Remembering when the Red Sox did win a big-time free agent bidding war


The search for the next great general manager

The Red Sox trip to play the Rangers in Arlington, Texas this week should stir of up some memories ... and glimpse into what can be.

Yes, the games are meaningful in the standings for just one of the teams. And perhaps everything about the Sox' existence these days is getting to the offseason in order to flip the script. But the presence of Trevor Story in the home of Rangers represents a path the Red Sox are hoping to duplicate.

For all the criticism of finishing second in free agent pursuits, Story was the one they won, beating out the Rangers for the services of the infielder.

"I just remember it was so hectic, man, with the lockout and no communication," Story told reflecting on his existence during a 2021-22 free agent period that was interrupted from Dec. 1 until Mid-March due to the MLB lockout.

"(The interest between Story and the Rangers) was mutual. It was a natural thing. I was a Rangers fan growing up. I was going to those ballgames my whole life. They were interested, so they were on the short-list of teams I wanted to go to. Looking back now it was just very hectic with the lockout and two or three months of nothing happening and then all of a sudden, boom, there it is. A weird free agency experience for me, to say the least. But once teams started right after the lockout, Boston was obviously on that short-list for me and they expressed interest right away. Right when the lockout lifted it was Boston. They came hot and heavy pretty quick and that meant a lot to me. As much as I wanted to come (to Boston) they wanted me to come to (Boston) as well."

The Red Sox would ultimately sign Story to a six-year, $140 million deal on March 23, 2022. But that only came after a negotiating roller coaster that started before baseball shut down for more than three months.

With Story clearly wanting to make his hometown Rangers one of his potential landing spots, the Rangers jumped at the chance to sign both shortstop Corey Seager (10 years, $325 million) and second baseman Marcus Semien (7 years, $175 million) to mammoth deal just before the lockout kicked in.

And while the Red Sox had shown interest in Story prior to the Dec. 1 cliff, Texas' approach left the free agent with three months, one week and one day worth of uncertainty.

"After the lockout (the Rangers) obviously had the middle kind of secured. The only thing mentioned was third base. It wasn’t in the cards for me," remembered Story, who, according to sources, was also being considered for the outfield by the Rangers (although that was never broached to the player).

"To me, I still knew I could play shortstop at a high level. It’s an important role on our team. The Sox valued me up the middle and I think that was the big attraction for me. And obviously we’re here where we at now, where I’m playing short. For me, if Bogey is playing short I will play second. ... Playing up the middle, that’s where we are most comfortable. It was about winning so I made that decision to play second and Bogey shook out like it did and I went back to short. It was mostly about the Sox valuing me up the middle and that’s how I viewed myself as a player.

"It was a weird experience. It’s not a straight shot kind of thing. Let me word this the right way … I guess action speak louder than words. You see how it shook out. Honestly looking back at it I couldn’t be more happy how it shook out."

By action speaking louder than words, did that mean the Rangers needed to show the kind of contractual commitment than their stated interest? "Yes, exactly," he clarified.

But, in this case, it was the Red Sox who proved to be the aggressor.

With the Rangers still lingering with some interest post-lockout, it was the Red Sox who made the most impactful impression on Story when MLB business started kicking back up. With Xander Bogaerts' future with the Red Sox uncertain, and the need for another middle-of-the-order right-handed bat, Chaim Bloom and Co. made their move.

A deal was struck: Six years, $140 million. It would be the second-biggest investment (after Rafael Devers) in the Bloom era.

"We had some conversations pre-lockout and you could tell the interest was there. But once the lockout lifted things shifted," said Story of the Red Sox. "Obviously, the front office had a plan and they made me feel like I was their guy and they really wanted me. When you go into free agency you have to make the guy feel like they want you there. That’s definitely how they felt and that’s how I have felt since I have been here. I would say they were definitely the most aggressive."

Now Story returns home, to play the team that once hoped for a permanent stay.

For the Rangers, the maneuvering has worked out pretty well. Seager is a candidate to win the American League MVP, owning the second-best WAR in the AL (6.7). Right behind him is Semien at 6.5. Josh Jung has also developed into one of the building blocks for the Rangers. And, as the three-game series begins, Texas sits with the third Wild Card spot.

For Story, it has been anything but a seamless introduction to Boston. The first year was plagued with a few different injuries, with 2023 not starting until August due to elbow surgery. In all, the Red Sox are 65-62 when the infielder has played, with Story totaling a batting average of .225 and OPS of .683 with 18 homers and 21 stolen bases. Defensively, he did stabilize second base last season and shortstop this time around.

In the end, Story believes the end result of all the free agent drama worked out for the best.

"It’s been a hectic last few years, personally, professionally, everything," he said. "There has been a lot of change. I’m just feeling more at home here in Boston, and that’s big for us, big for my family. I haven’t been able to play as much, obviously. I haven’t played a full season with the Sox in two years and that hurts the pride a little bit because that’s what I have hung my hat on, posting every day and being reliable. The health thing has gotten in the way of that a little bit. It’s time to put these past two years behind us and move forward. I’m excited about that and how I feel health-wise. Just really excited to have a normal offseason and get into spring training."

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