Red Sox principal owner John Henry addressed several topics related to his team in e-mails with The Athletic’s Jen McCaffrey and The Boston Sports Journal’s Sean McAdam, and in both Q&A responses, Henry pushed back against criticisms of the club’s offseason.
“There’s been a false narrative that we somehow stopped spending — completely unsupported by the facts — that we no longer sign free agents, that we are uninterested in or incapable of winning despite our track record….I don’t think anyone realizes there are 30 teams in these sports every year that are all doing everything they can to win,” Henry wrote in his response to McAdam. “In a particular year some clubs are criticized because they aren’t ’going for it’ when they are going every single thing they can short of destroying their futures to win. You always have to keep an eye on the future. And every team (maybe not the Mets) has a budget. It’s so easy to fall as we did in 2022 to mediocrity. We needed to make changes but we haven’t lost our way.”
In regards to Boston’s own budget, Henry told McCaffrey that the Red Sox weren’t going to increase spending into the $300MM range as response to how teams have operated this winter. The Mets’ whopping $355MM projected payroll leads baseball, and the Yankees and Padres have also opened the checkbook to a large extent this winter, even if both teams are wary of hitting particular luxury-tax penalty tiers.
It has been a busy winter at Fenway Park, with a long list of notable players (i.e. Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Wacha, Rich Hill) departing in free agency. Bloom has been quite active in adding replacements, with such players as Masataka Yoshida, Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen, Chris Martin, Corey Kluber, Adam Duvall, Adalberto Mondesi, and Joely Rodriguez among the notable names brought aboard in signings or trades. In addition, the Red Sox also locked up a cornerstone piece in signing Rafael Devers to a massive extension that will keep the slugger in Beantown through the 2033 season.
Naturally, Henry pointed to the Devers deal as proof that the Red Sox were still open to extending their in-house stars, as well as making long-term commitments to players into their late 30’s. “Clubs, fans, media can all wish players had fewer options and that clubs had unlimited budgets, but players — including those you most want to extend — are often going end up going to free agency,” Henry wrote to McAdam. “Clubs need depth. Every MLB club faces these issues and it isn’t something we enjoy. I hated losing Xander as much as anyone on the planet, but players going to free agency isn’t a new phenomenon. We are faced with difficult choices each offseason.”
With an estimated payroll of just under $193MM, the Red Sox are hardly pinching pennies, and yet that total represents a significant drop from their 2022 year-end payroll of around $221MM. Boston’s luxury tax number is now down to roughly $217.8MM, under the $233MM threshold and also a reduction after the Red Sox just barely surpassed the tax line in 2022. The front office’s decision to stay over the tax line last season drew plenty of criticism, as the Red Sox didn’t make the playoffs, and their status as Competitive Balance Tax payors cost them in terms of draft compensation for Bogaerts and Eovaldi. Because the duo rejected qualifying offers, the Red Sox would’ve received compensatory picks sitting 61st and 62nd overall in the 2023 draft order. Instead, those picks are 119th and 120th overall.
Henry also used the “false narrative” terminology in his response to McCaffrey, saying that Bogaerts’ decision to sign with the Padres was one of “the biggest factors” in some of the discontent expressed by Red Sox Nation. In response to the widely-publicized incident of Henry, president Sam Kennedy, and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom being booed during the team’s Winter Weekend fan event, Henry seemed to imply that media negativity exaggerated the situation, rhetorically asking “did anyone report the standing ovation at the end?”
With all this in mind, Henry didn’t address or seemingly didn’t recognize the chief criticism most Boston fans have about the team’s offseason — not a lack of spending per se, but rather the nature of that spending. Rather than pursue another major name to replace Bogaerts, the Red Sox instead spread their money around to multiple veteran players on short-term contracts. The biggest deal to a new player went to Yoshida (an unknown quantity against MLB competition), and the size of Yoshida’s contract also drew surprised responses from multiple rival executives.
Time will soon tell if Bloom’s strategy has paid off, and obviously a lot of fan criticism will diminish if the Sox get back into contention in 2023. Henry wrote in both e-mails that “no one was happy with” with the team’s 78-84 record last year left, including ownership.
Going into the new season, Henry feels “we are in much better shape than we were after 2021,” when the Red Sox advanced to the ALCS. That year marked the one winning season of Bloom’s three-year tenure as chief baseball officer, but when asked by McAdam about Bloom’s job performance, Henry noted that “baseball operations is more than one person….So a better question is: how is the organization doing?”
“As I said, we haven’t gotten the kind of results you would have expected for the amount of resources deployed over the last four years with the exception of 2021. We’ve been building depth, but we saw little depth last year in the major leagues. You should see some depth this year and improvement. We have had setbacks with injuries already this season, but we expect to be competitive. We are at a different stage than the Yankees are, than Toronto this season….It will be interesting.”