If there's one big-name free agent the Red Sox won't sign this winter, it's all of them.
Fans hoping for a quick fix driven by recognizable stars should prepare for disappointment, though that's not really the right word. They should actually be relieved, because when it comes to rebuilding an organization from the ground up, there are no shortcuts.
Chaim Bloom knows this better than anyone.
That means the Red Sox almost certainly won't engage with free agents requiring draft pick compensation. It means more deals like the $6.5 million they gave left-hander Martin Perez to pass the time until what is expected to be a robust class of non-tenders hits the market later this winter.
It means building more in the 2013 mode of veterans on short-term deals to keep the club competitive than the 2015 model of massive free agent splashes in the form of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval that ended up being disastrous.
"To me, relevancy speaks to competitiveness and we need to be competitive year in and year out," said CEO Sam Kennedy. "Am I worried about not being competitive? Yes. Very worried. It keeps me up at night. I know it keeps these guys up at night. We're here to win championships. We want our fifth ring. We've got four of them, we want our fifth, and we're going to do everything we can this offseason, next year, into '22 and beyond to bring another World Series championship to Red Sox fans. That's what they deserve, and we're going to do everything we can to make that happen."
Because the Red Sox aren't realistically close to contention, and because they'll be picking fourth in each round of the upcoming draft, the price of signing a free agent who has been tendered a qualifying offer will be steep. After losing a second-round pick this year as punishment for stealing signs during the 2018 season, the Red Sox can ill-afford to punt on another one.
That means no deal for free agent outfielder George Springer, a right-handed slugger and leadoff man with considerable power who was built for Fenway Park, a ballpark he frequented growing up in Connecticut as a Red Sox fan before starring at UConn.
In normal circumstances, the 31-year-old would make a lot of sense. He's a three-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger who can play center while balancing a lineup that already features left-handed hitters Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, and Alex Verdugo.
He's going to be tendered a qualifying offer by the Astros, however, meaning the Red Sox would have to surrender the fourth pick in the second round to sign him. That's not happening, not when he's in his 30s and the team's window of contention won't realistically open for at least another year.
The same goes for Reds ace Trevor Bauer, who just led the NL in ERA (1.73) and shutouts (2) before making postseason history with the first outing of 12 strikeouts, no walks and zero runs in a 1-0 loss to the Braves.
Bauer is the kind of pitcher that Bloom's predecessor, Dave Dombrowski, would've signed in a heartbeat, even though he turns 30 in January. Bauer has averaged at least 10 strikeouts per nine innings in each of the last four seasons, including a high of 12.3 this year. Periodically a head case in Cleveland, he is nonetheless considered one of the sharpest minds in the game and a believer in both sabermetrics and biomechanics.
He'd certainly make the Red Sox better in 2021, and he has already declared that he intends to sign a one-year deal to maximize his market value, but that just decreases the likelihood that he'd be coming to Boston. Why surrender a top 40 pick for a guy who could walk next winter?
Bloom was asked this week if he'd be less willing to dive into the qualifying-offer market.
"I think it's just something you have to make sure you're factoring in," Bloom said. "I wouldn't ever rule it out, but I think you always have to make sure you're valuing every aspect of any potential move."
If the Red Sox want to flex their financial muscles, they should do so on the non-tender market, where bargains project to abound. Signing a big-name free agent and losing a high draft pick at the start of a lengthy rebuild is simply bad business.