Red Sox

8 things to know about the Red Sox’ offseason

Several key players will either become free agents or are a year away from becoming a free agent.

J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts might have played their final games with the Red Sox earlier in October.

The Red Sox enter the 2023 offseason facing a lot of uncertainty.

Boston finished in last place in the AL East in 2022, going 78-84 as three of its divisional foes made the playoffs while the fourth is a team on the rise.

But before the Red Sox can worry about other teams, they’ve got a lot of internal issues to fix. They ranked 25th and second-to-last in the American League in team ERA (4.53) as both the starting rotation and the bullpen crumbled at several points of the season.

The Red Sox’ offense was still one of the best in baseball, ranking ninth in runs scored and in the top 10 in several other key hitting categories. However, multiple key players from the lineup are set to become free agents this offseason.

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With all of this in mind, here are eight things to know about the Red Sox entering the offseason.

Xander Bogaerts will likely opt out of his contract to become a free agent.

If you somehow haven’t heard by now, the Red Sox’ longest-tenured shortstop in club history might have played his final game with the team. Xander Bogaerts will likely opt out of the final three seasons of his six-year, $120 million contract to become a free agent.

What happens with Bogaerts will likely define the Red Sox’ offseason. Will they pay him the likely expensive salary that he’ll demand and other teams will offer, or will they let him walk?

The news at the end of the regular season certainly suggests that the Red Sox want Bogaerts to remain in Boston. Red Sox ownership met with Bogaerts in recent weeks to help kickstart contract negotiations, The Boston Sports Journal’s Sean McAdam reported.

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said he wanted to get a deal done before Bogaerts has a chance to opt out following the World Series.

“I don’t ever want to make public any of the blow-by-blow, but what I can say is this: That process is going to start right away from our end,” Bloom said Thursday. “Obviously, we know we haven’t found that path yet. We still want to. We’re going to work really hard at it.”

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If the Red Sox opt not to re-sign Bogaerts, they have a couple of internal options for 2023 and beyond. Trevor Story, who signed with the Red Sox on a six-year, $140 million deal in 2022, could move back to shortstop after second base this past season. In the long term, the Red Sox have shortstop Marcelo Mayer in their system. Mayer is considered one of the best prospects in baseball, though he isn’t likely to make his MLB debut for at least a couple more seasons after the Red Sox drafted him out of high school with the No. 4 overall pick in 2021.

Externally, there might not be a better time than the 2023 offseason to acquire a shortstop. In addition to Bogaerts, All-Stars Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, and Dansby Swanson are all also expected to be free agents this offseason.

J.D. Martinez will become a free agent, too.

The Red Sox’ primary designated hitter of the last five years could be leaving town, too. J.D. Martinez, who signed a five-year deal with the Red Sox in 2018, will become a free agent.

Like Bogaerts, Martinez has said he isn’t sure what the future holds for him. The Red Sox can offer Martinez a qualifying offer, which is worth roughly $19 million for the 2023 season. If Martinez receives the offer but declines it and eventually signs elsewhere, the Red Sox would receive draft compensation.

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Ahead of the trade deadline this season, Martinez was one of the bigger names reportedly being offered in trades, but Boston opted to keep him – which could be a sign that it plans to offer him the qualifying offer and move from there.

In terms of his willingness to stay in Boston, Martinez declined to exercise his player option to become a free agent multiple times over his five-year contract. Martinez expressed an appreciation for the Red Sox following the team’s regular season finale.

“My passion beats for Boston,” Martinez said. “I was the guy that was written off early on in my career with the MLB draft with the Astros and I’ve always said like whatever team gives me a chance I’m going to give my all.”

Despite a decline in homers in 2022, Martinez could still demand a solid market considering that National League is entering its second season of having a full-time designated hitter. There also aren’t many great free-agent options at DH beyond Martinez, either.

Their two top starting pitchers are set to hit free agency.

Boston’s top starting pitcher over the last few seasons will also be a free agent.

Nathan Eovaldi, 32, will hit the market as his four-year, $68 million contract is set to expire. He’s gone 21-14 over the last three seasons and has had a sub-4.00 ERA in each season.

In addition to Eovaldi, Michael Wacha will become a free agent, too. The 31-year-old right-hander had a career resurgence this past season after the Red Sox signed him to a one-year, $7 million deal. He went 11-2 with a 3.32 ERA in 2022.

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It’s unknown what kind of contracts both starters will receive, especially in the case of Wacha, who struggled in the three seasons prior to signing with the Red Sox. But there aren’t many great free-agent options for Boston if it’s looking to potentially replace both pitchers that way.

Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom headline the starting pitcher free-agent class, though each could remain with their current team. While both are obviously great, Verlander will turn 40 in February and deGrom recently suffered a stress reaction in the shoulder blade of his throwing arm that caused him to not pitch this season until early August.

They’ll have a lot of cap space to spend before hitting the luxury tax threshold.

If there’s good news about good players becoming free agents, it typically means that it creates cap space, which it will for the Red Sox this offseason.

