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Back on November 2, when the Red Sox introduced their new executive — chief baseball officer Craig Breslow — at a press conference, one of the Fenway Sports Group owners, Tom Werner, made a comment that suggested things were going to change in Boston:
Now, however with new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow officially introduced at a Fenway Park press conference Thursday, Red Sox ownership is giving the new executive its backing and a promise to spend as it did in the past.
“We know that we have to be competitive next year,” said Werner. “So we’re going to be competitive next year. We’re going to have be full-throttle in every possible way.”
Asked specifically if the Red Sox will pursue high-end starting pitchers on the free agent market, Werner responded: “Let me just say that we don’t have any built-in restrictions.”
The Red Sox finished in last place in the AL East in 2022 and 2023, and while they lost in the American League Championship Series in 2021, they also finished in last place in 2020 after trading Mookie Betts to the Dodgers in a salary dump. Their offseason this winter has not exactly been “full-throttle” despite Werner’s promises for something new and different to break this recent slide from relevancy, to the point that he’s now spoken up on that topic:
“Maybe that wasn’t the most artful way of saying what I wanted to say,” Werner told MassLive by phone Tuesday afternoon, “which is that we’re going to be pressing all levers to improve the team. In the end, nobody’s happy with our performance the last few years. Some years, we go after somebody who is about to be a free agent, or was a free agent, as it pertains to Trevor Story or Raffy Devers.
“We felt very strongly that we were going to compete for (Japanese free agent Yoshinobu) Yamamoto’s services. But in the end, he went to another team. But we felt were in the mix and we were going to be competitive. We certainly aren’t happy with the current roster as it was at the end of last year, so if I was going to say it again, I would say that we’re going to be pressing all levers and weren’t going to be happy with just one (method) — that includes free agency, trades or talent from Triple and Double A. I think that’s really what I meant.
“In the end, we don’t have a line in terms of our payroll that we look at as much as trusting that Craig (Breslow) is going to deliver on his assurance that we’re going to be competitive.”
The Red Sox have had an entire offseason of “oh yeah, we tried to get that guy, too,” which is not the same thing as success. Free agents go elsewhere because there’s a better deal, or because they don’t believe in what you’re selling. The Dodgers didn’t just offer more money, but a better environment, too. They’e been in the postseason every year since 2013. They finished in first place in the NL West in all but one of those seasons. They have consistently developed strong players on the farm and identified even more in trades and seemingly minor acquisitions, and are willing to spend to both retain talent and bring whatever new talent is necessary into the fold. The Red Sox, meanwhile, are the losers who traded off Mookie Betts for salary relief before his age-27 season to those very same Dodgers. They’re the team that blew extension talks with Xander Bogaerts to the point that he brought up the problem in his introductory press conference with the Padres. They did nothing of consequence prior to Yamamoto’s decision to convince the Japanese ace that things were going to be any different in 2024 and beyond — of course they missed out on him and everyone else besides Giolito, who is coming off of a rough back half of 2023 and an even worse 2022. The other players had options, and they took them.
Werner can talk about using every lever to win all he wants, but until the Red Sox can prove they’re still committed to spend to build a winner — and to really spend, like when they were top five ever year, unlike 2023’s 12th-ranked showing that had them below the luxury tax threshold — then players like Yamamoto are going to cost them extra in dollars as a concession. The Sox are currently projected to be nearly $50 million under the 2024 luxury tax threshold of $237 million.
They might not, however. As was published in the Boston Herald on Wednesday, the Red Sox have massively cut payroll since the World Series-winning 2018 squad, especially when you adjust for inflation. And yet, attendance has dropped all of eight percent, and with the gambling revenue stream now part of the equation. The Sox are still making bank, and are content to say that they’re trying and it’s other forces at work keeping them from maximizing their potential. When the reality is that they could use some of this money they’ve been pocketing to build a better team, and without any of the sustainability issues you hear ownership whining about, either. The Red Sox won four World Series in 15 seasons by aggressively combining spending, prospect promotion, and trading, and the reason this all worked is because all three were utilized. The Sox want to promote the prospects still, and they’ll make trades, but the lack of diving into the deep end of the free agent pool is how you end up settling for lesser players who still cost money. And it’s as much a reason that they’ve finished in last three times in the last four seasons as anything the now-fired Chaim Bloom did on his own.
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