MLB Rumors: The Boston Red Sox are currently above the luxury tax line by around $20 million, meaning that Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., David Price, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale will continue to be the subject of trade rumors, despite ownerships public statements today that their focus is on winning in 2020, rather than getting below the luxury tax line.
Boston won just 84 games last year, and the most significant moves they’ve made this offseason have been to sign free agents Jose Peraza and Martin Perez. Boston was a tax-paying team in 2019, and as financial penalties increase in each subsequent consecutive year a team is over the tax line, teams have a financial incentive to duck back under the line periodically, in order to “reset” the penalties. In addition, being over the tax can result in potential draft pick and bonus pool penalties, further motivating teams to try to stay under the threshold.
While John Henry, Boston’s owner, said in communications with columnist Dan Shaughnessy that were included in his column today that the focus is on being competitive in 2020, he also acknowledged a preference to reset the tax every three years or so, and said in September the plan was to get below the tax line in 2020. It is possible Boston will opt to stay above the tax line, but their actions so far this offseason suggest otherwise.
Boston has three high-priced pitchers on multi-year deals in Price, Eovaldi and Sale who are probably owed more than they are worth going forward, and who Boston has been rumored to have varying degrees of interest in dealing to get under the tax line. Price turns 35 in August and is owed $96 million over the next three years, and his name has been the one most commonly mentioned as potentially being on the move, with Boston either paying down some of his contract or attaching assets to make the contact more palatable. Texas had been mentioned earlier in the offseason as a possible match for either Price or Eovaldi, who pitched only 67 ineffective innings last year in the first year of a 4 year, $68 million deal, but with the acquisition of Corey Kluber Texas would not seem to be an option for either pitcher any longer.
In Betts and Bradley, the BoSox have a pair of outfielders who are free agents after 2020. Betts settled his arbitration case for $27 million, and moving him would solve the luxuray tax issue, but Betts is also one of the best players in baseball, and dealing him would create a huge blowback among fans. With only a year remaining before he hits the market, it’s hard to believe Betts would bring enough back to make it worthwhile for Boston to deal him, despite a potential deal being a topic of fevered discussion among media and fans all offseason.
Which leaves Bradley. The lefty-swinging center fielder, who turns 30 in April, settled his arbitration case for $11 million last week. He had been seen as a potential non-tender candidate in early December, but Boston hung onto him, seeing him as someone they could move if they needed to in order to get below the tax. His defense has fallen off the last couple of seasons, and his bat isn’t great, but he’s been a nice 2-2.5 win player the last few years, and would seem to project to be somewhere in that vicinity in 2020.
I’ve been talking up Bradley as an ideal Rangers target all off-season. Right now, the Rangers’ only internal center field option is Danny Santana, assuming the Rangers aren’t shifting Joey Gallo off of right field. The options in center on the free agent market are scant right now. Starling Marte would be a nice pickup, but he will cost serious talent to acquire and may be better served moving to a corner outfield spot.
Bradley, however, would likely cost little other than taking on his contract, would give the Rangers a viable starting center fielder for 2020, and wouldn’t obligate them beyond this coming season. He would fill a hole while leaving plenty of room in the 2020 budget for Texas to add a first baseman and a third baseman. He would be a perfect acquisition for the Rangers’ needs.
This assumes, though, that Boston is willing to move him, and willing to take something minor in return. Bradley’s status probably won’t be resolved until Boston determines if it is going to move Betts, since the Red Sox aren’t likely to create two holes in their outfield by dealing both players. And even if Boston doesn’t deal Betts, they could decide to hang on to Bradley with an eye towards moving him in the summer, thinking they may get more from a desperate contender then than they would now.
Nevertheless, the state of the Sox seems to make a Bradley trade a real possibility, and new Boston g.m. Chaim Bloom, as g.m. of the Rays, made three deals with the last year Rangers last year, so he and Jon Daniels are clearly able to work together. I’d keep an eye on this situation going forward.