Who’s the cornerstone of Chaim Bloom’s Red Sox?
It might be a more open question than you think.
The affirming 2021 season now history, we return to the real game of the Chaim Bloom Red Sox, “Guess Who?” As in, “Guess Who’s A Foundational Piece,” with Eduardo Rodriguez the latest to have his placard flipped down.
Monday morning’s revelation that the 28-year-old lefty is headed to Detroit on a five-year pact worth at least $77 million was a surprise mostly for timing, the first big deal of the 2021-22 hot stove coming less than three weeks before the sport’s collective bargaining agreement expires and a shutdown likely begins.
The way around the unknowns of the next CBA for E-Rod is, reportedly, the deal containing an opt-out after 2023. He’s guaranteed $28 million in the first two years, then can choose whether $49 million is enough for the next three.
Those numbers are well below the $18.4 million qualifying offer the Red Sox offered for 2022, making this all pretty clear to figure out. Boston, which offered Rodriguez a multi-year extension, didn’t want to give him five years. I can’t say I blame them, and I suspect you feel the same.
Getting Rodriguez from Baltimore for three months of Andrew Miller back at the 2014 trade deadline is one of the franchise’s greatest modern heists. He departs the Red Sox after 170 appearances (including playoffs) in seven seasons, his 14.6 fWAR in the regular season well behind Chris Sale (29.1), but just about in line with David Price (18.0) and Jon Lester (16.8) given Rodriguez missed 2020 with post-COVID myocarditis.
Rodriguez was sixth in Cy Young voting after his 203-inning 2019, but in much the same way that bad luck cost him his 20th victory that year, it also cost him that ace feeling.
Rodriguez’s stuff in 2021 was essentially in line with two years prior, which is validated by career best strikeout and walk rates, but no pitcher who threw 150 innings was close to his .363 batting average allowed on balls in play. (Nate Eovaldi, also backed by the questionable Red Sox defense, was second all the way back at .326.)
A shift from lefty-hell Fenway to pitcher friendly Comerica Park should help. So too should leaving the American League East for the Central. It’s an aggressive add for the noncompetitive Tigers, but a calculated risk that could pay handsomely should Rodriguez show the durability he did in 2019 and step forward to lead a young rotation.
Bloom will take the extra draft pick, compensation for losing a qualifying-offer player, and mull what to do after Eovaldi, Sale, and Nick Pivetta. The easiest answer feels like both Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock, but the easy answer is usually the wrong one.
Especially when that tears a big hole in the bullpen, to say nothing of the everlasting need for more starting pitching.
Bloom, as noted by the Globe’s Alex Speier, now has a payroll about $30 million below 2021 levels and $50 million below the sport-topping $230-million plus of 2018-19. Without a new CBA in place, and with all the Sox recent spendthrift ways, what that means is anybody’s guess.
What we know is Kiké Hernández remains the only outside free agent to get a multi-year deal from Bloom in his first two years. Three years on from the 2018 World Series, just eight of 25 players remain, and Matt Barnes is the only one of those to sign a new contract with Bloom when departing was an option.
The Mookie Betts/Andrew Benintendi/Jackie Bradley Jr. outfield was spun out to much consternation. Some of that consternation remains, though Hernández, Alex Verdugo, and Hunter Renfroe did their part in getting the Red Sox back within two games of the World Series.
Yet I don’t think anyone would be terribly surprised to see Bloom sell high on Renfroe, who delivered a slew of critical hits and throws in the regular season before a dreadful October. Or, for that matter, Verdugo, a dynamo who is similarly prone to fundamental mistakes.
I don’t think anyone expects J.D. Martinez to be back after the final season of his deal in 2022. Moving on from Christian Vázquez, who’ll make $7 million on a club option, wouldn’t knock anyone to the floor either.
But the same goes for just about everybody, be they acquired by Dave Dombrowski, Bloom, or anyone. That’s the direction the sport is headed, with the Red Sox prominent in the parade.
Will they be able to find new terms with Xander Bogaerts, who would likely opt out of his current contract after next season? Can they find common ground with Rafael Devers, about to hit (at least under current rules) the first of three cracks at arbitration? Bloom has called them “cornerstone players.”
No one can be shocked if negotiations change that on the fly.
This, to be clear, is not an attack. It’s a trend as much in game, dominant starters increasingly swapped out for a parade of fresh relievers, as in roster construction. Look at how quickly Theo Epstein’s Sox came apart after 2004. Look at Billy Beane’s teams in Oakland. Look, yes, at Tampa Bay.
More relevant, look at the Dodgers. They have always been the model the Red Sox are trying to emulate, and for all their big budgets, it often gets lost they went nearly a decade — from Zack Greinke’s $147 million in December 2012 to Mookie Betts’s $365-million blockbuster in July 2020 — without doling out a nine-figure contract.
The only other Dodger to get one? Trevor Bauer last February, and that was a three-year, out-laden deal at just $102 million. Clayton Kershaw? Kenley Jansen? Justin Turner? Andrew Friedman kept them all, but at his price.
Which is something you can do when you routinely hit on draft picks and in the bargain bin.
Bloom, even his critics have to concede, is off to a strong start there. The reminder that it’s an everlasting search, however, comes on days like this. Even when most of us watching Rodriguez go are just happy to see a likable player get paid at a price we’re fine the Red Sox aren’t the ones paying.
The chief Red Sox architect will find his true cornerstone, on both talent and price. He will have not authored a deal larger than Barnes’s $18.75 million whopper … until he does. His franchise, to borrow from our Liverpool siblings, will not be forever skint.
But until then, and even after then, the turnstile doesn’t figure to stop spinning.