“If we play up to our capabilities we will easily make the playoffs. That’s how I see it,” Red Sox principal owner John Henry told WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford in London this weekend before Boston’s two-game series with the Yankees. The Sox dropped both of those games to fall 11 games behind New York in the AL East standings, and two games out of an AL wild card slot.
At just 44-40 on the season, the Sox are far behind the pace set by their 2018 World Series team, which won 108 games in the regular season and then went 11-3 in the playoffs to capture the franchise’s fourth Commissioner’s Trophy since 2004. The Red Sox haven’t won back-to-back titles, however, and Henry noted that following up a championship run has been a challenge.
While this year’s Red Sox seem decidedly better than the 2014 team that finished in the AL East basement, Henry noted that in both 2014 and 2019, the club didn’t make many roster alternations over the winter.
“My take is that maybe it isn’t the best thing in the world to bring back the same team in its entirety every time,” Henry said. “You don’t want to break a team down. But maybe a few changes wouldn’t hurt. But the feeling is always different after you win, apparently.”
On paper, there wasn’t really too much for the Sox to address over their quiet offseason, though their lack of bullpen depth was seen as a problem in March and has blossomed into a full-blown concern as we enter July. While Boston’s bullpen and starting pitchers still rank in the top half of the league in most statistical categories (Sox relievers lead the league in K/9), both have been prone to breakdowns at inopportune times. The rotation has been largely carried by David Price and Chris Sale, the latter of whom has looked like his traditionally dominant self after a subpar April. But Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez haven’t pitched well, while the fifth starter’s spot has been a revolving door of shaky performances since Nathan Eovaldi has spent much of the year on the injured list.
A possible answer to these problems, of course, is a big addition or two at the trade deadline, though the Red Sox won’t have much room to maneuver if they are to stay under the $246MM threshold for the maximum luxury tax penalty. The Sox passed this threshold last season, costing the team a little under $12MM in tax payments and a 10-spot drop for their first selection in the 2019 draft.
Between Porcello, Rodriguez, Eovaldi, the injured Dustin Pedroia, underperforming veterans Steve Pearce and Eduardo Nunez, and the $30MM+ in dead money still on the books for Rusney Castillo and Pablo Sandoval, the Sox have roughly $100MM committed to players who have combined for only +0.6 fWAR in 2019.
It should be noted that as per the calculations from Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez, the Sox are again in position to surpass the $246MM threshold, with an estimated luxury tax number of roughly $251.4MM. If the team is indeed over the line with little hope of getting under the $246MM, one could argue that the Red Sox might as well go ahead and spend more in an all-out push for another World Series. MLBTR’s Steve Adams outlined Boston’s financial restraints back in February, and while the Red Sox would face an even stiffer penalty for passing the $246MM limit in consecutive years, a big-market team like Boston is more suited to handling such extra expenses.
This doesn’t appear likely, however, as Henry doesn’t see spending (or a perceived lack of spending) as the problem.
“It’s not a luxury tax issue, it’s a question of how much money do we want to lose,” Henry said. “We’re already over budget and we were substantially over our budget last year and this year. We’re not going to be looking to add a lot of payroll. And it’s hard to imagine fielding a better team. If we play up to our capabilities we’ll be fine. That’s the question: Will we? We’re halfway through and we haven’t….It’s a worthy team because we invested. Two years in a row we have the highest payroll. It’s not a matter of investment, it’s a matter of playing well.“