Edwin Encarnacion never came close to joining the Red Sox this offseason. (John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports)
It became very clear from the beginning of the offseason that the Red Sox weren’t going to go hard after Edwin Encarnacion. How early in the offseason? Try Nov. 5.
It was on that day, at the Arizona Fall League All-Star Game, that Dave Dombrowski let Encarnacion’s agent, Paul Kinzer, the direction the Red Sox were going to go when it came to replacing David Ortiz. A few days later at the GM Meetings, the Sox’ strategy of not paying big bucks to help fill their vacant designated hitter spot.
What the Red Sox ultimately did was ink first baseman Mitch Moreland to a one-year, $5.5 million deal, with the plan to play the lefty hitter against righties with Hanley Ramirez serving as a DH. When lefties were starting, the likelihood would be that Ramirez could slide to first, with someone like Chris Young filling the DH role.
As for Encarnacion, he landed in Cleveland on a three-year deal worth $60 million, that includes a club option for a fourth season.
Considering the perceived natural fit for Encarnacion with the Red Sox (along with an endorsement from Ortiz), and the reasonable terms the 33-year-old agree to with the Indians, there were more than a few observers who viewed the first baseman/DH as one that got away.
So, what happened?
The prime impetus for the Red Sox not engaging in the Encarnacion sweepstakes was their desire to not be hit by the penalties that come with going over the luxury tax threshold, which is where they would find themselves even on the kind of three-year deal the slugger agreed to.
Here is a quick overview of the rules that were stiff-arming the Red Sox when it came to contemplating going over the CBT:
Ramifications of going over CBT
* The tax itself
* Team receives less compensation (lower draft choice) when they lose a free agent attached to a qualifying offer after that season.
* Team gives up a higher draft choice when they sign a free agent attached to a qualifying offer after that season.
* Team loses more international signing bonus pool money if sign a free agent attached to a qualifying offer.
* Higher tax rate/surcharge if team is more than $20 million over threshold; even more above $40 million over
Ramifications of going over multiple times in a row
* The more times you go over, the higher your tax rate is. Third time in a row = 50 percent for first $20 million over.
* The more times you go over, the more revenue sharing money you lose.
So while things would have gotten a little uncomfortable if the Red Sox didn’t reset their penalties and went over, doing so the following two years might have been the deal-breaker.
The Red Sox really don’t have much coming off the books after 2017, unless you include Moreland and Young ($6.5 million). If they don’t pick up Craig Kimbrel’s $13 million option for 2018 it could be more, but that wouldn’t seem to be a reality right now. The same goes for Chris Sale’s $12.5 million team option for 2018.
The price tags for arbitration-eligible players, such as Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, figure to go a long way in negating any financial flexibility during this span, as well.
But for what Encarnacion delivers, a case could be made that it would be worth it to pay all of the aforementioned penalties. The Red Sox didn’t support that case. In fact, one has to wonder if Dombrowski viewed the value of the righty hitter like some others in baseball.
The Oakland A’s weren’t going to come close to going over the CBT, but there aren’t a lot of players Billy Beane is willing to go all-in for in free agency. He identified Encarnacion as one of those special opportunities, actually offering more than the Indians.
You have to also wonder if Encarnacion would have taken even less than he did with the Indians considering the Dominican Republic native prioritized signing with team closer to home instead of the biggest paycheck. And with the notion that he was going to value contentment, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the Red Sox were one of three teams on his pre-offseason list that he wanted to target signing with (the Blue Jays and another undisclosed team, not in New York, was the other).
So what if another player we knew the Red Sox lusted after would have made himself for a one-year deal in that $20 million-a-year range? Let’s just call that player … David Ortiz.
The guess is that if Ortiz changed his mind, and came out of his brief retirement for one more year, the Red Sox would be willing to bite the luxury tax bullet for season. But maybe not. Perhaps they wouldn’t view such a scenario in a very Belichickian viewpoint. By all accounts, after all, Red Sox ownership never did extend that nothing-to-lose offer to come back on a mammoth one-year deal.
But, once again, the penalty for turning their back on an Ortiz return almost certainly outweigh anything the new collective bargaining agreement can bring.
It’s all worth a holiday conversation.
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