Flexibility (both on the field and on the payroll ledger) was the key word in a very active Red Sox offseason.
Major League Signings
- Enrique Hernandez, IF/OF: Two years, $14MM
- Garrett Richards, SP: One year, $10MM (includes $1.5MM buyout of $10MM club option for 2022; option and buyout totals could increase based on performance escalators)
- Martin Perez, SP: One year, $5MM (includes $500K buyout of $6MM club option for 2022)
- Hunter Renfroe, OF: One year, $3.1MM
- Hirokazu Sawamura, RP: Two years, $3MM (includes a dual club option/player option worth at least $600K for the 2023 season; buyout increases based on roster bonus and appearance incentives)
- Marwin Gonzalez, IF/OF: One year, $3MM
- Matt Andriese, SP/RP: One year, $2.1MM (includes $250K buyout of $3.5MM club option for 2022; value of club option can increase based on innings totals)
- Total spend: $40.2MM
Trades & Claims
Notable Minor League Signings
Continuing the trend of player turnover that marked Chaim Bloom’s first year as Boston’s chief baseball officer, Bloom’s second offseason running the team’s front office saw quite a few new faces arrives as familiar faces departed. Most notably, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi will both be playing elsewhere in 2021, so in combination with last winter’s Mookie Betts trade, the Red Sox have now said goodbye to all three members of the superb offensive and defensive outfield that was such a big part of their 2018 championship team.
Bradley’s extended stay on the free agent market — he didn’t sign his two-year, $24MM deal with the Brewers until early March — created some speculation that the former Gold Glover could end up returning to Boston, and the Sox reportedly stayed in touch with Bradley’s representatives throughout the winter. However, the signing of Hunter Renfroe in mid-December was an early indicator that the Red Sox were looking beyond the JBJ era, and the team’s subsequent addition of several other outfield-capable players seemed to further limit the chances of a Bradley reunion.
As for Benintendi, his departure from Boston also began to seem more like a reality as the offseason wore on, and trade rumors continued to swirl about his availability. The Royals ended up landing the former seventh overall pick, joining forces with the Mets to work out a three-team swap that saw the Red Sox walk away with an injury-prone but intriguing power bat in Franchy Cordero, a young minor league starter in Josh Winckowski, and three other minor leaguers to be named later.
It wasn’t nearly the trade package that Benintendi would have commanded following his outstanding 2018 season, when the Red Sox were seeing him as a future cornerstone rather than as a trade chip. Benintendi’s value diminished after a pretty average 2019 season and then an injury-shortened 2020 campaign that saw him hit just .103/.314/.128 in 52 plate appearances.
In one sense, the Red Sox were selling low on Benintendi, and an argument could certainly be made that the outfielder should have been retained in order to see if he could bounce back when healthy (and in a season played under less unusual circumstances than 2020). But, after two down years in a row, Bloom might have simply felt Benintendi had already peaked, and moving him now allowed the Sox to obtain multiple minor leaguers while more struggles in 2021 would have cratered Benintendi’s trade value.
There was also a financial element to the move, as even though the Red Sox included $2.8MM in the trade to help the Royals cover Benintendi’s salary $6.6MM, that still left $3.8MM in savings. That $3.8MM figure happens to exactly match the total of Cordero’s $800K salary and the $3MM the Sox gave to free agent Marwin Gonzalez. This type of valuation was prototypical of Boston’s offseason, as the club spread its money around to several players rather than focus the majority of its available dollars on any particular big-name signing.
This strategy manifested in the types of player Boston pursued, as the Red Sox went after multi-positional types that could help out at several spots around the diamond. At the cost of a two-year $14MM deal, Enrique Hernandez was the priciest of the bunch, but the super-utilityman can and has played every position but catcher over his seven MLB seasons with the Dodgers.
Between Hernandez, Gonzalez, and minor league signing Danny Santana, manager Alex Cora can now approach the left field and second base positions in a number of different ways. Hernandez will probably get the bulk of time at second base, though he could also occasionally spell Alex Verdugo in center field. Verdugo could get an off-day or move to a corner outfield spot in that scenario, which would then give Renfroe, Cordero or Gonzalez a breather. It’s also possible for each of those players are all still in the lineup and another regular gets a day off. In short, the Red Sox now have quite a bit of depth built into the roster in the event of injury or if one or more players are slumping.
The question now becomes whether this depth can be productive or if these new additions could be notable for versatility alone. Hernandez, Renfroe, Gonzalez, and Santana are all looking to bounce back from poor seasons at the plate. Platooning and juggling the lineup could put any of the quartet into optimal hitting situations and get them back on a good offensive track, plus the likes of Christian Arroyo, Michael Chavis, Jonathan Arauz, and Yairo Munoz are also available to provide even more options for Cora. Top prospect Jeter Downs is also expected to arrive in the majors at some point in the 2021 season, so the Red Sox might have another position spoken for if Downs can hold his own as a semi-regular second baseman.
