You’re not allowed to have a down year in professional sports. If you’re the Boston Red Sox, you definitely don’t have that luxury.
In 2022, the Sox finished last in the American League East, 21 games behind the Yankees. But that lowly position doesn’t tell the whole story.
Good news: Boston was only eight wins shy of a playoff spot last season. Plus, the Sox have a dedicated front office and ownership that’s committed to winning, as evidenced by the franchise’s four World Series titles this century. The Sox climb up the standings isn’t as steep as some make it seem. Fans who occupy themselves with Massachusetts sports betting will still find reasons to wager on Boston getting into the playoffs.
Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom should be motivated to remake his roster and drag the Red Sox back into contention, if not to simply save his own neck. After his team used the home run and a high-octane offense to get to the precipice of the World Series in 2021 before losing in the AL Championship Series, it’s become glaringly evident that changes must be made, especially on the run prevention side.
Star Search: Sox in Need of Big Name
The exit of shortstop Xander Bogaerts via free agency to the San Diego Padres left a void in the middle of the infield but, perhaps more importantly, created a vacuum in the clubhouse. Having jettisoned Mookie Betts a few years ago, the team now has no superstars in the lineup. A lineup identity is necessary.
Bloom was reportedly left speechless when he learned that Bogaerts had signed with the Padres. This is bewildering since the Sox offered their shortstop $120 million less than San Diego. Owner John Henry has expressed a desire to stay under the MLB salary cap, but someone needs to remind Bloom that he’s not in spendthrift Tampa Bay anymore. Henry’s vault still has some money in it.
Rafael Devers will be a central piece of the Boston lineup in 2023, but he can only drive himself in so many times. He needs ducks on the pond to use an old RBI metaphor. But added lineup pieces are not the only roster item the Sox need to address this offseason.
Call to Arms: New Rotation Guaranteed in 2023
The Red Sox will flip at least three-fifths of their rotation this offseason. Nathan Eovaldi, Rich Hill, and Michael Wacha are all expected to sign new contracts elsewhere. That means 69 starts are leaving Boston, creating a need for starting pitching.
The ace of the 2023 Sox and beyond is bound to be Bryan Mata, a righthander with a triple-digit fastball, projected to make his big league debut in April. He will likely be joined by fellow rookie Brandon Walter, a former All-American at Delaware and a southpaw.
Kutter Crawford and Josh Winckowski prove, however, that being top-ranked prospects like Mata and Walter is not the only way to secure a big-league job. Crawford was a 16th-round pick out of Florida Gulf Coast University, and he’s shown the potential to be a frontline innings eater in the majors in 13 starts so far. Like many pitchers still wet behind the ears, Crawford struggled with consistency and tired late in 2022. But before August 7, he had a serviceable 3.86 ERA and a good K/BB ratio. He should emerge as at least a No. 3 starter for Boston. Ditto Winckowski.
Toy Story: New Positions in Post-Shift Era
The shift will be gone in 2023. That means we’ll no longer see three infielders right of second base. With Bogaerts gone, the Red Sox infield will be much different, shift or not. But, the ban of the practice will place demands on the Boston interior defense.
Second baseman Trevor Story is a crucial piece for the team in 2023. It’s likely he will be asked to play shortstop, a position in Colorado, before signing with Boston. Story is a superb defender with a strong arm, and Boston pitcher’s will be happy to have his grounder-gobbling glove behind them at short next season. But that also means a second baseman will be necessary.
Enter Kiké Hernández, that Swiss Army Knife of a player who formerly played second base for the Dodgers. While he was never a brilliant double-play man at the pivot, Hernández displays good range and is sure-handed enough to man the position. With Devers at third, Story at short, and Hernández at second (all with their feet on the infield dirt per the new rules), Boston’s infield defense will be fine.
Moneyball: Are the Red Sox Small Market Now?
In the Academy Award-nominated movie Moneyball, Brad Pitt’s character (current Oakland A’s executive vice-president Billy Beane) is offered an obscene amount of money by John Henry to come work for the Red Sox during a meeting at Fenway Park. Henry wanted Beane to perform his small market magic in Boston. But Pitt, as happened in real life, turned Henry down.
Late in the 2019 season, Henry fired Dave Dombrowski, who masterminded a World Series title only 10 months earlier. Later that year, Boston hired Bloom, a sort of Beane proxy.
The question remains: has Henry decided to stop spending? The 2018 Red Sox carried a $240 million payroll, the gaudiest in the sport. By 2021, that figure was down to $186 million. The Sox traded Betts rather than pay him. The Dodgers gave the former Boston outfielder a $365 million contract in 2021.
The Sox have a payroll commitment of $80.4 million for 2023. Did Henry finally decide to rewrite that scene from Moneyball?
Has he asked Bloom, who in his previous gig helped the Rays stay competitive despite a puny payroll, to become a bargain shopper?
Maybe Henry feels four titles in 15 seasons, from 2004-2028, is enough for a fanbase that treats a game at Fenway Park like a trip to Disney World. The Red Sox, with new luxury suites, a ballpark neighborhood with team-controlled shops and parking, and even pricey seats atop the Green Monster, practically prints money.
It’s only been a little over four years since Red Sox Nation enjoyed a World Championship.
For Boston fans over 40, that will probably suffice for a while. But the spoiled 21st-century Sox fan may not be as patient.
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