Five major Red Sox offseason storylines to follow

Five major Red Sox offseason storylines to follow originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The defining offseason of Chaim Bloom's Boston Red Sox tenure is underway.

A year removed from their surprising American League Championship Series berth, the Red Sox are a last-place team with glaring holes throughout the roster. On top of filling those voids to assemble a competitive club in 2023, Bloom and the front office must ponder the long-term futures of franchise cornerstones Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers.

Six realistic free agents Red Sox should target this offseason

It will be a challenging winter for Bloom, who outside of Trevor Story has avoided handing out lucrative contracts. That may need to change if Boston hopes to return to relevance next season.

So, what should Red Sox fans be focused on over the next few months? Here are five important offseason storylines to follow.

1. Xander Bogaerts' free agency

We begin with the obvious: the future of homegrown shortstop Xander Bogaerts.

Predictably, Bogaerts opted out of his Red Sox contract to officially become a free agent for the first time in his MLB career. Coming off his fourth All-Star season, he will have no shortage of suitors. The Philadelphia Phillies, led by ex-Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski, already are rumored to be in the Bogaerts sweepstakes.

Tomase: Red Sox tell us they want to keep Bogaerts, but actions suggest otherwise

Bloom says the Red Sox are "prioritizing" re-signing Bogaerts, but actions will speak louder than words in the coming weeks. They can't expect the 30-year-old to take another hometown discount at this point in his career.

If Bogaerts is scooped up by another organization, Boston could shift its attention to Trea Turner, Carlos Correa or Dansby Swanson as a replacement.

2. Rafael Devers contract negotiations

Devers is under contract for the 2023 season. Still, the Red Sox should still be working hard to lock up their star third baseman to a long-term extension before it's too late. Losing Bogaerts this offseason would be one thing, but losing him while also failing to extend Devers? That would not sit well with Red Sox fans.

So far, the odds of the two sides agreeing to a deal appear slim. While it's encouraging to hear Devers and the Red Sox have had discussions on a new deal, they reportedly remain "far apart" in negotiations ... $100 million apart, to be precise.

The Bogaerts and Devers contract situations are unquestionably the most important Red Sox storylines of not just this offseason, but recent franchise history. They will have a ripple effect on the organization for several years to come.

3. A bullpen overhaul

The bullpen was a major contributor to the Red Sox' demise in 2022. Boston finished with the fifth-worst bullpen ERA (4.59) in the league and lacked a go-to closer for the entire season.

One of the unit's only bright sports, Garrett Whitlock, will be used as a starter in 2023. General manager Brian O'Halloran says the plan is for Tanner Houck to start as well. Top that off with Matt Strahm hitting free agency, and adding quality relief pitching should be priority No. 1 after the Bogaerts/Devers contracts. The bullpen needs a massive overhaul, and if it doesn't get one, using Whitlock and Houck as starters rather than relievers would be malpractice.

4. Who's the ace?

Even with Whitlock and Houck in the rotation, plus a "healthy" Chris Sale, the Red Sox need to find a way to land a true ace this offseason.

As of today, the Red Sox rotation consists of Sale, Nick Pivetta, Garrett Whitlock, James Paxton, Brayan Bello, and possibly Tanner Houck. You simply cannot count on Sale to pitch more than 100 innings next season, and the rest of the group is a mix of inconsistent, injury-prone, or unproven options. Boston doesn't need to land Jacob deGrom, but acquiring a front-end arm via free agency or trade is a must. After deGrom, Carlos Rodon is the name that stands out most on the free-agent market followed by Chris Bassitt.

5. An outfield upgrade

At some point, the Red Sox will need to add outfield depth behind Kiké Hernandez and Alex Verdugo. They started that process by re-signing Rob Refsnyder, but there is much more work to be done. The Christian Arroyo/Franchy Cordero combination in right field isn't going to cut it this time around.

As the Red Sox search for a big outfield bat, it's impossible to not at least mention Aaron Judge. It's unlikely Bloom bids enough to get involved in the Judge sweepstakes, but fans can at least dream for the time being.

As for realistic free-agent options, Brandon Nimmo stands out along with Mitch Haniger and Joc Pederson. Don't rule out an Andrew Benintendi reunion, either.