Chaim Bloom stuck to his playbook for most of the offseason, before finally making a surprising splash on one of the last remaining marquee free agents.
Major League Signings
- Trevor Story, SS/2B: six years, $140MM (can opt out after four years, but club can negate opt-out by adding seventh year to make it a $160MM total.)
- James Paxton, SP: one year, $6MM (plus two-year, $26MM club option and $4MM player option, meaning it’s a $10MM guarantee over two years)
- Jake Diekman, RP: two years, $8MM (includes $4MM club option with $1MM buyout)
- Michael Wacha, SP/RP: one year, $7MM
- Rich Hill, SP: one year, $5MM, plus incentives
- Matt Strahm, RP: one year, $3MM
2022 spending: $45.5MM
Total spending: $173MM
Trades and Claims
- Claimed OF Tim Locastro off waivers from Yankees; later non-tendered
- Acquired OF Jackie Bradley Jr., IF Alex Binelas and IF David Hamilton for OF Hunter Renfroe
- Claimed SP/RP Kyle Tyler off waivers from Angels; later lost on waivers to Padres
- Claimed RP Ralph Garza off waivers from Twins; later lost on waivers to Rays
Notable Minor League Signings
- Rob Refsnyder (later selected to 40-man roster), Christin Stewart, Michael Feliz, Taylor Cole, Roberto Ramos, Yolmer Sanchez, Tyler Danish (later selected to 40-man roster), Darin Gillies, Silvino Bracho, Dan Altavilla, Derek Holland, Deivy Grullon, Travis Shaw (later selected to 40-man roster), Hansel Robles (later selected to 40-man roster)
- Garrett Whitlock, RP: four years, $18.75MM, plus 2027 club option of $8.25MM with $1MM buyout and 2028 club option of $10.5MM with $500K buyout
- Kyle Schwarber, Eduardo Rodriguez, Jose Iglesias, Garrett Richards, Martin Perez, Adam Ottavino, Brandon Workman, Danny Santana, Yacksel Rios, Brad Peacock, Stephen Gonsalves, Jack Lopez, Yairo Munoz, Raynel Espinal, Jeisson Rosario
Since taking over the reins in Boston after the 2019 season, the Chaim Bloom regime has been focused on the future. Mookie Betts and David Price were traded to clear payroll and restock the farm. The remainder of that offseason saw the club sign eight players to major league deals, all for a single year. After finishing last in AL East in the shortened 2020 campaign, it was much the same in the next offseason: seven MLB deals, five of them for a single year, with only Enrique Hernandez and Hirokazu Sawamura getting a second. Few prognosticators expected a huge breakout from the Sox in 2021, but it came nonetheless. The club won 92 games, earning a Wild Card spot and eventually playing its way into the ALCS. Would that lead to a more aggressive offseason or more of the cautious tactics of the Bloom era?
Before the offseason began, the Boston sports world was given some very sad news as longtime broadcaster and former player Jerry Remy passed away in late October. A Massachusetts native, Remy started his career with the Angels but was traded to the Red Sox in 1977. He stuck with his hometown team for the remainder of his career, becoming a fan favorite before jumping into the broadcast booth in 1988. He became a fixture of Boston games on NESN and also wrote several books about baseball. Red Sox baseball surely won’t be the same without him.
As the calendar turned to November, the World Series ended and it was time for business. Kyle Schwarber declined his half of a mutual option for 2022, which was a part of his one-year deal he signed with the Nationals. The club declined options on Garrett Richards and Martin Perez, sending them to the open market. Perhaps most important of all, J.D. Martinez decided not to opt out of the final year of his contract, staying with the Sox for one more year, with a salary of $19.35MM. Eduardo Rodriguez received a qualifying offer, which he rejected. Finally, the club exercised its club option on Christian Vazquez, keeping him around for $7MM.
Once the free agency floodgates opened, Boston was reportedly open to a reunion with Schwarber. They were one of the teams who attended the Justin Verlander showcase and among the known suitors for Seiya Suzuki. They also made a multi-year offer to retain Rodriguez and reportedly had interest in fellow southpaws Steven Matz, Robbie Ray and Andrew Heaney. Javier Baez was also a rumored target, as were Jeurys Familia and Marcus Stroman.
Despite the reported interest in those high profile options, most of them signed elsewhere before the lockout. The Red Sox went into the transactions freeze having accomplished more mild maneuvers. They exercised the 2023-23 club option on manager Alex Cora. Michael Wacha and Rich Hill were signed to one-year deals, worth $7MM and $5MM, respectively. James Paxton was signed to a convoluted deal that reflects his uncertain status after undergoing the second Tommy John surgery of his career in April of 2021. He’ll make $6MM in 2022, a season in which he likely won’t join the team until midseason. Then the club will get to decide on a two-year option for the 2023-24 seasons that will pay him $13MM each year. If the team declines, Paxton will have a $4MM player option for 2023.
Just before the lockout kicked in, the club made one more significant move, trading Hunter Renfroe to the Brewers for Jackie Bradley Jr. and a pair of prospects. Bradley was coming off a dismal 2021 season where he slashed .163/.236/.261, 35 wRC+, making it clear this deal was about subtracting from the big league team to build the farm.
It seemed like yet another classic Bloom offseason: modest short-term deals for the big league team while keeping the focus on the future. During the lockout, there were rumors connecting them to Carlos Correa and Trevor Story, though it seemed hard to believe Boston would make such an aggressive move, given their recent history. The $14MM guarantee for Enrique Hernandez was the largest they had given to a free agent since Nathan Eovaldi’s $68MM in late 2018.
