The Red Sox were dealt a brutal blow this week with the news that infielder Trevor Storywho’d been preparing for a move from second base to shortstop in the wake of Xander Bogaerts‘ free-agent departure, required an internal brace procedure to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Story felt discomfort late last month when he ramped up his throwing program, and subsequent testing revealed enough damage that surgery was required.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom met with reporters following the announcement yesterday, ominously declining to put a timeline on the injury while noting that a return in 2023, while not something that can be ruled out, is “not something, at this stage, that we want to bank on” (link via Julian McWilliams and Alex Speier of the Boston Globe). The prospect of losing Story for the entire 2023 season only further serves to create urgency for the Red Sox to strengthen their up-the-middle core.
Bloom acknowledged that even before Story’s injury, he’d been in the market for at least one up-the-middle player. The versatility afforded by both Story (who can play either middle infield position) and Enrique Hernandez (who can play second base and center field) left Bloom free to explore a variety of options. Now, likely needing a pair of external additions, it’d seem likely the Sox can cast an even wider net. Bloom, in fact, suggested that the search for up-the-middle additions “doesn’t even need to be limited to two” players, Speier tweets.
The center field market has been thin all offseason, which at least on paper would make a pair of infield additions an easier course to chart. The Athletic’s Jen McCaffrey points out that Bloom implied that the preference may be for right-handed bats, given the glut of lefties already on the roster (eg Raphael Devers, Masataka Yoshida, Alex Verdugo, Triston Casas, Reese McGuire). That said, the free-agent market has already been largely picked over, so Boston won’t necessarily be able to be as selective as the front office might prefer.
There are still some right-handed-hitting middle infield options available in free agency, with Elvis Andrus, Josh Harrison, Donovan Solano and Jose Iglesias topping the list. On the trade front both Miami’s Miguel Rojas and Colorado’s Brendan Rodgers have at least been mentioned on the rumor circuit this offseason, though Rodgers only in connection with the Marlins’ bevy of MLB-ready young pitching.
Things are more scattered in center field, where the options are generally limited to veterans who could be available on minor league deals (eg Kevin Pillarold friends Jackie Bradley Jr.). Bryan Reynolds, of course, headlines a thin trade market for outfielders. It should be further noted that the Sox aren’t likely to exclusively focus on righty bats, any such preferences notwithstanding. They’ve previously been linked to Marlins infielders Joey Wendlefor instance, and given the diminished state of the trade and free-agent markets, an openness to adding at least one other lefty bat gives them more flexibility.
Middle infield and center field aren’t the lone areas of focus for the Sox, either, as Bloom voiced a continued desire to acquire “impact” starting pitching — particularly arms who can be controlled for several years (Twitter links via Speier). That’s sensible, given that the current rotation — Chris Sale, James Paxton, Nick Pivetta, Corey Kluber and Garrett Whitlock — is teeming with uncertainty, even with a touted arm like Brian Bello waiting in the wings.
The slate of middle-infield and controllable pitching needs does make the Marlins a natural fit in trade talks, though all indications have been that the Sox are reluctant to part with top prospects like Casas, Bello and Marcelo Mayer. That doesn’t close the door on a trade entirely, of course, but it certainly complicates matters. Other speculative trade partners with ample infield and/or rotation depth include the Brewers, Royals and Guardians.
Whatever path the Red Sox explore, they’re in a difficult situation. Needing a pair of up-the-middle position players at this stage of the offseason, with a thin set of options in both free agency and trade, is challenging enough. But the organization’s best trade chips are young, near-MLB-ready talents they’d prefer not to move, and payroll projections from Roster Resource put them only about $22MM shy of reaching the luxury threshold for a second straight season. Add in an ongoing search for controllable rotation help, and it’ll be challenging, to say the least, for the Sox to check all of their preferred boxes (controllable starter, multiple infield/center field options, hang onto top prospects, avoid repeat offense of luxury tax). Even if they’re able to do so, it’ll be a tough battle for them in a competitive AL East.