Red Sox 2019 arbitration salaries exceed last year’s total
By Sean Penney
The Boston Red Sox will spend significantly more than last season on arbitration-eligible players, resulting in a higher expected payroll.
They haven’t made any splashy free agent signings this winter yet the Boston Red Sox could still see their major league-leading payroll rise in 2019. Several factors account for this increase but the most notable is that they are paying more to arbitration-eligible players.
Boston paid $47.36 million to 12 arbitration-eligible players in 2018. Drew Pomeranz and Joe Kelly, who accounted for $12.325 million of that total, are gone but have been replaced by first-time eligibles. The team reached one-year agreements with all 12 of their eligible players this year for a total of $58.9975 million.
Mookie Betts led the way with a $20 million deal in his second year of arbitration. That MLB record raise of $9.5 million wipes out the majority of the savings from the departures of Pomeranz and Kelly. Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. also saw noteworthy salary bumps that add nearly $8 million to the payroll between the two.
The arbitration raises result in an $11.6375 million increase over last season, a year in which the Red Sox exceeded the luxury tax by more than $40 million to incur the steepest penalties.
MLB’s luxury tax threshold rises from $197 million to $206 million this year, creating a bit more wiggle room to stay out of the highest tier of penalties. Staying below $246 million won’t be easy though.
In addition to the money saved by letting Pomeranz and Kelly leave, Boston has another $35 million falling off their books with Craig Kimbrel hitting free agency and Hanley Ramirez no longer counting toward the payroll. Hanley’s deal finally coming to an end is a relief that chops $22 million off the payroll. Unfortunately, most of that savings was wiped away when Nathan Eovaldi was re-signed to a deal that pays him $15 million more than what he earned last year.
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As it currently stands, Boston has $159.865 million in guaranteed contracts, $58.9975 million from the arbitration-eligibles, plus approximately $6 million they will still owe for pre-arbitration players. There’s also about $14 million for medical, spring trailing allowances, travel, and other expenses that count toward the tax. Add it all up and the Red Sox are already close to $240 million.
The higher tax threshold helps but if the Red Sox bring back Kimbrel or replace him with one of the few remaining viable free agent closers they will be hard-pressed to avoid the top-tier of penalties for a second consecutive season. Paying Kimbrel anywhere in the vicinity of what he’s asking for would push the payroll well beyond what the team spent in 2018. Paying those penalties proved worthwhile when it resulted in a World Series title last season but it’s not a viable strategy every year.
This winter hasn’t been as exciting as last year when the chase for J.D. Martinez kept us glued to hot stove rumors. The Red Sox haven’t been in the mix for any of the top free agents this time. Re-signing their own free agents and giving raises to arbitration-eligibles chewed up any room they carved out in the budget. When you consider how much they’ve spent already without making any additions to last year’s club, it’s no wonder the Red Sox have been hesitant in free agency.