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Tomase: Remaining business for Chaim Bloom once lockout ends

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Chaim Bloom has never embraced stasis, which must make the lockout particularly frustrating for the Red Sox chief baseball officer.

At some point in the next six or eight weeks, though, the players and owners will reach an agreement, and then it will be go time for teams to finish assembling their rosters with the same frenzy that preceded the shutdown.

That whirlwind plays to Bloom's strengths, since he has already proven adept at exploiting market inefficiencies since taking the helm, and there will be no shortage of talented players looking to scoop up jobs in what will almost certainly be a truncated runup to the 2022 season.

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So what will Bloom's most pressing issues be when the offseason resumes? Here are five questions that will require his immediate attention.

1. Are the Red Sox ready to spend yet?

We have flogged this horse into an unrecognizable pile of viscera, but it remains the fulcrum on which the rest of the roster pivots.

If the Red Sox are going to bargain hunt, then Bloom will be searching for the next Kiké Hernández or Hunter Renfroe. If they're ready to make some old-school big-market commitments, then we could be preparing to say hello to Carlos Correa or Freddie Freeman.

Until that issue is clarified, we're looking at two very different Red Sox teams. The first will hope to pluckily overachieve again while the behind-the-scenes rebuild continues taking shape. The second is officially declaring itself a win-now contender.

2. How do they replace E-Rod?

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Eduardo Rodriguez frustrated Red Sox fans between bouts of wowing them, a left-handed Clay Buchholz who never quite lived up to the expectations of a fan base that got sick of hearing about his potential.

 

Those fans may come to appreciate him now that he's gone. Rodriguez led the staff in wins last year (13) and placed second to All-Star right-hander Nathan Eovaldi in innings. He struck out 185 and the Red Sox won two of his three playoff starts.

Replacing him isn't as simple as hoping Tanner Houck or Garrett Whitlock can make the jump to the rotation. Maybe ageless left-hander Rich Hill claims some of those innings. Maybe the rehabbing James Paxton recovers more quickly from Tommy John than expected.

Or maybe Bloom jumps back into the market, with veterans like Drew Smyly, Chris Archer, or even Clayton Kershaw still out there. Either that way, that's a lot of reliable innings to fill.

3. Will they land Seiya Suzuki?

Reports suggest Suzuki has prioritized playing for a team with an Arizona spring training site, which would leave the Red Sox at a disadvantage, but Boston has been linked to the slugging outfielder already, with former closer Koji Uehara jokingly asking him during an interview if he planned on joining the Red Sox.

If the Red Sox are going to bargain hunt, then Bloom will be searching for the next Kiké Hernández or Hunter Renfroe. If they're ready to make some old-school big-market commitments, then we could be preparing to say hello to Carlos Correa or Freddie Freeman.

John Tomase on the Red Sox' willingness to spend

There are 21 days left in Suzuki's negotiating window before he returns to Japan, but it probably won't take that long to sign him. The Mariners, Giants, Padres, and Cubs are considered the frontrunners for his services, but see No. 1 on this list. If the Red Sox are ready to spend again, perhaps they make him an offer he can't refuse.

4. What are Bobby Dalbec and Jarren Duran?

There are two ways to look at promising young players. One is that they're important complementary parts who won't break the bank while providing starting-caliber talent that should only improve as they age. The other is that their flaws -- Dalbec's swing-and-miss, Duran's hole above the belt -- will render them ineffective over 162 games and that they should be trade bait while their potential still has value.

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Dalbec has at least shown sustained runs of power, such as last August when he practically kept the Red Sox in contention by himself. The speedy, athletic Duran hasn't yet shown that he can play strong enough defense in center to go out there every day, and we still don't know if his minor-league power surge was a product of the peculiar wind tunnels at Triple-A Worcester.

Both players have value. Bloom must decide whether it's to the Red Sox or as bait to acquire someone else.

5. Do they trust Matt Barnes to close?

While there's a belief that "anybody can close" if Barnes doesn't regain his past form, it's worth noting that the road to finding a new closer can be bumpy. Remember Uehara? It's easy to forget that he didn't take over until late June of 2013.

In the interim, the Red Sox scuffled through Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, both of whom ended up needing surgery. Had Uehara not improbably stepped up at age 38, who knows where Ben Cherington and John Farrell would've turned? As good as that team was, the season probably doesn't end with a World Series.

 

If Barnes can't close, the Red Sox could try Whitlock, but that means taking him out of the rotation mix. They could hope that Darwinzon Hernandez harnesses his control, but that's a dicey proposition. Or they could dip into free agency for someone like veteran righty Brad Boxberger, a found closer who led the AL with 41 saves in 2015 during Bloom's time in Tampa.

In any event, the sooner they answer some or all of these questions, the better.