With the three-way trade that shipped Andrew Benintendi to the Royals, could the Red Sox now re-sign another longtime core contributor?
Don’t count on it. A reunion with free agent Jackie Bradley Jr. remains unlikely, with the Sox having limited room to maneuver while staying under the luxury-tax threshold.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom suggested Wednesday night that the Benintendi deal did not “meaningfully” affect the likelihood of the Red Sox being able to reacquire Bradley.
“We remain hopeful that we’ll be able to find a fit with Jackie and we also recognize that that may not happen,” said Bloom. “We’re going to stay engaged there and see how that plays out, but the two were somewhat separate for us as we looked at this because the fit with [Franchy] Cordero was so clean in terms of how we put our roster together.”
For roster-building purposes, Cordero — a lefthanded hitter who has played all three outfield spots but, at least initially, profiles by default at a corner — simply replaces Benintendi. But with Cordero making $800,000 and Benintendi owed $6.6 million for the coming year, shouldn’t that open a significant amount of payroll for the Red Sox to consider reacquiring Bradley?
Not quite. Benintendi is entering the second season of a two-year, $10 million deal, meaning his average annual value (used to calculate payroll for luxury-tax purposes) is actually $5 million. That immediately reduces the difference between him and Cordero to $4.2 million.
On top of that, the Red Sox, according to a major league source, are sending $2.8 million to the Royals — money that counts against the Red Sox payroll for luxury-tax purposes. So the difference between Benintendi and Cordero is reduced to $1.4 million.
The subsidy of Benintendi’s salary is part of a pattern of maneuvers under Bloom to “buy” prospects. The Sox included money in last year’s deal that sent Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree to the Phillies in order to receive greater prospect return. The Sox included money when dealing Kevin Pillar to the Rockies to net relief prospect Jacob Wallace as well as international amateur bonus-pool cap space.
This winter, the Red Sox acquired righthander Adam Ottavino from the Yankees — a move that gave New York salary relief — in order to bring back Frank German in the deal.
The Red Sox also have an agreement with Japanese reliever Hirokazu Sawamura. A report by Sankei Sports pegged the value of the deal at two years and $2.4 million, with an AAV of $1.2 million. Between the trade of Benintendi and the addition of Sawamura, the Red Sox have created just $200,000 in additional payroll room for luxury-tax purposes.
Without additional room, the Red Sox are pushing near the $210 million luxury-tax threshold for the coming year. They have roughly $200 million in commitments: the projected 26-player roster (about $150 million); Dustin Pedroia’s AAV ($13.3 million — and yes, it counts even though he’s retired); money owed to the Dodgers to cover David Price ($16 million) and to the Royals for Benintendi ($2.8 million); minor leaguers on the 40-man roster (about $2 million); and player benefits as outlined under the CBA (roughly $16 million per team).
Teams also have to budget for call-ups, in-season depth moves (waiver claims, signings, etc.), and potential bonuses that would count against the luxury-tax payroll. They set aside about $5 million for that. So the Sox’ payroll sits at about $205 million — about $5 million below the threshold.
Perhaps the Sox will look to add a lefthanded bench bat as a complement to Bobby Dalbec. But they likely want to preserve at least a few million dollars for in-season trades — whether to bolster their chances of reaching the postseason or buy more prospects even while trading away big leaguers if they’re struggling.
There’s no requirement that teams stay under the luxury-tax threshold; it’s a choice rather than an obligation. Nonetheless, teams tend to push past the threshold — and incur the modest financial hit along with potential draft and international amateur penalties — only if they believe that doing so will dramatically change their outlook.
Would the Sox be a better team with Bradley back in center, Alex Verdugo in right, and Cordero splitting time with Hunter Renfroe in left? Yes. As Bloom noted, Bradley is still a theoretical fit. Would they be a likely threat to the Yankees in the AL East? Probably not.
Under those circumstances — and with center fielder Jarren Duran waiting in the wings in Triple A — it’s hard to see a reunion of Bradley and the Red Sox, barring a shocking scenario in which the longtime outfield anchor takes a deal of just a few million dollars guaranteed.
As he comes off a strong 2020 campaign, and with no other available center-field options in free agency, Bradley should see a better multiyear deal in free agency than the Red Sox are likely to offer. As Bloom noted, the trade of Benintendi doesn’t meaningfully change that, and instead only reinforces the idea that the Red Sox are in a period of massive roster transformation.