Red Sox 2022 Year in Review: Top storylines from a dreary 12 months

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Red Sox Year in Review: Top storylines and soundbites from a rough 12 months originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Red Sox shocked the world by advancing to the American League Championship Series in 2021. Their effort inspired optimism heading into the offseason, though it didn't take long for certain storylines to cast a dark cloud over the club for 2022.

When the thrill of the deep postseason run wore off, the focus shifted to the uncertain futures of franchise cornerstones Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. Bogaerts was set to opt out of his contract and become a free agent after the 2022 campaign and Devers was scheduled for free agency one year after him.

The seemingly never-ending Chris Sale saga and the addition of shortstop Trevor Story were the other top Red Sox stories of an offseason marred by the Major League Baseball lockout. As for the 2022 season itself, it was a letdown year filled with injuries, questionable decisions from the front office, and talks of Bogaerts' potential offseason departure. The final months of the calendar year only added to the fanbase's frustration.

It was a year to forget for Red Sox Nation, but it's worth reflecting on as we head into 2023. Here's a look back at the top Red Sox storylines of 2022.

Part I: An uneasy offseason

The 2021-22 MLB offseason was a drag, and not just for Sox fans. The league enacted a lockout on Dec. 2 upon the expiration of the 2016 collective bargaining agreement (CBA). No major-league transactions could be made from Dec. 2 until the lockout ended on March 10.

It was a quiet few months for the Red Sox even before and after the lockout. They finally broke their silence with the signing of shortstop Trevor Story to a six-year, $140 million contract. The deal remains the largest handed out to a free agent during Chaim Bloom's tenure.

Adding Story sparked plenty of reactions -- some positive, some negative -- but the biggest takeaway was what it possibly meant for the future of homegrown shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Here were a couple of notable takes from our Red Sox insider John Tomase shortly after the signing was announced:

John Tomase, March 20: With Trevor Story signing, the Red Sox are back to spending money

John Tomase, March 21: What does Trevor Story signing mean for Xander Bogaerts?

What does Trevor Story signing mean for Xander Bogaerts?

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Less than a month after the addition of Story, it was revealed Bogaerts and the Red Sox were never close in contract extension negotiations during the offseason. A visibly upset Bogaerts spoke to reporters stating "they offered, but it didn't work out." At that point, it was starting to become clear that Story could wind up being Bogaerts' replacement.

John Tomase, April 14: "Let's just save everyone a lot of trouble between now and November: Xander Bogaerts is gone."

John Tomase, Lou Merloni, April 18: Sox offer to Bogaerts 'insane", "pointless'

The Bogaerts drama brought a negative vibe into the 2022 Red Sox season, but it wasn't the only downer ...

Part II: The Chris Sale saga continues

Red Sox fans looked forward to seeing their ace Chris Sale return to the rotation for a full season. But in late February, their hopes were dashed.

Sale's 2022 debut was delayed as he suffered a stress fracture in his rib cage during the lockout. Our John Tomase reacted to the news by stating Sale's injury "has the 2022 season already feeling like it's not meant to be." That was before it was announced he was placed on the 60-day injured list due to a setback.

As he did in 2021, Sale returned to the mound in the summer for a handful of minor league rehab stints. His performances in those games were overshadowed by his meltdown after a rough start with Triple-A Worcester. Sale was caught on camera smashing a television in the hallway, prompting this reaction from Tomase:

"It's hard to decide what's most offensive about Chris Sale channeling the Hulk after a lousy rehab outing on Wednesday in Worcester.

Is it simply the hardo nature of smashing and kicking a hallway flat screen because you're "intense" and need to make sure a bunch of minor leaguers can hear it?

Is it blatantly disrespecting a lower rung of the organization by destroying some property because why else is it there except to serve as an outlet for your rage?

Or is it the fact that you're always injured, have only made nine starts since August of 2019, and are now assaulting an inanimate object like an outtake from "Walker, Texas Ranger," even though your team desperately needs you and you're finally on the cusp of a return?"

