MLB free agency: If Red Sox make a splash, it should be at second base

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Tomase: Here's where Red Sox should make a free-agent splash originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Look around the Red Sox lineup, and there aren't many positions in glaring need of free-agent upgrades except one -- second base.

Alex Cora pieced it together for most of the season with acceptable results. He intended to start Kiké Hernández, but the super utilityman proved indispensable in center field, which he played at a Gold Glove level.

That created an opening for Christian Arroyo, who looked like a revelation before multiple injuries and a bout with COVID consigned him to the trainer's room.

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No fewer than 11 players made appearances throughout the season, including the dearly-departed Michael Chavis and Marwin Gonzalez, career minor-leaguer Jack Lopez, catcher Christian Vazquez, blink-and-you-missed-him pickup Taylor Motter (who doubled and tripled in two games!), and of course, the postseason-ineligible Jose Iglesias, who looked like the second coming of Roberto Alomar before playing shopping cart conductor in October.

That's a lot of flotsam and jetsam -- we didn't even mention Yairo Munoz or Jonathan Arauz -- but Cora made it work, with Red Sox second basemen posting a respectable .777 OPS that actually outstripped the team's performance at first base (.761), left field (.695), catcher (.686), and center field (.678).

The difference at those positions is there are either short- or long-term fixes already in the organization, whether it's Alex Verdugo in left, Vazquez at catcher, the combination of Hernández and Jarren Duran in center, or the eventual arrival of prospect Triston Casas at first.

But second is a different animal. Arroyo is the closest thing to a starter on the roster unless the Red Sox decide to retain Iglesias on the cheap, but the former is largely unproven. In the minors, middle-infield prospect Jeter Downs disappointed at Triple-A, hitting just .190 while splitting his reps about 80-20 between shortstop and second.

And so that brings us to the most tantalizing possibility of the winter. Could the Red Sox spend big in the middle infield?

There is no shortage of top-flight talent. At second base, they could turn to either Marcus Semien -- whom they expressed interest in signing last offseason -- or former Cubs All-Star Javier Baez, who finished 2021 with the Mets.

That's just a start. If Chaim Bloom really wants to shake up his roster, he could target one of the top shortstops on the market and broach a position change with incumbent Xander Bogaerts. That would put Astros lightning rod Carlos Correa, Dodgers All-Star Corey Seager, or Rockies slugger Trevor Story in play.

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At some point, Bloom will stop hunting bargains and do something seismic. The timing may not work this winter because of uncertainty over the collective bargaining agreement, as well as where exactly the Red Sox believe they are in their rebuild. But it will be a while before this much talent at a long-term position of need reaches the market.

It's not like Bloom fears turnover. The only regulars he inherited in 2019 who are guaranteed to be under contract this winter are shortstop Xander Bogaerts, third baseman Rafael Devers, right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, left-hander Chris Sale, and closer Matt Barnes.

"I never felt like it was productive to have turnover for turnover's sake," Bloom said. "I think it should be about what gets us to having a championship-caliber club on an annual basis. It's great to have continuity. But the ultimate goal is to have a club that can win this division, win a championship every year, and we need to look into everything that can get us there."

Time for an upgrade?

OPS of Red Sox's second basemen in 2021

.777

Marcus Semien's OPS in 2021

.873

Variation

Double

The infield candidates are difference-makers. Semien signed a one-year deal with Toronto after having exploratory talks with Boston and ended up setting career-highs in homers (45) and RBIs (102). He made a seamless transition from short to second.

Baez had a bumpier year, underperforming with the Cubs before finding himself exactly where you don't want to be in New York -- on the back pages of the tabloids for his role in thumbs-downing fair-weather Mets fans. He still blasted 31 home runs and is capable of playing second or short.

The 27-year-old Correa made his second All-Star team and will receive some down-ballot MVP support after hitting .279 with 26 home runs. Seager missed two months with a broken hand, but hit .306. Story experienced a down year statistically while still managing to post his third 20-homer, 20-steal season.

It would be easy for Bloom to stick with Arroyo, perhaps re-sign Iglesias to create some competition, and save his fire for another day. But there's a big strike to be made in the middle of the diamond, if only he's willing to take it.