The Red Sox will have decisions to make on as many as 11 potential free agents this winter, including some who played pivotal roles in their run to the American League Championship Series.
How Chaim Bloom handles his in-house free agents should give us a window into his plans for external free agents, and whether he'll open the club's wallet or continue to hunt bargains. Here are the 11 ranked in order of importance, and what the Red Sox might do.
1. J.D. Martinez, DH
This is the one decision that rests entirely with the player.
Martinez holds an opt-out for the final season of his five-year, $110 million contract. In normal times, he might be tempted to play the market rather than return at age 34 for $19.35 million. But thanks to CBA negotiations and a looming lockout, it makes financial sense for him to stay put.
If he opts out, the Red Sox would almost certainly wish him well and look to spend his money elsewhere, even though he remains one of the most productive designated hitters in baseball.
2. Kyle Schwarber, 1B/OF
Martinez's decision should provide clarity on Schwarber's situation.
The 28-year-old gave the Red Sox everything they could've hoped for once he returned from a hamstring injury, posting a .957 OPS during the regular season and then blasting three homers in the playoffs. Though he went hitless after his game-breaking grand slam in Game 3 of the ALCS, Schwarber remained one of the toughest outs in the lineup.
He's a perfect fit for the clubhouse and batting order, but finding him a home in the field remains a challenge, since he's a subpar first baseman. He'd be the perfect DH, but Martinez already fills that role, and it's unclear if Bloom will be willing to devote $35-$40 million next year to two players best suited for that position.
3. Eduardo Rodriguez, SP
The first question will be whether to tender Rodriguez a qualifying offer of roughly $18 million. The answer should be yes.
If he accepts it, there are worse outcomes than securing a former 19-game winner on a reasonable one-year deal. If he rejects it to become a free agent, then the Red Sox will be in line to draft-pick compensation.
The guess here is that Rodriguez chooses free agency and the Red Sox part ways with the inconsistent left-hander, who actually earned the club's final victory of 2021 with six solid innings in Game 3 vs. the Astros.
4. Christian Vazquez, C
The Red Sox hold a $7 million option on the catcher, who very quietly put together one of the worst seasons of his career.
Vazquez homered twice in the first six games and then only four times thereafter. He didn't reach base (.308 OBP), he didn't produce (.659 OPS), he didn't control the running game (career-low 25 percent caught stealing), and ace Nathan Eovaldi much preferred throwing to backup Kevin Plawecki.
Still, starting catchers are hard to find and Vazquez's salary is reasonable. At the very least, the Red Sox could exercise their option and trade him.
5-7. Adam Ottavino, Garrett Richards, Hansel Robles; RPs
The bullpen needs a makeover and all three of these pitchers contributed to the uncertainty.
Ottavino found himself buried for most of September and the start of October before pitching meaningful innings against the Astros (and surrendering the series-clinching homer to Kyle Tucker). Richards pitched himself right out of the rotation and seemingly into oblivion before rediscovering himself in relief. Robles was abysmal in August, unhittable in September, and somewhere in between in October.
Ottavino turns 36 in November and is looking at a steep pay cut from the $9 million he made this year. The Red Sox hold a $10 million option on Richards, and it's hard to imagine they'll exercise it. Robles owns the most upside of the three, given his swing-and-miss heat that's unfortunately married with spotty command, and he only made $2 million in 2021, so he's probably the best bet to return.
8. Jose Iglesias, INF
The Red Sox have options in the middle infield if they want to spend money this winter, between second basemen Javier Baez and Marcus Semien (whom they showed interest in last winter) and shortstops Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, and Corey Seager (if they want to move Xander Bogaerts to a new position).
But if they decide to go the budget route again, they could do worse than Iglesias, who took to second base down the stretch while serving as de facto head cheerleader during the playoffs. Iglesias turns 32 in January and rediscovered his defensive mojo in Boston.
9. Martin Perez, SP/RP
The end of the playoffs revealed Perez's limitations, as the Astros hammered him for five runs (plus another three inherited runners) over his final two appearances.
He served a purpose when the Red Sox had no pitching in 2020, and he provided some nice moments this season, but the rebuild has reached the point where upgrading rotation depth options represents another step forward, and that means moving on from Perez or inviting him to camp as the 15th man on the staff.
10. Travis Shaw, 1B
Speaking of areas to upgrade, Alex Cora's first bat off the bench probably shouldn't be a guy who's hitting .194 over the previous three seasons.
Shaw delivered unexpectedly down the stretch after being picked up off waivers from the Brewers, blasting three homers and driving in 11. The Red Sox can and will do better, because Shaw is not a piece of the future.
11. Danny Santana, OF
Speaking of which, Cora loved Santana's speed and experience, but let's face it -- the eight-year veteran has had exactly one good season since 2015, and it's when he came out of nowhere to blast 28 homers for the 2019 Rangers.
Otherwise, his 2021 in Boston paints a more accurate picture. He hit just .181 before striking out in his only three postseason at-bats. Prospect Jarren Duran makes Santana expendable, but the reality is the switch-hitter shouldn't return regardless of who's in the pipeline.