Red Sox

Drellich: Red Sox luxury-tax approach looks bad with paltry offense

Drellich: Red Sox luxury-tax approach looks bad with paltry offense

HOUSTON — Has it been worth staying under the luxury tax for Red Sox ownership? Is a first-round embarrassment worth it?

It's strange the Red Sox never came out and had the courage to say it directly: this is what we’re doing. We are staying under the luxury tax threshold, our weak offense without David Ortiz be damned.

You can draw a direct line from the imminent downfall of the 2017 Sox to saving money.

Hitting isn’t all that’s off right now. Through two games of the American League Division Series, every Sox problem can be dismissed with another complaint.

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Sure, the lineup is full of National League featherweights. But with pitching like this, the Sox could never go anywhere anyway. Yeah, that baserunning continues to be frightening, but they’re never on base enough for it to matter, so that’s dumb to focus on. No, Angel Hernandez’s strike zone didn’t help in the early going Friday. But when you’re playing the Superhuman Astros, you think the umpire is really going to swing things?

“They've done everything right and we haven't done anything right,” Dustin Pedroia said Friday.

That about sums it up.

But if you want the chicken-and-the-egg discussion, the Sox’ biggest issue is easy to identify. The Astros’ greatest strength, hitting, is the Sox’ weakness. 

"We can’t go out and bang like them and can’t do a lot of things they can do," Mookie Betts said Friday. "But we can do what we can do."

He needed help. This whole lineup did. Dating to last October, everyone figured a slugger was coming to Boston in Big Papi's place: Edwin Encarnacion, specifically.

The Sox went after Chris Sale instead. Not a bad choice. 

But they could have done both. "Instead" didn't have to be an operative word. 

They could have gotten creative and found a way to make Encarnacion’s salary work under the luxury tax threshold, if they were so concerned about staying under. 

And ownership was concerned about staying under. Executives have talked about the benefits of it. But the Sox have never said, "We’re doing this, it is our goal to stay under." They always tried to leave the door to flexibility open.

Why? Why not be direct with your fan base, with the players’ union? Is there something shameful in not spending? With a team this good, maybe.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman didn’t dance around the matter in a recent interview with the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. 

“We are getting under the threshold next year,” Cashman said.

In a sense, the Sox' 2017 offense — the 2017 season — came down to money. It came down to the Sox' preference to avoid the penalties involved with exceeding the luxury tax three straight years. 

Most people, the Sox’ own management included, didn’t expect the kind of offensive drop-off the Sox wound up having. 

But they were dealing with young players who had breakout seasons in 2016 who did not have lengthy track records previously. It’s not stunning Mookie Betts didn’t push Mike Trout in the MVP race again. It’s not stunning Xander Bogaerts had his struggles, or Jackie Bradley Jr. That all of them would have a drop-off is harder to plan for.

But the Sox had the trade deadline to react. The thinking then was the same as it was last winter: stay under that luxury tax threshold. 

Now, it’s not only money that’s at play when you exceed the threshold for multiple years. As explained previously:

The tax for spending more than $195 million this season would be 50 percent for the Red Sox on anything up to $20 million more. In dollars and cents for very wealthy owners, that’s not extreme, although it would commit the Red Sox to the same level of penalties next season.

The steeper penalties come in for teams that really blow past the threshold. In excess of $20 million, you get hit hard; and then one more tier, in excess of $40 million, you get hit the hardest.

If the Sox went above by any amount this year, their offseason could indeed be trickier —  but they wouldn't be destroyed with penalties. 

To sign a player who received a qualifying offer this winter, the Sox would have to give up their second and fifth highest draft selections, and also would see their international signing bonus money reduced by $1 million. If they stay under the threshold, the Sox would give up less to sign the same player.

Similarly, if the Sox lose a qualifying-offer player to another team, they don’t get as high a draft pick in return as they would if they were under the threshold. (Chris Young and Mitch Moreland probably aren't getting qualifying offers, though.)

In short: going over the threshold by $20 million or less doesn't bring the hammer down.

There are worthy reasons to stay under the threshold. But there are also reasons to stay over. And if you're going to stay under, at least get creative enough to cover up for the lack of spending. 

The Sox' greatest stumble this year might have been over a pile of cash.

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Pedroia cleared to start running, progressing well

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Pedroia cleared to start running, progressing well

Dustin Pedroia has been cleared to run following October surgery on his right knee.

