November 18, 2021
After detoxing from the 2021 season for a while and considering that the Red Sox came just six wins short of winning a World Series, I find myself more hopeful for next season than regretful about how last year ended. Even with some very obvious holes in last year’s squad, the Red Sox turned out to be the second best team in the American League.
Now that the offseason has officially begun, it’s time for general manager Chaim Bloom to work his magic and make the team even better suited for a deep playoff run in 2022 than they were last year.
Even throughout last year’s American League Championship Series, many people thought that the Red Sox were never constructed well enough to be championship contenders. Such is the life of a general manager like Chaim Bloom in a big market city like Boston. The fans want big names that make big money to put up big numbers. What makes somebody like Bloom so smart is that he often disregards the conventional way of doing things in lieu of finding a smarter, more fiscally flexible way of winning.
Bloom will never be universally loved in Boston the way Theo Epstein was. There will always be a contingent of fans that look down on Bloom’s philosophy because they lack the vision to understand them.
Casual or loudmouth fans will continually bitch about not wanting to be “Tampa North,” loathe to think of the Boston Red Sox seeking underrated, high value players that don’t win statues based on individual performance every year. Just like Marty McFly, these people just have too much trouble thinking third dimensionally.
In my opinion, being Tampa North is one hell of a goal. The Tampa Bay Rays have won 236 games in the past three seasons with a payroll a fraction of what the Red Sox (200 wins) and the Yankees (228 wins) have spent. Last year, the Tampa Bay Rays finished eight games ahead of Boston and New York to win the American League East division title for the second straight year, spending about $69.5 million on payroll as the Red Sox spent $145.5 million and the Yankees spent $225.5 million.
If you ask me, every team should model their scouting and acquisition strategies after the way the Rays do things. Think of what a team could do by combining the efficient, analytical, financially responsible methods of Tampa (where Chaim Bloom cut his teeth) with the deep pockets and lofty aspirations of the Red Sox.
A team like that could set themselves up for a long, sustained run at the top by fielding a team of young, athletic, versatile players with little dead money and few burdensome busts. That team would rarely be limited to some two-or-three-year window of championship potential, because the scouting and development machine would continue to churn out talented players that can contribute at the major league level. If being Tampa North means taking Tampa’s model and elevating it by handing out a handful of strategically sound, big money contracts, you can sign me up to be Tampa North right now.
By keeping the payroll relatively low last year (8th in MLB), Bloom put the 2022 Red Sox in a fantastic position to spend big if they find a couple expensive free agents that meet their needs. Where he will not err, however, is by spending big on a top free agent that isn’t a good fit for this team. Bloom will not spend big money merely to appease fans who want to see stars don Red Sox jerseys during a winter press conference. He’s not going to pander to the ignorant masses, and that’s one of the things that makes him so good.
Now, onto the players that I would like to see Bloom acquire this offseason.
I doubt that the Red Sox will be willing to spend above the luxury tax this year, especially with the collective bargaining agreement expiring in a couple weeks, the tax threshold still uncertain, and a prolonged work stoppage on the horizon. But in a perfect world, these are the guys I’d like to see added to the team before spring. They will all be costly, so I see no scenario where Boston acquires all of these players. These are simply the free agents that I think would help this team the most.
The most despised Red Sox trade deadline acquisition in years proved to be the most impactful offensive player that was added at the 2021 deadline. He brought balance to the lineup in more ways than one, being a dangerous lefthanded bat beyond Rafael Devers and Alex Verdugo whose patient approach seemed to rub off on the free-swinging Red Sox. After Schwarber arrived, guys like Devers, Verdugo, and Bobby Dalbec stopped hacking away so much and began working counts more, drawing more walks, and putting more pressure on opposing pitchers to throw strikes. Schwarber was the most consistent hitter on the team for the final two months of the season, and collected some gigantic hits in the playoffs.
When J.D. Martinez declined his option to be released from his contract, I was actually bummed. I thought J.D. staying meant Schwarber (primarily an OF/DH) had to go. But after some consideration (and admitted self-justification), I do feel that Martinez and Schwarber can remain on the team together.
By trading away Bobby Dalbec for some much-needed bullpen help (ideally Jake McGee from the Giants), Schwarber could play first base for all of 2022, which would allow Martinez to keep his spot as the primary DH and occasional outfielder for the last season of his contract. This would certainly not improve Boston’s team defense, which was dreadful last season. But given an entire offseason to continue working at it, I believe Schwarber could be an adequate first baseman for a year until the electric bat of minor-league first baseman Tristan Casas takes over in 2023. First base may be the easiest position for a career outfielder to learn, so I think trading Dalbec (whose defense wasn’t very good in the first place) and playing Schwarber at first would be an ideal way to retain a vital offensive cog without sacrificing much on the defensive side.
Let me say this clearly: I do not trust the Red Sox bullpen.
And I am not alone. Once the playoffs began, Alex Cora made it quite obvious that he didn’t trust them either. When the most high-leverage playoff relief pitching situations are entrusted to two rookies that are projected to be starters, you know there are some real issues in the pen. Garrett Whitlock was a revelation last year, and I want him to be in the closer or setup role for at least the next couple years. But other than him, there’s not a damn soul in the bullpen that does not give me heart palpitations when I see him jog out to the mound.
Josh Taylor and Matt Barnes both had long strings of excellence in 2021, but when nut cuttin’ time arrived, one of them broke down physically and the other broke down mentally. Add Sawamura and Robles to the pile of untrustables as well. They each have good stuff, but they’ve both fallen flat on their faces enough times that I do not want to depend on them late in a big game.
When you have nothing but panic-inducing dreck in the bullpen, the solution is not always as easy as just paying big for the best available free agent upgrade. This year, however, Raisel Iglesias is on the market.
Iglesias has been one of the best closers in baseball for the last five years. He’s good for 30 saves per year and his ERA has been right around 2.50 for five of his seven major league seasons. After spending his first six years in Cincinnati, he came over to the American League and had the best season of his career with the Angels. His Ks/9 and Ks/BB ratios have increased in each of the last four seasons, with each peaking last year (13.2 Ks/9, 8.58 Ks/BB).
Iglesias is 31-years-old, he’s stable, and he has great command. He doesn’t throw 100 mph fastballs that have his right arm on a doomsday clock. He’s just an efficient pitcher that has great command of his fastball, slider, and changeup. In other words, the man knows how to pitch. Add this guy to the bullpen, and suddenly a setup crew of Whitlock and Taylor with Robles, Barnes, and Sawamura in middle relief doesn’t sound too shabby.
Screw Max Scherzer. Screw Justin Verlander. And yes, screw Carlos Rodon. These are all great pitchers, but starting pitching is not where the Boston Red Sox need to spend their money this offseason. With a new arm ligament and an entire offseason to prepare, I expect Chris Sale to be healthy throughout 2022 and almost as effective as he had been in his prime. Between Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, and Tanner Houck, the Red Sox have four very talented and capable starting pitchers. All they need to round out the rotation is a fifth starter.
Name a good fifth starter off the top of your head. No, really … stop cheating, get your hands off your mouse, and just try to think of one. That’s right, you can’t.
Fifth starters aren’t even supposed to be good. They are the guys who suck a lot more than the first four starters and a little less than the middle relievers. Even when a big market team loads up on starting pitching and gets five really talented guys in the rotation, one of them always craps the bed and leaves fans wondering why that guy is even on the team.
Anthony DeSclafani is better than your typical fifth starter. He’s a 31-year-old career National Leaguer coming off the best season of his career (3.17 ERA, 1.091 WHIP, 152 K, 42 BB, 141 hits in 167.2 IP). He’s coming off a 1-year, $6 million contract with the Giants and has never had a big payday, so he wont be dirt cheap. But he won’t break the bank, he’s been a serviceable starting pitcher his entire career, and he won’t walk the ballpark. His slider can punch out righties and his changeup can punch out lefties. On a team where, in my opinion, the bullpen is way more of a concern than the starting pitching, there’s no need to overthink this. Just sign DeSclafani to fill out the rotation and have a Coke and a smile.
The cherry on top. I love players like this.
Taylor can play six different positions well, get on base, hit for power, hit virtually anywhere in the lineup, and perform in the postseason. He’s a super utility player in the same vein of Kike Hernandez, a prototypical Chaim Bloom guy. He won’t lead the league in anything except maybe number of different positions played, but he’s a solid all around player who can do so many things well. This is the kind of player managers love and casual fans could care less about, but can play huge roles on great teams.
Taylor and Justin Turner have been largely unsung heroes that have flown under the radar during this great Dodgers run in deference to stars like Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, Yasiel Puig, and Mookie Betts. Taylor’s performance in the 2021 postseason, including 10 hits and a 3-homer game in the NLCS, will jack up his price tag considerably. But when you consider all of the positive things he can do for a team, I feel like he will be worth every penny.
Putting Kike Hernandez and Chris Taylor on the same team would give the Red Sox the flexibility to absorb virtually any non-pitching injury (besides Devers) without missing a beat, as either player can realistically slide into any position beside catcher. They are both jacks of all trades that play hard, are positive clubhouse influences, and are even capable of going on impressive offensive tears that can help carry a team over limited stretches.
Adding Taylor could also help keep Xander Bogaerts, who is prone to fizzle out during the dog days of summer, fresh for an entire season. Taylor played 23 games at shortstop last season. Moving forward, he could play there a few times per month and allow Bogaerts to DH or have the occasional off day without crippling the team defensively.
As much as I like Christian Arroyo, I’d be willing to have him ride the pine, or even jettison him to a different team, if the Red Sox can snag Taylor as his replacement at second base. With Carlos Correa exiting Houston, there is no question that the batting order below would be the deepest lineup in the league.
Kike Hernandez CF
Kyle Schwarber 1B
Xander Bogaerts SS
Rafael Devers 3B
J.D. Martinez DH
Alex Verdugo LF
Hunter Renfroe RF
Chris Taylor 2B
Christian Vasquez C
Taylor would probably be the most expensive number eight hitter in the league, but his flexibility is not just limited to the field. He batted literally in every spot in the batting order last year, with at least 33 plate appearances in six different spots including 106 plate appearances leading off. If Hernandez gets into a funk, Cora would have a nearly identical player to slide into the leadoff spot while Kike works out his issues at the bottom of the order. A team that arguably had zero leadoff hitters at the beginning of 2021 would have two in 2022.
Unlike after the 2020 season, there’s not a ton of work to do to improve the Red Sox for 2022. With few players of consequence moving on to other teams and adequate, affordable replacements on the free agent market, the outlook for next year should be overwhelmingly positive. If Chaim Bloom is targeting some or all of the players discussed here, he’ll be on the right track to ending this interminable drought of three consecutive years without a Boston Red Sox World Series.
Let’s end the curse, Chaim!