MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — As the Red Sox contemplate how high their payroll will climb for the coming season, Major League Baseball’s luxury tax is not a deterrent.
“It’s obviously not that important,” principal owner John Henry said Friday night, noting the team exceeded all of the tax thresholds en route to winning the World Series last season.
It’s a more a question of how much it makes financial sense for the team.
“You look at what your needs are,” Henry said. “We do have constraints; every team has constraints. It’s not necessarily the [luxury tax] that is your constraint. It’s how much money you’re willing to lose.”
The Red Sox paid an $11.95 million penalty after finishing last season with a team record $239.5 million payroll as calculated for luxury tax purposes.
Henry said the team’s payroll is now close to $246 million, the highest threshold in the tax system. The Sox would be taxed at 45 percent for any amount over that.
The Red Sox return every significant player from last season’s team with the exception of righthanded relievers Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel.
Kelly led the team with 73 appearances before pitching in nine postseason games and allowing one run over 11⅓ innings. He has since signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Kimbrel, who remains a free agent, had a 2.74 earned run average, 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings and 42 saves. Kimbrel pitched poorly in the postseason but converted all six of his save chances.
Beyond Kimbrel, the free agent market is thin unless the Red Sox look to second-tier closers like Brad Brach or Greg Holland.
Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has said he does not expect to make a “high expenditure” on a closer. Manager Alex Cora backed that up, saying he trusts Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier in the ninth inning.
Barnes has two saves in five major league seasons, Brasier none in his two seasons.
Henry said he would not be surprised if Dombrowski made a trade to address the bullpen. Another option would be waiting to see if Kimbrel accepts what the team considers a reasonable deal.
“We made the decision to sign J.D. Martinez in spring training [in 2018],” team chairman Tom Werner said. “That’s like six weeks from today from when we signed him . . . it’s our intention to be strong in all facets.”
Adding to the bullpen, whether it’s Kimbrel or another pitcher, would put the Sox in better position to be the first team to repeat as champions since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000.
When the Sox won the Series in 2013 they finished last a year later and again in ’15.
“So much endurance is required,” Henry said. “It’s difficult to do. It’s difficult to keep your focus. We were very focused last year. I remember in ’13 we were really focused. We weren’t in ’14 and it showed.
“This year is a real test. We know how talented this group is. We saw it in the playoffs. When you test these guys, this is a pretty good group.”
The owners also said it’s a priority to sign American League Most Valuable Player Mookie Betts to a long-term deal.
Betts agreed to a one-year, $20 million deal earlier this month, avoiding an arbitration hearing. The 26-year-old will not become a free agent until after the 2020 season.
“I think [avoiding a hearing] is a positive,” Werner said. “The system of sitting across the table from one of your favorite players and having to argue about how they did last year is not a perfect system by any means.
“He’s one of the great players of our generation. If we have conversations [on an extension], they’ll be private. But it’s our hope that he’ll be a Red Sox player for his whole baseball career.”
Betts has hit .303 with an .888 OPS in five seasons.
Henry and Werner met with reporters just before the start of the team’s annual Winter Weekend event at Foxwoods Resort Casino. Twenty players from the 40-man roster — Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Rick Porcello, and Chris Sale among them — will be on hand.