Red Sox free agents 2024: Biggest offseason decisions, from Shohei Ohtani to Alex Verdugo

In retrospect, Boston’s hopes of competing in the tough AL East in 2023 rested on way too many risky propositions heading into the season.

Wait, scratch that. Replace “In retrospect” at the start of that sentence with “From the very beginning of spring training …” It always seemed like a shaky idea to rely on injury-prone veteran starting pitchers like Chris Sale, Corey Kluber and James Paxton not only to stay healthy, but to pitch like they did when they were in their 20s. And installing Enrique Hernandez as the full-time shortstop with Trevor Story out, even though Hernandez had never started more than 17 games there in a season, and even that was back in 2018? That seemed like an unnecessary risk. 

The list goes on, too, and it’s part of the reason Chaim Bloom, the decision-maker in the Boston front office, was fired from his job as chief baseball officer. Now, was it all Bloom’s fault? Not at all. He was almost always following ownership’s directives to save money and cut costs, and predictably it didn’t work out. But that’s the topic for a different column. 

Relative here: When we talk about Boston’s offseason agenda, it starts there, with replacing Bloom. Can’t make trades and woo free agents without someone in that role. 

It’s a big task. Lots of work to be done. Will ownership help the new person in a way it didn’t help Bloom? Maybe yet another season in last place in the AL East — 2023 was the second in a row, third in four years — finally does the trick. 

The 2023 Sox did achieve one goal: They got under the luxury tax. Wonder if they can find room to hang that banner in Fenway. Maybe outside the owner’s box?

MORE: Top 10 available free agents for 2024

Red Sox three offseason goals

1. Improve the starting pitching: Brayan Bello was a delight to watch most times he took the mound, as he developed into a guy who looks like a top-of-the rotation starter. Kutter Crawford was solid. And the Sox have options, assuming everyone’s healthy, in Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock. All still have good stuff. Sale made 19 starts this year, which was great, but with a 4.42 ERA/3.71 FIP, didn’t look like his old ace self. There are five or six free agents the team could sign who would immediately become Boston’s best starter, and they need to get one of them.  

2. Improve the defense: By Defensive Runs Saved — a good indication, though far from perfect (like all defensive stats), the Red Sox ranked 25th in the bigs, at minus-22. Every other team in the AL East was at least at plus-23, led by Toronto’s plus-85. The Sox aren’t good enough to give that many outs away and compete in that division. 

3. Find an identity: The Red Sox sure haven’t acted like the franchise that won four World Series titles from 2004 to 2018, and not all that blame can be heaped on Bloom. Decisive moves, not reactive ones, designed to help the parent club win now would be a welcome change of pace for the fan base.

Red Sox free agents

DH Justin Turner: Holds a player option for $13.4 mil, coming off 24-HR, 96 RBI season
SP Corey Kluber: Sox likely to decline $11 million option
OF Adam Duvall: Only played 88 games, but hit 21 homers with a 124 OPS+
SP James Paxton: 4.50 ERA, 9.5 K/9 in 19 starts

Red Sox free-agent targets

Unless they get a flat-out “not a chance” reply from Shohei Ohtani’s camp — and they won’t, because if nothing else more teams in the conversation bumps up the price — the Red Sox should do everything in their power to convince Ohtani to join his Team Japan buddy Masataka Yoshida in Boston. Same thing with another member of that WBC-winning squad, Yoshinobu Yamamoto. He’s legit, he’s entering his Age 25 season and he could contend for an All-Star spot and Cy Young votes in his first season in MLB, just like Kodai Senga with the Mets this year. 

The Sox can’t wait on those decisions, of course, because even if they somehow sign one or both, they’ll still need to add at least one more starting pitcher to the mix. Yeah, that’s how big the need is for this club. There are plenty of options available, including old friend Eduardo Rodriguez. Aside from him, there are impact guys like Aaron Nola, Blake Snell, Marcus Stroman and Jordan Montgomery. There are other down-rotation SPs on the market, too, but Boston needs to be thinking big.   

At the moment, the Red Sox have three starting outfielders — Yoshida, Alex Verdugo and Jarren Duran — and all three bat left-handed. Teoscar Hernandez would be a perfect fit in that lineup; he’s averaged 28 homers over the past three seasons, and even though his production was down a bit in 2023, he was really good the last two months of the season. After the trade deadline passed on August 1 — he admitted the thought of Seattle dealing him wore on him a bit mentally — Hernandez batted .313 with an .885 OPS, with 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 50 games. 

Red Sox potential trade targets

On the starting pitching market, there are free-agent-to-be options (after 2024) who could be dealt this offseason, guys like Tampa Bay’s Tyler Glasnow, or Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, and guys with two years of club control/contracts like Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech (an old friend), Merrill Kelly or Marco Gonzales.

Second base is an area for an upgrade, offensively or defensively. Nick Madrigal is an outstanding defender and wouldn’t cost a premium prospect to pry away from the Cubs (because he hasn’t hit like people thought he would). Could they get Trevor Story’s old teammate, Ryan McMahon? If they chose to upgrade via free agency, possibly Whit Merrifield. 

Red Sox on the trading block

Alex Verdugo is still with the Red Sox because, well, not quite sure. He’s almost certainly not in the long-term plans, so it made sense to move him at the Aug. 1 deadline, but that didn’t happen. Verdugo is a free agent after the 2024 season, and he’s not exactly done anything to prompt the Red Sox to trigger extension talks. On the field, he’s been … fine, at best. He’s had a number of big moments, no doubt, but over the past three years, he’s averaged a 2.1 bWAR, with 12 homers and a 104 OPS+. Entering his Age 28 season, it’s time to see what other teams might offer with him as part of the package. And they should probably take whatever they can get. 

The Boston farm system is on the rise. We saw what Triston Casas was capable of in 2023, and outfielder Ceddanne Rafaela tore through the minor-leagues, then made a strong impression after his call-up. There are more, though. Whether they get to the bigs or whether they’re used as trade chips to land other pieces, that remains to be seen. Here’s a name you’ll probably hear plenty about: Blaze Jordan. He’s a player who could bring back a solid return, especially if he’s part of a package. He’s had an outstanding year, posting an .832 OPS with 18 homers between High-A and Double-A, in his Age 20 season. But he plays first base (Triston Casas) and third base (Rafael Devers), and the big Sox have plenty of DH options. 

Bobby Dalbec struggled with the first-base job in 2022 and spent almost all of 2023 back in the minors. He showed that Triple-A isn’t a challenge, blasting 33 homers with a .938 OPS in Triple-A. The Sox should be able to find someone willing to take a shot. 

Final Red Sox thoughts

Let’s first see who replaces Bloom as the decision-maker. There’s an opportunity here, with money to spend and prospects to trade.

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