After the lockout ended, the modest additions kept coming, with Matt Strahm being the club’s first signing after the transactions freeze lifted. That was followed by Jake Diekman being added to the bullpen. Then it was announced that Chris Sale had a stress fracture in his right rib cage and wouldn’t be available for weeks. Minor league deals were given to Travis Shaw and Hansel Robles, who would both eventually return to Boston’s 40-man roster.
On March 23rd, just two weeks before Opening Day, the big splash finally came. Although the club was also hovering around the Carlos Correa and Freddie Freeman markets, Bloom and his staff broke the mold for Trevor Story. The $140MM guarantee was ten times higher than the largest contract previously given out by this front office regime. The deal also has a complicated structure that could take it to $160MM. Story can opt out after the fourth year of the deal, but the Sox can negate the opt-out by preemptively exercising a $25MM club option for the 2028 season. That option comes with a $5MM buyout that’s already included in the $140MM guarantee, so it’s a net add of $20MM to the life of the contract.
For that significant investment, the Red Sox are getting a player who can provide value on both sides of the ball. Both Story’s offense and defense have been above average for his career. However, there are question marks in both departments. Story slumped at the plate in 2021, finishing exactly league average with a wRC+ of 100. On the defensive side of things, a nagging elbow injury seemed to be impacting his arm strength, as he made 11 throwing errors in 2021, easily the most of his career. As he lingered on the free agent market through the winter, there were some who suggested he would be best suited for a move to second base, as his arm wouldn’t need to be as strong there as at short.
Despite those concerns, he makes a lot of sense for the Red Sox. Plugging Story in at second allows Hernandez to move to the outfield on a full-time basis instead of bouncing back and forth between the two roles. Secondly, the club has a potential hole at shortstop looming over the horizon, as Xander Bogaerts can opt out of the final three years of his contract after the 2022 campaign. Barring some catastrophic injury, that seems quite likely to happen. The club can use this season to evaluate Story and his arm strength before deciding how to proceed with their middle infield. If Story is deemed capable of returning to the left side of the diamond, then they can let Bogaerts walk. If not, they can try to re-sign him or turn their attentions to one of the other available shortstops in this winter’s class. (Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson will be there, and they’ll more than likely be joined by Correa, who has an opt-out in his deal with the Twins.)
There is a financial element at play in all of this also, as the Story deal has pushed the Red Sox beyond the luxury tax line for the first time since Betts and Price were sent to L.A. Their luxury tax number is currently sitting just under $239MM, in the estimation of Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. Under the new CBA, the lowest tier of the luxury tax system begins at $230MM.
That won’t lead to a huge financial penalty, since the Red Sox would be a “first time” payor and only responsible for a 20% tax on spending between $230MM and $250MM. In this case, the tax would be around $1.7MM. However, even a small overage can have compounding effects, as the penalties increase for team’s that pay the tax in consecutive years. For instance, the Padres went just barely over the line in 2021 and paid a $1.29MM tax bill. However, they then seemed determined to not cross the line again in 2022, spending much of their offseason trying to move Eric Hosmer’s contract and not upgrading in the outfield corners despite a bevy of available free agents.
For the Red Sox, it’s possible that they’re not so worried about crossing the tax line for a second consecutive year due to the fact that they have a lot of money coming off the books after this season. Martinez ($19.375MM), Nathan Eovaldi ($17MM), Vazquez ($7MM), Hernandez ($8MM), Wacha ($7MM), Hill ($5MM), Strahm ($3MM), Robles ($2.25MM), Kevin Plawecki ($2.25MM) and Shaw ($1.5MM) are all in the final years of their respective deals, accounting for $72.375MM coming straight off the books. If Bogaerts opts out, that’s another $20MM. Bradley has a $12MM mutual option for 2023 that has an $8MM buyout. Sawamura also has a complicated option for 2023 that could see him hit free agency. (The Red Sox hold a club option valued at $3-4MM depending on performance escalators and milestones. Should they decline their half, Sawamura would have a player option valued between $600K and $2.2MM.) There’s also the aforementioned Paxton situation.
Complications aside, the club will have somewhere between $72.375MM and around $100MM coming off the ledger in a few months. Of course, that also means that they will have plenty of holes to fill, but the club is surely hoping to fill as many as possible in-house so that they don’t need to go back out and spend over the CBT line again next year. Bogaerts could be replaced by Story. Martinez’s bat could be replaced by Triston Casas emerging and joining Bobby Dalbec in the first base/designated hitter mix. Eovaldi, Wacha and Hill departing will strip the rotation down to Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck, but Paxton could potentially take one spot, with youngsters like Kutter Crawford or Connor Seabold maybe taking another. Hernandez and Bradley being subtracted from the outfield creates a couple of holes, but maybe Jarren Duran can take a step forward this year.
As Spring Training wound down, the club agreed to an extension with Garrett Whitlock — another future rotation candidate. However, the Sox failed to do so with Bogaerts, Eovaldi or Rafael Devers. It’s possible for a huge amount of roster turnover a year from now, and that’s only the beginning of the uncertainty facing the team. The club is in a stacked AL East where any of the four non-Baltimore teams could be seen as the frontrunner or the fourth-best.
The Red Sox are facing a few months with dozens of potential outcomes, both on the field and off. They could fall out of contention and trade away some of their expiring contracts, thus ducking back below the CBT line. But it’s also possible they’ve cobbled together a squad that can hang with the other contenders in the division, just like they did last year. Either way, a handful of guys will likely be wearing a different uniform next year. Martinez, Eovaldi and Bogaerts would all be qualifying offer candidates, but the QO system could be scrapped if MLB and the MLBPA can agree to an international draft framework before this summer. There’s no shortage of uncertainty around this Red Sox roster, in what figures to be yet another wild year in the AL East.