scorecardresearch Skip to main content
Sunday baseball notes

Competitive balance concerns some baseball owners, but they are partially to blame

Having grown tired of losing, Red Sox owner John Henry (right) hired Dave Dombrowski as president of baseball operations in 2015 and gave him a mandate to win.John Tlumacki

As the Blue Jays, Padres, and Phillies push their payrolls beyond $240 million, competitive balance is a growing concern among some owners. John Henry is among them.

“I believe the vast majority of players, agents, and clubs dislike baseball’s economic system,” the principal owner of the Red Sox told Boston Sports Journal in an e-mail.

Henry, who also owns the Globe, is in position to address the situation. He is one of the owners on an economic reform committee assembled by Major League Baseball.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said earlier this month that a minimum payroll would be one way to address payroll disparity. Left unsaid is such a measure would likely be paired with a payroll ceiling, something the Players Association would never accept.


Henry is partially to blame for what now worries him.

Having grown tired of losing, Henry hired Dave Dombrowski as president of baseball operations in 2015 and gave him a mandate to win.

By 2018, the team’s payroll climbed 20 percent to $239.5 million, the highest in the game, after Dombrowski acquired Craig Kimbrel, J.D. Martinez, David Price, Chris Sale, and other stars.

It worked. The Sox won 108 games and rolled to a World Series title.

Other owners took note. Under Peter Seidler, the Padres have jumped their luxury-tax payroll 88 percent in the last five years. The Padres are a small-market team with big dreams.

“We’re here to win a title. That’s what I expect. I don’t spend too much time, if any, thinking about what other people are thinking,” Seidler said.

“Truly, I care about what we’re thinking in this room in San Diego. To me, it just feels great. We believe we have a great chance to go after that trophy and to deliver San Diego its first parade.”

Steve Cohen purchased the Mets late in the 2020 season. Their payroll has climbed by 92 percent since, to a whopping $370.5 million.


“I was a little surprised that the prices had gone up for players more than I would have guessed, so it’s a fluid situation,” Cohen said.

“But I’m really pleased with how it turned out. We had a lot of free agents and a lot of people to replace, so it really turned out well. I am really excited by this team.”

Edward Rogers, whose company owns the Blue Jays, has approved of an 89 percent hike since 2019.

The Phillies have raised their payroll 28 percent since 2019, to a team-record $246.2 million.

Like Henry, Phillies owner John Middleton hired Dombrowski to run his team and approved of high-priced additions such as Kyle Schwarber and Trea Turner. Middleton is unabashed in his desire to bring a championship to Philadelphia.

The Phillies' John Middleton is one of the owners with few reservations about going all-in.Chris Szagola/Associated Press

“How much did the ‘27 Yankees make? Or the ‘29 A’s? Or the ‘75-76 Big Red Machine. Does anybody know? Does anybody care?” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Nobody knows or cares whether any of them made any money or not. And nobody cares about whether I make money or not.

“If my legacy is that I didn’t lose any money owning a baseball team on an annual operating basis, that’s a pretty sad legacy. It’s about putting trophies in the cases.”

Henry has put four trophies in the case during his tenure with the Sox. His legacy is secured. Whatever happens next, he’s the best owner the Red Sox have ever had.


Cohen, Middleton, Rogers, and Seidler have no trophies. Can you blame them for following Henry’s 2018 blueprint?

The Mets (1986), Phillies (2008), and Blue Jays (1993) have gone generations since winning the World Series. The Padres have never won.

Ask fans in those cities if they’re concerned about payroll imbalance. The Yankees outbidding the Giants for Aaron Judge was a good thing for baseball. Teams should not feel star players are an impediment to success, as the Red Sox did with Mookie Betts.

Rockies owner Dick Monfort, whose team has finished fourth or fifth in nine of the last 12 seasons, sees aggressive owners as a problem.

“That puts a lot of pressure [on the Rockies],” Monfort said at a fan event in January. “But it’s not just the Padres, it’s the Mets, it’s the Phillies. This has been an interesting year.

“What the Padres are doing, I don’t 100 percent agree with, though I know that our fans probably agree with it. We’ll see how it works out.”

Owners who want to win aren’t baseball’s problem. They should be celebrated for drawing attention to the sport.

Teams such as the Rockies, Athletics, Orioles, Marlins, Pirates, Reds, and Royals are the real problem because they’re comfortable not winning.

