How did Chaim Bloom’s bad offseason lead up to this disastrous start to the year and will it get worse?
This past offseason was supposed to be impactful. The Red Sox had reset the luxury tax penalties over the previous two seasons, and after a miserable 2020 season they had arrived in contention earlier than expected. The Red Sox finished the 2021 season two wins away from reaching the World Series while also being financially nimble enough to add to the roster in a meaningful way. Chaim Bloom ultimately failed to deliver an offseason that the team both needed and had earned.
My optimism for a strong offseason of additions was warranted given the new reality of both the Red Sox being a good team and the lack of penalties for spending. The team also had very clear needs, the most urgent of which being improving the bullpen. The 2021 Red Sox had 10 different pitchers record a save and the player with most saves, Matt Barnes, was so unreliable in the second half that he didn’t factor into the team’s deep playoff run. They needed, by most estimations, at least two more reliable high-leverage arms to make sure that this pen would hold up over the course of the season.
The response from Bloom was underwhelming. Instead of shopping near the top of the market where names like Raisel Iglesias and Kenley Jansen resided, he decided to shop in the third tier with Matt Strahm, who signed for one-year at $3 million and Jake Diekman who signed for two-years at $8 million.
While I agreed with Bloom that spending four-years and $58 million dollars on Iglesias or one-year and $16 million on Jansen was not the best way to allocate the team’s money, I vehemently disagreed that he should have skipped over the rich, second tier, of the market. This tier included Corey Knebel, who signed a one-year deal at $10 million, Kendall Gravemen at three years and $24 million, Mark Melancon at two years and $14 million, Ryan Tepera at two years and $14 million, and Daniel Hudson at one year and $7 million.
All of those bullpen options in tier one and two have performed at an elite level in 2022. Meanwhile, Diekman has been erratic, walking over seven batters per nine innings while allowing too many home runs. The Red Sox had enough guys in the bullpen with Diekman’s profile and didn’t need more. Strahm has been a breath of fresh air and I praised Bloom for adding a player with good command to a pen sorely in need of these types, but unfortunately he can only cure so much.
Furthermore, Barnes has once again become unusable while both Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock, who didn’t have defined roles last season or this season, still do not have defined roles. This leaves the Red Sox with Matt Strahm and the occasionally erratic Hansel Robles as the only reliable bullpen weapons. We have seen the toll this has taken on the team as the Red Sox currently lead the majors in blown saves with eight, two more than the second-place team.
The rotation also needed to be addressed, and thankfully it was, though whether or not it was addressed in the right way is up for debate. Bloom added Michael Wacha, Rich Hill, and James Paxton to a unit that already included Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, and Nick Pivetta. Wacha and Hill have worked out well so far as both players are performing beyond my expectations at the moment. Paxton, on the other hand, has yet to throw a pitch, though that was a given when he was signed.
The concerns with Hill were his age and ability to log innings. At 42 years old, Hill is geriatric for the league and has only thrown more than 150 innings once since 2007. That 158 2⁄3 inning season came last year and was preceded by two seasons in which he had failed to throw even 60 innings. Yes, I know 2020 was a short year, but 38 2⁄3 is still low. The concern is warranted, but we’ll see if he can hold up.
Wacha was more concerning because from a performance standpoint he had been bad for both the 2020 and 2021 seasons in addition to failing to carrying a large innings workload. He had eclipsed 150 innings just twice in his nine-year career, the majority of which has been spent as a starter. So far he has been brilliant, posting a 1.38 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP, however, underlying numbers suggest serious regression is around the corner. The injuries have already become a factor for him however, as he is currently on the 15 day IL with an intercostal irritation.
Chris Sale, who has thrown just 42 2⁄3 regular season innings since 2019, has yet to throw a pitch in 2022. Nick Pivetta, a reclamation project, albeit a mildly successful one, has fallen off the rails this year to the tune of a 6.08 ERA. His career-best single-season ERA was last year’s fine but unimpressive 4.53. That’s fine if he’s your fifth starter, but not if he’s in your top three.
Finally, all of this injury and uncertainty in the rotation has led to both Houck and Whitlock being part of that unit at different times. While I firmly believe that Whitlock should be in the rotation full-time, his absence from the bullpen is felt deeply by this already untrustworthy unit. Houck would be, as we have seen, a weapon out of the pen but even he is now forced to start with Hill on the COVID list.
