Why are the Boston Red Sox Shopping the Bargain Racks?
One of baseball’s traditional big spenders appears to be sticking to budget spending this offseason
Since winning the 2018 World Series, the Boston Red Sox have spiraled from the envy of baseball to the basement. After winning 84 games in 2019, they were a putrid 24–36 in 2020. Faced with a number of holes on their roster, they entered this offseason with fans having visions of many possible exciting solutions dancing in their head. However, as more free agents have come off the board, it’s clear the team has focused on not only bargain shopping but also gambling on cheaper options playing above their paygrade.
When the Red Sox hired general manager Chaim Bloom in the fall of 2019, he was seen as an emerging superstar. Coming from the Tampa Bay Rays, where he operated with a shoestring budget, he maintained an annual contender despite a fraction of the payroll of other power players.
Money doesn’t necessarily buy championships, but Bloom’s continued thrifty ways this offseason have become a bit of a head scratcher. It’s true that the team did want to cut back on their free spending ways of years past but being one of the biggest-market teams in the game does give them financial advantages not available to most.
Despite a roster with major holes (pitching, both starting and bullpen; a second baseman; and some more offensive oomph) Bloom has been operating like he is still in Tampa Bay. He has acquired some players — all of them bargain options. Additionally, they come with significant risk, offset by some potential. These acquisitions include:
Garrett Richards, Pitcher: Signed to a one-year, $10 million deal, at his best the right-hander is a power sinker baller. This allowed him to win a combined 28 games between 2014–15 with the Los Angeles Angels. Unfortunately, his kryptonite is health. Turning 33 this spring, he has suffered from a long string of various injuries during his career, including not reaching more than 76.1 big-league innings in any one season since 2015.
Richards can be a very good pitcher. He has a 3.62 ERA, which is tempered by the 187 games he has managed to appear in during his 10-year career. He was healthy in 2020 with the San Diego Padres, but because of the abbreviated season, his 4.03 ERA came in only 14 games (10 starts) spread out over 51.1 innings. Boston is betting big that not only will he help shore up his rotation, but he will also stay healthy enough to provide returns on the investment.
Enrique Hernandez, Utility: Acting as a super sub for the Los Angeles Dodgers for the past half-dozen years, Hernandez signed a two-year deal with Boston worth a reported $14 million. With an ability to literally play anywhere defensively on the field (except catcher), and play it well, he certainly has value. However, he is best when deployed in the right situations. He is a career .240 hitter with a little pop but a deeper dive shows that nearly any success he has had has come against left-handed pitching, putting up a very respectable .263/.345/.474 batting average/OBP/slugging mark against them.
On the other hand, Hernandez has been mostly useless against right-handers. His .222/.286/.386 career slash line against them are all well below standard. Therein lies the problem, as he has been signed presumably to be the primary starter at second base. His defense (career dWAR of 4.2) will always play but his bat could really weigh down the offense if he is not used in the right situations. Perhaps the Red Sox will play him primarily against lefties and in late innings but if they do then they may have overpaid for a utility luxury when they have glaring needs for impact regulars.
Martin Perez, Pitcher: The left-hander is just about a league average starter, if not just a shade below. With a 3–5 record and 4.50 ERA in 12 starts last season, he was one of Boston’s most dependable hurlers, which unfortunately isn’t saying much. However, it was enough to earn him a one-year, $4.5 million deal to return in 2021.
Perez is fine and somebody has to fill out the end of the rotation, but the fear is that instead of identifying an upgrade with their starting pitching, the Red Sox are standing pat with him. The state of their starting pitching was so wretched last year that bringing him back could very well mean he may be thrust into a more prominent role than he is able to handle.
Matt Andriese, Pitcher: The 30-year-old right hander is a journeyman, joining his fourth big-league club in seven seasons. He has started and relieved in the past and may fill a swing role with Boston. His career record of 26–34 with a 4.57 is middling but offers very little promise of upside. Indeed, his career best ERA is the 4.11 mark he had as a rookie in 2015 (with the Rays).
Andriese inked a one-year, $1.85 million contract with a club option for a second year, so overspending isn’t the issue; it’s the bang for the buck. He strikes out about a batter an inning but has also been prone to the longball throughout his career, yielding 1.3 per nine innings. That does not bode well when he will be pitching half of his games in cozy Fenway Park.
Adam Ottavino, Pitcher: Bloom acquired the 35-year-old right-handed reliever in a rare trade with the rival New York Yankees. In exchange for a player to be named later or cash consideration, Boston got the 10-year veteran and prospect pitcher Frank German, who is widely considered to have a good shot at some sort of big-league career.
This is perhaps Bloom’s best move this offseason but is far from perfect. Nabbing German is nice, but the Red Sox will be paying most of Ottavino’s $10 million 2021 salary and possibly using him as their closer. Not only does he lack experience in the 9th inning (19 saves for his career), he is coming off a career-worst 5.90 ERA with New York last season. He is a strikeout machine (10.4 per nine innings in his career), but also walks a lot of batters (4.0 per nine innings). He has some nice upside but he comes with more warning flags than a lot of pitchers.
Bloom may be trying to catch lightning in a bottle by signing a collection of under the radar players to bolster his roster. That may have worked in Tampa, but they truly excelled in utilizing a stocked farm system for player replacement and trades. Boston is still quite depleted in the prospect department, meaning utilizing their financial privilege is a necessary tool that should be deployed if they intend on competing. Perhaps he is smarter than everyone else and this strategy will pay off in spades but on paper it initially appears like he’s being too cute and holding the Red Sox back from greater things.