Since the ignominious end to the 2017 Red Sox season, there has been much discussion about the road forward. For a team that has won just one playoff game over the last two postseasons, the needs were clear: a new manager and a bunch of offense. Alex Cora has finally been officially hired as manager, so the question is now how the Sox improve the offense.
That answer is simple – identify the best players available via free agency and trade and go get them. This is the Dave Dombrowski approach to the offseason, and it’s one that has generally worked well, netting him key members of the team like Chris Sale and David Price over the past two years.
The Red Sox made a big deal this year about staying under the luxury tax threshold of $195 million in order to reset the penalties that result when the team exceeds those limits. This has been done. Staying under the cap next year will derive the team no more added benefit other than the money that they would save in doing so. As it stands right now, Cot’s Contracts has the team’s estimated salary for 2018 at slightly over $202 million. The team would actively have to shed players in order to stay under the $197 million threshold for 2018.
This should not be a direction the team looks to go, since time is running out for this core. The 2018 season will be the last year for two of the team’s best pitchers in Drew Pomeranz and Craig Kimbrel, players he acquired via trade. There is also no guarantee that Price won’t opt out of his deal at the end of 2018 if he is healthy and pitching well, though admittedly this is the best scenario for both the team and the player. After the 2019 season, things start to get really bleak, Sale, Xander Bogaerts, Rick Porcello, and Tyler Thornburg will all become free agents. Say what you want about Porcello, but he eats innings, comes with modest upside, and is signed to a fair deal. Thornburg may yet even play baseball. Finally, after 2020 Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, Jackie Bradley Jr., Christian Vazquez, and Carson Smith will all hit free agency, leaving the team with a core of Eduardo Rodriguez, Rafael Devers, and Andrew Benintendi.
It’s entirely possible – perhaps even probable – that the team gets extensions done with key members of the team like Betts, Sale, and Bogaerts but it’s far from a sure thing. Dombrowski sure isn’t going to bank on those things happening, nor should he. Everything he has done as president of baseball operations has been to optimize this current window, when he knows he has these players under contract during the prime of their careers. The most important seasons for this team are the next two years, while Sale remains under contract. Next year is especially significant because the team has relatively few holes in the rotation and bullpen, but could use an offensive boost at first base and designated hitter positions, both specifically mentioned by Dombrowski in his press conference following John Farrell’s firing.
Meanwhile, the American League has gotten a whole lot better. The Yankees were one win away from the World Series with an enviable core of young controllable players. They are also primed to exit next year’s off-season with Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Dallas Keuchel as new members of their team. You might laugh, but this has been Brian Cashman’s plan all along. The team even has the space this offseason to sign an ace like Yu Darvish while still staying under the luxury tax threshold, resetting themselves for their upcoming spending spree.
That’s just the in-division threat. The Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians aren’t going anywhere, with large parts of their 100-win teams locked up for the next few seasons. Maybe Dombrowski picked a terrible time to push his chips in, but he had no choice but to maximize the current roster. It won’t be easy getting past the Yankees, Astros, and Indians, but there’s no way around them. They need to go right through.
Maybe Dombrowski picked a terrible time to push his chips in, but he had no choice but to maximize the current roster.
Dombrowski needs to go out and do what he does best and sign J.D. Martinez. He can’t stop there though, he needs at least one more bat, so maybe Eric Hosmer, or perhaps Giancarlo Stanton. If it was up to me, I’d cut Hanley Ramirez, play Martinez at DH and sign Hosmer to play first. But why stop there? Dombo should sign a quality lefty reliever like Mike Minor or Jake McGee and then call it a day. Will he obliterate the luxury tax threshold by doing this? Yes, but so what? The Dodgers have had payrolls upward of $271 million over the last few years, and they’re in the World Series.
The bottom line is that when Dombrowski recognizes a need, he goes out and addresses that need. He doesn’t take any half measures; he addresses needs with full force. For a team that had a likability problem in 2017, changing managers was a great idea. Let’s give the new manager the tools he needs to succeed in 2018 and beyond. I think John Henry and the rest of the ownership group will find out that long playoff runs and lineups that can hit will make back any additional money spent on payroll. When the duck boats cruise past Government Center, the last thing we will all be thinking about is the luxury tax threshold.
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