If Red Sox won't pay up this winter, the harsh reality is they'll be left out




 

Tomase: If the Red Sox don't want to pay big, they'll be left out this winter originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

We're about to find out if the Red Sox are willing to get uncomfortable.

Under Chaim Bloom, they haven't extended themselves in free agency or trade, with the exception of Trevor Story, who signed a six-year, $140 million contract that merely represented the going rate for an All-Star shortstop.

But with a million holes to fill and free agency heating up before next week's winter meetings, a Red Sox front office consumed with value will be put to the test.

The Sox will either try to dig themselves out of last place with low-budget value signings, or they'll push beyond their comfort zone and into queasy territory to add legitimate star power to a roster that's still not guaranteed to include Xander Bogaerts or Rafael Devers.

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With every day that passes, reasons to feel uneasy increase. On Monday, the World Series-champion Astros agreed to a three-year, $60 million deal with former White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu. Just two years removed from an MVP award, the 35-year-old may have backslid this year with only 15 home runs, but he still earned MVP votes while posting an .824 OPS.

Say what you want about the contract -- is a 1B/DH really worth $20 million for his ages 36-38 seasons? -- but the Astros recognized a need and filled it. Abreu would've fit perfectly as the primary DH in Boston, where his right-handed bat could've also complemented rookie Triston Casas at first base.

That the Red Sox didn't want to devote those kind of resources to a player almost certainly in decline is entirely defensible, but here's the problem: There are reasons to say no on everyone, and then what are you left with?

It's easy to come up with a reason to avoid every major free agent. Aaron Judge is too big and too old to hold up over the course of a 10-year deal. Signing Brandon Nimmo will cost a draft pick. The shortstops are too expensive. All-Star catcher Willson Contreras is too weak defensively. The top end of the pitching market is never a good place to shop, especially considering the injury histories of Carlos Rodon and Jacob DeGrom. The reliever market is already insane, thanks to a record deal for Mets closer Edwin Diaz.

You could do this for each of the top 50 free agents, and the trade market isn't any different. Cleveland ace Shane Bieber would look good atop any rotation, but the Guardians' asking price would include top prospects like Brayan Bello and shortstop Marcelo Mayer, and that's a non-starter. Why trade Ceddanne Rafaela for outfield help when he could be the low-cost solution there himself?

So instead, the Red Sox make minor moves like signing reliever Joely Rodriguez, a classic example of someone whose numbers under the hood suggest untapped potential, but whose actual results are unimpressive.

On one hand, it's easy to ignore his 4.47 ERA in favor of the fact that he misses barrels and produces weak contact at an elite level. On the other hand, it's worth asking why Mets manager Buck Showalter never used him in a high-leverage situation. He recorded only two holds after Memorial Day and entered more games separated by at least three runs (30) than two or less (25).

The Mets were desperate for left-handed relief help all year and still rarely turned to Rodriguez with a game on the line. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that he walked a batter every other inning.

In any event, the Red Sox are perfectly comfortable signing the Joely Rodriguez's of the world. The fate of the 2023 season may hinge on how willing they are to step outside their comfort zone and start adding players who can impact the top of the roster, even if it costs more than they'd like.

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