Rival Preview: The Red Sox were active this offseason, but didn’t do enough to keep them out of the AL East basement

Photo credit:Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Stack
1 month ago
Does this statement ring a bell for Boston sports fans? Mookie Betts is not walking through the door, fans. Xander Bogaerts is not walking through that door, JD Martinez is not walking through that door, and David Ortiz is not walking through that door.
Of course, that’s an ode to former Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino from the 2000 NBA season referring to former Celtics greats. While we’re not talking about the Celtics, the Red Sox are a team that is moving further and further away from the championship-calibre teams they consistently fielded, and could very well be headed towards their third-straight last-place finish in the AL East.

2023 Review

It was relatively uncharted territory for the AL East last season, as the Yankees and Red Sox were battling for 4th and 5th place well into September. At one point in history, maybe up until the 2010s, that was a sentence that would come across as unbelievable.
The Red Sox would finish last place in the division last year with a 78-84 record, never holding first place for one day. Although they hovered around the Wild Card bubble for a majority of the season, a couple of five-game losing streaks in September ultimately sunk the ship for good. It was Boston’s second consecutive season finishing last in the AL East.
The Red Sox posted steady offensive numbers in 2023, finishing 3rd in the American League in hits and 4th in batting average. The pitching numbers weren’t as pretty, though, as the team finished 11th in the AL in ERA (4.52) and 12th in quality starts (47).
Boston was paced in several offensive categories by their now-highest-paid man, 3B Rafael Devers. Devers slashed .271/.351/.500 in 2023, with an OPS of .851, 33 homers, 100 RBIs, and 34 doubles. He’s kept his strikeout rate under 20% for the second consecutive season, and he also improved his walk rate to 9.5%, up 1.4% from the previous year. While he still didn’t flash the glove at all (-9 Defensive Runs Saved last year), Devers has become one of the best third basemen at the plate in the MLB and deserves to have his name in conversations with Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Jose Ramirez, etc.
Devers has proven his value, but the Red Sox had a couple of guys in 2023 who had some questions to answer. We’ll start with rookie 1B Tristan Casas, who entered 2023 as one of Boston’s highly-touted prospects. Casas shook off an extremely cold first half to the season and would post stellar second half numbers (1.034 OPS) to save his rookie season. In all, Casas posted a .263/.367/.490 slash line with an .856 OPS, 24 homers, 65 RBIs, and 21 doubles. Those aren’t ground breaking numbers, but they were good enough to earn him a 3rd place finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting. Furthermore, he did admit this offseason that he wanted to be a Red Sock longterm, and that there had been contract extension talks with Boston, although nothing “enticing” had come about yet.
OF/DH Masataka Yoshida was also in his rookie season last year after signing a 5-year, $90 million deal with the Red Sox last offseason after eight professional seasons in Japan. Yoshida particularly became a pain in the side against the Blue Jays, but he also posted a solid rookie campaign across the board. He hit .289 with a .783 OPS, 15 home runs, 72 RBIs, and 33 doubles, and also earned some consideration for the AL Rookie of the Year award.
OF Jarren Duran had a breakout season in his young career. A former top 5 Red Sox prospect, Duran posted career highs across the board, playing in 102 games, slashing .295/.346/.482 with 34 doubles and 24 stolen bases. Unfortunately, his season was cut short due to a left great toe sprain, forcing him to miss the final month or so of the season. Nonetheless, Red Sox fans got a chance to see how high the ceiling is for Duran.
DH/1B Justin Turner (.800 OPS, 23 homers, 96 RBIs) and OF Adam Duvall (.834 OPS, 21 homers, 58 RBIs) were impactful in their one-year deals, although the latter missed a couple of months with a left distal radius fracture.
OF Alex Verdugo saw a dip in his batting average, but remained a doubles king with his third straight season of 32+. He was at the center of some controversy in early August when manager Alex Cora benched him for showing up to the ballpark just two hours before game time. It was the second time he had been benched last season with the other instance being due to lack of effort on the base paths.
Boston was hampered by the absence of 2B/SS Trevor Story, who only played in 43 games last year. Last February, he was sent to the IL for right elbow/UCL repair. He started his rehab assignment in July and ultimately returned in August, but it’s now two seasons into his six-year, $140 million contract, and he has played less than 100 games in each of them due to injuries.
There were a lot of positives to discuss at the plate, but the team’s pitching is where things start to get dicey for the Red Sox.
After a 2022 rookie campaign that featured the display of some plus “stuff”, 24-year-old Brayan Bello led the Red Sox in starts last season. He held a 4.24 ERA across 28 starts and dropped his walks down from 4.2 BB/9 in ’22 to a 2.6 BB/9 in ’23. His changeup continued to be his most effective pitch with a 38.7 whiff percentage, and it paired nicely with his 95 mph fastball/sinker.
The bottom line with Boston’s starting pitching is that the guys that Boston needed to be available in order to have success were not. Chris Sale was limited to 20 starts with shoulder inflammation, James Paxton made only 19 starts due to a hamstring strain and right knee inflammation, and Corey Kluber made only 9 starts, also dealing with inflammation in his shoulder. This really isn’t a slight to any of these guys; at one point in all of their careers, these were some of the best arms in baseball. But with the Red Sox last year, they weren’t productive whenever they were available, and that wasn’t too often.
Nick Pivetta, although making 38 appearances on the season, proved to be much more effective out of the bullpen than as a starter. He held a 4.66 ERA in 16 starts but maintained a 3.07 ERA across 22 relief outings. Youngsters Tanner Houck and Kutter Crawford set career-highs in starts, Crawford posted a 4.04 ERA and has easily carved out a spot for himself in this 2024 rotation. Houck should also have a spot in this year’s rotation, but his 5.01 ERA was less-than-impressive.
The Red Sox boasted a solid late-game group of arms in their bullpen. Kenley Jansen saved 29 games with a 3.63 ERA and Chris Martin flourished with a 1.05 ERA across 55 outings at age 37. Former Blue Jays prospect Josh Winckowski made a name for himself in Boston’s bullpen last season as well, posting a 2.88 ERA in 60 relief appearances.

