1. Oftentimes the only useful and complete view of how a team approached a free agent pursuit is after the fact, possibly years later, in a book perhaps, written by Jonah Keri. Reacting to incomplete and often intentionally strategically released information and trying to paint a larger picture is a minefield. Still, what to make of this?
At first blush, this is a line in the sand drawn beyond where even a bear market for Cespedes and Gordon would fall. Neither would be well-advised to try to get back on the market in three years, and Justin Upton would be a better guy to sell on an opt-out for an overall discount. But even then, no one is taking three year. It's a nonsensical negotiation tact.
Given how much reputation Rick Hahn & Co. have staked out for not being idiots, and how much success they have had on the trade market already in holding out for deals on meager prospect packages, the Occam's Razor take on this is that it's posturing. Hard posturing, which has become a Sox staple, for better, and for worse.
It's nice that the Sox are never found slacking in the effort to get a bargain, but are they going too far? Both the Mets and the Royals have been in reports this offseason of being totally out on signing Cespedes or Gordon (Gordon has since denied this) after unrealistically low bids, and it's not like there aren't competitors for Cespedes and Gordon that their agents can go to if they tire of getting browbeat.
2. But since we don't have the full picture of the outfield market or the negotiations for Gordon or Cespedes, but only burps of disparate information leaks, the tactic cannot really be judged until there is a final result.
Why are we getting anything, though? The notoriously tight-lipped Sox have been on the trade market a lot this Winter and haven't been able to control the conversation around their moves as much as usual, yet had their work on the Brett Lawrie trade leaked a day ahead of time, and they were publicly known to be chasing Todd Frazier for weeks. Now every stage of their pursuit of a big-ticket outfielder has made into Rosenthal, Heyman and Nightengale's reports. Working negotiations through the media would be new for them, but so is targeting a free agent who could pull in over $70 million. The solace it offers is that their pursuit seems to be genuine, and not failed pursuit of outgoing players that were waged half-heartedly just so the Royals and Mets could argue to their fans that they tried.
Pet theory at this point is that a unique opportunity and motivation to strike out big in free agency has not distracted the Sox from trying to feel out who's market is going to collapse, as so many players remain unsigned going into January. Heyman even tabs them as a possibility for the little talked about Ian Desmond at this point, and why not? He's not without serious warts, but if he's left without a date or forced to take a short deal so he can try to give the market another spin, he'd still step in over Tyler Saladino and provide a huge upgrade.
It's either savvy or a sad requirement of a still very strict budget (or both), but it has the potential to keep spitting out odd bits of information until there's a resolution. Also, until there's a resolution, this offseason is still a weird mix of great trades and leaving a team with a win-now core full of awful gaping holes.
3. Meanwhile, the only AL Central team that is ever on the periphery of free agent reports are the Tigers, who still long for Cespedes, and finished in last place last year with the same run differential as the 98-loss Cincinnati Reds. Point being, they were more than Jordan Zimmerman away as they try to squeeze another playoff bid from Miguel Cabrera's prime.
The other divisional threats are largely standing pat. The Royals are mostly just holding on to their core and hoping for more elite defense and rare team cohesion. Jason Vargas and Omar Infante, returning from injury with question marks about what they will be able to provide, are set to be their highest-paid players. The Indians seem like the team to worry about again given their rotation's top three (Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar) and its murderous potential, but after signing Mike Napoli, they are not expected to make any other big outlays to charge up their offense. They resemble the Sox a lot with a great core and limited resources to deal with challenges to their depth. The Twins were the worst OBP team in the league last year and have a rotation full of No. 4 starters or worse. Their relative success in 2015 was probably even more perplexing than the Royals' dominance.
There is still no juggernaut. The Sox should respond accordingly.
4. Micker Adolfo is hitting off a tee, lifting weights, throwing, and all the normal offseason stuff, which is more important than usual seeing as he broke his left fibula and tore ligaments in his ankle with an awkward slide in August.
Scott Merkin's writeup of Adolfo is full of the expected glowing reviews from Sox officials on the enormous 19-year-old's makeup and tools (Not hard to find someone who will grade his raw power and throwing arm above-average), but he remains a very raw power prospect who is a huge hitting breakthrough away from being someone who can be expected to actualize on his brute strength. Without lumping together Adolfo's development with that of every raw outfield prospect of the last 10 years in franchise history, he's not someone to pencil into a future lineup until a switch gets flipped in a major way, and his signing is more important for the future of the Sox international scouting efforts than his on-the-field impact.
5. Tim Raines is over 80% on publicly released Hall of Fame ballots, per Ryan Thibs. If the 5% dropoff between public ballots (writers who believe in radical transparency and writers who buy Raines' solid statistical case tend to have strong overlap) and total voting holds true from last year, Raines could be right on the borderline in the final vote, and will be in great shape for next year no matter what.
Scholars will probably point to Frank Thomas rattling off "Rock" in the middle of a tidal wave of teammate names during his induction speech as the stirring endorsement that turned the nation in favor of Raines's candidacy.