At the outset of the off-season, projections showed the Boston Red Sox would have roughly $25-million to spend during the hot stove season. Now that we’re through most of the team’s arbitration deals, the picture is becoming clearer. This week, the Red Sox avoided arbitration with several players by agreeing to 1-year contracts with Eduardo Rodriguez ($8.3mil), Matt Barnes ($4.5mil), Kevin Plawecki ($1.6mil), Ryan Brasier ($1.25mil) and Austin Brice ($870k).

Despite operating without a salary cap, money is still tricky business when it comes to Major League Baseball. All told, the Sox have committed roughly $185-million towards their 2021 payroll against a $210-million luxury tax threshold, a number Chaim Bloom was brought to town to stay under. Updated figures show that Bloom and Co. was actually able to save a few dollars by avoiding arbitration and cutting deals themselves, but in the grand scheme of things the money saved (roughly $600-750k) is peanuts.

Wednesday’s non-tender deadline in MLB saw a flurry of moves across the league including a number of well-known, valuable players getting cut by their respective clubs. Let’s scour the bargain bin using the $25mil figure Boston has to work with and build a contender for next season.

First, let’s address the Red Sox’ biggest needs which must be kept in mind this off-season: starting pitching, corner outfield depth, a second baseman and bullpen help. While I believe many would agree with that assessment, I place corner outfield depth atop my priority list, and that’s where we’ll begin the search.

Eddie Rosario, age-29 season, projected 2021 salary: $9.5mil

Rosario is a guy who has quietly developed into a very good major leaguer during his 6-year career in Minnesota. A career .277 hitter, Rosario developed his power swing in 2017 when he broke out for 27 homers. In 2019, he hit .276/32/109 and last season was on pace to have 35 homers and 113 runs batted in over the course of a normal 162-game schedule. He’s the most expensive player on the list, but if the Sox want to cough up $9-$10mil, they would receive an above-average player in return to plug in the middle of the lineup and play either left or right field.

Kyle Schwarber, age-28 season, projected 2021 salary: roughly $8mil

Schwarber was among the most surprising names cut loose Wednesday when the Chicago Cubs decided to part with one of the key pieces that helped them win their first title in 108 years back in 2016. The move signaled a larger shift for Chicago’s NL club, which has gone “all-in” for the last five seasons. Following Theo Epstein’s departure, it appears task #1 for the Jed Hoyer-era is to cut payroll and begin building anew.

Schwarber struggled mightily last year at the plate, hitting just .188. Despite the low average, the pop was still there as the lefty hit 11 home runs and drove in 24. If we’re handing out passes to the likes of Andrew Benintendi, J.D. Martinez, and others who struggled during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, we can certainly give one to Schwarber. He hit .250/38/92 in 2019, is a guy that can swing up and down the order, and you could hide he or J.D. in left field any given day at Fenway, while playing the other at D.H.. For his career, Schwarber averages 36 homers and 82 RBI per 162 games. I don’t know about you, but I’d take 30-33 homers for $8mil any day of the week.

Adam Duvall, age-32 season, projected 2021 salary: $5mil

If you were still watching the Red Sox in September, most Sox fans will remember this guy. Also, don’t feel bad if you weren’t…One week after fellow Atlanta Brave Marcel Ozuna hit three homers against the Sox, Duvall victimized Boston’s pitching for a 3-homer game of his own. A journeyman slugger capable of playing LF or RF, Duvall reinvigorated his career in Atlanta over the last two seasons, hitting 26 home runs in just 310 at bats.

Duvall has two 30-homer seasons and an All Star appearance under his belt from his time in Cincinnati from 2015-18 and showed he can excel in a platoon role while in Atlanta, coming off the bench and mashing when called upon. Duvall would be a great depth piece, especially with the addition of a player like Schwarber, who would shore up the starting outfield.

