Red Sox fans won’t miss hearing about financial flexibility
The overwhelming narrative of the year was ownership’s insistence on shedding salary in order to dip under the luxury tax threshold and reset the punitive penalties.
Boston was successful in that endeavor, dropping their payroll from a major league-high $229.2 million in 2019 when they paid a franchise record $13.4 million tax bill all the way down to $184.9 million. That figure dropped to $64,338,341 when accounting for prorated salaries for the shortened season, nowhere near the $208 million tax threshold.
As it turns out, no major league team had a payroll that was even halfway to the tax once salaries were prorated for the 60-game season. The tax was suspended this year, meaning all the effort to cut payroll was for nothing.
The Red Sox could have kept Mookie Betts and David Price without paying a tax penalty. Obviously, there was no way to know that at the time they made the blockbuster deal with the Dodgers, nor could they have predicted Price would opt-out of playing in 2020 so that they wouldn’t need to pay him anyway.
In retrospect, the goal of slashing payroll was even more disastrous than we thought at the time. That shouldn’t be an issue heading into next year. With the tax reset, Boston has found the financial freedom they craved.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to splurge on all the top available free-agents. They will most likely stay below the tax again in 2021. This roster still has too many questions with players returning from injury or down seasons to expect them to contend even with a high-priced free-agent or two in the mix. Those are moves you make to put yourself over the top but this team isn’t there yet.
They will spend some money though. While the moves they’ve made so far have been relatively minor, the vast majority of free-agents remain on the market. Boston has their eye on several targets and not all will come from the bargain bin. They intend to patch the holes on their roster with viable options and can improve the team without chasing the most expensive stars.
More importantly, there’s no longer a mandate to cut payroll. There will be no salary dump trades this winter. Those days are mercifully behind us. While we can’t assume the Red Sox will return to outspending everyone else right away, they are trending back in the right direction.