2012 Contract Issues: Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox are next in our 2012 Contract Issues series.  Here's what the team faces after the 2011 season:

Eligible For Free Agency (6)

  • J.D. Drew owns a line of .268/.376/.468 in 2,243 plate appearances as a member of the Red Sox.  Drew has provided value, but he'll be 36 in November and his power is declining.  In March he talked about retirement as a possibility.  There's a good chance the Red Sox look outside the organization for a replacement.
  • Designated hitter David Ortiz had been a slow starter since 2008, but he was decent in April this year and has been killing it in May.  Ortiz wants to finish his career with the Red Sox, but Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports wrote in March that the team is "itching to abandon a full-time DH and initiate a rotation at that position."  Last offseason the decision on Ortiz's option was entirely in the team's hands, but this winter he could field offers elsewhere, especially if the Sox remain reluctant to guarantee two years.
  • Closer Jonathan Papelbon has been dominant, with an 11.8 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 in 20 2/3 innings.  Daniel Bard has been solid, but other possible late-inning holdovers like Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler have not.  Papelbon would be a big loss, but in free agency he figures to seek at least a three-year deal in the $36MM range.  In March, Papelbon told Rosenthal it's "50-50" and "a tossup" that he will remain in Boston.
  • Mike Cameron has served mainly as Drew's platoon partner this year, appearing in 15 games overall.  Cameron hinted to WEEI's Alex Speier that he hasn't ruled out retirement after the season, but now is not the time for that decision.
  • Catcher Jason Varitek told MLB.com's Ian Browne in February he wants to play into his 40s, so he'll probably re-sign as Boston's backup if they'll have him.
  • Tim Wakefield replaced John Lackey in the rotation, though Lackey may come off the DL on June 5th.  Wakefield's stance on retiring after the season seems to have softened, given comments made in October, December, and January.  The active career wins leader by a long shot, Wakefield is only six from 200. 

Contract Options (2)

  • Marco Scutaro: $6MM club option/$3MM player option with a $1.5MM buyout.  Scutaro is often mentioned as a trade candidate.  His club seems likely to decline their end of the option.  In that case Scutaro may prefer to take the buyout and have the flexibility to choose his team.
  • Dan Wheeler: $3MM+ vesting option.  Wheeler has struggled this year in terms of home runs and hits allowed, but his 2012 option vests with 53 more appearances.  A May stint on the disabled list probably means he'll be a free agent after the season.

Arbitration Eligible (9)

Bard, Lowrie, Ellsbury, and Saltalamacchia are the biggest cases here, though the Sox may end up tendering contracts to all but Atchison.  I'll put the group as a whole around $14MM.

2012 Payroll Obligation

Boston's 2012 payroll obligation, according to Cot's, is $126.934MM including Scutaro's buyout.  Throw in $14MM for arbitration eligibles, and we're about $23MM shy of this year's payroll before accounting for minimum salary players.  Possible needs include right field, designated hitter, the rotation, and the bullpen.  It would be hard to add premium players in free agency to fill these needs if the flexibility is around $23MM in 2012 salaries.

Of course, the Red Sox do not calculate payroll in the simplistic way I just did.  Perhaps no team does, but Boston's payroll requires extra maneuvering because of the luxury tax.  Still, the use of AAVs instead of salaries again puts the Sox around $125MM in commitments before arbitration eligibles are accounted for.  I think the Red Sox will have to raise payroll or backload the contract if they are to get involved on, say, C.C. Sabathia.  Perhaps instead of free agency the Red Sox will lean toward trades, where the main expenditure would be prospects rather than money.    

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