John Tomase

In alternate offseason, Red Sox could've built a bridge worth crossing

Here's how the Red Sox could have built at least a semi-competitive team this offseason.

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How "bridge year" became a pejorative is a lesson in the power of intellectual laziness, but from the moment Theo Epstein innocently uttered those words in 2009, they morphed into shorthand for "we're not trying this season."

That's a willfully dishonest reading of a reasonable concept. Teams that "go for it" every single winter end up looking like the Padres or Mets, who have already started dismantling their bloated payrolls after missing the playoffs. Sometimes a temporary step back is required in order to take a massive leap forward.

The bridge offers that connection. The Red Sox have made no secret of their intention to wait for standout minor leaguers Marcelo Mayer, Roman Anthony, and Kyle Teel to arrive and form what they hope is the nucleus of the next great Red Sox team. (Some of us are skeptical.) In the meantime, however, they have seats to fill, and so far this winter they've done little to excite their fans.

If the season started today, their payroll wouldn't even top $200 million and would be well below the first luxury tax threshold of $237 million. Let's conservatively say they could spend another $35 million without triggering any penalties. That's enough to build a decent bridge with rebar and everything, providing potential protection against apathy, which might be their greatest enemy.

Of all the disappointments of Craig Breslow's first offseason, the failure to apply some basic, short-term fixes to the roster might top the list. If ownership doesn't want to spend big in free agency, that's annoying, but there are workarounds.

The obvious example is 2013, when Ben Cherington added veterans like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, and Jonny Gomes to bide his time until Mookie Betts and Co. arrived from the minor leagues. The Red Sox rewarded him with a World Series title. That's an extreme example, but even in 2021, Chaim Bloom turned Kiké Hernández, Hunter Renfroe, Rule 5 pick Garrett Whitlock, and trade deadline acquisition Kyle Schwarber into an ALCS team.

Outside of Whitlock, none of the above represented long-term answers, but they gave us something to cheer in the interim, and the Red Sox apparently no longer see the value in that.

The opportunity existed to do something similar this winter, but the Red Sox balked. The club believed it could make a run at Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, at least until his market exploded and he landed in Los Angeles for $325 million.

That still left a lot of really good players to choose from at reasonable salaries, but the Red Sox have mostly remained on the sidelines, except to sign right-handed reclamation project Lucas Giolito to a two-year deal, and acquire second base product Vaughn Grissom from the Braves for left-hander Chris Sale.

Imagine if their winter had just reasonably included some combination of the following:

  • Re-sign veteran Justin Turner to DH and spell Rafael Devers and Triston Casas at the corners. Turner just signed with the Blue Jays for one year and $13 million after driving in a career-high 96 runs with the Red Sox. Even at age 39, he still has short-term value.
  • Failing Turner, sign catcher Mitch Garver to the two-year, $24 million deal he received from the Mariners. The lineup needs right-handed power and the catching tandem of Connor Wong and Reese McGuire was sneaky terrible last year. Garver is mostly a DH at this point, and an injury-prone one at that, but he hits for prodigious power and he'd balance the lineup, even if he only gets 350 at-bats.
  • Outbid the Cubs for left-hander Shōta Imanaga. The other Japanese pitcher on the market signed a complicated deal that guarantees him $53 million over four years, but could be worth $80 million over five. Imanaga has a chance to be this winter's Kodai Senga, who turned out to be a bargain for the Mets. The fact that the Red Sox declined to make a serious bid for someone who signed a reasonable deal might be their most frustrating whiff of all.
  • Sign Jorge Soler. The 2019 American League home run champ can still leave the yard, as evidenced by his 36 homers in Miami last year, when he made $15 million. Soler remains a free agent and could potentially be a bargain pickup. His right-handed power alone makes him a better fit than incumbent left fielder Masataka Yoshida, and even if he's a below-average defender, he'd still be an upgrade.

There are a million other permutations with bridge potential. Slugging outfielder Teoscar Hernández, who obliterates Fenway Park, signed with the Dodgers for one year and $23.5 million. All-Star right-hander Marcus Stroman joined the Yankees for basically the same money the Red Sox gave Giolito. Steady righty Kenta Maeda chose the Tigers for two years and $24 million.

The Red Sox could've been in on any of them to help a flagging rotation or balance a heavily left-handed lineup. Instead they basically did nothing, and so the bridge remains closed.

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