Let us turn our attention now to the future, specifically to 2023. What does next year look like for the Sox?
Can we all agree that 2022 has been a lost season for the Red Sox? Good. Not good that it's been a lost season. Good that we all agree that it is. Let's dump the 2022 campaign into the dustbin of history, never (one can only hope) to be heard from again.
Let us turn our attention now to the future, specifically to 2023. What does next year look like for the Sox? We begin by examining their free agents, of which there are quite a few.
Xander Bogaerts has the right to opt out of his $20 million-a-year deal and test the market, which the Red Sox expect him to do. They already have his replacement on the roster. Last year, they signed Trevor Story, a career shortstop, to a long-term deal. He played second base this season, proving that he has real defensive chops, but he has been a bit of a disappointment at the plate. He has streaky power but his batting average has been in the .220s all year. Bogaerts has experienced a drop-off in home runs, but he has hit over .300 all year and has a raft of doubles. He's a proven success and should draw wide-spread interest on the open market.
Rafael Devers does not become a free agent until 2023, but the Red Sox traded away Mookie Betts a year before he hit free agency while they could still get value for him. They chose not to pony up the $300+ million he was bound to get (the Dodgers paid it) as a free agent. Devers's asking price will be in the same stratosphere as Betts although he (Devers) has cooled down a bit in recent weeks. Will the Red Sox trade him or (gulp) pay him the money? Stay tuned.
J.D. Martinez was signed to a five-year, $110 million contract prior to the 2018 season. He proved well worth it that first year by hitting .330 with 43 home runs and 130 RBI as the Red Sox won their fourth World Series in 15 years. Since then, however, both Martinez and the team have faded. This year, he has suffered from a severe power outage. At the the all-star break, he was hitting well over .300 but has since slipped to an average of just .271 with only 11 homers and 50 RBI with less than 30 games left in the season. He is 35 years old now and on the downhill side of his career. Do not expect the team to resign him but to instead look for a younger replacement for next season.
Kike Hernandez proved to be an unexpected surprise last year. Signed to a two-year-deal at seven million dollars per year as a career utility man, he was a success in center field, both offensively and defensively. This year, though, he suffered from back issues and was out of action for most of it. He never really got going. The team, however, signed him for a one-year extension, keeping him here through the 2023 season.
Nate Eovaldi is a solid pitcher when healthy, but he has suffered from injuries throughout his career. This year his record stands at just five and three and he is in the last year of a contract that pays him $17 million annually. He'll be 33 years old by the time next season begins and the team might very well try to negotiate a deal for less money than they currently pay him if he is willing to deal on that basis.
Michael Wacha is having a career year. He has 10 victories and only one loss as of this writing, with an ERA of only 2.56; and he's playing for a below average team, which should put him in high demand. He is currently paid seven million bucks for one year and will likely be looking for a multi-year contract. The Red Sox will have to bid high to retain him.
Rich Hill, a native of Milton, is an inspiration to those who refuse to quit before their time is up. As a journeyman pitcher for 10 years, he found himself in 2015 in a position where he had no offers from any major-league team or even from a minor-league team with a big-league affiliation; so he signed with the Long Island Ducks of the unaffiliated Atlantic League. He was 35 and considered washed up, but he kept refining his devastating curveball and was soon picked up by the Red Sox, for whom he was successful. In 2016, he pitched perfect baseball for the Dodgers seven innings before being lifted for a reliever in a controversial move by manager Dave Roberts. In 2017, he lost a perfect game because of a ninth-inning error. Even as recently as this Aug. 27, at the age of 42, he shut out the Tampa Bay Rays on only three hits for seven innings. He might retire after this season, but if he decides to come back, there will be a market for him.
Reliever Matt Strahm and back up catcher Kevin Plawecki round out the list of possible free agents. Both are serviceable pros but neither is by any means irreplaceable.
That's a lot of free agents to deal with in one off-season. Taking Devers out of the equation because he's not eligible for free agency until after 2023, the total payroll they represent is about $80 million a year. If they all leave, there'd be plenty of money in the coffers to pay Devers, but there would be a lot of other replacements needed. Chaim Bloom has his work cut out for him. In any case, the Red Sox will have a much different look about them in 2023. Unless they improve, one of the replacements for 2024 could well be Bloom's successor.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.
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