#Xander #Bogaerts #leaving #Red #Sox #figure #middle #infield
With Xander Bogaerts headed to San Diego, the Red Sox face questions about their lineup. Boston has added Masataka Yoshida on a five-year deal to play left field, but they’re now dealing with a vacancy in the middle of the diamond.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told reporters this week the Red Sox are seeking someone who can play up the middle on either the infield or outfield (link via Alex Speier of the Boston Globe). As Bloom noted, the team has some positional flexibility in that regard thanks to Trevor Story and Enrique Hernández. Story played second base in deference to Bogaerts this past season, but the longtime Rockies shortstop now looks penciled in to move back to the left side of the diamond. Hernández is a quality defender at both second base and center field, and his ability to cover either spot gives Boston the freedom to look for players at either position and move Hernández around depending on subsequent additions.
In any event, the Red Sox figure to bring in another player with the athleticism to cover up the middle. As things stand, the team would likely open the season with Story at shortstop, Hernández in center and some combination of Christian Arroyo and Jeter Downs at second base. Neither Arroyo nor Downs should have a firm hold on an everyday job for a hopeful contender, but the available free agent options at important defensive positions are dwindling.
The center field market was almost completely barren from the start, with Brandon Nimmo the clear top option. Players like Kevin Kiermaier and Cody Bellinger got everyday jobs coming off disappointing seasons, while the Red Sox struck early to keep Hernández out of free agency on a $10M extension in September. He’s not coming off a great year himself, but the lackluster free agent class no doubt played a role in Boston’s decision to take a shot on him possibly bouncing back.
Free agency in the middle infield is a bit more robust. Dansby Swanson is the top player still remaining. The Red Sox are reportedly part of that market, although they’ll face competition from teams like the Cubs, Twins, Dodgers and incumbent Braves. It’d be rather surprising to see the Sox pivot to Swanson — who looks likely to top $150M on the open market — after watching their own star shortstop (and described “top priority”) depart. There’s a notable drop after Swanson, with Elvis Andrus the next-best remaining shortstop. At second base, Jean Segura and Brandon Drury are the top options available.
All those players hit right-handed, which could make them targets for the Boston front office. Speier writes the Sox are looking for a righty bat, a sensible pursuit considering their lineup skews towards the left side. Story, Hernández and Arroyo are the only three righties who currently look like regulars, and Arroyo could be supplanted by an outside addition. Rafael Devers, Alex Verdugo and Yoshida all hit from the left side, as do first base/DH options Triston Casas and Eric Hosmer. Boston has Bobby Dalbec in that mix as a righty alternative, but he’s struggled enough the past couple seasons they’ve reportedly made him available in trade.
The trade market obviously also offers a chance for the Red Sox to address some roster deficiencies. Bloom told Chad Jennings of the Athletic on Monday the club was open to consolidating minor league talent to add immediate MLB help. The front office leader downplayed the possibility of moving talented players at the MLB level (seemingly including Casas) as part of those efforts, but he expressed a willingness to move players who are further away from the majors.
There aren’t many up-the-middle players who look likely to be dealt this winter. The Guardians could part with shortstop Amed Rosario, while the Royals may field offers on center fielder Michael A. Taylor. Oakland’s Ramón Laureano has some center field experience and would add a righty bat to the outfield, but he’s coming off a dismal 2022 season and the A’s may prefer to hold him in hopes of a better year that rebuilds his trade appeal.
The rotation market offers more possibilities, both in free agency and trade. Noah Syndergaard, Johnny Cueto and old friends Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Wacha are among the free agent options still available. Viable rotation trade candidates include Trevor Rogers and Pablo López in Miami, Chris Flexen or Marco Gonzales of the Mariners and Pittsburgh’s JT Brubaker. Both Speier and Jennings write that Boston would like to add a starter, no surprise for a team that has seen Eovaldi, Wacha and Rich Hill hit free agency without bringing in outside help.
Boston does have a few players who can step into the rotation after not assuming much of a role last season. Chris Sale barely pitched in 2022, while James Paxton didn’t throw for the Sox at all. They’ll hopefully go into Spring Training healthy but have plenty of recent injuries and workload concerns. Brayan Bello could get a full season after breaking into the majors this past July. The Red Sox already announced Garrett Whitlock would join Nick Pivetta in the starting five after mostly working in multi-inning relief the last two years.
The Sox haven’t been as committal on Tanner Houck, but he’s also a rotation option after bouncing between starting and relief for a while. As Jen McCaffrey of the Athletic writes, the Sox’s offseason to date has seen them bring in a few bullpen options — Chris Martin, Kenley Jansen and Joely Rodríguez — without doing much to fortify the rotation. That could point towards an increasing likelihood of Houck competing for a rotation spot in Spring Training, although much depends on the team’s activity over the next three months.
Houck came out of the bullpen for 28 of his 32 appearances in 2022, including some time as the team’s closer. With Jansen now set to lock down the ninth inning, skipper Alex Cora can deploy Houck either in higher-leverage relief in the middle innings or as part of the starting staff. The former first-round pick started 13 of his 18 outings in 2021, and he has 20 MLB starts on his résumé. In that time, he’s worked to a 3.22 ERA with a 28.5% strikeout rate. Houck has a 2.68 ERA and a 25.9% career strikeout percentage when coming out of the bullpen.