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The Boston Red Sox are heading home for the offseason. Friday night, the Red Sox dropped Game 6 of the ALCS to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park (HOU 5, BOS 0). Boston lost three straight games (including two at Fenway Park) after taking a 2-1 series lead. The Astros are going to the World Series and the Red Sox now must pick up the pieces.

"It's an amazing group. It's a group that we will always remember," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said after Game 6. "In the offseason trying to recruit players and trying to buy into the concept that we were going to be good, it was hard. But at the end of the day, we did an amazing job to have that meeting. Not too many teams can say that they're in the League Championship Series, and I know it doesn't sound great, to have that meeting it means something, right?"

"Overachieved" probably isn't the correct word, though the Red Sox were better than expected this season. They were terrible a year ago, finishing with baseball's fourth worst record in the 60-game season, but this year they won 92 games despite preseason forecasts pegging them as a true talent 85-88 win team. The postseason berth was their first since their World Series title run in 2018.

The offense was very good overall despite being silenced in Games 5-6. The Red Sox scored the fourth-most runs per game during the regular season and almost the entire starting lineup will return next year, assuming JD Martinez doesn't opt out and catcher Christian Vázquez's option is exercised. Boston will have to re-sign or replace Kyle Schwarber, though top prospect Jarren Duran awaits a bigger role.

For Boston, the offense will be spent improving -- or trying to improve, since it's easier said than done -- a pitching staff that ranked middle of the pack more than great. Nathan Eovaldi had a tremendous season, ALCS Game 4 relief appearance notwithstanding, and Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock are long-term keepers. Chris Sale's return from Tommy John surgery went reasonably well.

That said, middle of the pack is middle of the pack, and this is the tentative 2022 rotation as the Red Sox head into the offseason:

  1. RHP Nathan Eovaldi
  2. LHP Chris Sale (first full season back from Tommy John surgery)
  3. RHP Nick Pivetta
  4. RHP Tanner Houck (threw only 100 1/3 innings in 2021)
  5. ???

Stalwart Eduardo Rodriguez is a free agent, ditto Martin Pérez and Garrett Richards, who were so ineffective this summer that they were demoted to the bullpen. Prospects Connor Seabold and Kutter Crawford await longer auditions, and the Red Sox could be tempted to transition Whitlock into a starter (that would only create a need in the bullpen then). Clearly though, there is room for improvement in that rotation.

The Red Sox should -- should -- have money to spend this winter. They stayed under the luxury-tax threshold the last two seasons, going so far as to the trade the franchise's best homegrown player since Carl Yastrzemski to get it done last year, though there's no good reason to stay under again in 2022. Assuming there is a luxury tax in the new collective bargaining agreement, that is.

Perez, Richards, Rodriguez, Adam Ottavino and a few others come off the books this offseason. The Red Sox have to start thinking about a long-term deal for Rafael Devers, which would eat into any offseason spending room should something get done, but there is still money to be spent. Money to spend and motivation to spend it, I would think.

Robbie Ray will be the top free agent starter this offseason, though a one-year "prove yourself" contract for Justin Verlander or Noah Syndergaard would be awfully tempting. The Athletics could be active moving out their expensive players, which would make Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea possible trade targets. The current Red Sox rotation has upside. They could use someone who can reliably provide innings at this point.

Beyond the pitching staff, the Red Sox need to figure out second base -- Christian Arroyo played well in spurts this season but isn't someone who stops you from looking for an upgrade -- and improve their position player depth overall. Their first two pinch-hitters off the bench in Game 6 were Danny Santana and Travis Shaw, and reader, that is not good.

There's no reason to think the Rays won't contend next year. The Blue Jays are on the verge of becoming a powerhouse, and even when the Yankees have a tumultuous and disappointing season, they still win 92 games and go to the postseason, like this year. The 2021 AL East is the first five-team division ever with four 90-win teams. It should be even more competitive next season.

The Red Sox were better than expected this season and they're a team on the rise. They also have some clear needs, especially on the pitching side, and they should -- again, should -- have the financial wherewithal to attack those needs with high-end solutions. Under-the-radar pickups are fun. When you're a big-market team with massive payroll capabilities though, sometimes you have to be a hammer and treat your weaknesses like a nail.