By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Red Sox are 1-4. They look like a minor league team. Since winning big on Opening Day, they’ve been outscored 29-13.
As a result, there’s some justified rage seeping its way through the fandom, as Red Sox fans have to be disgustedly saying to themselves, “I waited four months … for this?”
Of course, most people expected a dip. But starting the season looking to be in a lower class than the Orioles and Mets is a bit beyond the pale.
One of the offshoots of the slow start, if you pay attention to the angry tweets, is an expression of anger toward owner John Henry. It’s not anything particularly new, as feelings on the owner have seesawed with the team’s on-field successes and failures over the past decade or so. (That win in 2004, and a follow-up in 2007, did buy a decently long grace period.)
While expressing criticism is always a sacred right of all sports fans, there is one particular aspect to this latest round of dissatisfaction that remains bewildering: the fans are calling the owner “cheap.”
This is no doubt tied to not paying Mookie Betts, instead trading him to the Dodgers, where he’s since signed a long-term, big-money deal that a team like the Red Sox could have afforded if they wanted to. By trading him away, the Red Sox as an organization sent a message that said either “we can’t pay him” or “we don’t want him.” Many fans, naturally, find neither answer to be acceptable.
But on the “cheap” thing, it’s important to note that the Red Sox remain huge spenders — something that makes this current team’s sparse roster and dreadful results all the more baffling.
The Red Sox Are Spending More Money Than Almost Anyone In Baseball
Yes, despite rolling out Ryan Weber, Josh Osich, and Matt Hall as starting pitchers in games 3-5 of the season, the Boston Red Sox are still spending money. Lots of it.
Atop MLB’s payroll totals sit the New York Yankees, who were due to spend a massive $241.85 million before the pandemic changed the financials. With the shortened season (and a 30-man roster), it’s down to $111.05 million, according to Spotrac.
Behind the Yankees are the Dodgers, with a $105.94 million payroll.
After that, it’s admittedly a significant drop-off, but sure enough, the Red Sox are sitting there in third, with an $84.80 payroll for the 2020 season.
By Spotrac’s accounting, they’re followed by the Astros ($82.45m), Mets ($80.32m) and Cubs ($76.49).
Back in May, the Associated Press had some slightly different rankings, with the Red Sox clocking in with the sixth-highest payroll in MLB (prior to proration and roster agreements). The Astros, Cubs and Angels had higher payrolls, per the AP’s reporting.
The point is, even though it may not look like it when Martin Perez and Ryan Weber get starts in the opening series, the Red Sox are spending a lot of money.
That naturally leads to a very important question.
Where On Earth Is All That Money Going?
It’s a most legitimate query: If the Red Sox are spending so much money, why doesn’t it result in a team that looks fit for the majors?
The Injured List is awfully pricey at this point in time. If we use the full 162-game scale, Chris Sale is costing $30 million of dead money, Dustin Pedroia (who has played in nine total games since 2018 and seemingly is not at all in the picture for 2020) counts for $13.125 million, and Eduardo Rodriguez (out indefinitely after suffering a heart issue related to his COVID-19 bout) counts for $8.3 million too. That’s a whole lot of dough — over $51 million in a full season, or over $15 million in a shortened season — for two players that definitely won’t contribute and one who looks unlikely to be able to play at this particular point.
As for players actually playing, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many pitchers among the highest-paid players on the team. J.D. Martinez is the highest-paid position player at $23.75 million, followed by Xander Bogaerts at an even $20 million.
That’s where Nathan Eovaldi comes in, with his $17 million salary, for which the Red Sox got a whopping 67.2 innings last year. Martin Perez has the fifth-highest salary on the active roster … which kind of says all that needs to be said about that.
The rest of the pitchers?
Brandon Workman: $3.5 million
Matt Barnes: $3.1 million
Heath Hembree: $1.61 million
Zack Godley: $1.5 million
Josh Osich: $850,000
Ryan Weber: $600,000
Jeffrey Springs: $585,000
Ryan Braiser: $584,500
Marcus Walden: $579,500
Austin Brice: $573,000
Colten Brewer: $569,500
Matt Hall: $565,000
Phillips Valdez: $563,500
It’s notable that those sub-million-dollar players have accounted for 26.1 of the Red Sox’ 45 innings pitched this year. It’s likely not a coincidence, then, that the Red Sox rank 23rd in MLB in ERA.
