Red Sox

Say goodbye to J.D. and Mookie? Red Sox payroll decisions are about to get ugly

Say goodbye to J.D. and Mookie? Red Sox payroll decisions are about to get ugly

If Red Sox ownership really wants to reset the luxury-tax clock, then the new GM should expect the following item to be missing from his new office: a checkbook.

For the Red Sox actually to drop below the $208 million threshold that returns their penalty structure to zero will require not so much pruning shears as a chainsaw, with two high-profile victims -- Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez -- on the chopping block.

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.

The problem with dropping below that $208 million figure is the Red Sox are already well over it for 2020 if they do nothing except keep their signed and arbitration-eligible players. By just a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation, they have more than $220 million already committed to next year's team, which is why Dave Dombrowski's successor will inherit such a challenge.

The clearest way to slip below that threshold requires a pair of unthinkable moves -- letting Martinez opt out of his contract and walk, and trading Betts. And even that might not be enough, given the rest of the team's needs.

Those two should count for roughly $50 million against next year's cap, assuming Betts earns about $28 million in arbitration and Martinez carries his $22 million luxury-tax hit (on an actual salary closer to $24 million). Renouncing Martinez would still cost $6 million for cap purposes in 2020, since it's the difference between his tax hit ($44 million) and his actual earnings ($47.5 million in salary, $2.5 million buyout) over two years in Boston.

If that's where ownership wants to maroon its new GM, John Henry and Co. might as well hire Harry Sinden, who took arrows for the Jacobs family while holding a death grip on the Bruins' purse strings in the 1980s and early '90s.

How did the Red Sox find themselves in such dire financial shape following a season that will see them miss the playoffs and finish around .500? It's not pretty.

Consider the following 2020 salaries, totaling nearly $135 million, for luxury tax purposes:

David Price ($31 million), Martinez ($22 million), Chris Sale ($25.6 million), Nathan Eovaldi ($17 million), Dustin Pedroia ($13.75 million), Xander Bogaerts ($20 million), Christian Vazquez ($4.5 million).

If we estimate $60 million in arbitration (which requires saying goodbye to backup catcher Sandy Leon and knuckleballer Steven Wright), we're already pushing $200 million with just the following players: Betts, Jackie Bradley, Eduardo Rodriguez, Andrew Benintendi, Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes.

Add young, pre-arb players like Rafael Devers (whom we'll get to in a second) and Michael Chavis, plus $15 million for medical expenses and benefits, and we're already in the $220 million range without addressing free agent losses such as Rick Porcello, Mitch Moreland, and Brock Holt, or depth for a rotation that doesn't know if it can trust Sale, Price, and/or Eovaldi to stay healthy, even though they'll be earning $79 million in real money.

Removing Betts and Martinez from the equation drops that commitment to the $175 million range, but also creates holes at DH and right field that can't be filled for free.

It also calls into question whether it makes much business sense, in 2020, to extend Devers, since doing so will jump his tax number from about $800,000 to $12 million to $15 million if he were to receive a contract in line with the eight-year, $100 million extension Ronald Acuna Jr. signed with the Braves.

This is all assuming that ownership has designs on dropping below $208 million. If it does, there's no way the Red Sox will pay Betts $35 million a year, and you can kiss him goodbye. There's also no realistic path to squeezing in Martinez at $25 million annually. That's what happens when an unreliable Big Three is soaking up a third of the payroll. The prospects of moving Sale, Price, or Eovaldi without eating most of the money range from dim to hopeless.

With payroll and winning no longer strongly correlated -- if the season ended today, two of the game's six lowest payrolls would face off in the AL wild-card game (Tampa vs. Oakland) -- the Red Sox can't simply buy their way to a title.

So, good luck to the new guy if he's ordered to shed payroll, because that's going to cost him some serious talent and leave the Red Sox in a position that might benefit their bottom line and long-range plans, but could make 2020 every bit as painful as 2019.

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Four potentially undervalued pitchers Red Sox could target this offseason

Four potentially undervalued pitchers Red Sox could target this offseason

It's time for the Red Sox to start thinking like a small-market team, because burning money in the name of their rotation could have dire consequences that stretch well into the 2020s.

With Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi set to earn $80 million annually through 2022 despite being major injury risks, the Red Sox will need to bargain hunt to fill the rest of their rotation. So where might they turn?

The key will be finding undervalued assets. One way to identify them is to look for pitchers with the biggest disparity between their ERA and FIP.

The latter — fielding independent pitching — is an ERA-like number derived from the events a pitcher can directly control: walks, strikeouts, home runs, and hit by pitches, the idea being that everything else is in the hands of the defense. FIP has its flaws, because it operates on the assumption that a pitcher can't impact balls in play, which means hurlers aren't credited for the majority of their outs, but it can still be a useful tool.

