Assessing where the Boston Red Sox stand with their 2019 payroll based on guaranteed contracts, arbitration estimates, and other obligations.
The Boston Red Sox had the highest payroll in baseball this season with an estimated $238.4 million in salary that counts toward the luxury tax. While these projections aren’t yet final, it appears the club’s free-spending habits will push them into the deepest territory for penalties, resulting in a hefty tax bill in addition to draft pick ramifications.
The steep price was well worth it when the end result was a World Series championship but it’s not a feasible strategy on an annual basis. The penalties become harsher for repeat offenders so it would behoove the Red Sox to be mindful of their payroll heading into next season.
A significant chunk of payroll will be shed with Hanley Ramirez ($22.75 million) finally off the books. Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz, and Joe Kelly account for over $25 million more as they hit free agency, along with the prorated portion of the contracts owed to midseason acquisitions Ian Kinsler, Steve Pearce, and Nathan Eovaldi.
So, where does that leave Boston’s payroll at the moment? Let’s start with the guaranteed contracts.
David Price: $31 million ($127MM through 2022)
J.D. Martinez: $23.75 million ($86.25MM through 2022)
Rick Porcello: $21.125 million (final season of current deal)
Dustin Pedroia: $15.125 million ($40MM through 2021)
Chris Sale: $15 million (final season of current deal)
Mitch Moreland: $6.5 million (final season of current deal)
Eduardo Nunez: $5 million (final season of current deal)
Christian Vazquez: $2.85 million ($13.55MM through 2021, $7MM club option in 2022)
Those eight players account for $120.35 million in 2019. That’s more than the Opening Day payroll of 13 other teams in 2018!
Boston also has 12 arbitration eligible players with undetermined salaries. MLB Trade Rumors always does a great job of predicting fairly accurate arbitration salaries. Based on their model, we can estimate about an additional $60 million for those players. That brings the total to over $180 million.
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Assuming all 20 of those players open next season on the 25-man roster, that leaves at least five pre-arbitration eligible players making close to the major league minimum. That list is likely to include Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Brian Johnson, and Ryan Brasier, with the final roster spot up for grabs. Benny and Devers could get a bump in salary given their long-term value to the organization but the total for those five players shouldn’t be much more than $3 million.
That leaves the Red Sox comfortably below the luxury tax, which increases to $206 million in 2019. But wait, we’re not done!
The Red Sox still owe Pablo Sandoval $23 million next season, minus the amount paid to him by any team that signs him – if he plays in the majors at all. At least it’s the final year of his deal, so we’re only a year away from putting the Sandoval nightmare behind us.
Minor league players on the 40-man roster, some of whom will appear in the big leagues at some point over the course of the season, also count toward the tax. Then there is the cost of player benefits to consider.
Suddenly, the Red Sox are already over the tax threshold.
That’s without factoring in that the Red Sox may re-sign some of their free agents. Bringing back Kimbrel or Eovaldi, both of whom should command salaries north of $15 million next season, would make it very difficult to duck the tax.
Boston should shed enough payroll to avoid drifting into the deepest, darkest territories of luxury tax penalties but barring a significant salary dump, expect them to be a repeat tax offender in 2019. That doesn’t necessarily lock them in to repeat as world champions but we certainly can’t claim they aren’t willing to pay up to try.