Checking in on Boston’s 2019 Payroll

Image result for red sox contractDespite dropping two out of three games against the Chicago White Sox, the Red Sox stand at 44-22 on the year, good for best in all of baseball. While the team has been experiencing incredible success, it has certainly come at a steep cost – $235 million to be exact, also best in baseball by a large margin. Playing in a large market, Boston is always expected to have a big payroll, however this year’s is the highest is has ever been. It is a result of a combination of factors such as a trio of poor, past investments (see: Pablo Sandoval $95 million, Hanley Ramirez $88 million and Rusney Castillo $72 million), a wealth of mid-money talent and large contracts for the team’s most reliable stars like J.D. Martinez and David Price. The good news, however, is that a lot of money will be coming off the books after the season, when several players will have to make decisions about their free agency.

The first round of savings will come from the aforementioned poor investments made under General Manager Ben Cherington. Hanley Ramirez, who was cut from the team earlier this season, was signed by Cherington to a 4 year, $88 million dollar deal in 2014, so the Red Sox will have $22 million dollars to play around with in free agency if they are comfortable with their current payroll figure. Moreover, the John Lackey trade that brought Allen Craig to the Red Sox will take its toll for the final year, as the team will shed the last $1 million of the $25 million the team has paid (for close to zero production might I add).

The next group of players, Chris Sale, David Price and Eduardo Núñez, all have options, be it club or player, that will have just as big an impact on next year’s payroll. While Sale has a club option (meaning the team gets to choose whether or not he is on the team next year), Price and Núñez have player options. However, it is hard to imagine any of them not being a part of the 2019 ball club.

Sale, again pitching at a Cy Young caliber level, is on tab to earn $15 million next season. Yes, it is a nice bump from the $13 million he is earning this year, but it is well below market value for a pitcher of his pedigree. So, the Red Sox will certainly activate the option and he will have to wait one last year before a large payday in free agency.

Price’s player option for 4 years and $127 is slightly trickier. Much has been made about Price’s struggles and unhappiness in Boston, but a large portion of this has been overblown by the media driven by last year’s altercation with fan favorite Dennis Eckersley. In reality, Price is the second ace on a team that will be a World Series contender for the foreseeable future and is pitching well in a big market like Boston. Couple this with teams’ unwillingness to give big contracts in last year’s free agency, it is virtually impossible to see Price walking away from so much guaranteed money and a chance to win his first-ever World Series ring.

Núñez is in the midst of a subpar 2018 campaign where he has hit .256 with four home runs. His player option for next year is for $4 million, which is about right for a middle infielder with his levels of production. Although originally signed as a utility player, he has seen much more starting time than anyone anticipated thanks to the recurring knee injuries to Dustin Pedroia. So, while he has not exactly impressed, he is serving a decent replacement role that adds value to both himself and the club. Barring a strong second half, it is hard to see Núñez testing free agency, especially with a 2019 market that includes plenty of other strong infield options.

The final area where the Sox can cut some payroll is from their pending 2019 free agents. This class consists of Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz, and Joe Kelly. Kimbrel is earning $13 million this year, but is in line for a big raise, having recorded 86 saves alongside a 2.23 era for the Red Sox since they acquired him in 2016. While the team will certainly want him back, they will have to open up their wallets as Kimbrel has arguably been the most reliable closer in the league over the last decade, with over 300 saves. The good news for Boston is that Zach Britton and Kelvin Herrera, both very strong relievers, will also be free agents in 2019. So, if the team elects not to get in a bidding war, there are fallback options, however they have been thrilled with Kimbrel’s production thus far and will do everything they can to have him back in uniform next year.

Drew Pomeranz has faced a little “Clay Buchholz syndrome” during his brief time in Boston. After the controversial trade in which the Padres failed to disclose Pomeranz’ necessary medical information, the curveball-heavy pitcher has been off, then on, then off-again in what has been a rollercoaster experience with the Sox. Given, it is hard to say what he could earn on the open market. Teams will likely be wary to invest multiple years into Pomeranz with his recent performance and injury struggles, so he will likely sign a one-year deal to build up some value. However, it is hard to see the Red Sox being that team. Between Steven Wright impressing in his first few starts of 2018 and top prospect Jalen Beeks knocking on the door, there is simply no need for Boston to bet on a Pomeranz renaissance campaign.

