The best thing I can say about the 2022 Boston Red Sox season is that it’s over. This season has been a failure-to-launch, swervy dumpster-fire that was chock-full of underperformances and roster shortcomings. The worst part about the season? It was good enough to keep you thinking they had a chance to turn things around until late August/early September when in reality it was over before it started. In the end, the Sox were only 8 games out of a Wild Card spot and finished with 78-wins, 5th in AL East. On it’s surface, 78 wins puts them middle of the pack in the MLB in 2022, but with a $220+ million payroll, that’s the worst spot to be. It’s baseball’s version of purgatory: not bad enough to get a high draft pick while also being too low to make the postseason. Oh and just to add insult to injury, the Red Sox are once again above the luxury tax threshold in a lost season.
What I will remember most about this season is inconsistency, fundamental errors, injuries, and aggressive under-performances. The entire season was clouded from day one by a lack of an extension for Xander Bogaerts and no long-term deal in place for Rafael Devers. All of the headlines around opening day included the failures of ownership and management to get the deals done and led to a negative team vibe to begin the season. I don’t care how well you compartmentalize, the failed negotiations involving one (or two) of the most beloved members and leaders of the team is going to impact the play on the field. It’s even worse when every single press conference brings up the failed negotiations and the media ran stories constantly about the situation with Bogaerts and Devers.
Now that we can officially close the door on the past 6 months, it’s a good time to reflect on the year that wasn’t and look ahead a bit. Here are my 5 takeaways from 2022 with an eye towards 2023. Now we enter arguably the most important offseason for the Red Sox in a long time.
1. The Hottest Seat in Baseball
When Chaim Bloom took over the Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer role, he said his goal is to “build as strong an organization as possible in all aspects so we can have sustained long-term success and so we can compete in championships year in and year out.” His first mission was to build up the farm system after Dave Dombrowski lit it on fire in pursuit of a championship (not complaining about the 2018 World Series title) and it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t had a tremendous impact in that area. The Red Sox were at, or near, the bottom in farm system rankings when he took over and in just a few short years (including a COVID-shortened season), they are now just looking up at the top 10 in 11th place. The main problem with building the farm system to this point? Not focusing on the MLB team enough.
Despite the effort to build the farm system, Bloom has failed to make any significant impact at the MLB level. He’s made a few nice moves along the way, but coming into the 2022 season everyone could see the massive shortcomings of the pitching staff. Bloom decided to pick up scrap-heap guys with a hope for some success later in the season and didn’t do what one in charge of a $200+ million payroll should do: sign top-tier free agents. He brought Trevor Story in later in the offseason after his market thinned out, but didn’t go and get the free agents they needed and certainly wasn’t aggressive in building the roster at the MLB level. Even worse, Bloom couldn’t make up his mind at the trade deadline and instead of making some trades to reset the luxury tax threshold, he balked and put himself and ownership in a terrible spot with no postseason baseball to fall back on.
If Bloom doesn’t completely rebuild the pitching staff, add some offensive reinforcement with the likes of JD Martinez probably gone, and re-sign Bogaerts, he’s likely without a job in 2023. Boston is a town with unreasonably high expectations and right now it’s being run like Bloom’s previous employer, Tampa Bay. I’ve been a supporter of Bloom since he signed in 2019, but my patience is rapidly running out and I’m not the only one. Do you think ownership will stand for another year of this mess? I don’t think so.
2. Goodbyes Aplenty
If you watched any of the final series against Tampa Bay at Fenway, you saw one goodbye after another. The end of the 2022 season seemed to mark the potential end of a number of Red Sox greats, both on the field and in the booth. The great Dennis Eckersley stepped away from the broadcast booth after 50 years in the game of baseball as a Hall of Fame player and, for my money, Hall of Fame broadcaster. His honest, unfiltered commentary in a language all his own was an absolute joy to listen to each and every night. There were always stories and self-deprecating comments about his career as a player and when Jerry Remy was in the booth with him, it was must-see. He brought an energy and a passion every night, even in a difficult season to watch like 2022. He rubbed people the wrong way sometimes with his straight-shooting commentary but no one loves the game more than Eck. To me, the story Will Middlebrooks told on Name Redacted Pod sums up who Eck is as a person. Middlebrooks said that Eck didn’t want to be honored on the field for his pending retirement because the last time he was on the field was to catch Jerry Remy‘s first pitch in the 2021 Wild Card game. He wanted that to be the last time he was on the field.
