After claiming they would be going "full throttle" with no spending limit this offseason, the Boston Red Sox front office changed its tune pretty quickly.
In a matter of days, the plan went from going all-out to improve the team, no matter the financial implications, to CEO Sam Kennedy confessing that payroll for 2024 will likely be less than it was in 2023.
Last season, Boston didn't break the first luxury tax threshold. Its payroll sat just above $225 million when the year concluded. The Red Sox's current fiscal situation may not be the same by Opening Day, but they currently own the 10th-largest payroll in the league.
The problem with that is the Red Sox are the third-most valuable franchise in the league. Not wanting to spend like a big-market, high-value club is a relatively new development.
John Henry is one of the MLB's wealthiest owners. Since he and his business partner, Tom Werner, acquired the Red Sox in 2002, they've kept the team competitive and payroll has usually been among the five highest in the league.
As of 2020, something changed. The Red Sox finished the year with the 13th-highest payroll in the league. They haven't competed in any legitimate way since.
The front office has been assuring fans that it can field a competitive team without spending big-market money. If the Red Sox rely on the prospects they collected during the Chiam Bloom administration, they should be able to play well and on a budget. Or so they think.
The reality is that the Red Sox have never won a World Series without the team's payroll in the top four in the league. In 2004 and 2007, Boston held the second-highest payroll. In 2013, the third.
The Red Sox have never won a World Series without a top-four payroll
The Red Sox's most recent World Series, captured by one of the winningest baseball teams of all time in 2018, was crafted with the use of the single-highest payroll in MLB. The team was packed with talent — rising stars and homegrown players made the 2018 roster one of the most dominant in history.
Then, that team disappeared. When the last duck boat was put in park after the 2018 World Series parade, Henry changed his mind and scrapped his winning plans. Rafael Devers is the last man standing from that team, and he had to fight for an extension that should've come much earlier and easier. Xander Bogaerts didn't get so lucky.
Since 2021, Henry's net worth has skyrocketed, according to Forbes. But his increase in wealth has nothing to do with the Red Sox. His stakes in other sports leagues and teams have dramatically increased since then — likely why he decided to let Mookie Betts go in one of the most lopsided trades in MLB history. The Red Sox are no longer his primary interest, and he had to cut money where he could.
The Red Sox front office knows what it takes to field a winning team: money. The belief that they can field a winning team with prospects and a middle-of-the-pack payroll is nothing but hot air.
Boston fans should expect more of Henry's penny-pinching attitude for a few years to come. As long as he has top prospects in the farm system and a fresh supply of excuses for not spending, there will probably be a dark cloud over Fenway Park.