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Leandre: Boston Red Sox 2024 offseason wish list
In an offseason of promised change, a Red Sox offseason wish list is predictably hefty.
After missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, the Boston Red Sox have their work cut out for them to ensure 2024 is a reversal of fortunes.
While 2023 wasn’t all bad, it’s clear the process at the MLB level needs rectifying if the Red Sox are serious about contending next year. So far, signs are encouraging.
Not that I’m ever one to clamor for someone to lose their job, but I’ll be honest it was a breath of fresh air when news broke that Pitching Coach Dave Bush and Third Base Coach and Infield Defense Coordinator Carlos Febles were relieved of their duties.
While my opinions on the firing of Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom are the inverse, it’s still encouraging at the outset that Fenway Sports Group and co. realize changes had to happen.
As for this upcoming offseason, a lot needs to be done.
On the surface, it appears this roster isn’t longing for a major overhaul. However, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t use a facelift.
It’ll all start with the individual running point on baseball operations this winter.
1. Hire Craig Breslow or Kim Ng to run baseball operations
Rumors ramped up seemingly with the wind Wednesday that the Red Sox were in advanced discussions with former left-handed reliever Craig Breslow to be their next head of baseball operations.
The southpaw was anointed the “Smartest Man in Baseball” several times in his career, including in the Sporting News’ top-20 smartest athletes in 2010. While that is largely thanks to his degree in molecular biophysics degree from Yale, Breslow also became something of a baseball nerd himself in the waning years of his career through his working with Rapsodo.
The caveat is he’s yet to run a team, but he’s been an assistant general manager with the Chicago Cubs since 2019.
As for Kim Ng, she’s personally my No. 1 choice now that reportedly Dodgers GM Brandon Gomes and Phillies Vice President Sam Fuld turned down interviews.
The trailblazer GM recently mutually parted ways with the Miami Marlins, sighting differences in how the team wanted to build on its first full-season postseason berth since 2003.
As far as resumes go, nobody comes close to Ng's among available candidates. She’s been in high-ranking front office positions since the 1990s, with pit stops with the White Sox, Dodgers and Yankees.
While there are certainly red flags to her (albeit brief) track record as the head of baseball ops, it’s hard to ignore the upward trajectory of the Marlins during her time there.
I never understood why Arizona Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen garnered such widespread support on a reunion with an 84-78 record in 2023 but Ng received flak for finishing with the same record.
Sure, the farm system rankings certainly favored the D-backs, but the Marlins have been largely considered one of the worst-run teams in the league.
Regardless, if the Red Sox hired one of these two to run baseball ops, or to a less likely extent both in tandem, that would be good enough for me.
2. Every five-card deck benefits from an Ace … even more so with two.
Pitching. Pitching, pitching, pitching and more pitching is needed this winter for the Red Sox.
At minimum, a front-line starting pitcher is an offseason requirement for the 2024 roster. While adding two top-flight starting pitchers would be ideal, there’s enough talent holding over from 2023 to where adding an ace and a legit No. 3 starter would be sufficient.
This big-ticket item everybody seeking pitching wants is Orix Buffaloes right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto from Nippon Professional Baseball, and for good reason. The 25-year-old is coming off a season in which he posted a 1.16 ERA in 171 innings.
He also has a deceptive stride in his delivery, which allows his fastball to explode on hitters and his curveball to be that much nastier.
Simply put, the Red Sox need to outbid everybody else. It’s paramount. Fenway Sports Group has had the mindset in the past that it won’t pay premium for starting pitching 30 years old or older.
Well, Yamamoto is 25. He’s entering his prime, so Red Sox brass should have no problem shelling out top dollar for the No. 1 starting pitcher on the free agent market.
My second choice might be seen as an Ace to many ball clubs out there, but I think he’d perfectly slot into the middle of the Sox rotation: Jordan Montgomery.
Since leaving the Yankees, the southpaw has continued his trajectory despite not having exceptionally appealing stuff to the eye.
In Texas especially, he’s been brilliant — more so in his Wild Card and ALCS starts. He’s a gamer with a curveball that, according to one of the best hitters on the planet, Yordan Alvarez, “looks like a fastball.”
I’d try to pluck him for a contract similar to what Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Zack Wheeler got after the 2019 season — $118 million over five years.
I’d even be willing to beef up the deal a little more, something in the neighborhood of $150 million over six years ($25 mil AAV).
While Montgomery isn’t the exceptionally brilliant strikeout artist of a traditional Ace, he keeps hitters at bay, goes deep into games and stays healthy, something the Red Sox could greatly benefit from moving forward.
In the event Boston signs both, its rotation would look as follows (ranked on true talent and a hint of track record):
1. Yoshinobu Yamamoto
2. Chris Sale (L)
3. Jordan Montgomery (L)
4. Brayan Bello
5. Kutter Crawford/Nick Pivetta
On paper, this rotation is tremendous, with much more upside than it had in years past.
However, among starters in Montgomery’s tier that I’d view as at least an adequate consolation prize for not obtaining the veteran lefty are former Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez or Twins right-hander Sonny Gray.
3. It’s time to bring some thump back to the Red Sox lineup
Since 2000, the Red Sox have made the postseason 11 times. Eight of those 11 seasons saw them finish within the top 10 in baseball in home runs.
While it’s not a given that hitting a lot of homers will send your team to the postseason, it certainly doesn’t hurt your chances.