The other goodbye that feels pretty solid was to J.D. Martinez. The 34-year old will become a free agent after 5 years in Boston and it’s unlikely the Red Sox make a run at resigning him. The 5-year, $110 million contract he signed in February of 2018 goes down as one of the best in Red Sox history. En route to a World Series title in 2018, JD had one of the best seasons ever in a Red Sox uniform when he hit .330 with 43 HRs and 130 RBIs along with 37 doubles in 150 regular season games and added 15 hits, 3 HRs, and 14 RBIs in the postseason. He followed 2018 with another impressive season hitting .304 with 36 HRs and 105 RBIs and 33 doubles. What’s not to like about that production at the plate? Without JD in 2018, it’s unlikely that the Red Sox raise another banner at Fenway Park and for that, I’ll be forever grateful. Despite his power struggles this past season, JD broke his 2021 career best doubles number with 43 and went out on top, hitting 2 HRs in the season finale.
The 3rd goodbye is one I hope doesn’t come to fruition: Xander Bogaerts. When Alex Cora pulled him in the 7th inning of game 162 to allow the fans to appreciate his accomplishments in possibly his last game in Boston, it was emotional. In 2009, as a 16-year old kid, Xander was drafted by the Boston Red Sox and hasn’t looked back since. He made his MLB debut in August 2013 and despite playing in only 18 regular season games, was on the postseason roster, hitting .296 with 2 RBIs in 12 postseason games. Since that point, Xander has grown into a steady leader who has gained the respect of all his teammates. He’s amassed 1,408 hits and 156 HRs with the Red Sox, while hitting at a .291 clip. The 4x All-Star, 2x World Series Champion, and 4x Silver Slugger Award winner is as beloved by the fans equally as much as his teammates. The seemingly meaningless grand slam he hit in the penultimate game of the 2022 season felt like a farewell nod to fans, despite most, myself included, still holding out hope he returns. If offered a fair contract now, I hope that Xander will re-sign and stay a Red Sox for life but with Scott Boras as his agent, he’ll probably wait until free agency opens where massive numbers begin flying around. Lots of teams will be chomping at the bit to sign a leader on the field and in the clubhouse.
On top of the big three potential departures, it’s likely that this Red Sox team will look completely different in 2023. We expect to be saying goodbyes the entire offseason as players are traded or leave via free agency. It may be a long, cold winter.
3. Catching Duo of the Future
When the Red Sox sent Christian Vazquez across the hall to the Houston Astros at the trade deadline, it became clear there was a changing of the guard at the catcher position in Boston. Bloom called up oft-talked about prospect Connor Wong and traded for Reese McGuire to fill the slots before DFA’ing fan favorite and the co-inventor of the laundry cart celebration, Kevin Plawecki. With an entirely new catching tandem, the Red Sox were already turning the page on 2022 and thinking about the future. Wong is a 26-year old catcher who after a successful collegiate career with the University of Houston, has been working his way up through the minors, first with the Dodgers and then coming to Boston in the Mookie Betts trade (alongside Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs). Wong has been stuck behind the catching duo of Vazquez and Plawecki and now has a chance to show the Red Sox what he’s worth. In 27 games down the stretch, he hit .188 with 1 HR and 7 RBIs for the Red Sox, not exactly lighting the world on fire even though it was a small sample size.
While Wong’s call-up wasn’t a surprise, addition of Reese McGuire was a bit surprising. McGuire played in 141 games in 4 seasons with Toronto and his .248 with 9 HRs, then 53 games with the Chicago White Sox and hit .225 with 0 HRs, so naturally you expected him to hit .337 with 3 HRs and 12 RBIs in 36 games with the Red Sox, right? It was a bright spot for the Red Sox down the stretch and it appears he may have earned himself a regular spot in the catching rotation going forward. It was nice to watch him have success but to say I have concerns going forward is an understatement. Was the 36-game sample representative of what he can and will do going forward or is it more likely an aberration? If he drops back to his low-.200s average with little to no power and Wong doesn’t turn it around, that’s a big drop-off from having Vazquez behind the dish each night.
I like both Wong and McGuire but having two light-hitting catchers who are only decent defensively as your tandem isn’t ideal. There was a lot of talk about Vazquez coming back to Boston next year as a free agent after he was traded, but with 10 other more pressing positions to address, I’d be surprised if the Red Sox open the wallet for him. I’ll be keeping my eye on what the Red Sox do going forward and see if they dabble in the catching market this offseason.
