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Sam Kennedy knows the Red Sox need to add young talent, but wants to contend at the same time

Red Sox chairman Tom Werner (left) and team president Sam Kennedy at "summer camp" at Fenway park in July.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

It’s not a rebuild.

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom recently declined to say that his team would contend in 2021. His caution is understandable amidst a 2020 season that represents a disappointment and embarrassment to the Red Sox, as well as an unmasking of the gaps in the team’s base of young pitching talent that left the pitching staff to crumble in the wake of injuries.

Neither Bloom nor anyone else in the organization can say with certainty that the team will be in the postseason hunt by next year. That said, the team has no plans to commit to a multi-year trough.


The Sox recognize a need to acquire and develop more young talent in order to avoid falling into 2020-level pitfalls. But CEO and president Sam Kennedy said that coming seasons won’t be written off in pursuit of the building of a next core.

“I don’t subscribe to the concept of a long-term rebuild. It’s just not in our ethos. Our track record and focus is to try to put the club in a position to be playing baseball in October year-in and year-out,” said Kennedy. “There have been a lot of successes and a lot of failures. We’ve had incredibly high highs and low lows. But we haven’t had an intentional period of rebuilding, if you will. We’ve had years that have been disappointing, years where we haven’t qualified for the postseason, but that hasn’t been by design.

“What we’ve had is a consistent commitment from [principal owner and Globe owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner] to the baseball operations that has been unwavering in our 19 years here. That commitment is at the major league level with respect to payroll. In all of those 19 years, we’ve been at or near the top in baseball, international signings, infrastructure-related [spending], scouting, player development. That commitment will never go away as long as John and Tom own and are running the team. That hasn’t changed.”


Kennedy said the team remains committed to carrying one of the largest big league payrolls moving forward and that it anticipates a willingness to spend in the offseason to address roster holes. Despite revenue losses brought about by the compressed schedule and absence of fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, and the likelihood that crowd constraints may exist next year, Kennedy said that the team was taking “a 10-year, a 20-year view” of the financial landscape.

“Does that mean we’re going to quote-unquote go for it with huge expenditures in free agency every year? No, that’s not what that means,” said Kennedy. “It means we’re continually working to build and sustain a competitive team year-in and year-out. We hope that we’ll be much more competitive in 2020 as the days in front of us unfold. We are certain, if we aren’t, that we will rebound and be back and be competitive in ’21 and ’22 and ’23. That’s our commitment and we’re going to continue to honor it.”

Of course, the team’s 8-18 start in a year where they traded Mookie Betts and David Price just before the start of spring training creates natural skepticism about the team’s perennial commitment to compete. That skepticism is amplified by the fact that the Sox gave up two key big league contributors and received just one major leaguer (outfielder Alex Verdugo) while also acquiring two prospects (Jeter Downs and Connor Wong) who are unlikely to reach the big leagues this year.


Kennedy said he still viewed the deal as a “perfect example” of an effort to balance short-term and long-term interests, a willingness not only to add a good big leaguer in Verdugo but also to help patch some of the talent gaps that existed in the system. Even so, the performance of Betts — hitting .294/.363/.627 with nine homers for a Dodgers team that has the best record in baseball — hasn’t been lost on his former team.

“We’re really excited about the arrival of Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs and Connor Wong. That trade will be judged a few years from now,” said Kennedy. “Living in the moment, is it difficult to watch Mookie Betts going off in Los Angeles? Yes. Of course it is.”

That pain will only be diminished over time if the Red Sox prove in their coming decisions that the deal was a first step in re-establishing sustainable championship ambitions — presumably, without the sort of multi-year descent into competitive irrelevance that other teams with large payrolls such as the Phillies, Giants, and Tigers have endured.

Is that possible? Is the vision of “sustainability” compatible with a competitive team by next year?

“Putting a timetable on things is really difficult, so we don’t do that. But the objective at the forefront of our operations is to build a team that’s competitive each and every year to try to get to October and ultimately compete for a championship. There is a hunger and desire for that fifth ring, the sixth ring, the seventh ring that fuels ownership and will never go away,” said Kennedy. “We’re going to do everything we can to build a deep and talented baseball system. We’ve got work to do. That work is ongoing right now. … But the commitment from ownership will be there.”


Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.