Red Sox

Red Sox

BOSTON -- Let the bloodletting begin.

It's hard to form any other takeaway after listening to Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner proclaim their desire to drop below the $208 million luxury-tax threshold for 2020.

Speaking to reporters for the first time since firing president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in early September, Henry made it clear that the team's bloated payroll must be trimmed.

"This year we need to be under the CBT [competitive balance tax] and that was something we've known for more than a year now," he said. "If you don't reset, there are penalties, so we've known for some time now we needed to reset as other clubs have done."

With the correlation between spending and winning no longer as one-to-one as it was 15 years ago, the Red Sox see an opportunity to get leaner. As it stands now, their hands are largely tied by the $80 million annually they've committed to unreliable starters Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi. Meanwhile, the A's and Rays are headed to the postseason despite two of the bottom-six payrolls in baseball.

Though Henry and Werner left open the possibility of spending beyond the tax, their intentions sounded pretty clear.

"One of the things we observe and I think we all observe is, first of all, there are teams that make the postseason with half the payroll the Red Sox have," Werner said. "Look at the success Oakland has had this year and the Milwaukee Brewers. And we have resources. And I would just like to say that while we would like to get under the competitive balance tax threshold, we have had years we've been above it, we've had years where we were below it. There may be certain circumstances that we exceed it. Obviously, there are penalties to exceeding it, but it's not that we go into a room and say it has to be a certain dollar number."

 

Added Henry: "I want to answer by saying our real intention is to be competitive every year and we'll do whatever we have to do to do that. The solution to that isn't always having the highest payroll in baseball."

The task of dropping below $208 million is a daunting one. The Red Sox have about $220 million committed to 16 players, assuming they keep each of their arbitration-eligible players except catcher Sandy Leon and Steven Wright, extend or got to arbitration with Betts, and retain DH J.D. Martinez.

That includes second baseman Dustin Pedroia ($13.75 million), whose career is almost certainly over, and center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who is due more than $10 million in arbitration and could be jettisoned.

The Red Sox won't keep all 16 of those players, though. Betts could be traded, though Werner said the two sides have spoken and that the team is still holding out hope he can be extended. Martinez could also opt out of his deal and walk away for virtually nothing.

Even without their roughly $50 million on the books, the Red Sox would still have a hard time staying under $208 million. Their offseason wish list could include a starter to replace Rick Porcello, depth to support the top three starters in case of injury, a first baseman, a second baseman, multiple relievers, and maybe an outfielder if Betts is dealt.

As we wrote a couple of weeks ago, the Red Sox spent more than $240 million last year and will be in that range again this year. If they spend beyond the tax threshold again in 2020, they'll trigger the most onerous penalties, with a tax of 50 percent on every dollar spent over $208 million, 95 percent on every dollar over $248 million, and a sliding scale in between. They could end up making a tax payment of more than $20 million.

They want to reset all of those penalties, and there's only one way to do it -- start hacking off some limbs.

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