The offense, which was supposed to be the strength of this team, has so far been its biggest hindrance, though it did finally show some signs of awakening on Tuesday. It was clear following the Hunter Renfroe trade in December that the team needed to go out and find a new outfielder. Whether or not this player was a right fielder, which was my preference, or a left fielder which would allow Alex Verdugo to move to right, it needed to be an offensive-minded player.
Like many people, I thought that Seiya Suzuki was a very logical choice, but I would have been fine with any of Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, Mark Canha, or Chris Taylor. Certainly they couldn’t go into the season with Jackie Bradley Jr., the worst offensive player in baseball a year ago, getting near everyday at bats. But they did. So far it has worked out as you could expect as the right field platoon of Bradley and Christian Arroyo has combined for a 71 wRC+ with just one home run.
Old friend Dave Domrowski scooped up both Castellanos and Schwarber, both of whom are thriving. Suzuki’s game has translated immediately as he already has four home runs and a 135 wRC+. The less expensive options of Canha and Taylor would also represent massive upgrades over what the Red Sox are running out there. Don’t look for any help in the minor leagues either, because while Jarren Duran is doing well in Triple-A his defense leaves much to be desired, and as we saw last year there is no guarantee that his game at the plate will translate.
First base was the other position that needed to be addressed, so much so that the aforementioned Schwarber ended up donning a first baseman’s mitt last year. Instead of making an offer to Anthony Rizzo, a Gold Glove level defender and well-respected leader who signed for two-years at $32 million, they ran it back with Bobby Dalbec. The Dalbec experience has been painful to say the least.
Over a 48 game stretch that ran from August 1 to October 3 he was world class. During that time Dalbec slashed .288/.369/.683 with 14 home runs while posting a 174 wRC+. During the other 85 games to start the year he slashed .216/.260/.399 with 11 home runs and a 72 wRC+. I get that blue chip prospect Triston Casas is on the cusp, but doesn’t it seem a little risky to bank on the duo of Dalbec and Travis Shaw to carry the position until then? Is it fair to then put that much pressure on Casas to rise to the occasion should that feeble duo fail to produce? I say no. Now with Shaw jettisoned the team is counting on meaningful at bats from Franchy Cordero. Not ideal.
The last obvious position of need was second base which Bloom did address by making his big splash, he signed Trevor Story to a six-year $140 million dollar deal. Honestly, I don’t hate this move at all, but it certainly wasn’t on my list. The reason why it wasn’t is the uncertainty surrounding Xander Bogaerts’ future with the team.
I didn’t think they would bring in a player, like Story or Carlos Correa, both of whom are better defenders at shortstop than Bogaerts, to play the keystone position. First off, now you have Bogaerts’ replacement on the roster provided Story’s elbow heals enough to return to the position. And secondly, that is the position many envision Bogaerts moving to long-term if the Red Sox are able to re-sign him. I was in favor of a short-term deal with a player like Josh Harrison rather than making a commitment like Story. I would have even been okay with Arroyo and re-signing Jose Iglesias if it meant properly addressing the bullpen, rotation, and outfield.
Bloom’s poor offseason has left the Red Sox with dangerously few options in the event things do not go as planned. Internally the Red Sox have Duran and Casas as potential buttons to push to address the outfield and first base, but neither of these are sure things and the problems of relying on prospects for production are well documented. The lack of solid rotation additions and the attrition of the season has already led the Red Sox to use Whitlock and Houck in the rotation rather than in the bullpen where they are both needed. The reason why they are needed there is because Bloom failed to address that unit effectively.
An optimal offseason would have been to simply allocate the money that Bloom spent differently. Instead of spending $148 million on Story and Diekman, why not spend $122.5 million on Schwarber, Harrison, Graveman, and Ryan Tepera? Use the remaining money left over to upgrade one of Hill or Wacha to something better like Kevin Gausman. Instead of using seven million on Wacha you could put his money and the money you saved not paying Story towards Gausman’s $22 million dollar average annual value, and it would have allowed you to keep one of Whitlock or Houck in the bullpen.
To make matters even worse, Bloom has let Bogaerts go into the final year of his contract, prior to his opt out, with no new deal in place. In addition, Rafael Devers is unsigned for the future with just one more year left and the team and player reportedly $100 million dollars apart. It isn’t hard to imagine a future where franchise cornerstones Bogaerts and Devers leave after feeling massively undervalued by the franchise they came up with despite performing at an elite level.
It also isn’t hard to imagine that J.D. Martinez, Enrique Hernandez, and Nathan Eovaldi are all on other teams after this year. It’s also possible that Story never fully adjusts to life outside of Coors Field, and yes, I have read about the Coors effect. This offseason gave me a lot to be concerned about the future of this team.