November 7th, the decision date for contract options and qualifying offer decisions, was a busy day for the Boston Red Sox. Today, we will look at everything that happened on free agency decision day and what that means for the Red Sox entering free agency and next season.
Perez and Richards Declined Options
Surprising nobody, the Red Sox chose to turn down their 2022 options for both Garrett Richards and Martin Perez. Perez turns 31 next year and is coming off a season where he allowed a 4.74 earned run average, along with a 4.82 fielding independent pitching and 4.48 xFIP over 114 innings. Perez struggled in almost every role the Red Sox put him in. He produced a 4.50 ERA over 14.0 innings pitched in a relief role, highlighted by his failure to retire Kyle Tucker in game four of the American League Championship Series. There was little reason for the Red Sox to pay Perez $6 million next year considering they have better options for starting pitching and Josh Taylor as a shutdown lefty out of the pen.
Garrett Richards was a much more interesting decision. While he struggled as a starter and in particular adjusting to the sticky substance ban, Richards played a crucial role out of the Red Sox bullpen down the stretch, being used as the Red Sox’s second-highest leverage reliever before his hamstring injury. Immediately after moving to the bullpen, over a stretch of 20.2 innings from August 8th to September 19th, Richards produced a 0.87 ERA and 1.91 FIP. Yet, Richards struggled through the end of the season. With $8 million already committed to Matt Barnes, it did not make much sense to spend an additional $10 million on Richards, especially since his effectiveness was in a small sample out of the pen.
Declining both pitchers’ options signals that the Red Sox are ready for at least one of Tanner Houck or Garrett Whitlock to take a full-time role in the starting rotation. It also means they are most likely willing to spend on free-agent pitchers this offseason. They have already extended the qualifying offer to Eduardo Rodriguez, and do not be surprised to see them linked to top free-agent pitchers like Max Scherzer, Kevin Gausman, or Carlos Rodon.
J.D. Martinez Opts In
On Sunday, J.D. Martinez decided to accept the fifth-year option on his contract signed in 2018, keeping him in Boston for $19.375 million. Martinez opting in was a shock to some, as many expected him to opt-out with the potential for a universal designated hitter in 2022 and a more lucrative contract. However, with a new collective bargaining agreement up this winter, the uncertainty surrounding a labor stoppage is likely what made Martinez choose to stay in Boston.
For the Red Sox, Martinez’s decision is good news. He has been a great middle-of-the-order bat over a four-year span and projects to produce at a high level entering next year. But, his decision might also mean saying goodbye to Kyle Schwarber. Although Boston should be fully prepared to exceed the luxury tax this winter, Martinez does commit an extra $19 million to their salary without addressing pitching and defensive needs, making it harder to see the Sox committing additional money to simply another bat. Unable to DH, Schwarber also doesn’t have a clear position for next year.
The Red Sox have limited room in the outfield as Jarren Duran, Alex Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe, and Kiké Hernandez all are expected to receive regular playing time next year. First base appears to be crowded as well, with Bobby Dalbec having a breakout second half and Red Sox top prospect Triston Casas getting closer to his major league debut. Martinez’s decision cements the fact that if Schwarber is to remain on the Red Sox in 2022, it likely comes at the cost of trading at least one of Dalbec, Duran, or Renfroe.
Eduardo Rodriguez Gets the Qualifying Offer
Just before the 5 P.M. Eastern deadline, it was reported that the Red Sox extended the qualifying offer to starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez. This offseason, the qualifying offer amount was $19.4 million. At face value, committing $19.4 million to a pitcher coming off of a 4.74 ERA season may seem absurd. But, looking at underlying metrics, Erod actually had the strongest season of his career posting a 3.32 FIP, 3.43 xFIP, and 3.64 SIERA. There is no one answer for this discrepancy, but most of it can be chalked up to terrible defense and poor batted-ball luck.
Players accepting the qualifying offer is rare, but it makes sense for Rodriguez to accept. The market for starting pitching is remarkably deep this winter, and the consequence of losing a draft pick will make teams less willing to offer Rodriguez a multi-year deal that is comparable to the $19.4 million AAV in the qualifying offer. If he accepts, the Red Sox have an excellent rotation entering 2022, with a top 4 of Sale-Eovaldi-Rodriguez-Pivetta and likely one of Tanner Houck or Garrett Whitlock. Even if Rodriguez declines, the Red Sox will probably pursue him this winter, as they will have a need for starting pitching.
Christian Vazquez Gets Option Picked Up
One of the more under-the-radar moves was the Red Sox deciding to pick up Christian Vazquez‘s $7 million option for next season. Given his poor performance in 2021 along with Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernandez waiting in the wings, it would not have been shocking to see the Red Sox let Vazquez go and rely on the younger talent. Their decision indicates that Hernandez and Wong aren’t quite MLB-ready yet, and they want a safe and reliable option for next season.
From 2019-2020, Vazquez produced a 105 wRC+ over 710 plate appearances and produced 12.4 fielding runs above average according to Baseball Prospectus. If the Red Sox can get that production in 2022, it would be a steal. His most recent season was not impressive, including a 77 wRC+ and 3.8 FRAA, for only 0.5 fWAR. Beyond the box score, Vazquez drew the ire of Red Sox fans for his pitch calling, as Sox pitchers Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi have historically had more success with alternate catchers. Due to this, I would not rule out a trade just yet, especially with Mitch Garver still on the block. But more than likely the Red Sox see Vazquez as their starting catcher in 2022, which means they will be getting a good defender with potential for offensive production.
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