Boston Red Sox future payroll isn’t clogged with bad contracts

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 31: Pablo Sandoval
CHICAGO, IL - MAY 31: Pablo Sandoval /

The Boston Red Sox future payroll commitments aren’t littered with the types of albatross contracts that hinder many other MLB teams.

Poor free agency investments can haunt a franchise for years. Even large market teams with greater payroll flexibility can feel the burden of bad choices that can hinder future spending. Thankfully, this isn’t a concern for the Boston Red Sox.

ESPN’s David Schoenfield recently ranked each major league team by the worst contract on their payroll. The Red Sox ranked 14th on the list with a player who is no longer with the organization. The $23.6 million owed to Pablo Sandoval (including a $5 million buyout) was deemed the worst on Boston’s payroll.

Sandoval’s deal was undoubtedly an albatross from the moment he signed in 2015. The Panda hit a pathetic .237/.286/.360 while producing -2.1 WAR over two and half years in a Red Sox uniform before he was designated for assignment mid-way through the 2017 season. Boston still has to pay him but they no longer have to put up with him. After this season when his contract mercifully ends, the Red Sox will finally be able to put the Sandoval debacle behind them.

Once Sandoval is off the books there aren’t any obvious choices to replace him on Schoenfield’s list. Only six Red Sox players are signed to guaranteed contracts for 2020.

David Price ($32 million, $96 million from 2020-2022)
J.D. Martinez ($23.75 million, $62.45 million from 2020-2022)
Nathan Eovaldi ($17 million, $51 million form 2020-2022)
Rusney Castillo ($14.27 million in 2020)
Dustin Pedroia ($13 million, $25 million from 2020-2021)
Christian Vazquez ($4.2 million, $10.45 million from 2020-2021, $7 million option)

Price was once viewed as a terrible contract that Red Sox fans hoped he would opt out of after the 2018 season. He decided not to jump back into free agency and we should be grateful that the lefty intends to stay. Price is coming off a 4.4 WAR season, his best since his Cy Young campaign in 2012. He finally got the playoff monkey off his back and was a vital part of the Red Sox World Series run. He’s sufficiently redeemed himself after a rocky start to his tenure in Boston. Price has reinvented himself with a style that should age gracefully, reducing the risk of the hefty salary still owed to him.

Martinez is arguably the best hitter in baseball and was worth every cent of the salary the Red Sox paid him last season. Any concern of age-related decline on the back end of the deal is washed away with the assumption that Martinez will take advantage of the opt-out clauses in his deal available after each of the next three seasons. Martinez could turn into a bad contract down the line if the Red Sox rewarded him with a lucrative extension when he inevitably opts out but based on his current deal, he’s a bargain.

Eovaldi earned his contract with a strong second half and his postseason heroics. His career numbers, even his overall 2018 production, don’t seem to warrant $17 million per season. Boston is banking on the 28-year old’s upside, the raw talent he’s shown on the mound and the ability to step up in clutch situations. If Eovaldi produces to the level he has for most of his career rather than what we saw when he came to Boston, this will end up being a bit of an overpay but not a disaster.

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There are only two years remaining on Castillo’s deal that ends after the 2020 season. Maybe he’ll finally find his way back to the big leagues once that anchor is removed from his career. He’s talented enough to play at this level but can’t crack the starting lineup of a Red Sox team loaded in the outfield. Calling him up to Boston would require putting Castillo back on the 40-man roster, which means he counts against the luxury tax. The price is too steep to pay for a fourth outfielder.

A setback from offseason knee surgery turned Pedroia’s 2018 season into a bust. Supposedly healthy, the veteran second baseman will be looking to bounce back this year. He’s not the player he once was but it should only take a 2.0 WAR season to be well worth his salary. Pedroia produced at least that many wins above replacement in every season until his injury-shortened 2017 campaign.

The .207 average Vazquez hit for last season left us wondering if his .290 average the previous year was a fluke. It probably was, although at least we know he has much more upside at the plate than what we saw in 2018. Vazquez’ value has always primarily come from his defensive skills behind the dish anyway. As long as he earns at least half the playing time at the catcher position, he’ll be worth the price of his team-friendly extension.

Looking at the list of guaranteed contracts beyond 2019, you’d be hard-pressed to find one where you would say to yourself, “I can’t wait until that guy is gone!”

A lot can change in a year to alter our perspective. We may view these contracts differently at this time next year. The Red Sox also have several key players hitting free agency next year, any of whom could be deemed a risky long-term investment if they aren’t careful.

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Based on what we know now, the Red Sox don’t have any future commitments to a player who would be anywhere near the top of a list ranking the worst contracts in baseball.