July 31 looms as a date of considerable fascination on the baseball calendar, yet for the Red Sox, it's a bit of a misnomer to call it a trade deadline. The Red Sox aren't trying to bolster their roster for the stretch run of 2015, and their potential chips who are signed to contracts that expire at the end of this season a) have modest trade value and b) likely can be moved in August if the immediate return for them seems inadequate.
Nonetheless, the Red Sox' plummet in the standings since the All-Star break has indeed trained the team's gaze squarely on 2016. But as much focus as there has been on whom the Sox might move – will they deal pending free agents like Mike Napoli, Alejandro De Aza, and Justin Masterson by Friday? Will they consider moving players who remain under team control like Brock Holt, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, or Wade Miley? Minor leaguers like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Manuel Margot? – those questions need to be asked in the context of the team's needs for next season along with its resources.
After all, it's one thing to make a move now to solidify the rotation, for instance, if the team is crashing up against a payroll ceiling for next season. However, if not, then the trade deadline represents merely one opportunity in a world of different pathways, with the Red Sox getting a chance to weigh the value of trading for 2016 pieces right now or waiting until the offseason to consummate deals – whether trades or free agent signings, particularly in a market that might be loaded with free agent pitchers – that address team needs for next year.
That being the case, as the Red Sox contemplate possible moves over the next two days, it's worth looking ahead at the state of the team as it prepares for 2016, beginning with the team's financial resources.
The Sox have nine players signed to multi-year, guaranteed deals that extend into 2016, though for practical purposes (and luxury tax calculations), Allen Craig isn't a part of that group, since he's been outrighted off the 40-man roster. The other eight players – Hanley Ramirez, Rick Porcello, Pablo Sandoval, Dustin Pedroia, Rusney Castillo, Koji Uehara, Wade Miley, and Ryan Hanigan – are owed approximately $105 million for 2016.
Additionally, the Red Sox hold team options on both Clay Buchholz and David Ortiz, with Ortiz's team option vesting (and increasing) and becoming guaranteed at 425 plate appearances if he passes a season-ending physical. Buchholz's $13 million option is calculated at $11.7 million for luxury tax purposes. Ortiz's $10 million option, meanwhile, can escalate up to $16 million based on his plate appearances this year. He's currently on pace for 619 plate appearances, which would kick in all of his escalators and result in a $16 million salary for next year.
The Sox are almost certain to exercise their options on both Buchholz and Ortiz, and there's a likelihood that they'll end up on the hook for about $27 million or $28 million for that duo. The Sox also have a half-dozen arbitration-eligible players (not all of whom will necessarily remain on the 40-man roster) – Junichi Tazawa, Daniel Nava, Alexi Ogando, Joe Kelly, Anthony Varvaro, and Robbie Ross Jr. – who could end up representing about $10 million in salary. Between the options and arbitration-eligible players, a ballpark estimate of the Red Sox' commitments for 2016 would be about $140 million to $145 million.
The Sox then have a wealth of players who are not yet arbitration-eligible, with players like Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Brock Holt representing extreme bargains given their near-minimum salaries. The Sox currently have a dozen players on their big league roster (including the DL) who are not yet arbitration eligible; barring extensions, that group will likely pull in just less than $7 million next year. Beyond that, the team will have to pay about $13 million in medical benefits while earmarking about $10 million for minor leaguers on the 40-man roster, depth callups and midyear signings, along with players added via trades.
As of now, then, the Red Sox have about $170 million or $175 million in commitments for next year, barring a trade of players under team control for next year. That leaves the team about $15 million or $20 million before it bumps against the $189 million luxury tax threshold, and something more like $25 million or $30 million if it plans on coming closer to $200 million in commitments.
That would suggest some payroll flexibility for the coming offseason, when the team is likely going to need to shop for at least one starter, one or more bullpen pieces, and perhaps a corner bat (at first, left field, or third base, depending on the team's long-term positional views of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez). Still, it likely would require a bit of a stretch – or an increase in payroll – to address all of the team's key needs via free agency without at least some solutions on the trade market.
Moreover, the team has limited relief from its long-term commitments in coming years. Players like Sandoval, Ramirez, and Porcello will remain on the books as young core members like Betts and Bogaerts become more expensive. That reality, as much as general objections to longer-term deals for pitchers in their 30s, may limit the team's interest in deals for the best free agents such as David Price and Johnny Cueto.
The takeaway? The Red Sox will be in position to play to some degree in the free agent market this winter, but it's hard to imagine the Sox achieving something akin to its 2012-13 offseason, when it upgraded almost solely through the free agent market. The team has money to spend in free agency but not so much that it can rely exclusively on that roster-building mechanism. If a well-rounded roster is to be forged, it's hard to imagine the team doing so without diving into the trade market – regardless of whether it's before Friday's trade deadline or during the offseason.
|Player||2016 Salary||2016 AAV|
|9 players (8 on 40-man)||110.2||104.775|
|Robbie Ross Jr.||0.567|
|TEAM CONTROL PRE-ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE|
|Jackie Bradley Jr.||0.528|
|MINOR LEAGUERS ON 40-MAN|
|CANDIDATES TO BE ADDED TO 40-MAN|
|Commitment||Players||2016 $ M|
|Major lg pre-arb||12||6.7||Estimate|
|Minor lg 40-man||1.2|
|LUXURY TAX THRESHOLD||189|
|(WITH ORTIZ OPTION AT $16M)||172.4|
|$ UNDER THRESHOLD (APPROX)||-22.6|
|(WITH ORTIZ AT $16M)||-16.6|
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.