After winning the World Series in 2018, the Red Sox this season have sloughed off more than 20 wins and missed the postseason. That fallback plus certainly signal a change of direction for Boston, and now ownership is saying as much. Owner John Henry had this to say to reporters on Friday, via Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald:
"This year we need to be under the CBT and that was something we've known for more than a year now," Henry said. "If you don't reset there are penalties so we've known for some time now we needed to reset as other clubs have done."
The "CBT" is the Competitive Balance Tax, or the luxury tax, as it's more commonly known. Payrolls over the threshold are taxed at various rates depending on how many consecutive years the team in question has been over, and some additional penalties can also be involved. The Red Sox have been over the line for two straight years, and a third year would increase the taxes and penalties. Thus we have Henry's stated desire to get under for 2020.
The threshold for 2020 is $208 million, and if the Sox get under that figure they'll reset their CBT penalty schedule. That, however, will require some maneuvering. As Mastrodonato notes, the Sox right now are at about $238 million in payroll. Some money will come off the books, as Rick Porcello and others hit free agency. However, those savings will be offset by arbitration raises. As well, it seems increasingly likely that DH J.D. Martinez won't use his opt-out, which means his $23.75 salary will remain on the payroll. If Boston is to reach this goal of getting under the CBT threshold, then some roster churn seems inevitable.
One idea floated has been trading star outfielder Mookie Betts, who made $20 million this season and is in line for a big raise in his third and final year or arbitration. Henry says the goal is still to contend, but contending around that enviable young core of Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Andrew Benintendi means keeping a guy like Betts, the reigning MVP who's still at or near the peak of his skills. Trading away Betts for future pieces makes this non-playoff team worse in 2020. Otherwise, it'll be impossible to move David Price's and Chris Sale's contracts without attaching prospects to them, and the Sox right now don't have many frontline prospects.
All that said, chairman Tom Werner walked everything back just a bit:
Werner then clarifies that Sox have a goal to stay under, but may end up going past the threshold depending on circumstances.— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) September 27, 2019
So there's that. Werner also said extension talks with Betts are still on the radar, for what it's worth. Whatever the Sox's plans wind up being, it's looking like a winter of Boston upheaval is in the offing.