John Henry brought Chaim Bloom to Boston from Tampa Bay to run this team like the Rays but with a higher payroll. Bloom’s charge was to develop players, build the farm, keep payroll competitive but under the luxury tax, and not to sign players to long-term, high-risk contracts. Bloom’s predecessor winning three division titles and a World Series in four winning seasons wasn’t what ownership wanted.
I mention this before I point out that Bloom may seem like a complete disaster (he is), but he is doing exactly what he was brought in to do.
Chaim’s first big move was to either sign or trade Mookie Betts. Betts was never going to be easy to sign, so trading away the star, though brutal, was completely understandable. Mookie was always going to the highest bidder, the Pizzutis were never going to take on that much risk, and getting SOMETHING in return was the logical decision.
Fast forward to July of 2022, and Bloom found himself in the same position. Sign homegrown, all-star shortstop Xander Bogaerts to a long-term deal or trade him away from your last-place team and make sure he doesn’t leave you empty-handed. The advantage this time was that Xander seemingly wanted to be in Boston and would have taken a deal much more reasonable than the 11 year, $280 million contract he signed with San Diego.
Unfortunately, Bloom (really John Henry, though) insulted Bogaerts with a four year lowball offer and also decided not to trade him despite being in last place.
To recap: The return for Xander Bogaerts AND Mookie Betts is basically just Alex Verdugo. I’m struggling to think of another GM that made two worse deals or non-deals in my lifetime. Either one of those deals alone should get most executives fired.
To further exacerbate the loss of Bogaerts, Bloom traded away Andrew Benintendi for zilch, Hunter Renfroe for less than nothing, and inexplicably didn’t trade JD Martinez, Nate Eovaldi, Rich Hill, or Michael Wacha when he had no intention of re-signing them this winter. If Bloom aims to build the farm and develop players, perhaps someone should tell him that valuable veterans on a last place team should always be traded while you can get something in return.
So, it’s November of 2022, and Boston’s roster has more holes than a screen door:
Before the Rule 5 draft, Bloom curiously did not protect intriguing prospects Thad Ward or Noah Song, who were both drafted, and opted to hang onto frustrating relievers like Josh Taylor, Matt Barnes, and Darwinson Hernandez, only to DFA and trade all three right after the rule 5 draft.
Then Bloom sat back as nearly every free agent that made sense signed elsewhere. And I don’t even mean big names; I’m thinking Zach Eflin, Kevin Kiermaier, Chad Green, Jose Abreu, or even Yuli Gurriel.
To further complicate things, Trevor Story, who has had the same arm injury for two years, finally had ligament stabilizing surgery and will miss most (or all) of 2023.
Here’s what Bloom did this winter: Justin Turner was brought in on a one year deal with a player option for a second year. Solid move. Turner should replace JD Martinez’s production, or close to it, and also spell Devers and Casas on the corners. Of course, as I’m writing this, Turner just took a fastball to the face, so his being ready for Opening Day is now in question.
Adam Duvall was signed to a one year, reasonable deal to play center field. Duvall, 34, certainly has the power to hit 30 Home Runs at Fenway and has won a gold glove in the past, but coming off a very bad year in Atlanta, expecting Duvall to play 150 games, cover the vast CF at Fenway with weak corner outfielders, and improve on his .212 average is a tall task.
Bloom also shocked everyone by vastly overpaying Japanese import Masataka Yoshida. Most teams figured he would garner somewhere around four years and $48-$60 million, but Bloom, desperate to appease fans and add a bat, gave Yoshi 5 years and $90 million. Yoshida certainly has the talent to hit in the MLB, amassing three home runs and a .327 average in Japan over seven seasons, but adjusting to the MLB is never easy. I think expecting 15 home runs and a .275 average is about all we can hope for in 2023. To further complicate his signing, Yoshida plays terrible defense and served mostly as a DH in Japan. Sure, leftfield at Fenway can certainly hide some flaws, but the move also pushes an average Alex Verdugo to the toughest right field in baseball. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel reportedly spoke to 10 sources on MLB teams that think Bloom vastly overpaid for Yoshida, with one exec going as far as to say that the player is worth about half of what the Sox are paying.
With no shortstop on the roster, centerfielder Kike Hernandez will slide to the infield. He is more than capable of handling shortstop but offers much more value at center or second base.
With the injury to Story, utility man and frequent visitor to the IL, Christian Arroyo is thrust into the starting second base role. Arroyo has the ability to play elite defense at second and has shown he can hit at times, but staying on the field has been a big issue, and counting on him to play 140 games seems foolish. Sure, Trevor Story reportedly could return by July, but I believe that to be very wishful thinking.
Josh Taylor was traded to Kanas City for shortstop Adalberto Mondesi. Mondesi was a huge prospect at one point, but his star has waned as he has struggled to hit in the bigs and has also spent a lot of time on the IL. He enters 2023 coming off an ACL injury that ensures he will miss at least the first month of the season.
Last July, the Red Sox traded Christian Vasquez to the Astros for two prospects that may actually pan out. To replace the long-time backstop, Reese McGuire was acquired for disappointing lefty Jake Deikman. McGuire, very solid behind the dish but typically light-hitting, finished the season in Boston, hitting .337 with a 142 OPS+. Reese enters the season as the primary catcher, while light-hitting Connor Wong was lined up as the backup until a hamstring strain recently sidelined him. Non-roster invitee, Jorge Alfaro, will fill that role til Wong returns. Alfaro is known for a cannon arm, and power is not known for his defense. By all accounts, pitchers like throwing to Wong, and he has even surprised with his leadership ability. I expect Alfaro to be DFA’d when Wong is healthy.
