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Ranking the top 10 best free-agent fits for Red Sox originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Boston Red Sox enter the offseason with a number of question marks up and down the roster.
The first domino to fall will be J.D. Martinez's opt-out decision, which will be made shortly after the 2021 World Series concludes. The Red Sox' designated hitter is set to make $19.35 million in the final year of his contract.
Martinez's future likely will determine how Boston approaches slugger Kyle Schwarber's free agency. If Martinez opts out, Schwarber would make perfect sense as a DH replacement after an outstanding few months in the Red Sox lineup. If Martinez decides to stay -- the more realistic scenario given the uncertainty of the free-agent market -- signing Schwarber on an expensive deal and finding a spot for him becomes a bit more tricky.
Once that situation is sorted out, pitching should be the primary focus. The bullpen will need a significant upgrade with Adam Ottavino and Hansel Robles hitting free agency, plus Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock potentially converting to full-time starters in 2022. Not to mention, the closer role suddenly is a glaring issue with Matt Barnes going from All-Star to unusable in the postseason.
The way-too-early projected rotation of Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck, and Garrett Whitlock doesn't look too shabby on paper, but an upgrade certainly wouldn't hurt. Garrett Richards and Martin Perez have club options but it wouldn't be a surprise if those were declined. Eduardo Rodriguez is set to become a free agent and while it's fair to assume the Red Sox will consider re-signing the southpaw, there are a handful of other options on the market that should pique the front office's interest.
So, as we turn the page to 2022, which impending free agents should Chaim Bloom and Co. target? Here are the top 10 best Red Sox fits on the market.
10. Chris Taylor, UTIL
The Los Angeles Dodgers have several impending free agents, namely Corey Seager, Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and Taylor. They'd be foolish to not at least attempt to re-sign Taylor after his sensational playoff performance and the invaluable versatility he brings to the table.
Taylor, like Kiké Hernandez, can play pretty much every position on the diamond. While he isn't known for his power, the 31-year-old did hit 20 homers this year to nearly match his career-high of 21.
9. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF
If the Red Sox sign a notable position player this winter, it'll probably be a center fielder or second baseman. Kiké Hernandez, though exceptional in center field this year, could seamlessly move over to second base if Boston bolsters its outfield or vice versa.
Kris Bryant will be looking for a lucrative deal after a solid season with the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants. It's doubtful the Red Sox would be the highest bidders for the 29-year-old's services, but it's worth at least reaching out. Bryant's versatility would give Sox manager Alex Cora plenty of options, especially since the 2016 NL MVP has some experience at first base in addition to third and all three outfield spots.
Even if signing Bryant is a long shot, there's no denying he'd be a nice fit in Boston. He'd be even higher on this list if we knew Martinez and/or Schwarber were leaving.
8. Starling Marte, OF
The Oakland A's acquired Marte from the Miami Marlins at the 2021 trade deadline and it instantly paid dividends. The 10-year veteran hit .312 with a .816 OPS while stealing 25 bases in 56 games with his new team. For the season, Marte hit .308 with 12 homers, a .837 OPS and 47 steals.
Marte isn't going to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs, but he'll bring speed and outstanding defense to a team that needs improvement in both of those categories. At age 33, he'd also be one of the more affordable options on this list.
7. Kevin Gausman, RHP
Was Gausman's Cy Young-caliber season a flash in the pan, or did he figure something out this season with the NL West-champion Giants? That's a question the Red Sox, and every other team in the league, will have to ponder as they consider signing the right-hander this winter.
Gausman went 14-6 with a 2.81 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in a league-high 33 starts in 2021. His previous best ERA in a season was 3.57 in 2014.
The price tag for Gausman after his sensational campaign might be too high for Boston's liking, but he's undoubtedly one of the best starting pitching options available.
6. Raisel Iglesias, RHP
The Red Sox will need to address the bullpen this offseason and Iglesias is one of the first names they should look at. The 31-year-old has been one of the more consistent relievers in the game over the last handful of seasons.
Iglesias is coming off a 2021 campaign in which he posted a 2.57 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 65 appearances with the Los Angeles Angels. He earned 34 saves while striking out 103 batters and walking only 12. With a giant question mark at the closer spot, Iglesias could be a legitimate solution.
5. Brad Hand, LHP
Hand, a three-time All-Star, couldn't quite find consistency on the mound after signing a one-year, $10.5 million deal last winter with the Washington Nationals. The veteran southpaw was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays at the deadline and struggled mightily, posting a 7.27 ERA and 1.85 WHIP in 11 appearances. The Blue Jays later waived Hand, who was picked up by the New York Mets and began to find his groove toward the end of the campaign.
Hand's best days might be behind him, but depending on the price he would be a solid upgrade to Boston's bullpen. The upside is there, especially if he can prove he's still capable of closing games.
4. Kendall Graveman, RHP
The Red Sox just got a good look at Graveman in the ALCS, and the 30-year-old righty is one of several reasons Boston failed to advance to the World Series. Graveman allowed only two hits in four scoreless innings while striking out five Red Sox hitters in the series.
Graveman was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the Houston Astros at the deadline amid a career-best season. In 30 appearances with Seattle, he was virtually unhittable with a ridiculous 0.82 ERA and 0.70 WHIP. Those numbers regressed a bit after joining Houston, but he still was one of the better relievers in the game.
In addition to bolstering the bullpen, Graveman could spot-start if called upon. The seven-year veteran was a full-time starter during his four seasons with Oakland.
3. Marcus Stroman, RHP
After opting out of the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Stroman didn't miss a beat with the Mets in 2021. The 30-year-old right-hander posted a 10-13 record with a 3.02 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 33 starts.
If the Red Sox opt to improve the rotation with a big splash this winter, there are few options better than Stroman. The main concern is his durability as he missed a number of games in three of his previous four seasons.
2. Robbie Ray, RHP
The likely 2021 AL Cy Young winner will be a hot commodity this offseason, so the Red Sox will have plenty of competition for Ray's services. Like Gausman, the 30-year-old would be a high-risk, potentially high-reward signing considering he sort of came out of nowhere this year as one of the game's most dominant hurlers. He posted an ERA well above 4.00 in each of his previous four seasons.
Still, the idea of Ray in the Red Sox rotation is too enticing to not at least extend an offer to the veteran right-hander. If he comes even close to duplicating a 2021 campaign in which he tallied a league-high 248 strikeouts while posting a 2.84 ERA, he'll be worth every single penny.
1. Marcus Semien, 2B/SS
Semien signed a one-year "prove it" deal with the Blue Jays last winter and, well, "prove it" he did.
The 31-year-old moved over from shortstop to second base and enjoyed possibly the best season of his career. He played in all 162 games, slugging 45 homers while driving in 102 runs and posting a .873 OPS. After signing for $18 million with Toronto, Semien is going to command a huge multi-year deal this time around.
The Red Sox actually came close to signing Semien before the Blue Jays did, but they went with the versatile Hernandez instead on a cheaper deal. With Hernandez impressing in center field, perhaps Semien could take over as the full-time second baseman Boston has been looking for since Dustin Pedroia's career came to an end.