A look ahead at Breslow, Red Sox's next steps

October 31st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Ian Browne’s Red Sox Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The Red Sox are under new direction in the front office following the recent hire of Craig Breslow, who will hold his introductory press conference on Thursday morning at Fenway Park.

You can be sure Breslow has been spending a lot of time developing a battle plan for the coming season since landing the job a week ago. Breslow’s specialty is pitching expertise, which makes him a perfect fit for a franchise that needs some more arms.

But the Sox are also trying to get better on offense and defense, and it should be a busy winter for Breslow and his staff.

Here is a primer.

Which players are free agents?

Adam Duvall, James Paxton and Adalberto Mondesi are the three clear free agents for the Red Sox who aren’t attached to either a player or club option.

Are any of them likely to receive qualifying offers, and what is the deadline for that?

None of the players from that trio would warrant a qualifying offer, but for any Major Leaguers who do receive one, teams have until five days after the completion of the World Series to submit.

Which players have options?

Justin Turner, who had a career high of 96 RBIs in 2023, has a $13.4 million player option that includes a $6.7 million buyout. It’s hard to imagine any scenario other than Turner becoming a free agent. The decision will be made within five days after the World Series. Corey Kluber, who struggled mightily before a right shoulder injury ended his season, has a club option for $11 million that the Red Sox will likely decline. Given that lefty reliever Joely Rodríguez spent far more time on the injured list than the active roster, there is little to no chance Boston will pick up the $4.25 million club option.

Who might be a non-tender candidate, and when does the club have to make that decision?

Luis Urías, the lone player former chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom acquired in the hours leading up to the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline, is one obvious candidate to be non-tendered. Nick Pivetta and Alex Verdugo are two arbitration-eligible players the Sox are certain to tender contracts to.

Who needs to be added to the 40-man roster this winter to avoid the Rule 5 Draft, and do they have a crunch for roster spots?

RHP Wikelman Gonzalez had a breakout season and is the key prospect the Red Sox must add to the 40-man roster in order to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. He is Boston’s No. 9 prospect per MLB Pipeline. No. 18 prospect Shane Drohan, a lefty starter who was dominant at Double-A before struggling at Triple-A, is another player who must be added to the 40-man. No. 10 prospect Luis Perales is only 20 years old, but he’s already proven his stuff is too electric to be left for the taking in the Rule 5 Draft.

Could the Red Sox leave Noah Song unprotected again? Last year, the Phillies took the righty who missed several pro seasons due to his commitment to the Naval Academy. However, the Phillies wound up having to give Song back to the Red Sox because he didn’t have enough experience to be worth an MLB roster spot.

Given that the Red Sox have several free agents who will come off the roster after the World Series, they shouldn’t have any trouble protecting the prospects they’d like to keep away from the Rule 5 Draft.

What kind of help do they need and will they be active in free agency? Who might they target?

The Sox need starting pitchers who come with a certain amount of innings certainty, something the club lacked badly in 2023. The top free agent pitcher this winter just might be Japanese righty Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Expect the Red Sox to be fully engaged once the 25-year-old gets posted. Blake Snell, Aaron Nola, Jordan Montgomery and Lucas Giolito are other pitchers who could draw interest from Boston.

While pitching is the team’s primary focus, it will be intriguing to see if the Sox make a run at megastar Shohei Ohtani, who can’t pitch next year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery but should be able to provide plenty of offense.

Who might they be willing to trade?

Verdugo, a starting outfielder for the Sox the last four seasons, appears to be the team’s most obvious trade candidate. The 2024 season is Verdugo’s last before free agency. He simply hasn’t been consistent enough at the plate, and manager Alex Cora benched him twice in ’23 for disciplinary reasons. The Sox also happen to be deep in the outfield, meaning it could make sense to offload Verdugo’s salary to re-allocate for more pressing needs on the club.