Red Sox still have loose ends to address
BOSTON -- As of Tuesday, there are only 47 days left until the opening of spring training, but there is plenty of unfinished business for the Red Sox before pitchers and catchers report.
Here are the remaining agenda items:
1. Arbitration filing period begins Thursday
2. Adding another starting pitcher, or two
3. Adding a right-handed hitting outfielder
4. Announcing the changes in the medical/training staff
5. Agreeing on compensation for Theo Epstein
6. Finishing construction on Jet Blue Park
Let's take them one by one:
The Red Sox have eight players eligible for salary arbitration: Alfredo Aceves, Mike Aviles, Andrew Bailey, Daniel Bard, Jacoby Elllsbury, Franklin Morales, David Ortiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. They already signed two salary-eligible players, relievers Matt Albers ($1.075 million) and Andrew Miller ($1.040 million).
Eligible players can file beginning Thursday until Jan. 15. Teams and players will exchange salary figures on Jan. 17, and hearings will be scheduled from Feb. 1 to Feb. 21.
It was a point of pride for the Theo Epstein regime that they struck agreements with all eligible players without a single one going to a hearing before an arbitrator, a course of action new general manager Ben Cherington undoubtedly would like to pursue as well.
The two most watched arbitration cases for the Sox will be those involving Ellsbury and Ortiz.
Ellsbury appears to be a lock to shatter the salary record for second-year arbitration players set last year by Hunter Pence, who was awarded a $6.9 million contract from the Houston Astros last season in an arbitration hearing. That nearly doubled Pence's 2010 salary of $3.5 million.
Ellsbury was paid a comparatively low $2.4 million last year after missing almost all of the 2010 season with fractured ribs, but his MVP-worthy performance last season, which dwarfed Pence's season in 2010, is expected to send him past Pence and over the $7 million threshold, with $8 million not out of the question.
Meanwhile, Ortiz last month elected to accept arbitration rather than the two-year, $18 million contract the Sox offered him. Ortiz was paid $12.5 million by the Red Sox last season, which placed him behind three players who primarily were designated hitters: Michael Young ($16 million), Jorge Posada ($13.1 million) and Travis Hafner ($13 million). All three were being paid under multiyear contracts they signed when they primarily were position players, but it is reasonable to assume that Ortiz's agent, Fernando Cuza, will use them as comparables when preparing Ortiz's case.
At worst, Cuza will almost certainly be asking for more than the average annual value of $14 million that White Sox DH Adam Dunn received when he signed a four-year, $56 million deal last winter; Dunn proceeded to have one of the worst seasons ever by a major-league hitter. All of which is why the Red Sox retain interest in persuading Ortiz to agree to a two-year deal at a lower annual average value than he figures to receive in arbitration.
Aceves, Aviles, Bard, Morales and Bailey all are arbitration-eligible for the first time. Saltalamacchia and Sweeney are in their second year of eligibility.
Of that group, Bailey, the 2009 AL Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star with Oakland, can expect the biggest raise. Bailey, who was paid $465,000 last season, won't get the kind of bump the man he replaced, Jonathan Papelbon, got in his first year of arbitration -- Papelbon went from $775,000 to a then-record $6.25 million -- but he should clear at least $3 million.
The other players should all be within the $1 million to $2 million range.
The Sox already have roughly $136 million tied up in 16 players, including newcomers Nick Punto ($1.5 million) and Kelly Shoppach ($1.35 million). The luxury tax threshold, officially known as the competitive balance tax, is $178 million, which covers the 40-man roster and also roughly $10.2 million for benefits.
The Red Sox went over that threshold last season and paid $3.4 million in tax a year after paying $1.5 million. Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, they will have to pay at a 40 percent rate if they exceed the threshold again in 2012, one reason the Sox have prioritized staying at or under the mark. For tax purposes, which calculates the average annual value of all salaries plus the benefits package, the team's 2011 payroll was $189.4 million. Only the Yankees' payroll -- $212.7 million for tax purposes -- was higher. The Yankees paid $13.9 million in tax and have exceeded the threshold all nine years in which it has been in effect.
If the estimates for the arbitration-eligible players are reasonable, that would add around $30 million to $32 million to the Sox payroll, bringing the total to between $166 million and $168 million. That should explain why the Sox took a pass on adding an outfielder such as Carlos Beltran, who signed a two-year, $26 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, why they elected to trade for Bailey rather than sign the more expensive Ryan Madson, and why they may be bottom feeders when it comes to adding a starting pitcher.
Which takes us to:
2. Starting pitchers
There are some intriguing options left in free agency, including Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt, with Oswalt and Kuroda both possibilities for one-year deals. But all would appear to be too expensive.
The Sox have been linked to trade talks for Cubs right-hander Matt Garza, who has a year left of arbitration after being paid $5.95 million last season. The price tag is appealing, but Epstein will demand top prospects in return.
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More likely, the Sox will look at Daniel Bard as their big upgrade to the rotation and add a name from the annual list of question marks available, a list this season that includes such names as Bartolo Colon, Jon Garland, Micah Owings and Rich Harden. The Sox almost traded for Harden last July before rejecting a deal because of his medicals. They also had interest in former Indians starter Aaron Laffey, who signed last weekend with Toronto.
3. Right-handed hitting outfielder
The belief here is that the Sox will look to upgrade on their current in-house options: Darnell McDonald and Mike Aviles, who has been playing the outfield in winter ball. Cody Ross makes sense. Ryan Ludwick and Ryan Spilborghs are other possible fits.
4. Medical/training staff
There had been indications the Sox intended to announce the new medical/training alignment when they announced the coaching staff, but that didn't happen. Dr. Thomas Gill will not be coming back as the team's medical director, but he and his staff at Massachusetts General Hospital will remain primary care-givers while serving more in a consulting role.
Trainer Mike Reinold is expected to have expanded responsibilities and will be adding a new assistant trainer and strength and conditioning coach. The strength and conditioning coach reportedly will be Mike Boyle, who held a similar position with the Bruins in the 1990s and has a long list of notable clients, including Bruins president Cam Neely and free agent first baseman Carlos Pena.
5. Compensation for Epstein
This long ago became a farce. So far, all that is known is that Epstein has been enjoined from hiring any more employees from the Red Sox for a three-year period. The suspicion is that an agreement has been reached, but 40-man roster issues have kept it from being announced. The expectation is that the Sox will get a couple of modest prospects.
6. Jet Blue Park
Work is proceeding at a furious rate at Jet Blue Park, which got rave reviews from new manager Bobby Valentine when he and traveling secretary Jack McCormick paid a visit to Fort Myers last month. No doubt they'll be applying finishing touches right up to the facility's scheduled opening next month.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.