Red Sox

MLB Notebook: Free agency on the horizon, but don’t expect big splurges by Red Sox

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Sometime soon -- unofficially, the day after the final World Series game; officially, five days after -- free agency will kick off, the most obvious sign that baseball's offseason has commenced.

Given the stagnant market of the last two seasons, there would already be uncertainty about what that will bring. Other than a handful of top stars at the top of the market, most players have found free agency to be an exercise in frustration.

Players in the game's middle class have found themselves settling for deals far less lucrative and far shorter in term.

Now, add in the pandemic and its significant impact on the game's finances, and it's all but impossible to offer a forecast.

What's known is this: money has never been tighter. And that has the potential to turn the market from the chill of the past two offseasons to one that is downright freezing.

It's possible that such a retreat will present plenty of bargains for teams interested in spending at all, and for a big-market team like the Red Sox, such a scenario potentially presents them with far more options. Even if the Sox are determined to hold the line on payroll, market forces could give them choices that would otherwise be beyond their reach.

Beyond the allure of free agency, it's widely expected that the field of players who are non-tendered will also be expanded, perhaps greatly. Teams staring at salary arbitration jumps may choose to walk away entirely from some players, further expanded the class of free agency, and, thanks to the laws of supply and demand, depress salaries further.

Non-tenders are more than a month away, however, so we'll stick to the more immediate field of traditional free agents for now.

The Red Sox needs -- as you might surmise from a team which finished last in its division and posted it worst won-loss percentage in more than 50 years -- are significant.

They include: center field, second base and pitching.

Also, pitching.

Did we mention pitching?

Here's a look at each category, position-by-position. In each case, we're aiming for realistic targets: players that fit the Red Sox now and who are --relatively speaking -- affordable. So, no mention of Trevor Bauer, the best starter available, or, say, Brad Hand, who has an option that the Indians are likely to pick up.

As noted before, the Red Sox aren't a piece or two away from becoming contenders. Their needs are deeper than that, though it's not unrealistic to expect that, with equal measures of good luck and good health, they could get back to respectability and be a .500 (or slightly better) team in 2021.

But having spent so much time -- and taking so much grief -- getting their payroll to a more manageable level, it would be nonsensical for them to dive back in with more long-term, guaranteed deals for players in their 30s.

Also, it would seem signing someone with compensation attached -- i.e. someone who rejects a qualifying offer. In addition to the heightened expectations of a big salary, those players would also cost the Sox their second-round pick and some international free agent pool money -- neither of which the team would be interested in surrendering. So, despite their obvious talents, no George Springer, or J.T. Realmuto or anyone like them for that matter.

So...