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Will blockbuster be Boston's next strategy?

@MikeLupica
January 4, 2020

It was almost 15 months ago exactly that the Boston Red Sox were having another Duck Boat parade through the streets of downtown Boston. They had just finished beating the Dodgers in five games in the World Series. They had gone 11-3 in the postseason. Boston had won a total

It was almost 15 months ago exactly that the Boston Red Sox were having another Duck Boat parade through the streets of downtown Boston. They had just finished beating the Dodgers in five games in the World Series. They had gone 11-3 in the postseason. Boston had won a total of 119 games in 2018 and its fourth World Series title since 2004. The Red Sox had the American League Manager of the Year Award winner in Alex Cora. They had the AL MVP Award winner in Mookie Betts. They finished eight games ahead of the Yankees in the AL East.

Now?

Now the Red Sox are coming off a season when the Yankees were 19 games better in the AL East and the Rays were a dozen games better and they are currently not being discussed as a serious contender to do anything except get under the $208 Competitive Balance Tax threshold, which is supposedly one of the front office’s goals this winter.

One of the ways they can do that, well documented across the offseason, is by trading Betts, who is a year away from free agency, and David Price, who is still owned $96 million over the next three years. It means trading one of the great all-around players the Red Sox have ever had and Price, who became one of their great postseason pitching stars in October of 2018.

We see all the time how fast things change in sports. The Red Sox are the best example going right now, even as the team’s ownership group, the Fenway Sports Group, was just listed by Forbes as the third most profitable in sports and first in baseball, even ahead of the Yankees, a franchise valued at $6.6 billion.

Does this all mean the Red Sox really want to deal Betts to the Dodgers, the most rumored landing place for him? It doesn’t. The Red Sox really want to keep Betts. But they know if he isn’t going to want Mike Trout money in his next contract, he is going to want the kind of money Bryce Harper got from the Phillies and Gerrit Cole, a pitcher, just got from the Yankees, who finally decided to treat the Competitive Balance Tax like a speed bump on what they think is the road back to the Canyon of Heroes, and their own parade.

The Red Sox had the highest payroll in 2018 when they won the Series. They still had the highest payroll last season at $229 million $20 million and change over the tax threshold. And John Henry, their principal owner, decided at that point, even as the point man for a $6.6 billion sports entity, that enough was enough. He fired his previous head of baseball ops, Dave Dombrowski, and hired Bloom from the Rays, who had the smallest payroll in the league and still managed to win 96 games and give the Astros all they wanted in a division series.

That’s why it’s still possible, before Spring Training, that the Red Sox and Dodgers might be a fit on a deal if the Dodgers are willing to take Price’s contract in a deal, along with Betts. The Dodgers won 106 games last season the way the Yankees won 103. It wasn’t enough to get the Dodgers their first World Series title since 1988. The Yankees haven't won a Fall Classic since 2009. They spent big to get Cole this offseason. Might the Dodgers be willing to trade big to get Betts and Price? We’re going to find out.

The two teams have made blockbuster deals before, most notably in August of 2012, when the Red Sox were on their way to finishing last and blew things up, trading Adrián Gonzalez and Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers. At the time, Gonzalez was in the first year of a 7-year, $154 million extension, Beckett in the second year of a $68 million extension. Crawford? He was in the second year of a free-agent contract that had scored him seven years and $142 million. They all went away. The money went away. The very next year the Red Sox won the World Series.

Maybe Henry has decided that saving money this time around will work for him again. By the way, this is at a time when, if the Red Sox do exceed the tax threshold for a third straight year, their base rate would rise from 30 percent to 50, and could face surcharges that would raise the rate as high as 62 percent at $228 million (where they were last season), and 95 percent at $248 million (if they tried to spend along with the Yankees).

“We need to get under the CBT,” Henry said when he explained the dismissal of Dombrowski. “We’ve known that for over a year.”

Right now the Sox still have a lineup that includes Betts and J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi. They still have Price and a 19-game winner in Eduardo Rodriguez and Chris Sale, their former ace, even though no one knows what kind of arm they can expect from him.. That’s their team now, anyway. No one is sure what it will look like when they get to Fort Myers next month, and if Betts and Price -- Betts or Price -- will still be with them.

No one is sure who, or what, the Red Sox are right now, 15 months since that last parade. You know about parades like that. They go slow. Things have changed, and fast, with the Boston Red Sox.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.