BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox made a run to the ALCS, which exceeded a lot of the expectations that the team carried into the 2021 season. Boston appears to be ahead of schedule when it comes to Chaim Bloom’s master plan for the franchise.

Now will Bloom and company build on what went right in 2021 and build a true contender for 2022? Or will they continue to plan for the long-term and just hope to get really, really lucky again next year?

The Red Sox were playing with house money for much of the 2021 season, though many will look at their lack of moves at the deadline (aside from the Kyle Schwarber pickup) as the catalyst for the team’s second-half dip and ultimate demise against the Astros for the AL pennant. Perhaps a proven arm for the bullpen or another starter would have made the difference in the ALCS.

Is the Red Sox brass willing to commit more money to win now — or are they going to stay focused on developing the system and building up? Bloom and GM Brian O’Halloran will have some decisions to make this offseason, as they navigate an offseason with some added expectations following the team’s surprising level of success in 2021.

But overall, Bloom is happy with the building blocks that the 2021 season set in place.

“We started something in terms of feeling like we have a bunch of guys who are joining this group who are ready to help us going forward. I think we’re there, I think the vision now is just to continue to build on what we had this year: Playing postseason baseball, meaningful games, almost all the way to the World Series,” said Bloom.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what awaits the Boson Red Sox this offseason.

J.D. Martinez Needs To Make A Decision

The Boston DH can opt out of the final year of his contract, which is set to pay him $19.35 million for 2022. Martinez needs to make his decision within five days after the World Series.

It won’t be an easy decision for Martinez. Offers of over $19 million will likely be hard to come by this offseason, though Martinez may opt for more job security over a hefty payday next year. There is a chance a universal DH is coming with the new CBA, but that won’t be agreed upon until after Martinez makes his decision.

Whatever he decides, it will impact Boston in a few different ways. Should Martinez opt out, there is still a chance he returns, but the Red Sox will likely set their sights on keeping Kyle Schwarber. The Red Sox and Schwarber have a mutual option for $11.5 million or a $3 million buyout, which also needs to be decided on shortly after the World Series. Chances are Schwarber will decline that option and look for a long-term deal. He’s open to returning to Boston, and the Red Sox certainly want him back.

Bloom made it sounds like they could bring both players back this offseason when chatting with reporters on Monday, with Schwarber handling first base duties and Martinez at DH.

“We played some of our best baseball in that alignment with Kyle learning that position on the fly. And I think we saw him get better as time went on, and he had a pretty good sense of humor about it too. Both guys are really talented players,” said Bloom.  “We have to look at it all this offseason. It can unfold in a few ways.

“Talent is talent,” added Bloom. “There’s a lot of different ways to get where we want to go.”

So the Red Sox should have at least one of Martinez or Schwarber back next year, but it’s unlikely that both will remain with the team. Add Bobby Dalbec and up-and-comer Triston Casas to the equation, and first base/DH becomes a crowded spot on the Boston roster.

E-Rod’s Free Agency

The rotation is in pretty good shape with Nathan Eovaldi signed for one more year and Chris Sale signed for two more. Sale will hopefully be closer to his usual self in his second year removed from Tommy John surgery. Nick Pivetta is a middle rotation option, while young arms like Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock could also find their way into the back end of the mix. The Sox also have a $10 million option on Garrett Richards.

But that makes things complicated for Eduardo Rodriguez, who will be a free agent after an up and down regular season. He went 13-8 with a 4.74 ERA after returning from a missed 2020 season, though he did put together a few solid postseason starts.

He’s a 28-year-old lefty who can look like an ace at times, so Rodriguez is likely going to get a pretty big offer from someone on the open market. It’ll be interesting to see if the Red Sox are willing to go above and beyond to sign Rodriguez, or are confident enough in the other arms in the stable to let him walk.

Other Free Agents

Here’s a quick snapshot of all of Boston’s free agents heading into the offseason:

J.D. Martinez (player option)
Kyle Schwarber (club option)
Christian Vazquez (club option)
Garrett Richards (club option)
Martin Perez (club option)
Jose Iglesias
Adam Ottavino
Hansel Robles
Eduardo Rodriguez
Danny Santana
Travis Shaw

Boston owns a $7 million option for Vazquez next season, and with no other real option at catcher, he’ll very likely be back behind the plate in 2022.

It’s all but certain that Boston will move on from Martin Perez and his $7 million club option, but they may take another flyer on Richards after the righty re-invented himself as a pretty good reliever following his struggles as a starter in 2021. He could return in either role, depending on how things shake out elsewhere.

Ottavino was up and down, though mostly up, in his first year with the team, and Robles was a bit of an adventure when he arrived after the deadline. But the latter can be an absolute flame-thrower at times, so the Red Sox may be willing to exercise all options with 31-year-old.

Who Closes Games?

This is the big question in the bullpen, following Matt Barnes’ second-half collapse. Barnes went from dominant all-star to a guy whom Boston didn’t trust in high-leverage situations. Can he get back to closing next season after signing a big deal midseason? Boston better hope so.

“He’s still a really good pitcher,” said Cora. “We know that, obviously, it didn’t end up the way we want it to. … We’re gonna attack the offseason the right way. And I hate to guarantee things but he’ll be a big part of us going forward.”

If not, they need to bring in someone else with the ability to get the final three outs. Ottavino could maybe do it for a stretch, and Pivetta could be a dark horse candidate for the ninth. There’s also Whitlock, though his ability to go multiple innings could lead to a much bigger role in the pen, or in the starting rotation.

However it shakes out, expect Bloom to be busy adding arms to a bullpen that put in a lot of work in 2021.

Extension Time For Devers?

Devers won’t become a free agent until after the 2023 season, but he’s a candidate to receive an extension this offseason. Given the way he’s been hitting the ball the last two years, it would be in Boston’s best interest to lock him up now before his price tag keeps going up and up.

Devers has two more years of arbitration left, and made just $4.5 million last season. That was an absolute steal for someone who hit 38 homers, 37 doubles and drove in 113 runs. He was also much improved at his defense at third, and was consistently Boston’s best and most-feared hitters.

Lock him into a long term deal now. It’s just going to get more expensive the longer the Red Sox wait.

CBSBoston.com Staff