And finally, Joe Kelly. His first four years with the team saw many ups and downs and he was probably the hardest player to “figure out” on the team. While he always possessed a fastball that could touch 99 mph, he often struggled with control and composure late in games, even leading to a demotion in 2016 to AAA Pawtucket. However, Kelly in a new player in 2018. An early season brawl with the Yankees’ Austin Martin has made the reliever a fan favorite and given him a new edge on mound. He has been stellar in his 28 appearances so far and has provided stability to the setup role, which has sorely missed Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg to injury. Kelly is another hard case to predict what he might earn in free agency given his spotty past, but a two to three year contract averaging around $5 million per year should be a reasonable price tag to retain him.

Ultimately, while the Red Sox are shedding some money from their payroll next year (likely around $32 million), they will need a sizable chunk of that cash to bring back Kimbrel and Kelly (or another reliever). This also does not yet account for arbitration eligible players like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, amongst roughly ten others, that will all be due for a slight bump in pay. So, while the 2019 free agent class is loaded with young talent, the same can be said with the current Red Sox team which features five key starters age 25 or younger. Accordingly, don’t expect to add any big names to next year’s jersey wish list, because the team will likely be investing in their own talent rather than entering what is likely to be a competitive free agent market. But that’s not such a bad thing after all, because the 2018 Boston Red Sox already have the talent they need to make a deep playoff run and they will be back to do it all over again in 2019.

The Curious Case of the Slow Offseason

 

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It is now Christmas day and many of the top free agents are still available including names such as Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez. The sluggish pace of the market is a result of a few factors, the first couple being Shohei Otani’s posting and shortstop new owner Derek Jeter’s dismantling of the Miami Marlins. With the majority of the MLB contending for the services of Otani and/or Giancarlo Stanton, free agents have had to be patient for these dominos to fall before teams turned their attention to their likeness. However, now that these two stars have found new homes with the Angels and Yankees respectively, one would imagine that the market would have picked up pace. Instead, negotiations have continued at a slow clip, with the only notable signings coming in the form of SS Zack Cosart (Angels, 3 years/$38 million) and 1B Carlos Santana (Phillies, 3 years/$60 million).

For comparison, last year at this time, the majority of major free agents had already been signed, but teams are being more patient this time around opting to build their teams through trades and top prospects, while they wait out the demands of players’ agents. This can largely be attributed to last year’s Collective Bargaining Agreement which has discouraged larger market teams from going over the luxury tax line of $197 million by increasing the penalty for consecutive years of spending overage. This modification was put in place with the intention of making the league more competitive, which makes sense, because it is admittedly hard for a team like the Milwaukee Brewers to be considered on the same playing field with a payroll of $63 million when going up against the LA Dodgers with a payroll exceeding $240 million. In turn, these big market teams are curbing their traditional heavy spending methods in an effort to get beneath that 197 million-dollar threshold – and it’s working. Despite six teams (Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Cubs, and Giants) paying the luxury tax last year, all but the Red Sox seem positioned to avoid the penalty in 2018.

So what does that mean for this free agent class? Well, for starters, there is less money to go around and that is especially bad news when two of the top free agent hitters, J.D. Martinez and Eric Hosmer, have Scott Boras as their agent. As his reputation affirms, Boras is seeking multi-year deals worth big money for his prized players – seven years and $200 million plus – to be exact. He has dubbed J.D. Martinez the “King Kong of Slug” and Eric Hosmer as the elite talent that will take a team to “Playoffville.” While Boras’ demands are likely farfetched (especially in this year’s market), it is not hard to imagine that he will produce the offseason’s largest contracts in these two players. What will make his job harder this year however, is the new CBA, which is limiting teams’ willingness to get into bidding wars – the very thing that allows him to reel in the crazy contracts his clients dream of.

The reality is that Martinez and Hosmer will likely sign for far less than the 7 year, 200 million dollar benchmark that Boras has established, but even when they do, what’s next for the rest of the free agent crop? The usual suspects that can be counted on to make a least one major splash each year are scrambling to get under the $197 million threshold. Is someone like 3B Mike Moustakas, who is coming off a productive .272/38-homer year, supposed to get a 100 million dollar contract from the Tampa Bay Rays? Or the Oakland Athletics to sign Jake Arietta to a multi-year deal? These are good players that will find new homes one way or another, but as the offseason drags into January they are going to have to temper their expectations as the reality of a new MLB market sets in.