John Tomase, June 15: "It's always going to be something with Chris Sale."

John Tomase, July 6: "How can you be confident Chris Sale will have an impact?"

Once that controversy blew over, Sale finally made his season debut against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 12. It was a success. The southpaw tossed five scoreless innings while allowing only three hits and striking out five. But the excitement around his encouraging start was shortlived.

In the first inning of his second start vs. the New York Yankees, Sale fractured his pinky finger after being struck by a comebacker. The freak injury marked yet another setback for Sale, though there was still hope for a return before the end of the season. That is, until the bike accident.

Chris Sale injury history: A timeline of pitcher's Red Sox tenure

Sale underwent season-ending wrist surgery in early August. The bizarre injury occurred after he crashed his bicycle.

Tomase reacted to the news by stating if Sale really believes he hasn't earned his money with the Red Sox, he can prove it by opting out of his contract. Unsurprisingly, he opted in.

Part III: A disappointing trade deadline

With a 50-52 record before the 2022 trade deadline, the Red Sox still had an outside chance at earning a wild card spot. Opinions on whether they should be buyers or sellers were mixed. Xander Bogaerts said about two weeks before the deadline, "I feel like we should get some help."

The front office responded by trading 2018 World Series champion Christian Vazquez to the Houston Astros, a move Bogaerts openly criticized. Boston also acquired veteran first baseman Eric Hosmer, catcher Reese McGuire, and outfielder Tommy Pham.

Here was Tomase's reaction to the Red Sox' uninspiring deadline activity:

"The Red Sox opened the trade deadline as sellers. They finished it as half-hearted buyers. That leaves them where no team ever wants to be, but where they probably belong -- stuck in the middle. One can argue they're ever so marginally better today than they were when the weekend began."

Part IV: Prospect showcase

Earlier in July, top pitching prospect Brayan Bello made his MLB debut. The right-hander struggled to start his big-league career but after a couple of months, he showed why he's considered one of the most exciting Red Sox pitching prospects since Clay Buchholz.

Here's what Tomase wrote about Bello on Sept. 15:

"His stuff continues to play, with elite fastball velocity, growing separation between it and his changeup, and a put-away slider. In Wednesday's loss, all three runs he allowed were unearned, and he recorded 14 swings and misses, which is becoming a regular occurrence.

He might already possess the best pure stuff on the staff, which suggests a ceiling closer to the top of the rotation than the bottom, and that's reason enough to be excited --  but we're here to talk about his attitude, specifically his mound presence.

Some pitchers have it, whether it's Dennis Eckersley jabbing his index finger at strikeout victims, Pedro Martinez staring down hitters twice his size, or King Felix Hernández double pointing at the sky. They never for a second doubted their own greatness.

Bello obviously isn't in their Cy Young and Hall of Famer caliber class, but man does he carry some serious attitude to the mound that reflects his electric stuff."

Meanwhile, as the Red Sox limped to a last-place finish in the American League East, Triston Casas' September call-up gave fans something to look forward to. The slugging first base prospect tallied his first MLB hit in his Sept. 4 debut. He belted his first career homer two days later.

John Tomase, Sept. 4: "Casas, quite simply, cannot miss. The Red Sox desperately need production from their farm system, especially considering how many holes they'll have to fill this winter. Every legitimate internal solution they find is another $8-$10 million they can conceivably spend in free agency.

But so far, the farm has failed them. Outside of Bello, their homegrown options in the rotation -- Kutter Crawford, Winckowski, Connor Seabold -- have ranged from mediocre to unwatchable. They've spent the entire season trying to find a reliever to take the pressure off John Schreiber, and incredibly have not received a single contribution of note from Worcester, with the possible exception of journeyman Tyler Danish.

On the offensive side, Duran and Dalbec have played themselves back to the minors, while Downs looked so overwhelmed it's hard to take him seriously as a prospect anymore.

And so until Mayer and Nick Yorke and Ceddanne Rafaela inch closer to the big leagues, the Red Sox really need to hit on Casas, who probably would've been here eight weeks ago, except he missed two months with a mid-May ankle injury."