Archie Bradley, age-29 season, projected 2021 salary: $4.6mil

Admittedly, I don’t know much about this guy other than the fact he has a great beard. Bring back the 2013 vibes, anyone? Bradley’s career earned run average of 3.91 is inflated after he began his career as a starter and posted an era north of 5.00 in 34 starts. Bradley was then converted to a reliever in 2017 and has been super reliable since, with era’s of 1.73 (2017, 63 games), 3.64 (2018, 76 games), 3.52 (2019, 66 games) and 2.95 (2020, 16 games).

The Sox ‘pen could use quite a bit of help. While the return of Barnes is something (I guess) it’s not a move that excites me and neither is the decision to bring Brasier back. Bradley is a safer play than either of those two, or frankly anyone the Sox trot out from beyond the right field fence. Darwinzon Hernandez and his lively fastball could be an intriguing option as the team’s potential closer, and Bradley is the missing piece to get a lead into the big lefty’s hands.

Hanser Alberto, age-28 season, projected 2021 salary: $3mil

Most casual fans have probably never heard of this guy because he’s spent the last two seasons with the lowly Baltimore Orioles. After going 35-for-182 (.192) in parts of three seasons with the Rangers, Alberto found solid playing time in Baltimore and hit .305/12/51 in 2019. He followed it up last season by slashing .283/3/22 in 219 at bats. The cheapest name on the list, Alberto would fit right in at second baseman on a team that’s currently without a 2nd baseman. (Dustin Pedroia is still on the books for $13.5mil this season. Imagine how much financial freedom the Sox would have if they convinced Pedey to retire and wiped that money from the ledger. But I digress.) Whether he was the full-time guy at 2nd, or just a utility piece, Alberto would add valuable depth to an area of need for the Sox.

Keep in mind, the Sox weren’t willing to pay Brock Holt roughly $3-$4mil last season to man the same role, and opted for Jose Peraza and Rule-5 pick Jonathan Arauz to “fill” the void. So as crazy as it sounds, $3mil may be too expensive for Alberto’s services in the eyes of the club.

So what would I do if I were in Chaim’s shoes? Oh, I thought you’d never ask. I’ll present my top-3 options, ranked by what I believe would best help the team compete in 2021.

Option 1: sign Schwarber ($8.5mil), Duvall ($5mil), Bradley ($4.6mil) and Alberto ($3mil).

Talk about clearing the bases for cheap. For a grand total of $21.1mil, the Red Sox would get a starting outfielder (Schwarber) a slugger off the bench who can fill in everyday if needed (Duvall), a starting 2nd baseman for now, and a utility piece if anything better came along (Alberto) and a player that is arguably better than anything in the Sox’ ‘pen (Bradley). On top of that, the team would have almost $4mil left over to plug any other holes (starting pitching), or even make a trade and take on a slightly larger salary than they would’ve been able to had the team spent all its money.

Lineup: (1) Alex Verdugo, RF; (2) Rafael Devers, 3B; (3) Xander Bogaerts, SS; (4) J.D. Martinez, DH; 5. Kyle Schwarber, LF; (6) Christian Vazquez, C; (7) Bobby Dalbec, 1B; (8) Andrew Benintendi, CF; (9) Hanser Alberto, 2B. (Duvall platoons vs. lefties, provides added depth).

Rotation: (1) Chris Sale, LHP; (2) Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP; (3) Nathan Eovaldi, RHP; (4) Tanner Houck, RHP; (5) Nick Pivetta, RHP. (Back-end would still need help – Bryan Mata is the Sox most-intriguing pitching prospect according to some reports and could be an extra arm.)

Bullpen options: (CL) Darwinzon Hernandez, LHP; (SU) Archie Bradley, RHP; (SU) Matt Barnes, RHP; (MR) Phillips Valdez, RHP; (MR) Ryan Brasier, RHP; (MR) Josh Taylor, LHP; (MR) Austin Brice, RHP; (LR) Colton Brewer, RHP. (Connor Seabold, who the team acquired in the Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree deal, had a 2.25 era in Double-A in 2019, and could potentially find his way to the majors at some point in ’21.)

Option 2: sign Rosario ($9.5mil), Bradley ($4.6mil), Alberto ($3mil) and leave roughly $8mil for starting pitching.

