Boston Red Sox fans have come together in outrage against the team’s slow start to their 2020-21 offseason across social media waves.
To this point, the two most significant moves the team has made have been declining Martín Pérez’s team option and signing Hunter Renfroe to a one-year deal. Following two consecutive disappointing seasons, the typical response from Red Sox brass is to go out and be aggressive in the pursuit of marquee talent. In years past, you’ve seen the signings of Hanley Ramirez, J.D. Martinez, and David Price, but also trades for Chris Sale, Craig Kimbrel, and Tyler Thornburg.
Those were the old Red Sox. In this ‘new era’ of baseball operations, Chaim Bloom and Brian O’Halloran have been aggressive in their pursuit of players but haven’t been overly willing to go the extra mile to get pen-to-paper. Just this offseason, you’ve seen they were finalists for Kohei Arihara, Charlie Morton, and Tommy Kahnle. In years past, two of those might’ve found themselves in Boston. But Bloom and co. have shown a stubbornness and strictness to their philosophy: be smart, don’t overspend unless you have to.
That notion is difficult for Red Sox fans to grapple with. Especially in an offseason where enticing free agents such as George Springer, J.T. Realmuto, and Trevor Bauer are there for the taking. But the fan base that’s been spoiled by sexy acquisitions and four World Series titles this century needs to buy-in to the idea of the process for sustained success.
With that in mind, here’s a realistic Red Sox wishlist moving forward.
It’s hard to look at the state of the team’s rotation and swallow the pill of signing another pitcher fallen on hard times with the injury bug. That being said, Kluber might be the most sure-thing remaining on the free-agent market.
He’s only amassed 36.2 innings pitched over the past two seasons, including only one inning in 2020. However, he’s slated to throw for teams in early January for the first time since July 26. If the Red Sox like what they see, there’s no reason not to be in the hunt for the two-time Cy Young winner.
The last full season Kluber pitched in was 2018, where he was marvelous. In 215 innings, the right-hander posted a 2.89 ERA, a 3.12 FIP, and a strikeout rate of 26.4 percent. The latter was tied for his lowest mark since 2013, but he was still a menace to deal with for opposing lineups.
When Chaim Bloom was in Tampa Bay, they signed Charlie Morton for two years plus an option. And while Morton showed he was healthy in Houston before this signing, there’s no reason to avoid going a similar route with Kluber.
The rotation will continue to have questions surrounding health. Still, at 100 percent, it rivals the Yankees for the best rotation in the division (Sale, Kluber, Rodriguez, Eovaldi, and then your fifth starter).
Leaving the rotation without a solidified fifth starter would be irresponsible. Therefore, enter J.A. Happ.
The left-hander has become somewhat of a punching bag for Red Sox fans despite being more than serviceable outside 2019. In fact, since 2018, he and Nathan Eovaldi have been somewhat similar in terms of results––Happ has the leg-up in volume (388.1 versus 227 innings).
What Happ provides more than anything, even as he advances in age, is dependability. Is he going to be an All-Star candidate? Very likely not. However, he’s going to go out and pitch to a 4.30-ish FIP and give you innings (5.47 per outing since 2018). If the Red Sox want to ‘smarts’ their way into playoff contention in 2021, signing Happ to round out the rotation makes perfect sense.
Sung-Bum Na (나성범)
Na is an international free agent from the NC Dinos of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). While he’s 31, he has been an absolute monster for the Dinos for the better part of the last eight seasons, showing no signs of slowing down.
In 2020, Na slashed .324/.390/.596 with career-bests in wOBA (.432), wRC+ (155), home runs (34), and his second-best mark in slugging percentage (.596).
Na is a left-handed hitting outfielder who has played the bulk of his defensive career in right field. With Jackie Bradley Jr.’s likely departure, moving Alex Verdugo to center field may very well be in the cards. As a result, the team will need to fill the void in right field.
Though he spent most of his 2020 as his team’s designated hitter, the 31-year-old has been proficient in throwing runners out of his spot in the right field throughout his career. Since 2015, he has accumulated 35 assists from right––though a less than impressive 25 errors.
An MLB comp of that would be Josh Reddick, who has tallied 30 assists and 20 errors since 2015. That hasn’t stopped the veteran from putting up impressive seasons in terms of defensive runs saved, however. As even with that assist-to-error ratio, he’s racked up 25 DRS as a right fielder.
Na’s bat looks to be far more potent than that of Reddick, so even if his defense doesn’t translate, the team should be able to survive.
Bring in a veteran to shore up the second base position.
Outside of DJ LeMahieu, nothing is exhilarating about what the second base position has to offer on the open market. Still, there’s a decent amount of above replacement-level players to be had from that pool.
Here’s a running list of a few options, along with their numbers since the start of 2017.
Kolten Wong: 1,575 PAs, .273/.356/.398, .326 wOBA, 103 wRC+, 10.1 fWAR, 37 DRS
Cesar Hernandez: 2,213 PAs, .275/.353/.397, .327 wOBA, 101 wRC+, 9.1 fWAR, -10 DRS
Jonathan Schoop: 1,817 PAs, .265/.308/.469, .328 wOBA, 103 wRC+, 6.8 fWAR, 23 DRS
Jurickson Profar: 1,384 PAs, .240/.322/.423, .320 wOBA, 97 wRC+, 5.3 fWAR, -17 DRS
Tommy La Stella: 892 PAs, .284/.358/.441, .344 wOBA, 117 wRC+, 4.2 fWAR, -14 DRS
Anybody from this list should be sufficient; it just depends on what they’re looking for. Offense over defense? La Stella, Hernandez, or Profar makes sense. Defense over offense? Wong is perfect. A bit of power mixed with plus-defense? Schoop. There are many routes Bloom could go and still get production out of the position.
Bullpen. Bullpen. Bullpen.
When you budget your spending, you allow yourself to go out and address many different weaknesses. And while the Red Sox bullpen has a strong foundation with Barnes, Hernandez, Valdez, and Taylor, there’s certainly work to be done.
Much like second base, the market is quite top-heavy. Not many guys on the market will command a lot of money, and therefore become your de facto bullpen ‘Ace.’ However, there are plenty of good depth relievers that could fly under the market radar and into the lap of the Red Sox.
Guys like Jake McGee (41.8 percent strikeout rate in 2020), Chaz Roe (3.19 FIP since 2019), and Tyler Clippard (3.22 ERA, 3.84 FIP since 2018) are more than capable of settling into a role in the middle of your bridge to Matt Barnes. And they’ll be able to make multiple moves should they choose to (already signed Matt Andriese).
Wanting the team to land George Springer, Trevor Bauer, or J.T. Realmuto is fine, but wishful thinking at this point. Their eyes, while looking to improve, are more on 2022 than on 2021. Having realistic expectations is hard, but trusting management to make the right moves for the team moving forward is something the fan base needs to improve.
Long gone are the days where the team will empty their pockets to $220-plus million to one player. They’re going to budget their spending and make quality moves that get more bang for their buck.
And that’s okay.