In the end, the Red Sox were exactly who we thought they were.
Entering the season, the prevailing opinion among outside observers was the Red Sox were an average club who might show improvement from 2022’s last place showing, but ultimately one that wasn’t good enough to take a meaningful leap towards contention.
Now officially eliminated from playoff contention and trending towards a 79-83 finish, the Red Sox have unfortunately proven all their doubters right.
What went wrong? The Red Sox did make meaningful progress in a number of key areas, but the club was ultimately undone by several fatal flaws, many of which were apparent to anyone paying attention as early as this past winter.
Inadequate starting pitching
By allowing Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill to walk, the Red Sox took a calculated risk that their young starters would be capable of stepping up to fill the void. That bet did not pay off.
His most recent start aside, Brayan Bello has been everything the Red Sox hoped he could be. The others, not so much. Garrett Whitlock kept getting injured and hasn’t been effective. Tanner Houck still struggled to consistently work through opposing lineups a third time, and Kutter Crawford has been limited to around 80 pitches per outing.
Boston didn’t get much help from its veterans, either. Chris Sale got hurt again and at this point looks more like a mid-rotation starter than a true ace. James Paxton had a remarkable run for a while but eventually ran out of gas. Nick Pivetta was moved to the bullpen and Corey Kluber was just a disaster.
Collectively Boston’s starters consistently couldn’t pitch deep into games, and through 153 games Red Sox starters have only completed six or more innings 47 times. That helped burn out the bullpen and caused the club’s ultimate collapse in August, and if the Red Sox hope to go anywhere next season, they need to make bringing in a few workhorses priority No. 1.
Holes left unaddressed
One of Chaim Bloom’s most frustrating tendencies during his time as chief baseball officer was his habit of leaving gaping holes on the roster. In 2022, the Red Sox spent most of the season without big league caliber players at first base and right field, relying on guys like Bobby Dalbec, Franchy Cordero and Jackie Bradley Jr. for long stretches.
This season a similar dynamic emerged at both middle infield positions.
When Trevor Story underwent elbow surgery, the Red Sox could have gone out and acquired a short-term stopgap to fill the void at shortstop. Instead they traded for Adalberto Mondesi, an unreliable lottery ticket who never made it back from ACL surgery, and handed the keys to Kiké Hernández.
When that didn’t work, and when Christian Arroyo also went down with injury — again — they were forced to rely on prospects like Enmanuel Valdez and David Hamilton, who clearly weren’t MLB-ready defensively.
The Red Sox were a terrible defensive team full stop, but this fundamental failing was the root cause of a huge portion of the club’s struggles. Of the 100 errors committed by the club this season, 28 were committed by Hernández, Valdez, Hamilton and Pablo Reyes, who’s generally been a positive contributor but who was acquired essentially out of desperation.
Getting Story back has been a huge help and should go a long way towards rectifying the problem in 2024, but if these past two years have taught us anything, it’s that the Red Sox can’t just punt on entire position groups anymore, especially not one as important as the middle infield.
Bloom deserves credit for a lot of his recent acquisitions. Justin Turner has been terrific. Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin, fantastic. Masataka Yoshida and Adam Duvall, productive signings. Brennan Bernardino, a total steal.
The problem is the moves that either didn’t work out or weren’t made at all.
In hindsight, losing out on Zach Eflin proved devastating. He wound up in Tampa Bay and has posted a 3.44 ERA over 167.2 innings for the Rays, and instead the Red Sox wound up with Kluber, who only lasted nine starts before being pulled from the rotation.
Once Boston’s rotation woes became apparent, and especially after everyone got injured and the club was left with only three healthy starters, more of an effort should have been made to bring in reinforcements.
Not trading for a depth starter like Jack Flaherty, Ryan Yarbrough or Rich Hill, all of whom were moved at the trade deadline for modest returns, was a mistake. So was failing to make a deal for a proven middle infielder before Opening Day. When the Blue Jays realized they could be without Bo Bichette for a period of time, they immediately acquired Paul DeJong from St. Louis. That kind of urgency was sorely lacking in Boston this season.
Nowhere was that more apparent than in the club’s trade deadline approach.
For the second straight year the Red Sox attempted to walk a tightrope between buying and selling, and once again the club fell off the wire. The idea that getting Story, Sale, Houck and Whitlock back from injury would give the club a boost had merit, but if the Red Sox really believed they could compete they should have done more to bolster the roster.
And if not, they should have just pulled the plug, become sellers and traded Paxton, Turner and Duvall.
Half measures haven’t gotten the Red Sox anywhere these past few years, and right now the club is stuck in a cycle of mediocrity. The good news is Boston’s next baseball boss will inherit a great situation with robust organizational depth and substantial payroll flexibility, so all the pieces are in place for a turnaround.
All that’s needed is bold action, and if the Red Sox really believe they can become a contender it’s time they start acting like one.
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