As the calendar flips to 2018, one of either Boras or the teams with which he’s negotiating will have to blink at some point and contracts for the Hosmer/Martinez slugging duo will get done. After a couple months of waiting, this will finally set the market for the offseason and for better or worse, determine the earning capacities of remaining free agents. However, until then, the rest of the league will be waiting and watching as teams and agents alike adapt to the complexities that the new CBA has introduced to the 2017-2018 offseason.

Spring Training Battles: Bullpen Pt. 1

Bullpen Picstitch

Can you name each of the Red Sox relievers show in the picture above? Answers at the bottom.

The Red Sox enter Spring Training returning with an even stronger bullpen than last year, which now carries more depth. The 2013 season got off to a rocky start with Joel Hanrahan being named closer. He only ended up pitching 7.1 innings allowing eight runs and blowing two saves before the announcement was made that he would be out for the season due torn muscle in his right arm. Then, manager John Farrell tabbed Andrew Bailey as the replacement closer. Although Bailey was an improvement to Hanrahan, he still struggled and blew five saves in his short stint as closer, before he too would be declared out for the season, caused by labrum and capsule damage to his shoulder. This injury came on the heels of a season-ending injury to  another key reliever, Andrew Miller, who required foot surgery that would not allow him to pitch again in 2013. This  crippled a Red Sox bullpen that had quickly lost its abundant depth. That’s when the more-overlooked at the time, Koji Uehara stepped in as closer and was lights out. Uehara recorded one of the best seasons as a closer baseball has seen, allowing only nine runs in 74.1 innings. He also put up one of the best runs a closer from August 21st to September 13th, in which he pitched 12 innings without allowing a runner to reach base, the closer’s equivalent of a perfect game and then some.  Uehara, who was originally signed for $4.5 million in the offseason, was projected to be extra depth in the bullpen coming out of Spring Training. What’s more is the medical staff was worried about overuse, pitching as a 38 year old, nevertheless, he helped guide the Red Sox to the playoffs and was named ALCS MVP, appearing in five games against Detroit, saving four and winning a fifth. When General Manager Ben Cherington signed him to a contract last year, he cleverly included an option that would trigger if Uehara pitched in 35 games. So, Red Sox fans can rest assured that when the final cuts for the 25 man roster come at the end of Spring Training, Koji will be safe. As for the eight others competing for what is presumably six other bullpen spots, they don’t necessarily have this same guarantee. Here’s the breakdown, these eight others include:

Returners: Andrew Miller, Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara

Acquisitions: Edward Mujica, Chris Capuano, Burke Badenhop

Rookies: Brandon Workman, Drake Britton

In the next post, each reliever will be summarized with a projection on their chances of making the 25 man roster and where they could land in the bullpen.

Answer Key (from left to right):

Top: Breslow, Tazawa, Mujica, Uehara

Bottom: Britton, Workman, Capuano, Badenhop, Miller

Spring Training Battles: Centerfield

For the Red Sox, Spring Training this year is full of excitement and competition. There are several positions in which two or more players have a legitimate shot for a spot on the selective 25-man roster. One such position battle that will be very closely followed is for the starting center fielder, between Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley Jr. As a reminder, whoever wins this battle, the other is not necessarily guaranteed to get the backup spot. The Red Sox have six players who can play in the outfield: Nava, Gomes, Carp, Victorino and the aforementioned Sizemore and Bradley Jr. Victorino and Nava are both capable of playing center if needed, but defensive metrics indicate that it would not be in the best interests of the Red Sox if they were to play there. So, it comes down to who will start and who will more than likely back up.

Starting off with Jackie Bradley Jr.,  in case you forgot, he has been on the major league team before. After lighting up Spring Training in 2013, hitting a torrid .419 in 28 games, he made the jump from AA Portland to Boston’s major league roster. However, he did not last long only playing in 37 games hitting .189 and he was sent back down. In Pawtucket, he showed some consistency and finished the year hitting .275. Over the offseason, it became clear that starting center fielder was Bradley’s job to lose after Jacoby Ellsbury signed a 7 year $153 million contract with the Yankees. Behind Bradley Jr., there is no clear centerfield prospect and so to provide a backup plan, if he began to struggle at the major league level in 2014, the Red Sox brought it Grady Sizemore.

