The Red Sox insist they’re trying to compete in 2023, despite an offseason in which they failed to land any of the big fish in free agency and recently learned they’d be without Trevor Story for much of the season.
Take a look around the free agent market and the options are scarce.
Still, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom expects he’ll make multiple additions to the infield before the season starts.
“Generally speaking, most of our focus has been on the position player side of things,” he said this week.
He added, “I think we want to add as much as we can. Depending on who it is, it doesn’t even have to be limited to two. It’s obviously premature to say that depending on how the rest of the winter goes. But that is certainly an area of our club that we want to add to, and I suspect that we will.”
Where are they going to get these players?
It sure seems like Bloom is dying to get a trade done, and he’s commented several times this winter about how he’s expected the trade market to move more quickly than it has.
Here we are, a month before pitchers and catchers report, and the Sox have yet to add an impact player via trade.
On the free agent market, a few names stand out.
Jurickson Profar makes the most sense.
Bloom said he’d like to get a left-handed hitter to complement Christian Arroyo. Profar, a switch hitter, could work nicely alongside Arroyo and Kiké Hernandez as a trio of versatile utility players capable of playing anywhere in the infield. Profar and Hernandez are proven outfielders, too.
Profar is coming off an excellent season with the Padres. Playing his home games in a pitcher-friendly park, he tallied 36 doubles with 15 homers and 58 RBIs while hitting .243 with a .723 OPS.
The Red Sox would surely like his 73-to-103 walk-to-strikeout rate that ranked as one of the best in baseball. Profar controls the zone as well as anyone, and the Sox have made it clear they’ve wanted to prioritize those players this winter. The additions of Masataka Yoshida and Justin Turner should help the cause.
While Profar hasn’t played any shortstop since 2018, the Red Sox feel comfortable with Hernandez at shortstop, a position he’s played exactly 100 times throughout his big league career.
Here’s what Alex Cora told reporters this week about Hernandez: “He can do it. But obviously, there’s other stuff that we’re working on.”
It sounds like the Sox would like to add a more natural shortstop.
Bloom’s preference for a left-handed bat would leave him with few options via free agency. Didi Gregorius would be a natural fit, but the 32-year-old was released by the Phillies last summer after two disappointing seasons in which he hit just .210 with a .613 OPS and posted below-average defensive numbers. He’s hitting .243 in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
Harold Castro is a switch-hitting infielder who has played some shortstop, but he doesn’t grade particularly well there.
The other top remaining shortstops — Elvis Andrus, Andrelton Simmons and Jose Iglesias — all hit right-handed.
However the Red Sox swing it, it seems like Hernandez is going to be playing a lot more infield than the Red Sox had planned. And unless they sign an outfielder — Tyler Naquin, Kevin Pillar and Tommy Pham are some of the top options remaining — it looks like Jarren Duran should get another opportunity in 2023.
Duran, 26, has yet to look the part as a big leaguer. He’s hit just .219 with a .622 OPS and an alarming 103 strikeouts in 335 plate appearances. But Cora thinks the banning of the shift and increased size of the bases could help speedy players like Duran.
“He could benefit from from the new rules,” Cora said. “He’s still dynamic, he’s still young, he’s learning. I know last year was a down year for him, not only physically or on the field, but mentally, and we’ve been talking to him to a whole offseason. He’s in a good place.”
A lack of aggressiveness in free agency this winter has resulted in the Red Sox going from Xander Bogaerts and Story in the middle infield to a combination that could include Hernandez, Arroyo and an array of third-tier players available in free agency.
It’s not ideal.