The Sox are putting all their chips in on former top prospect Triston Casas. The big lefty has power and can handle first base just fine, but hit below .200 in his short stint on the roster in 2022. Casas, however, has hit at every level and should be fine. Casas has an advanced understanding of the strike zone for a rookie. A right-handed veteran would have been a nice addition to back the kid up. Instead, the backup plan at first is the mind-numbingly frustrating Bobby Dalbec. Dalbec, a former prospect with tremendous power potential, has failed miserably at adjusting to big-league pitching. Aside from huge strikeout totals and a .215 average, Dalbec has not adapted to the switch to first base, ranking as the worst defensive first baseman in the league. I thought perhaps the brass were done with the Dalbec experiment, but the injury to Turner today seemingly opens the door for Bobby to be on the opening-day roster.
The 2023 rotation has more questions than answers. Bloom relies on oft-injured, older guys to reenact the plot of Benjamin Button if this team is going to survive. Chris Sale is apparently healthy and ready to go. He even looked pretty good in his first spring appearance! But Sale hasn’t pitched a full season since 2017 and is coming off a series of odd injuries. If Sale can throw 180 innings and be even a fraction of the ace he used to be, that would be a huge lift to the Red Sox. Unfortunately, 34-year-old starters don’t often come back to form after four years of injuries.
Nick Pivetta is the only returning starter from opening day of 2022. He is also the only current starter that can be counted on to pitch every five days. The bad news is that you have no idea which version of Pivetta you get every five days: the version that throws seven innings of one-hit ball, like he did on 8/16 vs. the Pirates, or the version that allowed 20 earned runs over three consecutive starts vs. division rivals between 7/5-7/16. It’s a crap shoot every time he toes the rubber. But hey, at least he is healthy.
Corey Kluber comes to Boston after a mostly healthy year in Tampa Bay. Kluber went 10-10, with a 4.34 era in 164 innings. Not too bad and definitely worth a shot. However, like Sale, this former Cy Young winner has had several injuries. A shoulder injury, an oblique, and a fractured forearm held Kluber to 24 appearances in 2019-2021. At 38 years old, nothing is a given, but hopefully, Kluber, who resides in Boston in the offseason, can stay healthy at home.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: James Paxton, at 33, hasn’t been healthy since 2019 and offers the Sox potential all-star numbers, but more likely, more frustrating time spent on the IL. James underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2021, then tore his lat last year while ramping up his throwing program. In his first appearance in spring training, Paxton looked sharp for a couple of innings before leaving with a Grade-1 hamstring strain that will likely leave him off the opening-day roster.
Garrett Whitlock has been a revelation for Boston since stolen from the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft….in the bullpen. His three pitch mix is electric, and Whitlock has been elite as a high-leverage reliever. Last year, Alex Cora (probably forced by Bloom) tried Whitlock in the rotation. In 9 starts, Whitlock was just okay, as his stuff doesn’t play as well the second or third time through the order. Whitlock pounds the strike zone, and batters adjust after seeing him once. Starting also led to injuries. Garrett spent time on the IL in June and again in September before shutting it down and opting for offseason hip surgery. Today, Whitlock is weeks behind as he recovers from the hip surgery and will likely miss the season’s first month.
Bryan Bello showed fans last fall that he can be a future ace. Though his 2-8 record, 90 era+, and 1.78 WHIP may not show it, Bello improved in each of his 11 starts. At 23, Brayan has drawn comparisons to Pedro Martinez and has even been spending time being mentored by Pedro this spring. As with every other potential Red Sox starter, Bello has experienced forearm soreness and has been shut down for a few weeks. Although he will not be ready for the start of the season, there is optimism that the tightness was nothing to worry about. I ask you, though: when was the last time a pitcher was shut down because of forearm tightness and ended up pitching 180 innings that season?….I’ll wait.
So, as you can see, this rotation will more likely than not lead to a long, frustrating season in which we see more Kutter Crawford and Josh Winkowski on the bump than Sale and Whitlock. Fortunately for Sox fans, Bloom did one thing right this offseason…he built a bullpen! Though aging and not without injury risk themselves, Kenley Jensen and Chris Martin give Alex Cora reliable late-inning options that he hasn’t had since Craig Kimbrel was closing out games in 2018. Gone is the maddening Matt Barnes, underachieving Darwinson Hernandez, and ineffective Josh Taylor. Instead, Joely Rodriguez, Jensen, Martin, Tanner Houck, John Schreiber, and Richard Bleier make the bullpen deep and versatile. With any luck, Ryan Brasier will be fired into the sun before the season so Sox fans can wipe the entire stench of the 2022 bullpen off.
There have been comparisons of this roster to that of the World Series winning 2013 team. Coming off the Bobby Valentine disaster, that team was not expected to compete but went wire-to-wire in the first place and cruised through the playoffs to the title. That team featured a lineup with David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, and a young Xander Bogaerts; a rotation of Jon Lester, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster, Clay Buchholz (1.74 era!), and eventually Jake Peavy; and the one-two punch of Koji Uehara, and Junichi Tazawa in the pen. That team was littered with “Hall of Very Good” players, players that had won World Series, and was pulled together by the April bombing of the Boston Marathon. They rode that experience and emotion all year, the city was behind them, and most importantly, they stayed mostly healthy all year.
The 2023 Red Sox are not that team. Too many bad decisions blundered negotiations, question marks, injuries, and less fan support than I have seen in my lifetime (I was almost 9 when Buckner happened).
Sure, maybe everything goes right, every single player stays healthy, and every former all-star regains their form…but realistically, this team will be looking up at the other four AL East teams all year.
Surely, Chaim Bloom will be the scapegoat next winter, as he should be, but the current state of this roster is on ownership’s unwillingness to keep Bogaerts and Betts in Boston.
Blame John Henry.