Grady Sizemore hasn’t played since 2011, but when it was announced that he was hoping to return this year he attracted the interest of several teams. And why not? Before injuries started taking a toll on his performance in 2009, from 2005-2008, he was an all-star caliber player, posting 20-20 seasons and in 2008 broke 30-30 barrier. Along with that, he added two gold gloves in 2007 and 2008. Reportedly, Sizemore was on the cusp of signing with the Cincinnati Reds, before meeting with Red Sox medical staff who laid out a plan to ease him back into baseball. This was enough to convince Sizemore to take his talents to Boston. Now, while it is easy to get excited for the arrival of Grady Sizemore, expectations must be tempered, because keep in mind he still hasn’t played a professional baseball game in more than two years, so its not fair to compare the 2014 Grady to the 2008 Grady, who hit 33 home runs and stole 38 bases. At the same time, all reports from Spring Training have indicated that he is progressing well and he is scheduled to play his first game tomorrow, so there is reason to be excited for his return.

At this point, Jackie Bradley Jr. is  in the driver’s seat and it is still his job to lose. Sizemore would have to have an outstanding Spring Training in order to remove Bradley from the starting role and Bradley would have to underperform. Contractually, Bradley will be under the Red Sox’s control for the next six years and will have a salary around $500,000 for this season. On the other hand, Sizemore, being a free agent, received a one year $750,000 contract but that could turn into $6 million based on incentives. Regardless, money is not as much an issue for the Red Sox so they will take whoever deserves the starting spot. Ultimately, I believe they will end up keeping both Bradley Jr. and Sizemore, with JBJ earning the starting spot.

Can the Red Sox Trust the Left Side of their Infield

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The Boston Red Sox are looking to defend their title in 2014 and for a team that just won the World Series, they come into Spring Training with a fair amount of questions. The biggest of which seems to be what should they do with left side of their infield? As of right now, the Red Sox appear to be comfortable going into this season with Will Middlebrooks at third base and Xander Bogaerts at shortstop. There is significant risk in this scenario, especially considering that if either of the two struggle, Jonathan Herrera, acquired from Colorado for Franklin Morales earlier in the offseason, is tabbed as the current utility man. He is know more for his glove, since his offensive numbers are subpar and not suited for a starting role.

In the case of Will Middlebrooks, his first two seasons have been night and day. His rookie campaign, in which he essentially ran Kevin Youkilis out of town, gave Red Sox fans something to look forward each game in the disastrous 2012 season. Middlebrooks not only hit well, putting up a .288 average, but also showed significant power delivering 15 home runs in 75 games, before his season was cut short after getting hit by a pitch on the wrist. He returned for the start of the 2013 having sole possession of third base, but struggled out of the gate. Other than a three home run game against Toronto, Middlebrooks’ month of April was very frustrating and he finished the month hitting a weak .194. May and June didn’t go too much better and he ended up getting sent down to AAA Pawtucket until getting the call back up early in August. He showed somewhat of a mixed bag from there to the end of the season, with a very good month of August, but struggling again in September. He didn’t hit great in the playoffs and lost his starting spot to Xander Bogaerts at the end of the ALCS and didn’t see any action until the famous “Obstruction Game 3″ of the World Series. The big question for 2014 is which Will will we see this season. 2012 Will, who was looked capable of holding down the hot corner for the foreseeable future at Fenway? Or 2013 Will, who was up and down the entire year and looked very overwhelmed at the plate.

Xander Bogaerts will get every opportunity to prove that he is the franchise shortstop, until he shows that he isn’t quite ready to handle the job just yet. This isn’t to say that Bogaerts will get traded, rather he may see a short stint at AAA if he can’t keep up with major league pitching. He has already become a fan favorite, which is a combination of the unavoidable hype and his impressive playoff performance helping the Red Sox en route to their 2013 title. Still, it is tough to remember that Bogaerts is in fact a rookie and could struggle just as Jackie Bradley Jr. did last year. Another difficulty with Bogaerts is that he has a big frame at 6’3” 185lb that is only going to grow as he matures. This should be good for his offensive output, especially considered the lowered offensive expectations for shortstops, but at the same time, he may become too big and not have the range that many coaches prefer their shortstops to have. Again, Bogaerts will get the opportunities to start at shortstop and show the coaching staff that he can indeed handle the position, until he proves them wrong, but for now Bogaerts projects to put an end to the revolving door at shortstop.

