Giants’ desperation post-Carlos Correa debacle highlights Red Sox’ lack of urgency

Sep 10, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets right fielder Michael Conforto (30) makes a diving catch against the New York Yankees during the eighth inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 10, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets right fielder Michael Conforto (30) makes a diving catch against the New York Yankees during the eighth inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2022 Boston Red Sox were an injury-ruined team.

At various points throughout the season, every member of the starting rotation not named Nick Pivetta spent time on the Injured List at least once. For lengthy stretches, multiple starters were sidelined together. Rafael Devers missed 21 games, Kiké Hernández only played 93, Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck each required season-ending surgeries, Chris Sale threw 5 2/3 innings, James Paxton didn’t pitch at all.

Due to a combination of injuries, bad decisions, deadened baseballs, and general underperforming, the Sox were a last-place team for the second time in three years. For some clubs, a winning season is a thrilling departure from the norm; in post-2004 Boston, it’s expected and demanded. So when the season ended and the payroll got more than a hundred million lighter, there was hope that the Red Sox would spend the offseason like, well, The Red Sox. They finally had both financial and farm system flexibility to go bigger than cheap, short-term deals for more injury-risk guys with ‘upside.’

(Of course, Xander Bogaerts is one of the most consistently healthy infielders in the game, so clearly, limiting injuries is only a priority to a certain extent.)

Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom admitted outfield upgrades are a priority, and though they signed Masataka Yoshida, that remains the case. They need better defense and even more power in the lineup now that Bogaerts and JD Martinez are gone, but the options are limited for a team with odd spending habits and hesitance to make big trades. Other teams are without such qualms; the Toronto Blue Jays made a Festivus splash on Friday, acquiring slugging outfielder Daulton Varsho from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Lourdes Gurriel and one of MLB’s top prospects, Gabriel Moreno. The San Francisco Giants signed Michael Conforto – a potential Sox target – hours earlier.

The path the Giants took to Conforto will go down in baseball history as one of the most shocking collapses since the 2004 Yankees in the ALCS. At the start of the week, the Giants were set to introduce Carlos Correa, whom they’d reeled in for a whopping 13 years and $350M after losing Aaron Judge to the Yankees for nine years, $360M. The Platinum Glove shortstop was their biggest prize in years, and was so important to their offseason plans that they’d even informed their longtime, decorated shortstop, Brandon Crawford, that he’d need to move to one of the bases to welcome his own replacement. Awkward then, even more awkward now that Crawford gets to stay at the position he’s played for them since 2011.

But less than three hours before the 11 AM PT press conference on Tuesday, the Giants sent out a media alert saying that the event was postponed. Late that night, news broke that Correa was taking a 12-year, $315M deal with the New York Mets, instead. The Giants had reeled in their big fish, and let him fall back into the water, leaving them on the hook for nothing but a tidal wave of bad press. Something Correa’s physical showed about his right leg had concerned the Giants enough to inform Scott Boras they wanted to renegotiate and postpone the official introduction. At first, the Giants couldn’t have possibly looked worse, but they were vindicated on Saturday when news broke that the Mets are also reportedly concerned after giving Correa their own physical.

Still, unlike the Sox, who can still partially save face by making Rafael Devers an offer he can’t refuse, there’s no way for the Giants to really recover from this situation because every top free agent is off the board. But they’ve signed Conforto to a 2-year, $36M deal. Given the preceding events, the news drew little fanfare and a hefty amount of scorn. Not because Conforto hasn’t been a good player in the past, but because he’s been out of the game for a year due to, wait for it, injury. He missed the entire 2022 season due to shoulder surgery and struggled through much of the 2021 campaign, too. He’s been a solid defender for most of his career, though his arm strength post-surgery is TBD. He also really can’t hit lefties. Still, he offers more home-run power than almost anyone on the Sox roster, is patient at the plate, and doesn’t chase.

Setting aside the Correa of it all, the signing doesn’t look bad for the Giants, whose outfield also boasts Mitch Haniger and Carl Yastrzemski’s grandson, Mike. But just as every Red Sox shortstop for the next 11 years will be compared to Bogaerts, everything the Giants do this offseason and for years to come will be colored by this debacle. Had the Red Sox not won the World Series in 2004, they’d likely be in the same situation with the failed Alex Rodriguez trade.

Of course, $350M/13 years for Correa and $36M/2 years for Conforto isn’t an apples-and-oranges situation; it’s apples and antelopes. Conforto can opt out after 2023, and even if he stays but can’t stay healthy, he’ll be gone when Correa’s deal in Queens is only 1/6th over.

The Sox could’ve afforded the deal, and it’s a risk they could’ve taken. But despite outlining their roster needs this offseason, they’ve come up short more often than not. They’ve lowballed or passed entirely on most free agents and failed to sign several to whom they’ve made offers, even if their bid was better than the one the player ended up taking.

Maybe the Red Sox no longer feel public pressure because their long track record of fumbling the bag with their best homegrown players – Babe Ruth, Carlton Fisk, Jon Lester, Mookie Betts, Bogaerts – has numbed them to the outsider’s opinion.

Or maybe they just aren’t desperate enough to overlook injuries because they think they’ll be just fine doing what they’re doing.

But more likely, it’s just that they don’t care enough about winning to be desperate at all.