In eye-popping late-September news, the Red Sox top brass told reporters that they aim to get under the luxury tax line for the 2020 campaign. Alex Speier of the Boston Globe (Twitter feed) is among those covering the fascinating statements of principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and president/CEO Sam Kennedy.
There’s loads to unpack here, but the payroll comment is of particular note, because the Boston organization spent over $230MM in each of the past two seasons and already has over $150MM (as calculated for competitive balance tax purposes) committed for 2020 — before accounting for expensive arbitration raises for Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Eduardo Rodriguez.
Dipping under the luxury line to re-set the tax penalty would mean getting south of $208MM. That’s simply not going to be possible without some notable roster changes, even with a number of players departing via free agency. J.D. Martinez is an obvious wild card here, as he’d open a big chunk of change if he opts out of his deal, but that’d also leave a significant hole in the lineup.
So, does that mean Betts is destined to depart? Not at all, per the organizational leadership. Though Betts has made clear time and time again that he’s not interested in an extension, Werner says the team intends to actively pursue further extension talks this winter — and has already reached out to Betts’s agent to get the ball rolling.
Even if Betts remains on the roster, at least for one more campaign, it’s fair to wonder whether the Red Sox are set to begin some kind of reloading effort. The trio denied that they see the upcoming season as a moment to step back from full competitiveness. It remains difficult to imagine a complete rebuild, but it’s equally hard to imagine how the club will compile a truly competitive roster while also drawing down payroll so significantly.
Needless to say, making the difficult tradeoffs that will be required promises to be quite tricky. While the Red Sox say they have ample confidence in the four executives currently guiding the baseball operations department following Dave Dombrowski’s ouster, they plan to seek an experienced general manager to take the helm. That sets up a fascinating outside hiring search, with the organization seeking a tried-and-true baseball ops leader.
The circumstances of Dombrowski’s departure remain a hot topic, particularly given the notable gap between the event and today’s full-scale media availability. Henry explains that differences arose in the immediate aftermath of last year’s World Series win and couldn’t be bridged throughout the ensuing campaign. While some have wondered whether the upheaval at the top could compromise the Boston organization’s ability to lure whatever exec they set their sights upon, Werner suggested that’s not a concern held internally. “I consider this position to be one of the most coveted in all of sports,” he said.