The Boston Red Sox find themselves in an interesting place this offseason. They finished the season 24-36, the 4th-worst record in MLB, but they also still have a lot of talent that indicates things aren’t actually as terrible as that record would have you believe. This is especially true given their last 10 or so games. Between Opening Day on July 24, and the end of August, they went 12-23, but in the month of September, they went 12-13. The starting pitching somehow managed a ridiculous 2.08 ERA over their final 10 games. It’s crazy to think what might have happened if they had started the season the way they ended it, but at least these last couple weeks has given fans reason to hope that next season will be different.
Of course, hope for the future isn’t going to be enough. Chaim Bloom has a lot of work to do, starting today (because Yom Kippur was yesterday.) Here’s what should be on his and the ownership group’s checklist:
- Hire a manager
Duh. Whether it’s Cora or as Bloom said on Sunday, someone with “new energy,” a ship needs a captain, especially when the crew is even younger coming into 2021 than they were at the start of this season. They’ve added Bobby Dalbec, Alex Verdugo, and Tanner Houck, to name a few, while shipping off veteran players like Mitch Moreland, Brock Holt, and David Price. This team needs guidance from someone who can connect to them and unite them.
As an aside, now-former manager Ron Roenicke says that he would be open to returning as bench coach, but only if the manager is Alex Cora. So if it’s not Alex Cora, add “Hire a new bench coach” to the to-do list.
- Pitch, Please.
I’ll say this stat again, because it’s so crazy, given how the pitching looked in July and August: Red Sox starters posted a combined a 2.08 ERA over their last 10 games. This is promising, but not enough for what will hopefully be a 162-game season next year. They have to play the waiting game when it comes to Chris Sale (Tommy John surgery) and Eduardo Rodriguez (Myocarditis caused by COVID-19), but in the meantime, they should pick up Martín Pérez’s option. He’s affordable, healthy, and a new fan-favorite.
Depending on how Chris Sale progresses this winter, Bloom should strongly consider acquiring a new starting pitcher. He probably should go out and get someone anyway, because you can never really have too many starting pitchers. Having an abundance of starters would be quite a nice change for this team, which hasn’t really had a full starting rotation since mid-2019 season.
As for the bullpen, I’d wish for almost a completely new crew, but let’s not get greedy. It wasn’t the worst season of Matt Barnes’ career, but it wasn’t his best, either; he finished with an ERA over 4 for the first time since 2016, and his RA9 (Like ERA but includes the unearned runs, too) was over 5 for the first time since 2015, an increase of 25.36% from last year. He’s still not consistent enough for me to ever feel confident when he takes the mound with anything less than a 10-run lead, and the time for him to figure it out is long past.
Shoutout to Phillips Valdez, who came out of nowhere and finished the season with the best ERA of anyone on the entire pitching staff, 3.26 over 30.1 IP. He was the rare pitcher I felt like I could trust late in close games this season.
Still, Chaim Bloom should look to add another reliever to the bullpen. It’s overdue for an overhaul.
- Big Bats
All hopes of Mookie returning in free-agency this winter were dashed months before baseball even began, and it’s likely that JD Martinez will opt-in; after a serious down-year and with the way COVID affected baseball financially, he’s been open about not wanting to test the free-agent market. He’s confident he’ll be able to turn it around next season, so, the Red Sox shouldn’t be trying to add another big bat. It’s not a productive way to spend their money. Instead, they should try to unload one or two of the many young players or almost-ready minor leaguers in exchange for some pitching. They have an abundance of infield talent at the Triple and Double-A levels, and they certainly won’ t need them all. What they do need is pitching, and a lot of it. Chaim Bloom needs to figure out who is part of this team’s future, and who is a trade piece, and then make moves.
It’s doubtful Andrew Benintendi will be moved this offseason, mostly because his trade value has never been lower. He had a dismal .103 AVG, .128 SLG, and just 4 hits in 14 games this season before going on the Injured List for the remainder of the year. He’ll likely be here in 2021, only because no team will give the Red Sox anything worthwhile in return. It’s sad to see him struggle so much, and it’s clear he hasn’t been very happy over the last two seasons. Hopefully, he figures it out next year.
- Extend, Extend, Extend!
When it comes to contracts, extending Jackie Bradley Jr. should be Bloom’s top priority. The veteran CF is one of the longest-tenured members of this team, one of the best defensive outfielders in MLB, and just had one of the best offensive seasons of his career, right down to homering in his final game yesterday. The problem is that he’s so reliable in the outfield that everyone is spoiled and we take him for granted. Nevertheless, he’s worth every penny, and letting him walk will be a colossal mistake on multiple levels. Last offseason was one of enormous losses for the Red Sox and Red Sox Nation. Don’t add JBJ to that list.
Another player the Sox should try to keep is Kevin Plawecki. Connor Wong, acquired from LA in the Mookie trade, probably isn’t ready for the the big show just yet, and Plawecki turned out to be one of the best hitters on the team. For the first time in his career, he finished the season with an above-.300 AVG, finishing with a career-best .341/.393/.463 and an impressive .857 OPS. His batting average was the highest on the team among players who appeared in 6 or more games. Considering the Red Sox used more pitchers than a beer garden during Oktoberfest, it would be nice for them to provide Christian Vazquez with a reliable backup.
- Lower the ticket prices at Fenway Park
Look, I get it, MLB teams lost money this year. But unlike most Americans, they can afford to lose some money. But the way that MLB will bounce back next year is by making baseball affordable for the everyday fan. Teams actually have an opportunity here to pivot to focusing on the long-term success of the game, and that starts by making the game affordable to young people and families; you cannot grow the game without them. For one thing, people can’t spend money on things like concessions and merchandise in the ballpark if they can’t even afford to get in. But mainly, it’s that fans need to feel wanted after a year away from their ballparks and their favorite teams. They need to feel like MLB wants them to come back, and lowering ticket prices is the most obvious way to do that. It’s the classic “If You Build It, They Will Come,” and for clubs like Miami and Oakland, it should be a no-brainer, given how empty they usually are anyway. Offering free or $5 tickets for kids under $10 when those seats would otherwise remain empty is the fastest way to usher in the next generation of fans. Paying fans.
- Bring back the Fenway veggie burger
Okay, this is a personal request and definitely not something Chaim Bloom is in charge of since he doesn’t run Aramark, but I’m going to say it anyway. Fenway used to have a great veggie burger at the healthy kiosk at far end of the 3rd-base grandstand in the lower concourse, but after the 2017 season, it disappeared, never to be seen (or eaten) again. The luxury seats do offer their own fancy veggie burger, but that’s not an option for the masses. In general, Fenway’s food options are so limited compared to ballparks like Dodger Stadium or Yankee Stadium, and as someone who is there every week, I am begging them to introduce some new, healthy, vegetarian options. Considering Chaim Bloom is a Kosher Jewish person like myself and many Sox fans, I’d think he’d understand.
It’s going to be a busy winter for the Red Sox, but I truly believe that if they make these moves, they will be setting themselves up for both short and long-term success. They’re really not far off from being a Wild Card contender, only a few puzzle pieces short of the whole shebang.
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