After a winter bemoaning the state of the penny-pinching, bargain-hunting Red Sox, it probably comes as a surprise to see that the team still boasts baseball's second-highest payroll.
If you're wondering why, it's simple. They're carrying a lot of dead money.
Some of it comes in the form of players still drawing a check despite being elsewhere. Think David Price, Dustin Pedroia, and now Andrew Benintendi, too. But there's also ace Chris Sale, who hasn't pitched since 2019. We're unlikely to see him until June or July while he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Until then, his $25.6 million is empty calories.
Add it all together and the club's $205 million payroll for luxury tax purposes is actually closer to $147 million. And that's not even counting the inevitable injured list stint by $17 million right-hander Nathan Eovaldi or the possibility that oft-injured $10 million starter Garrett Richards also misses time.
A payroll of $147 million actually ranks just slightly above league average, slotting between the profligate Minnesota Twins ($144 million) and Toronto Blue Jays ($151 million), and providing a more accurate depiction of the team's talent level than its relative proximity to the $255 million Los Angeles Dodgers.
The good news is that money is coming off the books. The retired Pedroia's tax hit of $13.75 million is gone after this year. The $2.8 million the Red Sox sent the Royals in the Benintendi trade is a one-time payment. Price is owed $16 million this year and next.
In fact, the only guaranteed money remaining beyond the 2022 season is $27.5 million for Sale and $20 million for Bogaerts, and even that comes with a caveat, since both have opt-outs that winter.
So if you're desperate for the Red Sox to start spending freely on big-time talent again, expect a thaw in 2022 before the floodgates really open in 2023.
In the meantime, how did we get here? It's pretty simple. Former president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski overpaid for pitching.
In committing nearly half a billion dollars to Price ($217 million), Sale ($145 million) and Eovaldi ($68 million), Dombrowski guaranteed over $70 million annually to just three players. When all three got hurt, that expenditure proved seismically destabilizing.
Particularly damaging were the contracts for Sale and Eovaldi, who each signed in the afterglow of the 2018 World Series title despite serious injury risks that soon came due.
Elbow surgery limited Eovaldi to 67.2 innings in 2019, while Tommy John cost Sale all of 2020 and potentially most of 2021. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are subsidizing half of Price's $32 million in each of the next two years with the Dodgers.
Beyond that, the club's contracts are actually reasonable. Bogaerts remains a bargain at $20 million, while J.D. Martinez's $22 million luxury-tax hit should be justifiable if he regains his prior form. Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez is due $8.3 million in his final year of arbitration, and while his return from a COVID-related heart condition will naturally be fraught, that's potentially a small price to pay for a 19-game winner.
After Richards, there isn't another $10 million player on the roster, with reliever Adam Ottavino counting for a little over $8 million against the tax after the Yankees kicked in some of his salary, and versatile infielder Kike Hernandez costing $7 million annually.
Two players who aren't affecting the payroll are former outfielders Rusney Castillo and Manny Ramirez. Castillo is finally off the books after earning $72.5 million to play almost exclusively at Triple-A, where his salary didn't impact the tax. Ramirez, meanwhile, is owed an annual deferred payment of roughly $2 million through 2026, but that money doesn't count against the luxury tax, either.
That's a lot of numbers, so here's the upshot: It may not look like the Red Sox are spending, but in the absence of a big splash this winter, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom spread almost $45 million to half a dozen free agents and a couple of trade acquisitions.
Those moves excited precisely no one, but here's hoping they're simply laying the groundwork for more decadent days to come.