So, what’s the solution? Well, right now the Red Sox don’t need one, since there is no problem yet. GM Ben Cherington is slowly starting to integrate their minor league prospects into Boston’s major league system and the idea is to give these young studs a chance. A contingency plan that has been discussed internally is bringing back Stephen Drew, who played excellent defensively last year and gives the Red Sox a lefty bat on the left side. The hesitation with signing him is he has Scott Boras as his agent, who always seems to find a lucrative deal for his clients and they have set a price and don’t plan to settle for much less. Along with that, is Drew turned down a qualifying offer from the Red Sox, which means that if he is signed by another team, the Red Sox gain a first round draft pick, which they covet given their philosophy shift from big money free agents to short term deals and using the prospects in their minor league system. Drew would prove to be an excellent backup plan if he is brought back on the Red Sox’s terms, but until Middlebrooks and Bogaerts show that they aren’t quite ready to handle the majors full time, they are projected to be the starting left side on Opening Day. So, should the Red Sox give them a chance or go out a sign another player as backup.

Should the Red Sox Give Jon Lester an Extension

Jon Lester

Jon Lester has repeatedly said that he is willing to give the Red Sox a hometown discount for an extension in order to stay and pitch for Boston in 2015 and beyond, just how much? We don’t know. The Red Sox as of right now have yet to start contract talks with Lester, which is somewhat concerning given he will be a free agent at the end of the 2014 season, along with his desire to remain with the Red Sox. There are a couple reasons as to why the Red Sox are hesitant to sign their opening-day starter for the past 3 seasons to a long-term deal.

There has been an emergence of talented young arms that are on the verge of being ready to contribute to the major league club. In AAA Pawtucket alone, there are three pitchers who saw time last year that could help out again in 2014. Allen Webster, who came over from the Dodgers in the 2012 salary dump, made seven starts last year, but struggled tossing a 8.60 ERA. This number is somewhat inflated, due to two starts against Seattle and Minnesota in which he only managed to go a total of 4.0 innings allowing 15 runs, but without a doubt he has talent that will become more refined as he matures. Brandon Workman impressed many in his stint with the Red Sox. He is a starter and projects to remain there, but he was primarily used out of the bullpen last year and has won over some fans thanks to his playoff performance: 8.2 innings 0 earned runs. Finally, knuckleballer Steven Wright saw limited time last year, but doesn’t figure to see the major league club too much this year thanks to added depth. In addition to the three pitchers mentioned above, top prospects Matt Barnes (AAA) , Anthony Ranaudo (AAA), and Henry Owens (AA) haven’t even been on the major league club and they are big plans in the Red Sox future.

The other major reason the Red Sox might pause before opening a conversation with Lester is his 2012 season. Lester looked lost much of 2012 and couldn’t seem to get himself on track. He returned to old self this past season posting a 3.75 ERA, but it was still higher than his ’08-’11 seasons in which his ERA was never higher than 3.47. A thought coupled with this is that Lester could be getting old, but he is only 30 years old and to use a measuring stick as to what he might deserve, the best comparison to Lester would be Cole Hamels. Hamels was two years younger than Lester when he signed a six year $144 million dollar contract. They are very similar, both star lefties for high payroll teams and their seasons leading up to the contract year are very similar, with Hamels having a slight edge number-wise. Hamels earned his way into $24 million a year, which doesn’t sound like too much of a discount for the Phillies.

Lester on the other hand wants to stay in Boston to the point that he is willing to leave some money on the table. This doesn’t mean Lester would come cheap, especially considering his World Series performance, which would have given him a World Series MVP award if David Ortiz hadn’t hit an other-worldly .760 against St. Louis. Still, in an age where star lefties are starting put themselves in the $30 million a year range (yes, you Kershaw), if Lester hit the open market, it would not be a surprise if he were to receive an offer for 5 years around $125 million. Given his willingness to provide the Red Sox with a discount, a fair deal for both sides would be something in the 4 year $80-88 million range. This would retain the Red Sox most consistent pitcher for the foreseeable future and not to mention, provide the young studs with a veteran leader. So, what do you think should the Red Sox sign Lester to an extension or do they allow him to hit free agency.