This year's Boston Red Sox team has a solid case for most disappointing team in baseball. One year ago at this time, they had over 100 wins and were preparing for a postseason run that ultimately bore the fruit of a World Series championship. Now, they're wrapping up the final days of the season with no postseason birth to look forward to and a lot of questions to answer.
The ownership group met with Boston media on Friday to discuss the immediate future of the team after Dave Dombrowski was sent on his way, along with several other members of the front office. Jen McCarthy of The Athletic detailed the press conference in this piece, but this quote from John Henry in particular seems to indicate the Red Sox won't be buyers on the market like they had been under Dombrowski:
“This year we need to be under the CBT and that was something we’ve known for more than a year now,” Henry 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.”
Should Boston enter next year above the Competitive Balance Tax line, they'll be taxed an extra $13 million, and their first-round draft pick will be moved back ten spots in next year's draft. Henry later backed off the certainty of getting under the CBT, saying that it was a goal, but they recognize they may not be able to get under it.
Given Dombrowski's firing, it seems far more likely the Red Sox are looking to clean house for a reset of some type, although Henry insisted they weren't viewing this year as a transitional year. In 2020, the Red Sox are currently slated to have seven players make at least $13 million. Three of these players (Dustin Pedroia, Rusney Castillo, and Xander Bogaerts) won't be going anywhere; they'll never trade Pedroia, Castillo has been languishing in AAA Pawtucket and doesn't count against the CBT if he's not on the 40-man roster, and Bogaerts just signed his extension this year. The rest? Nobody is really safe.
Chris Sale seems the least likely to move, if only because it's not a great look for the organization if they sign him to an extension and trade him before it kicks in. It would be tough to find trade partners regardless, given his well-known injury history and (by his standards) abysmal performance this year. If the Sox were looking to take a big chunk out of their potential tax bill without trading away an asset, their best bet is to convince J.D. Martinez to exercise his opt-out clause for the 2020 season. Should he opt in, Boston is on the hook for his $23.75 million salary.
Nathan Eovaldi was hurt the vast majority of the year and will make $17 million, a difficult sell for a potential trade. David Price will be the name brought up the most; he has an injury history that popped up again this year and well-documented postseason struggles, but he had an okay year last season and is the most trade-able of the big contracts.
The biggest impact from the team's efforts to get under the CBT may come in the form of who the Sox don't pay, rather than who they're trying to avoid paying. Mookie Betts will be up for a gigantic extension after 2020. The same goes for Jackie Bradley Jr. Rafael Devers proved himself to be one of baseball's brightest young hitters this season and still has several years before Boston has to break the bank. Michael Chavis is in a similar boat, although he has a lot more to prove. Boston could see those guys as the future and trading away the older guys on the verge of big contracts while keeping the young talent is the most viable way to stay competitive while getting under the tax.
Boston has a lot of decisions to make. What direction they go in will determine the next five years of Red Sox baseball, and it'll be fascinating to watch.