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Bridge Period: The Rich Man's Rebuilding Stage

The Boston Red Sox, according to general manager Theo Epstein, find themselves in a "bridge period."

Does this mean that Boston is taking themselves out of the running for any blockbuster type acquisition? Not necessarily. However, don't expect to see someone such as Clay Buchholz suiting up for any other team in 2010 as a result of a major trade.

Per usual, the Red Sox have been linked in discussions surrounding nearly every available big name on the market this off-season. From trade talks involving perennial Cy Young Award candidate Roy Halladay, to the pursuit of re-signing now free agent Jason Bay, it comes as no surprise that Boston is the topic of much speculation in regards to potential moves. Make no mistake about it -- the Red Sox are certainly in the process of testing the waters, even inquiring about former Tigers lead-off man Curtis Granderson prior to the recent blockbuster trade that sent the speedy centerfielder to New York [Yankees]. However, if you're part of the ever-expanding population of 'Red Sox Nation' that is growing increasingly restless awaiting Theo's first big move, recent reports and comments suggest that you lower your expectations.

In an interview session earlier this week, Theo Epstein made this comment regarding Boston's off-season activities:

“We talked about this a lot at the end of the year, that we’re kind of in a bridge period,’’ he said. “We still think that if we push some of the right buttons, we can be competitive at the very highest levels for the next two years. But we don’t want to compromise too much of the future for that competitiveness during the bridge period, but we all don’t want to sacrifice our competitiveness during the bridge just for the future. So we’re just trying to balance both those issues.’’

There it is, the term "bridge period." Translating Theo's remarks shouldn't be too difficult; the Red Sox are looking to improve, but not at the cost of their highly regarded young talent. To a certain extent, the 2010 season is already being viewed as a rebuilding stage for the Boston Red Sox. With a relatively shallow pool of available free agents and an unwillingness to "sell the farm" to complete a blockbuster trade, it's clear where the front office stands in relation to next year's expectations.

This "bridge period" has been likened to that of the seasons that followed the 2004 title. The Red Sox, thanks to a still-strong core of young players, will more than likely still contend for a playoff spot in 2010. However, with the way that this off-season is shaping up, it is hard to imagine Boston being considered a serious World Series threat heading into the season based on off-season activity.

Sacrificing the 2010 season, for lack of better phrasing, may seem like a difficult concept to accept. However, there are several reasons why Theo's lack of "knee-jerk" reactions, as he refers to them, is actually something that should induce excitement rather than anguish. The following two reasons are the most important.

ETA: Not quite yet

The main point of emphasis behind this particular situation is not sacrificing the current crop of young talent that Boston has. Not too long ago the Red Sox seemed to be sprouting impact players from their farm system at an unparalleled rate, and while 2010 doesn't figure to have quite that same effect, it's the years directly following that should create excitement in Boston. Theo & Co. are very proud of what they've managed to accomplish through the past few drafts, and with good reason, as his farm system is now widely regarded as one of the most effective in baseball. At this point in time, however, the majority of Boston's top prospects remain a year or two away from contributing on a regular basis. There is a log-jam of 19-22 year old prospects in the system right now, all of whom figure to be impact players by the time that they ultimately reach Fenway Park. It is in this that makes Epstein hesitant to unload a package of prospects for someone like Roy Halladay. 

2010-11 Off-season

The potential free agent list for the 2010-11 off-season is staggering to put it mildly. As it stands, barring any contract restructuring and/or trades, next season's free agent class looks to more than make up for this season's in terms of available big name players. In no particular order, it looks like this- Lance Berkman, Carl Crawford, Roy Halladay, Derek Jeter, Cliff Lee, Joe Mauer, Carlos Pena, Mariano Rivera, Brandon Webb, Jayson Werth. Now obviously it's hard to imagine someone like Derek Jeter not re-signing, but that still leaves a bevy of impact players at Boston's disposal. The most intriguing name in that mix is Joe Mauer, who is widely regarded as one of the best all-around players in the game today, at one of the most difficult and important positions at that. Victor Martinez's contract expires following this coming season, and it's been made more than obvious that the Red Sox plan to make a concerted effort to land the 2009 American League's Most Valuable Player. Following the recent trade of Mike Lowell and the expiring contracts of both David Ortiz and the aforementioned Martinez, the door will be open for the Red Sox to be major players in next year's market -- a market potentially deeper in talent than any seen in the previous decade. 

All things considered, Theo has it right here. There's no reason to burn up assets heading into this season in an attempt to appease the fan base given the combination of available talent next season via free agency, and the stockpile of prospects in the system just a short period of time away from contributing on a high level in the MLB. Theo has shown that he is in fact still committed to contending in 2010 by signing Marco Scutaro, actively pursuing Jason Bay, and moving Mike Lowell opening the door for a potential Adrian Beltre signing.

However, Red Sox fans expecting to see someone like Roy Halladay pitching in the top half of an inning at Fenway Park anytime soon, are sure to be disappointed.