As far as free agents go, it’s a relatively weak position player class. However, there are some right-handed power bats that could make for Hunter Renfroe- or Adam Duvall-like fits at Fenway Park.
A few players in particular, not including Renfroe or Duvall (both are free agents), are the following:
1. C Gary Sanchez — 41 pull-side home runs, 4.6 fWAR and a 99 wRC+ since 2021
2. 1B/DH Rhys Hoskins — coming off of a season-ending knee injury, 40 pull-side homers since 2021 and a wRC+ of at least 122 in five out of six seasons in MLB
3. OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. — At least 20 home runs in three of the past four seasons (four out of five if counting the home run pace he had in the 2020 campaign)
Looking at each one individually, starting with Sanchez, there are pros and cons to fitting them into the roster.
With the veteran backstop, he’s become all or nothing offensively (.213 average, .293 on-base but a .213 isolated power since 2021). However, he’s seen an uptick in defensive production over the years.
Once lauded as one of the worst defenders of any position in baseball, Sanchez is now more than respectable in defending the run game and stealing strikes. While his blocking still leaves some to be desired, his framing since 2022 would be great to build off of the 2023 catching room.
The one big drawback is the Sox already have both catchers rostered, Connor Wong and Reese McGuire, with a top catching prospect soaring through the organization, Kyle Teel.
They absolutely could non-tender McGuire or even trade him to open up a roster spot for Sanchez, or even carry three catchers on the roster with Sanchez also serving as the primary designated hitter.
For me, Hoskins is the one to go after for a multitude of reasons. He has a pretty good balance of slug and on-base — less so his past two seasons (.333) but still hardly the all-or-nothingness of Sanchez.
On top of that, he became a more-than-fair defensive first baseman in 2022 with three defensive runs saved. He and Triston Casas could prove to be a great first base and designated hitter carousel.
Last but not least, Gurriel Jr. is a fascinating one, especially because he kills two birds with one stone.
Defensively, he’s a massive upgrade over Masataka Yoshida, who’d in turn convert to a more prominent designated hitter role. While he’s hardly Mike Trout at the dish, he’s a steady offensive force — a career .279 hitter with a 113 wRC+.
In terms of adding offensive ceiling, Hoskins is the best option, but Gurriel probably makes the most logistical sense positionally.
4. Shore up infield defense … please?
The only position “up for grabs” for the Red Sox is second base. Luis Urias came over in a deadline trade from Milwaukee but provided precious little from a defensive stability standpoint (negative two defensive runs saved and negative three outs above average).
He’s someone I’d consider on the chopping block as far as non-tender candidates are concerned, thus opening up the position completely to someone either in-house or external.
Internally, the only options that exist are prospects Enmanuel Valdez and Ceddanne Rafaela, both of whom we’ve already seen in spurts at the MLB level. There’s also the long-shot possibility of Nick Yorke breaking through, but probably best to not thrust him into an everyday MLB role until he’s played some in Triple-A.
I like the idea of a platoon between Valdez and Rafaela, but would prefer to use them as depth at second and acquire someone to play the position.
The immediate name that comes to mind is All-Star utilityman Whit Merrifield.
While the pesky right-handed hitter doesn’t do much in the way of providing thump to the order, he’s historically torched the ball at Fenway Park — .473 slugging percentage and a .308 career average in 98 plate appearances.
DRS doesn’t love him at second, but outs above average does. Regardless of your preference of defensive metric, he gets the job done at a higher level than what we all witnessed at second base for the Red Sox this season.
Shortstop will be fine, health permitting. Even in a relatively small sample, Trevor Story proved he’s an upper-echelon defender still. However, the two corner spots are set in stone for a long time; the onus is on them to improve.
5. Don’t ignore the margins of the roster
For as much criticism as Bloom got, he never got enough credit for his work on the margins of the roster.
In his four years running the show, Bloom added pitchers Garrett Whitlock, John Schreiber, Brennan Bernardino and even Pivetta. He also added outfielders Rob Refsnyder and Hunter Renfroe, as well as utilityman Enrique Hernandez.
Many of the aforementioned are under contract in 2024, but that can’t be taken for granted. Shoring up lower leverage bullpen roles is still important, as is making sure the reserve position players aren’t black holes in the field or at the plate.
I’d like for the Red Sox to add another veteran outfielder to the mix, preferably a defensive-minded one like Jason Heyward, even if only to a Spring Training invite — similar to what Bloom did with Raimel Tapia this past camp.
Force young players to prove through their performance that they belong and don’t thrust them into roles without letting them beat somebody out first.
6. You HAVE to make a decision on Alex Verdugo
Given the level of impact the outfielder Verdugo has on the team, making a decision on him probably should rank higher than last on my wish list.
However, they could keep him for the time being and make a decision on him at the All-Star Break next season.
Regardless, even if the decision is to kick the big one down the line and make it later, that needs to be decided early this winter. It’s not fair to the team or to Verdugo for them to hold off on deciding his future until February or March.
There are pros and cons to both extending him or trading him. For starters, he’s yet to make that leap forward into a great hitter like what was promised when he came over as one of the main pieces of the Mookie Betts trade. However, he still provides, at worst, league-average offense and based on 2023, elite-level right-field defense.
I’m of the opinion that as long as you do right by the player, there’s no wrong decision when it comes to Verdugo. I just am heavily against moving him up against the day full team workouts begin.
Follow Jordan on Twitter @JordanLeandre55
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