“It’s been pretty much what they thought it would be,” Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Thursday. “This is always the time they had told me. So you start running at this point, but that’s just running. So you’re not cutting, you’re not doing all things. We still have two and a half months until opening day. 

“I cant say he would never be ready, but we’re not pushing him for that. I think it’s more important he follows step by step. So you run, then cut, then you pick up the pace. But he’s made very positive strides. But that’s why he’s not going to be there this weekend, with the big crowds and all the treatment he has it’s probably not good for him in case someone would run into him accidentally. But he’s making good strides.”

Pedroia told WEEI this month that he’s eyeing Opening Day. Dombrowski said at Alex Cora’s introductory press conference in November that the Red Sox were targeting May. 

“We think Pedey is going to be back in May at some point right now if you listen to what the doctor has to say," Dombrowski said.

  • Dombrowski expects Mookie Betts and the Sox will wind up at a hearing, as assistant general manager Brian O’Halloran also said. The team made clear that if filing numbers were exchanged, a hearing would follow. That’s called a “file and go” approach, or “file and trial” or “file to go.” The Sox don’t employ the approach universally — they exchanged numbers with Drew Pomeranz before settling last year — but it is the approach they’re taking with Betts. A panel of arbitrators will decide if he makes $10.5 million, as Betts filed for, or $7.5 million, as the Red Sox filed for (barring an unexpected settlement before then).

 

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Jackie Bradley Jr.'s 2017 injuries should not be overlooked

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Jackie Bradley Jr.'s 2017 injuries should not be overlooked

It’s well known that Xander Bogaerts was playing hurt for much of 2017. All players in a 162-game season work through multiple injuries, nicks, strains and sometimes worse.

But it has probably gone too far under the radar that Jackie Bradley Jr. was not physically himself last season.

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One of the reasons to believe Bradley can rebound in 2017 — and a reason to advocate keeping a cost-controlled player who is both comfortable in Boston and immensely talented — is renewed health.

Bradley suffered a right knee sprain in April that put him in a brace through May. He sprained his left thumb in August.

A baseball source with direct knowledge of Bradley’s situation emphasized his injuries did affect him. Bradley, like many players, on Thursday did not want to discuss the extent of his health.

“Y’all know I’m never gonna say anything about that. It’s just not who I am,” Bradley told NBC Sports Boston before accepting the defensive player of the year award at the 79th annual Boston baseball writers awards dinner. “But as a player, you just have to deal. You’re injured. But I felt at the time that I could still help the team out. So I was in a brace. I think once I got it off, it actually was feeling pretty good.

It didn’t linger all year, Bradley said.

“It felt pretty good until the thumb happened,” Bradley said. “But it’s one of those things where nobody’s ever really 100 percent. You grind, and you make the best with what’s due.”

Bradley slashed .245/.323/.402 in 2017 with 17 home runs. That's down from a .267/.349/.486 line with 26 home runs in 2016.

One of the things Bradley wants to do more of in 2018 is steal bases. He stole eight last season after a career-high nine the year before. In the minors, he stole 24 bases in one season (2012, between High-A and Double-A).

“I’ve always wanted to run more and I’m glad he’s going to give me the opportunity to be able to do that more often,” Bradley said of new manager Alex Cora. “I’ve always felt like I can run. I feel like I’ve gotten stronger every year. I’ve been pretty successful on the base paths but I guess certain times situations did not dictate it in the past. The red light was something more of a thing they wanted to do with certain people at bat instead of taking the next base.”

Asked if he considered how his health would play into stealing, Bradley noted the reward available.

“I’ve never gotten hurt stealing,” Bradley said. “I’m not saying there’s not a possibility, obviously there’s a possibility. Guys who steal a ton of bags can attest to that. Jacoby [Ellsbury], Billy [Hamilton], stuff like that. There is risk/reward. But, I feel like the reward outweighs the risk in most cases. I just want to be in scoring position. That’s what I want to be in. I want to help.” Bradley acknowledged that he heard about the trade rumors this offseason.

"Yeah that’s one of those things where you do see it,” Bradley said. “You definitely have family members who are constantly talking to you about it. You know, ‘Well, what if this, what if that?’ 

“Well, what if this what if that? What will be, will be. That has always been my mindset. It’s something that I can’t really control. You know, so, I’m just not going to worry about it. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, I’m perfectly fine. I feel like I’m in a great situation. I feel like I have great teammates. I’m glad to be around them. And like I said, I understand if it did happen, then it’s something that I’ll have to live with.”

Bradley said he and his teammates have not discussed how long they will (or won’t) be together.

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