The Red Sox appeared primed to sneak past the $200 million barrier in 2016. Few anticipated that they would take a sledgehammer to that milestone and smash it to bits.
But with the seven-year, $217 million deal for David Price on Tuesday – on top of prior offseason moves for Craig Kimbrel and Chris Young and the decision to exercise the 2016 option on Clay Buchholz – Boston appears positioned to do just that. Right now, the team has 13 players signed to deals for a combined guarantee of just over $180 million.
The team seems likely to feature another 11 players who are either arbitration-eligible or who have not yet qualified for arbitration; their contracts will likely cost in the vicinity of another $12 million. Tack on about $1 million for minor league 40-man roster members, another $13 million or so for Major League Baseball’s medical benefits pool (which also counts against the luxury tax), and a midseason contingency nugget of about $9 million for in-season additions (trades, minor leaguers who are promoted to the big leagues) and the Red Sox currently have the makings of a $215 million roster.
That mark would blow past the team record and come with a tidy tax bill. According to multiple major league sources, the Red Sox are expected to exceed the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2015 – which means that not only will they be taxed on the overage at 17.5 percent, but they’ll also have to pay a steeper penalty of 30 percent for any money spent beyond $189 million in 2016. If they end up with a $215 million payroll, they’d end up paying about another $9 million in luxury taxes – a total layout of approximately $224 million.
The Sox could make a trade to trim those figures slightly. If, for instance, Buchholz is dealt, the team would be looking at something closer to a $203 million payroll with just under a $5 million tax hit. Still, that figure would represent a team payroll record – a sign that, in the wake of three last-place finishes in four years, the organization felt a compulsion to forgo blue-light specials in favor of a splurge at Tiffany’s.
The Red Sox’ willingness to hand out the largest contract ever (by total guarantee and average annual value) for a starter while also acquiring one of the most expensive closers in the game seems like a reversal of sorts. Yet in another sense, it’s consistent with this Red Sox ownership group’s response to disappointment.
After the Game 7 ALCS loss in 2003, the team spent big to add Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke. After the team missed the playoffs in 2006, it loosened its purse strings for Daisuke Matsuzaka, J.D. Drew, and Julio Lugo. A playoff miss in 2010 led to the acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Bobby Jenks. And in the wake of the last-place finish of 2014, the Sox spent big for Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and Rick Porcello.
In short, aside from the offseason of 2012-13, the Red Sox have responded to nearly all seasons that ended in a failure to reach projections with the types of high-end acquisitions meant to reverse course. Obviously, those offseasons have yielded a wide variety of outcomes on the field, but the impetus has been consistent.
As much as the Red Sox have spoken the language of contractual responsibility, they have the money to spend aggressively. After all, the team was prepared to go beyond a $200 million major league payroll in 2015 – and to spend an additional $63 million to sign Yoan Moncada on top of that commitment. The expenditure on Moncada was described by then-CEO/president Larry Lucchino at the time as a willingness “to sacrifice some profits” – but, of course, that’s very different than representing a willingness or need to absorb a loss.
Team president Dave Dombrowski took charge of a baseball operation with incredible resources, both in terms of its prospects and its available money. And clearly, he’s been empowered to use those resources aggressively in an effort to escape the two-year residence in the cellar of the American League East.
|2016 Salary||2016 AAV|
|Player||2015 Salary||2016 projected*|
|Robbie Ross Jr.||0.567||1.1|
|TEAM CONTROL PRE-ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE|
|Player||2015 Salary||2016 projected**|
|Jackie Bradley Jr.||0.528||0.5544|
|Commitment||Players||2016 $ M|
|Major league pre-arb||8||4.6|
|Minor league 40-man||1.2|
|TOTAL LIKELY COMMITMENTS ($M)||215.875|