The Monday Baseball Column: Here comes one weird Red Sox offseason

Rob Bradford
November 10, 2019 - 11:20 pm
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — While we wait for this week’s GM Meetings to unfold, take a second to think about something.

What if John Henry never said …

"We need to be under the CBT. That was something we've known for more than a year now."

Throughout the years the question has been asked of Red Sox management heading into various offseason about how the organization viewed staying under various luxury tax thresholds, or perhaps something regarding the team’s spending limit for that coming season. It was always met with a predictable vagueness.

Not once did Dave Dombrowski say he had a mandate to stay under a certain threshold, but at the end of the day there were probably some spending limits the Red Sox were locking in on. Looking back at this past season, for example, it’s hard to believe that Dombrowski wasn’t told something to the effect, “You already spent your money …” (Sure, the remaining $10 million left on Edwin Encarnacion’s deal had nothing to do with the Red Sox choosing to show no interest in a player they could have absolutely used.)

It’s an approach that isn’t unique to baseball. A few weeks after Henry’s comments — which were immediately met with caveats and break-pumping from Sam Kennedy and Tom Werner — Cubs president Theo Epstein reminded us how it usually goes.

Epstein is right. It serves no purpose to flat-out say what your financial strategy is.

Last offseason Phillies owner John Middleton went the other way, telling USA Today, “We’re going into this expecting to spend money,” Middleton said. “And maybe even be a little stupid about it. We just prefer not to be completely stupid.”

Suddenly agents everywhere were lining up to profess their client's love for Philadelphia.

Sometimes it's utterly obvious a team's approach, which has been often the case with the Red Sox. But it is usually veiled in the kind of words presented by Houston owner Jim Crane to the Houston Chronicle when asked about the potential of re-signing Gerrit Cole. 

"We'll see where we end up after the year. We may make a run at it. We're not sure yet," Crane said. "We're going to wait and see what else unfolds and who else is going to stay on the team.

"There's a lot of moves that Jeff (Luhnow) will probably make in the offseason. We're going to keep a very close eye on it, communicate and see where that ends up. He's had a great year. He's young and he's likely going to command a big salary."

But Henry did say it, and so here we are with the reality that this is going to be one of the most complicated Red Sox offseasons in recent memory.

Typically at this time of year the GM/President of Baseball Operations sits down with the media at the GM Meetings and identifies what positions the Red Sox will be prioritizing. That, of course, leads us all to target certain free agents (usually a few big names included) and monitor how the Sox are positioning themselves.

Even in the offseason leading into 2013 when the Red Sox ended up signing a flurry of shorter-term deals (Mike Napoli, David Ross, Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino) there was talk of of getting in the market for the big-ticket items. Remember when they went to lunch with Josh Hamilton? Well, they did.

This time around all we know is the Red Sox have to find a way to shed some money. That, of course, immediately takes the fun out of thinking even mid-range free agents might be in the mix. For instance, they aren't going to jettison Jackie Bradley Jr. to save the $11 million most likely coming his way in order to spend it on some other player(s) costing the same price tag.

The idea of going in on any high-leverage reliever like so many were focused on a year ago seems implausible. Even allocating the resources necessary to get a veteran pitcher the likes of Rick Porcello or Cole Hamels seems like a path the Red Sox can't take.

If J.D. Martinez left, the conversation might have been different. We could surface names such as Encarnacion or perhaps someone like Howie Kendrick. 

But this is all about who the Red Sox will be trading and what free agent bargains can land in their lap. 

It's going to be a very, very different round of roster-building.

NOT APPLES TO APPLES FOR BLOOM

When appearing on the Bradfo Sho podcast last week, new Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom offered an interesting take on how much of the Tampa Bay way could actually translate to life in Boston.

"There are aspects that are different for sure and should be," Bloom said. "Every organization is different and every organization has different opportunities and different challenges. My job here, obviously I think there are a lot of things we did with the Rays are applicable anywhere. It’s not just to take that exact same mindset and bring it here. My job here is to understand the challenges and the opportunities with this organization and to take everything I know and try and mesh that with the group and make sure we’re doing the right thing."

He added, "It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been really energizing and fun to think about this challenge and what is in front of us and the opportunities we have. It is a different set of challenges but at the same time we’re still talking about the game of baseball here. Talent is still talent. Value is still value. It’s not like I come here and we’re playing a different sport. So the value of working together, having a good process, asking good questions, being unafraid to look at things a little differently, to innovate and be on the cutting edge of what is going on in the sport, those can and should apply anywhere."

So, now that he has gotten a chance to look under the hood on Jersey St. has Bloom found the Red Sox folks viewed things in a similar light than the place he came from?

"In a lot of cases, yes," he said. "And that has been interesting. You never know. Increasingly we have seen in this business and in the game of baseball a lot of the thought processes that have been successful for certain organizations, they spread quickly. So I didn’t expect to come in there and sit with our folks and see this categorically different view of the world. But there are always going to be differences of how we look at things and that’s what we’ll explore too.

"There are some (differences), but I expected to be some. So in that sense it’s not overly surprising. I knew enough about the people in the organization that there were going to be a lot of things that we would really vibe well in terms of how we saw the world. I’m actually excited about those differences. Where there are differences that has a chance to make us all better. It doesn’t mean I’m right or their right. It’s less about that than we are going to put our heads together and in a snapshot in time - because my inside knowledge of the Rays is not ongoing anymore — but for a snapshot in time we have a chance to compare some things that I think have a chance to make the Red Sox better."

