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Opinion: Boston’s Off-Season is Off to a Shaky Start

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Free agent Xander Bogaerts is catching pitches from a number of major-league teams searching for a shortstop.Photo byArturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

By Tyler Maher

The MLB off-season is still fairly young, but Boston Red Sox fans are already growing antsy.

Xander Bogaerts? Still unsigned. Rafael Devers? No extension yet. The rest of the roster? Hardly improved.

Boston’s front office has made a shocking lack of progress in addressing the team’s numerous needs over the last two months. All they have to show for it are a couple of minor moves for utilityman Hoy Park and lefty reliever Joely Rodriguez, neither of whom are going to move the needle for a last-place (or any-place) team.

The Bogaerts situation continues to hang over the team like a dark cloud and only seems to be deteriorating by the day. Several teams have announced their interest in the four-time All-Star, so his price tag is surely going up. There was even a rumor floating around last week that Bogaerts had cut ties with the Red Sox. While that has since proven to be untrue, it’s a concerning development nevertheless for his former employers, who clearly aren’t close to reaching a deal with their franchise shortstop anytime soon.

The Devers extension talks have also stalled. The Red Sox seemed to be making good progress there when they visited Devers in the DR for his birthday shortly after the season ended. Things have gone mostly quiet since then, however, as the two sides are still nearly $100 million apart.

The Red Sox’s inability and unwillingness to sign their own players remains incredibly frustrating and has been an organizational blind spot for years. Their failure to retain Jon Lester, Mookie Betts and others still haunts the franchise to this day.

The team’s lack of progress with the left side of their infield would be less discouraging if they were making big moves elsewhere to shore up the roster, but they’re not. They whiffed on their top external target, Jose Abreu, watching him sign with the Houston Astros instead. They’ve now pivoted to Mitch Haniger, who’s going to be 32 next season, is coming off a down year and has missed extensive time with injuries throughout his career. Aaron Judge he is not.

As for the pitching staff, the Red Sox have made it clear that they’re not going to pursue any of the high-end starters or relievers on the market this winter. While that’s a defensible position – most of them are old and expensive, after all – they do desperately need pitching help if they want to contend next year and have to acquire it somehow.

And that’s what’s made this off-season so frustrating for Boston fans so far. The team has roughly $100 million to spend, but they haven’t spent any of it. They have prospects to trade after years of restocking the farm system, but they haven’t traded any of them. Instead, they just continue to do…nothing.

This has been a major criticism of Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom, who is now in his fourth off-season at the helm. He’s deliberate and methodical to a fault, keen on exploring all options but rarely settling on one. It’s a major departure from his predecessor, Dave Dombrowski, who aggressively went after players he liked and acquired them at any cost. When there were holes to be plugged, he fixed them, typically with the best option available. It was an expensive strategy, to be sure, both in terms of payroll and prospects, but it was also highly effective.

Bloom seems to lack that same killer instinct. He’s been more reactive than proactive throughout his Red Sox tenure, often making moves only when they fell into his lap. The Kyle Schwarber trade, Trevor Story signing and Eric Hosmer trade are all notable examples. He’s been more comfortable tinkering around the edges of the roster and playing in the shallow end of the free-agent pool rather than wading into the deep end, stocking his team with reclamation projects and bargain-bin finds rather than All-Stars. No wonder they’ve finished last twice in three seasons under him.

This is a massive off-season for the Red Sox, not just for Bloom but for the franchise as a whole. For the first time since he got here, Bloom has the freedom to construct the roster as he sees fit now that most of the Dombrowski-era holdovers are gone. If he fails, it could take years for the team to recover, and by the time they do he’ll be long gone.

Tyler Maher is a Content Editor for The Duel who really hopes Chaim Bloom knows what he’s doing.

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