Exploring Boston Red Sox defensive options for 2022

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 30: A rainbow forms before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Kansas City Royals on June 30, 2021 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 30: A rainbow forms before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Kansas City Royals on June 30, 2021 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

Steps to make the Red Sox defense palatable for 2022

I have lost interest in professional football as the years’ blow-by. The differences between football and baseball have been described best by the late comedic genius George Carlin. Still, football does have one aspect that should resonate with Boston Red Sox fans.

When I watch football, invariable fans will hold up a large “D” and a simulation of a picket fence. I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but the linkage is apparent even to me – defense. That was one of the Boston glaring weaknesses for 2021 and possibly 2022.

Baseball is a unique sport since the defense controls the ball. There are two aspects of defense, with the first being pitching and the second realizing how to get an out if the ball is hit.

The path to pitching has already been set with the additions of Michael Wacha, James Paxton, and Rich Hill. The rotation is quite naturally “a work in progress.” The team’s management is not heading into another sufferable David Price contract. If failure happens, the financial loss will be minimal. Then comes Part II.

Chaim Bloom made a surprise move and traded for Jackie Bradley Jr. Bradley is a lockdown defensive player – a lynchpin in the critical center field position. The outfield is now lefty-heavy, and a right-hand bat with defensive skills is the next step.

A reasonably solid move would be to look west, and I mean far, far west to Japan and Seiya Suzuki. Suzuki is a power bat from the right side and a plus defensive player and an excellent fit for a right field at Fenway Park. Suzuki would not come cheap, but he would be a bargain compared to Nick Castellanos.

The free-agent list also has a significant group of right-hand bats with above-average defensive skills and sliding down offensive history. Kevin Pillar and Andrew McCutchen would be short-term investments. I would expect Bloom to act quickly post-lockout and feel comfortable the outfield defense will be a non-issue.

The Red Sox catching presents no immediate defensive issues, but the long-term view could differ. Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki are under team control for 2022 and defensively get the job done. Beyond 2022 becomes a depth issue if Vaz goes elsewhere. Now to the real problem, and that is the infield.

This team needs Orlando Cabrera at shortstop. Since Cabrera is now 47-years-old, you will need a facsimile of the team’s 2004 Orlando. The current shortstop – Xander Bogaerts – can slug with the best players, but the best about his defense I can say is he can hit.

Bogaerts’ partner on the left side of the infield is Rafael Devers, and the same applies to Devers. Devers is not quite in the defensive dungeon of Butch Hobson but is undoubtedly making an effort.

The second base issue may be resolved since Enrique Hernandez can now be shifted from the outfield to second. However, my choice would be often injured Christian Arroyo, but either appears quite capable of securing the defensive needs at the second base, which brings us to first base.

Again, I go back to Cabrera and wonder if a Doug Mientkiewicz is available somewhere? Milky’s liability was his bat – a light hitting and slick-fielding first baseman. Last season, it was primarily Kyle Schwarber, Bobby Dalbec, and Travis Shaw, and the three overall were woeful defensively.

At first, the two options I see would be free agent Anthony Rizzo and the Padres Eric Hosmer. Rizzo would be costly, but Schwaber would be in a similar price range. Hosmer has a ponderous contract, but the Padres could be relatively amicable to absorbing a healthy portion. The Red Sox could also package a player or two even to balance that out further. Why does the name Matt Barnes suddenly surface?

Now, to use a current political term, I can circle back to the infield’s left side. The team could be stationary in 2022 and wait for existing contracts to resolve the situation. Bogaerts will inevitably opt-out. J.D. Martinez will again be a free agent opening up the designated hitter position – an excellent fit for Devers. Triston Casas is now in Triple-A and a potential star like Lars Anderson. Casas plays first and can indeed DH.

Boston could make the splashy move and sign Carlos Correa or Trevor Story, but what do you do with Bogaerts? No matter how you move the puzzle pieces, you have no real options for Bogaerts and Devers. Bogaerts is in no trade territory, and Devers being moved could bring out the tar and feathers for Bloom. Signing a Correa or Story into the next decade does not profile with what Boston is currently doing. Long-term contracts are about as successful as celebrity marriages.

Both are star material, with Bogaerts in his prime and Devers inching towards his. This is an Occam’s Razor situation where the best approach to 2022 defense is to remain stationary with both, which did work rather well in 2018. Otherwise, I would target first base to at least have the right side of the infield not be a possible sieve.

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In 2021 the Red Sox were a sloppy team defensively. Inconsistent and subject to bonehead plays that should have been resolved in the bush leagues. That also applies to the two most noticeable players in Devers and Bogaerts. The realigned outfield is a good start, and the infield situation will be fascinating to see what direction Bloom chooses.