3 areas of focus for Red Sox this offseason

November 9th, 2023

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- While pitching is the area the Red Sox are focused the most on this Hot Stove season, there is a position on the diamond that clearly needs to be addressed.

That would be second base, which became a revolving door with limited production last season.

Chief baseball officer Craig Breslow mentioned a quartet of players (Luis Urías, David Hamilton, Enmanuel Valdez and Pablo Reyes) who could fill the position by committee, but none of them stand out as everyday solutions.

It seems far more likely the Sox will go outside the organization and get shortstop Trevor Story a permanent double-play partner.

“I think in a perfect world, you have everyday players at all of your positions,” said Breslow during Day 2 of the GM Meetings. “I think that gives some certainty and stability to the lineup, to the coaching staff, to different facets of the organization.”

A glimpse at the free-agent market reveals two potential veteran solutions who could satisfy Boston’s ideal fit of having a right-handed bat at second base to offset the many lefties in the lineup.

Whit Merrifield has speed and some pop and is also familiar with the American League East playing the last two years in Toronto. Elvis Andrus has mainly played shortstop in his career, but he made 60 starts at second for the White Sox last year. Also, it never hurts to have a player with a shortstop background playing on the other side of the bag.

Breslow will also explore the trade market for a full-time solution at second, where there could be a greater depth of options.

A crowded outfield

The Red Sox have a lot of quality outfielders, and nearly all of them bat left-handed. This is an area of surplus the club could subtract from to better round out the roster.

Masataka Yoshida, Jarren Duran, Alex Verdugo and emerging prospect Wilyer Abreu all wield left-handed bats. Rob Refsnyder remains from the right side. Adam Duvall is a free agent, but the Red Sox could explore a reunion with the power-hitting righty.

One player to monitor this winter is Verdugo, who is entering his “walk year,” meaning he will be eligible for free agency following the 2024 season. Would it make sense to clear out his left-handed bat for the more affordable Abreu so the Red Sox could allocate Verdugo’s salary to other needs?

“His fit is as an everyday right fielder who is playing Gold Glove-caliber defense and can impact the ball on the offensive side, as well,” said Breslow. “We have had some conversations with him. It feels like he’s committed to performing the best he possibly can.

“Obviously, he’s a guy other teams have reached on given the situation. I don’t think we’re in a position to commit to anything. We have to look at every opportunity, every interaction with another club or an agent that might make our team better. Where that lands, we’ll see.”

Whitlock/Houck dilemma to be continued

For the third straight offseason, the Red Sox are trying to figure out if Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck fit best as starters or relievers.

In 2023, Houck was used exclusively as a starter, going 6-10 with a 5.01 ERA in 21 starts. His season hit a significant patch of adversity when he suffered a facial fracture getting hit by a batted ball on June 16. That knocked him out for two months.

Whitlock first had to rehab from right hip surgery going into the season and then dealt with elbow woes that landed him on the injured list twice. In all, Whitlock made 12 relief appearances and 10 starts. The righty had a 5.23 ERA as a starter and 4.95 out of the bullpen. His season was impacted by personal tragedy when his brother died in a water accident Labor Day weekend.

“I think we need to make a decision as early as possible. I think it informs the way that you prepare and train through the offseason,” Breslow said. “There's a ton of value in starting pitchers. I think we will build guys out to be starting pitchers and give them every chance to claim a rotation spot.

“I have yet to meet a team that has too much starting pitching depth, and I think the transition is easier going from the rotation to the bullpen in terms of limiting the repertoire a little bit, lessening the workload a little bit. So that's the direction that we would go if we have to. But we value those guys as starters.”