The Red Sox exceeded expectations in 2021, winning 92 games, beating the Yankees in the American League Wild Card Game and upending the 100-win Rays in four games in the AL Division Series. Their ride eventually came to an end in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series against the Astros.
All in all, 2021 was a satisfying season for Boston.
To take the next necessary step in 2022, the club will have to make good roster decisions this winter.
Here is a look at the status of the 33 players who contributed most to the team in 2021.
C Christian Vázquez ($7 million club option)
Though Vázquez took a significant dip offensively from the previous two seasons, his club option appears to be a no-brainer when you consider that solid two-way catchers are at a premium. The good thing about Vázquez is he tends to save his biggest hits for the most important times. His glove skills and arm are both solid.
C Kevin Plawecki (Eligible for free agency in 2023)
The Red Sox have control of Plawecki for one more season, and they aren’t likely to let him go. Plawecki has a strong rapport with several of the team’s top pitchers, including Nathan Eovaldi, and he is a solid hitter against left-handed pitching.
1B/DH/LF Kyle Schwarber (Mutual option worth $11.5 million for 2022)
Forget about the mutual option. Those are rarely exercised, and it’s all but certain Schwarber will test the market after one of his most productive seasons. Schwarber became an instantly strong fit with the Red Sox, and the club is likely to explore trying to bring him back. His relentless and disciplined approach on offense proved to be contagious at times for Boston.
1B Bobby Dalbec (Arbitration eligible in 2024)
It’s hard to know what to make of Dalbec as a hitter after his wildly inconsistent rookie season, but his raw power and ability to hit lefties can’t be disputed. Dalbec made improvements at first base as the season went on, but his best position is third base. It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox contemplate having Dalbec and Rafael Devers switch corner-infield positions.
1B/PH Travis Shaw (Eligible for free agency)
Shaw came up with some big hits off the bench in his return to his original franchise. However, the reunion seemed like a short-term fit all along, so it seems doubtful the left-handed hitter will be back.
2B Christian Arroyo (First year of arbitration eligibility)
Arroyo was a factor for the Red Sox when he was healthy. The problem is that his career trend of being injury prone continued, limiting Arroyo to 57 games. The Sox love his defense at second and his bat against lefties.
2B/SS José Iglesias (Free agent)
What a fruitful reunion this turned out to be when the Red Sox signed Iglesias as a free agent in early September when the club was in the middle of a COVID-19 outbreak. Iglesias learned how to play second base on the fly and was hot at the right time offensively. However, Iglesias will likely choose a destination where he can be an everyday player, and it’s unclear if he would get that opportunity in Boston.
SS Xander Bogaerts (Opt-out following 2022 season, signed through ’25)
Boston’s team leader continues to be a force on offense, though a bout with COVID-19 and a late-season slump kept his totals a bit lower than normal. Though he remains sure-handed at a vital position, defensive metrics weren’t kind to Bogaerts in 2021. It seems unlikely the Red Sox would ask him to consider a position switch given the opt-out he has at the end of ’22. Look for the conscientious Bogaerts to spend the winter trying to find a way to improve on defense.
3B Rafael Devers (Eligible for free agency after 2023 season)
The left-handed-hitting masher was a force for most of the season and belted a career-high 38 homers. Though Devers did become a more disciplined hitter at times, he could become an unstoppable force at the plate if he makes another leap in that area. His defense continues to be inconsistent and you wonder if the Red Sox would consider switching him to first base.
OF Alex Verdugo (First year of arbitration eligibility)
The Red Sox continued to get a bundle of important hits and energy from Verdugo. To take his game to the next level, he’ll need to improve his consistency on offense and become more of a competitive at-bat against lefties. Overall, the Red Sox like what they have in Verdugo.
CF/2B Kiké Hernández (Signed through 2022)
Hernández is the only free agent who chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom signed to a multi-year deal last winter, and the Red Sox are glad to have the invaluable right-handed hitter back for another season. Not only did Hernández carry the offense at times when he got hot -- you might remember that six-game streak in October? -- but he turned into one of the best defensive center fielders in the league.
CF Jarren Duran (Still has rookie status, eligible for arbitration in 2025 at earliest)
Given all the hype there was surrounding Duran, his numbers in a limited sample size (a .215/.241/.336 slash with two homers, 10 RBIs and two stolen bases in 33 games) were underwhelming. Given all of his tools, and the fact that the sample size was so short, the Red Sox are confident he can make the necessary adjustments to become a solid player in the Majors.
RF Hunter Renfroe (Eligible for free agency in 2024)
Because the Sox signed Renfroe to a one-year, $3-million contract last offseason, you might have assumed he would again be a free agent this winter. However, that isn’t the case. Renfroe was non-tendered by the Rays and the Red Sox can offer him arbitration for the next two seasons. Renfroe was one of the best bargains in baseball offensively (31 homers, 96 RBIs) and defensively (Gold Glove finalist) in 2021.
DH/OF J.D. Martinez (Opt-out after the World Series, signed through 2022)
This is the third straight offseason Martinez has had an opt-out clause. He didn’t exercise it the last two years and the thinking is that Martinez will once again opt back in. This time, it would be for the final year of the five-year contract he signed with Boston. The 34-year-old -- who remains a dangerous hitter -- can earn roughly $20 million by declining his opt-out.
