BOSTON — Besides avoiding the overstated acrimony and understated hassle of an arbitration hearing, the Red Sox on Friday arrived in a potentially helpful position for the rest of their offseason.
They know where they stand in terms of financial commitments as they pursue relief pitchers.
By settling on a salary with all their arbitration-eligible players, the Sox have cost certainty. Unlike this time last year, there’s no situation to prepare for where Mookie Betts could make one of two of dollar figures in 2019, several millions apart — the scenario the Sox faced with their star right fielder (and to a lesser extent anyone else) had they no reached an agreement.
Betts, the reigning American League MVP, will in fact make $20 million in 2019, a record for a player arbitration-eligible for the second time.
But by settling on a figure with all twelve players — a few were already handled earlier this offseason, leaving nine to be made official on Friday — the Sox also know how much daylight they have, roughly, between their current payroll and the highest luxury tax threshold of $246 million.
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While no public estimate is ever exactly accurate, Cot’s Contracts pegs the Sox at being at roughly $238 million for luxury tax purposes in 2017. The salaries the Sox settled on Friday keep that number in line, going by the Cot’s estimate. (Average annual value is what matters in luxury tax calculations, not the actual salary that year.)
Is it the end of the world if the Sox surpass the highest luxury tax again in 2019, as they did in 2018? No. It might even be likely, given the state of their bullpen. But whatever the case ends up being, any negotiation they undertake from here on out is a little easier for them because there’s no surprises waiting on an arbitration case yet to be settled
The optics of avoiding any hearings are good for the Sox.
There was a little hubbub in the fan and media sphere last year when the Sox and Betts went to an arbitration hearing. The notion was that the Red Sox — who have long a track record of almost always settling with a player before a hearing — were essentially angering their best talent needlessly.
In reality, the Sox were playing along with the system. Betts won his case, life went on. Going to a hearing again this year — two years in a row — probably would have been gratuitous, though, particularly after Betts not only won an MVP award, but the Sox also won the World Series.
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