Once again, the Boston Red Sox find themselves on the outside looking in on a top free-agent target. This time it’s Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto, off to the Dodgers on a 12-year, $325 million deal. At just 25 years old and with true ace stuff, Yamamoto would’ve been the perfect fit for a Boston team with short- and long-term rotation questions. Instead, all available evidence suggests that the Sox were never considered one of his top choices — adding insult to the injury of what’s been a very quiet offseason in New England so far.
But while we forgive fans for not necessarily reaching the acceptance stage yet, Hot Stove season leaves very little time for mourning. The 2024 season is coming one way or another, and it’s now incumbent on new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow to figure out how to get Boston back to the playoffs after a woefully disappointing 2023 campaign. (And he better do it quickly, as the pitching market figures to get busted wide open with Yamamoto off the market.) With Yamamoto gone elsewhere, what’s Breslow’s Plan B? How can he best pivot, and who might he target in the days and weeks to come? Let’s break it down.
What should Red Sox do next after missing Yoshinobu Yamamoto?
Go all-in for Jordan Montgomery
Beyond his obvious talent, there’s a reason the Red Sox made such a serious run at Yamamoto: Few teams got more from their starting rotation in 2023 than Boston, whose starters threw just 774.1 innings — fourth-fewest in the Majors, behind only the Rockies, Athletics and Giants. Yamamoto’s star power would’ve been nice, but this team needs someone who can chew up above-average innings and give its beleaguered bullpen a break.
Montgomery doesn’t have anywhere the Japanese ace’s ceiling, but the Rangers postseason hero has established himself as a rock-solid No. 2 or 3 option. He’s also been very durable in recent years, making at least 29 starts in every full season since 2019 — exactly the sort of reliability that this Boston rotation needs. The Sox need to add multiple arms between now and spring training (more on that in a second), but they also need some reliability towards the top. Montgomery brings that more than any other pitcher available, considering Blake Snell’s durability and command issues and how poorly Lucas Giolito’s fly ball-heavy profile fits at Fenway Park.
Bring back James Paxton
Even signing Montgomery would leave the Sox with a rotation of Monty, Chris Sale, Brayan Bello, Kutter Crawford and Tanner Houck — a lot of injury risk and not a lot of guys who’ve proven that they can give you a full 150-180 innings. One more arm, at least, would be good, and Paxton fits the bill as a guy who should only command a one- or two-year deal but who flashed huge upside during his one season in Boston in 2023. Veteran lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu also fits this description, but Paxton knows the team and isn’t likely to find a better situation to land in.
Trade for Willy Adames or Jorge Polanco
Boston’s priority should be pitching, pitching and more pitching, but they also could use an upgrade at second base — where they had some of the worst production in the league in 2023. The free-agent market for middle infielders is pretty barren (unless you’re really, really banking on a Tim Anderson bounce-back) but the trade market could be more fruitful. The Twins are reportedly fielding offers for Jorge Polanco as they look to give their second base job to Edouard Julien, while the Brewers seem set to start a rebuild and have no use for an infielder in Adames who’s going to hit free agency this time next winter. Polanco has been rock solid whenever he’s been on the field in recent years, while Adames is an elite defender whose power could play way up in the friendly confines of Fenway. Add one of those two, and this suddenly becomes a pretty formidable lineup around Rafael Devers, Triston Casas, Masataka Yoshida, Tyler O’Neill and young outfielder like Jarren Duran and Ceddanne Rafaela.