer, Tanner Houck, will still pretty much be auditioning for the job next season. John Schreiber is as solid as they come as the fireman/primary setup man.
As for quality, that’s it.
Aside from eternal bum Darwinzon Hernandez, the only lefty reliever on the current roster that actually pitches innings is new signing Joely Rodriguez, who walks guys at Diekman-ish rates.
Matt Barnes, at his best, is nothing more than a guy that is right on the verge of sucking again.
Ryan Brasier, at his best, is no better than Ryan Brasier at his worst.
Josh Taylor’s face is on the milk carton in my refrigerator.
Chaim Bloom sees spending big on relievers as a generally bad idea. In most cases, I agree with him.
I wanted Bloom to shell out the big bucks for Rasiel Iglesias after 2021, but other than the rare closer, it’s typically a bad move to pay hefty salaries to relievers. Bullpens are so up and down from year-to-year, and the performance of relief pitchers is nearly impossible to predict. Most high-priced relief pitchers end up being disappointments that become albatrosses to their teams due to the investment that has been made in them, which makes cutting them loose and eating their salaries a very difficult decision. I’d love to see Matt Strahm return or Andrew Chafin brought in to give the Red Sox a dependable lefty reliever. Aside from that, I think the Sox will have no choice but to ask a handful of minor leaguers to step in and fill critical roles out of the pen next year.
Kaleb Ort, Zack Kelly, Frank German, and Bryan Mata are the kids that will likely get the most middle relief chances early on. If at least two of them don’t pan out, it’s back to the drawing board and a possible repeat of the nightmarish bullpen scenario we endured in 2022.
Nobody wants to get Sawamura’d again.
Even if Bloom somehow manages to build a solid bullpen, the relief scales will still tip in the Yankees’ favor. They have a ready-made crew of dependable relievers that are as sure a bet as you’ll find in any bullpen across the Major Leagues. The Red Sox can’t realistically hope to pitch as well in the late innings as the Yankees next year. All they can do is hope their starting pitching and offense can make precipitous leaps from 2022 and carry the load enough to tip the Pendulum in their direction.
On the bright side, things looked almost as dark before the 2021 season began. That Red Sox team enjoyed a season very much like the one the Yankees had in 2022. Surprisingly dominant early on, struggling for a few months, then gaining their footing well enough to earn the right to walk into that perennial buzz saw in Houston.
Can Chaim Bloom work his magic again in 2023? Can the Red Sox avoid another cascading onslaught of injuries? Will Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers both be part of the future that pulls the Pendulum back in Boston’s direction?
Keep hanging with Bleacher Brawls to find out.