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Alex Speier

Red Sox already leading the league — in money on the bench

Pablo Sandoval was told this week that Travis Shaw will be the Red Sox’ starting third baseman to open the season.
Pablo Sandoval was told this week that Travis Shaw will be the Red Sox’ starting third baseman to open the season.AP

On one hand, it’s not hard to understand the decision by the Red Sox to open the year with both Pablo Sandoval and Rusney Castillo on the bench. Simply put, the team decided that Travis Shaw and Brock Holt represent superior players at this stage of all four players’ careers.

Nonetheless, the idea that Sandoval (who, between his salary and one-fifth of his signing bonus, is calculated as carrying a $17.6 million hit for 2016) and Castillo ($11.3 million) are reserves – and that Allen Craig ($9 million) will collect his paychecks from Pawtucket – offers something of a shock.

The only non-starter in the American League who represents a greater cost to his team than Sandoval and Castillo is Josh Hamilton, whom the Angels are paying $26.4 million this year to play for the Rangers.

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Based on depth charts available at RosterResource.com, Sandoval and Castillo are the second and third most expensive bench players (defined to include a. players in the American League who aren’t starting; b. players like Craig who have been removed from the 40-man roster; and c. players like Hamilton who are getting paid to play elsewhere).

Craig is the sixth most expensive bench player in the AL. And even though he was signed as a frequent part-time player, Chris Young ($6.5 million) represents the 10th-most expensive “bench player” in the American League.

The Red Sox have $48.1 million committed to position players who aren’t starters, easily the largest sum in the American League and $13.2 million more than the Angels. For context, the Sox’ positional reserves will receive roughly 70 percent as much in salary as the entire estimated payroll (per Roster Resource) of the Rays roster ($69.4 million).

Of course, in some ways, the Red Sox are in a position where they can afford both their contractual missteps and the luxury of a talented veteran bench, the latter of which is represented by Young and Ryan Hanigan ($3.75 million salary). The team could afford the additions of David Price and Craig Kimbrel and Young this offseason.

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In doing so, there was an acceptance of the possibility that significant recent investments in Sandoval, Castillo, Rick Porcello, and Hanley Ramirez – four players who will receive roughly $72 million in combined salary this year, more than the entire projected payrolls of the Rays, Marlins, and Brewers – will offer little return.

Pricey pine
Projected bench means players expected to open season as bench reserves or remaining salary obligations to either players no longer in the organization (such as the Angels' ongoing payment of Josh Hamilton's contract) or not on the 40-man roster (as with Allen Craig of the Red Sox).
Team Projected bench $* (M) Estimated payroll Bench %
Red Sox 48.1 195.7 24.6%
Angels 34.9 169.6 20.6%
Indians 29 89.4 32.4%
Rays 18 69.4 25.9%
Athletics 16.8 89.3 18.8%
Tigers 9.9 201.2 4.9%
Orioles 8.1 151.3 5.4%
Yankees 7.8 219.1 3.6%
Blue Jays 6.4 141.1 4.5%
Astros 5.9 99.6 5.9%
White Sox 5.6 119.2 4.7%
Mariners 3.5 145.8 2.4%
Rangers 3.2 161.6 2.0%
Twins 3.1 109.2 2.8%
Royals 2.6 140.4 1.9%
Average 13.5 140.1 10.7%
SOURCE: Alex Speier; rosterresource.com; Cot's Contracts

Because of their sizable budget, the Sox – whose bench will account for 24.6 percent of their projected payroll – won’t have the largest chunk of their projected 2016 payroll dedicated to non-starters. That honor will fall instead to the Indians, who are spending $29 million (32.4 percent) of their projected $89.4 million payroll on non-starters, including $22 million in salary for three players (Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Chris Johnson) who are no longer in the organization.

The Rays, who are set to part with James Loney, are spending $18 million (25.9 percent of their payroll) on salaries for non-starters.

So, the Red Sox aren’t as constrained by extravagant expenditures for “bench” players as other teams might be. One of the foremost advantages of financial might is the ability to afford mistakes without being shackled by them.

Nonetheless, the fact that Sandoval and Castillo now occupy reserve roles underscores the notion that pure financial might is hardly a guarantee of success, and that money spent is not nearly as valuable as money spent wisely.

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Most expensive non-starters
All figures in millions. * - Either salary for bench player or subsidy paid to another team to fund trade; ** - Player no longer with organization.
Josh Hamilton, Angels
26.4**
Pablo Sandoval, Red Sox
17.6
Rusney Castillo, Red Sox
11.3
Coco Crisp, Athletics
11
James Loney, Rays
9.7
Allen Craig, Red Sox
9
Nick Swisher, Indians
7.5**
Michael Bourn, Indians
7.5**
Chris Johnson, Indians
7**
Chris Young, Red Sox
6.5
SOURCE: Rosterresource.com; Cot's Contracts

Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.