The 2021 Boston Red Sox were a fun, enjoyable team that went much further than anybody thought they could. Dismissed before the season as a third or fourth-place team by most writers and prognosticators, they defied expectations by winning 92 games, snagging the American League's top wild card spot, and beat their hated arch-rival New York Yankees in the MLB Wild Card Game. They were heavy underdogs against the American League's best team, the Tampa Bay Rays, in the American League Division Series. But, the Sox rolled right past them in four games and moved on to the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros. The Sox split the first two games in Houston, before shellacking the Astros at Fenway in Game 3 to take a 2–1 series lead in the best-of-seven ALCS. It really looked like this might be another magical October run for the Olde Towne Team, but they would end up losing the next three games and were eliminated. Still, this was a team that earned the hearts of Red Sox Nation and left them clamoring for what is to come. So, with their brand back on the map and the expectation once again to compete for a championship, how can the Red Sox get back to October baseball and beyond in 2022?
One of the most obvious ways the Red Sox could fix their problems would be to improve their bullpen. Closer Matt Barnes was dominant in the first half of the year but was such a flaming disaster in the second half that he was left off their postseason roster altogether. Many other bullpen arms, such as Matt Andriese, Austin Brice and Yacksel Rios also didn't provide manager Alex Cora with much relief to get close late-inning games to the finish line. Youngsters Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck were both terrific out of the bullpen, but the long-term plan for both of them is to become starting pitchers. There are some interesting veterans on the reliever market this winter, such as Kenley Jansen, Corey Knebel, Aaron Loup, and others. It definitely is an area where Chaim Bloom could bring in some reinforcements.
Another decision the Sox could make is on what their lineup will look like in 2022 and beyond. Slugger J.D. Martinez opted in for the 2022 season, but first baseman and designated hitter Kyle Schwarber opted out. Schwarber was a tremendous addition, despite not being added to the team right away at the deadline due to a hamstring injury. But Schwarber was, arguably, the most impactful position player moved at the deadline, batting .291 with a stellar .435 on-base percentage and a .957 on-base plus slugging percentage for the Red Sox in 41 games. However, a key roadblock to Schwarber returning would be that there is no clear position for him to play. They already have Martinez as their everyday DH, so Schwarber was moved to first base, which is not his natural position. That also may not be a long-term solution, as top first-base prospect Tristan Casas will likely be called up at some point in 2022.
There are some interesting free agent targets for the Red Sox. Second baseman Marcus Semien, coming off an MVP-caliber year in Toronto, might make sense as their starting second baseman of the future. Maybe Kris Bryant could be an option, sliding Rafael Devers over to first to cover up his defensive deficiencies. Regardless of what they do, the Sox will no longer have the luxury of sneaking up on anybody in 2022. The race for the next championship banner at Fenway is now on.