The Red Sox followed up their World Series-winning season of 2018 with a disappointing campaign in which they missed the playoffs after winning 84 games — 24 fewer than last season. That doesn’t sit well with the team’s fans, who always want to see them in the playoffs — especially when the rival Yankees are in the ALCS for the second time in three years. Red Sox fans may be disappointed to learn that it may be harder for the Red Sox to win in the future — and it largely has to do with money.
Why might the Red Sox struggle soon?
Red Sox majority owner John Henry is not a patient man when it comes to his investment. If he’s not getting the kind of return that he expects then he is unwilling to continue spending the same type of money he has been.
With the team missing the MLB playoffs for the first time since 2015, Henry and the rest of the ownership group have discussed cutting the team’s payroll, which ranked as the highest in Major League Baseball this season at $229 million. Henry’s goal is to get the payroll below the Competitive Balance Tax — commonly referred to as the luxury tax — which sits at $206 million this year. To get the team below that threshold would require cutting more than $20 million in player salaries.
Can the Red Sox keep all of their stars?
Cutting $20 million from the payroll means that the team probably wouldn’t be able to keep both J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts. Martinez can choose to opt-out of his contract this offseason. With him slated to make nearly $24 million next season, he would likely be looking to make more than that if he opts out.
The Red Sox probably wouldn’t be able to give him the type of money he’d be looking for, especially if the team is looking to keeping Betts on the team. Betts is entering his final year of arbitration and is expected to get a hefty raise that would bring his salary near the $30 million range for 2020 — and he’ll likely get another salary bump when he becomes a free agent after next season. With those types of salaries, the Red Sox would be hard-pressed to be able to keep both of those players if they’re looking to stay under the luxury tax threshold. There is even speculation that the Red Sox may trade Betts in the offseason to get something in return for losing him.
Are there other effects of the lower payroll?
With a lower payroll, it won’t just be harder for the Red Sox to keep their current players like Martinez and Betts, but it will also be more of a challenge for the Red Sox to sign other free agents.
Keeping the payroll lower means the Red Sox will be unable to outbid other teams for the services of free agents — particularly the Yankees. The Yankees had MLB’s third-highest payroll this season at $218 million, and their ownership has also talked in the past about staying below the luxury tax limit. If, however, the Yankees feel that they can gain an advantage over their biggest rival in Boston, the team may feel like it is OK to pay the luxury tax.
It’s not just the Yankees the Red Sox are competing against themselves in the American League. They also have to deal with the Astros, who are in their third straight ALCS, and teams like the Rays and Twins, who are on the rise. The Indians are also expected to be competitive in the foreseeable future despite missing the playoffs this season; the Indians won 93 games this season, which was nine more than the Red Sox.