PLAYING THE PERCENTAGES

A year ago the Web site FiveThirtyEight.com wrote an interesting piece on how no club that had committed more than 20 percent of its payroll to one player had won the World Series since 2003. That streak was broken this year when the Nationals claimed the World Series title despite Max Scherzer making up 22 percent of their whole ball of wax.

But it should start an interesting conversation.

So we looked at all the teams' current payroll commitments that include projections for their arbitration-eligible players.

Heading into the offseason David Price is slated to make up 15 percent of the Red Sox' payroll (making up just more than 13 percent in 2019), with Mookie Betts coming in at about 13 percent. Their Top 6 salaries will make up 65 percent of their entire payroll (according to SportTrac.com).

For a point of reference, the Red Sox' structure is almost directly in line with the Astros whose Top 6 eats up 67 percent with Justin Verlander topping Houston's list at 16 percent.

It's also interesting to note that Charlie Morton is on target to make up 24 percent of the Rays' total number, with Tampa Bay's Top 6 eating up 69 percent of its payroll.

The takeaway from the Red Sox' side of things is that it is OK to distribute the money at the top like they have, but you better make sure those Top 6 produce. Price, Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi are all part of that group and head into 2020 with a boatload of uncertainty. The Astros? Verlander, Greinke, Altuve, Springer, Brantley, Reddick. The Nationals? Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Adam Eaton, Trea Turner, Anibal Sanchez, Sean Doolittle.

Then there are the Angels and Mike Trout. This is the model so many will want to point to when making the argument to prioritize distributing the cash.

Trout is slated to make up 27 percent of his team's payroll, with Albert Pujols slotted in at 21 percent. That would make Los Angeles one of four teams with more than one player making up as much as or more than 20 percent, joining Detroit (Miguel Cabrera 38 percent/Jordan Zimmermann 31 percent), Kansas City (Ian Kennedy 24 percent, Danny Duffy 21 percent, Salvador Perez 20 percent), and the Braves (Freddie Freeman 25 percent, Mark Melancon 22 percent).

The most painful for any organization? Not even close. Wei-Yin Chen makes up 64 percent of the Marlins' projected payroll a year after he totaled a 6.59 ERA in 45 relief appearances and not a single start.

Here are all the percentage team leaders heading into the offseason (with the understanding this will change once the free agent money starts being thrown around:

San Diego: Manny Machado, 27 percent
Philadelphia: Bryce Harper, 17 percent
Toronto: Randall Grichuk 23 percent
Texas: Shin-Soo Choo, 20 percent
St. Louis: Paul Goldschmidt, 17 percent
Seattle: Kyle Seager, 10 percent
San Francisco: Buster Posey, 17 percent
Pittsburgh: Starling Marte, 18 percent
Oakland: Khris Davis, 17 percent
Mets: Yoenis Cespedes, 18 percent
Minnesota: Nelson Cruz, 17 percent
Milwaukee: Ryan Braun, 20 percent
Marlins: Wei-Yin Chen, 64 percent
Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw, 18 percent
Royals: Ian Kennedy, 24 percent
Detroit: Miguel Cabrera, 38 percent
Colorado: Nolan Arenado, 24 percent
Indians: Corey Kluber, 19 percent
Reds: Joey Votto, 23 percent
White Sox: Alex Colome 21 percent (projected to make just more than $10 million)
Cubs: Jason Heyward 13 percent. (Cubs 9 players 10 million or more. Red Sox have 8.)
Baltimore: Chris Davis, 35 percent
Braves: Freddie Freeman, 25 percent
Arizona: Robbie Ray, 11 percent

ONE MORE BLOOM OBSERVATION

We asked former Red Sox pitcher and current Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder for some insight in terms of what to expect with Bloom. He responded with an interesting anecdote (via email):

"Chaim was very instrumental in my development throughout my developmental journey, up to his hiring by the Red Sox. He really pushed continuing education, prioritizing staff development. He raised the difference in baseballs between MLB and MILB and encouraging use in non-game capacities, specifically in AAA to acclimate to the different feel and behavior of the ball. Especially the extension that three A had become for the big club. That was early on Maybe 2013 - then when I got to Durham we started to integrate MLB balls into our catch play and side work. His thought. He’s a tireless worker, will explore any and every potential strategic advantage that he and the team can drum up and innovation will continue to be a focus, it just who he is and how his mind works. But he will always take into account how the initiatives impact the player."

SOME OTHER THOUGHTS ...

- Padres Chief Marketing Officer -- and former WEEI.com video coordinator -- Wayne Partello passes on the interesting nugget that with their uniform change San Diego will be the only team in Major League Baseball which doesn't wear gray on the road, going back to brown. (Also, I can confirm the Red Sox will not be changing their uniforms for 2020.)

- The most productive day of any former Red Sox draft pick Sunday? That would belong to Jeff Driskel. The 863rd pick in the 2013 MLB Draft got his first start as an NFL quarterback for the Lions, finishing the Detroit loss with 269 passing yards and one touchdown. Despite signing a contract with the Red Sox, Driskel never did play for the organization, instead continuing his collegiate football career with both Florida and then Louisiana Tech. He was drafted by the 49ers in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft.