Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom had a press conference virtually Sunday following the series of moves, and he met with the media again Monday and Tuesday at the GM meetings in California. Here are seven takeaways from the past three days:
Kyle Schwarber could return to the Sox despite J.D. Martinez opting in
Sunday, J.D. Martinez opted in for the final year of his five-year deal he signed before the 2018 season. Many believe that Kyle Schwarber, acquired at the 2021 MLB trade deadline by Boston, won’t return because of that.
But the outfielder-turned-first baseman could stay with the club, even after declining his $11.5M option for 2022. He likely seeks a larger contract.
“You learn over time in this game not to be too surprised by anything,” Bloom said Sunday night, on Zoom. “We’re certainly happy he’s with us. He’s such a force in the lineup. Not only what he produces, but how he transforms what the lineup looks like around him, how he changed the conversation in the cage, the preparation for games. So we’re very, very excited that he’s back with us.”
Schwarber and the Sox have been engaged in talks.
“We’ve been engaged with Kyle. We’re going to stay engaged,” Bloom said. “Obviously knowing that J.D. is here changes how we look at the lineup and our position player group generally. But we played some of our best baseball with both of those guys. They certainly both fit. It just gives us more clarity going forward as to which paths we might take going forward as we reshape and put together this position player group for 2022.”
Tuesday, Bloom admitted that the Sox will be trying to pursue him. They believe he fits the team despite that meaning either Schwarber or Martinez, both lackluster defenders at their positions, will have to be on the field at a given time.
“Yeah, we will. We like Kyle. He fits us,” said Bloom. “We are well-staffed at (the positions Schwarber plays), but we had all three of those guys here down the stretch and that was when we were playing our best. And that was with him learning something on the fly that we saw him making progress and doing. Obviously, we’ll see how it all plays out, but we absolutely would love to have him back.”
Bloom positive about Sox’s current state
Following a 92-70 season, which, before the season seemed like an overly positive and unrealistic prediction, Bloom says the Sox are in a great position after an ALCS elimination in six games to the Houston Astros.
“I think we’re in a better position than we were a year ago,” said Bloom. “Even a year ago, I remember we talked about it and I said it’s certainly not something that’s off the table for us. Now at the time I said that knowing that most likely with those guys (last year’s qualified free agents), it wouldn’t line up. I don’t know how this offseason is going to play out. But I think just where we’re positioned now with the depth that we have internally, although we’re nowhere close to where we want to be, we are in a better position than where we were. So I think it’s likelier there could be a fit there. But we’re just going to do as we would with any move, just access all the implications. And if it is something that makes sense for us, we’ve got to be ready to bounce.”
Defense could play a big role into free agency decision-making
Defense, something that likely played a role into Eduardo Rodriguez’s very unlucky season, has been talked about by Boston.
“We actually spent time talking about that this past week,” Bloom said at the GM Meetings on Monday. “I think when you want to improve where you ended up defensively, you have to look at everything. So much of the conversation is focused on roster composition. But I think it gets to everything. It gets to what we ask players to work on, how we prepare in spring training, how we practice before games, how we position, different things we ask of them during the season. I think it’s a chance for us to pop the hood on everything we do. If we’re able to make all those components a little bit better, it should add up to a real improvement.”
As noted by MassLive.com, the Sox “could be a sleeper in the shortstop market,” writes The Athletic’s Jim Bowden recently wrote. Bowden added, “They love Xander Bogaerts. The thinking is they could sign a shortstop and move him to second base, or perhaps even consider moving Bogaerts there.”
Trevor Story, Javier Baez, and Carlos Correa highlight the MLB’s free agent class for shortstop. The rest of the list also includes:
Jose Iglesias (played for Boston at end of 2021 season after being claimed; known for defense but had a poor defensive year; posted a -21 DRS at SS)
Chris Taylor (utility player as well)
Jonathan Villar (utility player as well)
“I don’t like taking things off the table just because in today’s game especially as you see even superstar players move around the field, I don’t think you should take anything off the table,” Bloom said. “With that said, with both those guys (Devers and Bogaerts), we don’t have concern about the positions they play. We love them both. We feel very well set up on the left field of our infield. We’ve got to be open to all possibilities but it’s not something we’re actively looking to do.”
Will Xander Bogaerts be willing to switch positions? Regardless, he plans to opt out after the ’22 season.
Tim Hyers’ move caught the Sox’s attention too
Ex-Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers, who surprisingly turned down Boston’s offer to rejoin the club and instead went to the Texas Rangers as their hitting coach. He was with the team for four seasons and will be succeeded by his former assistant, Pete Fatse. Boston is also trying to find someone for the assistant hitting coach position as well.
Bloom commented on the situation.
“It certainly took us by surprise,” Bloom said about Hyers and his departure. “But talking to him about it, I think everybody has points in their career where they might feel like they want something different. I didn’t sense that there was any ill-will behind it. It was just he was ready for a different challenge. I think in this business we often think that usually when someone’s employment ends, it is the team that ends it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. People can decide they want something different for professional reasons, for personal reasons. I loved getting to know him these past two years. Wish him well and I’m glad he found something he feels good about.”
Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck could start for Sox in ’22
Garrett Whitlock, Boston’s best reliever and debatably their best pitcher of 2021, could be put into a starting role in ’22. Tanner Houck, who started before moving to the bullpen later in the ’22 season, could also start — although Houck is expected compared to Whitlock, which is much more of a decision.
“I would say possibilities,” Bloom said when asked about Houck and Whitlock starting in 2022. “I have said this before, I think the ceiling (is for them) to be really good major league starters. There are steps on the way to establishing themselves as that. I think it’s great that they have that upside. They’ve done it. They’ve came up as starters. Obviously, what Garrett showed this year in terms of how poised he was out of the bullpen in the different situations he was thrust into, I have no doubt that mentally he could handle it. It gives us options and flexibility heading into the winter. So we’ll see how it all shakes out. We certainly want to have more depth either way. I have no doubt that if that ends up being their role, they would be very capable. It just might not be the best alignment for our team.”
Bloom still confident in Matt Barnes
Matt Barnes had a 2.25 ERA on August 4, and over the course of two months, it dipped all the way down to a 3.79 as his closer role was taken away from him and he dealt with not being on the postseason roster for several games.
“I have a lot of confidence that we give him a reset and a good offseason that he’s going to be able to perform at a high level again,” Bloom said about Barnes. “I think just because of how things snowballed on him, and then he got sick (COVID), and then we didn’t really have a chance to break him back in the right way, it was really hard for him to find his footing again. But I have no doubt that he’s going to be fine.”
Sox to add ‘externally,’ but also in good position at the moment
Bloom does still want to add to the roster.
“We anticipate adding externally as the offseason goes on,” Bloom said. “Obviously you have to look at everything. You have to plan for everything. There are perimeters that we have to make sure we’re planning properly. But we’re fortunate here that we have the ability to take advantage of good opportunities when they’re there.”