Although optimism wasn’t through the roof heading into last season, the 2021 Boston Red Sox put together a thrilling campaign and came just a hair shy of a World Series berth. With Chaim Bloom in command of the roster and Alex Cora returning to his post as skipper, Boston found itself back in contention immediately. Their strong season also allowed them to enter the offseason with a focus on building a team that can go deep into the playoffs. Let’s dive into the state of the Red Sox before they kick off regular-season play on Thursday.
The Red Sox repeatedly made it clear that they weren’t going to spend money just for the sake of spending money. Indeed, for a good while after the lockout ended, Boston had only made a few lower-profile (yet still very promising and effective) signings. Eventually, the Sox also struck a deal with a high-caliber infielder, bringing relief to fans who were anxious to see the team open its wallet.
Trevor Story, Second Base (Six Years, $140 Million)
Despite having Xander Bogaerts on the roster, the Red Sox still found a way to sign one of baseball’s brightest stars at the shortstop position. By signing Story and moving him to second base, Boston might just have the best middle infield in all of baseball. Equally talented with his glove and bat, Story did have a down season with the Rockies in 2021, slashing a mere .251/.329/.471 with 53 walks, 139 strikeouts, and a .336 xwOBA. However, he’s just two years removed from a campaign in which he hit .294 and clubbed 35 homers. All the while, the former Rockie has stolen 85 bases over the last four years. His presence will be felt immediately.
James Paxton, Starting Pitcher (One Year, $10 Million)
Paxton, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery and is out until the end of May at the earliest, joined the Red Sox on a one-year deal that includes two club options. If both are exercised, the deal could max out at three years and $36 million. The southpaw has made just six starts over the last two seasons, but back in 2019, he went 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA, 29.4 percent strikeout rate, and 8.7 percent rate. Once he’s healthy again, he could provide Boston with a very strong left-handed option in the front half of the rotation.
Jake Diekman, Relief Pitcher (Two Years, $8 Million)
The Red Sox made a very good signing when they inked Diekman to a two-year deal this past March. The left-handed reliever has some nasty stuff. While pitching for the Athletics in 2021, his strikeout and whiff rates ranked among the top-10 percent of MLB. His xBA and fastball velocity both ranked in the top-25 percent. Through 67 outings as a member of the Oakland club, he amassed a 3.86 xERA, 31.7 percent strikeout rate, and 17 percent walk rate. Although he’s been shaky in Spring Training, the hope is that he can be a high-leverage option out of the bullpen this coming season.
Michael Wacha, Starting Pitcher (One Year, $7 Million)
Wacha joins Boston after spending a year in Tampa Bay. While pitching for the Rays in 2021, he went 3-5 with a poor 5.51 xERA, .499 xSLG, and .439 xwOBACON. He struck out 22.9 percent of opponents and did keep his walk rate to a solid 5.9 percent. He also managed to record a 92nd-percentile rate last year. Still, he’s going to have to prove himself in Boston. He should open the year in the back end of the rotation, and there will undoubtedly be other players in Triple-A vying for his job on the daily.
Rich Hill, Starting Pitcher (One Year, $5 Million)
2012, is that you? Hill, 40, returns to the Red Sox after a trip around Major League Baseball. Now, he, too, will look to find work out of the back of the rotation. Splitting time between the Rays and Mets last season, Hill went 7-8 with a 4.45 xERA, .414 xSLG, 22.7 percent strikeout rate, and 8.3 percent walk rate. The 17-year veteran’s hard-hit rate and pitch spin both ranked among some of the league’s best pitchers.
Jackie Bradley Jr., Outfielder (Acquired From Brewers)
The Red Sox struck a deal in the waning minutes prior to the lockout that sent Bradley and two prospects to Boston in exchange for 2021 standout Hunter Renfroe. Although the deal stung fans in the moment, it’s clear that it capitalizes on regression and also fetches two talented young prospects. In 2021, Bradley ranked among the worst hitters in baseball, finishing with a .163/.236/.261 slash line in addition to 28 walks and 132 strikeouts. However, he remained elite defensively, finishing among the top-16 percent of position players in outs above average and outfielder jump. Bradley will play right field for Boston in 2022.
