AL EastAnalysis

Mapping Out a Direction for the Red Sox

To put it simply, the Red Sox have lately been one of the most turbulent franchises in baseball. It’s pretty rare that fans see a team win a World Series, trade their franchise superstar less than two years later, completely bottom out and finish last in their division, come back to life and reach a championship series, and then finish with another last-place finish all in the course of 5 years. This rollercoaster of ups and downs was on top of many other headlines that circled the team like Alex Cora’s cheating suspension and a change in guard with the hiring of a new general manager.

The highs were incredible. The 2018 Sox might’ve been one of the best teams in MLB history, winning a franchise record 108 games and featuring MVP Mookie Betts. But the lows were also shockingly low. Trading Mookie (and watching him propel the Dodgers to a World Series title) and becoming one of the worst teams in baseball for a season would signal most MLB teams to think about starting a new future and direction, but not Boston. In 2021, the Sox were in the same dilemma as they see themselves in now: either try to win with the talent they had on the roster now or map out a structured future by selling assets and bringing in prospect depth. Former Tampa Bay Rays general manager and now Boston’s GM, Chaim Bloom opted to not retreat and instead make a push with a core of Bogaerts, Devers, Eovaldi, and more to dog it out in the tightly contested AL East.

And Chaim Bloom navigated the 2021 season flawlessly. With the benefit of a roster that stayed healthy through most of the year, upgrades brought in on short-term deals, and incredible trade deadline moves from the front office, Bloom saw his team win 92 games, beat division rival Yankees and Rays in playoff series, and come up short to the juggernaut Houston Astros in the ALCS. From a team that had completely bottomed out the year before in the pandemic season, the Red Sox now found themselves primed and hungry for more after proving to the baseball world that they were still very much alive. But they were not, and now a year later Chaim Bloom finds himself in almost the exact same position as he did in the 2021 offseason with the 2022 Red Sox finishing last in their division and with a below .500 record. Team captains Xander Bogaerts and JD Martinez are set to hit the open market, one-time ace Chris Sale compiles unfortunate injuries one after another, and the publicized tensions between the front office and Raffy Devers on an extension have made for a very unclear future.

And this time, there might not be as clear of a way out for Bloom as there was last year. What makes the situation so tough this time is the incredibly strong state of the AL East compared to the declining state of the Red Sox’s roster and prospect depth that is shallow beyond the top few names. While Bloom might see the amount of talent that is still on the roster along with massive spending power available from his owner, it’s also clear that the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Rays have established themselves as surefire contenders with the Orioles looking to just make the finishing touches to what could be a future powerhouse loaded with young talent. And in a division with every team going for first and the subsequent wild card spots, it leaves very little room for the team riddled with doubts and question marks. 

So, what exactly am I trying to say about how Boston should move forward? Well, let’s go through it.

The Next Captain

Xander is on his way out, and with the factors of Trevor Story looking to take the reigns at the position and what will surely be a competitive market for Bogaerts, Boston might want to consider moving on from the longtime captain. And with a vacancy at the team captain position, there’s no better player to take over for the foreseeable future than beloved, MVP candidate Rafael Devers.

One of the withstanding players from the star-studded 2018 World Champions, Devers has firmly established himself as the heart of the team and in every sense is worthy of an extension to make Boston his home for the rest of his career. The real question is if Boston will actually do it. Reports have already surfaced about Devers and the front office being far apart on a deal, and if Boston wants to have a leader for a new generation of a team, Devers is vital to be there for the future.

Boston has not been so reluctant when it comes to handing out large deals, but they have also yet to extend any notable homegrown talent. The wave of the future for front offices around the league is locking up young, burgeoning superstars before their market value becomes too lucrative but Boston has yet to catch onto that trend. Now would be the time.

Let the Kids Play

Every successful winning core involves a good mix of veterans and promising, young players. What Boston needs more of is the integration of their younger guys. The most promising of the bunch by far is power bat Triston Casas, who impressed with his pop in his late-season call-up. The smart thing to do now for Boston is to start handing positions and full-time starting jobs to these types of young MLB-ready prospects. The likes of Eric Hosmer, Christian Arroyo, Franchy Cordero, and other mediocre players with not a whole lot of room to develop need to start being replaced with younger, higher-ceiling prospects. Some names such as Alex Binelas, Jeter Downs, or even breakout prospect Ceddanne Rafaela would all be worthy of starting jobs if they could earn them in spring training. With these players, Boston at least gets the chance to see some possible breakouts that will carry over into the next contending core.

Emphasize Pitching Development

Nathan Eovaldi, Rich Hill, and Michael Wacha are all departing this offseason. Those three pitchers combined to throw roughly 40 percent of their total innings in 2022. Now, the quick, lazy solution to this problem would be to fill the spots with veteran starters on one-year deals, but if Boston wants to truly make progress in these uncertain times, these available spots would best be filled with a good mix of breakout potential arms as well as top prospect talent.

Brayan Bello was Boston’s best prospect arm that debuted last year, and even though he looks slow to adjust to life in the majors, continuing to stick with him and giving him innings will be the path to seeing growth from the power righty. As for the candidates who can supplement the rest of the rotation, while also providing upside, I think some enticing names could be the likes of Andrew Heaney, Ross Stripling, or even Noah Syndergaard. All of these names are guys who feature plus stuff, have had recent success, and would come at a relatively cheap price if Boston is cost-conscious this offseason. As for the rest of the younger prospects who would be ready for a large big league inning load, Bryan Mata sticks out as a name to me after a great season across 4 minor league levels, proving he’s ready for a shot in the rotation. I think Boston should also continue with the development of Kutter Crawford who profiles as more of a high-floor, low-ceiling type of pitcher that already saw big-league action, but with a FIP that outperformed his ERA last year, he definitely has room to grow.

Finally, Boston might want to think outside the box by acquiring some young pitching talent through trades. Their offense is clearly their strong suit, and they have the depth to trade from within it. Bobby Dalbec, Jarren Duran, and Franchy Cordero have all floundered at the big league level with the Sox but their prospect status and career minor league numbers still show promise, and trading some of them away for pitching would be a creative way to balance their roster. I’d imagine Bloom targeting teams heavy on pitching depth but light on offense like the Cleveland Guardians, where they could potentially snag MLB-ready arms, Cody Morris or Xzavion Curry.

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Featured Image: Red Sox / Twitter

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