Signing Trevor Story makes the Red Sox championship contenders
If there was any question as to where the Boston Red Sox were in their rebuilding efforts after a surprise run to the ALCS in 2021, that question has been firmly answered. The Red Sox are in “Win Now” mode. While Chaim Bloom doesn’t seem to be the type of executive that would cave to pressure from the fans or the media, he couldn’t sit idly as the rest of the division made improvements for the 2022 season and beyond.
The AL East put three teams into the 2021 MLB Postseason, with the Tampa Rays taking the division, and the Red Sox and Yankees claiming both AL Wild Card spots. If the regular season had gone just another game or two, the 91-win Toronto Blue Jays may have replaced the Red Sox or Yankees in the Wild Card game, finishing just a game behind in the standings. The margin for error was nearly non-existent, and the difference between playing past Game 162 and going home was just a single win.
2022 is set up for the same type of dogfight, with Tampa keeping it’s core in place that’s won the previous two division titles, and made the postseason in each of the last three years. They’ll get a full season from former top prospect, Wander Franco, who was called up last summer and made an immediate impact, looking like a polished Major League hitter at the age 20.
The Blue Jays, in an effort to get over the postseason hump that eluded them a season ago, signed All-Star starting pitcher Kevin Gauman, to join trade deadline acquisition Jose Berrios (who also signed a long term extension) at the top of their rotation. They added former All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, Matt Chapman, in a post lockout trade with Oakland.
The Yankees made notable offseason improvements, re-signing first baseman Anthony Rizzo, whom they acquired from the Cubs at the trade deadline, to a multi-year deal, and acquiring former MVP Josh Donaldson via trade. They continue to have the financial resources and enough top end farm system depth to make impact moves throughout the season should the need to do so and the right opportunity arise.
After making it to Game 6 of the 2021 ALCS, the Red Sox entered the offseason with expectations for the 2022 season that were at least a year early for a franchise that announced to their rabid fan base and the rest of the MLB landscape that they were in a multi-year, layered rebuild that started in the Pandemic shortened 2020 season. With a solid core in place, headlined by Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez, combined with the emergence of younger players like Alex Verdugo and Bobby Dalbec, and the the resurgence of veteran infielder/outfielder Kike Hernandez, the Red Sox would return a dangerous, potent lineup that rivaled any in the sport.
They lacked top end starting pitching, especially after watching former workhorse Eduardo Rodriguez depart for Detroit in free agency. Bloom would shop for value in the free agency bargain bin, signing swingman Michael Wacha, 41-year-old Rich Hill, and promising but injured starter James Paxton. Those moves are considered to be for depth, rather than the type of impact that swing the pendulum in the direction of the Red Sox being considered as the clear favorite to win the AL East.
The post-lockout news that Chris Sale will miss at least the first two months of the season with a rib injury would seem to put the Sox at a clear disadvantage in a division where everyone around them made moves to solidify their place as contenders.
As Bloom stood pat while the marquee free agent starting pitching went off the board- Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman, Jon Gray, Marcus Stroman, and others- the Sox entered Spring Training with a roster that looked mostly the same as the 2021 squad that went to the ALCS. Even with the success of the prior season, most media outlets and gambling sites had the Red Sox picked to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack in the AL East, and by extension, the American League as a whole.
While there were whispers of Boston having interest in the remaining top-tier free agents available, including Freddie Freeman, Carlos Correa, and Story, each were considered a luxury for a team that already boasted one of the better offenses in the game. Story’s public statement that he would not accommodate a position change to a new team, combined with declaration from Bogaerts “I’m the shortstop for the Boston Red Sox” seemed to eliminate Story for Boston.
Bloom came to the organization after the 2019 season tasked with the near impossible mission of cutting payroll to keep the Red Sox under Luxury Tax threshold, rebuilding a farm system that was ranked near the bottom of the sport, and rebuilding the roster while staying on the fringes of contention to appease a fan base that’s grown accustomed to winning, and an ownership group that’s spending close to $200 Million in annual payroll.