4. Pitching Health, or Lack-Thereof
Entering the 2022 season the pitching staff had a ton of question marks and frankly, it’s only worse today. The season began with an injured Chris Sale and an injured addition of James Paxton, both expected at the time to be gone for more than half of the season and ended up missing the entire season (basically). The Red Sox also took a flyer on Michael Wacha who was trying to revive his career after a few rough statistical seasons and Rich Hill who was 41-years old and the tank was mostly empty. Wacha excelled in Boston and will hopefully stick around while Hill was a rollercoaster ride. The opening day rotation was shaky at best, with Nathan Eovaldi as the ace, Nick Pivetta as the #2, followed by Tanner Houck, Wacha, and Hill.
The bullpen was/is even thinner. The opening day bullpen included Phillips Valdez, Jake Diekman, Austin Davis, Hansel Robles, Ryan Brasier, and Hirosaku Sawamura, all six were either DFA’d or sent to the minors during the season and as a group, were terrible at points. The other three members of the bullpen were Matt Barnes who was struggling majorly until the final month of the season, Garrett Whitlock who is a stud in the ‘pen but ended up in the rotation as a mediocre starter for a bit, and Kutter Crawford who spent time in the rotation and was solid during the season. Before injuries and unexpected circumstances the bullpen was already in trouble. They injuries piled on and the thin bench was lit on fire and burned to the ground. It was a poor display of roster construction in 2022 that has now led to an even bigger job rebuilding going into 2023.
The bright spots of discovering John Schreiber as a more than viable late-inning guy, the return of late-inning Matt Barnes very late in the season, and the rise of Brayan Bello in the rotation helps when thinking about 2023. If Houck recovers well from the back surgery, he could return to a high-leverage role and if they keep Whitlock in the bullpen (which seems unlikely), I feel better about the bullpen in 2023 even though there are a LOT of roles to fill. The rotation on the other hand, is still a massive problem. To plan for 2023, you have to act as if Chris Sale will give you nothing because odds are he won’t pitch a ton. Who else is in the rotation other than Brayan Bello and Nick Pivetta? Rich Hill, Eovaldi and Wacha are free agents. Hill is probably going to retire or leave, Eovaldi will cost a pretty penny to re-sign, and Wacha will hopefully re-sign here. Kutter Crawford showed some promise but the Sox are still missing top end arms. There are a ton of holes to fill, even if Whitlock goes back to the rotation. Who are the Red Sox starting in the #1 and #2 slots?
5. Stability in the NESN Booth
This season for NESN was an unpredictable revolving door of commentators in the booth. We saw fan favorites Kevin Youkilis and Kevin Millar take turns behind the mic as well as a plethora of combinations with Dave O’Brien, Dennis Eckersley, Will Middlebrooks, Mike Monaco, and Tony Massarotti. After the passing of Jerry Remy and the retirement of Eck, there has never been a more important time to have a stable booth going into 2023. Just like the Red Sox as a team, the NESN team needs to have steady voices you hear most nights and only mixing in a new person or two on occasion as a guest or fill-in.
After listening to all of them this year, my choice is clear: Mike Monaco and Will Middlebrooks with the occasional 3rd add-on or fill-in of Youk. Monaco’s energy and enthusiasm for the hometown team is contagious in a way not heard in Boston since the departure of Don Orsillo. He hangs on every pitch and knows how to call the big plays to get you excited. A perfect compliment to the play-by-play voice of Monaco is a player who lives and breathes the game of baseball: Middlebrooks. He got very few chances to show his stuff this year in that capacity, but thrived in his pre and post game work. I found myself engaged by his casual banter and knowledge of the game, as well as his ability to tell a story. He has the edge for me thanks also to the ease in which he has conversations and can fill dead air, which during slow or long games is critical (and what made Orsillo/Remy so fun to watch).
Youk is a close 2nd for color commentator for me, but I’m just not sure he’d ever commit to a full season schedule. I’d love to see him as the 3rd man in the booth when possible. He had a comforting presence and familiar voice along with plenty of stories from his playing days, albeit not quite as smooth and natural as Middlebrooks. He did have a significantly longer look than Middlebrooks, which makes me think it’s his job to turn down. Either way, my only hope is that NESN makes a decision rather than continuing the live auditions for another season. I can’t stand a season of 12 different booths without the voices of Orsillo, Remy, and Eck to hold it all together.