Red Sox Notes: Free Agency, Bogaerts, Payroll

Red Sox Notes: Free Agency, Bogaerts, Payroll

The Red Sox have signed five free agent pitchers — Michael Wacha, James Paxton, Rich Hill, Matt Strahm and Jake Diekman — so far this winter. Their only meaningful change on the position player front, though, was arguably a downgrade in 2022. An hour before the lockout, Boston traded Hunter Renfroe to the Brewers in a deal that brought Jackie Bradley Jr. back to Fenway Park.

While the Sox have yet to pull off a meaningful upgrade to their position player mix, they’ve been at least loosely tied to a few of free agency’s top names. Jon Heyman of the MLB Network suggested this morning they could be in the mix for Freddie Freeman. They’re reportedly among the teams in the running for star NPB outfielder Seiya Suzuki. Before the lockout, reports tied them to each of Carlos Correa and Trevor Story.

There are myriad possibilities the Boston front office could pursue, a fact chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom acknowledged when speaking with reporters yesterday (via Jen McCaffrey of the Athletic). “We talked about this before the lockout … that we do still want to add position players to the group,” Bloom said. “The (Renfroe) trade we made on December 1 kind of flipped our lineup balance a little bit to where we have an opening for a right-handed bat. That said, in this period, especially with so much going on and so many conversations, we want to be nimble enough to take advantage of all opportunities.

Bloom declined to specify an area of ​​positional target, pointing to the flexibility Enrique Hernandez affords the club with his ability to capably man both center field and second base. That’s been reinforced by the wide array of players they’ve reportedly inquired about, but their ties to the top two free agent shortstops are made more difficult by the presence of their All-Star in-house option there.

Speaking with reporters (including Christopher Smith of MassLive) this afternoon, Xander Bogaerts didn’t sound enamored with the possibility of changing positions to accommodate an external addition. “I’m a shortstop, man. That’s where I’ve played my whole career and obviously a position I take a lot of pride in,” the 29-year-old said. “I love being there.“Bogaerts said he and the team haven’t broached the possibility of a position change.

If Bogaerts remains steadfastly against moving off shortstop, that’d complicate any efforts by the Red Sox to make a legitimate push for Correa or Story. Correa is one of the game’s preeminent defenders at the position, coming off a Gold Glove winning campaign. Story is reportedly intent on signing with a team that’ll keep him at shortstop. It seems unlikely at this point that either will sign with a team that’s unwilling to make space for them at the infield’s most demanding position.

Unlike Correa or Story, Bogaerts doesn’t have the freedom to choose a team for 2022. Yet he will have the option of testing the open market next offseason, as he can opt out of the final three years and $60MM on his deal at the end of this season. Given how well he’s played in recent seasons, he’s certainly on a path towards triggering the opt-out, leaving Bloom and his staff to determine whether they want to earmark some future funds away for a potential extension. (Star third baseman Rafael Devers is down to his final two years of arbitration control as well).

The Red Sox should have plenty of long-term flexibility, however. Jason Martinez of Roster Resource projects their luxury tax payroll for the 2022 season at $213MM, a fair bit shy of the $230MM base tax threshold. Looking ahead to 2023, a wide swath of post-2022 free agents and a potential Bogaerts opt-out could see that number plummet to just $60MM, leaving plenty of spots to be filled on the team’s active roster and a huge amount of funds with which to fill them. Bloom acknowledged as much, teasing that future financial flexibility “opens more options for us, maybe (more) than we’ve been working with the last couple years.

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