Red Sox Predictions: Payroll will exceed luxury tax on Opening Day

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 02: David Price #10 of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitch during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on June 02, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 02: David Price #10 of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitch during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on June 02, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox have set a goal of getting their payroll below the luxury tax but it’s not a requirement that must be met by Opening Day.

The narrative has been repeated ad nauseam since the offseason began. The Boston Red Sox aim to slash payroll in an effort to dip below the luxury tax threshold to reset the escalating penalties. This has led to an assumption that Chaim Bloom’s first steps at the helm of the front office will be to unload the hefty contracts clogging the payroll. Trade the team’s top hitters, we can’t afford them! Get rid of those overpaid starting pitchers! Don’t count on that happening this winter.

Yes, it would be ideal for the Red Sox to avoid being a repeat tax offender in order to create future financial flexibility but we’ve heard from several of the team’s executives that ownership hasn’t mandated this as a requirement. Everyone wants to try to read between the lines and assume they are merely deflecting the questions while not-so-secretly being hellbent on escaping tax territory but why are we glossing over what these executives have repeatedly said about their intent to remain competitive?

The Red Sox aren’t making the playoffs if they trade away any of these guys. The team certainly isn’t going to be better without Mookie Betts or J.D. Martinez. They have a rotation full of overpaid pitchers but unloading those burdensome contracts won’t improve the pitching staff.

Trading any of their expensive players essentially means punting on the 2020 season. It means ownership values saving a few million bucks over winning and that’s not a message they want to send before the season begins.

The path to the postseason requires Chris Sale and David Price to bounce back from injury-plagued seasons. Boston isn’t going anywhere without their co-aces approaching their lofty expectations. They are worth their hefty salaries if they produce at a level we know they are capable of.

There are plenty of lingering questions surrounding both pitchers and a return to form is hardly inevitable but why would the Red Sox sell them when their value is at its lowest point? The best-case scenario is they dump a large contract while getting little in return. The worst case is that the pitcher they trade excels at the front of another team’s rotation.

Ownership may prefer to trim the budget of MLB’s highest payroll but I’m not convinced this needs to be done by the time the season begins. While the rest of us must pay our taxes by April, that’s not the case in baseball. The luxury tax counts salary spent over the duration of a season, not based on the Opening Day payroll.

Boston can’t afford any significant upgrades in free agency but there’s already enough talent on this roster to compete for a playoff spot. The Red Sox should enter the 2020 season with all their stars on board as they push to reclaim the division crown. Ownership has proven that they are willing to pay for a winning team. Paying the tax again would be an easier pill for them to swallow if the end result is a return to the postseason.

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If that train gets derailed as it did this year, Boston can bail with mid-season trades to unload salary. Trading Betts or Martinez a year before they potentially hit free agency means giving up on the season from the start. It’s more palatable in July if another disappointing campaign has the team out of the race.

Those players may be easier to trade in the middle of the season when we know who the contenders are and the acquiring team only needs to pay approximately half of their massive salaries. Saving the other half that Boston would no longer be responsible for can help get them under the tax.

It’s unrealistic to assume the Red Sox can get anything of value for their three overpaid pitchers unless they eat a significant portion of the contract. Their value can only go up from here once we see them back on the mound. It’s feasible that at least one of them will pitch well while remaining healthy even if the team struggles. Interest from potential suitors will grow if they’ve seen them pitch well for a few months and a large chunk of their season salary has already been paid.

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The Red Sox may ultimately shed payroll if the team isn’t performing on the field but let’s give them a chance to return to their 2018 glory before we blow up the roster. The tax penalties will be a small price to pay if it leads to another championship banner.