The results have been fantastic. The Red Sox will play the 2022 season with a payroll that still ranks near the top of the sport, projected at north of the $230 Million CBT threshold, but will shed a sizable amount of salary after the season, where payroll commitments project to be in the $90 Million range entering the 2022-23 offseason.
The farm system is now considered to be a consensus upper third system in the game. It’s headlined by 2021 first-round pick, shortstop Marcelo Mayer, 2018 first-rounder Triston Casas, the top first base prospect in baseball, and arguably the top second base prospect in the game, Nick Yorke, Bloom’s first ever draft selection in 2020. Casas is expected to make his MLB debut at some point in 2022, while Mayer and Yorke, both teenagers, have an ETA in Boston in 2024. 2021’s ALCS run has shown that the Red Sox can contend amidst an organizational rebuild.
Early Sunday morning on March 20, news broke of the Red Sox signing Story to a 6-year, $160 million deal, with a player option after year four. Immediately after the signing it was reported that Story had signed off on playing second base for the club, in deference to Boston’s incumbent shortstop, Bogaerts. Story, a multiple time All-Star himself, has never played second base, and by all metrics is the superior shortstop to Bogaerts defensively. He brings a top end power/speed combination to a Red Sox lineup that didn’t lack punch prior to his arrival.
In the days after the announcement of the Story signing, it was reported that Bogaerts was heavily involved in the recruiting of the former Colorado Rockies All-Star to Boston. Bogaerts has an opt-out in his contract after the 2022 season, allowing the four-time Silver Slugger award winner to hit the open market, a market that has seen top tier shortstops cash in on some of the largest free agent deals in MLB history in recent years. Most notably, Corey Seager (10 years/$325M), Francisco Lindor (10/$341M), and Carlos Correa ($35M AAV over 3 years) have signed massive deals, putting Bogaerts in position to headline the 2022-23 free agent class.
It’s been reported that Bogaerts wants to stay in Boston, and his recruitment of Story would seem to solidify those reports. With Story now in the fold, at least through the 2026 season (he has an opt-out of his own after year four of the contract), what does it mean for the Red Sox beyond the 2022 season?
The signing of Story represents a noticeable shift in organizational philosophy. While it was a near certainty that Bloom wouldn’t sit out the annual free agent sweepstakes forever, making the move for Story did seem to come ahead of schedule. The primary focus relating to payroll and roster construction seemed to be taking care of their own first, prioritizing a new deal for Bogaerts, locking up budding superstar Rafael Devers to a long-term extension, and working out a deal for top of the rotation pitcher Nate Evaoldi, who is entering the final year of his contract. The Story deal doesn’t do much to alter that from a financial standpoint, but there is a ripple effect related to roster construction in the future that comes with a mildly surprising “win now” move like this.
While Story has signed off on playing second base in 2022, it’s hard to imagine the organization keeping him there for the duration of contract, especially as Bogaerts continues to decline from league average to slightly below defensively at shortstop. By comparison, Story has ranked in the top 10 in defensive WAR at the position since becoming a Major Leaguer in 2016.
While this move in the immediate future is about having a potent, overwhelming offense, fielding the best defensive alignment will certainly be a factor at some point, especially with the lack of top end rotational talent on the mound. Should Bogaerts necessitate a position change, the likely destination for him would be third base, where Devers, has experienced defensive shortcomings of his own throughout his career. With Martinez entering the final year of his contract in 2022, Devers would be the logical solution to fill the DH role, should Boston choose not to pursue Martinez in free agency.
Of course, that opens up a whole new set of contractual concerns, as Devers will look to be paid like the elite hitter he is, however, there is no precedent for a long-term deal in the $25-30 Million AAV range for a primary DH.
What happens beyond the 2022 season and where the dominoes fall in as it relates to the roster will be dealt with when the time comes. Bloom has been methodical in reshaping this organization to define his identity as it’s top executive, yet the Story signing seemed out of character when held up to his blueprint to this point. The one thing this move signifies is that anything less than the World Series will fall short of the 2022 goal for the Boston Red Sox.