Offseason Moves

Boston’s biggest move this offseason was signing SP Lucas Giolito to a two-year, $38.5 million deal. Giolito becomes a likely Opening Day starter and No. 1 for the rotation, a role he has served before as a member of the Chicago White Sox. The veteran righty had a perplexing 2023; after posting a 3.79 ERA through 21 starts with the White Sox, he held a 7.14 ERA through the remainder of the season after being traded to the Angels and Guardians.
I wouldn’t sell all of your Giolito stock yet, however. He received Cy Young consideration from 2019-2021 and has been a 10+ game-winner four times. Furthermore, maybe the biggest attribute he gives Boston’s rotation is durability. Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, and James Paxton were routinely on the IL in recent seasons, and it’s been a major detriment to Boston’s ability to compete. Giolito has made at least 29 starts in his last five full seasons.
Speaking of Sale, the Red Sox finally parted ways with him in December, trading him to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for INF Vaughn Grissom and cash. Don’t let “cash” alone fool you; the Red Sox sent $17 million to the Braves for 2024, leaving Atlanta only $10.5 million owed to Sale this upcoming season.
Losing Sale and the money could be worth it in the long run, as Boston gained a young infielder with several years of team control left. Grissom was a former top-10 prospect in Atlanta’s organization, and he won’t be a free agent until 2030. He’s only played in 64 games with the Braves between ’22 and ’23, posting a .287/.339/.407 slash line with a .746 OPS, 5 homers, and 27 RBIs.
Boston remained active in the trade market, sending OF Alex Verdugo to the Yankees in exchange for RP Greg Weissert and pitching prospects Richard Fitts and Nicholas Judice. Verdugo was one of the return pieces in the Mookie Betts trade, but he will become a free agent after the 2024 season. Weissert has made 29 appearances over the past two seasons for the Yankees, and while the numbers aren’t pretty, acquiring him and the two prospects address pitching depth, which everyone knows the Red Sox need.
Verdugo made sure to clear the air about his relationship with Alex Cora, recently saying that Cora was “hard on me“, but the young lefty didn’t maintain any hard feelings towards him. “It was one of those things toward the end we kind of ran our course a little bit,” Verdugo said a couple of weeks ago. “But as a person and outside of baseball, I loved him.
Just a few days after the Verdugo trade, Boston acquired OF Tyler O’Neill from the Cardinals in exchange for two pitching prospects. These trades make for a nice Spider-Man meme of each other, save for the fact that O’Neill is a righty and Verdugo is a lefty. O’Neill is also a free agent after 2024, so if he walks after this season, the Red Sox essentially just flipped and subbed out two pitching prospects with two new ones. O’Neill only played in 72 games last year, slashing .231/.312/.403 with 9 homers and 21 RBIs. He’s straying further and further away from his 2021 campaign in which he hit 34 home runs and 80 RBIs, but if he can find that swing again, he could be essential to Boston’s success and/or a sought-after piece at the trade deadline.
They continued to bolster the bullpen via trade, sending 3B Luis Urias to the Mariners in exchange for RP Isaiah Campbell. Campbell made his debut last season and posted some good numbers for Seattle across 27 games. He held a 4-1 record with a 2.83 ERA, 10.4 K/9, and a 1.2 WHIP. The walks were a problem (4.1 BB/9), but Campbell kept runs off the board, and should be a key contributor in the Red Sox’ ‘pen this season.
More recently, the Red Sox signed free agent reliever Liam Hendriks to a two-year, $10 million deal. Hendriks missed a portion of 2023 due to a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma last February. Being the beast that he is, Hendriks ended chemotherapy in April and announced later that month that he is cancer-free. He made his return to the majors on May 29th, but unfortunately, his season lasted only five outings before having Tommy John surgery. There’s a chance for Hendriks to be back during the stretch run of the season, but if not, Boston may not see him in action until 2025. The 35-year-old owns 116 career saves across 13 MLB seasons.
Their last move to the bullpen was a puzzling one, as they sent RP John Schreiber to the Royals in exchange for pitching prospect David Sandlin. Since he was claimed off of waivers by the Red Sox in 2021, Schreiber has posted a 2.90 ERA across 111 games with a 1.18 WHIP and a 10.4 K/9. Schreiber was a legitimate arm in the back of Boston’s bullpen to go with Jansen and Martin, and he doesn’t enter free agency until 2027, so this trade definitely raised some questions amongst Red Sox faithful. Regardless, he goes to a team that desperately needed pitching, and they acquired a prospect that has a lot of reported potential in Sandlin (11.7 K/9 versus a 2.0 BB/9 in the minors last year).
On the smaller scale of Boston’s moves, they signed veteran relievers Lucas Luetge and Michael Fulmer and C Roberto Perez to minor league deals. Keep an eye on 3B Romy Gonzalez; he’s a former top 10 prospect in the White Sox’ system, and Boston claimed him off of waivers in January.

