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The MLB offseason is officially here, and the Red Sox have already made their first big acquisition.
Craig Breslow was officially introduced as the team’s new chief baseball officer on Thursday, a week after the team announced his hiring. While his press conference allowed everyone to decipher and try to find clues on what the Red Sox might do this offseason, it’s clear Breslow has some moves to make if he wants to get his team back into the postseason after two straight last-place finishes.
With free agents able to sign with new teams as early as Monday, here are six things to know about the Red Sox’ 2024 offseason.
While the Red Sox don’t have any impending free agents who had the impact Xander Bogaerts had in Boston prior to leaving last offseason, they have a few players who made contributions last season and are set to hit the open market.
Justin Turner is probably the biggest name among them. The veteran declined his player option on Friday, receiving a $6.7 million buyout instead to hit the market.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that Turner won’t return to Boston. In fact, he’s indicated that he’d like to return to the Red Sox in 2024 as he’s stayed in the area will after their 2023 season ended.
“I love playing in Boston and I’ve had a great experience here, so obviously, it would be fantastic if I was still here,” Turner told reporters in September.
Turner, who was among the top three on the Red Sox in batting average (.276), home runs (23), and RBIs (96), proved to play a key role in his first season in Boston, primarily serving as its designated hitter to replace J.D. Martinez.
While Turner also played several games at first base and made cameos at second and third, his return to Boston might be a bit tricky. It’s been speculated that the Red Sox could move Masataka Yoshida to be their primary designated hitter in 2024 and with Triston Casas’s emergence in the second half of the season, there isn’t as much of a need for Turner at first base.
In addition to Turner, James Paxton, and Adam Duvall are the other headlines among the Red Sox’ impending free agents. Paxton got off to a strong start in 2023, going 6-2 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 starts through the end of July coming back from Tommy John surgery. The southpaw struggled through August and the start of September, going 1-3 in his final six starts with a 7.62 ERA before getting shut down for the season a week after his final start.
The Red Sox opted to keep Paxton at the deadline despite reportedly receiving interest in him. As he turns 35 on Monday, this offseason could be Paxton’s final chance to earn a decent payday in his career. The Red Sox could also extend him the one-year, $20 million qualifying offer as a way to either keep him in Boston temporarily or receive draft pick compensation if they lost him, though players of Paxton’s caliber typically don’t receive the qualifying offer.
Duvall had a typical season for himself at the plate, hitting .247 with a .834 OPS to go with 21 homers and 58 RBIs in 92 games. As he hit particularly well at Fenway, Duvall could have some value to the Red Sox if they opt to move Yoshida to designated hitter. Despite primarily playing center field last season, Duvall’s primary position in his career has been in left field.
The Red Sox also declined Corey Kluber’s $11 million option for next season, making him a free agent. The right-handed pitcher, who was Boston’s Opening Day starter last year, struggled in 2023, getting placed on the injured list in June for right shoulder inflammation and never returned.
Shortstop Aldalberto Mondesi is also a free agent. He didn’t play in 2023 after the Red Sox acquired him in January as he was still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered with the Royals in 2022.
Anyone who followed the Red Sox in the second half of the season could realize that they needed more starting pitching help. Even after they stopped using a three-man rotation, their starters failed to pitch long enough in games consistently and the bullpen looked worn out from the extra workload.
There are several quality starting pitchers set to hit free agency this winter. Shohei Ohtani is obviously the biggest name of the group (more on him later), but Blake Snell (the favorite to win NL Cy Young later this month), Aaron Nola, Marcus Stroman, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery, Lucas Giolito, Michael Lorenzen, Eduardo Rodriguez, Michael Wacha, and more give the Red Sox plenty of options to help fill out their rotation.
Yet, the biggest prize on the pitching market is someone who hasn’t played in an MLB game. Yoshinobu Yamamoto is projected by multiple insiders to receive the biggest contract among all free-agent pitchers this offseason.
The 25-year-old righty has been historically dominant in Japan’s top baseball league, Nippon Professional Baseball, over the last few years. Pitching for the Orix Buffaloes (where he was once teammates with Yoshida), Yamamoto went 17-6 with a 1.16 ERA, a 0.860 WHIP, and recorded 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings pitched this season. He’s also pitched two no-hitters on the year and struck out a Japan Series-record 14 hitters in a complete game on Friday, which was likely his last in Japan.
The buzz surrounding Yamamoto has dated for over a year now, playing a role in Japan’s quest to win the World Baseball Classic earlier in 2023. The Red Sox were reportedly among the teams to scout him over the summer, too. Yamamoto doesn’t have enough service time be a free agent in Japan, so he’d have to be acquired through the posting system.
Entering the offseason, the Red Sox don’t have too many reliable options at starting pitcher. Brayan Bello, Chris Sale, and Tanner Houck are the only pitchers on their 40-man roster who were exclusively used as starting pitchers last year.
