Slashing Payroll is New Reality Facing Red Sox

By , WEEI 93.7

So, the owners spoke. Their message? Dig in.

"This is a tough offseason, too," said Red Sox principal owner John Henry. "We talked about the challenge of CBT, but I think you would all agree this is a challenging offseason. To put one of the candidates you keep bringing up in charge and responsible for that, that’s sort of a tough way to start your career as a general manager."


It was just one of the nuggets offered by Henry over the course of a 25-minute get-together with the media in the owners' box at Fenway Park. That answer was in response to who the Red Sox might be looking at to replace Dave Dombrowski as the chief decision-maker on the baseball operations side of things. But earlier in the session were items of significance, such as that aforementioned "challenge of CBT (Competitive Balance Threshold)."

"This year we need to be under the CBT and that was something we’ve known for more than a year now," said Henry, citing the quest to get the payroll under $208 million.

There was also the update regarding the Red Sox' attempt to keep Mookie Betts around beyond 2020.

"We’ve stated publicly that we would hope he would stay with us the rest of his career," added chairman Tom Werner. "We have made proposals to him in the past and he did want to test free agency which is his right. And we’ll have some conversations with him going forward. But obviously there’ll be a point where hopefully we can make a deal or we’ll decide at that point what is plan B or plan C but we haven’t gotten to that point and we’re very open to continuing discussions with him."

There were plenty of other items. The dissatisfaction with the farm system and current options to supplement the big league roster with. How there were immediate disagreements after the World Series win regarding how the team should be built between Dombrowski and ownership. And of course what they are prioritizing when looking for Dombrowski's successor.

But through it all two words jumped out: "Challenging offseason." This wasn't a secret, but the bucket of cold water thrown on everyone by Henry and Werner crystalized the organization's reality.

The world knows this isn't the quick-fix Red Sox Dombrowski took over.

For example, we texted a baseball executive who would check off all the boxes in regards to what Red Sox' ownership was looking for in the next head of baseball operations. He has had previous experience as a general manager, has been immersed in baseball's new way of thinking and has continued to contribute to the success of a well-respected organization. (No, it wasn't Theo Epstein.) The question was simple: Would you be interested in the Red Sox job?

"I don't think so."

The exec certainly doesn't speak for everyone but it is eye-opening to imagine viewing this organization with this payroll and this kind of talent in such a light. In the baseball world, it's still a good job, just not as appealing as some (such as the owners) might want us to believe.

The first challenge starts with figuring out how to manage what was supposed to be Dombrowski's foundation, the starting rotation. No matter what the medical reports heading into spring training, uncertainty will immediately hover over the three pitchers -- Chris Sale, David Price and Nathan Eovaldi -- who make up nearly $80 million of next season's payroll. For the next GM, this is perhaps the biggest stumbling block considering there is really no avenue to break free of this commitment (which runs for another three years).

So with the core locked in, finding avenues to wiggle the payroll down toward that $208 million becomes increasingly challenging.

The mandate would put a damper on any reunion with the likes of players such as Brock Holt, Mitch Moreland or Rick Porcello unless their free-agent market plummets to the lowest of low levels.

Trading Betts? That isn't a turn-key proposition either. The value of executing such a move wouldn't seem to be residing any time before next season's trade deadline, with the offseason return being minimized by the fact that any team getting Mookie would be committing to paying him around $30 million for what might be just one season.

There is Jackie Bradley Jr.'s contract, as well. Heading into the final year of arbitration-eligibility he will be slated to make upwards of $10 million. But if the Red Sox are going to entertain moving on from Betts than there can't be complete stripping of the starting outfield, with the only real internal addition from the minors residing in the form of a player -- Jarren Duran -- who hasn't played above Double-A.

Simply put, ownership wants to change direction with a locked steering wheel.

"Our real intention is to be competitive every year and we’ll do whatever we have to do that," Werner said. "The solution to that isn’t always having the highest payroll in baseball."

Welcome to the new world of the Red Sox.

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