Red Sox projected arbitration salaries for 2018 season

BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 03: Mookie Betts
BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 03: Mookie Betts /

Projections for the 2018 arbitration salaries will help predict the payroll budget that the Boston Red Sox have to work with heading into free agency.

MLB Trade Rumors has released its annual list of projected arbitration salaries derived from their own model that has proven to be fairly accurate. By combining these figures with the guaranteed salaries already on the books for the Boston Red Sox we can get an idea of the team’s 2018 payroll.

Players who have three or more years of Major League service but less than six years become eligible for salary arbitration if they do not already have a contract for the next season. The Red Sox roster is loaded with young talent that fits this category. While it’s possible they may seek long-term extensions aimed at buying out some of the upcoming free agent years for certain star players, most of these players will settle on a one-year contract for 2018.

Arbitration salaries are determined based on a combination of talent, expected production and experience. The latter factor looms large, with even the brightest young stars in the game being paid far less than they are worth early in their career. This is why Mookie Betts made a mere $950,000 this season coming off an MVP runner-up campaign.

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Betts will receive a significant raise next season, leading the pack among Boston’s position player arbitration eligible candidates with a projected $8.2 million. That’s still a massive bargain for a player of his caliber, but MLB rules prevent players from making top dollar until they are eligible for the free agent market where other teams can bid to drive up the price. Betts is under Boston’s control until 2021, unless they manage to lock him up to an extension before then.

The only other Red Sox position players projected to have an arbitration salary north of $5 million are Xander Bogaerts ($7.6 million) and Jackie Bradley ($5.9 million). Both are former All-Stars who regressed in 2017, yet can still expect a hefty raise due to the nature of the arbitration process. Neither is in the same stratosphere as Betts from a talent perspective but their salaries won’t lag too far behind given they each has more Major League experience.

The top projected arbitration earner on the roster is left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz ($9.1 million), who enters his final season of arbitration. He made $4.45 million this year and may nearly double that salary before hitting free agency in 2018. Pomeranz emerged as the second-best starter in the Red Sox rotation this year and could set himself up for a massive payday with a repeat performance next year.

Here are the rest of the projections for arbitration-eligible players on the Red Sox.

Not all of these players will necessarily be offered arbitration. Boston may view some as expendable and decide not to bring them back at all.

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Robbie Ross would appear to be a candidate to be on his way out after becoming an afterthought this year. Brock Holt’s battle with concussion symptoms and vertigo derailed his season. He’ll need to prove he’s back on track in order to retain his spot, especially if the Red Sox plan to pony up the dough to keep free agent Eduardo Nunez to fill the versatile utility role. Sandy Leon’s roster spot will depend on if the long overdue emergence of Blake Swihart ever comes to fruition. Christian Vazquez should be locked in as the primary catcher so it will be between Sandy and Swihart competing for the backup job. While Josh Rutledge would come at a cheap salary, Boston is better off giving that roster spot to an upcoming prospect.

The rest of the players on this list are almost certain to return and at least given a spot on the 40-man roster.

The Red Sox currently have $128.5 million in guaranteed contracts committed to their 2018 payroll, accounting for only seven players. Hypothetically, if all 15 arbitration eligible players were brought back at their projected salaries it would cost the Red Sox an additional $50.7 million. Boston’s payroll soars to a tick under $180 million before factoring in the relatively inexpensive salaries of pre-arbitration players such as Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers.

The luxury tax threshold set in the most recent collective bargaining agreement is $197 million for the 2018 season. That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for the Red Sox to expand their payroll further by targetting pricey free agents, although ownership may be more willing to pay the tax next year if they avoid paying it in 2017, resetting the steep repeater penalties.

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Even if the Red Sox are willing to splurge their way back into tax territory, there will still be a budget. Owner John Henry isn’t handing out blank checks. These arbitration projections allow us to predict what Boston’s payroll will look like in 2018 to guide us in our evaluations of free agent or trade targets this winter.