Although Story’s addition helps to ease the pain, Boston definitely lost more talent than it gained during this past free agency period. A rush of signings both before and after the lockout saw big money given to players for whom the Red Sox simply couldn’t justify over-bidding. Undoubtedly, it will be interesting too see how the Red Sox replace these players who propelled them deep into the postseason last year.
Kyle Schwarber, Outfielder, Phillies
Schwarber landed with the Phillies on a four-year, $79 million deal just months after being a key piece for Boston down its final stretch. Acquired at the trade deadline, the veteran slugger became an instant fan favorite. Through 41 games in Boston, he slashed .291/.435/.522 with seven homers, 18 RBI, 33 walks, and 39 strikeouts. Looking at the 2021 season as a whole, he finished among the top-11 percent of players in many major categories, such as exit velocity, hard-hit rate, xwOBA, xSLG, barrel rate, walk rate, and chase rate.
Eduardo Rodriguez, Starting Pitcher, Detroit Tigers
Early in free agency, E-Rod found his way to Motor City on a five-year, $77 million deal. He’s had an up-and-down career in Boston but ultimately served as a key member of their rotation from 2015 to 2021. Over his last three years in baseball (excluding 2020; didn’t pitch due to myocarditis), Rodriguez went 45-19. During his final season with the Red Sox, he finished 13-8 with a 3.47 xERA, 27.4 percent strikeout rate, and 7.0 percent walk rate. Most of his metrics ranked among the upper quartile of pitchers.
Hunter Renfroe, Outfielder, Milwaukee Brewers
As mentioned, Renfroe was the centerpiece of a pre-lockout trade that sent Bradley Jr. and two prospects to Boston. He had a breakout campaign swinging the bat in 2021, slashing .259/.315/.501 with 31 homers, 96 RBI, 44 walks, and 130 strikeouts. Defensively, his glove wasn’t the best, but he made up for it with arguably the best arm in all of baseball. He finished the season with three double plays and 16 outfield assists. It will be hard to replace the timely, electric energy he brought to Boston in 2021.
Although they lost three key pieces from the squad that went deep in the postseason last year, the Red Sox remain positioned for a strong season. The biggest obstacle in their path will be Chris Sale‘s health. He has seen minimal action since signing an extension in 2019, and now, another injury (rib fracture) is set to sideline him for the first two months of the season. Players like Nathan Eovaldi and Nick Pivetta should have no trouble stepping up in his absence, but it’s obvious that a healthy Sale makes the team better.
In addition to starting pitching concerns, the bullpen remains an area of question. The Red Sox, like many teams, were unable to find comfort in their relief arsenal for much of last season. Matt Barnes‘ shaky season went downhill quickly and many offseason additions found themselves off the roster. However, Garrett Whitlock is a bright spot, Tanner Houck is close to becoming an MLB mainstay, and Diekman offers a fantastic left-handed, late-innings option.
Finally, from a position player perspective, the Red Sox should be fine. They got better defensively by adding Bradley and Story, and although they lost key power options in Renfroe and Schwarber, they will still be able to clobber the ball a whole lot thanks to players like Story, Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez. This team should be fun to watch in 2022.
The Red Sox will finish 92-70 for a consecutive season. Whereas last season’s finish was a surprise, this season, a finish like this is much more expected. Of course, finishing with 92 wins doesn’t guarantee Boston a playoff spot. They narrowly snuck into the postseason last year, and despite expanded playoffs in 2022, they’re going to face stern competition from teams like the Angels, Astros, Mariners, White Sox, Rays, Yankees, and Blue Jays. There are seven teams right there that could legitimately make deep postseason pushes. The Red Sox need to be on top of their game (and then some) in order to find success among an ever-competitive MLB.
Follow Andersen Pickard on Twitter @AndersenPickard
Main Image Credit: