Will the Red Sox spend if the Competitive Balance Tax threshold rises?
Will the Boston Red Sox spend if the CBT is raised?
MLB and the MLBPA are starting to shift through the minutia regarding a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and this, to not shock anyone, means the Boston Red Sox. I was part of a union negotiations team in another life, and it always came down to the money. Both sides would have “chips” to play that could be negotiated away and usually were. To quote Rod Tidwell, it invariably was “Show me the money.”
The money is in two forms, with the first being baseball fiscal chump change, such as an increase in minimum salary. The big bucks reside in the infamous Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) or the trigger for the Luxury Tax. This is the proverbial “BIG ONE” for the union. The union proposal is $245 MM for 2022 and $273 MM by 2026.
The Red Sox management has been energetically working to remain under the current luxury tax threshold of $210MM, and few teams exceed the mark. Boston has remained under to the dismay of a large segment of Red Sox Nation. Invariably when anyone mentions a free agent, we have a large segment of the Nation turn into Ebenezer Scrooge balancing the books.
Suppose the negotiations result in $245 MM. In that case, the Red Sox organization now has a tidy sum to direct to a pricy free agent, a contract for Rafael Devers, a rewrite of Xander Bogaerts‘ contract, and the opportunity to continue down the path of freewheel spending and dead money. Would they do it?
Chaim Bloom is undoubtedly not spend-happy, nor is Red Sox management. The free agents are short-term deals with possible failure where the losses present minimal risk. The second part is the farm system is on the cusp of producing a steady stream of talent. Too bad so little of it is pitching. I cannot see Boston breaking the mold of this method for 2022, even with a boatload of fresh spending available. And this team certainly has the money to spend.
Where it becomes interesting is beyond 2022. Do the Red Sox bid Bogaerts goodbye? Is Devers worth a possible $300 MM? The projected free-agent list after the 2022 season is a relatively weak one. No up in lights stars ready to collect. Likely Red Sox needs are pitching and possibly catcher. As a side note, a good season for Christian Vazquez could be pretty rewarding.
The flip side is Boston has been quite willing to spend to fill a need in the past. The decision-making has had mixed results, but the team has four championships. Old habits sometimes resurface, and the enticement of star power and money to burn could get that old itch going again.
Since I have the bully pulpit and this is an opinion piece, I am leaning – note the word leaning – that Boston will stay the course. Contracts will continue to meet the flexibility of one and two-year deals. If a player produces such as Enrique Hernandez, you could see extensions, but not exorbitant.
The Red Sox future is based on the farm system, and Boston has produced a long list of quality position players and is approaching that again. The farm system had four prospects on Baseball America’s top 100. Expect Triston Casas to punish Triple-A pitching. Marcelo Mayer could be the steal of the 2021 draft. Bloom’s trades usually have prospects coming Boston’s way, and some will succeed.
Bloom’s previous residency in Tampa showed that reward occasionally could be quick and often too quick, and the danger of paying a young player with minimal exposure could surface. The Rays signed Matt Moore for five years, $14 MM, with Moore having less than two years of service time, and Moore blew his arm out. Bloom did have a history of targeting young players for decent contracts – a viable risk/reward situation. Expect the same as prospects surface and are evaluated.
The downside will eventually be doling out long-term contracts, and I cannot see Mookie Betts type money being dispensed by Boston. A thin line on the reward of a possible franchise player. Boston fans need to avoid being emotionally attached to the next round of prospects.
Boston is a unique market in baseball. An extensive, vibrant, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and willing to spend fan base. There are exorbitant ticket prices, questionable food with a hefty price tag, a deteriorating park, and a ransom to park a car. Still, they line up, grumble, complain, and expect – no demand – a quality product. So far, Bloom has been moderately successful, but without a flag, in a few years, he’ll be gone.