For the Red Sox, an unfamiliar mix of uncertainty and possibility hovers over the offseason.
Unless the Sox find common ground with Xander Bogaerts on a revised deal this month, the shortstop will opt out of his $20 million-per-year contract after the World Series. Longtime stalwarts J.D. Martinez and Nate Eovaldi have arrived at free agency, leaving considerable holes but allowing the team to deploy the $36 million the duo made this past season.
The $16 million per year owed by the Red Sox to the Dodgers for David Price? Finally done. Meanwhile, several other players who had been under contract this past season — Jackie Bradley Jr., Michael Wacha, Rich Hill, Hirokazu Sawamura, and plenty of others — are off the books.
From a luxury-tax standpoint, the Sox have more than $120 million coming free. That’s not entirely good news for the team given that Bogaerts, Wacha, Hill, and others outperformed their deals in 2022 and the Sox will have to replace their production (or pay more to retain them) while also looking to upgrade the rest of a roster that finished in last place in the American League East.
But the amount of salary in expiring contracts gives some sense of the freedom that the Sox have when contemplating moves. This is an offseason in which the Red Sox can and should consider a broad range of possibilities, beginning with Bogaerts but certainly not stopping with him.
The Sox expect to pursue players who haven’t been on their radar in recent years, particularly pitchers. To date, the team’s biggest investment in an arm under chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was the one-year, $10 million deal for Garrett Richards prior to the 2021 season.
|SP2||Nick Pivetta||4.5||Arbitration estimate|
|SP4||Brayan Bello||0.75||Pre-arbitration estimate|
|R2||Ryan Brasier||1.5||Arbitration estimate|
|R3||Tanner Houck||0.75||Pre-arbitration estimate|
|R4||John Schreiber||0.75||Pre-arbitration estimate|
|R5||Kutter Crawford||0.75||Pre-arbitration estimate|
|1B||Triston Casas||0.75||Pre-arbitration estimate|
|SS||??||Assuming Bogaerts opts out|
|3B||Rafael Devers||17||Arbitration estimate|
|RF||Alex Verdugo||6||Arbitration estimate|
|C||Reese McGuire||1.2||Arbitration estimate|
|2B/SS||Christian Arroyo||2||Arbitration estimate|
|OF||Rob Refsnyder||2||Arbitration estimate|
|Position group||Total payroll figure|
|Minor league 4-man||2|
|Luxury tax threshold||233|
|Room under the threshold||91.6375|
According to major league sources, the Sox made no meaningful efforts to engage with top-of-the-rotation options such as Kevin Gausman, Max Scherzer, and Carlos Rodón last offseason. This offseason, both because of money available and what the Sox see as improved depth (thanks to the emergence of Brayan Bello and Kutter Crawford, among others), the Sox feel like they are positioned to explore moves to pursue a different caliber of pitchers this winter — something that is necessary after the team forged a 4.53 ERA that ranked sixth-worst in the big leagues.
“We’re going to be considering a little bit different set of possibilities,” Bloom said of the team’s pitching plans. ”[Improved depth] should allow us to also look at guys that can slot in and provide an impact, whether that’s beginning of the game or at the end of the game. That’s definitely going to be a focus of ours.”
This year, the Sox spent a little less than $235 million as calculated for luxury-tax purposes, slightly beyond the $230 million threshold. Of the six teams (Mets, Dodgers, Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Padres) to surpass that penalty line, only the Sox missed the playoffs.
In other words, the Sox had the resource commitments of a playoff team without fielding a playoff-caliber roster. Too much of the payroll went to players who offered little to no return — in particular, the $47.4 million that went to Chris Sale, Price, and James Paxton, who pitched a combined 5⅔ innings for the Red Sox this year.
|Player||2022 salary ($M)||Note|
|Xander Bogaerts||20||If he opts out|
|J.D. Martinez||19.375||Free agent|
|Nate Eovaldi||17||Free agent|
|David Price||16||The Sox had paid down $16 million of Price's salary each year after trading him to the Dodgers. His deal is now done, as is Boston's payment to LA.|
|Jackie Bradley Jr.||12||Released in August|
|Michael Wacha||7||Free agent|
|Christian Vázquez||6.75||Traded in July|
|James Paxton||5.8||Has a $4M player option. The Sox are not expected to pick up the two-year, $26 million team option after Paxton did not pitch in the big leagues this year.|
|Rich Hill||5.5||Free agent|
|Jake Diekman||4||Traded to the White Sox|
|Matt Strahm||3||Free agent|
|Hansel Robles||2.25||Released in July|
|Kevin Plawecki||2.25||Released in September|
|Travis Shaw||1.5||Released in April|
|Hirokazu Sawamura||1.2||Released in September|
Even so, those disappointing returns won’t deter aggressive spending this winter.
“The commitment to spending has been there. How those resources have been allocated, the underperformance, just not getting it done, that’s on us,” said Red Sox CEO and president Sam Kennedy. “We’re responsible for that. We’ve had the commitment to spend in all areas and I do not see that changing moving forward. We just need to be better.”
During the past 20 seasons, the Red Sox have spent beyond the luxury-tax threshold 11 times while typically coming close to it in the other nine seasons. In 2023, the threshold is set at $233 million.
That figure is set by a combination of guaranteed contracts for players such as Trevor Story and Garrett Whitlock; arbitration raises for Rafael Devers and Nick Pivetta; small bumps for pre-arbitration-eligible players such as Tanner Houck; roughly $19 million in benefits and bonuses for pre-arbitration-eligible players that every team must pay; minor leaguers who are on the 40-man roster; and money set aside for in-season moves.
Based on estimates for arbitration- and pre-arbitration-eligible players, the Sox appear to have more than $90 million to spend before they’d hit the luxury-tax threshold. And, of course, the team is free to spend beyond that mark, as it did by a small amount ($4.5 million) in 2022 and by a huge amount on the way to a 2018 title ($42.5 million).
Of course, financial flexibility is a double-edged sword when it comes as a result of a roster that has numerous holes to fill. The team must determine Bogaerts’s future and find his replacement if he departs, add at least one starting pitcher (with a likely preference to add a swingman, as well), multiple relievers, a catcher, at least one outfielder, perhaps a designated hitter … not to mention a potential effort to sign Devers to a long-term deal.
Ever since Bloom arrived, the Red Sox have been working to reconfigure their roster to gain long-term financial flexibility. They’ve managed to do that, and now must prove that they’re able to use it to pole vault from a last-place campaign to contention.
“We’re excited to tackle all that we have to tackle,” said general manager Brian O’Halloran. “It is a lot but we’re looking forward to it.”
Alex Speier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.