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Kyle Schwarber flips his bat after hitting a grand slam in Game 3 of the ALCS. The Red Sox slugger remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent, could a reunion be in order?

The Patriots are back in the playoffs, the Bruins are back on the ice after a lengthy COVID-19 hiatus and the Celtics remain as frustrating as they are talented.

Between that and all of the holiday season distractions, you’d be forgiven if you forgot about the Red Sox.

Since the start of the lockout in early December, there has been virtually no baseball related news. No signings, no trades, no progress in the labor negotiations. Nothing. The Red Sox have effectively been put on ice, but with pitchers and catchers scheduled to report next month, we should start seeing some progress towards ending the lockout soon. Hopefully.

In the meantime, here is a refresher on where things stand with the Red Sox heading into 2022, in case you haven’t thought about them much in the last month or so.

Rebuild ahead of schedule

This time last year the Red Sox were coming off a dreary last-place 2020 season and expectations for the 2021 team weren’t high. The general consensus was that the Red Sox would be better, but still only around an 80-win team destined to finish third at best in the AL East.

Obviously, things turned out quite a bit better than that.

The Red Sox vastly exceeded expectations, winning 92 games to win a Wild Card spot before advancing all the way to the American League Championship Series. Now the club enters 2022 with championship aspirations, although there are still significant holes that need to be filled before the Red Sox realistically can contend for a World Series.

New faces, old friends

Prior to the lockout, the Red Sox did make a handful of moves. The most notable was a stunning late-night trade that sent Hunter Renfroe to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for old friend Jackie Bradley Jr. and a pair of prospects minutes before the sport shut down.

In addition, the Red Sox signed pitchers Rich Hill, Michael Wacha and James Paxton to bolster the staff. The 41-year-old Hill is coming off a strong 2021 and should slot into the rotation, Wacha is expected to compete for the No. 5 spot and Paxton could factor in by midseason once he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

Strong foundation in place

If the season were to begin today, the 26-man roster would look something like this.

Starting lineup: Kiké Hernández RF, Alex Verdugo LF, Xander Bogaerts SS, Rafael Devers 3B, J.D. Martinez DH, Bobby Dalbec 1B, Christian Arroyo 2B, Christian Vazquez C, Jackie Bradley Jr. CF

Bench: Kevin Plawecki C, Jonathan Araúz INF, Jarren Duran OF

Starting rotation: Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Sale, Rich Hill, Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck

Bullpen: Garrett Whitlock, Matt Barnes, Josh Taylor, Ryan Brasier, Hirokazu Sawamura, Michael Wacha, Darwinzon Hernandez, Austin Davis, Phillips Valdez

That’s not bad, but obviously there is more work to be done once the lockout ends. Specifically, Chaim Bloom has indicated the Red Sox will add more pitching, short-inning relief pitching especially, and the team could use another bat to beef up the lineup.

Schwarber among top free agents still available

One way the Red Sox could bolster their lineup is by bringing back slugger Kyle Schwarber. The midseason trade acquisition played a key role in Boston’s deep playoff run and remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent.

Initially, it seemed unlikely Schwarber would return after designated hitter J.D. Martinez opted into the final year of his deal. But since the Red Sox traded away Renfroe, a reunion makes a lot more sense. Schwarber could now play his natural position of left field, Hernández and Verdugo could play center and right, Jackie Bradley Jr. could come off the bench as a defensive replacement and Martinez could remain the DH.

Alternatively, the Red Sox could pursue Japanese superstar right fielder Seiya Suzuki to fill Renfroe’s old position. Or they could take a big swing at one of the other top remaining free agents, including shortstops Carlos Correa and Trevor Story, super utility man Kris Bryant and first baseman Freddie Freeman.

The Red Sox lost veteran starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who signed a five-year, $77 million deal with the Detroit Tigers. Fellow free agents Adam Ottavino, Hansel Robles, Danny Santana, Travis Shaw and Jose Iglesias are still unsigned.

Focus on farm system paying off

As exciting as Boston’s big league breakthrough was, the improvement of the farm system could be just as important long-term. According to Baseball America, Boston’s minor league system ranked last in baseball in 2019 and 20th in 2020. But by last midseason, the Red Sox had jumped all the way to ninth.

Now the system is as stacked as it has been in years. Boston has four prospects ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100: Triston Casas 15th, Marcelo Mayer 29th, Jarren Duran 37th and Nick Yorke 63rd. Dozens of others are, at minimum, somewhat intriguing.

There’s no doubt a lot to be excited for. Now all we need is for the lockout to end so the Red Sox can pick up where they left off.

Email: mcerullo@northofboston.com. Twitter: @MacCerullo

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Mac’s Mailbag

Have any questions about the Red Sox or baseball in general? Email your questions to Mac Cerullo at mcerullo@northofboston.com or send him a direct message on Twitter at @MacCerullo to be included in an upcoming mailbag column.

 

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