That’s what John Henry suggested to the Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy has been the impetus for this hub-bub regarding the Red Sox’ offseason strategy being pushed by the “goal” but not “mandate” to get the payroll under $208 million. OK.
Forget the comment from the principal owner in late September that set this narrative motion - (“This year we need to be under the CBT. That is something we’ve known for more than a year now.")
Let's do some self-scouting.
In Shaughnessy's piece Henry states in an email: “You might actually be right for once in that I don’t plan what I’m going to say before answering media questions in a live media event. But this focus on CBT resides with the media far more than it does within the Sox. I think every team probably wants to reset at least once every three years — that’s sort of been the history — but just this week … I reminded baseball ops that we are focused on competitiveness over the next 5 years over and above resetting to which they said, ’That’s exactly how we’ve been approaching it."
Maybe Henry did indeed tell baseball operations recently to just worry about the five-year plan and don't obsess over the thing -- getting below $208 million -- he already stated was "something we've known for more than a year now." Fine. We don't know exactly what was passed along by the owner in recent days. We do, however, know what the approach was entering the offseason and the team's path since the Hot Stove season kicked off.
We've said it before, but it's worth repeating: Henry's comment did drive the offseason conversation. For good reason.
It represented the avenue they had put in place. There was no need for the media to go off-roading. Despite the immediate efforts to back-track (with the owner's email serving as the latest attempt to reel in what was immediately a competitive disadvantage) there has been no absolutely evidence that "CBT" shouldn't be included in each and every story on the Red Sox' offseason to date.
You have the "goal not a mandate" lines from every associated with the Red Sox ownership and front office.
You have the shopping of David Price, a pitcher that represents the kind of top-of-rotation presence (when healthy) any team would love to keep if they weren't prioritizing paring payroll.
You have free agents who the Red Sox showed interest in (Travis Shaw) but didn't get formal offers because they were told money had to be moved around first.
You have a myriad of useful free agents who were signed to one-year deals the Red Sox would usually jump at.
And you have the proclamation to this day that getting under $208 millions is "a goal" for the organization. And that's what makes Henry's comments to Shaughnessy so off the mark.
Henry is usually brutally honest when he does deal with the media. There isn't much of a filter. (It is why he usually prefers to conduct interviews via emails.)
For instance, he did three on-the-record interviews during the 2019 season. The first was in spring training when he proclaimed that the Red Sox "blew" the Jon Lester negotiations. The second was with WEEI.com in London when he questioned how the 2019 team was built, suggesting perhaps the Red Sox should have brought back a different-looking roster. And finally, there was the get-together on the Friday leading into the final series of the season. That's when he revealed the need to be under the CBT.
Now we have our first Henry interview of 2020 thanks to Shaughnessy's article.
When Henry talks about prioritizing the organization's five-year plan over getting below the CBT that can certainly be viewed as truth. But I would imagine that the whole five-year thing was in the mix all along, with Henry revealing in late Sept. getting below $208 million as a big part of that equation. It should be an understood lot in life.
In order to extend Mookie Betts and buy-out the remaining arbitration years of Rafael Devers and/or Eduardo Rodriguez the easiest path is going to have their bigger contract numbers kick in after a payroll reset. If you don't do it this time around it will only get more uncomfortable next year.
If Henry, Chaim Bloom and Co. have recently altered the previously-proclaimed course and believe the five-year plan is better served without the aforementioned items - and are willing to stomach the penalties for blowing through the CBT again - so be it. But until there is evidence that the CBT isn't a fairly significant piece of the puzzle we should (despite Henry's email) assume nothing has changed.
For an owner like Henry, who has kept the Red Sox' payroll near the top of Major League Baseball virtually every year, this reality has to be uncomfortable, particularly when a variety of teams (including the Yankees) are playing the role of big-market behemoths while Martin Perez's $6 million deal is the Sox' big move to date.
Not this time.