We’re now almost two weeks removed from the Texas Rangers’ World Series win, which means that it’s about time for Hot Stove season to really start burning. It’s shaping up to be a winter of tough questions in Boston, with new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow taking over for Chaim Bloom and inheriting a roster at something of a crossroads. How aggressive will Breslow be in adding to a Red Sox team that’s finished in last place in each of the past two seasons? Is this a retool or a rebuild? And will owner John Henry shell out the money necessary to get Boston out of the AL East basement? We’re here to break down the Sox’ offseason plans from every angle.
Red sox offseason preview
Season in review
If you’d like to get a sense of how Boston’s 2023 season went, here’s a stat: They spent all of seven days higher than fourth place in the East. The offense was solid, with breakout years from Triston Casas, Masataka Yoshida and Jarren Duran supplementing the always-reliable Rafael Devers. The pitching, however ... was not. The Sox entered the season with questions surrounding their rotation depth, and sure enough, injuries to Chris Sale, Garrett Whitlock, Tanner Houck and James Paxton left Boston scrambling — and putting way too much stress on their bullpen. Only one pitcher (Brayan Bello) threw more than 150 innings in 2023, and the Red Sox starters threw the fourth-fewest innings in the Majors (774.1) with an ERA (4.68) that ranked just 22nd. The result: a 78-84 finish and Bloom out of a job.
Pending free agents
The Red Sox have a few key contributors set to hit unrestricted free agency this winter, most notably DH/INF Justin Turner and OF Adam Duvall. Pitchers James Paxton and Corey Kluber will also be testing the market, but given their age and injury history, Boston figures to look elsewhere for much-needed rotation upgrades.
In case you hadn’t picked up on this already: pitching, pitching and more pitching. Breslow does have some holes to fill on the offensive side, notably a replacement for Turner at DH and an upgrade at second base (where Boston got among the very worst production in the league this past season). They could also use another righty bat to even out what’s turned into a very lefty-heavy lineup, especially with righties in Turner and Duvall potentially moving on.
The biggest item on the to-do list, however, is finding not just one but multiple starting pitchers. The cupboard isn’t completely bare here, with Sale once again hoping for a healthy season and Bello, Whitlock, Houck and Kutter Crawford still around, but none of those guys have proven that they can be relied upon to deliver above-average production over a full starter’s workload.
Best free-agent fits
Former Marlins slugger Jorge Soler or a reunion with J.D. Martinez would make a lot of sense should the Sox find themselves in the market for some right-handed power, particularly as a DH. Former Royal and Blue Jay Whit Merrifield could also be a fit as a righty bat who can be an everyday second baseman or move around the diamond a bit. Of course, if the team decides that Yoshida is a better fit at DH than left field, they could choose to bring Duvall back or pursue another righty-hitting outfielder like Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez or even Michael A. Taylor.
If there’s good news here, it’s that this market is richer in pitchers than it is in position players. It doesn’t seem like Shohei Ohtani has a ton of interest in coming to Boston — nor does John Henry seem to have the stomach for that kind of expenditure at the moment — but someone like Aaron Nola, Blake Snell, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery or 25-year-old Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto would make a lot of sense. Just about all of the preceding names have already been connected to Boston in one way or another, and again, Breslow is going to need multiple additions in order to patch this rotation up. Maybe he makes one big splash (say, Nola or Yamamoto) and adds a couple fliers on guys like Sean Manaea and Kenta Maeda. Or maybe he takes one known quantity in Montgomery and supplements around that. The options are nigh-endless, provided Henry puts up the cash — or Breslow gets creative in his approach to roster-building.
There are also several pitchers who figure to be available via trade this winter, highlighted by three big names at the top of the market: Brewers righty Corbin Burnes, Rays righty Tyler Glasnow and (potentially) White Sox righty Dylan Cease. The Sox do have a solid farm system and a glut of intriguing outfielders — especially with Alex Verdugo reportedly on the outs — from which to pull should they choose to go this route. They could also look to the trade market to fill their middle-infield hole, with guys like Twins second baseman Jorge Polanco, Brewers shortstop Willy Adames, Reds second baseman/third baseman Jonathan India and (gasp!) Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres all potentially available (and all right-handed or switch-hitting to boot).