I’m not afraid of tearing into it. I will see how much Manley rods and Mahle pistons piston rings will cost. The aluminator short block has all mentioned and balanced.Isn't that marginally more than a bare Gen 3 block new from Ford? (Which aren't available anyway?) I'd scarf that up. It does have cast pistons, but I'd think you could swap rods/pistons with something better and recoup some cost selling the new stock stuff and have a home brew Aluminator.
FYI, just turned 5k miles on my build and I was finally able to confirm via oil analysis that the lead I was seeing is from the Sunoco 260GT 100 octane "unleaded". If I can build one, you can too. I wouldn't be afraid of tearing into a new short block.
Did you have a new block ?I think you could easily get rods/pistons/bearings/balance and align hone the mains and probably have some left over. Especially if you can unload the stock stuff that comes out. I did all that for about $400 less than the $2700 price difference you have.
Align hone maybe not needed, but my machinist suggested it.