By Jeff Louderback
“It’s not your money. Why do you care?”
That is a comment periodically uttered by baseball fans who question when a fellow fan of the same team expressed displeasure over contract terms of particular players.
In the case of the Boston Red Sox, though it is true it is not my money or yours that is used to fund the 40-man roster payroll, what the ownership group spends does determine the make-up of the roster in 2013 and beyond. The luxury tax threshold is the key reason.
Though Major League Baseball does not have a salary cap, the luxury tax threshold acts as one since owners of most teams would rather not pay a penalty.
The Red Sox ownership group – which includes John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino – has emphasized that it will not exceed the luxury tax threshold. According to the Associated Press, Boston’s payroll as calculated for luxury tax purposes for 2012 was $47,177 under the $178 million luxury tax threshold.
Red Sox owners can thank the Los Angeles Dodgers, which removed the cumbersome contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett off the books. Interestingly, according to WEEI.com’s Alex Speier, it is the $327,000 that the Dodgers paid utility man Nick Punto (who was also included in the trade) last season that pushed the Red Sox under the luxury tax threshold.
Boston paid $1.4 million in luxury tax in 2010 and $3.5 million in 2011, which is a pittance compared to the New York Yankees’ $18.9 million bill for 2012.
If the Red Sox again eclipse the luxury tax threshold (which is $178 million in 2013 and $189 million in 2014), their rate will be 17.5 percent. Had they exceeded the threshold in 2012, the rate would have been 40 percent.
Some Red Sox fans have voiced their displeasure about the team’s modest offseason signings that include Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara and, if the contract is finalized, Mike Napoli. With the expansive payroll flexibility after the trade with the Dodgers and Daisuke Matsuzaka’s contract off the books, Boston entered this offseason with the ability to sign prime time free agents like Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton. Instead, the club has opted to fill voids with players who have proven track records but do not require long-term commitments.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington has told the media that he will build the team around its returning core (which includes Dustin Pedroia, the re-signed David Ortiz, Will Middlebrooks, Jacoby Ellsbury (for one final season before he hits free agency), Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront. Instead of locking the team into long-term deals with free agents, it is banking on the success of top prospects like Ryan Kalish, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Bryce Brentz and Matt Barnes among others.
Cherington is undoubtedly not finished with crafting the 2013 roster. If the Napoli deal falls through, the Red Sox could extend an offer to first baseman Adam LaRoche or first baseman and right fielder Nick Swisher. Boston might trade Ellsbury and perhaps sign both LaRoche and Swisher.
If you are a casual fan who does not understand the importance of useful veterans like Victorino and Gomes, or the benefit of blending a roster of core players with top prospects once they become Major League ready, you likely do not like what the Red Sox are doing this offseason.
Those of you who embrace the farm system and recognize the value of a role player like Gomes, a versatile veteran like Victorino, a durable arm like Dempster and a proven late-inning reliever like Uehara – and closely follow the club’s farm system and appreciate giving high-ceiling names like Bogaerts, Bradley and Barnes the chance to contribute – cannot wait for spring training to arrive and the season-opening series at Yankee Stadium to commence.
Count me as one person who likes Cherington’s direction and believes that the Red Sox will be a legitimate post-season contender because, like they were in 2003 and 2004, they will be a true team.