Bogaerts, Martinez, Eovaldi, and Wacha aren’t the only players whose salaries are coming off the books, though. The biggest salary relief the Red Sox will have (outside of the aforementioned players) is David Price’s contract, which they paid $16 million of in each of the last three seasons. The contracts of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rich Hill will also come off the books, and the Red Sox are reportedly expected to decline the two-year, $26 million team option for James Paxton, according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

With all of that in mind plus the projections of the arbitration-eligible players, Speier estimates the Red Sox to have around $91 million to spend before hitting the $233 million luxury tax threshold.

Garrett Whitlock will likely move into the starting rotation.

Boston’s top reliever over the last couple of seasons will more than likely have a new role in 2023. Garrett Whitlock is expected to move into the starting rotation next season, Red Sox manager Alex Cora and Bloom said prior to the pitcher’s season-ending hip surgery in September.

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Whitlock, who joined the Red Sox via the Rule 5 Draft prior to the 2021 season, had a brief stint in the rotation in 2022, going 1-1 in nine starts with a 4.15 ERA – a far cry from the 2.24 ERA he posted in 68 relief appearances (112 2/3 innings pitched) over the last two seasons.

A pair of late-season call-ups could have big roles at the start of the season.

The Red Sox called up two of their best prospects to the big leagues late in the 2022 season, with each of them having various degrees of success.

Starting pitcher Brayan Bello made his MLB debut in early July, struggling in his first few starts that month. After spending most of August on the injured list, Bello seemed to turn the corner. He pitched at least five innings in all five starts he made in September, posting a 2.59 ERA in his final six starts of the season. His strong finish to the season would suggest that the Red Sox would have to keep the 23-year-old in the starting rotation when the 2023 season opens.

Triston Casas was the other major prospect the Red Sox brought up later in the year. After getting called up on Sept. 4, Casas didn’t have as great of a time in the big leagues as Bello did in the season’s final month, posting a .197 batting average and a .766 OPS with five homers and 12 RBIs in 27 games. If the Red Sox aren’t ready to name Casas their full-time starting first baseman yet, they still have Eric Hosmer under contract for three more seasons at very little money.

Bloom said at the end-of season-press conference that he wasn’t sure what the team’s plan is yet at first base.

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“Obviously, when we got [Hosmer], we were focused on what he could bring to us right now and not wanting to rush Triston,” Bloom said. “I think after that, Triston showed us in Triple-A, coming back off that injury once he got settled in, really the best we’ve seen from him or at least I’ve seen since I’ve been here. And then came up [to the big leagues] and even though there were some ups and downs in terms of the results, the approach was very clear. And that’s one of the biggest things you worry about, especially with someone like him, is that when they make that jump to the highest level that the approach that’s kind of carried them through their [minor league] careers will degrade.

“And you guys saw it. It didn’t. Sometimes the results were there. Sometimes they weren’t. But he was a tough at-bat every single time, which is going to be one of his calling cards as he goes forward. So that’s all really encouraging.”

There are a few free-agent options at their other positions of need.

Outside of starting pitching and possibly shortstop, the Red Sox’ other positions of need are at catcher, the outfield, and the bullpen. Boston could bring back Christian Vázquez a few months after trading him as he’s a free agent this offseason. Willson Contreras of the Cubs will be the top free-agent catcher available and could double as an option at DH some days. Mike Zunino, Gary Sánchez, and Omar Narváez are a few of the other notable free-agent options at catcher.

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In the outfield, the Red Sox extended Kiké Hernandez prior to the end of the season, but there’s still work to be made. Tommy Pham has a $12 million mutual option as Boston looks to round out its outfield with Hernandez and Alex Verdugo as the likely starters in the other two spots.

With two lefty hitters already in place in the outfield, it would make sense to go for a right-handed-hitting outfielder. Aaron Judge is obviously the biggest name that fits that bill. There are a few other options though in Mitch Haniger, Adam Duvall, AJ Pollack, and Wil Myers. For left-handed-hitting options, Brandon Nimmo, Joey Gallo, and old friend Andrew Benintendi are among the top names in that regard.

Mets closer Edwin Díaz is the top free-agent reliever. Díaz might be the first closer to receive a $100 million contract after his career season in 2022, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan. Like most years, there are several notable relievers on the free market, including Kenley Jansen, Craig Kimbrel, Taylor Rogers, Seth Lugo, and Michael Fulmer.

Rafael Devers is entering the final year of team control.

Outside of Xander Bogaerts, how the Red Sox treat the situation with their young star slugger will probably take up the most space when talking about the team this offseason.

Boston “identified Matt Olson’s eight-year, $168 million extension with Atlanta as a basis for discussion” during the 2022 offseason, citing that Devers will likely spend much of his next contract either play at first base or as a designated hitter, Speier reported.

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Once the 2022 season began, Devers paused negotiations for an extension. As the season closed, Devers was asked by MassLive how he would feel about a situation in which the Red Sox re-signed Bogaerts and then extended him.

“That would be really nice,” Devers said. “I hope it happens like you said — they sign Bogey longterm and then me longterm. But I don’t know what’s going to happen. The only thing I know is to play ball.”

During the season, a potnetial comp for a Devers extension was agreed to in Atlanta between the Braves and third basebamn Austin Riley, who signed a 10-year, $212 million deal and is a few months younger than Devers. Riley, along with Devers, has been one of the best hitting third baseman in baseball over the last couple of seasons.

If Devers ends up going through the arbitration process, Speier projects he’ll earn roughly $17 million in 2023.

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