If the Red Sox are looking to make a splash by signing a bat this offseason, there aren’t many enticing options.
Outside of Ohtani, many analysts list Cody Bellinger as the top positional player who’ll hit the market this offseason, and that’s after he had a major comeback season with the Cubs.
Beyond Ohtani and Bellinger, some of the other top hitting options on the free-agent market include third baseman Matt Chapman, outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., first baseman Rhys Hoskins, outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, outfielder Jorge Soler, and designated hitters J.D. Martinez and Justin Turner.
So yeah, not the greatest group of players. But the Red Sox have six of their regular starters from last year (including Trevor Story) slated to return as part of a lineup that ranked fifth in the American League in runs.
If the Red Sox do want to spend as a means to fix the issue they’ve had at second base since the final seasons of Dustin Pedroia’s career, Whit Merrifield could be the top option to provide a short-term fix. He declined his $18 million player option on Friday.
The Red Sox don’t have many players to worry about in arbitration this offseason, with Alex Verdugo, Nick Pivetta, Reese McGuire, John Schreiber, and Luis Urías being their only arbitration-eligible players.
Verdugo and Pivetta are the clear headliners of the group, with both entering their final year of arbitration in 2024 before becoming eligible for free agency in 2024. Verdugo is projected to earn $9.2 million in arbitration and Nick Pivetta is projected to receive $6.9 in arbitration, per MLB Trade Rumors arbitration estimates.
Both players have been notable contributors to the Red Sox over the last few seasons. Verdugo has been their everyday right fielder ever since they acquired him for Mookie Betts in 2020, hitting .281 with a .761 OPS during his four seasons in Boston. While Verdugo has put up solid numbers, he was benched a couple of times last season and was rumored to be a possible trade candidate at the deadline in July. With Jarren Duran’s emergence and Cedanne Rafaela’s call-up late last season, the Red Sox could view Verdugo as an expendable player, especially if they re-sign Duvall.
Pivetta, meanwhile, had a strong second half of the season, pitching strongly in a long relief role before returning to the rotation. He went 5-4 with a 3.30 ERA in his final 16 outings of last year, eight of which were starts.
Schreiber and McGuire would probably be likely to stay considering the roles or effectiveness each player had in 2023. McGuire is projected to earn $1.7 million in arbitration while Schreiber is projected to receive $1.3 million in arbitration, per MLBTR.
Urías is projected to get $4.7 million in arbitration by MLBTR. That could be too hefty of a price for the Red Sox considering he hit .194 in his 52 games between the Brewers. Urías is a non-tender candidate, which could allow the Red Sox to send him directly to free agency.
Breslow told reporters on Thursday that he doesn’t “see financial resources as a limiting factor” when building the Red Sox for next season.
Well, they’ll have some money to spend before worrying about the luxury tax. The Red Sox currently have $199 million in salaries for next season, including the arbitration estimates, per Red Sox Payroll on X/Twitter. That leaves them with nearly $38 million in cap space before hitting the Competitive Balance Luxury Tax.
The Red Sox have multiple options to notable clear salary as well, if they’d like. Sale is entering the final year of his big contract and is set to earn $25.6 million next season. Trading Sale would be a risk considering their lack of options in the starting rotation at the moment, but the Red Sox could also feel it isn’t worth potentially counting on him to be healthy in 2024.
Kenley Jansen is the other player who has a sizeable cap figure on an expiring deal for 2024. He’s set to earn $16 million in the final year of his two-year deal next year. But would the Red Sox really want to trade their reliable closer after having bullpen issues for a few years prior to signing him?
The summer of Shohei continues into the winter, with the two-way superstar hitting free agency.
The sweepstakes to land Ohtani could be the priciest in not MLB history, if not the history of North American sports. Several insiders have already speculated and projected that he’ll receive the first $500 million contract in the history of the sport, even if he’s not going to pitch in 2024 after having Tommy John surgery.
As teams around the league brace themselves for the Ohtani sweepstakes, the Red Sox are among the bunch of teams viewed as early potential suitors to land him. ESPN listed Boston as one of the 10 most likely teams Ohtani will sign with, adding that people around the star “believe he’s been long intrigued by Boston.”
If the Red Sox can’t pull off signing Ohtani, there could be another superstar they might be able to land. Juan Soto has been speculated as a possible trade candidate this winter. The 25-year-old star outfielder has one more year left before hitting free agency. After the Padres missed the playoffs with the third-highest payroll last season, it was reported by The Athletic earlier this week that the team also took out a $50 million loan to help cover the payroll, leading to further speculation that Soto could be moved.
Time will tell what the Padres will do with Soto. And time will also tell us what the Red Sox will be like next season as we’ll likely see a lot of movement over the next two months.
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