Red Sox 2012: Bridge Season to 2013?
This isn't a holiday by any stretch of the imagination. However, this Arbitration Day may just be one of the most important set of proposals the Red Sox have had to exchange in quite some time. We have been hearing reports all off-season from John Henry that we will be doing our very best to stay under the luxury tax threshold of $178 million for the 2012 season. Yes, the Red Sox do have to be somewhat fiscally responsible this year mainly due to the fact that we have been so irresponsible with our dollars in previous years.
The Red Sox have been "throwing crap at a wall to see what sticks" as a friend of mine Jay likes to say in regards to all of the minor league deals the Sox have been throwing out there to bolster their rotation. Cook, Silva and Padilla are not exactly lighting a positive fire under the proverbial arses of Red Sox Nation these days. There are rumors of contract talks with Free Agent starter Roy Oswalt still floating around the rumor mill, but this makes me wonder. Can we realistically afford him at this point in the game? Oswalt is said to be seeking at least a 1 year deal or more at an asking price of about $8 million. Doesn't sound like much compared to the contracts of Lackey and Dice-K, especially considering the track record of Oswalt and the positive effect I feel he will have on Clay Buchholz, but we are right up on the edge of the luxury tax if the arbitration hearings go as expected.
According to Baseball Prospectus' Cot's Contract's the current payroll sits at $138,150,119. This is before you add in Saltalamacchia's $2.6 million which would push us up to $140,750,119. Then we have players such as David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew Bailey, Mike Aviles, Alfredo Aceves, Franklin Morales and Daniel Bard all dropping proposals with the Red Sox today.
MLB Trade Rumors has a salary arbitration projection on their site. It projects that Ortiz will be getting somewhere in the range of $14-15 million, Ellsbury $7.9-8.5, Bailey $3.1-3.5, Bard $1.6, Aviles $1.5, Aceves $1.7 and Morales at about $1.0 million. Now these projections seem a bit on the lower side of what I see some of these players getting. In fact Salty was initial projected at $1.6 million and the Sox decided to throw him a $2.6 million contract albeit a non-guaranteed one which means we can outright waive him in Spring Training if his health or performance is an issue.
This brings the payroll to an estimated total of $171 million before we fill out the remaining 15 spots on the 40 man roster. $6 million for 15 spots with a MLB minimum salary at about $424-465,000 for each player. Yup, we are right at the breaking point when the 40 man gets handed in. $177,600,000 on a rough estimate.
Why is it so important that we stay under this year? If we exceed the $178 million threshold we will be on the hook for a 40% penalty according to the MLB collective bargaining agreement. So if the Sox go ahead and throw the $8 million at Oswalt and we pay the $3.2 million penalty that essentially makes that an $11.2 million 1 year contract for an aging pitcher with some recent arm injuries.
Making matters more difficult is the fact that if we go over this year it will greatly affect the dollars and sense (pun intended) next season. Next year there is an amazing crop of Free Agents available with names such as Greinke, Ethier, Wright, Hamels and Ervin Santana to name a few. So, if we exceed this year and then spend like the big fish we are during the off-season next year, which we will most certainly do, then we are on the hook for a 50% tax penalty on who knows how much money we will go over. If we can stay under this season, then next year's penalty is only a mere 17.5% which is a gigantic sum of money in the grand scheme of things. The luxury tax next season is also set at $178 million, which is the same as this season. So, creativity and short-term contracts are a must this year. This snowball effect may also hinder the 2014 payroll. In 2014 the luxury tax threshold is raised to $189 million, but if we or even the Yankees for that matter manage to stay under it then we actually receive a huge tax break and receive some significant dollars back.
This is where I start to question some of the moves made by Ben Cherington thus far. Yes he has made some nice trades to help the bullpen, but what good is your bullpen if you may be wearing them down all season due to a serious lack of quality starts? And the Right Field situation is still a huge question mark. Picking up the options of Marco Scutaro at $6 million and the offer to resign Ortiz at what may be $14-15 million eats up $20 million for a utility SS that plays weak defense behind a starting rotation that has a history of injuries and a DH, that despite his gaudy career numbers is another left handed hitting bat in a line-up with too many of them and a shortage of Right Handed hitting power. Ortiz also plays zero defense and is virtually useless when the Sox play on the road on National League parks. Remember the sweep in Pittsburgh last year? We averaged a scant 3.1 runs per game during a time of year that our offense was actually clicking on all cylinders. Taking even one of those games gets us in the playoffs. Why couldn't we use that money on a combo of Cuddyer and Oswalt or even another Starting Pitcher? Cuddyer is a super utility who can play both corner OF positions plus 1B and a little bit of 3B as well. He hits 20-25 HR per year and steals 15-20 bags per year. Those two would have cost us a combined $17-18 million and provided us with the same WAR (wins above replacement) as Scutaro and Ortiz does, but the snowball effect of a stronger pitching staff with a better corner OF that can spell Youk at 3rd while the defensive whiz Iglesias($2 million) helps out the infield defense seems like a much better option to me here. Too late for that now. So how will the Sox free up $$$$ this year? Are there any trades to be made before the start of the regular season? Is John Henry and the rest of the Sox brass hoping that the offense bashes our way into a wild-card playoff spot so that we forget about the collapse?
We appear to be heading into a season built on so many "IFs" and not enough "WHENs." If Bard can become an effective starter. If Aceves can be a quality 5th starter. If we can find a way to sign a Free Agent pitcher with virtually zero room in the payroll. If Bailey stays healthy and can pitch in Fenway. If Crawford has a comeback season. If Youkilis can play more games than a typical JD Drew season. I am all set with all these IFs. I need to see a lot more confidence coming from the talking heads. Until then I do see a Bridge Season before us in 2012 and I don't care how many ways Henry and the powers that be toss it through the spin cycle. I will try to stay as positive as possible from this point forth, but the paranoid Boston fan in me is starting to slowly take over. 39 more days until Full Team workouts. What "IF" the truck breaks down?
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