Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Putting the 2010 Red Sox in focus
By Gordon Edes ESPNBoston.com
Headed into Christmas, a look at where the Sox stand in terms of the 2010 team:
The Red Sox have committed $119.055 million to 14 players for 2010, led by the $18 million newcomer John Lackey is to be paid in salary in the first year of his five-year, $82.5 million deal.
That figure includes the $12 million owed to Mike Lowell in 2010, with Lowell still very much in play as trade bait. If the Red Sox agree to eat a portion of his salary in a deal -- they were going to give Texas $9 million in the trade canceled because Lowell needs thumb surgery -- or if he is released, those monies would be calculated against the Sox payroll when assessing the team's luxury-tax threshold.
Would John Henry be willing to go over the luxury-tax threshold in 2010?
The Sox also remain on the hook, for luxury-tax purposes, for an additional $10.5 million for Julio Lugo ($9 million), Billy Wagner ($1 million) and Alex Gonzalez ($500,000).
The Sox have spent $119 million without yet addressing their six arbitration-eligible players -- Manny Delcarmen, Jeremy Hermida, Casey Kotchman, Hideki Okajima, Jonathan Papelbon and Ramon Ramirez. Of that group, Papelbon -- who was paid $6.25 million in 2009, the highest salary ever for a pitcher eligible for arbitration the first time -- can anticipate the biggest raise. Papelbon will approach, or even crack, the $10 million threshold. Kotchman and Hermida were both under $3 million last season and Okajima was at $1.75 million; all will be in line for significant bumps. Keep in mind that the average raise for arbitration-eligible players last season, not including the players who signed multiyear deals, was 143 percent, according to Maury Brown's Biz of Baseball.
The Red Sox, in figures released Monday by the Associated Press, came under the luxury tax (officially known as the competitive balance tax) threshold of $162 million in 2009. Their final total of $140.454 million was a 4.5 percent decrease from 2008.
In 2010, the threshold is set for $170 million. That figure includes a team's 40-man roster (multiyear deals are calculated by their average annual value, which includes signing bonuses), plus the estimated $11 million a club pays its players in benefits and other costs.
The Red Sox exceeded the threshold in four consecutive years (from 2004 to 2007) and have spent over $13 million on the luxury tax, which pales compared to the $174 million-plus the Yankees have paid, including a $25.6 million hit this year.
Clearly, the Sox are within striking distance of the threshold again in 2010: They have $119 million already committed, plus $11 million in costs, an estimated $22 million to $25 million in arbitration signings, $10.5 million going to ex-players, and another $2 million or so for the balance of the 40-man roster. That brings them to about $166 million, give or take a few million, perilously close to the $170 million luxury-tax threshold.
A signing of another expensive free agent (Adrian Beltre, Jason Bay) would put them over, and require them to pay a 22.5 percent tax on all money spent above $170 million.
Three No. 1s at the top of the rotation, a pitcher with No. 1 potential, a former 18-game winner and a pitcher aiming to win more games than anyone in club history. That's the Red Sox rotation headed into the season, after general manager Theo Epstein dropped his pursuit of a big bat and signed Lackey.
Terry Francona has all kinds of options in setting the rotation order, which really is immaterial, as long as his Big Three -- Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Lackey -- are good for 32 starts apiece. Epstein has resisted trading Clay Buchholz, who remains under the club's salary control for the next five years, and Daisuke Matsuzaka is working out in Arizona in a renewed commitment to the form with which he won 18 games in 2008. That would seem to leave Tim Wakefield as the odd man out, 18 wins shy of breaking the Sox record for wins (192). Wakefield could be headed to the pen, but a trade or injuries could alter that equation.
But with the Yankees having traded Tuesday for Javier Vazquez, the Red Sox don't enjoy the same advantage they appeared to have over the Bombers in this category just a week ago.
Jonathan Papelbon showed slight slippage in 2009, particularly in command, but remains one of the elite closers in the game. The Sox figure to try to sign him to a multiyear deal, but so far Papelbon has been content to go year to year in arbitration. Daniel Bard and Hideki Okajima should own the eighth inning, with Ramon Ramirez getting earlier set-up calls. Manny Delcarmen pitched with a tired arm the last three months of the season and had a miserable second half; he is vulnerable to a trade. The Sox added some bullpen depth in the system by signing Scott Atchison, Fabio Castro and Ramon Ramirez (the Deuce), but with Billy Wagner and Javier Lopez gone via free agency, expect the Sox to be looking for another lefty.
The cancellation of the Mike Lowell deal potentially clouds the picture, although barring a dramatic change of heart, the Red Sox appear committed to removing Lowell from their 2010 plans. Kevin Youkilis returns to third base, Marco Scutaro is the new shortstop, and the Sox plan to give Casey Kotchman a crack at playing first base. Victor Martinez becomes the regular catcher, supplanting Jason Varitek, though the Sox may elect to play Martinez at first against lefties with Varitek catching. The Sox are looking for David Ortiz to avoid the disastrous first half he had in 2009.
In the outfield, the signing of Mike Cameron could mean a shift to left for Jacoby Ellsbury, though the club insists that decision has not yet been made. Jeremy Hermida will also get at-bats in left field, though there will be no Hermida-Cameron platoon, while J.D. Drew returns in right field.
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There are still moves to be made here. Varitek said he is willing to accept his new role as backup, and Hermida is the fourth outfielder. Jed Lowrie would ideally serve as a backup infielder, but the uncertainty of his wrist condition leaves the Sox needing to add bench help. Former Royals infielder Tug Hulett could get a crack at the job, but the Sox may look to add another veteran. A fifth outfielder also is in the mix, with the Sox probably preferring Josh Reddick to play every day with Triple-A Pawtucket.
With longtime sidekick Brad Mills leaving to manage Houston, Francona elevated DeMarlo Hale to bench coach and adds longtime Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson as first-base coach. Tim Bogar moves from first to third, and Rob Leary, the longtime minor-league field coordinator, is added as coaching staff assistant. John Farrell turned down a chance to manage the Indians to return as pitching coach, and Dave Magadan is back as hitting coach. Trainer Paul Lessard left to join the Reds, giving Mike Reinold, whose shoulder program for pitchers is revered by the Sox, added responsibilities.
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here. Follow him on Twitter.