Red Sox kept finding new depths in a lost 2022 that could set up an even worse 2023

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Tomase: Red Sox kept finding new depths in a lost 2022 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The moment that echoed into last offseason occurred during the 2021 wild card game vs. the Yankees, an afternoon that saw baseball roar back to Boston like a time machine to 2003, or a house dropped on a witch of the wicked variety.

Bobby Dalbec batted against Yankees ace Gerrit Cole and Fenway Park thundered his name.

"Bobby! Bobby! Bobby!"

It was the moment when anything seemed possible, when Chaim Bloom's vision for the future felt inevitable, when electricity coursed through America's most beloved ballpark as if summoned by the hammer of Thor.

Though their postseason run ultimately fell two games short of the World Series, the Red Sox sent us into that offseason desperately wanting more. But in the back of our minds, questions loomed.

Why did they let Kyle Schwarber leave with barely an offer? Why hadn't they extended Xander Bogaerts or Rafael Devers? Why weren't they loading up for one final run before half of the 2018 core hit free agency?

We trusted Bloom, because he had hit on the likes of Hunter Renfroe and Garrett Whitlock and Kiké Hernández, but we also wondered how wise it was to trust Chris Sale to reclaim his spot atop the rotation or Matt Barnes to overcome whatever had transformed him into a mop-up man.

Tomase: Crazy how little remains of the 2018 Red Sox

And then the season started, and all of our worst fears were realized. A lowball offer to Bogaerts poisoned not just negotiations with the team's most beloved superstar, but the rest of the clubhouse. Potential free agents wondered if they'd be shipped out at the deadline. Contracts became distractions. The performance on the field suffered.

Proving that the game is not played in a vacuum or on an Excel sheet, the Red Sox stumbled to a 9-13 start, the opening month best encapsulated during a lost weekend in Toronto, when right-hander Tanner Houck had to stay home because he wasn't vaccinated, necessitating a controversial shift of Whitlock to the rotation that blew up spectacularly when the Jays walked them off, beat the bullpen with a late grand slam, and then dropped a 1-0 defeat on Whitlock for good measure.

Though the Red Sox surged in June by playing .800 baseball, it didn't last. July brought more contract questions for Bogaerts and then a sustained run of losing against the American League East that's practically unrivaled for a team with legitimate postseason designs.

The Red Sox won the season series with the Orioles, 10-9, and got smoked by everyone else. They went 7-12 vs. the Rays, 6-13 vs. the Yankees, and a miserable 3-16 vs. the Jays. The rest of the schedule basically didn't matter. Instead of cleaning up in their own division, they got cleaned out.

So when Bloom opened trade deadline season by shipping popular catcher Christian Vazquez to the hated Astros -- during batting practice in Houston, no less -- a plan at least appeared to be coming into focus: punt on this season, build for the future, ensure this never happens again.

Instead, the Red Sox pursued the worst of all paths, trying to middle the deadline by holding onto impending free agents like J.D. Martinez and Nathan Eovaldi, and making half-hearted additions such as Tommy Pham and Eric Hosmer. Reliever Matt Strahm likened it to an NFL team playing the field-position game on Rob Bradford's "Baseball isn't Boring" podcast, and it satisfied no one. Players hated seeing Vazquez go, fans didn't understand the direction, and perhaps most egregiously of all, the Red Sox barely crept over the luxury tax threshold, making it harder to spend in future seasons.

It was a disaster, and the team played like it the rest of the way. By the time the Red Sox limped to the finish in last place, October of 2021 felt like a hallucination.

And so now we wonder what comes next. The Red Sox followed their last-place finish with a last-place offseason. Bogaerts signed with the Padres for $280 million. Martinez joined the Dodgers. The gulf with Devers on a contract extension felt infinite. Even modest free agent targets like Jose Abreu and Zach Eflin signed elsewhere.

The Red Sox enter the new year at the bottom of the American East, and it might be too late to do anything about it. The odds of postseason baseball returning to Fenway Park feel increasingly remote, and if the fans yell anything this year, it will probably be a different word that starts with the letters B and O.