Here the Red Sox would get the best player on the list (Rosario), plus the bullpen and middle infield help they need, while also leaving a more substantial sum of money to grab a 4th or 5th starter with.

Starting pitchers that may be available at-or-below $8mil:

- Corey Kluber: Pitched just 1-inning last season and was only 2-3 with a 5.80 era in 7-starts in 2019. The Sox may be able to get the two-time Cy Young award winner cheap, though the New York Yankees and New York Mets are favored as landing spots. Kluber does have a home in greater-Boston, though. Home team discount, anyone?

- James Paxton: Struggled last year going 1-1 with a 6.64 era in five appearances but was 15-6 in 2019 with the Yankees. It would take some negotiating down, likely, as Paxton last signed a 1yr/$12.5mil deal with the Bombers before the start of last season.

- Jon Lester: Let’s make up for 2014 and give Lester the swan song he deserves. The guy made his money in Chicago, so I’m sure he’d be willing to take 1yr/$8mil from the Sox. Unless there’s still bad blood…Lester has trended down for 2-straight years after going 18-6 in 2018, but even at 37 years old, he’d still be a good 4th or 5th option for Boston.

- Taijuan Walker: 2-1, 1.37 era last season. A guy with a lot of promise but has never been able to stay healthy/put it together. Went 28-28 with a 4.10 era from 2015-17.

Lineup: (1) Alex Verdugo, RF; (2) Rafael Devers, 3B; (3) Xander Bogaerts, SS; (4) J.D. Martinez, DH; 5. Eddie Rosario, LF; (6) Christian Vazquez, C; (7) Bobby Dalbec, 1B; (8) Andrew Benintendi, CF; (9) Hanser Alberto, 2B.

Rotation: (1) Chris Sale, LHP; (2) Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP; (3) Nathan Eovaldi, RHP; (4) Free Agent signing; (5) Tanner Houck, RHP/Nick Pivetta, RHP.

Bullpen options: (CL) Darwinzon Hernandez, LHP; (SU) Archie Bradley, RHP; (SU) Matt Barnes, RHP; (MR) Phillips Valdez, RHP; (MR) Ryan Brasier, RHP; (MR) Josh Taylor, LHP; (MR) Austin Brice, RHP; (LR) Colton Brewer, RHP.

Option 3: sign Duvall ($5mil) and Bradley ($4.6mil) and leave over $15mil to spend on starting pitching.

This scenario would still give the Sox the missing piece in the outfield and bullpen, while also allowing the freedom to sign two veteran pitchers to fill out the back end of the starting rotation. The sacrifice would be hoping the top-half of the lineup mashes enough to be able to cover for Benintendi, Duvall (a career .233 hitter) and a second base platoon (Christian Arroyo, Michael Chavis and Yairo Munoz all candidates) at the bottom of the lineup.

Lineup: (1) Alex Verdugo, RF; (2) Rafael Devers, 3B; (3) Xander Bogaerts, SS; (4) J.D. Martinez, DH; (5) Christian Vazquez, C; (6) Bobby Dalbec, 1B; (7) Andrew Benintendi, CF; (8) Adam Duvall, LF; (9) Christian Arroyo, 2B.

Rotation: (1) Chris Sale, LHP; (2) Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP; (3) Nathan Eovaldi, RHP; (4) Free Agent signing; (5) Free Agent Signing. (Tanner Houck, RHP and Nick Pivetta, RHP provide depth).

Bullpen options: (CL) Darwinzon Hernandez, LHP; (SU) Archie Bradley, RHP; (SU) Matt Barnes, RHP; (MR) Phillips Valdez, RHP; (MR) Ryan Brasier, RHP; (MR) Josh Taylor, LHP; (MR) Austin Brice, RHP; (LR) Colton Brewer, RHP.

*Part of me still holds out hope they’ll splash the majority of their cash on one player like George Springer or Trevor Bauer, but Bloom was brought here to be a bargain hunter, so this route is much more likely the one Boston will take this off-season.