Smart money is on Peavy, Red Sox


Mar 29, 2014; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher

Jake Peavy

(44) throws against the Minnesota Twins during their game at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Peavy is the highest paid member of your 2014 Boston Red Sox, set to make more than $16 million this season, according to the Associated Press. Mike Napoli is next at an even $16 million, with John Lackey third, just shy of Napoli’s mark.

The information came to light last week as part of the AP’s annual report on MLB team payrolls, which included breakdowns of individual obligations for each ballclub. From an organizational standpoint, the Sox are fourth in team spending, down a couple pegs from the days when they tried to run with the Yankees. But here’s the kicker: the LA Dodgers, not the Yankees, are the biggest spenders in MLB. Their $235 million payroll looks down on New York’s $203 million in commitments, the first time the Bombers haven’t led the league in checks cashed since 1998. The hapless, hamstrung Phillies are third.

I was initially surprised to see Peavy at the top of Boston’s payroll; Napoli and Lackey, too, as neither would be mistaken for Boston’s “best” player. But that’s the beauty of the Red Sox’ fiscal strategy under GM Ben Cherington.

After purging three franchise-crippling, long-term, big money deals (Beckett, Crawford and Gonzalez — shipping them to the aforementioned inhabitants of Chavez Ravine) the Sox were left with shorter commitments to their remaining veterans. They replenished the cupboard with more experienced talent on short-term bids (like Shane Victorino on a three-year, $39 million pact, and Napoli, brought back for two seasons at a total of $36 million), allowing prospects to come up and compete for playing time in the coming years.

They took in Peavy from the White Sox knowing he would stay only if he performed (Peavy has a vesting option for 2015 based on innings pitched). John Lackey has rounded back into shape for the last two years of his deal, and will actually make the league minimum next year due to a clause in his contract related to his 2011 elbow surgery. And 38-year old DH David Ortiz is basically running on a year-to-year contract, as a 38-year old DH should be.

As these shorter-term deals come off the books, players will be replaced by new veterans on short-term bids, or by prospects. And the farm system is stocked with them, starting with two potential lineup stalwarts in Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, already up with the big club and under team control for the next half-dozen years.

The only recent instance of the Sox tying up long-term money was Dustin Pedroia‘s seven year agreement (he’s at a reasonable $12 million plus this season). 

That brings up the Jon Lester extension.

The two sides recently hit the pause button on contract negotiations, which have been amiable thus far. Is Lester one of the top pitchers in the game? He’s close, but he’s always been just outside the elite group of MLB starters. To put him there would be like overrating Pedroia and calling him an MVP (which, as we remember, actually happened in 2008).

But he’s the ace of the staff — a leader who puts up solid numbers and possesses the intangibles to get the job done when it counts. The Red Sox have to decide if Lester is to the pitching staff what Pedroia is to the lineup: a 30 year old who can drive the duck boat into the next decade. And they might, soon. If the Sox don’t come to that assessment, the lefty will be shown the door just like Jacoby Ellsbury. And that’s not personal; that’s smart business.