Bloom took the same wide-ranging approach to his pitching acquisitions, as Boston’s costliest arm of the offseason was Garrett Richards on a $10MM salary. Richards and the re-signed Martin Perez are penciled into the rotation along with Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi. Swingman Matt Andriese could get some spot starts or potentially end up replacing Perez or Nick Pivetta at the back end of the rotation.
It’s safe to assume that these six pitchers and other depth options like Tanner Houck, Daniel Gossett, Connor Seabold and company will all get some action as the Red Sox try to rebuild everyone’s arm strength and keep everyone healthy in going from a 60-game season to 162 games. (Chris Sale is also expected to be back from Tommy John rehab around midseason.) Indeed, signing an unspectacular innings-eater like Perez may have been almost a necessity considering how Richards and Eovaldi have struggled to stay healthy during their careers, and Rodriguez missed all of 2020 due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis and myocarditis. Thankfully, E-Rod has looked in prime form during Spring Training and appears to be ready to roll as Boston’s Opening Day starter.
Some of the depth starters might eventually join Andriese in contributing out of the bullpen, which will introduce a couple of external arrivals in Hirokazu Sawamura and Adam Ottavino. Sawamura comes to the majors after nine NPB seasons and with a distinguished track record as a relief pitcher, making him a potential bargain investment for the Red Sox if he can come close to replicating his numbers from Japan.
The Ottavino trade would have been notable solely for being a rare deal between the Red Sox and Yankees, but the financial elements add more interesting wrinkles. With New York paying $850K of Ottavino’s $8MM salary, the remaining $7.15MM price tag makes Ottavino the second highest-paid player of any of Boston’s new additions for 2021, behind only Richards. While the “buy a prospect” (namely young righty Frank German) element is certainly at play, the Sox wouldn’t pay that much for a reliever coming off a 5.89 ERA season if they didn’t think Ottavino could be a productive player in 2021.
Many of Ottavino’s advanced metrics from 2020, in fact, are pretty close to his career averages. The righty was hampered by some bad luck (.375 BABIP) and by one ERA-inflating nightmare of an outing on September 7, when Ottavino allowed six runs to the Blue Jays without recording a single out. With this in mind, the Sox are certainly hoping Ottavino can get back to his 2018-19 level, and provide the bullpen with either a quality setup man or perhaps even a closer candidate to share save chances with Matt Barnes.
Trading Ottavino helped the Yankees ease some of their luxury tax burden, while Ottavino’s addition brought the Red Sox a bit closer to the $210MM Competitive Balance Tax threshold. The Sox reset their tax “penalty clock” by spending under the limit in 2020, but the team has seemed loath to surpass the threshold again so quickly. Their volume of offseason moves has brought the Red Sox within range of $210MM; Cot’s Baseball Contracts has Boston’s tax number at roughly $204.3MM, while Roster Resource’s calculation of around $207.6MM leaves the Sox with even less breathing room for further spending. That proximity to the threshold was among the reasons that a late reunion with Bradley simply didn’t seem likely.
Of course, over a year after the Betts trade, Boston fans are more than a little sick of hearing about the luxury tax, and undoubtedly many of the Fenway faithful are wondering why the team wasn’t more outwardly aggressive in responding to a last-place finish in the AL East. Signing DJ LeMahieu (in whom the Red Sox had at least some cursory interest) or Connecticut native George Springer would’ve been a much easier sell to fans than a collection of multi-positional players who all struggled in 2020.
As MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes has outlined, it’s quite arguable that no big-market team should be worried about a luxury tax overage this year, considering both the small actual price in tax dollars and how the CBT system could be altered significantly in the next set of collective bargaining talks. It could be that Boston’s upper management has decided that there isn’t any value in exceeding the CBT threshold unless the Red Sox look like a surefire World Series contender.
Bigger spending might come next year when Sale will theoretically be fully healthy, Dustin Pedroia’s contract will be off the books, and the Red Sox know more about what they have in Downs, Bobby Dalbec, Jarren Duran, and other promising youngsters. Of course, the Sox will also have to replace Rodriguez in the rotation, as he’s set to hit free agency following the 2021 season. They’ll also have to patch the many holes left by all the current players on one-year deals.
In the meantime, Bloom will surely continue to tinker throughout the year on a roster that looks improved from last season, but still seems at least a couple of steps behind the Yankees, Rays, and Blue Jays in the AL East.
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