Reviewing the Boston Red Sox’ quiet offseason

Reviewing the Boston Red Sox’ quiet offseason

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The Red Sox had a very quiet offseason, as their big moves were trading away one starting pitcher and signing another, though the latter of the two eventually required season-ending surgery.

Major League Signings

2024 spending: $23.25MTotal spending: $50.75M

Option Decisions

Trades and Claims

Notable Minor League Signings

Extensions

Notable Losses

The Red Sox franchise has seemingly decided that it does not want to be a powerhouse anymore. For the first two decades of this millennium, they were incredibly aggressive, running top five payrolls for most of that time. That aggression paid off handsomely, as the Sox broke their 86-year curse and won the World Series four times from 2004 to 2018.

But since then, their top priority has seemingly been to cut the budget. After the fourth title in 2018, they seemingly wanted to trim the payroll but president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski wouldn’t do it, so they let him go. That led the club to bring in Chaim Bloom from the Rays, hoping that he could bring some small-market tactics to their large-market club. Shortly after he was hired in October of 2019, he traded Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers in what was largely a cost-cutting move.

In 2023, the payroll had fallen to middle of the pack as they started the season 12th out of 30, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. In September of 2023, the fourth season with Bloom in charge, the Sox were about to finish last in the American League East for the second time in a row and for the third time in the four Bloom years. This was apparently enough for the franchise to make another change, as they let Bloom go before last year’s season was up.

This meant Boston started the offseason looking for a new person to head up the baseball operations department, but it was a tough pitch, with many candidates quickly withdrawing their names or declining to be interviewed. After all, who would want to work for a club that’s going to provide you with few resources and then put your head under the axe when things don’t go well? But in the end, they settled on Craig Breslow, a former player and Yale graduate who had been an assistant GM in the Cubs’ front office. They also brought back old friend Theo Epstein, but he’ll be in a part ownership and advisory role, seemingly not active in the baseball decisions on a day-to-day basis.

Some wondered if the move from Bloom to Breslow would lead ownership to sign off on a bigger budget, in order to convince fans they were moving away from nickel-and-diming and returning to their aggressive ways. Chairman Tom Werner seemed to fan these flames in November when he declared that the club was going to “be full-throttle in every possible way.” Breslow did promise to be aggressive, particularly in targeting starting pitching, but the offseason ended up being mostly about shuffling deck chairs. They sniffed around the markets for Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto but never seemed to be the favorites in those markets.

In the rotation, where the club was reportedly looking to shop at the top of the market, their big splash was to sign Lucas Giolito. It was a sensible buy-low move, since he had previously looked like a borderline ace but hit a rough patch before free agency. If he could get back to his form from a few years ago, it would be a steal.

Around the same time, they also subtracted from their rotation by sending Chris Sale to Atlanta for Vaughn Grissom. The young Grissom came up as a shortstop prospect, with great offensive skills but questions about his defense. Atlanta decided to roll with Orlando Arcia at short last year, but moving Grissom to second wasn’t an option for them with Ozzie Albies there, which made Grissom more useful as a trade chip.

The two moves together looked like a fine bit of business for Boston. In the rotation, they swapped in Giolito for Sale, arguably a wash depending on your opinions of those pitchers. Alongside that, they added a potential everyday second baseman, a position that’s been a bit of a carousel for Boston since the Dustin Pedroia days.

Unfortunately, Giolito was later diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and a flexor strain. He required internal brace surgery and will miss the entire 2024 season. The Sox didn’t pivot and add another starter, so the rotation that was a clear priority all winter is essentially the same as last year but minus Sale. Grissom still hasn’t made his debut with the Sox thanks to a groin strain, though he should be with the club in a few weeks.

Although that bad news about Giolito didn’t drop until early March, the Sox still had a chance to pivot. Thanks to a surprisingly slow offseason, pitchers like Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell were still available in the later stages of the winter. The fit with Montgomery and the Sox had been speculated upon all winter, especially since he was spending some time in the area as his wife was doing a residency at a Boston hospital. But the Sox decided not to rush out to the market to replace Giolito, letting Montgomery go to the Diamondbacks on a one-year deal and even letting a back-of-the-rotation guy like Michael Lorenzen sign with the Rangers for a mere $4.5M.

In addition to Montgomery, the club had plenty of interest in other free agents, including Yariel Rodríguez, Seth Lugo, Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Robert Stephenson, Shota Imanaga and many others. Ultimately, their other most significant moves were somewhat similar to the Giolito/Sale swap. They traded outfielder Alex Verdugo to the Yankees for a collection of arms, while also flipping a couple of other pitchers to St. Louis for Tyler O’Neill.

Both outfielders are impending free agents, so the two moves don’t make a huge difference to the franchise right away, but it’s a sensible enough swap for them to make. Verdugo has seemingly established what he is at this point, a solid defender with an average-ish bat, a good but not excellent player. His value wasn’t going to get much higher, as even a hot couple of months early in 2024 would come with some skepticism.

O’Neill, on the other hand, has borderline MVP upside. He finished eighth in National League MVP voting after hitting 34 home runs, stealing 15 bases and providing excellent defense that year. He’s been hampered by injuries in the two seasons since, but it makes sense for the Sox to give him regular playing time and see what happens. If he can get back in good form by the end of July, he could have more trade value than when they acquired him. He’s also making $5.85M this year compared to Verdugo’s $8.7M.

The Sox also considered some further teardown moves, with Kenley Jansen, Chris Martin and Masataka Yoshida’s names all floated in rumors throughout the winter. None of that trio ended up leaving Boston, though the Sox did trade reliever John Schreiber to the Royals for pitching prospect David Sandlin.

Ultimately, it seems the franchise is focused more on the future than the present. None of the free agents they signed added any money beyond 2025 and their second-largest free-agent deal was for reliever Liam Hendriks. He’s recovering from Tommy John surgery and won’t pitch until around the trade deadline, at the earliest, but he could give the club a future closer with Jansen and Martin set to become free agents after 2024.

Their most significant contract was an extension for right-hander Brayan Bello, who they inked to a six-year, $55M pact. It’s a bit of a risk since his major league work has been more decent than great so far, relying on a ground ball approach without many punchouts. But he had more strikeout stuff in the minors and could take a step forward in the years to come.

Extending other young players was also discussed, though without anything getting done so far. Right-hander Tanner Houck and first baseman Triston Casas were frequently mentioned as candidates for such a deal but nothing was finalized before the 2024 season started.

For the time being, it seems the club is content to roll with its internal options and see how things go. The 2024 season will involve a lot of playing time going to young guys like Grissom, Houck, Casas, Bello, Garrett Whitlock, Jarren Duran, Ceddanne Rafaela, Wilyer Abreu and Kutter Crawford. At the same time, the club will surely be keeping a close eye on prospects like Marcelo Mayer, Kyle Teel,  Nick Yorke, Wikelman Gonzalez and Roman Anthony, who are all starting this year at Double-A and could be pushing for big league debuts throughout the year.

The performance of those players will likely dictate how the club decides to proceed next winter and beyond. Whether that will even see them returning to a top-five payroll remains to be seen. Like last year, they came into 2024 with their payroll 12th in the league, per Cot’s. If that is your definition of “full throttle,” raise your hand.

While that plays out, there’s another unanswered question surrounding the club, as manager Álex Cora is now in a lame-duck position as 2024 is the final year of his contract. He’s been coy about his future plans, with some suggesting he wants to move into a front office position while others believe he wants to take the Craig Counsell route and max out his next contract as a manager. Whether either of those paths leads to him staying in Boston is something that will have to be revealed in time.

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