By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — J.D. Martinez has decided to stay in Boston. That complicates things for new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom.
Martinez could have walked away from the $23.75 million that Boston would have owed him in 2020, but why would the DH have done that? He has two more opt-outs in his back pocket, so why not give it another year in Boston, and make a cool $23 mil in the process.
That should be music to Boston’s ears, since Martinez has proven himself as a prolific power bat in the heart of their lineup the last two seasons. But with John Henry tasking Bloom with trimming their bulky payroll, the new president’s quest to get under the $208 million luxury tax threshold just got a lot more difficult.
The Red Sox have had the top payroll in baseball in each of the last two seasons, and face some major tax penalties if they are over the threshold again in 2020. With Martinez opting in, Boston may have to say farewell to some of their best players, with the spotlight set on 2018 MVP Mookie Betts.
The Red Sox have Betts under team control for one more season before he hits free agency next winter. He’s expected to make at least $30 million in arbitration, which isn’t too bad for a player of Betts’ caliber. But he’s made it clear that he’ll be testing the free agent waters next winter, so there’s a real threat that he’ll leave Boston and the Red Sox will have nothing to show for it. That, in addition to the big payday that is coming Betts’ way this winter, may force Bloom to trade Boston’s most prominent star — likely for pennies on the dollar.
It’s almost like Bloom is back in Tampa.
There are other ways to trim salary, of course. Jackie Bradley Jr. is also in his last year of team control, and is projected to make $11 million in arbitration. Boston has balked at trading the defensive wizard in the past, but may have no option at this point. Trimming his salary would be a start, but far from the finish line. There’s always the chance that Martinez could be dealt too, if the Red Sox want another year to try to convince Betts to be the face of their franchise.
Bloom could do some serious salary shaving by trimming some of the wild salaries at the front of Boston’s starting rotation. Chris Sale will begin to live off his five-year, $145 million extension next season. David Price carries the lofty price tag of $96 million over the next three seasons, and Nathan Eovaldi is owed $68 million over that same time frame. That’s a lot of cheddar to guys who didn’t throw much high cheese in 2019. All three carry injury concerns to boot, so it will be difficult to find many takers. But all it takes is one, and if Bloom can sweeten the deal, maybe someone will take one of those high-priced hurlers off his hands.
But dealing one of those arms will create another vacancy in the rotation. The Red Sox are going to to let Andrew Cashner (Boston owns a team option for $10 million) and Rick Porcello walk, so they’ll already need at least one more arm if they keep the aforementioned trio. That could mean the Sox have at least two bargain arms in their rotation to join whoever is left from those three and Eduardo Rodriguez. There is also the little matter of their lack of a closer, in addition to other bullpen arms. Add in the need for a first baseman, backup catcher, and potentially (read: likely) a second baseman, and things are getting hairy for the new guy in charge of the Red Sox.
Bloom came to Boston from Tampa, where he had success working with the budget of a summer lemonade stand. If anyone can trim salary and put together a team to contend for a playoff post, he’s the guy.
Or, the Red Sox could suck it up and pay the tax penalty. They essentially print money on Jersey St., and no one should feel sorry for them. It’s a shame that Bloom has to deal with the aftermath of Dave Dombrowski’s spending sprees, but here we are. Get ready for a winter that will likely include a lot more goodbyes than welcoming hellos.