OF/INF Danny Santana (Eligible for free agency)
The Red Sox thought the speedy and versatile switch-hitter could be a significant factor, but it never panned out due to inconsistency and under-performance. Look for Santana to wind up elsewhere.
UTIL Jonathan Araúz (Arbitration-eligible no sooner than 2023)
Boston’s Rule 5 Draft pick from 2019, Araúz played just 28 games for the Red Sox in ’21, but he came up with a couple of big late-game homers. The team thinks he can emerge into a solid contributor with more seasoning.
SP Chris Sale (Signed through 2024)
Now that Sale is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and will have a normal offseason, the Red Sox are ready to get a lot of bang for their buck from the final three years of the lefty ace’s contract. Though it might be unfair to expect Sale to return to what he was circa 2012-18, the hope is that he can return to close to that form.
SP Nathan Eovaldi (Signed through 2022)
The hard-throwing righty is coming off his best all-around season. The fact that Eovaldi realized all of his potential as he crossed the 10-year threshold for service time is a testament to his work ethic. The Red Sox wouldn’t have made it to the playoffs without him in ’21, let alone advance all the way to Game 6 of the ALCS.
SP Eduardo Rodriguez (Eligible for free agency)
The veteran lefty has only pitched for the Red Sox to this point in his career, though he did come up through the Orioles’ farm system. Rodriguez could receive a qualifying offer, and if he accepts it, he would remain in Boston for another season. Both sides seem to have mutual interest in continuing their relationship. Though Rodriguez’s ERA was 4.74, some of his under-the-hood numbers show that he pitched better than you think.
SP Nick Pivetta (First year of arbitration eligibility)
Pivetta was an important member of the rotation for the Red Sox in 2021 and there’s no reason that shouldn’t continue for the next few seasons. The 28-year-old has a strong arsenal of pitches and a competitive streak that makes him a good fit in Boston.
SP Tanner Houck (Arbitration eligible no sooner than 2024)
There is a lot to like with this power righty, who had moments of brilliance in both the rotation and the bullpen in his rookie year. Houck will likely get a chance to earn a spot in the rotation in Spring Training.
SP/RP Garrett Richards ($10 million club option for 2022)
Given the inconsistency of Richards when he was in the starting rotation, it seems doubtful the Red Sox will exercise his option. However, a more club-friendly deal could be explored. Richards was largely effective after his move to the bullpen.
SP/RP Martín Pérez ($6 million club option for 2022)
The Red Sox didn’t exercise Pérez’s club option last winter, but then signed him to a reduced deal. That is probably the only scenario which would lead to him being on the team in 2022.
RP/SP Garrett Whitlock (Arbitration eligible no sooner than 2024)
Whitlock went from a Rule 5 Draft pickup coming off Tommy John surgery to the best reliever on the 2021 Red Sox. Considering that he came up through the Yankees' farm system as a starter, Boston could give him a chance to join the rotation in ’22.
RP Matt Barnes (Signed through 2023)
Barnes was a stud in the first half of the season and then struggled so mightily in the second half he was let off the ALCS roster. Getting Barnes back on track is one of Boston’s top priorities this offseason.
RP Adam Ottavino (Eligible for free agency)
The veteran righty was just what the team hoped for the first five months of the season. But he struggled at times from September on, possibly due to fatigue. Ottavino liked the Boston experience and there’s a chance he will re-sign if the Red Sox have interest.
RP Josh Taylor (Arbitration eligible in 2023)
Taylor became one of the elite left-on-left pitchers in the Majors in 2021. Though that role isn’t as valuable in the age of the three-batter-minimum rule, Taylor was a key component in the late innings for manager Alex Cora and that should continue next season.
RP Ryan Brasier (Arbitration eligible in 2022)
Brasier suffered a barrage of injuries and didn’t start his season for the Red Sox until September. In 13 games, Brasier had a 1.50 ERA, proving that he has value going forward.
RP Hirokazu Sawamura (Signed through 2022)
In a solid first half, Sawmaura proved to be a strong signing out of Japan. However, Sawamura wasn’t the same pitcher after the All-Star break, leaving some questions about what his role will be in 2022.
RP Hansel Robles (Eligible for free agency)
An afterthought when the Red Sox acquired him at the Trade Deadline, Robles wound up making a bigger impact than people expected. Robles returning on a new deal shouldn’t be ruled out. He has closing experience.
RP Darwinzon Hernandez (Eligible for arbitration in 2023)
The power lefty hasn’t lived up to the initial hype for one reason: lack of command. Hernandez needs to get more consistent to be used in higher-leverage situations.
RP Austin Davis (Eligible for arbitration in 2023)
The lefty specialist was acquired from the Pirates and held lefties to a .179 average in 19 appearances. Davis isn’t eligible for arbitration yet, which means he will likely return to the Red Sox.
RP Phillips Valdez (Eligible for arbitration no sooner than 2023)
The righty’s 5.85 ERA in 28 games was distorted due to one disaster-filled outing on Aug. 11, when he gave up seven runs in one inning. Valdez has the ability to go multiple innings, which gives him value going forward.