Boston Red Sox, MLB

The Red Sox have a lot of work to do before contending to win the AL East again

The Boston Red Sox are coming off a difficult offseason and likely will have a lot more changes to make before becoming AL East contenders again.

The term “rebuild” isn’t one that’s going to go over very well in New England, where the Boston Red Sox faithful, with a few exceptions, have enjoyed winning baseball for most of the past generation, including four World Series Championships. When they did have a bad year, for example, in 2012, they were able to bounce right back and win the World Series the next year.

However, after a difficult offseason in which they traded Mookie Betts and David Price and lost Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery, with few significant additions to the roster, the Red Sox likely face at least a 2-3 year process in order to become serious contenders again. The good news, as I had previously written, is that with Sale going down, expectations currently aren’t as high, giving the team more freedom to make the necessary rebuilding moves.

Still, this isn’t going to be like 2013, when the team was coming off a rough season and changed managers while bringing in some key players such as Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, and Koji Uehara to help put them over the top. This figures to be a longer, more painful rebuild, retool, or whatever you want to call it.

To start, the Red Sox likely won’t be big free agent players for at least a couple of seasons. In fact, the ownership mandate to get under the luxury tax threshold necessitated trading Betts and Price, especially after J.D. Martinez decided not to opt out of his contract. The trade did get them under the threshold — barely — but they still have several big contracts on the books.

Extensions for Sale (five years, $145 million) and Xander Bogaerts (six years, $120 million) kick in this year, while they still owe Martinez $62.45 million over three years and Nathan Eovaldi $51 million over three years. The latter contract was especially inadvisable, as Eovaldi has been a mediocre pitcher most of his career, cashing in on a strong finish in 2018.

Then there is the approximately $50 million that the team owes players who likely won’t play for them this year, the bulk of that going to Rusney Castillo (who hasn’t played in the majors since 2016), Dustin Pedroia (injured), and Price. Castillo finally, mercifully comes off the books after this season, while Pedroia comes off in two years and Price in three years.

The Red Sox roster currently has too many holes to fill to be a serious contender this season (if we have a 2020 season) or even in 2021, when Sale hopefully comes back. Combine that with the fact that the farm system currently ranks among the worst in the league, and it’s hard to envision the Red Sox being divisional contenders for the next two to three seasons.

Would they consider shedding more payroll while also trying to rebuild the farm system? They already added some young talent in Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs in the Betts trade. The team may need to try to find a taker for Bogaerts if they can’t trim more payroll any other way.

Meanwhile, Rafael Devers is arbitration-eligible after this season and figures to cash in big; could he eventually be on the block as well? Eduardo Rodriguez could also be a candidate to go, though he only has two years of control left, while trading him would deplete the team’s starting rotation for 2020.

As we can see, the Red Sox have a lot of decisions to make soon. Yet however we slice it, they won’t be contenders for at least a couple of seasons. If they can somehow trim some more payroll, draft well, and acquire some more young talent via trade for the future, maybe by the end of 2022 they’ll have accumulated enough young talent and will be able to get back into the free agent market so they can contend again.

A lot of things will have to go right to make that happen. Of course, this all goes out the window if the team decides at some point that they don’t mind going over the luxury tax threshold again. Assuming they don’t, the Red Sox have a lot of work to do to become serious contenders.

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