Henry clarifies Red Sox's payroll plans

January 12th, 2020

Payroll considerations have dominated conversation around the Red Sox this offseason, but the club's owner says that reports of Boston trying to reduce its payroll for the 2020 season are primarily a media creation.

In an email exchange with The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy, Red Sox principal owner John Henry stated that winning remains the team's primary concern over lowering its payroll beneath the $208 million Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold.

"This focus on [the] CBT resides with the media far more than it does within the Sox," said Henry. "I think every team probably wants to reset at least once every three years -- that's sort of been the history -- but just this week ... I reminded baseball ops that we are focused on competitiveness over the next five years over and above resetting to which they said, 'That's exactly how we've been approaching it.'"

The Red Sox's current payroll stands near $238 million, putting them in danger of paying the penalty for exceeding the $208 million threshold for the third consecutive year. The penalty for clubs that exceed the threshold a third time is a 50% tax rate on any overages. Getting back under the threshold in any single season resets the tax, so the incentive to do so is clear. The Red Sox have paid roughly $25 million in tax payments over the last two years, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. Additionally, the Red Sox were moved down 10 spots in last June's MLB Draft because the club spent more than the maximum $40 million over the CBT threshold in 2018.

Such concerns have created a swirl of rumors in Boston, generating speculation that the club is looking to move stars like Mookie Betts, David Price, Nathan Eovaldi and Jackie Bradley Jr. in trades this offseason in order to get under the tax threshold. But discussions around Betts, who just agreed to a record one-year, $27 million contract to avoid arbitration, in particular, have yet to approach anything beyond cursory exploration.

The remarks stand in contrast to Henry’s comment in September, when he said "This year we need to be under the CBT. That is something we've known for more than a year now." Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy softened that stance a few days later, telling The Boston Globe's Alex Speier that getting under the CBT threshold was "a goal, but not a mandate." The club hired Rays senior vice president Chaim Bloom as its chief baseball officer in October, replacing general manager Dave Dombrowski.

"You seem to think Chaim was brought in to reduce payroll," Henry told Shaughnessy. "That has simply not been the way [Fenway Sports Group] operates here or across the pond [it also owns the Liverpool soccer club in England]. We try to act responsibly so as to be consistently competitive."

The Red Sox have been quiet this Hot Stove season, with left-hander Martín Pérez and infielder José Peraza representing their free-agent acquisitions to this point. It remains to be seen how aggressive Boston will be in reducing its CBT number between now and Opening Day, but Henry's comments this weekend suggest that goal might not be as integral to the club's goals as first thought.