A wide spread between a pitcher's ERA and FIP can suggest bad luck or bad defense that mask some underlying strengths. The Red Sox, interestingly enough, looked a lot better as a staff via FIP than ERA, led by Chris Sale (4.40 ERA vs. 3.39 FIP), David Price (4.28 vs. 3.62), and even Rick Porcello (5.52 vs. 4.76).

Their staff ERA of 4.70 surpassed their 4.28 FIP by the widest margin of any team in baseball. Defensive metrics are notoriously spotty, but Fangraphs ranked Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts dead last at his position in defensive runs saved, saying he cost the Red Sox 19 runs. Similarly, center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (minus-2) and third baseman Rafael Devers (minus-13) were considered negatives, too. Bogaerts and Devers aren't going anywhere, but Bradley, a defending Gold Glover, is likely to be traded this winter. The Red Sox could also upgrade their defense at second base.

In any event, we're drifting a little far afield. The point is finding opposing pitchers who significantly underperformed their FIP, which could make them targets this winter. Here are four names to remember.

1. Joe Musgrove, RHP, Pirates

A first-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2011, Musgrove was traded to the Astros a year later before joining Pittsburgh as the centerpiece in the 2018 Gerrit Cole blockbuster. He made a career-high 31 starts this year, going 11-12 with a 4.44 ERA that masked a 3.82 FIP.

Those relatively middling numbers still established the 26-year-old as Pittsburgh's most effective starter, and he remains under team control through 2022.

With the Pirates in what feels like an eternal rebuild, it's hard to imagine they'd consider any player untouchable. Musgrove could make for an intriguing target.

2. Kevin Gausman, RHP, Reds

Gausman is a non-tender candidate, since he's set to make at least $10 million in his final year of arbitration. Chosen fourth overall in the 2012 draft by the Orioles, Gausman was once considered a top-10 prospect.

He has yet to live up to that hype, but he's better than the numbers suggested last year between Atlanta, where he posted a 6.19 ERA (and 4.20 FIP) in 16 starts, and Cincinnati, where he found use as a reliever (4.03 ERA, 3.17 FIP). Gausman struck out a career-high 10 batters per nine innings and is still only 28, so perhaps a flyer is in order, particularly if other teams are viewing him as a reliever and the Red Sox give him an opportunity to start.

3. Spencer Turnbull, RHP, Tigers

How does the AL's loss leader sound? Pitching for a woeful team, Turnbull went just 3-17 with a 4.61 ERA in 30 starts. His 3.99 FIP suggests better stuff than results, however, and he doesn't become a free agent until 2025.

Turnbull throws 95-97 and is considered a piece of Detroit's future, but it never hurts to ask. The 27-year-old went winless in his final 18 starts and is a late bloomer who was still pitching in Double A at age 25.

4. Pablo Lopez, RHP, Marlins

The rookie went 5-8 with a 5.09 ERA in 21 starts, but his 4.28 FIP and low walk rates (2.2 per nine innings) suggest some promise. The 23-year-old hails from Venezuela and can't become a free agent until 2025. He features a low-90s fastball and changeup, and the Marlins like his competitiveness. Being the Marlins means they're in perpetual fire-sale mode, however, and Lopez is worth a look.

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Andrew Friedman announces he's staying with Dodgers, taking biggest name off board for Red Sox

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USA Today Sports Images

Andrew Friedman announces he's staying with Dodgers, taking biggest name off board for Red Sox

The Red Sox can cross the biggest name off their GM search before he was ever even an option.

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman announced on Monday that he will finalize a deal to stay in L.A. "in the next couple of days." Friedman had technically become a free agent after the Dodgers' season ending in shocking fashion against the Nationals last week.

His five-year, $35 million contract expired, but the Dodgers moved quickly to lock up the 43-year-old, who has built consistent winners in both Tampa and Los Angeles and was considered the most intriguing candidate for the job of running the Red Sox, which opened up when the team parted ways with Dave Dombrowski in September.

With Friedman off the board and the Twins reportedly nearing a deal to extend Lynn native Derek Falvey as their chief baseball officer, the Red Sox have seen the candidate pool for their opening diminish before their search even starts. Before the season ended, the Diamondbacks took another name out of play by extending GM Mike Hazen, a Massachusetts native and former Red Sox executive. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein also declared his commitment to Chicago, though his contractual status hasn't changed.

One name that hasn't been taken off the board is Chaim Bloom, Tampa's VP of baseball operations. The 36-year-old Yale graduate oversees Tampa's baseball operations alongside Erik Neander, and the two guided the Rays to a wild card before taking the Astros to Game 5 of the ALDS.

Widely considered one of the most innovative franchises in the game, the Rays have reached 90 wins in two straight seasons despite fielding one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

This team makes sense for J.D. Martinez in 2020>>>

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