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The turning point

The signing of Trevor Story is the Sox’s most significant free agent move in two decades.

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MLB: Washington Nationals at Colorado Rockies
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Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I said on this week’s Red Seat Podcast that I thought the Trevor Story signing was the most consequential free agent signing since Manny Ramirez. I will now expand on this.

As I noted, prior to the Ramirez deal, the idea of a marquee free agent coming to Boston was basically unheard of. The previous big signing the Sox had made in the years leading up to it was Jose Offerman, because players of Offerman’s caliber were the type who willingly, if ultimately begrudgingly, came to the Sox. The point is that Boston wasn’t anyone’s first choice.

Once the Fenway Sports Group took control of the team in 2000, the team’s collective wallet was opened, but it took a lot more than just a huge check to get Ramirez aboard. Dan Duquette ran himself ragged trying to sell Ramirez on Boston beyond the dollar amount he was offering, Manny’s aloofness with respect to money being something of legend.

Ultimately the deal got done and the rest was history. Ramirez hit the first pitch he ever saw in a Red Sox uniform at Fenway Park for a home run and was pretty much a wrecking ball until and through the time he was traded to the Dodgers, at which point the Red Sox were such a self-styled juggernaut they figured they could win titles without him.

They did, but the 2013 title was, at the time and to this day, considered somewhat fluky and miraculous, especially coming off the disastrous 2012 Bobby Valentine season. David Ortiz hit .353/.500/.706 in the playoffs and Koji Uehara came out of nowhere to be the best reliever in baseball, and when the magic wore off the Sox weren’t surefire contenders until a 2018 season that fielded the most successful team in their history.

Throughout this time, the Sox signed all manner of players, no contract bigger than David Price’s. Pilloried by the media for his merely very good pitching and often very bad attitude, Price’s signing dwarfs the Story deal in pure dollar terms but not in significance. In context, Price’s deal was going with the Dave Dombrowski flow, all superstars and superstar contracts heading toward the goal of a title, which the team earned by beating the rest of both the American and National League to hell.

They did it with the help of J.D. Martinez, another free agent signing, and while Martinez was certainly the best player the Sox signed in this stretch, I still consider it in the flow of Dombrowski’s tenure.

Then ownership decided that this route wasn’t for them, and structural changes were needed. Dombrowski was fired. Chaim Bloom was hired. Mookie Betts and Price were traded. For two years, the Sox gave out nothing longer than a two-year contract, shopping almost exclusively in bulk in the bargain bin.

In the COVID-shortened 2020, this approach proved disastrous; in the merely COVID-affected 2021, it was far, far better than expected, with the team’s season ending two games from the World Series after having eliminated their two most hated division rivals in the Yankees and Rays.

Until the Sox signed Story, it looked like Bloom was going to run this approach back, which would have been a mistake. The 2021 team clearly outperformed its baseline, and it would have been folly to expect a repeat performance. Fortunately for us, Bloom didn’t. He made what I expect to be the first of several — likely not many, but a few — big moves that signal the team is nearing the time it’s expected to compete for titles every year.