My take on Boston’s 2024 outlook

The Rex Sox had an offseason similar to what they did last year. Acquiring Turner, Duvall, and re-signing Devers threw a very competitive team out on the field, but it didn’t move the needle enough to get out of the AL East basement. This year, they stayed active and made a lot of moves that impacted the major league roster, but question marks still surround their starting rotation.
Nobody made that more clear this offseason than Rafael Devers, who signed a long-term deal with Boston before the 2022 season. “Everybody knows what we need,” Devers said a couple of weeks ago. “It’s just some things that I can’t say out loud, but everybody that knows the organization and knows the game knows what we need.
These are extremely valid comments because Devers has committed to the Red Sox long-term. This has been an issue of Boston’s for multiple seasons now, and if the Red Sox want to be in a position to compete, addressing starting pitching needs is a must. Devers noted that he has made these feelings clear to Red Sox ownership, but this is certainly a wake-up call for that group now that Devers expressed this to the public. It’s been a weaker free agent class for the Red Sox to choose from, so I can’t blame them for not wanting to recklessly splurge on every single pitcher. However, back-to-back years in the AL East basement is certainly not on brand for this franchise.
Of course, Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery become no-brainers for Boston as they remain un-signed, but the Red Sox are playing the long game and waiting for price to hit the sweet spot particularly for Montgomery, if it ever does.
Amidst the comments from Devers, reports began to circle that Boston may entertain trade offers for Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin. Even former Red Sox reliever Jonathan Papelbon recently said on the Foul Territory podcast that he the acquisition of Hendriks could be a “hedge bet” if they do end up trading Jansen away at some point.
This is probably more drama than the Red Sox signed up for entering the offseason, and it has definitely taken away from the fact that this team has some studs. Devers, Yoshida, Duran, Casas, and Story could be one of the best top-of-the-orders in baseball, health permitting. Some of their younger prospects (Cedanne Rafaela, Wilyer Abreu, Pablo Reyes) were called up at the end of last year and impressed – potentially those guys can be difference makers for Boston this season.
The unfortunate part about Boston’s situation is that, while they may be good, it may not be good enough to compete in the AL East, and they’re a popular pick to finish last once again.



Check out these posts...