Both Bello and Casas are expected to have significant roles with the 2023 club.

Part V: Goodbye Bogaerts. Is Devers next?

Understandably, there wasn't a whole lot of optimism permeating through Boston heading into the 2022-23 MLB offseason. Several key players hit free agency, most notably Xander Bogaerts, leaving gaping holes throughout the roster. Tomase tabbed it a "make-or-break" offseason for Bloom.

John Tomase: This is a 'make-or-break' offseason for Chaim Bloom

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Bloom started the offseason by stating that re-signing Bogaerts was the team's top priority. One month later, the four-time All-Star inked an 11-year, $280 million contract with the San Diego Padres.

John Tomase, Dec. 8: "Early Thursday morning, the Red Sox didn't just lose All-Star Xander Bogaerts. They watched their heart and soul -- a man who wanted to spend his entire career in Boston until the Red Sox repeatedly dared him to do otherwise -- sign a massive $280 million contract with the Padres.

This is a disaster even by Red Sox standards. The obvious comparison is Jon Lester, another homegrown star they lowballed before free agency, but a better comp might be Carlton Fisk, the Hall of Fame catcher who embarked on an extended second act with the White Sox. If Bogaerts plays out all 11 years of his new deal, he'll have spent one more season in San Diego than Boston.

This is a dark day for a franchise that seemed to build momentum on Wednesday after signing closer Kenley Jansen and Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida. Word simultaneously leaked that they were nearing a deal with Bogaerts, too, but the problem with momentum is it has a shelf life. When midnight came without a signature, we all gulped. And then the Padres struck.

Calling it an overpay misses the point to a degree that merits a punch in the face. The Red Sox screwed this up in April when they insulted their de facto captain, and then again in August when they traded away his closest friend, and then again in October when they dribbled out their exclusive negotiating window."

With Bogaerts gone, the focus has quickly shifted to the team's ongoing contract negotiations with Devers. A report from ESPN stated the two sides remain "galaxies apart" and Devers expects to become a free agent after the 2023 season. He reportedly will not negotiate an extension in-season.

Tomase believes the best course of action might be to simply trade Devers now before he walks out the door next year for nothing.

"As things stand, they have four options: sign Devers now, trade him now, trade him at the deadline, or let him reach free agency.

The final option is a non-starter. We know how that story ends, whether it's Roger Clemens or Jon Lester or Bogaerts. When the rest of baseball can bid on your superstar, he's gone, especially when he hits the market at age 27, like Devers will next fall.

The trade deadline is a possibility, and it punts the problem to July, but that creates its own issues. If the Red Sox are within sniffing distance of a playoff spot, they won't be able to justify trading their best player, even if it makes sense in the long term. Dave Dombrowski famously refused to part with Mookie Betts in 2019, for instance, because the Red Sox had just taken three straight from the Yankees to move into second place. They stayed there for exactly one day before losing eight in a row. Chaim Bloom belatedly traded Betts months later on the eve of spring training.

That leaves either extending Devers or trading him this winter. By all means, try to sign him now, but good luck. If ownership wasn't willing to top $200 million for Bogaerts, will it suddenly find twice that for Devers? And would that even be a good investment? Devers is an outstanding offensive player, but he battled back issues last year and isn't necessarily viable long-term at third base.

So now we must think trade. The obvious counter is that ownership would never allow it, not when it's trying to sell tickets and maintain interest in a flawed product. But the loss of Bogaerts actually provides some cover -- fans are already agitated, so if there's any more bad news coming, hit them with it now. They already hate you."

Lou Merloni: I'd be worried about Rafael Devers being traded

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A Devers extension would be the ideal way for Boston to begin the new year. But if the last 12 months are any indication of what's to come, Sox fans shouldn't get their hopes up. Another long 12 months could be on the way.

John Tomase, Dec. 22: "This is the vortex they are spinning into, it is an abyss, and I don't know what is on the other side of it."