Remember, if you can, that pre-pandemic world where matters such as the Red Sox’ stated and then de-emphasized desire to dip under the luxury tax line were of the utmost importance. While there are much bigger concerns now, even just in the arena of baseball finances, the luxury line is still of real moment to the Boston organization.
The Red Sox already did the hard work — especially, trading Mookie Betts and David Price — to drive down 2020 salary to the point that the team would not pay competitive balance tax penalties — and, more importantly, would reset its penalty rate for future seasons. Unfortunately, the uncertain nature of the 2020 campaign extends to that effort. If the season is cancelled, it won’t count as a luxury tax year, meaning the Red Sox would still be considered a multi-year offender at the start of the 2021 offseason.
It’s clear, then, what happens if the 2020 season is (reset!) or isn’t (no reset!) played. But what of a partial-season? Alex Speier of the Boston Globe has us covered.
For the 2020 campaign to count for logging luxury tax years, it must continue beyond the August 31st trade deadline. In the even of a mid-season cancellation prior to that time, the Sox will remain in the penalty box. Should MLB find a way to keep its contests going into September (and hopefully beyond), then the Red Sox’ record of excess spending will be expunged in advance of the 2020-21 offseason.
As Speier notes, the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t just altered the schedule. It also modifies what kind of revenue-sharing rebates the Red Sox can anticipate receiving if they avoid another year of repeat offender status. And it changes what kind of spending the club might wish to pursue in free agency this coming winter. Even without the stepped-up tax charges that apply to multi-season tax payors, revenue shortfalls are sure to impact the pursuit of big-ticket players.
While the motivation for the luxury reset isn’t as strong in retrospect as it was at the time, the Sox surely still hope to reap the rewards. So long as the league is still running as of the trade deadline — where some interesting questions may await — they’ll do just that.