By Sean McAdam
CHICAGO -- The bad news for the Red Sox? They have lots of improvements to make for next year and risk losing two key players to free agency.
The good news? They should have room in their budget -- assuming they spend close to their payroll figure of this year -- to spend toward making the team a playoff contender again.
For now, the Red Sox are committed to approximately 100.5 million to 12 players for 2011, plus assorted payments on existing buyout clauses and the like.
The team will be rid of deals for Mike Lowell (12 million), Jason Varitek (3 million) and shortstop Julio Lugo (9 million). (Lugo hasn't played for the team since July of 2009, but the Sox were responsible for his contract this season).
In addition, several key players -- including closer Jonathan Papelbon and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury -- are due significant raises through the salary arbitration process. Papelbon will likely get somewhere between 11-12 million, with Ellsbury expected to get somewhere just under 1 million.
Furthermore, if the Sox elect to pick up the 12.5 option for slugger David Ortiz, that would bring the projected payroll to approximately 125 million for 15 players.
That would leave approximately 40 million or so to spend on players acquired from outside the organization, either through trade or free agency -- if, that is, the Sox intend to spend roughly to the level they spent this year.
The budget has not yet been set for 2011, and even when it is, the team is loathe to release details about its spending limits, arguing that making such information public puts the team at a competitive disadvantage.
Until the parameters are known, it's uncertain exactly how many impact free agents the Red Sox might be able to sign.
Re-signing both third baseman Adrian Beltre and catcher Victor Martinez will likely cost the Sox a combined 25 million. If they kept both, would there still be money in the budget to add an impact free-agent outfielder such as Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth?
Both Werth and Crawford are expected to sign long-term deals with an average annual value in excess of 15 million.
Signing Beltre, Martinez and either Crawford or Werth would cost more than 40 million and would cover just 18 roster spots. Factor in another seven players -- even young players without arbitration rights or inexpensive free agents -- would mean another 5-10 million, and carrying the payroll well past 170 million for the first time.
One positive for the Sox -- their starting rotation, though expensive, is a fixed cost for 2011, with all five starters under control.
"When you have to go out and sign starting pitching,'' said one rival executive, ''that's where it really gets costly. They have some holes, but at least they don't have to go out on the free agent pitching market.''
To save payroll, it's possible that the Sox could deal Daisuke Matsuzaka -- due 8 million next season and 10 million in 2012 -- for outfield help, while giving the fifth spot in the rotation to a younger (and far less expensive) option such as Felix Doubront.