FORT MYERS, Fla. – No one will confuse the Red Sox for a small-market team anytime soon. Nonetheless, because of a roster that features an ever-increasing number of young, affordable players, the days in which the team could be lumped only with the Yankees in free-spending ways have moved further into the rearview mirror.
Barring a trade, the current Red Sox opening day payroll (as defined by 2009 salaries for players who start the season on the 25-man major-league roster or disabled list) would come in at just under $120 million. Though not chump change, the team’s spending projects to be the lowest since the club opened 2003 with a payroll of just under $100 million, slightly below the 2006 payroll.
A year ago, according to USA Today’s Salary Database, the Sox opened the year with a payroll of $133 million that ranked fourth in the majors. This year’s Opening Day payroll would be lower than five other clubs’ marks at the start of 2008. For the first time in six seasons, the Sox will be closer in payroll to Tampa Bay than they are to New York.
With that in mind, the Red Sox owners earlier this spring made the case that Boston is more in line with the rest of Major League Baseball clubs than they are with the Yankees, who are expected to tilt the scales at more than $200 million.
“I think we’ve seen a season when the Yankees have spent like the U.S. Congress,” Sox CEO Larry Lucchino said of New York’s offseason. “There’s an old adage that there’s three things you can’t buy: love, happiness and the American League pennant. … We’ll be testing that adage again this year.”
A couple of caveats are in order. In the past, the Sox focused not on the actual salaries given out in any single year than but rather on the payroll as defined by MLB for luxury tax purposes. That approach examines a player’s average annual value rather than the cost of his 2009 contract.
As an example, Jon Lester will receive $1 million for the coming season, but his recent five-year extension will average out to $6 million a season. The long-term deals for Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia will similarly result in a difference between the actual cost to the Sox in 2009 as compared to the accounting cost of those players.
That helps to explain why the team’s luxury tax payroll figure – which also includes an estimated $1.5 million or so for minor leaguers on the 40-man roster, as well as around $10.5 million in benefits – may be closer to $142 million, roughly $23 million higher than the Opening Day figure.
Nonetheless, the Sox appear set not only to have their lowest Opening Day payroll in years, but also to fall well below the $162 million threshold when clubs start getting hit with a luxury tax.
As a result, the Red Sox could be in an enviable position as the trade market takes shape during the coming season. So long as the team’s revenues are not affected drastically by the economic climate, the team appears to have resources and flexibility should a need or opportunity to make trades emerges during the year.
Last season, after all, the team had achieve sufficient payroll flexibility that it could pay all of Manny Ramirez’ and Jason Bay’s salaries for the final two months of the regular season without batting an eyelash (at least from an accounting viewpoint). This year, the team’s payroll is even lower.
Among the many benefits of a commitment to young players, this is one of them. Already armed with a roster that is expected to contend for the postseason, the Sox have the means to reinforce their ranks.