John Tomase

It's time for Craig Breslow, Red Sox to get uncomfortable

Is Boston's new baseball boss willing to make a bold acquisition?

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The Red Sox lead the world in reasons to say no.

They couldn't keep Mookie Betts because he didn't fit their contention window. They didn't sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto because he was too pricey. They can't trade for Brewers Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes because he's too close to free agency.

The only players they generally acquired during the Chaim Bloom era and so far under successor Craig Breslow fit a similar profile -- cheap, signed short-term, available for a reason.

At some point, however, the Red Sox will need to get uncomfortable. The Yankees, for instance, pounced on superstar outfielder Juan Soto, even though the Scott Boras client has already turned down a $440 million extension offer and will hit free agency next fall. The Red Sox could never justify such a move, because it doesn't fit their long-term vision. But it also means they miss out on a generational talent who could make them relevant as an entertainment product today, which might give him a reason to stick around tomorrow.

Discomfort doesn't seem to be a feature of Operation Full Throttle. So far this winter, the Red Sox have made a couple of minor moves to save salary, signed bounceback candidate Lucas Giolito as a first step towards remaking their rotation, and traded Chris Sale and some of his remaining salary to the Braves for promising infielder Vaughn Grissom.

Now comes the hard part that will define their offseason. Breslow has made it clear he'll move prospects to acquire a starting pitcher. He could also stand to thin his outfield ranks. There's space to make a deal.

The Red Sox are prioritizing players with multiple years of team control in a tacit admission that their contention window, such as it is, won't open until at least 2025. In a perfect world, that would mean a trade for young Marlins lefty Jesus Luzardo or maybe Mariners righty Logan Gilbert. But Breslow is already learning that market conditions are rarely perfect, such as the pursuit of Yamamoto, their No. 1 target, who found himself more entranced by the glitz (and $325 million) of Los Angeles and New York than whatever Boston had to offer.

Breslow has signaled a willingness to challenge the organization's comfort zone, which will be a welcome development if it actually happens. Until then, we'll be left to wonder how much of this talk will lead to actual, impactful action.

A good example of cautious thinking closing off a potential upgrade is Burnes. A three-time All-Star and the 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner with the Brewers, the 29-year-old is entering the final year of his contract and has already made it clear he intends to reach free agency. It is widely accepted that acquiring Burnes makes little sense for the Red Sox. But why?

What if the rental pitches to his capabilities, loves Boston, and leads the Red Sox to the postseason? There's nothing stopping the Red Sox from using their resources to keep him. At one time, after all, guys would give anything to play here. Go get him now and give him a reason to stay.

But the Red Sox don't act that way anymore. Of all the dismaying reporting to shake our faith in ownership's commitment to winning, MassLive's recent note that Bloom's budget last winter was $225 million, a full $8 million below the first luxury tax threshold, was a particular gut punch. It's almost like they're only willing to pay for 86 wins and then hope that's enough to sneak into the playoffs and pull a Diamondbacks.

The Red Sox claim they want to be bold, but that's hard to do if the priority is slashing payroll. There's talk of trading All-Star closer Kenley Jansen rather than paying him $16 million, a paltry sum for ninth-inning certainty, which has proven hard to find since Craig Kimbrel's departure.

If every addition must be accompanied by a subtraction, that's a recipe for stasis. At some point, the Red Sox need to consider a bold stroke, ignore all the reasons to say no, and just do it.

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