Veteran right-hander Garrett Richards, who went 2-2 with a 4.03 ERA in 10 starts for the San Diego Padres last season, was signed last week by the Boston Red Sox. AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

It’s been a long, cold offseason for the Boston Red Sox. The hot stove has shown little sign of igniting. Sox fans have been watching while big names have come off the free-agent board and gone elsewhere.

Meantime, the Red Sox have taken a quiet, methodical approach toward rebuilding. There won’t be a quick fix for last year’s cellar dweller in the American League East. Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom is trying to improve his pitching staff, but he’s doing it without a big splash.

Of course, it shouldn’t be hard to improve on last year’s 5.58 ERA, the highest in franchise history.


Adam Ottavino is heading to Boston, helping beef up a Red Sox pitching staff that is a work in progress. Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

Monday’s news that the Red Sox and Yankees had worked out a trade for just the second time since 1998 was the latest step toward improving that staff. Adam Ottavino, whose numbers skyrocketed in 2020 after posting a 1.90 ERA in 73 appearances in 2019, is headed to Boston. He’ll help the bullpen. The Sox also got Frank German, a 23-year old prospect who throws 98 mph. Both right-handers were acquired in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations. The deal fits in with Bloom’s plan to improve now and in the future.

The Red Sox announced last week that Martín Pérez is back for a second season. The Sox didn’t pick up his option after last season, and saved $1.85 million in guaranteed salary by picking him up as a free agent instead.

Pérez was the closest thing the 2020 Red Sox had to a workhorse. He led the team in starts and innings pitched. And he loved pitching for the Sox, the team he grew up cheering for as a kid in Venezuela. On a good staff, Pérez is everything you want from a back-end starter.


Trouble is, he became the ace of Boston’s ramshackle rotation last year. And while he took the ball each time through the rotation – the only pitcher who could say that – he was clearly thrown into a role that didn’t suit him.

Now, he can slide back into the fourth of fifth spot of Alex Cora’s rotation. Bloom made sure of that by signing veteran Garrett Richards to a one-year deal with a club option for 2022. Richards can start, but ended last year in San Diego’s bullpen. That’s fine – the Red Sox need help there, too.

That second-year option was an important aspect of the Richards deal. Bloom clearly has little interest in one-year deals. While the Red Sox believe they can surprise people and contend for the postseason this summer, they also think that improvement will be a steppingstone toward a more competitive 2022. Why bring in a free agent on a one-year deal only to see him leave when the Sox are ready to go for it?

Richards and Pérez make the Red Sox better in 2021, but that’s only part of the story of the pitching improvement. Boston severely lacked pitching depth last season. With the arrival of Richards and the return of Pérez the Sox are much deeper. With Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi at the top of the rotation, Nick Pivetta (who went 2-0 in September after being acquired via trade) will try to harness the potential he has shown into consistent success as a starter. Tanner Houck, the first-round pick who went 3-0 with a 0.53 ERA after making his MLB debut last season, will either start (with Richards in the pen) or relieve until a spot in the rotation opens up.

Matt Andriese, signed in December, will give them additional depth. The veteran has made 50 career starts and will be able to serve the role Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez served so well in the 2018 championship season. Instead of using an opener, Cora now has the option of using a pitcher who has averaged more than 4 2/3 innings in his career as a starter.

At some point Chris Sale will join this group. Word is the Red Sox will be very cautious with him, testament to the fact that they will be a better team in the ensuing seasons of his five-year deal. When he is ready to go, the Sox immediately become a better-than-average rotation.


There is more help beyond that. Garrett Whitlock, once a top prospect with the Yankees before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2019, was acquired in the Rule 5 draft and has a chance to make the Red Sox as a reliever. He has always been a starter as a pro. Connor Seabold was the other pitcher acquired in the deal that brought Pivetta from Philadelphia, and isn’t too far away from being major league ready.

None of these names will blow you away. There isn’t a Corey Kluber in the mix. Yet Kluber signed a one-year deal with the Yankees while the Sox wanted control for at least two years. Again, the goal is to improve a compete in 2021 and be ready to contend in 2022. That doesn’t mean they have given up on this season. With MLB talking about an expanded playoff pool the feeling is they can grab a spot at the table.

Kiké Hernández – a super-utility player who can slot in at second base or in the outfield – will make the Red Sox both better and more interesting. He and Alex Verdugo will bring a lot of joy and energy to Fenway Park. And Bloom still has money to spend without going over the collective bargaining tax threshold.

None of it is sexy.  No one is suggesting the Red Sox won the offseason. But Chaim Bloom and Alex Cora feel they are building back up a franchise that was wiped out in the wake of a historic 2018 season. The reconstruction had to being with the foundation.  And that foundation is a lot stronger today than it was a year ago.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column runs on Tuesdays in the Portland Press Herald.

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