Henry fired Dombrowski in 2019 and the payroll has dropped by nearly $36 million since as Chaim Bloom steers toward what he believes will be sustainable success.

The Red Sox have finished last in two of the last three seasons and are projected to miss the playoffs again.


History tells us Henry will grow impatient if the Sox continue to lose and make changes. But this time, there will be more competition.


Can Hernández find success at shortstop?

Kike Hernandez is sharpening his skills at shortstop this spring.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Rival evaluators wonder if Kiké Hernández can handle shortstop for the Red Sox over the course of a long season.

After watching a few weeks of spring training, Alex Cora is convinced he can.

“He’s really good defensively,” the manager said. “His range, the arm, the instincts. He’s a good one.”

Hernández has started only 47 major league games at shortstop, 10 in the last three years.

“It’s probably better for him health-wise than center field,” a scout said. “But it’ll be interesting because middle infielders will be asked to do a lot more and cover more ground with the new rules.”

Even if Trevor Story is able to return in the second half, it’s likely to be as a DH. For the Sox to be competitive this season, Hernández must be able to hold down shortstop. The alternative is injury-prone Adalberto Mondesí, who has yet to participate in drills as he recovers from knee surgery.

A few other observations on the Red Sox:

▪ Team president Sam Kennedy gave what some proclaimed was a vote of confidence to Chaim Bloom on Monday when he said, “Chaim is our chief baseball officer and we do not anticipate any changes there.”

Sounds good. But “anticipate” is a nice way of saying “unless we come in last place again.”


Dustin Pedroia on the new anti-shift rules for infielders: “I’m sure some guys will like it; some won’t. You’ve got to have range now as an infielder. You’ve got to be able to catch the ball; you’ve got to be quick. It’ll be an adjustment for some guys and it’ll make other guys better.”

Brian Snitker, who managed Adam Duvall for five seasons in Atlanta, believes he will be an above-average center fielder.

“When we won the World Series [in 2021] he was our center fielder. He’s more than capable,” Snitker said. “He’s a really, really good outfielder no matter where you put him. He’ll be able to handle center fielder very well.”

Duvall has played far more left field (566 games) than center (75) in his nine-year career. The big question will be how well he adapts to playing at Fenway Park, where a center fielder has tricky angles to contend with.

“He’ll hit for Boston, too,” Snitker said. “I root for him so hard. He’s a wonderful person.”

Jarren Duran has arrived in Fort Myers stronger than ever.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Jarren Duran, who was ripped to begin with, looks like an NFL cornerback now.

▪ MLB Network assembled a list of the 100 best current players. Rafael Devers was the lone Red Sox.

Other teams with one or fewer selections: Athletics, Cubs, Giants, Nationals, Pirates, Reds, Rockies, Royals, and Tigers. The Yankees had six and the Blue Jays seven.

▪ When the Sox had their first full-squad meeting, senior vice president of community, alumni, and player relations Pam Kenn spoke passionately about the need for players to be more active in the community.

It was a message that needed to be sent. In recent years, Sox players have largely vanished from community service outside of what amounts to mandatory appearances for events such as The Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon.

▪ I asked three Sox coaches what young players have impressed them in camp. All three mentioned 22-year-old Ceddanne Rafaela of Curaçao.

One mentioned his power in batting practice, two others his advanced skills defensively.

“He’s a good defender at shortstop. He’s a great defender in center field. It’s plus-plus,” Cora said. “He’s really good. He makes the tough plays look easy. He has a great arm, good instincts. He moves well.

“Offensively there’s a few things we have to get better at: controlling the strike zone, chase rate and all that. He’s working on it.” Rafaela’s full name is Ceddanne Chipper Nicasio Marte Rafaela.

His mother, Rechilena, was a softball third baseman and named him after Hall of Famer Chipper Jones.

“Everybody in Curacao loves Andruw Jones and watched Braves games,” Rafaela said. “My mom became a fan of Chipper, too.”

▪ The Sox hired Pedro Ciriaco as an instructor with the Dominican Summer League teams. Back in the forgettable 2012 season. Ciriaco was a surprise bright spot, hitting .293 with a .705 OPS in 76 games.

He had a knack for seeing-eye singles (as a .352 batting average on balls in play would attest to) and became a bit of a fan favorite. Alas, Ciriaco hit .210 in 2013 and was traded to the Padres in June.

