With eye on payroll, tough calls await Red Sox
BOSTON -- The offseason is underway for the Red Sox, and it’s going to be an interesting one.
Ownership has stated there is a goal -- not a mandate -- to get the payroll below the first luxury-tax threshold of $208 million. Boston’s payroll was approximately $240 million in 2019.
How the club will get there remains to be seen. Here are the issues -- in FAQ format -- it faces in the meantime.
Which players are free agents?
RHP Rick Porcello, 1B Mitch Moreland, 1B Steve Pearce, INF-OF Brock Holt, RHP Andrew Cashner and RHP Jhoulys Chacín.
Which free agents are most likely to come back?
Invaluable utility man Holt has not only been a rock for the Red Sox on the field, but he’s also their leader in the community. The Sox would like to keep Holt if it is financially feasible, and Holt lives in Boston year-round. Ultimately, however, it will come down to a business decision for both the player and the team. Moreland is another respected veteran who might return if the price is somewhere around the $6.5 million salary he received in each of the last two seasons.
While it initially seemed a foregone conclusion that Porcello would be gone, the fact he had the worst season of his career at least creates the possibility he could return on an incentive-laden, short-term deal. Pearce -- the 2018 World Series MVP -- mentioned last month he might retire. Either way, he doesn’t fit into Boston’s future.
Which players have options, what’s the dollar figure and impact on payroll, and when does it need to be decided upon?
With J.D. Martinez reportedly deciding not to exercise his contract's opt-out clause, the Red Sox will face a difficult challenge in also carrying the salary of superstar Mookie Betts next season. The four-time All-Star avoided arbitration last offseason by agreeing to a $20 million deal and is expected to get a raise via arbitration for the upcoming season. Team president/CEO Sam Kennedy acknowledged last month that “there is a way” to keep both star hitters, but it would be difficult. There’s also a chance Martinez could be traded.
Who might be a non-tender candidate, and when does the club have to make that decision?
The Sox must tender offers to all arbitration-eligible players by Dec. 2. Catcher Sandy Leon hasn’t given the Red Sox much of anything offensively for three straight seasons, so the club could definitely elect to non-tender him after he made $2.475 million in 2019.
The one possible stunner on the non-tender front would be Jackie Bradley Jr., who made $8.5 million in 2018 and is expected to get a raise via arbitration for the upcoming season. Bradley remains an enigma on offense but a gem on defense. If the Sox need to get his salary off the books, it seems more likely they would trade him than non-tender him. Righty Heath Hembree, who missed a big chunk of time with right elbow issues, could also be non-tendered.
What kind of help do they need and will they be active in free agency? Who might they target?
Needs will have a lot to do with how things play out with existing players. The Sox need to fortify a pitching staff that struggled mightily in 2019, particularly in the starting rotation. This will be challenging when you consider that Chris Sale, David Price and Nathan Eovaldi are set to earn a combined $79 million next season. One thing to keep an eye on: If the Sox can trade a couple of players who are on big salaries, could they make a blockbuster with the Mets for Noah Syndergaard? Though the bullpen stabilized in the second half, the Sox will still be on the hunt for some late-inning options.