Boston Red Sox

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - JULY 31: Hunter Renfroe #10 of the Boston Red Sox climbs the wall in an attempt to catch a home run ball from the bat of Francisco Mejia #28 of the Tampa Bay Rays (not pictured) during the fourth inning at Tropicana Field on July 31, 2021 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Generally speaking, in most anything, the formula is simple: the more you put in, the more you get back. The uniformed members of the 2021 Red Sox  have poured just about everything they have had into this baseball season. Last Friday, ownership and management invested less.

And in the process, the message from the front office to the clubhouse was crystal clear.

We don’t think you’re good enough.

And so, by consequence or circumstance, the Red Sox have now lost four in a row for the first time this season, the last three coming to their chief competitors, the Tampa Bay Rays, in a series sweep that coincides with the annual trading deadline. The most damning testimony came late Friday afternoon, when chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom admitted the Sox operated at least partly with the luxury tax threshold in mind.

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA – JULY 31: Rafael Devers #11 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after being struck out during the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on July 31, 2021 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

“We were mindful of it,” Bloom said. “I think we have to be because there are implications of crossing that line that go beyond just money. Some of those implications actually hurt our competitiveness and could hurt our talent base over time. So we were mindful of it, but it was never a hard line.”

Let me translate: this year, in the short term, stepping over the luxury tax line would have cost the Red Sox nothing more than a few million bucks tops. Down the road – and only if the Red Sox exceeded the luxury tax by $40 million or more at some point – the Sox could forfeit as many as ten spots in the annual draft, depending on where their pick rests.

And so, in essence, here’s what Bloom is saying: if we start the clock on the luxury tax now, we might drop 10 spots in the draft two or three years from now. At a minimum, we’d rather put that off – and we’d like to avoid it entirely.

Again, a translation: If we’re going to give up 10 spots in the draft, we’re going to do it later, when our farm system is up to speed. And when we think we have a team with a better chance of winning it all.

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA – JULY 31: Nathan Eovaldi #17 of the Boston Red Sox receives the ball from the catcher as Ji-Man Choi #26 of the Tampa Bay Rays rounds the bases after hitting a two run home run during the first inning at Tropicana Field on July 31, 2021 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

I don’t know about you, but if I’m uniformed member of the overachieving 2021 Red Sox, I’d be agitated by this.

Before we go any further, let’s back up here for a second. For the Red Sox, the 2021 trade deadline isn’t about Max Scherzer (who leveraged his way to the Dodgers) or Jose Berrios (who went to Toronto). Both of those pitchers went for hefty prices that the Red Sox wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) have paid. Aside from acquiring better bullpen help, the move the Red Sox could regret is the one for Anthony Rizzo, a legitimate, skilled defensive first baseman with postseason experience who bats from the left side.

Rizzo, of course, went to the Yankees and had a profound impact with the team on his first weekend for New York. In a three-game series sweep of the Marlins, Rizzo went 5-for-9 with three walks, two homers, five runs scored and three RBI. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are still waiting for Kyle Schwarber, their hope for a solution at first base, as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury.

In more ways than one, Schwarber was a cheaper alternative than Rizzo. He costs the Sox less money; as a result, he also required less in terms of prospects. Already, he has given the Sox far less than Rizzo has given New York, which may (or may not) have made a difference as the Sox were getting swept away by the Rays over the weekend.

Aug 1, 2021; Miami, Florida, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo (48) reacts toward the dugout after hitting a single during the eighth inning of the game against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot Park. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

In the end, here’s the bottom line: while there is every chance that Bloom and Sox ownership may be right about the 2021 Red Sox, the fortunes of the team are now forever linked with the deadline. If Chris Sale comes back and Schwarber deftly handles first base – and the Red Sox make a run in the playoffs – Bloom will have been right.

But if the weekend in Tampa was merely the beginning of a late-summer swoon that sees the Red Sox eliminated in the wildcard game (or worse) … well … we all know how this is going to look.

And it’s going to look like Red Sox ownership and management gave up on an unrelenting group of players and coaches that frankly deserved a whole lot more.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.