He’s 37 now and getting his first shot at coaching.


Betts is back on the dirt

Mookie Betts is another regular outfielder breaking out his infield glove again.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Team USA plans to use Mookie Betts at second base during the World Baseball Classic, according to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. Betts is also likely to get some games there during the season.

Betts started 10 games at second base over the 2021-22 seasons for the Dodgers, largely as a way to keep him in the lineup when he was working through lower-body injuries.

Now it’s more of a necessity. The Dodgers are likely to keep only one backup infielder, Miguel Rojas, and Betts will be needed to fill in on occasion. He’s all for it and has taken grounders in spring training.

Betts was drafted as a second baseman by the Red Sox and played there in his first two minor league seasons before shifting to center field in 2014. The Sox had a healthy Dustin Pedroia at second base at the time.

Betts has since won six Gold Gloves as a right fielder.

Over 228 career innings at second base, metrics shows Betts to be an average defender. Roberts said it wouldn’t surprise him if Betts finished his career at second to save him from so much running in the outfield.

Betts also has 212 major league starts in center field. Going back to his time in the minors he’s never had even one inning in left field.

Extra bases

Pirates general manager Ben Cherington on his plans for Rich Hill, who turns 43 next month: “Start as many times as he can.” Cherington was GM of the Red Sox in 2015 when Hill was signed as a minor league free agent and turned his career around. “I literally hadn’t spoken to him since 2015 until this winter,” Cherington said. “I’m getting to know him now. It’s been fun.” The Pirates believe Hill’s work ethic and attention to detail will provide a good example for their younger pitchers. “He cares about the game. He cares about winning. He cares about preparing the right way. Just do all those things, he’ll be a great model for our guys.” Cherington said Hill had minor surgery to clean up some elbow issues after last season … Christian Vázquez is “doing great” at Twins camp, according to manager Rocco Baldelli. “When your catcher brings that type of intensity and that type of respect from his teammates, which I’ve seen from across the field, sending him out to work with your guys every day is a pretty good feeling. I’m sure it’ll take some time to completely adjust, but he has gotten off on the right foot.” … Northeastern center fielder Mike Sirota has a bright future. The Queens, N.Y., native had a .922 OPS as a freshman and impressed scouts with his play in the Cape Cod League. Baseball America lists him among their top 20 prospects for the 2024 draft. Sirota could join Carlos Pena (1998) and Adam Ottavino (2006) as first-round picks from Huntington Ave. … Name to remember: Mississippi State freshman Jurrangelo Cijntje. The 19-year-old freshman is a switch-pitcher who can throw up to 97 miles per hour with his right arm and in the lower 90s with his left. He was an 18th-round draft pick by the Brewers last year but elected to attend college. MLB hasn’t had a switch-pitcher since Pat Venditte appeared in 61 games from 2015-20 … Justin Dunn can’t catch a break. The former Boston College righthander seems certain to open the season on the injured list with shoulder pain, according to Reds manager David Bell. The issue dates to 2021, when Dunn was with the Mariners. Dunn was 4-1 with a 4.13 ERA in his first 14 major league starts but has started only 18 games since the start of the ‘21 season … Former Red Sox prospect Mauricio Dubon reported to Astros camp at 190 pounds. He was 165 when they obtained him from the Giants last May. Dubon was terrible offensively last season (a .565 OPS over 265 plate appearances) and Houston believes the extra strength will improve that. He started games at six positions last season … In the latest example of teams unnecessarily angering their players, the Blue Jays renewed Alek Manoah’s contract with only a $50,000 raise after he went 16-7 with a 2.24 ERA over 31 starts and finished third in the Cy Young voting … Belated best wishes to the family and friends of Art Plante, who died over the winter. Plante was the founder of the Red Sox fan club at The Villages in Florida. The group hosted a large number of Sox players over the years … Happy birthday to Jack Brohamer, who is 73. The utility infielder played for the Red Sox from 1978-80, appearing in 166 games. Brohamer started the famed tiebreaker game against the Yankees in 1978 and had a successful bunt in the third inning to put George Scott at third with one out and the Sox up, 1-0. Alas, Rick Burleson grounded out with the infield in and Jerry Remy was retired on a fly ball. Brohamer was playing third base when Bucky Dent homered. After his baseball career, Brohamer became a police detective in California.

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him @PeteAbe.