At least those players are actually playing, though. It’s here where the Red Sox’ finances really tread into the territory of woeful mismanagement.
Had it not been for David Price’s decision to not play during the pandemic, the Red Sox would have been on the hook for $16 million so that Price could pitch for the Dodgers.
The Red Sox also entered the 2020 season with $5 million on the books for Pablo Sandoval. Though it may seem as though Sandoval’s Red Sox tenure happened a century ago, the 2020 season was supposed to be the final year of his deal in Boston — either as an option year for $17 million or as a $5 million buyout. The Red Sox only got 161 games (and a .237 average, and a .941 fielding percentage, and one massive lie from the owner about “body fat ratio”) out of that five-year deal with a sixth-year option.
Decisions like those are ones that are not indicative of a cheap owner, but rather an owner who entrusts his baseball operations department to make baseball decisions. In the case of trusting Dave Dombrowski, Henry was rewarded with a fourth World Series title but also a glut of payroll and a poorly built bullpen — an end result that has kind of been Dombrowski’s calling card. In the case of trusting Ben Cherington, Henry was likewise rewarded with a World Series title in 2013 … followed by back-to-back last-place finishes, an “ace-less” pitching staff, the trading of Jon Lester and the signings of Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, and Rusney Castillo. All of that helps explain why neither Cherington nor Dombrowski is running the Red Sox right now.
When Can The Red Sox’ Money Go To Good Use?
All of which brings us to the man currently in charge, one Mr. Chaim Bloom. Despite the Dwight Schrute-esque job title of “Chief Baseball Officer,” Bloom is a promising young mind in baseball. He may well be the right person to guide the Red Sox out of the current mess known as 2020.
For now, though, the 37-year-old is getting pelted from all angles as he is seemingly only allowed to sign pitchers who have been dumped by bad teams. That’s an understandable reaction.
But really, if the world were to be fair on Bloom, it would have to wait until at least next year to properly judge his work. After this season, the salaries for Pedroia ($13.125m), Jackie Bradley Jr. ($11m), Sandoval ($5m) and potentially Martinez (who has a player option) will be coming off the books, thus giving the “Chief Baseball Officer” more flexibility to make “chief baseball” decisions. The deep pockets of the Red Sox will — theoretically at least — be able to be put to good use. The Red Sox can rebuild their farm system with someone who has experience doing exactly that, and they can add some free agents to improve the big league club as well. (Sadly, though, they probably won’t find anybody as good at baseball as Markus Lynn Betts.)
As it stands now, the Red Sox cannot be accused of being cheap. They can be rightfully accused of unwise spending. Whether it’s guaranteeing $145 million to Chris Sale when his elbow was being held together by a thread, or guaranteeing $68 million to Nathan Eovaldi despite a history of injuries and subpar performance, or paying David Price $16 million annually for three years to not pitch for Boston, or going back further to the Sandoval/Ramirez/Castillo signings that cost a combined $255.5 million, the Red Sox as an organization have made some very poor investments over the years. That it ultimately eliminated them from offering Mookie Betts a market value contract makes the sting feel all the worse, and it also stirs up dormant feelings from the loss of Lester and the hasty replacement strategy of signing Price.
Put it all together … it’s not good. The Red Sox are 1-4, and they’re facing back-to-back NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, and they’re heading into the Bronx with the bottom third of their “rotation” to try to beat one of the most imposing lineups in the sport. It’s not good, and it’s going to get worse. As such, the fans — who lack the ability to express their displeasure by either not buying tickets or by booing vociferously from the cramped Fenway seats — will continue to express their anger at what they’re being forced to watch on a nightly basis.
For a big-market team that’s never hesitated to spend, that reaction is certainly warranted. Yet the clarification must be made that Henry’s and thus the Red Sox’ issue has nothing to do with willingness to spend and everything to do with prudence in spending, which are two vastly different issues.